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Barthold George Niebuhr was born at Copenhagen on the 27th of August, 1776. traveller, had resided in that capital since His father, Carsten Niebuhr, the celebrated his return from the East; but in 1778 he principal town in the Republic of Dithremoved to Meldorf, in Holstein, once a remained as Landschreiber, or collector of marsch, where for the rest of his life he the revenues.
We believe that no modern biographical publication has excited so deep and general an interest as the Life and Letters of nary energy, accurate in observation, and He was a man of extraordiNiebuhr,' (Lebensnachrichten,) which ap- thoroughly practical in character; but his peared about five years ago. The judg- own early education had been neglected, ment displayed in the compilation of the and he could contribute little to the vast work is worthy of the rich materials on amount of knowledge which his son began which it is exercised. The curiosity of from his childhood to collect. He taught the studious and learned to know the cir- him, however, to speak French and English, cumstances that attended the development and gave him valuable instructions in geogof his marvellous historical capacity is fully raphy, his own favorite science. Above all, gratified, and we are not aware of any let-he impressed him with an early interest in ters or memoirs which so fully illustrate contemporary history, and with a view to the political events of the time. But the an appointment which he hoped to procure book has a higher value still, as a picture for him as a writer in the service of the East of Niebuhr in his individual character, India Company, he provided him with a and in his social and domestic relations. constant supply of English newspapers. His letters are tender and communica- The future historian received no direct phitive from the warmth of his nature; and lological tuition except during part of his on serious subjects, although the best of thirteenth year, under Jäger, who was masthem are addressed to a woman His first ter of the school at Meldorf. Yet, when wife, and her sister Doré Hensler, who was he left his father's house at the age of eighhis chief correspondent, were fortunately for teen, for the University of Kiel, he was him not among the multitude of well-mean- already a widely-read scholar, and an origi. ing women, who cultivate a frivolous indif-nal speculator in history and politics. His ference to every pursuit which can interest delicate health had made him sedentary, a reasonable man beyond the narrow limits and his boyhood had been spent among of his own domestic circle. Those who are already familiar with Nie-memory enabled him to retain whatever he books. Through life the strength of his buhr's personal history will find in the vol- read, and it was probably fortunate that his ume before us an interesting supplement to unguided taste led him to study original the Lebensnachrichten; but its character is authors only, where teachers would have not directly biographical. More than half led him to dissipate his attention among the of it consists of letters descriptive of Hol- labors of commentators. But he always reland, which he wrote to his family in Hol- gretted his bookish education. It had made stein, during his residence on a financial him, as he knew, in childhood altklug, too old mission to Amsterdam, in 1808 and 1809. for his age. It had cut one essential portion The remainder of the collection contains out of his life, and it was probably the cause political essays, written at different periods of a certain stiffness and intolerance, which of his life from 1806 to 1830. The account seems to us not unfrequently to accompany of Holland probably retains a great part of his judgment of men and things. its original value: the shorter essays belong more exclusively to their own time, and study, and in 1790 became private secreHe occupied two years at Kiel in severe though still instructive partake of the obso.tary to Schimmelmann, the Minister of Fileteness of fulfilled or unfulfilled prophecies. nance at Copenhagen; soon afterward he Whatever Niebuhr wrote was so thoroughly accepted an appointment in the Royal Licharacteristic of himself, that every part of the publication tends almost equally to illustrate his life and opinions, and requires some knowledge of his history before it can be fully appreciated. A slight biographical sketch will, therefore, not be foreign to our present purpose,
brary, and after pursuing his studies there for some time, determined to complete his education in England, and arrived there in the summer of 1798. His professed object was to become acquainted with practical life on the only existing field of free political action; but his early habits prevailed.
