Blackwood's Magazine/Volume 50/Issue 314/The Tittle-Tattle of a Philosopher
THE TITTLE TATTLE OF A PHILOSOPHER.
Meine Lebensreise. In Sechs Stazionen; von Urceus.
My Journey through Life, In Six Stages; by Urceus,
(i.e. by Krug; urceus—as we may inform our fair readers,
being the Latin for krug, which in German means a pitcher or jug.)
Professor Krug of Leipsic is a person of no small consideration in Germany. It is true that the philosophers of the high transcendental school look upon him as the very dirt beneath their feet. They speak of him as belonging to that class of authors of whom it is said—Ils se sont battus les flancs pour être de grands hommes; but let him batter his sides, say they, till they ache again, he is unable to give utterance to a single note of genuine philosophic inspiration. Mystical dreamers, retorts the professor, are ye, one and all of you, you transcendentalists. Your world is but a phantom, and is peopled with phantoms. Your theories are utterly repudiated by common sense, and, unlike the rest of mankind, you make it your pride to be seen walking on your heads. It may be so, answer the transcendentalists, but you have no head to walk upon, worthy Professor Urceus.
Still, notwithstanding these asperities, and although our professor is altogether disowned by the genuine children of speculation, it must be admitted that the man who was deemed worthy to be the immediate successor of Kant, in the Chair of Philosophy, at Königsberg, and who presided with courage and ability over the University of Leipsic during the memorable crisis of 1813, when that city, like a convulsed human heart, was the bloody nucleus around which was raging the battle of a nation's life—it must be admitted that such a man has some claims on the consideration of those who are interested either in literary or military history. The industry of Professor Krug has been indefatigable, and the versatility of his talents is prodigious. For the last forty years, scarcely an event has occurred, scarcely an opinion has been broached in Germany, without his having come forward and taken part in the discussion. No subject comes amiss to his band, from the philosophy of ancient down to the liberation of modem Greece. We are not, however, going to follow him through his multifarious undertakings. We shall merely attempt to lay before our reader an undress picture of the man as he himself has painted it in his autobiography, using our own discretion in curtailing the light-hearted, though somewhat exuberant loquacity of the original. His work. is divided into six stages.
Stage the first. My childhood—1770, 1782. I was born, say the professor, at Radis, a small village near Wittenberg, at the midnight hour, between the 21st and the 22d of June 1770. There was not at that time, in all Germany, a more secluded spot than the hamlet in which I first saw the light. But the loveliness of nature is doomed to be every where violated by the march of modern improvement, and the house in which I was born, and the garden in which I played in my infancy, were long ago swept away in order to make room for the great high way which now stretches its weary length between Leipsic and Berlin.
The period at which my birth happened, gave rise to much controversy in our small community. My father insisted that the midnight hour belonged to the 22d of the month; and accordingly maintained that I was born on that day. On the other hand, the parson reckoned it to belong to the preceding day, and entered me in the parish register as born on the 21st. Leaving the world to side with either of these worthies as it pleases on this important point, I may remark that, in my progress through life, I have extracted from this uncertainty an advantage not enjoyed by those who have only one birthday to come and go upon. In early life, when one is proud of being thought old, I always declared myself in favour of the 21st; but now that I am getting into the sear and yellow leaf, my predilection for senility is considerably abated, and I am decidedly of opinion that the 22d was the day of my birth.
I have been informed, that at the time of my birth a still more animated debate was maintained among the gossips who presided at that event. It was argued by some of them, that the tenor of my future life would necessarily be coloured by the witching hour in which I had been born—that this hour being the solemn time "when night and morning meet "—when ghosts come out of the graves, and license is given to the powers of darkness—the just conclusion was, that I could not escape being a ghost-seer, an animal magnetizer, a mystic, or fanatic of one kind or another. Others, again, of these she sages, who prided themselves upon greater astronomical or astrological skill, predicted for me a directly opposite fate. This very time, they said, being the crisis of the year in which the sun is highest in heaven, and his light, even at midnight, scarcely sunk beneath the horizon, it followed, most undeniably, that I would be the born foe of darkness, obscurity, and mysticism, in all its shapes—the friend of clearness and enlightenment, and the zealous advocate of liberty of thought, if not, perhaps, an absolute freethinker. Upon the breathing of this latter suspicion, I understand that the whole conclave crossed themselves devoutly, and muttered a pious "God forbid," expressive of the hope that the unconscious squaller before them might never become any such devil's brat. Let the world, which has my writings before it, decide whether any of these prophecies have been fulfilled.
My extraction was neither mean nor exalted. My father was a respectable farmer; and my mother was nearly related to Oeser, an artist of some celebrity at the period of which I am writing. Though at all seasons of my life I have been partial to exercises which demand bodily exertion, and bring the muscles into play, particularly to riding—as my galloping off upon a butcher's pony when not seven years old, may testify—in which adventure I very nearly met with a broken neck—still, I evinced from my earliest years a yet greater tendency towards the sedentary pursuits of literature. My fondness for study determined my father to make a scholar of me, and an event which occurred about this time, led my family to select theology as the vocation in which I was most likely to make a figure. In these days my grandmother was alive, and a very kind and pious old lady she was. It was her practice every morning to prepare herself for the duties of the day, by singing a spiritual hymn. Now, happening to have an excellent ear for music, I overheard her one morning pouring forth a strain which more than usually took my fancy. I immediately caught the tune, and began to hum in unison. The old lady, attributing my accompaniment entirely to an overflow of precocious piety, was vastly delighted. "Never was such a pious child seen. We must by all means make a minister of' him. When he is of age to enter the Church, he will indeed be a great and a shining light." Meanwhile, my mouth was crammed with sugar-plums and lolly-pops, and, saint or not, I was at any rate in the fair way of being made an incorrigible hypocrite; for from that time I made a point of partaking daily in my grandmother's devotional exercises, and was as devout as gingerbread could make me.
