K. R. (Karl Rudolf) Hagenbach.

German rationalism, in its rise, progress, and decline, in relation to theologians, scholars, poets, philosophers, and the people : a contribution to the church history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries online

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connection with the distinguished men of Weimar. We ex-
pect, however, to resume the subject in another place. A
journey to Italy, which country Herder had in his early youth
longed to visit, reinvigorated his body and recreated his mind.
His taste for art and antiquity was exercised, and rendered
still more acute, and nature, and the customs and manners of

God through thy instrumentality shall be thine, and shall prepare eternal habi-
tations for thee ; whatever is neglected by thee, and falls away or goes astray,
shall grieve thy soul for ever.' Methinks those words of Luther — or, why do I
not rather mention the Lord of lords, the King of kings, the Holy one and Pro-
tector of all human souls, Jesus Christ, to whom Luther pointed, whose doctrines
he preached, why do I not mention Him, as he stands here, where more than
two or three are gathered in his name and call on Him, as he stands here, in our
midst, pointing to His word and His congregation saying: 'I have bought
and gained them with my blood. Take care of these, and all over whom
thou hast been placed as shepherd and guardian, that none of those may be
lost whom I commit to thee, who are like stars in my hand, are written in my
heart and on my breast.' "



JOHN GODFREY HERDER. 177

the country found in him a keen observer. Whilst in Rome,
he received another call to Gottingen ; he was very much in-
clined to accept it ; his own spirit seemed to advise him to
go, but the reigning duchess, Amelia, succeeded in keeping
him in Weimar for life. The latter part of his stay in Weimar^
was unfortunately disturbed by much unpleasant experience,
and also by ill health, and it really makes a sad impression
upon us when we hear, that on account of this as well as on
account of the frustration of earlier plans, he exclaimed with
grief: " O my disappointed life !" The distinctions conferred
on him, the elevation to the vice-presidency, and afterwards
to the presidency of the consistory (1801), were only a small
compensation for what he in vain demanded of himself, and
besides involved him in many new difficulties, from which he
found the best relief in the family circle. The soreness of his
eye increased continually. The treatment of the disease both
in Aix-la-Chapelle and Egra did not reahse his hopes. The
three weeks spent in Dresden were the last bright days of his
life. He returned to Weimar, September 1803, and on the
last day of the month held an examination on angels with an
unusual elevation of spirits ; he himself was soon to be trans-
ported to the invisible world. " It appeared," says John von
Mliller, in the letter written to his brother on the death o
Herder, "to bear the impress of another world, and to be
about beings to whom he felt himself related." In his last
years he longed for nothing more earnestly than for some
great high thought on which he might live, Klopstock's
" Odes," Young's " Night Thoughts," and Miiller's " Relics "
were, next to the Bible, especially the Prophets, the last food
of his soul. He died December 18, 1803, shortly after
he, whom inner nobihty of soul had always elevated above
what is low and ordinary, had been raised to the nobility

■ There was no lack of colli^ons between him and the other great minds
which adorned the court of Weimar. It is really humiliating to see what
a little,- often malicious, spirit of backbiting could enter such a circle, which
fact must have embittered his life as much, as he on the other hand may have
been the occasion of annoying others with ill humour. Only compare the
malicious representation of Herder's matrimonial life in the "Letters of Schiller
and Koerner," vol. i., p. 166. The respect for genius in general decreases,
when we see that with all cultivation the rudeness of the natural man, which
can only be removed by Christianity, remains in full force.

M



178 JOHN GODFREY HERDER.

by tlie Elector of Bavaria. So much in reference to his ex-
ternal life.