He soon left England for Edinburgh, and tiquity, and wrote or commenced essays on pertinaciously preferred books and lectures, various subjects, one of which contained which he might have found on the Conti- the principle of his great discovery of the nent, to the opportunities which offered tenure of the public lands of Rome, and of themselves of observing actual life. In the purpose of the different agrarian laws. 1799 he returned to Holstein, and in a few His first publication was a notice of the Life months afterwards settled for a second time of William Leyel, a governor, during the at Copenhagen, with the office of assessor seventeenth century, of the Danish possesin the commercial department of East Indiasions in India. The volume of Posthumous affairs, and secretary to the commission for Works contains a translation of the Danish the affairs of Barbary. At the same time original, which appeared in a periodical, he married Amalie Behrens, to whom he called 'Det Skandinaviske Litteraturselhad been betrothed before his visit to Eng-skabs Skrifter,' in 1805. His next work land. She was the sister of Dorè Hensler, was a German translation of the first Phiwith whom Niebuhr had formed a friend-lippic of Demosthenes, written after the ship at Kiel, in the house of Professor defeat of Austria and Russia at Austerlitz, Hensler, the father of her deceased hus- with a feeling of the imminent danger imband. There was never a more fortunate union. His wife interested herself in all Niebuhr's schemes, in his studies, and his historical speculations, and fully shared in the public anxieties which henceforth, for many years, engrossed a great portion of his thoughts.
pending over Europe from the Philip of modern times. Twenty-five years afterwards, when the Revolution of July renewed the fear of French aggression in Germany, the translation was remembered by his friends, and reprinted. Personal discontent with Schimmelmann, and a growing His deep hatred of France must have in- desire to identify himself with the national creased the anxiety and regret which ac-struggle of Germany against Napoleon, incompanied his first actual experience of the evils of the European war, when Denmark, by joining the coalition of the North, incurred the hostility of England. In March, 1801, the approach of the English fleet was known at Copenhagen, and Niebuhr shared in the hopes of the Danes, that their desperate courage might succeed. His letters at the time are singularly interesting to an Englishman. On the 24th of March, he anticipates from the presence of Nelson, a furious attack on the port. Four days afterwards, he relies in some degree on the impracticability of the channels, and the rapid progress of the batteries. On the 3d of April, he relates how the English had surveyed the navigation, found new channels, marked them out with buoys, turned the defences, and fought the battle, which was as honorable to the courage of the defeated party, as to the skill and daring of Nelson.
duced him to accept an offer of the post of joint bank director at Berlin, under Stein, who was at that time finance minister; and he arrived at Berlin in October, 1806, a few days before the battle of Jena. Immediately afterwards all official persons were obliged to leave the capital to escape the French, and Niebuhr accompanied Stein to Königsberg, Dantzic, and the head quarters of the army of Bartenstein, where he was engaged in the financial and commissariat department. The battle of Friedland, in May, 1807, drove the court over the Russian border, and Niebuhr was induced by the earnest entreaty of Hardenberg to accompany them to Riga. The treaty of Tilsit, in July, occasioned the dismissal of the prime minister, and Niebuhr became a member of a commission for conducting the administration till the return of Stein to the head of affairs.
In the universal depression of the time, When this temporary disturbance had it was evident that the most pressing busipassed away, Niebuhr resumed his course ness was to find money for the subsidy, of official and intellectual activity. In 1803 which the French demanded as the conhe was employed on a financial mission in dition of evacuating the remaining dodifferent parts of Germany; and in the fol- minions of Prussia, and Stein selected Nielowing year he became a member of the buhr for a mission to Holland, for the purboard for the affairs of Barbary, and direct- pose of negotiating a loan. In November or of the government bank. During the same he left Memel, with his wife, for Berlin and period, although his days were occupied Hamburg, and after a short visit to his rewith business, and a great part of his even-lations in Holstein, arrived in Amsterdam ings in reading aloud to his wife, he ac-in March, 1808. With his characteristic quired a considerable knowledge of Arabic, love of knowledge, he had found the means, Continued his investigations of Roman an- in Riga and Memel, of learning the Russian
and old Slavonic languages; and about first scholars of Germany, at Michaelmas this time, his father proudly tells a friend, in the same year.