Even at this early age, the diligence with which I prosecuted my scholastic and theological pursuits was so great, that I soon exhausted all the knowledge that was to be obtained at our village school, besides draining dry the biblical information of my grandmother. It was therefore fixed that
I should be sent to the great national seminary at Pforta. Many and bitter were the tears I shed on leaving the paternal roof in 1782. Pforta, I had been told, was distant two days' journey from Radis, and hence I felt as if I were going to be banished to the uttermost regions of the earth. I believed that J should never more behold the countenances of my home. There are certainly few trials more severe than that which accompanies the first untwisting of a child's affections from around the persons and places familiar to him from infancy. I at least can testify that I left my father's house with a heart laden with the entire affliction of an exile. But the pangs of boyhood are transitory—novelties broke in upon my wondering eyes at every advance of our journey. I became absorbed in the interest of new scenes: so that by the time the mountains of Naumberg, which lay near the place of my destination, were visible, I had entirely got the better of my home-sickness, and was ready to enter upon the new career to which I had been called.
Stage the second. My Schoolboy Years—1782, 1788. Schulpforta is an old monastic foundation, and many distinguished men have been educated within its walls. Here Ernesti laid the foundations of his profound and varied scholarship; here Klopstock meditated the first vast achievement of his country's muse; and here the young Fichte evinced early indications of the fiery qualities of that indomitable heart which, in the crucible of a life of many trials, were afterwards sublimated into the most abstract speculations of the brain. I could add many more names to these three, but it is not my purpose to write a history of this great institution; that has already been done both in prose and verse. All that I propose doing is, to recall a few reminiscences of Schulpforta in its more immediate connexion with my own comparatively insignificant self.
I cannot, however, refrain in this place from mentioning an incident, touching the last-mentioned of these eminent men, which occurred soon after I entered the school. It will perhaps give the reader a lively picture of the then condition of our little republic. I may remark that the system of fagging prevailed amongst us in its fullest extent—a practice which, though not without some advantages, is liable to very great abuses. However, if instances of extreme rigour on the part of the superiors frequently occurred, it also sometimes happened—as I am about to show—that condign vengeance was retaliated upon those who had reined with too tight a hand the junior section of the school. Fichte had quitted Pforta for the university a short time before I entered it, leaving behind him the reputation of a very strict disciplinarian. On one occasion he came down to visit us from Leipsic, where he was at that time a student. Never shall I forget the storm of retaliation for bygone scores with which his presence was hailed. He entered the hall while we were at dinner, and paid his respects to the tutor who was presiding. But no sooner had the scholar who had suffered under his tyranny, and who were now superiors themselves, caught a glimpse of him, than they began to shuffle with their feet and to drum upon the tables with all their might. The contagion spread like an electric shock, and a din arose almost sufficient, I thought, to have rent in twain the vaulted roof of the apartment in which we sat at meat. In vain our master entreated silence; in vain our visiter attempted, by assuming an imposing attitude, to bid defiance to the storm. His affected indifference and contempt only made us redouble our fierce vociferations. The tumult waxed louder and louder; and at length the boys, seeing that Fichte still kept his ground, began to pelt him with a shower of half gnawed bones. Our unwelcome visiter was then forced to give way, the teacher accompanying him to the door, by way of shielding him from the merciless bone-bombardment to which he was exposed. When our master returned, we prepared ourselves to receive a precious rating. and our consternation now kept us as quiet as our indignation just before had rendered us obstreperous. But he, knowing well what had given rise to this outburst of execration, contented himself with remarking, in a half humorous tone, " Well, perhaps, we ought not to have handled him quite so sharply," as if he himself had taken part in the rough reception which the quondam tyrant had met with at the hands of his victims.
When I was at Schulpforta our attention was restricted almost exclusively, and I think wisely, to the study of ancient classical literature. The schedule of school instruction is now-a-days enlarged, so as to comprehend the multifarious requirements, accomplishments, and languages of modern times. But I have great doubts whether this enlargement will be found conducive to the true interests of education, or to the effective cultivation of the human intellect. Natural and civil history, geography, physical science, and the modern languages—all these may be acquired at college or in after life; but no subsequent study can repair the want of an early and systematic grounding in the Greek and Latin tongues—an object not to be looked for, unless the whole undivided exertions of boyhood be directed to its attainment. The present popular method of instruction may give boys a smattering of many things, but it will give them, I fear, a thorough mastery of none.