In turning to the characteristics of his inner life, I will
quote a few sentences from Jean Paul in reference to Herder :
" The noble spirit (of this man) was not appreciated by dif-
ferent times and parties, though not entirely without a reason ;
for he was so unfortunate as not to be a star of the first or
any other magnitude, but an aggregate of stars, from which
each man formed a constellation, according to his own pleasure.
Men of many various powers- are seldom appreciated, those of
one particular talent nearly always." This was the case with
Herder. Those who only estimate the greatness of a rnan
according to his specific performances in a particular depart-
ment, who only ask, who was the greatest poet ? who the
gi-eatest philosopher ? who the greatest theologian ? will not
chime in with the praise of Herder. They will prefer Schiller
and Goethe as poets, will place Kant, Fichte, and Schelling
infinitely higher as philosophers ; and as far as theology is
concerned, they will ask, whether Herder really accomplished
anything extraordinary in the department of exegesis, of
church history, of dogmatics, anything which equals what
Mosheim, Michaelis, Semler, Ernesti, Doderlein before him,
what Griesbach, Eichhorn, Spittler, Plank, his contempor-
aries, as the most distinguished in their respective spheres,
performed ? We answer : greatness in a particular depart-
ment, however necessary it may be to science in general,
and however beneficial to learning, is still not the only great-
ness worthy of admiration. It is, indeed, most easily measured,
and therefore (as Jean Paul intimates) generally leceives its
merited admiration, but where life is to be influenced, where
new intellectual and moral conditions are to be produced,
where new points of view, not within the fixed limits of an
art or a science, but within the whole sphere of life are to be
disclosed, there it is not so much the men in a particular
department of learning, who break out a new course, as those
universal minds, to which Herder belonged on one side, and
Goethe on the other. ^ Goethe was certainly still more univer-
sal than Herder, but he lacked one thing, which is the most

' An ingenious comparison between Goethe and Herder may he found in
Wm. Humboldt's " Lettei's to a Female Friend," vol. i., p. 232. Among other



JOHN GODFREY HERDER. l79

important to us, that deep religiousness, at least the definite
relation to Christianity. But in this we find Herder's strength.
Whilst, therefore, Goethe's influence on the development of a
consciousness of the world, which we do not esteem lightly,
was greater than that of Herder, the latter has led the con-
sciousness of God, which is infinitely higher than that of the
world, back to its lowest depths, and has not mingled it with
that of the world, but has in various ways brought about a
mediation between the two. Let Herder, then, be inferior to
Schiller and Goethe as a poet, still, we have not only the
poet in him, but also tlie theologian, the public, popular
speaker and the preacher ; and this union of the religious-
theological genius with the poetical, of the author with the
minister of the church, makes Herder what he is, and assigns
him a place which no other mind can fill. Therefore w^e
regard such an appearance as Herder peculiar in kind, one in
which an old period ends and a new one begins ; for even if
theologians of that time might be mentioned who surpassed
Herder in learning, in extent and profundity of knowledge,
whose investigations in some, one department have led to
more lasting results than many of the bold views and ideas
of Herder's mind, still none of them has exerted so great an
influence on life. They have been of more benefit to the
school, he of more to the people, especially the more educated
part. But Herder has also influenced the school and theo-
logy by giving them new life and new tendencies. Or (1 ask
those who are capable of judging in this matter) of what
advantage to the study of the Bible was that lifeless learning
of Michaelis, which lacked all poetry, and therefore all deep
truth, when compared with the impulse which Herder gave
to the investigation and interpretation of the Old Testament !
In philosophy, Kant, Fichte, and Schelling have, of course,
taken the lead, so that their names, like mile-stones, mark
the stadia in the history of modern philosophy, of which
Hegel .may be said to form the terminus. But from them the

things he says (quite in accordance with our views) : " Herder was certainly-
inferior to Schiller and Goethe in compass of mind and poetical talent ; but in
him there was a blending of soul and fancy, by means of which he accomplished
what they could never have done." Is it not this blemling of soul and fancy
which constitutes the religious genius ?



180 JOHN GODFREY HERDER.

school gained the chief advantage. From them, too' origi-
nated that forced, unusual language of the school which
Herder opposed so violently, since he valued the self-depend-
ence of the mind more than the prevalence of coined and
imitative forms. And, indeed, the time has come when an-
other Herder ought to appear to purify the temple of science
from the trash of the new scholasticism. In the history of
archseology some may have brought to light more profound
knowledge than Herder. But who like Herder has really
awakened so many and such great ideas, and scattered intel-
lectual sparks where formerly there had been mostly only
dead matter cemented with dead matter, where only num-
bers and names had been strung together, and only registers
and commentaries to registers had been made !

