Imágenes de páginas

into the forms of life around him. He was not the son of a rustic or a tradesman, but of a country parson, whose circumstances indeed were straitened enough, but whose mind was cultivated, and his spirit generous and benevolent. His father also came of a good stock; the grandfather was rector of the Gymnasium in Neustadt, with which he united the offices of chanter and organist. But our German neighbours seem to give high names to very insignificant posts, for his combined income from all three sources amounted to no more than 150 florins annually, about 91. sterling! Truly, this was a "hunger-fountain,' as Jean Paul calls it, and here thirty-five years long he stood and drank.' But, though very poor, he was a most devout, pious, and conscientious man, enjoying the merited tribute of universal love and esteem, transmitting to his descendants by his example and character a better inheritance than riches. He was a man of earnest prayer, and it is truly pleasant to read in his grandson's narrative, how the inhabitants of Neustadt yet show a bench behind the organ, where every 'Sunday he kneeled to pray, and a hollow or grotto in the little Culm [a solitary conical hill, near Neustadt, surrounded by 'pines,] that he formed for himself to pray in, (at this distance of time it stands open,) and in which his more ardent son 'sported with the Muses and Penury.' This is the only posthumous fame worth desiring-to be hallowed in the memories of men as a man of prayer, an Israel, and to have the very spots pointed out where such sacred communion was enjoyed.

[ocr errors]

But the pleasure of any personal reminiscence of the good man himself was denied to his grandson, for he died about five months after the birth of the latter. Yet, before his departure, a touching interview took place between the unconscious infant and the aged saint, which being often told him by his father, made a deep impression on his susceptible mind, and awakened many tender religious feelings in after years. Being brought by his parents with them to the grandfather's bedside, a clergyman who was present said, with scriptural simplicity, Let 'the old Jacob lay his hand upon the child, that he may bless 'him.' The cold hand was laid on his head, and the blessing was spoken by the pilgrim hastening to the end of his conflict, which was fondly recalled by the grandson with loving faith and thankfulness, in the midst of his own conflicts, when led from dark into brighter hours. Much of his character is revealed by the fondness with which he clung to this little memorial.

*Of this we have another instance in the tale of Walt and Vult, whose father, though a legal functionary, and titled Mr. Justice Harnish, was, after all, it appears, only a peasant, and evidently in the depths of poverty.

It shows his serious thoughtfulness, and the earnest, reverential, affectionate turn of his mind.

But we proceed to speak of his father. He appears to have been possessed of more mental ability and natural ardour than the grandfather, and to have been distinguished by social wit and the power of making himself an agreeable and welcome guest at the table of the higher orders, without relinquishing aught of the uprightness and dignity that became his station. He thus secured both their favour and respect, and profited in a small degree by their patronage. His talents as a preacher appear to have been considerable, and his son attributes it to the popularity which he thus acquired, that, while he was yet but third master of the Gymnasium, and organist in Wunsiedel, he gained a bride in the eldest and favourite daughter of a respectable citizen of Hof, together with the goodwill and esteem of her parents. What kind of doctrine he preached, we are not able to say: if we may judge from his son's expression, who says that he passed for a very strict pastor, and in the pulpit for a preacher of the law,' we may suppose that he dwelt chiefly on the themes of morality, though with greater earnestness than most of the moral school. His love of music and his taste and skill in it were very great, and this faculty his son fully inherited; over whose mind and writings it exercised a powerfully exciting influence. Of his marriage, the first living offspring was our hero, John Paul Frederic, who was born at Wunsiedel, a little town lying high up the mountain, on the morning of the 21st of March, 1763. He was fond of remarking that the spring and he were born together; and, without subjecting ourselves to the charge of absurdity for adopting a new kind of astrology, that should decide on the temperaments of persons by the seasons in which they are born, we may add that there was something more in this coincidence in his case than what was casual and meaningless. He was born with the spring, and with its earliest flowers, and he seems to have been endowed with the genial spirit that was then awakening all nature into life and hopefulness around him. His soul had all the cheerfulness of its sun, the freshness of its air, the tenderness of its gentle, nourishing rains, the progressive power and springing energy of its seeds and plants and forest foliage, and thus continued budding and blossoming to the last. It might be said, indeed, that in another respect his productions resembled those of the spring: they have more of the promise and dawn of excellence in them than of its perfection and finished maturity.