Geissler was rector of the school when I joined it. In person he was tall and meagre; and not without great propriety did we style him gravissimus in our Latin dissertations. But with all his gravity, he was neither pedantic, nor harsh, nor repulsive; on the contrary, he was a very kindhearted man, and over all his pupils he extended a parent's care. I for one loved him like a father. When he left us, which he did soon after my arrival, he was succeeded by the subrector, whose name was Barth. This man had long regarded Geissler with great jealousy—an amusing, though to me very provoking, instance of which displayed itself soon after his promotion to the rectorship. It was customary every New Year's Day for a boy of the first form to deliver an oration commemorating the occurrences of the past year—which oration was submitted to the inspection of the rector before delivery. This duty happened to devolve upon me on the first occasion after Geissler's departure; and this event appearing to be the most important that had befallen the school within the last year, and my heart being filled with reverence for the man, I had launched forth in his praises in very glowing terms, and lamented most pathetically the great loss which the school had sustained in consequence of his retirement. It is true that I endeavoured to throw out a sop for his successor, by stating how satisfactorily his place had been filled up. But here the truth of the old adage was made manifest: pectus est quod disertos facit: it is the heart alone which is the fountain of genuine eloquence. After my warm eulogium upon Geissler, I saw that my strained panegyric on his successor was but a cold and impotent conclusion; and such also it was felt to be by rector Barth. For when I submitted my oration to his perusal, he had scarcely read it through before he broke out into a strain of unmeasured invective against Geissler. He accused him of having relaxed the ancient discipline of the school. He said that he had no pretensions to the name of scholar—and so saying, he tore into shreds the obnoxious pages on which his praises were penned. For a while I stood confounded .by his vehemence; but when I recovered myself, I said that I supposed no mention at all might be made of Geissler in the oration. This brought him to his senses, and he now appeared to be somewhat ashamed of the violence he had displayed. He saw that the omission of all notice of his predecessor's services, would redound more to his own than to Geissler's discredit; and he therefore answered, that by all means he might be mentioned, but that my expressions of admiration and esteem must be very materially modified. This was accordingly done; but I felt that my discourse had been shorn of its brightest beams; and though I delivered it ex cathêdra to a crowded schoolroom, I experienced none of those ecstatic emotions in the delivery of my maiden rhetoric, which would have filled my soul had I been permitted to eulogise my old teacher to my heart's content. My feelings had been wounded, and, what was just as sore for me to bear at that age—my vanity had been piqued.
With regard to the subordinate masters, I remember well that the estimation in which we lads of the upper form held them, depended very much on the fact, whether or not they possessed handsome wives and pretty daughters. For in our wisdom we never could understand how any man of sense could so far forget himself, (and us,) as to marry any woman who did not combine in her person the wit of an Aspasia and the charms of the Medicean Venus. I remember one poor man, who did not stand very high in our good graces, to begin with, loosing caste entirely, and completing the catalogue of his disgrace by daring to take to wife a very plain woman. We vowed that he had done it purposely to spite us, and I for one bore him an especial ill-will, which indeed appeared to be mutual. For on one occasion, when he was examining our class, he happened to ask me what part of speech ετυφθῃ, or some such word, was. The whole class tittered at the idea of such an elementary question being put a first-form boy, and I, regarding it as an insult, made no reply. He repeated the question—what is ετυφθῃ, sirrah? upon which I answered doggedly, that I believed it was a word which occurred somewhere or other in a work I had once seen in my infancy, called the Greek grammar. This retort turned the laugh against him, and he became very irate. He reported me to the head-master for impertinence. But the latter rather took my side; and declared that no boy belonging to his class ought to be subjected to the indignity of having auch childish questions put to him.
Most of our teachers had nicknames, and one of the most appropriate which I now remember, was that which we applied to an usher, called Liebelt. This man had an affected habit of construing our lessons to us with his eyes shut. Now, we had remarked, that cocks in the act of crowing frequently closed their eyes, for the purpose, as we used to allege, of showing that they were able to crow by heart.
Both he and the cock, therefore, appearing to be actuated by the same kind of vanity—namely, by the desire of letting people see how completely au fait to the matter each of them was in his respective walk—there seemed to us to be a decided good reason for transferring to the unplumed biped the title of his feathered compeer.
But, amidst these frivolous reminiscences, a melancholy remembrance throws its shadows across the page on which I write. The wife of one of our most honoured teachers died suddenly—a woman whom I loved—ay, sneer at the expression, ye worldling, as ye will—loved, I say, with all the pure and unselfish passion of a boyish heart. I saw her but seldom; but I well remember that on Sundays at church, whether the minister preached well or ill, I at least was sure of finding, though she knew it not, a sermon of beauty in her angelic face. But her light was gone for ever, and I mourned for her with an incommunicable sorrow. When any of our teachers or their wives died, it was the custom that their remains should be carried to the grave on the shoulders of the six oldest and stoutest scholars. On the present occasion, I was one of the number on whom this melancholy duty devolved: and, deeply afflicted as I was, I felt a secret satisfaction in being thought by the companionship of death into contact with one whom in life I had loved, and looked up to but as a far off and unapproachable star.
I had now spent five years and eight months at Pforta. It was therefore time that I should leave school and betake myself to the university. When my father had fixed the day for my departure, I bade adieu to my playmates in a copy of Latin elegiac verses; and waiting upon the rector, I requested that he would favour me with a certificate of my qualifications. This he very readily agreed to do, although I had feared that he bore me a grudge in consequence of various little disagreements that had arisen between us. But in harbouring that suspicion I wronged him, for nothing could be more handsome or more elegantly expressed than the testimonial he presented me with—written out, too, in the true patent form, and in our writing-master' s most elaborate penmanship. Playing facetiously on my name, he took occasion to remark, that various kinds of human clay came under the hands of the teacher, which it was his lot to fashion, sometimes into vessels of honour, and sometimes into vessels of dishonour; that in allusion to the latter, it might be said in the words of Horace,
Institui; currente rota cur urceus exit?'
but that, with regard to me, the very reverse of the Horatian illustration held good; that I had come to Pforta, a small krug, or urceus, or mug, but that in the course of the revolutions of the scholastic potter's wheel, I had issued forth a well-finished amphora—a capacious vase amply replenished with good things. This strain of compliment was more than I expected—perhaps more than, with all my vanity, I felt myself entitled to. It was therefore with considerable emotion that I bade adieu to my worthy teacher, while to part with the companions of my boyhood cost me a severer pang.
