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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF PROFESSOR GELLERT.
From the Christian Observer,
CHRISTIAN F. Gellert, the the poetic spirit which soon burst third among thirteen children, forth in Gellert. In his thirteenth was born at Haynichen, in Saxony, year he wrote a poem on his in 1715. His father was second father's birth day, which must minister of the place; fulfilled have possessed considerable merthe duties of his charge for fifty it, as many could recite it by years with exemplary zeal and fi- memory, and preferred it to his delity : and died Dean at the age other compositions. of seventy-five. His mother, by Gellert went in 1734 to Leipber precepts, impressed on the sick, and studied there four years, mind of her children the princi- when his father was obliged to reples of piety ; and by her exam- ca!l him from inability to support ple, conducted them to the prac- the expence of maintaining him tice of active virtue. She lived at the university. On his return to see her eldest son, Frederic, home he began to preach; and principal commissary of the posts his first attempt, which was very in Saxony; and her youngest, inauspicious, he thus relates in inspector of the mines at Frie- his memoirs. burg.
« It was at the age of fifteen, Christian Gellert received his and in my native town, that I made first education at a public school the first essay of my eloquence. at Meissen, where his friend. One of the citizens had requested ship commenced with Gartner me to be godfather to his child, and Rabener, a friendship which which child died a few days after. much contributed to the hap- I undertook his funeral sermon, piness of his future life. At though my father agreed rather the age of eleven he was employ- unwillingly to my so doing. The ed in copying a multitude of doc- child was to be buried at noon ; uments, contracts, and judicial at eight in the morning I began acts; an exercise which, in a less to compose my discourse, which ardent mind, might have stifled was not completed till very late, I VOL. IV. No. 1.
lost what time remained in com. his own strength; he prayed for suposing an epitaph, and had but one perior assistance. On the right hour to fix what I had just written employment of the Sabbath he in my memory. However, I bold- justly laid particular stress; he ly entered the church, and began considered it as “an indispensamy discourse with much solemni- ble means, and the most useful of ty, and attained nearly to the third all, for quickening our progress in sentence. Suddenly my ideas religion and piety;" he thought became confused, and the pre- that “on our mode of employing sumptuous orator found himself the Sabbath,” depended “the use in a state of anxiety, from which we made of the week." it was difficult for him to recover. “ For on that day, (he would At length I had recourse to my say,) to withdraw ourselves from papers, written in the form of a all earthly occupations, to make a deed, on one large sheet, I un- serious examination of our hearts, rolled it slowly before the eyes of to raise them to heaven, to nourmy audience, who were as much ish them with the truths founded disturbed as myself; I placed it in on faith, is to fortify them for the my hat and continued my dis- whole week, to prepare ourselves course with tolerable boldness. for a faithful discharge of the duArdent youth ! let my example ties of our calling. Amidst the teach thee to conduct thyself with tumults of the world, and the ocmore prudence. I presumed too cupations of life, we too easily much upon myself, I was pun- lose the sentiment of our weakished for it, and I frequently af- ness and misery, if we do not set terwards deplored my foolish te- apart a certain portion of time for merity : be wiser than I was !" meditating on our insufficiency,
It is pleasing thus to see a man and on the power and goodness profit by his errors, and even dis- of God; on our nothingness, and close them for the benefit of oth- on his greatness. The better ers; as the mariner marks in your dispositions, the more active his chart the fatal sands on which your zeal in discharging your his vessel struck. From this in- duties, the more secure you may cident Gellert conceived a timidi- think your progress in virtue, the ty, which he was never able to more reason you will have to fear overcome, and which, together the surprises of spiritual pride. with bad health, weak lungs, and Consecrate, therefore, the Lord's a memory not very firm, prevent- Day to acts of humility. Impress ed him from becoming that orna- your heart deeply with the medment to the pulpit, which his ear- itation of this great truth: that ly attempts promised, and engag- your existence, your felicity or ed him to employ his talents in your misery, your faith, your pia different line.
