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THE HERITAGE OF JOHANN- GOTTFRIED HERDER A. GILLIES HERDER was the third of the great German Classical writers who assembled at the court of Weimar at the end of the eighteenth century. Unlike Goethe and Schiller, he was not, primarily, a writer of drama or lyrical verse and fiction, but a critic, philosopher, and theologian. Born in 1744, of poor parents, in the small East Prussian town of Mohrungen, he became a pupil and later a bitter opponent of Kant. Before he was twenty-five he had held and resigned important positions as a teacher and minister of the Gospel in Riga, and he came to Weimar in 1776, at Goethe,s instigation, as Chief Pastor and Court Preacher. He became at once an honoured member of the distinguished circle that surroun_ded the ducal court and remained ·so till he died in 1803. In. his lifetime he achieved eminence in a number of different fields, as preacher and educator, literary critic and philosopher of history, translator and folk-lorist, and in these and a score of ancillary subjects, ranging from geography and archaeology·to sociology and the history of literature, and from feminism to phonetics, his influence is still felt today. Yet his name is no~ generally remembered only by specialists. Students of German literature tui-n to him as the teacher of Goethe and the father of Romanticism. Writers on linguistics acknowledge that his researches were the start of all scientific work on the nature and origin of language and comparative philology. He is known, especially in Eastern Europe, as the founder of nationalism. Philosophers recognize that his grasp of the principle of historical evolution marks a turning-point in the philosophy of history. He was the most fertile and suggestive of thinkers-with. the result that his ideas were quickly taken up by others and their parentage forgotten. "Of illustrious men the whole world is the sepulchre," is literally true of Herder. . 'Herder's works are voluminous. Those which are now best remembered are the ldeen zur Philo~ophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784-91) and the J7olkslieder of 1778-9. Of the former it has been said: A great living picture of nature, which would have been intelligible and familiar even to the uninitiated, had hitherto been wanting among the Germans. . . . While others have coldly constructed for us the whole frame of nature as a mechanical piece of wheel-work, he breathed into it an organic life, and awakened a warm feeling of love for its beauty in every breast. While others had counted off at their fingers' ends the single phenomena·of nature, numbered and classified one after another, he caused them all to appear as members of one organism, and elevated each by placing it in its natural position.l These words were written in the eighteen-twenties by Wolfgang Menzel, a man not notorious for his charity towards hjs predecessors in German 1This aod the following passage are quoted from H. W. Longfellow's Poets and Poetry of Europe (1845), 264 f. 399 400 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY literature. And Menzel goes on to say of the Volkslieder that it was a "great song-book of mankind." The lofty spirit or'this collection, and, again, the rich variety and marvellous beauty of the parts, did not fail of their effect. After this, a higher importance was attributed to poetry, by and for itself, and its relation to popular-life; or rather, it has been recognized in poetry and unfolded from it. Since then, an animated intercourse between living minds and the dead has been extended over the whole earth. We have explored all nations, all ages, and bro'ught up the hidden treasures which Herder had marked with fire. From the far India, Persia, Arabia; from the Finnic and Sclavonian North; from Scandinavia, Scotland, England;- from Spain; even from the New World, the gold of poetry, under Herder's guidance, has been piled up in an ever increasing hoard in German literature. When Herder began to write, rpodern German literature was still fumbling for a satisfactory basis. Solemn discussions were taking place everywhere upon aesthetic problems which were of trifling importance in comparison...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 399-410
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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