Stage the third. My Student Life—1788, 1794. The question now being at what university should complete my studies, I fixed upon that of Wittenberg. This university lay nearest to my home, and the affections of my heart were ever riveted to the woods and meadows of my native place. There the sun shone, I thought, with a purer light than elsewhere—there the heavens laughed with a brighter blue, and there the greetings of the human voice sounded with a friendlier tone. Besides, it was at Wittenberg that I had seen an early vision of a stately procession of professors clothed in their paraphernalia of office—a vision which had charmed my childish fancy, and which I had never forgotten. I was now desirous of forming a nearer connexion with the sages who had made so great an impression on my young imagination.
Of the eminent men who at this time were professors at Wittenberg, Reinhard was the chief. It was his reputation mainly which made this university the rival even of that of Leipsic. Attracted by his celebrity, more than six hundred students thronged the ancient thoroughfares of the little town. But, alas when the bloom of the flower is the brightest, the worm of destruction is often then busiest at its core. The University of Wittenberg is no more. Its intellectual bulwarks have been swept away by the revolutions which, since the days of my student life, have so often removed the ancient landmarks of kingdom.
Another rising man among us was Schulze, who afterwards, under the feigned name of Œnesidemus, made such a dire onslaught upon Kant, and sapped the foundations of the critical philosophy. At this time, however, he was almost unknown to fame, and the students had conceived a prejudice against him, on account of the uncouthness of his manners, and because he had published a book which was a mere rifacciamento of Reinhard's philosophical discourses.
The first year of my university life was spent, I am sorry to say, in superlative idleness. Having brought with me from school a tolerably ample stock of scholastic acquirements, I thought that I could afford to be lazy, and to take my swing of the enjoyments which a youngster, just escaped from pedagogical authority, devours with so keen a relish, and finds strewn so liberally in his path. Instead, therefore, of being a regular attender of college lectures, I haunted coffeehouses and billiard rooms, or made frequent equestrian excursions into the surrounding country. In these diversions I squandered a great deal of money. At last my father peremptorily refused to come down with the dust; but the old lady, my grandmother, had not forgotten my early psalm-singing propensities, and to her bounty I was indebted for many a supply which I should have thought it the height of ingratitude to have spent in any other way than in that which conduced most to my own selfish gratifications.
In the midst of my dissipation I was overtaken by a severe fit of sickness. It came upon me in the shape of a feverish ague, which recurred every eight or ten days, and then left me with an exhausted frame, and all my energies laid prostrate. After consulting many doctors, and trying various remedies in vain, I determined to take the case in to my own hands, and be my own physician. Accordingly, I ate a couple of salt herrings, and drank two bottles of Merseberg beer, (the strongest and bitterest that can be obtained.) I then started and ran, nor stopped until I dropped down, drenched in perspiration, and almost fainting with fatigue. I immediately fell into a profound slumber, and when I awoke I was well in every limb, and as sound as a roach. The fever had completely left me, nor did it ever again return. When I told my physician of what I had done, he congratulated me on my not having killed myself outright by the experiment. But perhaps that arose from his ignorance of the true principles of medicine. For my practice was based on the soundest homœopathic rules; and, as Hahneman had not at that time promulgated his doctrines, I may regard myself as the practical discoverer of his novel method of cure.
I had now spent three sessions at Wittenberg, without profiting greatly by its academical renown; and my ardour in the pursuit of pleasure being considerably abated since my illness, I resolved to make up for lost time, and devote myself to the proper occupations of the place. I attended Reinhard's lectures, and placed myself entirely under the guidance and advice of that excellent man. I worked so hard, that in a short time he deemed me worthy of being promoted to the distinction of preaching in his pulpit. I also frequently officiated on Sundays in the churches of the neighbouring clergy, and had thus many opportunities of qualifying myself for the business of a parson—in so far, at least. as preaching was concerned. While preaching, I always, at first, kept the heads of my discourse lying open on the desk before me; although I very rarely had recourse to them. Yet, on one occasion, when I was less prepared than usual, I remember being a good deal flustered by their slipping from under my band when I was in a very animated part of my harangue. They luckily, however, fell within the pulpit, so that I was able to recover them, and to proceed as if nothing had happened. But from that time I trusted more to my memory— always, however, carrying my notes with me in my pocket; and this is a practice I would recommend to all young probationers; for however good their memories may be, they will find that the precaution I point out will fortify them with the feeling of greater security and ease.
Soon after I had taken my master's degree, I went to Reinhard to consult him about my future settlement as a clergyman. I told him that I thought of going to Dresden, and as he had been just appointed to a court chaplaincy there, I besought him to use his influence in my behalf.
"Why not stick by the university, and become a professor?" said he.
This question took me somewhat aback. I was not prepared for it. I therefore told him that I did not think that I possessed the necessary qualifications.
