The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Bunsen, Christian Karl Josias
BUNSEN, Christian Karl Josias (Chevalier), German statesman and philosopher: b. Korbach, Waldeck, 25 Aug. 1791; d. Bonn, 28 Nov. 1860. He studied philology under Heyne at Göttingen, and subsequently went to Holland and Denmark, to acquire a critical knowledge of the Danish and Dutch languages. In 1815 he made the acquaintance at Berlin of the celebrated Niebuhr, and in 1816 proceeded to Paris, where he studied Persian and Arabic under Sylvestre de Sacy. The same year he visited Rome, where he married, and renewed his intimacy with Niebuhr, then Prussian Ambassador to the Papal court. Niebuhr procured him the appointment of secretary to the Prussian legation, and in 1823 Bunsen assumed Niebuhr's duties, being later, and in 1827, formally accredited as resident Prussian Minister. In this capacity he continued till 1838, and conducted several important negotiations with the Papal see, the result of one of which was the brief of Leo XII relative to mixed marriages. His next mission was to Berne, as Ambassador to the Swiss Federation. During his residence at Rome Bunsen had industriously pursued his philosophical and historical studies, including more especially that of the Platonic philosophy, and investigations into the religious and ecclesiastical history of mankind. The liturgies of the Church received his especial attention, and a service of his own framing, introduced by him into the chapel of the Prussian embassy at Rome, was printed by order of the King of Prussia, who wrote a preface to it. This work was published without the author's name at Hamburg in 1846, under the title of ‘Allgemeines Evang. Gesang- und Gebetbuch’ (‘General Hymn and Prayer Book of the Evangelical Lutheran Church’), and may be regarded as a new edition of the ‘Versuch Eines Allgemeinen Evang. Gesang- und Gebetbuchs,’ published at Hamburg in 1833.
In 1841 Bunsen was summoned to Berlin from Switzerland to proceed to England in charge of a mission for the establishment, in conjunction with that country, of a bishopric at Jerusalem. Shortly afterward he was nominated Prussian Ambassador to England. In 1844 he was consulted on the subject of granting a constitution to Prussia, and is said to have drawn up and submitted to government the form of one which bore a very close resemblance to that of Great Britain. In the Schleswig-Holstein affair he strenuously opposed the claims of Prussia and the German Confederation in opposition to those of Denmark. From the opposite views taken by him to those of his government in relation to the Russian War he was recalled from London in 1854, and, abandoning politics, retired to Heidelberg to devote himself exclusively to literary pursuits. The results of these have established his reputation as one of the most profound and original critics in the department of Biblical and ecclesiastical history. Among these are ‘Die Verfassung der Kirche der Zukunft’ (‘The Constitution of the Church of the Future’) (1845); ‘Ægyptens Stelle in der Weltgeschichte’ (‘Egypt's Place in the World's History’) (1845); ‘Hippolytus und Seine Zeit’ (‘Hippolytus and His Time’) (1851) and lastly, his greatest work, ‘Bibelwerk für die Gemeinde’ (‘Bible Commentary for the Community’), the first part of which was published in 1858, and was intended to be completed in 1862. It had occupied his attention for nearly 30 years, and, as he informs us, was regarded as the grand centre-point to which all his literary and intellectual energies were to be devoted. Death interposed to prevent him completing his undertaking. Ill health caused him to spend the winters of 1858-59 and 1859-60 at Cannes, in the south of France, returning thence in the spring of 1860 to Bonn (whither he had recently transferred his abode from Heidelberg), where he died. Three volumes of his ‘Bibelwerk’ had been published at his death (the first, second and fifth), and this great work was completed in his spirit and by the aid of his manuscripts under the editorship of Hollzmann and Kamphausen, in nine volumes (1858-70).