« PreviousContinue »
Neander's early religious Development.
probably in April 1806, exhibits Neander as triumphant over the doubts and difficulties which had perplexed his mind, and as a fresh
a convert, decided and clear in his faith, and fully resolved on a life of active piety. Here we perceive the first aspirations of this remarkable youth, towards that standard which he has, at length, attained. The inward triumph over rationalism was now complete. Now he was ready to devote his life to theology, having discovered its central point, which gave to it a unity and consistency, and in view of which he could best understand his own moral history. By devoting his life to these studies, he believed he could most successfully develop his own powers, and most effectually promote that religious reform which had become the object of his strongest desire.
“Dear friend,” he now writes to Chamisso, whom he had hoped to visit on his way to Halle, “ I regret very much that I was not permitted to see you in Hameln. Halle will be our place of meeting. There we shall all meet, secluded, as far as possible, from the outward influences of the worldly world (as, alas! it everywhere is), and enjoy the spiritual peace of a civitas Dei, whose foundation stone is, and always must be, love. The more I become acquainted with myself, the more I am dissatisfied with the world ; and, for the same reason, those who are not my particular friends must be dissatisfied with me.
Their presence makes me dumb. I cannot swear allegiance to mere human reason, which departs more and more widely from the one centre of all that is holy and divine, and from the sacred, and to them unknown, pleasures of the city of God,- I cannot follow that reason, so called, which, with cold and perverted moral feelings, creates idols (i. e. invents new systems of its own. Yes, against such a system, against everything which it holds sacred, its gods and its temple, let there be eternal war! Let each one fight with the weapons which God has given him, till the monster is slain. O that there were union and coöperation among those who contend for the true God and the true church! It is sad and heart-sickening, to see them separate on account of mere forms, overlooking the fundamental truths in which they agree. But let us trust in God, whom we desire to serve, and let no sacrifice be to us a sacrifice. I have made up my mind to study theology. May God give me strength, as I desire and shall endeavor to do, to apprehend and proclaim to erring men the only true God in a spiritual way, which the unassisted intellect can never comprehend. Holy Saviour, thou alone canst reconcile is with the ungodly race, for which, contrary to their desert, thou didst burn with love,-didst live, and suffer, and die. Thou didst love the profane; and we can only hate and despise them !"
The letter which follows was written sometime during his six months' residence at Halle; we do not know when, except that it could not have been either at the beginning or at the end of that period. In it there is evidence that the whole realm of a spiritual Christianity was rising with more and more magnificence before his vision. We are here not to look for a nicely adjusted doctrinal system, which he had not yet attempted to work out in detail, and respecting which he now manifests no particular concern; but we are to look for those general concep. tions of Christianity to which a sanctified heart and a newly awakened imagination were leading the recent convert. This is the feature in which Neander's mind bears the most striking resemblance to Foster's. He is giving pictures-panoramic views of the spiritual world, as he now, with a clearer vision, beholds it.
“My dearest friend,” he says, “I was prevented by a theological dissertation which I had on hand, from answering your letter as early as I desired. That you do injustice to your own virtue, only renders you the dearer to me. We all, while passing through conflicts and striving after inward peace, find occasion to reproach ourselves. But you must allow that you over estimate me by placing me above yourself. Christian friendship does not make one blind to the faults of a friend. Even joined with virtue, the germinating evil of an unsubdued imperfect nature is not overlooked by it, though the good which is mixed with the evil is equally recognized as a ray of the divine goodness. So long as there is evil in us, (and how much is there in me!) we ourselves are evil; there is still a conflict remaining, -the forbidden fruit still allures us.
There are earthquakes in the spiritual, no less than in the natural world. The vitiated mind is always, as it were, in an earthquake. In such an individual, nature is never in a state of repose; conscience will avenge itself on him. At one time his nalure spits out its fire through the crater of the passions, and scathes everything with its livid 'streains. At another his whole soul is buried under the lava of indolence, so that, for a long period, the splendid fabric of foriner exertions or of natural genius lies under ashes, till it shall be uncovered with the spade and the mattock of reason.
Letters of Neander.
“ In the Bible, my friend, we read of demons; and what are we, sin ful beings, but persons demoniacally possessed ? Demons are symbols of the corrupt nature within us, which makes us rage and foam, and fall prostrate, and run into the water, and into the fire. Is it in the body only, that we find palsies and convulsions? And are there not demons which in the Scripture language make us deaf and dumb? And what does the Saviour effect? He speaks to the demons and they flee. Yes, so it is ; the Saviour found in us the abode of demons. That was the first step towards our recovery. The untaught mind, that cannot understand itself, looks abroad to find Satan. We must find him within ourselves, if we would learn his impotency. So soon as the demons recognize the presence of Christ, their power is gone; for then they must come to a knowledge of themselves, and flee into the dry and desert places of the stupid and sottish, where there are no refreshing waters. For, like a mad dog, they dread these waters.
Why do you not attempt to represent in genuine poetry the divine life of Christ, in its deep symbolical import, as you find it to correspond to what passes within your own breast! Single scenes in his life embrace the entire spirit of recent times. The healing of demoniacs, the rage of the demons is a poetical representation of the religious features, which appear in the moral struggle of the present age. Such a theme, one worthy of your character, I should like to see treated by you. I speak as it appears to me, from a religious point of view; as an uninitiated person, I cannot tell how it would appear from a poetical point of view, whether or not it would correspond with the requisites of the diviue art.
