Joseph Lyon Miller.

American monthly review online

. (page 13 of 54)
Online LibraryJoseph Lyon MillerAmerican monthly review → online text (page 13 of 54)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


fore resorted to the patronage of literature as an easy means
of doing honor to themselves, and of employing the active
spirits among their subjects. They found and endow univer-
sities, and labor to fill their chairs with the ablest men.
The constitution of these universities is such as to favor an
active competition among the instructors. No man is allow-
ed to slumber. His fame will be eclipsed and his emoluments



Digitized by



Google



106 Professor Fallen^ s £%augural Discourse. [Feb.

diminished bjr active rivals, if he is not up and doing. This
state of things tends to make many and thorough scholars, in-
cludmg within their ranks a large number of the ablest men in
the country, who in more free states would have been struggling
in the political arena* These men devote themselves to litera-
ture with the same determined zeal, the same independent
spirit, and the same contempt for narrow prejudices, which,
in a republic, would have made them the leaders and the ru-
lers of the people. They give the tone to the literature of the
country, and make it liberal, independent, and thorough. Oth*
er causes contribute to increase the number of scholars, and to
elevate tlie literary character of Germany. In a population ex-
ceeding thirty-four millions, and divided into numerous states,
the number of educated men required to fill the public offices
must necessarily be large, and where there is a large number
of educated men, many will devote themselves to literature.
But the scholars of Germany are not only numerous, they are
also divided. The numerous capitals and universities necessa-
rily give rise to different circles, each disposed to criticize the
rest ; and the number of critical journals connected with these
different circles exercise their office in a very independent
spirit. Sciolism, pretension, and prejudice find thousands of
detectors and hundreds of castigators. The body of German
writers h,Bs been estimated at ten thousand, producing from
three thousand five hundred, to five thousand volumes yearly.
A man who has any regard to reputation, will be cautious
of appearing before such a body of critics without care-
ful preparation. Their great number teqds moreover to
awaken an esprit de corps among the German scholars,
to give them a tone and views of their own, and to raise them
above the prejudices of the society around them ; and the
spirit of competition among them is increased by the diversity
oif their pursuits. Excellence in one department produces
kindred excellence in others. Mutual attrition puts all in a
flame. From these and other causes thorough investiga-
tion, independent thinking, and liberal views, have become
characteristic of German literature. No man takes an ipse
dixit Bs the rule of his feith, but deduces his own conclusions
from first principles with what sometimes appears indeed a
tedious prolixity of elementary detail, in the eyes of an Eng-
lishman, or an American, accustomed from the business hab-
its of his country to jump at once to practical conclusions^ but



Digitized by



Google



1893.] ProfesiOf FoUenU Biaugural Dticourn. lOT

which on the whole gives great character, freshness, andscien^
tific spirit to German writings.

As our principal stores of thought and knowledge, in thi»
country, are necessarily drawn from Endish books, it may not
be out of place to touch upon some of the deficiencies in Eng<»
lish literature which the German is most adequate to supply.
One is a want of liberality. We have already spoken ouhe
cosmopolitan spirit of the German writers,' and the willingness
with which they pay tribute to excellence wherever it is ta
be found. To the causes already assigned for this spirit we
might add the situation of the Germans in the centre of
Europe, surrounded by and conversant with nations of differ-
ent character and origin ; also the extent of their country, with
its numerous population, in whom the feeling of a common
origin, language, and literature represses, in a great measure^
the sectional spirit usually arising from political divisions. We
might add that the interests cf Germany, lie mostly within her
own territory. She has no widely extended foreign commerce
and colonies to bring her into collision with half the earth.
Now the case is very different with England. Her situation »
insular, her people are out of the high road of Europe, and suf-
fer the usual consequences of seclusion, — self conceit, and a
contempt for others ; and having been long accustomed to con-
sider themselves as the only freemen in Europe, and, from
their wealth and naval superiority, to exert a powerful influ-
ence on its politics, they have become habituated to a super-
cilious tone towards the people of the continent. Moreover
the commercial and colonial relations of England are immense.
That gigantic polypus extends an arm to every comer of the
earth, and is liable to have its sensitiveness excited in a thou-
sand directions and in a thousand ways. The effect of all
this is a proneness to ill will, jealousy, and a spirit of depreci-
ation towards foreigners ; and the effects of this tendeney are
very visible in English literature. Now, as we are nurtured
in the literature of England from our cradles, it seems to be
a matter of some consequence to avoid imbibing the insular
prejudices and commercial jealousies of our transatlantic breth-
ren ; and the liberal spirit which characterizes the literature of
Germany will make it a very efScient antidote. We may be
allowed to say too, that we do not consider English literatum
9is characterized by the same independence, the same love of
truth in the abstract, and the same determination to cany