that Barthold now knew twenty languages. To himself and to the world this change His residence in Holland gave him abun- was the most fortunate event of his life. dant leisure, but he had few books, and no In the full vigor of life, enjoying perfect literary society; he interested himself leisure, unmixed domestic happiness, and however in acquiring the knowledge of the the society of such men as Heindorf, country, of which the results are contained Schleiermacher, and Savigny, he now comin the Circular Letters to his father and menced the Lectures on Roman History, friends, which are now, for the first time, which formed the basis of his great work. published. The wretched condition of They were received by all competent Prussia, and the uncertainty whether Na-judges with approbation and gratitude, and poleon might even permit its continued ex- the first edition of his history, which apistence, made it difficult to transact the peared in the course of two years, though commission with which he had been en- the abtruse disquisitions of which it maintrusted. The capitalists showed no dispo- ly consisted prevented it from obtaining sition to lend money, and the financial dif- general popularity, at once established his ficulties of his own kingdom indisposed reputation among learned men, as the most King Louis to sanction or encourage the original and successful of all inquirers into withdrawal of a large sum of money from Roman antiquity. He probably never felt the country. A prospect of success ap- so thoroughly satisfied as during this period peared in the spring of 1809, which seems of untroubled industry; but a time of more to have been occasioned by the interfer- intoxicating interest approached, when the ence of the French government, with a world was aroused by the event of the Rusview, when Austria was arming for a new sian campaign. contest, both to procure money for the As soon as the war was resolved on, campaign, and to render the army which Niebuhr applied for an appointment in the occupied Prussia disposable for active ser- secretariat department; but in the event of vice. The negotiation, however, ultimate- not obtaining it he had resolved to serve ly failed; and after a three months' visit as a volunteer in the ranks of the Landto his friends, Niebuhr rejoined the court wehr. He had, before the war commenced, at Königstein, in August, 1809. The cam- like many others, practised the infantry expaign of Wagram again disappointed him, ercise in secret, and he now, with the full but the increased severity of the struggle, consent of his tender and noble wife, reand the evident advance of national spirit nounced the exemption from personal serin Germany, gave him better hopes for vice to which he was entitled as a profuture times, than he had entertained after fessor of the university. In the meantime the defeats of Austerlitz and Jena. Hence- he undertook the editorship of the Prusforth he became more cheerful in his views sian Correspondent,' a paper devoted to the of public events, though as yet there ap- advancement of the national enthusiasm. peared no probability that the existing gen- A portion of his addresses to his country. eration would witness the liberation of men through this medium, will be found in Prussia. He now became a privy-coun- the 'Posthumous Works.' In April, 1813, cillor, and entered on a wide sphere of he was summoned to the head-quarters of official duties, involving the management the allies at Dresden, to arrange with Genof the national debt, of the paper currency, eral Stewart, now Marquis of Londonderry, the financial part of the alienation of the the terms of the English subsidy. In the demesnes, the salt monopoly, and a super- autumn he went to meet the English comintendence over the provincial debts, and missioners at Amsterdam, and remained over private banks. The reputation which there till the end of the war. His enthuhad procured him the original invitation to siastic devotion to the cause of freedom, his leave Copenhagen, was justified by his pride and confidence in the army, and his financial success; but he considered that just hatred of the foreign tyrant, made him he was secretly thwarted by Hardenberg, from the first sanguine of success, even durwho retained the king's confidence, though ing the armistice, when Metternich was pronot in office; and when that minister re-mising assistance to both parties, with an turned to power in 1810, Niebuhr, with accumulation of promises perhaps unparalsome difficulty, obtained permission to re-leled even in the annals of diplomatic falsesign his employments, and with the rank hood. The result of the peace disapof royal historiographer, joined the Uni-pointed him. He had hoped that Germany versity of Berlin, which opened under the might be restored to its old frontier on