In the religion of the Cross, Satan himself is a servant of God. He is to try the righteous, acting sometimes upon the body, sometimes upon the mind, in order that they may the more glorify the grace of God. The good, who are in a state of union with God, laugh at him. To them he is as nothing. He exists only to bring them to the knowledge of this fact. Through weeping, they are to learn to laugh. The story of the two old philosophers, the one of whom laughed at everything, while the other wept at everything, represents the two poles of the ancient world-comedy and tragedy, Aristophanes and Aeschylus.— With nations as with individuals the sportiveness of youth, the result of a buoyant nature, passes away with youth itself. But antiquity was to weep also, in order that He might come, who was to dry VOL. IV. No. 14.
all tears, and restore men to an enduring serenity and a holy cheerfulness, delivering them alike from a mirth that is volatile and a seriousness that is gloomy, thus uniting and correcting both extremes. - In the ancient world appeared, at first, fate as that in which all things are swallowed up and lost, represented poetically in the mythical world, and socially in the State, where every individual was merged in the mass. Next, individuality began to appear;, a dissolution and conflict ensued, the individual energetically opposing himself to the all-subduing fate. The iron-hearted Stoic came forth, with the motto given by Lucan: victrix causa diis placuit, sed victa Catoni. At last comes the reconciliation of the individual with the universal in Christ, in which the individual, as such, has a personal immortality secured to him, and is, at the same time, fraternized with the mass. I have now given you the pitch and prelude. You may go on with the tune, if they touch a responsive chord in your soul, and thus let us echo and reëcho to each other notes which shall make a pleasing and perpetual symphony."
As these letters of Neander are thrown into an appendix to the first volume of Chamisso's life, and no letters of the latter to the former are found in the collection—they were probably not preserved by Neander-we are deprived of one important source of information. A few things, however, may be gathered from Chamisso's letters to his other friends. There can be no doubt that Neander's condition was but little above that of indigence. In a letter to Varnhagen, dated, Hameln, Sept. 7, 1806, Chamisso says: “Apropos of the letter from France, how our accounts stand with Neander, I do not know. I desire by no means to be too exact with the saint. If you think it best, pay the postage for hím." This remark was evidently dictated by a delicate regard to Neander's pecuniary circumstances. In the same letter, he says: “I cannot, at present, prosecute my Greek studies. With the aid of a translation I have read the Enchiridion of Epictetus, respecting which I shall, perhaps, write to Neander. His letters to me are admirable.” In a letter to Neumann, he says: “ The letters of this original genius, as I can comprehend him, are first rate.” About the same time he writes to Varnhagen: “From Neander I have received a letter (probably that, the substance of which has been given just above], such as he alone could write. It must have been written about the fourteenth (of October, 1806).—he never thinks to give the date.” This negligence was probably connected with a mental peculiarity which
1847.] Neander's Independence in Religious Belief. 399 has accompanied him through life. His custom is not to take notes when he reads for historical purposes, but simply to write, on the blank leaf at the end of the Greek or Latin folio which he is consulting, the number of the page, trusting to his memory for the rest. So when he lectures, he has no notes before him, except a small slip of paper, containing dates and references. Prodigious as his memory is known to be in other respects, it seems not to be favorable to the recollection of numbers.
Within three days after the destruction of the Prussian army by Napoleon at Jena, that is, on the 17th of October, Bernadotte captured Halle, and on the 20th the university was suspended by Napoleon and the students ordered to disperse. Chamisso writes to Mrs. Fauny Hertz, of Hamburg, Nov. 5: “I have just received a letter from Neumann at Göttingen, whither he and Neander have fled. The University of Halle, which was to be my second home, has ceased to exist. After a wearisome journey on foot, during which Neander was taken ill, forsaken by all and destitute, they reached Göttingen, where a certain Dr. Gesenius, of that place, was a guardian angel to them.” Gesenius, once relating to the writer the incident here mentio said that he was returning to Göttingen from Nordhausen, his native place, which was then in flames, the French having set fire to it. The soldiers of the broken Prussian army were returning to their homes. In the general confusion, Gesenius saw two youths, on their way from Halle to Göttingen, one of them unable to walk any further, and penniless. He procured a carriage for the unknown young student and conveyed him to Göttingen. It was Neander; and this circumstance led to a friendship which lasted for life. Gesenius himself, then but twenty years of age, was just beginning, at Göttingen, his career as teacher of Hebrew, and Neander was one of his first pupils in Hebrew and Arabic.
Though Neander became attached to Gesenius and Planck and other teachers in the university, as men and as scholars, he refused to acknowledge them as religious guides. At no period of his life, do we find him more thrown back upon his own convictions, or more dissatisfied with the theological influences with which he was surrounded. Indeed he could scarcely endure to live in so cold a religious atmosphere as that which then prevailed at Göttingen. In his last letter to Chamisso, written in 1806, we find him saying: “At first it was painful to me to be thrown into this place of icy coldness for the heart.- -But now I find it was well, and thank God for it. In no other way, could I have