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ADVICE ON STUDIES AND CONDUCT,

BY MEN EMINENT IN LETTERS AND AFFAIRS.

GEORGE BERTHOLD NIEBUHR.

GEORGE Berthold Niebuhr, the Philologist, Diplomatist, and Historian, was born in Copenhagen, August 27, 1776, but his early years were spent in South Ditmash, where his father, Carsten Nie. buhr, the celebrated traveler in the East, held an appointment from the Prussian government, and by whom he was principally instructed until he joined the university at Kiel in 1773. In 1795 he went to Edinburgh and pursued his studies for two years, including his visits to different parts of England. His professional studies were jurisprudence and finance, and for several years he was secretary of the Minister of Finance (Count Bermslorff) at Copenhagen, and one of the directors of the Bank. In 1806 he entered the Prussian service, was appointed one of the counselors of public affairs under Prince Hardenberg, in 1808 was sent as embassador to Holland and again in 1812, and 1816 as minister plenipotentiary to Rome. This last appointment was given in furtherance of his historical studies, to which he had devoted himself with great zeal, having given his first course of lectures on Roman History in the University of Berlin in 1810, and published the first and second volumes of his History of Rome in 1811 and 1812. While at Rome he prosecuted his historical studies, examining ancient manuscripts, edited some unpublished manuscripts of Cicero and Livy, and made his house the resort of learned men and artists of all countries who congregate at Rome. In 1823 he retired to Bonn, and in the following years until his death, on the 2d of January, 1831, he continued to read lectures in the university on Roman History and Antiquities, Greek History, Ancient Geography and Statistics, and kindred subjects, and commenced rewriting his History of Rome, and a new edition of the Byzantine Historians. In his domestic and social relations, he was simple, affectionate, and influential. He loved to have students consult him in reference to their reading, and “I have found him,” says Lieber in his Reminiscences, “ repeatedly rolling on the ground with his children."

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LETTER FROM BARTHOLD GEORGE NIEBUHR TO HIS NEPHEW, ON PHILOLOGICAL

STUDIES. [NIEBUHR, the historian, diplomatist, and philologist, addressed the following letter, while residing at Rome as Prussian Minister, to his nephew, then nine teen years of age. It is a precious manual of advice from a ripe scholar and an eminent statesman, not only on the intellectual processes of education, but on the true ideal of conduct_simplicity, energy, truthfulness—in every walk of life.] When your dear mother wrote to me,

that
you

showed a decided inclination for philological studies, I expressed my pleasure to ber at

I the tidings; and begged her and your father not to cross this inclination by any plans they might form for your future life. I believe I said to her, that, as philology is the introduction to all other studies, he who pursues it in his school years with eagerness, as if it were the main business of his life, prepares himself by so doing for whatever study he may choose at the university. And besides, philology is so dear to me, that there is no other calling I would rather wish for a young man for whom I have so great an affection as for you. No pursuit is more peaceful or cheering; none gives a better security for tranquillity of heart and of conscience, by the nature of its duties, and the manner of exercising them: and how often have I lamented with sorrow that I forsook it, and entered into a more bustling life, which perhaps will not allow me to attain to any lasting quiet, even when old age is coming on! The office of a schoolmaster especially is a thoroughly honorable one; and, notwithstanding all the evils which disturb its ideal beauty, truly for a noble heart one of the happiest ways of life. It was once the course I had chosen for myself; and it might have been better had I been allowed to follow it. I know very well, that, spoilt as I now am by the great sphere in which I have spent my active life, I should no longer be fitted for it; but for one whose welfare I have so truly at heart, I should wish that he might not be spoilt in the same man ner, nor desire to quit the quietness and the secure narrow circle in which I, like you, passed my youth.

Your mother told me that you wanted to show me something of your writing, as a mark of your diligence, and in order that I might perceive what progress you have already inade. I begged she would

. bid you do so, not only that I might give you and your friends a proof of the sincere interest I take in you; but also because in philology I have a tolerably clear knowledge of the end to be aimed at, and of the paths which lead to it, as well as of those which empt us astray: so that I can encourage anv one who has had the

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good fortune to enter on one of the former, while I feel the fullest confidence in warning such as are in danger of losing their way, and can tell them whither they will get unless they turn back. I myself had to make my way through a thorny thicket, mostly without a guide; and, alas, at times in opposition to the cautions given me but too forbearingly by those who might have been my guides. Happily—I thank God for it-I never lost sight of the end, and found the road to it again; but I should have got much nearer that end, and with less tronble, had the road been pointed out to me.

