Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/910

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893
RANKE

RANKE, LEOPOLD VON (1795-1886), German historian, was born on the 2oth or the 21st of December 1795, in the small town of Wiehe, in Thuringia, which then formed part of the electorate of Saxony. His father, Gottlob Israel Ranke, was an advocate, but his ancestors, so far back as the family can be traced, had been ministers of religion. Leopold received his education first at Donndorf, a school established in an old monastery near his home, and then at the famous school of Schulpforta, whence he passed to the university of Halle and later to that of Berlin. His studies, both at school and university, were classical and theological. The great political events which occurred during his boyhood and youth seem to have had less effect on him than on many of his contemporaries, and he was not carried away either by enthusiastic admiration for Napoleon or by the patriotic fervour of 1813. Norwas he implicated in the political movements which during the following years attracted so many students; on the contrary, he already displayed that detachment of mind which was to be so characteristic of him. In 1818 he became a master in a school at Frankfort-on-the-Oder, thereby entering the service of the Prussian government. The headmaster of this school was Ernst Friedrich Poppo (1794-1866), a celebrated Grecian, and Ranke was entrusted with the teaching of history. With the scholar's dislike of textbooks, he rapidly acquired a thorough knowledge of the ancient historians, quickly passed on to medieval times, and here it was that he formed as the ideal of his life the study of universal history, the works of God as displayed in the history of the human race. Here, too, he composed his first work, which deals with the period to which most of his life was to be devoted, Geschichte der rémanisclzen und germanischen Vélker 1494-1514 (Berlin, 1824). To this was appended a critical dissertation on the historians who had dealt with the period (Zur Kritik neuerer Geschichtschreiber), which, showing as it did how untrustworthy was 'much of traditional history, was to be for modern history as epoch-marking as the critical work of Niebuhr had been in ancient history. A copy of the book was sent to the Prussian minister of education, Karl Albert Kamptz (1769-1849), the notorious hunter of democrats. Within a week Ranke received the promise of a post at Berlin, and in less than three months was appointed supernumerary professor in the university of that city, a striking instance of the promptitude with which the Prussian government recognized scientific merit when, as in Ranke's case, it was free from dangerous political opinions. The Connexion thus established in 1825 was to last for fifty years. At the Berlin Library Ranke found a collection of MS. records, chiefly Italian, dealing with the period of the Reformation; from a study of them he found how different were the real events as disclosed in contemporary documents from the history as recorded by most writers; and the result of his researches was embodied in his second work, Fiirsten und V61/eer 'von Sddeuropa im 16 und 17 Jahrhundert (1827). In later editions the title of this book was altered to Die Osmanen und die spanische Mouarchie. It was now his ambition to continue his exploration of the new world thus opened to him. The Prussian government provided the means, and in September 1827 he started for Italy. His first sojourn was in Vienna, where the friendship of Gentz, and the protection of Metternich opened to him the Venetian archives, of which many were preserved in that city-a virgin field, the value of which he first discovered, and which is still unexhausted. He found time, in addition, to write a short book on Die Serbische Revolution (1829), from material supplied to him by Wuk Stephanowich, a Servian who had himself been witness of the scenes he related. This was afterwards expanded into Serbien und die Tiirkei im 19 Jahrlzundert (1879). In 1828 he at last crossed the Alps, and the next three years were spent in Italy. The recommendations of Metternich opened to him almost every library except the Vatican; and it was during these three years of study in Venice, Ferrara, Rome, Florence and other cities, that he obtained that acquaintance with European history which was to make him the first historian of his time. At Rome, as he said, he learned to see events from the inside. He wrote nothing buta critical examination of the story of Don Carlos, .but he returned to Germany a. master of his craft. For a time Ranke was now engaged in an occupation of a different nature, for he was appointed editor of a periodical in which Friedrich Perthes designed to defend the Prussian government against the democratic press. Ranke, contemptuous in politics, as in history, of the men who warped facts to support some abstract theory, especially disliked the doctrinaire liberalism so fashionable at the time. He hoped, by presenting facts as they were, to win the adhesion of all parties. We need not be surprised that he failed; men desired not the scientific treatment of politics, but satire and invective. Exposed thus to attack, his weakness, if not his venality, was long an article of faith among the liberals. He did not satisfy the Prussian conservatives, and after four years the Historische Politische Bldtter came to an end. Twothirds of the matter had been contributed by the editor, and the two stout volumes in which the numbers were collected contained the best political thought which had for long appeared in Germany. For Ranke the failure was not to be regretted; the rest of his life was to be wholly devoted to that in which he excelled. During 1834-36 appeared the three volumes of his Die rémischen Pdpste, ihre Kirche und ihr Staat im 16 and 17 Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1834-36, and many other editions), in form, as in matter, the greatest of his works, containing the results of his studies in Italy. Henceforth his name was known in all European countries; the English translation by Mrs Austin was the occasion of one of Macaulay's most brilliant essays. Before it was completed he had already begun the researches on which was based the second of his masterpieces, his Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation (Berlin, 1839-47), a necessary pendant to his book on the popes, and the most popular of his works ln his own country. In 1837 he became full professor at Berlin; in 1841 Frederick William IV., always ready to recognize intellectual eminence, appointed him Prussian historiographer. Stimulated by this, he brought out his N eun Bricker preussischer Geschichte (1847-48), a Work which, chiefly owing to the nature of the subject, makes severe demands on the attention of the reader-he is the “ Dryasdust ” of Carlyle's Frederick; but in it he laid the foundation for the modern appreciation of the founders of the Prussian state. The nine books were subsequently expanded to twelve (Leipzig, 1874). He took no immediate part in the movements of 1848, but in the following years he drew up several memoranda for the king, whom he encouraged in his efforts to defend the character and identity of the Prussian state against the revolutionaries. Though never admitted into the inner circle of the king's associates, he found the king the most appreciative of readers and stimulating of companions, and the queen one of the most faithful of his friends; in biographical works and on other occasions he always defended the memory of the unfortunate monarch. A friend even more sympathetic he

found in Maximilian II. of Bavaria, whom he advised in his expansive schemes for the promotion of learning and letters. In the quieter years that followed he wrote the third of his masterpieces, Franzésische Geschichte, varnehmlich im 16 und I7 Jahrhundert (Stuttgart, 18 52-61), which was followed by his Englische Geschichte, vornehmlich im 16 und 17 Jahrhundert (1859-68). This, the longest of his works, added much to existing knowledge, especially as 'to the relations between England and the continent, but it lacked something of the freshness of his earlier books; he was over seventy when it was completed, and he was never quite at home in dealing with the parliamentary foundations of English public life. In his later years his small alert figure was one of the most distinguished in the society of Berlin, and every honour open to a man of letters was conferred upon him. He was ennobled in 1865, and in 1885 received the title of Excellenz. When the weakness of his eyes made it necessary for him to depend almost entirely on the service of readers and secretaries,