Digitized by



Google



108 Professor Pollen's h.augutal Discourse. [Feb.

principles to all their legitimate conclusions, which distinguish
the literature of Germany. Notions once rooted in the liter-
ature of England maintain their ground very sturdily. An
aversion to change, a determination to adhere to old ways as
long as they are tolerable, seems to make a part of the Eng-
lish character. The constitution of government and the laws
of England are founded, in a great measure, on prescription.
No change can be made without a violent struggle. The
cumbrous machinery and immense expenditure of the govern-
ment, with the overgrown wealth of its established churchy
tend moreover to create a very numerous class of persons
attached to the existing state of things in politics and reli-
gion. The thousand holders and ten thousand expectants of
office are firm friends to things as they are. The army of
churchmen in esse or in posse are staunch upholders of the
Thirty-nine Articles. Hence the cry of radicalism or infidelity
which is thundered against innovators in politics and religion,
including all religious, philosophical, and historical writers
whose opinions militate against the views of the powers that he.
Moreover the spirit of that great work-shop and counting-house
of the globe is eminently practical. Great principles are
generally considered by the writers of England not mainly with
reference to their abstract triith, but to their practical applica-
tion. They are made subjects of party discussion, and are attack-
ed or defended according as they favor or thwart the views
of the respective parties. ^ Those who read English literature
exclusively, become therefore accustomed to partial views,
and will find their horizon much extended by stepping into
the literary field of Germany.

In regard to learning we presume there is no question of
the superiority of the German literati, collectively speaking,
both in the variety of their studies and the thoroughness of
their research. In Germany, literature is a profession, requir-
ing for its successful pursuit the same unflinching spirit as the
other professions. It is a country of universities without rich
endowments to encourage indolence, but furnishing numerous
rewards for meritorious eflfort. In England there is compara-
tively little demand for professed scholarship. Her univer-
sities have been few, their endowments rich, and the field of
active life so wide that the number of men who devote them-
selves strenuously to learned labor is small. Hence German
literature is far richer than English in many departments of



Digitized by



Google



1832.] Profesior Follen's Inaugural Discourse. 109

learned research, in works belonging to philology, biblical
criticism, classical antiquities, ecclesiastical history, &c.

The polite literature of Germany has much to render it
attractive. It is the youngest in Europe, and most strongly
impressed with the stamp of the time. It has grown up dur-
ing the last hundred years, and is one of the fruits of the
strong excitement of the period. It speaks in tones, with
whose spirit and meaning the reader is familiar. The litera-
ture of the South of Europe, at least much of the finest part
of it, is the product of a state of things which has gone by.
It cannot be understood or felt without a study of the times
to which it belongs. To appreciate the genius of the writer,
to sympathize with his love or hate, his enthusiasm or his in-
dignation, we must withdraw ourselves from the influence of
our habitual associations, and labor to conceive the effects
of social relations to which we are strangers. It requires no
small degree of abstraction and critical analysis to bring our-
selves into a state in which our feelings can be properly af-
fected. Our feelings in fact must take their tone from our
judgment. The necessity of a process of this sort must of
course greatly limit the number of admirers, and the amount
of admiration. A lively and general interest can arise only
from a direct appeal to men's sensibilities, and in that we
think the German literature exceeds the Italian or the Span-
ish. Its writers too have been devoted students of English
literature, and their warm admiration of Shakspeare would of
itself be sufficient to assure us that much of the fine thought,
fancy, and feeling, on which we have dwelt fondly from child-
hood, has been transfused into German literature. We may
add, that we belong to the Teutonic stock, and partake in the
Teutonic character. The spirit which crossed the English
channel with our Saxon forefathers found its way in later
times over the Atlantic ocean. The usages of ordinary life,
too, which knit themselves so intimately with the feelings
of a people, and affect them so powerfully, have much
similarity in both countries. A rigorous climate accustoms
both nations to in-door occupations and amusements, dis-
poses them to study, to grave reflection, to deep feeling,
and domestic attachments ; gives rise to similar wants and
similar labors, and makes a thousand habitual associations
common to both, which immediately awaken the sympathies
of an American or English reader of German literature.