"Never fear," said he; "audaces fortuna juvat."
I told him I could not afford to wait.
"I will look after that," said he. I still hesitated.
"Well," he remarked, "if you are determined to be a useless drone, I will not press the matter any further."
This sarcasm operated on me like a charm. I agreed to follow his advice, and we parted the best of friends.
If my vocation was to be that of a professor, it was necessary, above all things, that I should make myself acquainted with the philosophy of Kant. Up to this time I had taken my philosophical opinions chiefly from my friend Reinhard, who professed a species of eclecticism founded on the principles of Wolf; but I felt that if I was to keep pace with the progress of science, I must now turn my attention to the profounder speculations of the critical school. I therefore spent a year at Jena in assiduous attendance upon the lectures of Reinhold, who was at that time considered Kant's ablest expounder. But after my utmost exertions to master this philosophy, I felt that many dark places still remained, that many gaps still required to be filled up. I therefore conceived a strong desire to go to the fountain-head at once—to betake myself to Königsberg, and there get light thrown upon the system from the lamp of the great discoverer himself.
Before taking this step, however, I thought it right to consult Reinhard, by whose advice and assistance I had already profited so greatly. I was aware that he was somewhat dissatisfied with my roving propensities, and that he wished me to settle down, at once, as a lecturer at Wittenberg. I also knew that he was no friend to the critical philosophy. Accordingly I wrote to him, saying that I believed a journey of considerable length would be of great service in restoring my health, which for some time back had been rather precarious, and that, as I wished to combine science with amusement, I requested to know whether he would recommend me to go to Gottingen, or Königsberg. Reinhard saw through my design, and decided at once in favour of Gottingen, writing to me thus:—"With regard to Kant, if I may trust to what Fichte tells me about him, the only advantage you would gain by going to Königsberg, would be to get a sight of that great man. In the intercourse of private life, I am informed that he declines all discussion upon scientific subjects, and that, as years are accumulating upon him, he is every season growing less and less able to throw any new light upon his own doctrines." To Göttingen, accordingly, I went; and there, in attendance upon the lectures of Heyne and Eichhorn, I spent the last year of my student life—a period which I look back to as unquestionably the happiest which I have ever known. Whilst I was at Göttingen, my earliest work, entitled, Letters on the Perfectibility of Revealed Religion, was published anonymously at Jena—of which more in the sequel.
Stage the fourth. My Academical hunger-years—1794, 1801. After spending a short time in my father's house, I returned to Wittenberg, there to establish myself as a private lecturer, (privat-dozent,) and to await what better might befall me. Academia vult expectari, is an old proverb of the schools; but meanwhile I felt that ninety florins a-year, which was all the salary I had, was little enough to keep house upon. At first, however, I did not find that I had any reason to despair. My intimacy with Reinhard was well known, and I believe that mainly to this excellent man's good opinion was I indebted for the reputation which in a manner anticipated me at the commencement of my academical career. At the same time I think that my probationary thesis (De pace inter philosophos, utrum speranda et optanda) on the question—"whether peace was to be looked for, or was desirable, among the different sects of philosophers," and the manner in which I defended it, by no means discredited the favourable opinion that had been conceived of me. My introductory lecture also was hailed with an applause which might have set me perfectly at ease with regard to my future prospects.
But while I was thus, as I thought, on the fair road to fame and fortune, a storm was brewing which I had not foreseen, and which was about to descend on my defenceless head. It had by degrees transpired that I was the author of the Letters on the Perfectibility of Religion. This discovery gave rise to much discussion; the orthodoxy of my work was called into question and an academical commission was appointed to enquire into the soundness of its tenets. The result was, that my opinions were pronounced heterodox, my book was forbidden to be sold, and I myself was interdicted from delivering lectures on any theological subject. This sentence injured me in every possible way: my character as an instructor of youth was blasted, and my hopes of obtaining a regular professorship were for the present utterly destroyed. My only consolation was, that I had laboured conscientiously after the attainment of the truth; and my opinions only became the more dear to me in consequence of the persecution which I underwent on their account.
These vexations, combined with the great literary exertions I was now compelled to make in order to procure my daily bread, threw me into a nervous fever, in the course of which I was in great danger of losing the sight of my eyes. When I recovered and was again fit for work, Reinhard, with his usual friendliness, exerted himself in every way he could think of to procure for me some academical situation, but without success. I accordingly resolved to enter upon a new scene of action, and, leaving Wittenberg, to try my fortune at Berlin. Here I made the acquaintance of several distinguished men, Teller, Gedike, Nicolai, and others, by whose recommendation, after seven long years of academical hunger, I was at last appointed assistant, with a salary of 160 dollars a-year, to Professor Steinhart, who, by reason of the infirmities of old age, had been forced to retire from the more active duties of the chair of philosophy and theology in the university of Frankfurt on the Oder.
Stage the fifth. My Professorship in Prussia—1801, 1809. I arrived in Frankfurt during the time of the fair. Trade was at that time very brisk, and the spectacle was extremely imposing; and, as I had not as yet witnessed the still greater fair at Leipsic; it was to me a perfectly novel sight. The stir and bustle incident to such an occasion, together with the introductions I had to go through to my colleagues and other people of importance in the town, served to divert my mind from the unpleasing forebodings with which, if left to my own reflections, I should have contemplated my new situation.
