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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF PROFESSOR GELLERT.
CHRISTIAN F. GELLERT, the third among thirteen children, was born at Haynichen, in Saxony, in 1715. His father was second minister of the place; fulfilled the duties of his charge for fifty years with exemplary zeal and fidelity and died Dean at the age of seventy-five. His mother, by her precepts, impressed on the mind of her children the principles of piety; and by her example, conducted them to the practice of active virtue. She lived to see her eldest son, Frederic, principal commissary of the posts in Saxony; and her youngest, inspector of the mines at Frieburg.
Christian Gellert received his first education at a public school at Meissen, where his friendship commenced with Gartner and Rabener, a friendship which much contributed to the happiness of his future life. At the age of eleven he was employed in copying a multitude of documents, contracts, and judicial acts; an exercise which, in a less ardent mind, might have stifled VOL. IV. No. 1.
No. 1. VOL. IV.
the poetic spirit which soon burst forth in Gellert. In his thirteenth year he wrote a poem on his father's birth day, which must have possessed considerable merit, as many could recite it by memory, and preferred it to his other compositions.
Gellert went in 1734 to Leipsick, and studied there four years, when his father was obliged to recall him from inability to support the expence of maintaining him at the university. On his return home he began to preach; and his first attempt, which was very inauspicious, he thus relates in his memoirs.
"It was at the age of fifteen, and in my native town, that I made the first essay of my eloquence. One of the citizens had requested me to be godfather to his child, which child died a few days after. I undertook his funeral sermon, though my father agreed rather unwillingly to my so doing. The child was to be buried at noon; at eight in the morning I began to compose my discourse, which was not completed till very late, I
lost what time remained in composing an epitaph, and had but one hour to fix what I had just written in my memory. However, I boldly entered the church, and began my discourse with much solemnity, and attained nearly to the third sentence. Suddenly my ideas became confused, and the presumptuous orator found himself in a state of anxiety, from which it was difficult for him to recover. At length I had recourse to my papers, written in the form of a deed, on one large sheet, I unrolled it slowly before the eyes of my audience, who were as much disturbed as myself; I placed it in my hat and continued my discourse with tolerable boldness.Ardent youth! let my example teach thee to conduct thyself with more prudence. I presumed too much upon myself, I was punished for it, and I frequently afterwards deplored my foolish temerity be wiser than I was!"
It is pleasing thus to see a man profit by his errors, and even disclose them for the benefit of others; as the mariner marks in his chart the fatal sands on which his vessel struck. From this incident Gellert conceived a timidity, which he was never able to overcome, and which, together with bad health, weak lungs, and a memory not very firm, prevented him from becoming that ornament to the pulpit, which his early attempts promised, and engaged him to employ his talents in a different line.
His limited circumstances did not allow him to devote his whole time to the cultivation of his own talents. In 1739 he undertook the care of several pupils; and, zealous in the discharge of this important duty, he trusted not to
his own strength; he prayed for superior assistance. On the right employment of the Sabbath he justly laid particular stress; he considered it as "an indispensa ble means, and the most useful of all, for quickening our progress in religion and piety;" he thought that " on our mode of employing the Sabbath," depended "the use we made of the week."
"For on that day, (he would say,) to withdraw ourselves from all earthly occupations, to make a serious examination of our hearts, to raise them to heaven, to nourish them with the truths founded on faith, is to fortify them for the whole week, to prepare ourselves for a faithful discharge of the duties of our calling. Amidst the tumults of the world, and the occupations of life, we too easily lose the sentiment of our weakness and misery, if we do not set apart a certain portion of time for meditating on our insufficiency, and on the power and goodness of God; on our nothingness, and on his greatness. The better your dispositions, the more active your zeal in discharging your duties, the more secure you may think your progress in virtue, the more reason you will have to fear the surprises of spiritual pride. Consecrate, therefore, the Lord's Day to acts of humility. Impress your heart deeply with the meditation of this great truth: that your existence, your felicity or your misery, your faith, your piety, are entirely and wholly dependent on the Supreme Being. Entertain a deep sense of the goodness of God, and of your own weakness. Awaken your mind to the sense of God's mercies; enjoy the conversation of your pious friends, rejoice in the felicity
which is their portion, in the beauties and in the wonders of nature."
This testimony from Gellert, whose assiduity in the discharge of the arduous duties of his station was unreraitting, is surely a sufficient answer to those who plead the toils of the week as an apology for the dissipation in which they spend that day which God has claimed for himself. If to adore their Creator is burthensome; if to hold communion with their Redeemer, and gratefully to contemplate the wonders of his love is not a delightful employ ment: if a sense of their own insufficiency does not lead them to implore the assistance of the Holy Spirit; it is a sure proof that their hearts are not right before God; and no other argument is wanting to shew how necessary it is that they should diligently use all the appointed means of grace, and thankfully acknowledge the wisdom and goodness of God in having set apart one day in seven for peculiar attention to our spiritual concerns.
To the opinion of Gellert we may add the testimony of one, eminent for his profound knowledge of English law, and still more eminent for his unshaken integrity and exalted piety.