We must not confound Herder's variety of knowledge with
a superficial polymathy and a meddling disposition, which
know a little of everything, but nothing thoroughly, and trip
lightly over all the departments of learning. No one was
more opposed to a mere smattering of knowledge. Whatever
Herder studied he studied completely and thoroughly, and
penetrated to the roots, and was never satisfied with gather-
ing flowers for the sake of adorning vanity. Everywhere
the points of his mind touched the heavens, whilst the weight
of the mind sank it to the depths, everywhere his genius
appears, and never, never, when it knocks, is the sound hollow ;
and when he spreads his pinions he never sinlcs to mediocrity.
One may miss in his writings the close deduction, the careful
completion, the mature investigation and connection of
thought ; one may take offence at his harshness, at apparent
contradictions, at groundless, doubtful assertions, especially
when he presents them with that confidence which denies the
right to all contradiction ; but never by the side of the stub-
born will the shallow head appear, which says a thing only
because others have said it, and only wants to reap where it
has not strewn. Nor is his the chaotic variety of the poly-
mathist that has accumulated in him as an undigested mass,
which might more probably be regarded as the case with his
friend Hamann ; we rather see that all that Herder has
gathered is immediately changed into sap and blood, is all
united harmoniously, and is then again properly distributed and



JOHN GODFREY HERDER, 181

arranged, and becomes, as it were, Herder. This his contem-
porary and opponent also observed, for he remarks in his
review of the " Ideas for a History of Humanity," rather
Warning than praising. " It seems as if his genius does not
only gather the ideas from the wide field of science and art
merely for the sake of adding them to others, but it appears
as if he changed them, according to certain laws of assimila-
tion peculiar to himself, into his specific mode of thought."
We should like to understand this expression of Kant in a
manner favourable to Herder, and to add : The beautiful, the
peculiar and admirable in this is, that by means of this pro-
cess of living personal appropriation nothing essential is lost,
but that the idea which passes through his consciousness
gains in clearness, in truth, in internal beauty for others, and
consequently also in universal validity for all, since he gives
back what he has gained, cleansed from all dross. Herder
thought and felt i7i his age, tvlth his age, and for his age.
He expressed what was on the tongues of many who, how-
ever, could not utter it, because they lacked the proper words.
The age was mirrored in him. In him humanity found and
recognized itself in its humanity. Therefore he was the pro-
phet and representative of Humanity. Hence we only
understand Herder as poet, as philosopher, as theologian, and
preacher, when we at the same time understand him as a
man. As he gave everything in a living manner, it must be
comprehended in the same manner; I might say, must be
personally perceived and understood thus. He who wants to
receive, as it were, only goods from him, to gain a definite
profit from him, results which he can carry home in his
pockets, will not seldom find himself disappointed ; he will at
first think that the load of wisdom he has found in him is
heavy, but in the end he will find but little in his hands.
But whoever seeks in him a living fountain, a strengthening
fragrance and inspiring* breath, will never come to him in
vain. . It is not always the bright noonday sun, which beams
from Herder's pages ; frequently it is a subdued light, a twi-
light. But we never become gloomy in this twilight, we only
cling so much more closely to the guide, who boldly leads the
way with the torch in his hand. Though we may often wish
that he were clearer to us, still we never suppose for a



182 JOHN GODFREY HERDER.

moment that he himself does not cleai-ly comprehend the
matter. There, too, where we miss plan and order, where he
leaps rather than walks, we do not fear ; and where we least
expect it, we are placed on a point from which an extensive
prospect opens to our view.