the left of the Rhine, and he deeply re- In the month of July he set out with his sented the opposition of England to the wife for Italy, and arrived at Rome in Occlaims of Prussia at the congress of Vienna.tober. On his way he found, with satisIt was natural that he should regret that Han- faction, the estimation in which he was over and Prussia received the district of held by learned men in the south of GerHadeln to the south of the Elbe, which was many, and at Verona he discovered the the country of the long line of Frisian yeo- fragments of Gaius, which were afterwards men, from which he was himself descend- published at Berlin. The chancellor, Hared. We can less sympathize with his in- denberg, had promised to send his instrucdignation at the failure of the Prussian tions immediately, but it was four years claim to the whole of Saxony, which he before he received them, and in the mean supported in a pamphlet which attracted time he had little business to transact. great attention. In the hope that a new When the instructions arrived in 1820, he war would give increased influence to was occupied by the anxiety for himself Prussia, he heard, not without satisfaction, and his family, occasioned by the outbreak of the sudden breaking up of the congress of the contemptible Neapolitan revolution. by the news of the fight from Elba. In We have heard curious anecdotes of the the course of the winter he had given the abject cowardice of the Roman authorities, crown prince, now King of Prussia, lessons which might well justify him in apprehendin finance and politics. He mentions in one ing danger from the no less cowardly paof his letters, that he has not without diffi-triots. If we remember rightly, Niebuhr culty impressed the young prince with due respect for the sound and manly character of the much-abused Frederick William, the father of Frederick the Great.
applied to the governor of the castle of St. Angelo for an asylum for his family during the apprehended siege. The governor declared it would be impossible to resist, alThe triumph of the allies and the final though he admitted that assistance might overthrow of Napoleon would have given be expected in a few days. "You have him abundant cause for rejoicing; but in plenty of guns on your walls," said NieApril his father died at the age of eighty-buhr. "True," shrugged the Roman gentwo, and on the 20th June his wife expired eral, "but who will fire them?" The danin his arms. From this loss he never fully ger, such as it was, soon passed over. recovered. For many years he could not When the Austrian army, dragging with bear to recommence his history without the it the perjured and frightened king, was companion to whom he had from his youth checked on the frontier by want of money, been accustomed to think aloud; yet it Niebuhr used the credit of his government was for her sake that he afterwards resumed and of his own name to supply them, a his great work, because she for his sake had service acknowledged by the transmission on her deathbed urged him to complete it. from the Emperor of the Grand Cross of But he could not live alone; and the pros- the Order of Leopold. He had already pect of solitude became unbearably op conciliated the warm regard of the Pope, pressive to him, when he had accepted and of his minister, Cardinal Consalvi; and from Hardenberg the appointment of min- be facilitated the conclusion of the arrangeister at Rome, with a view to the arrangements with the Papal Court, by conceding ment of terms for the government of the the honor of the settlement of the terms Catholic Church in the Prussian dominions. to Hardenberg, who visited Rome at the He had persuaded Dore Hensler, his wife's time. He was a sincere friend to the indesister, to accompany him; but in the sum-pendence and security of the Catholic mer of 1816 he married the niece of her Church, though his residence in the counhusband, Gretchen Hensler, whom Madame Hensler had educated, and who had now accompanied her to Berlin. She kindly shared in Niebuhr's regrets for Amalie, and by degrees won him over to a calmer and more cheerful view of the future. In the previous winter he had occupied himself in continuing his instructions to the crown prince, and in writing several pamphlets, and shortly before his marriage he pub- In the spring of 1823 he returned to Gerlished the life of his father, the best exam-many, having, at the wish of his governple we are acquainted with of a concise ment, withdrawn an application for his rend characteristic biography. call, on condition of obtaining leave of
try had imbued him with profound disgust for the mummeries of modern Italian paganism, to which he seriously preferred the more serious and manly religion under which the old Republic had conquered and civilized the world. But he thought central despotism in all cases bad, and he felt that the church was entitled to be treated with good faith.