TOL. I. ffOi II. 15



Digitized by



Google



110 Professor Follen's Inaugural Discourse, {Feb.

This rapid survey of some of the prominent points of Ger-
man literature will show our opinion of its value. We will
only add a word or two on its adaptation to our wants. Ours
b a country, where it is easy to acquire a little learning, but
difficult to acquire much ; and the consequence is a pretty
wide diffiision of superficial scholarship. Separated as we
are by a wall of waters three thousand miles wide from the
cultivated nations of Europe, humiliating comparisons are not
forced upon us, and we are apt to plume ourselves upon very
moderate attainments. An acquaintance with the stores ac-
cumulated and the talent displayed by the scholars of Ger-
many would increase our knowledge, our modesty, and our
industry. We are a practical people, immersed in busy pur-
suits. Our country offers a wide field for active effort. Its
great resources are but partially developed. The avenues to
wealth are not yet choked up. The prizes of political pow-
«r are within the reach of strenuous talent ; and where wealth
find power can be had for seeking, the paths of studious life
will be comparatively little trodden. And yet there is no
country where knowledge, and knowledge too of that sort
which is gained by solitary study, is more needed. A people
who govern themselves should be acquainted with history.
A people whose religious faith is untrammelled should under-
stand the principles and proofs of their religion. Ignorance
will make them skeptics or mystics, or each alternately. A
people among whom there is no restraint on the expression
of opinion should be able to discern between the true and
the false, should understand the principles of reasoning and
the nature of evidence. If they are to hear public lectures
for the propagation of immorality, they should have an anti-
dote in an enlightened spirit. If they are to " prove all
things," they should be so instructed as to ''hold fast that
which is good." For such a people the means of knowledge
and intellectual accomplishment should be provided most
abundandy. It is not indeed to be expected that a large
part of the population will be able to avail themselves of
them to their full extent ; but it is of importance, that those
who give the tone to the nation at large, should have the
best means of culture which the age affords, and among these
the literature of Germany holds a distinguished place.

But it is time to close these remarks, which have been
occasioned by the Inaugural Discourse of Dr. Folles, in



Digitized by



Google



1833.] Professor FoUen's humgural Discourse. Ill

which the character of German literature is exhibited with
an ability to which we can make no claim, and in a style of
which the ease and elegance would prevent any suspicion of
the writer's foreign origm, if his thorough acquaintance with
his subject did not prove him to be a native of Germany.

After stating some of the causes of the low condition of
German literature in the seventeenth century, and the early
part of the eighteenth, mentioning its revival in the latter part
of that century, paying an eloquent tribute to Mad. de Stael,
whose " L'AUemagne '' first directed general attention to the
merits of German literature, and showing the unfortunate se-
lection of the first modern German works translated into
English, Dr. FoUen proceeds to examine some of the grounds
of the general regard, which of late years has grown up for
German literature. The first deparment of this literature
which he treats is philosophy or metaphysics. As the Ger-
man philosophy is a subject of great interest, we shall give
a portion of his remarks upon it,

" Of all modern nations, I believe the Germans deserve the
credit of having formed the most perfect idea of this great sci-
ence ; an idea which lies at the foundation of all their philo-
sophical works, particularly since the great revival of philoscH
phy through the influence of Kant. The various branches of
knowledge, the natural sciences, mathematics, history, ethics,
and theology, contain each of them a copious and various de**
tail of facts and speculations ; but also some general principles
from which others may be deduced, and under which all the
particulars be arranged in a systematic manner. Now these
principles themselves form the substance of philosophy. Phi-
losophy, according to the German idea of it, is the system of
the fundamental and regulating principles of all the various
branches of human knowledge. So far therefore as the uni-
verse is revealed to human knowledge, philosophy is the sys-
tem of the universe." pp. 10, 11.