Let us now, however difficult it may be to keep the parti-
cular sides apart, still take up the various sides of his nature,
and in such a manner, that we may never lose sight of the
main object we have in view. We intentionally do not begin
with that which is connected with this main object, the theo-
logical life and activity of the man, but with those talents
which supported this life, with his poetic talent, his position
in reference to philosophy and the literature of his age ; with
that, in general, which Herder comprehended in the one
word, humanity (die Humanitat). As far as Herder the
poet is concerned, we have already observed, that many
might prefer Schiller, Goethe, or some other of his cotempo-
raries (for he must only be compared with these). We will
not dispute about such a preference. I readily admit that
much, perhaps the most, of the earlier poetry of Herder, has
something harsh, unpliant in it, which can only be read with
reluctance. Herder's poems neither recommend themselves
by the sweetness of the rhyme (the most are blank verse),
nor by the beauty of the rhythm, nor by that peculiar charm,
which Schiller's and Goethe's poems possess. But that con-
cerns us less here. The poetical works of Herder, among
which his " Cid," his legends and cantata, are distinguished as
poetical productions, are of less interest to us, than his pure,
noble, grand poetical taste. To him, as his wife says, poetry
was no empty jingle of words, but the language of God ;
and Jean Paul appropriately says of him : " Even if he were
no poet, he was something better, a poem, an Indo-Grecian
Epos, made by some one of the purest gods ; for all flowed
together in his beautiful soul, as in a poem, and the good, the
true, the beautiful, were inseparable in it." Herder was as it
were poetized in the Grecian manner according to life.
Poetry was not a horizon-appendix to his life, as we often
observe a rainbow-coloured cluster of clouds on the horizon in
foul weather, but it flew like a light rainbow over his clouded
life as a gate of heaven." This poetical disposition of Her-



JOHN GODFREY HERDER. 183

der, so deepl}^ and heartily prized by Jean Paul, was of infi-
"te value to his theological views. The ability to compre-
hend religion poetically, to enter into the spirit of the Scrip-
tural-oriental, Old Testament poetry, and to interpret the
sacred books ingeniously from the spirit, was of great value,
furthered the cause of interpretation, and suddenly removed
many serious difficulties ; for in my opinio^ the reconciliation
of theological extremes lies to a great extent in this inge-
nious poetical view ; whence do these extremes mostly origi-
nate, if not from an intelligence too dry, freed from all poetry
of life, from a prosaic, insipid consequentness ? from misun-
derstanding of the symbolical ? Herder at once cut the
thread of rabbinical-scholastic subtleties, when he tore the
holy things from profane hands and bore them to those re-
o'ions, into which only a consecrated taste, one susceptible to
the beautiful, the peculiar and strange, such as poetry
nourishes, can enter. He penetrated to the depths of religious
life, as it appears in the history of nations, and especially in
the people of God, whilst others w^ere wallowing, with a
learned air, in the slime which had accumulated on its sur-
face. To make poetry like Herder's more is necessary than
mere versification. Just as he gathered the songs of the
most different nations and wove them into one garland, and
with the same susceptibility and mobility of spirit inhaled
the fragrance of Grecian poetry, with wdiich he imbibed the
songs of Job and Ossian ; so, too, did he make history the
ground on which his sublime views of life, his philosophy,
rested.

Herder was a philosophical poet, and a poetical philosopher;
but he was neither of these in that superficial generality, in
which pretended geniuses love to wander, without foundation,
without nourishing roots. Poetry and philosophy were the
blossoms of his spirit ; the trunk, however, had its roots in
history, not indeed in th'e history, of one people or age, but in
the history of the human race. The thought first seized by
Isaac Iselin, to show "the progress of humanity from the
lowest degree of ignorance to continually increasing light and
prosperity," was farther developed by Herder in his " Ideas
for a philosophy of the history of humanity." Already, in the
title of the book, Herder's mind reflects itself, which does not



184; JOHN GODFREY HERDER.

want philosophy and history to be separated, but to be studied
in their most intimate connection and relations to each other.
He had as great an aversion to a philosophy which, regardless
of history, forms its system from abstract propositions, as to
a history, which only accumulates a mass of materials, without
letting philosophical ideas shine and waft through them. In this
joining of the historical with the philosophical, which forms a
higher unity by connecting itself with the poetical view of the
world mentioned above, lies the secret of Herder's genius,
" Poetry, philosophy, and history" he says himself, " are, in
my opinion, the three lights which illumine the nations, the
sects and the generations ; a holy triangle ! Poetry elevates
man above all separation and partiality by means of an agree-
able, vivid presence of the objects ; philosophy gives him firm,
lasting principles in reference to them, and, if he still needs
them, history will not refuse to give hiin maxims."