Professor Steinhart, indeed, my principal, welcomed me to Frankfurt with great cordiality. He offered me a lodging in his house, and board at his table—on the condition, however. that I would give up all claim to the salary of 160 dollars, which I was to receive out of his pension in consideration of the services I rendered him. But my good genius whispered me to decline these terms, which would have bridged my independence, and placed me far too much at the mercy of a capricious old man. I therefore told him that I preferred having the money down; and that I would look out for board and lodgings for myself. I afterwards learned that he had a. poor female relation living in the house with him, whom he was very anxious to get a husband for; and no doubt he had fixed it all in his own mind that his assistant was just the very man. But though I will not be so unpolite as to say that any woman can be ugly—the lady in question had certainly very large unmeaning goggle eyes; and I soon let them see that I was too old a bird to be caught by any such chaff.
I soon found that the compact I had entered into with Steinhart was one which could not last long. He first began by finding fault with some opinions I had expressed in my lectures, and which had been reported to him in a garbled form by one of the students. I told him that his informant had given him any thing but an accurate statement of what I had said; but that my philosophical opinions, whatever they might be, were the result of my own convictions, and that I never troubled my head whether they appeared right or wrong, true or false, to other people. On another occasion, when he was under the necessity of making a journey from Frankfurt to Züllichan, he requested me to continue the delivery of his lectures. "How," said I, "how can I undertake to continue your lectures, when I am not acquainted with the principles from which you started, and with the views you have been inculcating?" "Oh," said he, " you can read my lectures—you will find every thing there which I consider it proper or necessary to communicate to my pupils." Upon which I remarked, rather disdainfully, that I was not in the habit of reading my own lectures, (I always lectured extempore,) much less, therefore, would I condescend to read those of another man; and that he had better get his doorkeeper to expound his doctrines to the class. He told me to remember that I was merely his assistant; that I had no right to set myself up as a principal and independent lecturer, and that unless I was willing to stand to the very letter of our original agreement, he would not pay me a penny of my salary.
These were certainly distressing and degrading enough circumstances for a man to be placed in, but fortunately I was destined before long to be relieved from my embarrassments. About this time (1804) Kant died—an event which occasioned a vacancy in the chair of philosophy at Königsberg. Massow, the Prussian minister of public instruction, to whom I had formerly been introduced at Berlin, offered me the appointment in very flattering terms, and promised that the salary should be augmented. To succeed such a man as Kant might have been considered a proud distinction by a more eminent and ambitious person than myself, and accordingly, I at once accepted the situation. No sooner was my appointment notified in the Hamburgh Gazette, than I received congratulatory addresses from two literary societies in Italy, making me an honorary member of their learned bodies. But as I regarded these as offerings to the manes of my predecessor, and not as a tribute to my own merits, I was rude enough to send no reply to the compliments which had been paid me.
The most celebrated of my colleagues at Königsberg was Kranse—a little withered mannikin, with squinting, yet intelligent, eyes. He was professor of practical, as Kant had been of speculative, philosophy. But his true strength lay in the science of finance, in the details of which he was a consummate master. Not only was he thoroughly imbued with the principles so admirably inculcated by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations, but, in the spirit of an original speculator, he had carried much further out the views of that illustrious man. Hence his lectures on political economy were much better attended than his prelections on philosophy. During his lifetime he published nothing; but after his death his writings were sent to the press by his friend and pupil Von Auerswald, the president of the Prussian board of finance: and he is now regarded, even in foreign countries, as a high authority on all subjects connected with political economy.
Some time after I had been settled at Königsberg, our town was honoured by a visit from a philosopher whom I have already introduced to the notice of the reader under somewhat different circumstances. This was the distinguished Fichte, who had now fought himself forward into a prominent place among philosophers. Perhaps, however, the scenes I am going to describe will not appear to be greatly out of keeping with that which I have already related of him in a former part of my narrative.
Fichte, distinguished as he was, was at this time a fugitive upon the face of the earth. His philosophical opinions had been pronounced heterodox by a large proportion of his countrymen— and by the French, who at present had their foot upon our necks, he was regarded as the worst of political fire-brands. This latter opinion he certainly merited well; for, to do him justice, he hated our oppressors, and laboured against their cause with all the hatred befitting a genuine son of the Germanic soil. He now held a professorship at Erlangen; but his patriotic sentiments had made that place too hot to hold him, and the fear of a French dungeon drove him, as an outcast, to Königsberg.