Two years after his birth, his father removed from Wunsiedel to the small village of Joditz, on the other side of the mountain, lying on the Saale, about six miles distant from Hof, having been promoted to the office of pastor there by his worthy patroness, the Lady Von Plotho. Here it was that the childhood of our hero was passed, among the simple scenes of village life, of which he has left us so interesting a record. He brings before us in the liveliest pictures the joys of the different seasons of the year, the whole forming the most natural and attractive Idyllic poem that we have ever read. His heart and imagination were full of activity: he loved everything, and knew how to derive joy and delight from everything. The scenery of the village and its neighbourhood was not romantic, but he had that faculty within which could impart to it the charms in which it was deficient. In his memory and his pages the whole glows with the rosy light of life's morning. From the village school he had been removed very soon, to his great regret, his father preferring to instruct him and his brother at home. The method of instruction pursued was, unfortunately, that which is easiest for the master and least profitable to the pupil-mere learning and repeating by rote. While speaking of his father's labours with reverence and love, Richter does the system complete satirical justice. But this was the smallest part of his education: he read all the books that he could lay hands on, whether he understood them or not-especially volumes of old newspapers, which his father brought from the Lady Plotho, the contents of which he repeated every morning to the old Lady Von Reitzenstein, who lived in the castle of the village, over her coffee. His eye and heart were open to the universe around him, and daily received new impressions of instruction or excitement. Nor did he fail to cast an inward glance into his own being. There is a most interesting passage, where he tells his inward experience of the birth of self-consciousness, the external position and circumstances associated with it remaining indelibly impressed on his mind, together with the sense, then first awakened, of his separate individual being. Of a similar character is his account of the summer afternoon, when, as he was returning through the fields from Hof, and watching the sunny mountain side, with its waving corn-fields, traversed by the coursing shadows of the clouds, an undefined longing, till then unfelt, came over him, of mingled pain and pleasure, and unremembered wishes: it was the soul's first glimpse and dim perception of the Infinite in nature. This feeling he has several times described in his works; and who is there of earnest imaginative spirit that has not known it? But Richter's talent lies here: those moods of feeling and emotion, and those dreamy conceptions which others find it hard to grasp and impossible to express, he can both seize and delineate. Of less importance psychologically, but not less interesting, are his recollections of household scenes and joys; of his father, studying in winter in the common room of the family—or, in summer, committing his sermon to memory in an open pleasure-house in a garden outside the village-or standing by his field-labourers, not as an overseer, but as a friendly shepherd of souls; of his first childish love, Augustina, a little blue-eyed girl; of his state visits to the noble mansion of the Baroness, at Zedwitz, where he had his first view of patrician dignity and splendour; his visits of business to his grandparents in Hof; but especially the glories of its annual fair; and those more free and joyous visits to the neighbouring pastor of Koditz; his happiness with his little playmate, the pastor's son; and his father's joy when he could repeat before the family circle there, the heads and best passages of the Sunday's sermon. But, as he tells us,

• He ventured upon something yet more bold one afternoon when his father was absent. He took the psalm-book, and went to visit an extremely aged woman, old as the hills, who had been bed-ridden for many years; and placing himself at the bed-side, like the pastor visiting the sick, he began to read the psalm for the dying. But he was soon interrupted by tears and sobs, not of the old woman, at anything she heard from the psalm-book, for she remained cold and unmoved, but by his own.'-Life, vol. i., p.

46. This circumstance he has transferred to the youthful history of his hero, Walt, in the · Flegeljahre.'

We love to linger over these traits of youthful character, but must hasten on. After ten years' residence in Joditz, his father was promoted by his patroness to the better living of Schwarzenbach on the Saale, a few miles distant, where the son enjoyed more advantages, though still of an inferior order, in instruction and access to books. But his own mental vigour overcame all difficulties. He refers to the pleasure, amounting to physical ecstasy, with which he first perused the old Robinson Crusoe, on the improved version of which he passes a humorous condemnation. The young chaplain, a friend of his father's, gave him voluntary lessons in geography, philosophy, and composition, in the last of which he acknowledges great obligations to his instructor for the selection of themes—such as, the proof of God's existence, of Providence, &c.,-which were really fitted to awaken and interest his powers. It was an important circumstance that the first topics on which he was led to think and write, were those connected with natural


theology. In the same direction his serious speculations ran to the very close of his life ; and all the religious sentiments with which his writings are filled are such as spring out of natural, not revealed religion. His bias against the latter must have been greatly strengthened by some of the works which, soon after this, he eagerly sought and read, such as Semler's Investigation of the Canon, and Lessing's Fragments. In fact, though we find him at the time of his first communion, when thirteen years of age, full of devotional feeling, in his sixteenth year he had adopted the most zealous heterodoxy.' This was extremely natural, especially in a youth of such an inquiring mind and ardent temperament, and at that epoch. Of the influences which were then at work in the department of religion, both among the clergy and in society, we shall here give a brief sketch, which may serve in some measure to account for the peculiar modification which Richter's views assumed.

When spiritual life decays in a church, formality generally supervenes.

The loss of the living power is superficially cloaked by the prominence of the mechanical appearance. In the Romish community, we have the formalism of rites and ceremonies, and ascetic observances among a certain class. In Protestant national churches, we have the equally destructive formalism of a stiff adherence to their standards or symbolical books, and to a stereotyped form of notions and usages. This process of stereotyping, be it remembered, may go on in communities and churches that acknowledge no human standards; but that part of the subject, though momentous, we cannot handle at present. In the Lutheran church this blighting evil had long been reigning. In the seventeenth century, before the efforts of Spener and Franke commenced, the Bible was scarcely studied or referred to at all in the Protestant universities of Germany. In its place, the symbols or confessions of faith were universally taught or studied. The tender and majestic voice of God's living truth was drowned in the dead jargon of human expositions. To be orthodox was to be stereotypedthat is, to be cast into a hard (CTEPEOS), dead, unchanging, and unfeeling mould, instead of undergoing a living, organic, spontaneous formation and development, in accordance with the renewing power and inward growth of the implanted word. The spiritual reformation which Spener and others began at Halle—insisting on scriptural instruction and vital godliness, on a practical religion to be known by its fruits-operated for a time favourably, but only to a limited extent; and after a period it declined and corrupted into a bigoted, puling, mystical Pietism, which divorced religion and theology from scientific culture. This is


« AnteriorContinuar »