ety, are entirely and wholly deHis limited circumstances did pendent on the Supreme Being. not allow him to devote his whole Entertain a deep sense of the time to the cultivation of his own goodness of God, and of your own talents. In 1739 he undertook weakness. Awaken your mind the care of several pupils; and, to the sense of God's mercies ; zealous in the discharge of this enjoy the conversation of your piimportant duty, he trusted not to ous friends, rejoice in the felicity which is their portion, in the beau- negligent of the duties of this day, ties and in the wonders of nature." the rest of the week hath been
This testimony from Gellert, unsuccessful and unhappy to my whose assiduity in the discharge own secular employments; so of the arduous duties of his sta- that I could easily make an estion was unremitting, is surely a timate of my successes in my sufficient answer to those who secular employments the week plead the toils of the week as an following, by the manner of my apology for the dissipation in passing this day : and this I do which they spend that day which not write lightly or inconsiderGod has claimed for himself. If ately, but upon a long and sound to adore their Creator is burthen- observation and experience.”* some; if to hold communion with In 1741 Gellert having contheir Redeemer, and gratefully to ducted his nephew, to whom he contemplate the wonders of his had for some time been tutor, to love is not a delightful employ- the University of Leipsick, there ment: if a sense of their own in- continued to instruct him, and sufficiency does not lead them to undertook the education of some implore the assistance of the Ho. other pupils. Soon after his re. ly Spirit; it is a sure proof that turn to Leipsick, a periodical their hearts are not right before work was commenced, called, God; and do other argument is “ Amusements of the Heart and wanting to sbew how necessary Understanding," in which Gelit is that they should diligently lert " inserted many tales and fause all the appointed means of bles, some didactic poems, and grace, and thankfully acknowl several discourses in prose.” edge the wisdom and goodness of “ Those,” says his biographer, God in having set apart one day were perused with eagerness, in seven for peculiar attention to they were read over and over, and our spiritual concerns.
learned by heart. The easy and To the opinion of Gellert we natural style of his narrations, may add the testimony of one, perfectly simple and unaffected, eminent for his profound knowl- the sweetness and amenity of his edge of English law, and still verses, the natural expression of more eminent for his unshaken
a young poet seeking to please integrity and exalted piety. his readers, to instruct and to
“ God Almighty," says Sir make them better, who was playMatthew Hale, "js the Lord of ful without offence, whose laughour time, and lends it to us, and, ter was never tinged with bitteras it is but just we should conser ness, but whose smiles were those crate this part (the Sabbath) of of friendship or compassion; all that time to him, so I have found, these qualities were so attractive by a strict and diligent observa. that from month to month the tion, that a due observation of the public taste for his works became duty of this day hath ever joined more lively and more general." to it a blessing upon the rest of But Gellert's exertions were my time, and the week that hath not confined to literary objects ; been so begun hath been blessed he was ready to embrace every and prosperous to me; and, on Directions touching the keeping the other side, when I have been of the Lord's Day, to his children.
opportunity of reclaiming a fel- fine tales ? On the answer he relow-creature from his sins. His ceived, the peasant, joy sparkling biographer has preserved a very in his eyes, with many excuses for interesting account of the assidu- the liberty he took, made Gellert a ity, tenderness, and judgment, present of the contents of his cart, with which Gellert attended, dur- as a feeble mark of his gratitude ing a severe illness, a young man,
for the pleasure he had received who had run into every excess of from reading his tales." profligacy and profaneness. His When writing his sacred songs, pious efforts were blessed with " he never set himself” observes success. The young man did the biographer, " to this employnot recover ; but Gellert had the ment without a serious preparasatisfaction of seeing that his tion and without having his heart death was that of a true penitent. previously filled with the senti
In 1745–6, Gellert took his ment he wished to express.” They degree in the belles lettres, and were eagerly received by all the thereby acquired a right of giv. friends of religion, and even by ing public lectures. On this
06- Roman Catholics, among whom casion he published a dissertation Gellert's writings were exempted on fabulous poetry, and the prin- from the common sentence of excipal fabulists. The next twelve clusion passed upon heretical years of his life, it seems, pro- works. duced his fables ; some dramatic Meanwhile this amiable man pieces, written with a view to re- suffered greatly in his health. form the theatre; a romance, He was attacked in 1762 by an called the Swedish Countess, cal- hypochondriac affection, and this culated to prove that this species was greatly increased, when the of composition may be employed few friends of kindred minds, to amend, instead of corrupting Clopstock, Gärtner, Räbener, and the heart; Consolations to Vale- Adolphus Schlegel,) by whose tudinarians; Moral Poems ; Let- society he had been enlivened, ters, and a Treatise on the Episto- quitted Leipsick, and were dis, Jary Style, Didactic Poems; Sa- persed throughout Germany. cred Songs and Hymns.