'' It would lead me too far, to give so much as an outline of
all that has been done in this vast field of intellectual enter-
prise. One point, however, I feel bound to touch upon, be-
cause it may tend to do away a current error, with regard to
the general character of German Philosophy. German Philos-
ophy has been accused of a tendency to materialism and skep-
ticism, and of leading to a denial of those spiritual realities
which form the foundation of the Christian faith, — the soul of
nan, and the soul of the universe. ' German materialism,' and



Digitized by



Google



1 IS Professor Follen^s Jhangural Discourse. [Feb.

* German skepticism/ have been used as by-words in works,
which are generally, and in some respects justly admired. Now
the fact is, that in France, the whole school of modern philoso-
phy, from Condillac and the Encyclopedists, down to Cousin,
the first decided oppose r of this school, consists of advocates of
materialism ; and in England, the same system was established
by Hobbes, and indirectly promoted by Locke, until Hume
converted it into absolute skepticism ; while the records of Ger-
man Philosophy, from Leibnitz to Kant and his disciples,
Fichte, Schelling, Jacobi, and Fries, do not exhibit the name
of a single materialist or absolute skeptic. This remarkable
phenomenon is not owing to a want of freedom in expressing
opinions different from those laid down in established creeds,
supported by government or by public opinion ; for notwith-
standing all the arbitrary restraints upon the expression of po-
Utical sentiments in Germany, it is certain that there is no
country in which, ever since the reformation of the church,
there has been so much liberty in the profession oi philosophic
col and religious opinions. True, this freedom of sentiment is
not owing altogether to a high esteem for the rights of the
mind, but in a great measure to a reprehensible indifference on
these subjects, favored by the skepticism of some of the rulers,
as under the reign of Frederick the Second, of Prussia. But
whatever be the cause of this freedom from restraint, in the
expression of philosophical and religious opinions, it proves,
that this remarkable fact, that among all the philosophers of
Germany there has not been one materialist, cannot be ascrib-
ed to circumstances and institutions of society, but must be
found in the very character of German Philosophy. Indeed,
if there is any thing individual and characteristic in the litera-
ture, particularly the philosophic literature of any nation, that
of the Germans is signalized by its loyalty to spiritual truth, as
well as by its tendency to universal comprehensiveness. The
philosophic tendency of the German mind has had a decided
influence upon every department of learning. Examine every
branch of science, from the highest to the lowest, from the
works on religion and morality to those on the cultivation of
the garden, the field, and the forest, and you will find the same
scientific method, — the exact and faithful workmanship of the
same spirit that lives disembodied, mourning or rejoicing,
sporting or worshipping, in the full and free effusions of German
poetry.

" In no department, however, is the spirit of German philos-
ophy so strikingly and continually manifested, as in literary
criticism. Every book of importance that is published in any



Digitized by



Google



1832.] Professor Fallen's Inaugural Discourse. 1 13

quarter of the globe, is analysed and criticized in the literary
gazettes of Germany, supported chiefly by the learned men in
the different universities. Their reviews are really what they
pretend to be, not merely occasional essays, skimming over the
fluctuating surface of the literary deep under a borrowed flag,
but serious and strict examinations of the contents and the mer-
its of each work. This scrutiny is founded upon a thorough
knowledge of all that has been accomplished in the department
to which the work belongs, separating what others have said
from that which is the author's own property, and, from this
original matter, selecting those results which science herself
may deem worthy to call her own. No one, whether native or
foreigner, can be a constant and attentive reader of the critical
works of Germany, without reaping for his own mind, an
abundant reward for his industry." pp. 12-15.