absence for a year. He had himself no in- lers; and it was only with such men as clination to leave Rome, for the climate, Bunsen, or Brandis, that he could enter which at first had increased his hypochon-upon the vast variety of subjects which his driac depression, became agreeable to him knowledge embraced. The warmest friendon further experience; and he felt that an ship of his latter years he formed with absence of seven years had thrown him out Count de Serre, at that time French ambasof the current of political interests. But sador at Naples, and it was partly with a his wife disliked Italy, and found the effects view to facility of intercourse with him, of the climate injurious to her health; and when he should return to France, that he had now four children, whom he was Niebuhr determined, in the autumn of 1823, anxious to bring up with the language and to fix his residence at Bonn. In the folassociations of Germany. The eldest of lowing year he lost his friend, with whom them, his son Marcus, was born in the year he had for the last time parted at Naples. 1817, and had, from his cradle, occupied a About this time an attack on his 'Hisgreat share of Niebuhr's thoughts and af- tory' was fortunately published by Steinfections. Nothing else could have so ef- acker, which led him, in preparing to anfectually cured the melancholy which still swer it, to a discovery of the character of oppressed him from the loss of Amalie. the third great change in the Roman conHe had always loved children, and he be-stitution. He immediately determined to came devoted to his own. Before his son resume and remodel his work, and thought could think or speak, he pleased himself it a good omen that his resolution was with plans for teaching him, and with reso- formed on the anniversary of his betrothal lutions such as many fathers have formed to Amalie. In the long interval which had and failed in keeping, for avoiding all the de- elapsed since the discontinuance of the fects which had accompanied the formation work, his views had been gradually ripenof his own character. When the child could ing and expanding, and he had acquired understand him, he began to tell him much valuable knowledge of Italian topogstories of the ancient gods and heroes, and raphy and antiquities, and of the municiwas equally delighted with the apprecia-pal constitutions of the middle ages, which tion or indifference which might, in either were immediately derived from those of case, be referred to some promising quality. the Roman provincial towns. The king His anecdotes of the infantine excellences allowed him to resign his post as ambasof Marcus, and Amalie, and Cornelia, con-sador, with a pension equal to his salary, stantly communicated to Dorè Hensler, and in 1824 and 1825 he was detained for are among the most agreeable portions of a considerable time at Berlin, to share in his correspondence. Marcus Niebuhr has contributed to his father's memory the present collection of his posthumous works.
subjects of the same class. In August, 1826, on the eve of his fiftieth birthday, he completed the second edition of the first volume of his 'History.'
the financial deliberations of the Council of State. He refused, however, every of fer of a civil appointment, and made a proM. Bunsen, his worthy successor at posal, which the ministry accepted, to atRome, now so well known and highly es- tach himself as an independent member of teemed in England, has contributed to the the University of Bonn. His new duties, Lebensnachrichten a very interesting ac- and the continuation of his 'History,' occount of Niebuhr, as a diplomatist at cupied the remainder of his life. He lecRome.' His income did not allow him, or tured on Greek and Roman history, on his inclination lead him, to give great en-universal and modern history, and on other tertainments, or compete in splendor with some others of the diplomatic body; but he made it a rule to expend the whole of his official revenue, and his house, his purse, and his advice, were at the service of his countrymen, if deserving. The artists received a peculiar share of his at-elled the second volume, notwithstanding tention and friendship. He anticipated the an inconsiderate undertaking to superinworld in appreciating Cornelius, and the tend an edition of the Byzantine historians. more earnest and religious race of painters, In February, 1829, a part of his house was who were then preparing a change in the burnt, and a portion of the manuscript of character of German art. He found in his history unfortunately destroyed. He them, however, a want of general know- immediately began to exert himself to reledge, and a one-sidedness, which, we be- pair the loss, and the second volume was lieve, to be one of the many reasons which published in July, 1830. The preface exaccount for the inferiority of modern paint-presses the sorrow and alarm with which
He afterwards still further altered the first volume in a third edition, and remod