The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Herder, Johann Gottfried von

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HERDER, Johann Gottfried von, yō hän gŏt'frēd fōn hĕr'dĕr, German critic and poet: h. Mohrungen, Prussia, 25 Aug. 1744; d. Weimar, 18 Dec. 1803. He was the son of a poor schoolmaster, but friends procured him an appointment in Frederick's College, where he was at first tutor and at a later period instructor. During this period he became known to Kant, who permitted him to hear all his lectures gratis. His unrelaxing zeal and diligence enabled him to become acquainted with science, theology, philosophy, philology, natural and civil history and politics. In 1764 he was appointed an assistant teacher at the cathedral school of Riga, with which office that of a preacher was connected. In 1769 he went to Paris; he became traveling tutor to the Prince of Holstein-Oldenburg, but in Strassburg he was prevented from proceeding by a disease of the eyes; and here he became acquainted with Goethe, on whom he had a very decided influence. Herder had already published his ‘Fragments on the More Modern German Literature,’ his ‘Critical Woods’ (Kritische Wälder), etc., which had gained him a considerable reputation, though he had not published anything of importance in theology; yet, while in Strassburg, he was invited to become court preacher, superintendent and consistorial councillor at Bückeburg, whither he proceeded in 1771, He soon made himself known as a distinguished theologian, and in 1776 received an invitation to become court preacher, general supenntendetrt and consistorial councillor at Weimar. This appointment was through the influence of Goethe. In 1801 he was made president of the high consistory, a place never before given to a person not a nobleman, and was subsequently made a noble by the Elector of Bavana. As a theologian Herder contributed to a better understanding of the historical and antiquarian part of the Old Testament. His ‘Geist der hebräischen Poesie’ is highly valued. He did much for the better appreciation of the classical authors, and his philosophical views of human character are full of instruction. His greatest work is his ‘Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit’ (1785 et seq.). In poetry Herder effected more by his various accomplishments, his vast knowledge and fine taste than by creative power; yet he has produced some charming songs; and his ‘Cid,’ a collection of Spanish romances into a kind of epic, is one of the most popular poems of Germany.