Dr. Follen then proceeds to theology, in which the deep
researches of German scholars are well known ; and com-
ments on the charge of skepticism, which has been brought
against German theological writers. He then touches up-
on the jurisprudence, medical science, mathematics, phi-
lology, and poetry of Germany. On the last he dwells
with fondness, and eulogizes it with equal truth and elo-
quence. After some remarks on the intimate connexion of
the German and English languages, ^^ which show that the
ancestors of both nations must have been united, not merely
under one military leader, but in daily life, under the same
roof, at the same fireside," he proceeds,

'' Tales and stories, the wonders of Red Riding-Hood, the
Glass Slipper, and many others, handed down by those learned
and faithful chroniclers of the wide empire of little men, the
nurses, while they lead the American child back to the home
which his fathers lefl, carry his little cousins in England over to
their father-land, even the old Saxon nursery. Proverbs and
* golden sayings,' the good old household furniture and family
jewels of the nation, have not yet gone so entirely out of use
or fashion, as not to remind all, whose mother tongue is either
English or German, of the common ancestors, from whom they
are inherited.

** There is a resemblance and affinity, not only between the
two languages and the literary productions of each nation, but
in the very mode of perceiving and feeling them. I believe
that those who have received a genuine English education, are,
more than other foreigners, prepared to enter fully and inti-
mately into the idiomatical strength and beauty of the German



Digitized by



Google



114 Nichols's Natural Theology. [Feb.

classicd ; and the farther thej advanoe, the more they perceive
that, in studying German, they are grounding themselves in
their own language and literature. On the other hand the
mere fact, that the Germans alone possess a translation of
Shakspeare, which makes him, if I may so say, a native poet^
and have a critical exposition of his dramas, which his own
countrymen read with advantage and pleasure, — this fact
alone would be sufficient to show that those works which come
from the very heart of English genius, find also in Germany
kindred minds and an understanding heart." — p. 26.

The extracts which we have made from this Discourse
will give our readers some idea of its merits. We recom-
mend it to them as a highly interesting sketch of German
literature, and a valuable introduction to its study.



Aht. III. — ACatechism of Natural Theology, By I. Nich-
ols, D. D., Pastor of the First Church in Portland.
Second Edition: with Additions and Improvements.
Boston. 1831. 12mo. pp. 215.

The former edition of this work was a well-digested and
useful compend of some of the most interesting facts and
principles in the science of natural theology. Wq are glad
that it met with sufficient encouragement to authorize a sec-
ond edition, which is now before us in an improved form, and
with valuable additions. We notice a great superiority in the
typographical execution and the style of engraving in the
present edition, which, in a work of this kind, we regard as
of prime importance.

The author has succeeded in presenting, in a small com-
pass, the striking illustrations of the Divine power and good-
ness, which have been collected from different works of
nature by preceding writers and embodied in many volumes.
The fine reasonings of Paley, and the graphic descriptions of
Charles Bell, are condensed and applied with singular judg*
ment and good taste. The best portion of the work, we
think, is that which treats of Animal Mechanics, — a subject
so clearly and beautifully demonstrated by the last-'oamed
writer. We have not detected any errors in Dr. Nk^hols'B
statements of scientific facts, and, firom his well-known accu-
racy, we presume that none of any consequence occur.



Digitized by



Google



1832.] Nichols's Natural Theology. 115

We cordially recommend this work to the notice of parents
and teachers in general, believine that they will not easily
find a more lucid explanation of the interesting topics which
it discusses, nor a subject more adapted to excite and im-
prove the young minds, of which they have the charge.

As a specimen of the author's manner, we quote the follow-
ing description of the architecture of the human head.

*' T. Do you think of any evidence of design in the form of
the head t

*' A. Round vessels are the least liable to be broken, or
pressed in. Thus, a thin watch glass, because it is rounded



Online LibraryJoseph Lyon MillerAmerican monthly review → online text (page 13 of 54)