This severe affliction, howevThe character of his fables is er, did not diminish his exerthus summed up by his biogra- tions : even the works which he pher.-" The choice of subjects, published were merely the occuthe moral, the style, all please, all pation of his leisure hours; he do honour to the judgment, the devoted the greatest part of his understanding, and the heart of time to the instruction and im the poet.” And in proof of the provement of the academical effect which they produced among youth. He taught belles lettres to his countrymen, the following his disciples, explained to them interesting anecdote is related : the rules of poetry and eloquence,
“ In the beginning of one win, and exercised them in composing ter he saw a Saxon peasant drive according to these rules.” up to his door a cart loaded with “ These lessons were univer. fire wood, who demanded of him sally admired; scholars of every himself, whether he was not the rank, especially the young nogentleman who composed such bility of various countries, who studied at Leipsick, ran eagerly to happiness around him. But if hear Gellert."
Gellert had been less an object In 1751 he obtained, together of compassion, he would certain-with a pension, the appointment ly have been less great, less adof professor extraordinary in phi- mired, and of course less useful." losophy, and began to give pub- We may add, that, though lic lectures in poetry and elo- this world is a place of trial rathquence to a very numerous audi- er than of recompense, the "sufence. In these he was careful ferings of Gellert were, in some to inspire his pupils no less with degree, counterbalanced and allethe love of virtue, than of the sci- viated by the numerous testimoences." Nor did he confine him-' nies of gratitude which he receive self to public instructions, all had ed from those whom his writings free access to him; and, whilst had brought back to the path of with all the marks of the tender- duty. Many expressed their est interest, he recommended to thanks in person ; many by let. them piety and virtue, as the true ter; many by handsome presents. road to happiness, his own ex- A Silesian gentleman (the Baron ample and the purity of his man- de Craussen) offered him a very ners, added the greatest weight considerable pension; and, when to his exhortations." Thus did Gellert declined, bestowed it on this excellent man carry religion his mother. into every part of his life and *As Gellert advanced in years conduct; it was his constant he found his imagination cool ; companion, his guide and the and, abandoning the Muses, resource of all his comforts. solved to compose a 'course of
His hypochondriac affection moral lectures. These added rendered his life a continued se much to his celebrity; his audience ries of suffering: it baffled the consisted often of four hundred art of medicine, and was but lit persons; sometimes of more. tle relieved by the baths of Lanch. Nor was he less useful by his fastradt and Carlsbadt, which he miliar and friendly intercourse, used in 1753 and 1754. He with his pupils, and by his advice sought for consolation in religion, to numerous correspondents, than and though he did not succeed in by his public lectures. The conovercoming the horrors of imag,fidence reposed in him was inination, we have no doubt that he deed most extraordinary. “Fathereby diminished their power, thers asked him for directions in On the subject of Gellert's habit- regard to the education of their ual melancholy, the biographer sons ; mothers wished to receive makes a judicious reflection. his instructions as to the mode of
“ Many people in reading the forming the hearts and underlife of Gellert, have been painful- standings of their daughters, and ly affected by the idea of the al- frequently consulted him concernmost incredible sufferings and ing the offers of marriage which melancholy, experienced by this were made for them ; young man, who was so pious, and se men requested him to advise them good, who chiefly delighted in on their studies; to him many glorifying and imitating the au. persons who had doubts concern, thor of his being, by spreading ing religiofi,addressed themselves