I met him for the first time at an evening party at the house of professor Porschke. On introducing him to me, our boat remarked that he hoped the gentlemen would forget that they had ever attacked one another in their writings. I thought he might just as well have let that observation alone; for Fichte, flaring up, declared that for his part he was willing to forget it in the present company, but that he never would retract one word that he had written against professor. Upon which I mildly rejoined, that I did not wish him to do so, but that I claimed for myself the same privilege of inflexibly adhering to my opinion respecting him. In the mean time more guests arrived, so that our dialogue, which promised to be any thing but a friendly one, was broken off. He sat next to me, however, at table: we steered clear of philosophical topics, and as the wine warmed his heart, he expanded, I thought, into greater friendliness and amiability. His object in coming to Königsberg, was to deliver a course of lectures. The crowd that thronged to hear his introductory discourse was tremendous. In the very first hour, however, in which he publicly opened his lips in Königsberg, he was guilty of the gross imprudence of speaking of Kant and the critical philosophy in terms of strong disparagement. This in a town in which Kant had reigned like a philosophic god! It was more than the Königsbergers could endure. They testified their disapprobation by shuffling loudly with their feet. Fichte, however, nothing daunted, but rather encouraged, by their dissatisfaction, went on to speak more and more slightingly of the sage. Many people then got up and left the room, and never returned to listen to him. But he still continued to attract a large audience, which, however, his own domineering temper at last reduced to nothing. It had been the custom at Königsberg and elsewhere, from time immemorial, for students to be permitted to attend the college lectures gratis (hospitiren) during the first fortnight of the session. But Fichte declared that he would permit no one to sorn upon him in that way—that if people intended to listen to his lectures, they must table down the fee forthwith, at the very commencement of the course; and in enforcement of this law, he took his post at the door of the lecture-room, and demanded from each man his money or his ticket as he entered; if he could produce neither of these, he was turned back. This conduct was too offensive to be endured; his host of hearers very soon deserted him, and he was at last left with only three pupils. Even these three complained that they could make nothing of his lectures; but they were induced to remain, as one of them informed me, by the assurances on the part of Fichte, that if they would but have patience, and wait out. his concluding lecture, the whole science would burst upon them like a revelation. But, added my informant, not one blink of light ever came my way. Fichte himself quitted Königsberg after delivering a very short course, much out of humour with its dull inhabitants, who, he averred, had no organ for the comprehension of his sublime "science of human knowledge." (Wissenschaftslehre.)
But it was written in the book of fate that Königsberg was not to be my permanent resting place. I received a letter from Reinhard, informing me that a vacancy had occurred in the university of Leipsic, and urging me to accept the situation. In other circumstances, I should certainly have hesitated, for the terms were not so favourable as those I was leaving behind me at Königsberg; but I was determined, by the declining health of my wife, whose constitution required a milder climate than the north of Germany, to avail myself of the proposal, and accordingly I once more packed up my household gods, and took the road to Leipsic in 1809.
Stage the sixth. My Professorship in Saxony—1809. * * * (My heart leaped up when I entered once more the boundaries of my native land after so long an absence. I had indeed experienced many trials in Saxony, and my parents were by this time dead; but the amor patria still burned within me, and the hope of rendering some service to the interests of education in my own country, now animated me to greater zeal and activity in my calling.
About this time, that disease which has since got to such a head in the world of philosophy, was just beginning to break out, or at least to make itself generally and perceptibly felt. I know not whether to call it a fever, vertigo, or the pip; but one or all of these complaints it appeared to me to be. Matters of the plainest and most commonplace significance, being disguised in an uncouth and high-sounding phraseology, were passed off as the sublimest discoveries of a new and recondite science. People philosophized with the imagination instead of with the reason—not, however, with that serene and creative faculty which, in ancient and in modern times, has given birth to so many pictures of grandeur and of grace; but with that dark and grovelling power which leads the mind astray after the phantoms of falsehood.
Against this perverted method of philosophizing, commenced a most determined opposition. The consequence was, that I was every where spoken of by the transcendental high-flyers as a cold commonplace and prosaical barbarian. I must admit that two grievous faults abound in my writings, which are no where to be found in theirs. In the first place, I have written, on all occasions, too clearly for my readers. I have made it too easy for them to understand me: and I did so in the simple belief, that before a man could teach others, he must be able to express his meaning in perfectly intelligible terms. But it appears that I was wrong in thinking so. I have lived to learn that philosophical genius never more strikingly manifests itself, and is never more ardently admired, than when it involves its thoughts in clouds of vapour, and baptizes them with a necromantic nomenclature. In the second place, I have erred, in so far as I have always entertained far too high a respect for the common sense of my fellow-creatures. Had I, instead of Hegel, been the man fortunate enough to give utterance to the pompous proposition, that "whatever is rational is real, and whatever is real is rational;" with what devotion would my doctrines have been hailed by a sect of enthusiastic followers! What gratitude should I not have been entitled to from the Turkish sultan and his minions, for letting them know that all their atrocities, because they really happened, were therefore, ex necessitate, reasonable and just! Or, if it had been my good fortune, instead of, to proclaim that "philosophy was a true science only in so far as it was opposed to the common sense of all mankind," with what applause would I have been listened to by myriads of madmen!—for in this country, there are thousands of cracked head-pieces that were never within the walls of bedlam.
But I was soon called upon to take part in a different and more important warfare. In 1812, the news reached us that Moscow had been burned to the ground. My unhappy country had long lain prostrate under French. oppression; but in that dreadful event, I read that the hour of her deliverance was nigh. "The Russians have set fire to their holy city in order to rid themselves of the swarms of French locusts, whose legions are now in disastrous and disgraceful retreat. The hand of God is upon them. They and their cause are given over to destruction, and Germany shall again be free." I was filled with patriotic ardour, and nothing but my appointment to the rectorate of the university—an honour which was at this time conferred upon me—prevented me from doffing the professorial gown, and taking the field against the foe. The halls of learning, no less than the palaces of kings, were endangered, and I thought that I could not, with propriety, desert my proper post at so critical a period.
During my rectorate, many and grievous were the annoyances I suffered from the insolence of the French. At one time, instructions were sent to me, that I must give orders to the students to cut off their mustaches, and deliver up their arms, as they were frequently in the habit of brawling with the officers of the imperial army. At another time, I was ordered to convert part of the university buildings into an hospital for the French soldiers. By such vexations as these my temper was sorely tried, and if it had not been for my friend, Professor Diemer, who, by his mild manner, succeeded in allaying the storm which my unyielding disposition frequently provoked on the part of our oppressors, I know not how I might have fared. For when nature formed me, she made my backbone very stiff, so that bowing and cringing are by no means accomplishments in which I excel.