I tell you with pleasure, and can do so with truth, that your composition is a creditable proof of your industry; and that I am very glad to see how much you have studied and learnt in the six years since I last saw you. I perceive you have read much, and with attention and a desire of knowledge. In the first place however, I must frankly beg you to examine your Latin, and to convince yourself that in this respect much is wanting. I will not lay a stress on certain grammatical blunders : on this point I agree entirely with my dear friend Spalding, whom such blunders in his scholars did not provoke, provided his pointing them out availed by degrees to get rid of them. A worse fault is, that you have more than once broken down in a sentence; that you employ words in an incorrect sense; that your style is turgid and without uniformity; that you use your metaphors illogically. You do not write simply enough to express a thought unpretendingly, when it stands clearly before your mind. That your style is not rich and polished is no ground for blame; for although there have been some, especially in former times, who by a peculiarly happy management of a peculiar talent have gained such a style at your age, yet in ordinary cases such perfection is quite unattainable. Copiousness and nicety of expression imply a maturity of intellect, which can only be the result of a progressive development. But what every one can and ought to do, is, not to aim at an appearance of more than he really understands ; but to think and express himself simply and correctly. Here, therefore, take a useful rule. When you are writing a Latin essay,

think what you mean to say with the utmost distinctness you are capable of, and put it into the plainest words. Study the structure of the sentences in great writers; and exercise yourself frequently in imitating some of them : translate passages so as to break up the sen. tences; and when you translate them back again, try to restore the sentences. In this exercise you will not need the superintendence of your teacher; do it, however, as a preparation for the practice of riper years.

When you are writing, examine carefully whether

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your language be of one color. It matters not to my mind, whether you attach yourself to that of Cicero and Livy, or to that of Tacitus and Quintilian: but one period you must choose: else the result is a motley style, which is as offensive to a sound philologer, as if one were to mix up German of 1650 and of 1800.

You were very right not to send the two projected essays which you mention; because you can not possibly say any thing sound on such questions. Dissertations on particular points can not be written, until we have a distinct view of the whole region wherein they are comprised, until we can feel at home there, and moreover have a sufficient acquaintance with all their bearings upon other provinces of knowledge. It is quite another matter, that we must advance from the special to the general, in order to gain a true understanding of a complex whole. And here we need not follow any systematic order, but may give way to our accidental inclinations, provided we proceed cautiously, and do not overlook the gaps which remain between the several parts.

You have undertaken to write about the Roman colonies, and their influence on the state. Now it is quite impossible that you can have so much as a half-correct conception of the Roman colonies; and to write about their influence on the state, you should not only accurately understand the constitution of Rome and its history, but should be acquainted with the principles and history of politics; all of which as yet is impossible. When I say this, I will add, that none of us, who are entitled to the name of philologers, could have treated this subject at your age; not even Grotius, or Scaliger, or Salmasius, who were excellent grammarians so much earlier than any

i of us.

Still less suited to you is your second subject. You must know enough of antiquity to be aware that the philosophy of young men, down to a much riper age than yours, consisted in silent listening, in endeavoring to understand and to learn. You can not even have an acquaintance with the facts, much less carry on general reflections,—to let pass the word philosophical,-on questions of minute detail, mostly problematical. To learn, my dear friend, to learn conscientiously,—to go on sifting and increasing our knowledge,—this is our speculative calling through life: and it is so most especially in youth, which has the happiness that it may give itself up without hinderance to the charms of the new intellectual world opened to it by books. He who writes a dissertation,- let him say what he will,—pretends to teach : and one can not teach without some degree of wisdom; which is the amends that, if we strive •iter it, God will give us for the departing bliss of youth.

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What I wish above all things to impress on you, my young friend, is, that

you should purify your mind to entertain a sincere reverence for every thing excellent. This is the best dower of a youthful spirit, its surest guide.

I must now say something more to you about your style of writing. It is too verbose; and you often use false metaphors. Do not suppose that I am unreasonable enough to require a finished style. I expect not such from you, nor from any one at your age; but I would warn you against a false mannerism. All writing should merely be the expression of thought and speech. A man should either write just as he actually delivers a continuous discourse, expressing bis genuine thoughts accurately and fully; or, as he would speak, if placed in circumstances, in which in real life he is not placed, where he might be called upon to do so. Every thing should spring from thought; and the thoughts should fashion the structure of the words. To be able to do this, we must study language, must enrich our memory with an abundant supply of words and phrases, whether in our mother tongue, or in foreign tongues, living or dead, must learn to define words precisely, and to determine the idiomatic meaning of phrases, and their limits. The written exercises of a boy or lad should have no other object than to develop his power of thinking, and to enrich and purify his language. If we are not content with our thoughts,—if we twist and turn about under a feeling of our emptiness, writing becomes terribly up-hill work, and we have hardly courage to persevere in it. This was my case at your age, and long after. There was no one who would enter into my distress and assist me; which in my youth would have been easy.

Above all things, however, in every branch of literature and science, must we preserve our truth so pure, as utterly to shun all false show,—so as never to assert any thing, however slight, for certain, of which we are not thoroughly convinced, -so as to take the utinost pains, when we are expressing a conjecture, to make the degree of our belief apparent. If we do not, where is it possible, ourselves point out defects which we perceive, and which others are not likely to discover,—if, when we lay down our pen, we can not say, in the presence of God, I have written nothing knowingly, which, after a severe examination, I do not believe to be true; in nothing have I deceived my reader, either with regard to myself or others; nor have I set my most odious adversary in any other light than I would answer for at my last hour,-if we can not do this, learning and literature make us unprincipled and depraved.

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