Just as formerly his poetical view of the world, so now too
his historical-philosophic sense gives the means of judging of
the influence to be exerted on the formation of the religious
ideas : for, since the error and partiality of Rationalism con-
sisted in this, that, with a disregard for an historical founda-
tion and development, it wanted to set a religion of reason in
place of the existing leligion ; and the error and partiality of
the Orthodoxy of that time in this, that it only clung to the
historical as dead precepts. Herder had already made progress
towards a real mediation between the two, in not being able
on the one hand to conceive of anything developed and really
present in man, which had not been acquired through instruc-
tion, through history, through divine communication and reve-
lation, nor, on the other hand, of anything which had come
altogether to and into him from without, unless there is some-
thing analogous in man himself, with which he recognises that
of which he may obtain a knowledge (which exists for him),
receives it, reflects on it, developes and advances it, as much as
he is able. He thus, for instance, attacked, in his prize essay
on the Origin of Language, the apparently pious, but reall}'"
mechanical view, that man received language altogether as a
divine communication, whilst he himself thought that the
origin can only be properly regarded as divine, in so far as it is
human. In general, there was not that contrast between the



JOHN GODFREY HERDER. 185

divine and human for Herder, which is usually thought of in con-
nection with these words, according to which God lacks all that
is human and man all that is divine, or at least only an ex-
ternal approach of the one to the other takes place ; he wanted
to see the divine brought about or mediated through the
human, and the human glorified and ennobled by the divine.
To him all was divine and all human, according to the view
you take of the matter. We have called Herder a priest of
the purely human, a priest of humanity. We will pursue
this thought farther, before we contemplate him as a theo-
logian.

Let us now embrace poetry, philosophy and history, which
we have thus far contemplated as separate branches of his
nature and activity, in that one word which he emphasized
more than any other, which he continually had in his mouth,
but still more in his soul, in the word Humanity. Tliis word,
like the word tolerance and similar party words, became a
shibboleth of that age, and therefore it is necessary that here,
with the representative of humanity, we also obtain a clear
idea of the word, with which a great part of modern history
is connected, that we consider the relation which this modern
humanity has taken to the Christianity and Protestantism of
the age. We properly ask in the first place : What did
Herder himself understand by tlie word ? Herder knew very
well that a word does not decide a matter, and that an odium
is easily cast upon the word ; but still he knew none that was
better.^ The dignity of human nature, he thought, is a
characteristic of our race, to which it must first be brought by
education. The beautiful word philanthropy, he thought, had
become so trivial that the human race is mostly loved, so as
really to love no one among men. He, therefore, chose the
foreign word humanity. In it he sees the character of our
race which, however, is only potentially innate, and which
must properly be acquired by cultivation. " We do not bring
it," he says, " really with us into the world, but in the world
it ought to be the aim of our striving, the sum of our efforts,
our dignity. Tlie divine in our race is therefore cultivation,
leading to humanity ; all great and good men, lawgivers, in-

' See especially the letters on humanity, and the ideas for a history of the
philosophy of the human race (Werke zur Phil, und Gesch., vol. iii., p. 217).



J 86 JOHN OODFUEY HERDER.

ventors, pliilosophers, poets, artists, all noblemen in every rank
of society, have aided in this work, by the education of their
children, by tlie performance of their duties, by example, con-
duct, precepts and doctrines. Humanity is the treasure and
profit of all human labours, the art, as it were, of our race.
The education, leading to it, is a work which must be carried
on unceasingly, or we sink, higher and lower classes, back to
rude brutishness and barbarity." He does not regard humanity
as old as the human race. Whilst the notion of man brings
to mind his weakness and frailty, it also calls to mind his.
human nature, his sympathy with his fellow men. Know-
ledge of human nature, development of man's powers and
talents in a manner conformable to this nature, the gather-
ing of all, called man, into the one city of God which is
governed by only one law, the law of common (universal)
reason, this is, according to Herder, the task to be performed
by humanity. " I wish," he says, " that in the word Hu-
manity I could comprehend all that I have heretofore said
about man's noble education, leading to reason and freedom,
to the filling and dominion over the earth ; for man has no
nobler word for his design than he himself is." So far Herder



Online LibraryK. R. (Karl Rudolf) HagenbachGerman rationalism, in its rise, progress, and decline, in relation to theologians, scholars, poets, philosophers, and the people : a contribution to the church history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries → online text (page 19 of 43)