At length the day dawned on which the great Napoleon himself was expected to honour Leipsic with his presence. He did not appear, however, until three days after the time appointed; and meanwhile the chief authorities of the town were moved about from place to place, and kept almost continually on their feet. We had, indeed, a most weary time of it during these three days. At length, the great man arrived, and gave us an audience in the King of Saxony's palace in the market-place. Here the domineering character of the man displayed itself most conspicuously. He came burning with wrath against the university, and almost the first words he uttered were—"where are the deputies of the university?" My colleagues and myself immediately came forward, when he overwhelmed us with a torrent of invective, on account of some students who had enlisted in the corps of Luckow's volunteers—as if the students had been schoolboys, who could not take a single step without the permission of the Senatus Academicus. He then turned to the mercantile authorities and demanded—"How many millionaires have you in Leipsic?" (he alluded to francs, but those interrogated thought that he meant dollars;) and when it was answered him that there was not one, he clapped has hand on his pocket with a sarcastic leer, as much as to say—I'll find out a method to make them render up their coin. Avarice and the lust of dominion seemed to be the only passions of his soul.
When the audience was at an end, and Napoleon was departing, one of my colleagues ventured to step forward to address him. The Emperor started back, apparently doubtful what the intentions of my friend might be. For so timorous was this great man grown, that he lived in the constant dread of assassination; and when I was at Königsberg I remember his once leaping out of a boat in the middle of the Pregel, and making for the shore, because he had observed a movement among the crowd upon the opposite bank of the river, and imagined that an attempt was about to be made upon his precious life. But on the present occasion, when he discovered that the professor had no dagger in his bosom, and merely wished to mollify the tiger with a few civil words—he grinned scornfully in his face, and then turned his back upon him. And this was the great man who had made the world his footstool, and 'Whom all the nations worshipped as a perfect god! To me he appeared to be nothing but a drill. sergeant, who had a certain knack of railing the rabble into obedience to his will. Neither in his demeanour nor in his language was there the smallest trace of dignity or grace. Terror was his only talisman.
The colossus was now tottering on his pedestal, but he had not yet fallen. He collected his strength for one last desperate effort, and assembled all his forces in the neighbourhood of Leipsic. My house was in the outskirts of the town, and commanded a prospect of a large portion of the battle-field. Cannon balls and hand-grenades flew around us on all sides, and many peaceful inhabitants were struck dead in the streets. The hot tide of battle then set in upon the city itself, and raged furiously within its narrow precincts. But the brave Allies were at length victorious, and before nightfall I had the satisfaction of witnessing from my windows the flight of the discomfited foe. And what a flight it was! Pell- mell they went—neck and heels, by score into the ditches which intercepted their ignominious retreat. Napoleon himself escaped by blowing up a bridge in his rear, and thereby consigning to death or captivity many of his devoted train. Did I not burn with the desire that my hand had been then upon his throat! "Voici," I would have shouted "voici, scelerat! le Recteur de l'université de Leipsic qui vous avez si maltraité! The retreat of several thousand Frenchmen was cut off by the waters of the Elster. They surrendered at discretion to a company of Prussian jagers: and when I saw them marched, with their general at their head, between a double collonnade formed by the allied troops, my mind recurred with great satisfaction to the furcæ Caudinæ and the sub iugum mitti of Roman war fare.
During these memorable days the dearth of provisions that prevailed in Leipsic was quite dreadful. On one occasion I saw a respectable citizen carrying home a loaf under his cloak. Unluckily some soldiers on the promenade got wind of it; they were down upon him in a trice, and the bread was torn from his grasp. He entreated them, with tears, that they would at least leave him half of it; that it had cost him five dollars; and that his wife and children were at home starving. But the soldiers were starving too, so that the unfortunate man was obliged to return home with empty hands, and a heart filled with despair. Willingly would I have given him a share of my own commons; but at the very same time I myself was under the necessity of borrowing from a neighbour a little salt, and half a ration of bread, which he, again, had purchased from a soldier at an enormous percentage. On another occasion, soon after the battle, when the general Kleist von Nollendorf and some other officers called upon us, we had nothing in the house to offer them but a cup of muddy coffee and a morsel of stale biscuit. At length a friend of mine had the good fortune to purchase a cow from a fugitive Frenchman. When the animal was slaughtered, he presented me with half of it, and thus, after being almost starved to death, we again had fresh meat in the house. If a man would form any notion of the straits to which we were reduced, just let him go without his dinner for a fortnight.
Though Germany might now be said to be effectually delivered from the thraldom of the French, a call was yet made upon all patriotic Saxons to rise in arms for the liberation of their king; and as the term of my rectorate had by this time expired, I had no hesitation in obeying the summons. After some drilling, I accordingly took the field as lieutenant of a body of volunteer cavalry. But our campaigns were all bloodless; and at length, after a good deal of marching and counter-marching, during which time I and my comrades were quartered on many an honest countryman—much, I fear, to the inconvenience of themselves and their wives—I again returned to my peaceful avocations in the university of Leipsic, within whose venerated walls I hope to terminate a life which, I trust, has been not altogether unprofitably spent.