"God Almighty," says Sir Matthew Hale, "is the Lord of our time, and lends it to us, and, as it is but just we should consecrate this part (the Sabbath) of that time to him, so I have found, by a strict and diligent observation, that a due observation of the duty of this day hath ever joined to it a blessing upon the rest of my time, and the week that hath been so begun hath been blessed and prosperous to me; and, on the other side, when I have been
negligent of the duties of this day, the rest of the week hath been unsuccessful and unhappy to my own secular employments; so that I could easily make an estimate of my successes in my secular employments the week following, by the manner of my passing this day: and this I do not write lightly or inconsider. ately, but upon a long and sound observation and experience.'
In 1741 Gellert having conducted his nephew, to whom he had for some time been tutor, to the University of Leipsick, there continued to instruct him, and undertook the education of some other pupils. Soon after his return to Leipsick, a periodical work was commenced, called, "Amusements of the Heart and Understanding," in which Gellert "inserted many tales and fa bles, some didactic poems, and several discourses in prose."
"Those," says his biographer, "were perused with eagerness, they were read over and over, and learned by heart. The easy and natural style of his narrations, perfectly simple and unaffected, the sweetness and amenity of his verses, the natural expression of a young poet seeking to please his readers, to instruct and to make them better, who was playful without offence, whose laughter was never tinged with bitterness, but whose smiles were those of friendship or compassion; all these qualities were so attractive that from month to month the public taste for his works became more lively and more general."
But Gellert's exertions were not confined to literary objects; he was ready to embrace every
Directions touching the keeping of the Lord's Day, to his children.
opportunity of reclaiming a fellow-creature from his sins. His biographer has preserved a very interesting account of the assiduity, tenderness, and judgment, with which Gellert attended, during a severe illness, a young man, who had run into every excess of profligacy and profaneness. His pious efforts were blessed with success. The young man did not recover; but Gellert had the satisfaction of seeing that his death was that of a true penitent.
In 1745-6, Gellert took his degree in the belles lettres, and thereby acquired a right of giving public lectures. On this occasion he published a dissertation on fabulous poetry, and the principal fabulists. The next twelve years of his life, it seems, produced his fables; some dramatic pieces, written with a view to reform the theatre; a romance, called the Swedish Countess, calculated to prove that this species of composition may be employed to amend, instead of corrupting the heart; Consolations to Valetudinarians; Moral Poems; Letters, and a Treatise on the EpistoJary Style, Didactic Poems; Sacred Songs and Hymns.
The character of his fables is thus summed up by his biographer." The choice of subjects, the moral, the style, all please, all do honour to the judgment, the understanding, and the heart of the poet." And in proof of the effect which they produced among his countrymen, the following interesting anecdote is related :
"In the beginning of one winter he saw a Saxon peasant drive up to his door a cart loaded with fire wood, who demanded of him himself, whether he was not the gentleman who composed such
Meanwhile this amiable man suffered greatly in his health. He was attacked in 1762 by an hypochondriac affection, and this was greatly increased, when the few friends of kindred minds, Clopstock, Gärtner, Räbener, and Adolphus Schlegel,) by whose society he had been enlivened, quitted Leipsick, and were dispersed throughout Germany.
This severe affliction, howev er, did not diminish his exertions: even the works which he published were merely the occupation of his leisure hours; he devoted the greatest part of his time to the instruction and improvement of the academical youth. He taught belles lettres to his disciples, explained to them the rules of poetry and eloquence, and exercised them in composing according to these rules."
"These lessons were univer sally admired; scholars of every rank, especially the young nobility of various countries, who
studied at Leipsick, ran eagerly to
In 1751 he obtained, together with a pension, the appointment of professor extraordinary in philosophy, and began to give pub. lic lectures in poetry and eloquence to a very numerous audiIn these he was careful to "inspire his pupils no less with the love of virtue, than of the sciences." Nor did he confine himself to public instructions, all had free access to him; and, "whilst with all the marks of the tender est interest, he recommended to them piety and virtue, as the true road to happiness, his own example and the purity of his manners, added the greatest weight to his exhortations." Thus did this excellent man carry religion into every part of his life and conduct; it was his constant companion, his guide and the source of all his comforts.
His hypochondriac affection rendered his life a continued series of suffering: it baffled the art of medicine, and was but little relieved by the baths of Lanch. stradt and Carlsbadt, which he used in 1753 and 1754. He sought for consolation in religion, and though he did not succeed in overcoming the horrors of imag ination, we have no doubt that he thereby diminished their power. On the subject of Gellert's habitual melancholy, the biographer makes a judicious reflection.
"Many people in reading the life of Gellert, have been painfully affected by the idea of the almost incredible sufferings and melancholy, experienced by this man, who was so pious, and so good, who chiefly delighted in glorifying and imitating the author of his being, by spreading
happiness around him. But if Gellert had been less an object of compassion, he would certainly have been less great, less admired, and of course less useful.”
We may add, that, though this world is a place of trial rather than of recompense, the "sufferings of Gellert were, in some degree, counterbalanced and alleviated by the numerous testimonies of gratitude which he received from those whom his writings had brought back to the path of duty. Many expressed their thanks in person; many by letter; many by handsome presents. A Silesian gentleman (the Baron de Craussen) offered him a very considerable pension; and, when Gellert declined, bestowed it on his mother.
As Gellert advanced in years he found his imagination cool; and, abandoning the Muses, resolved to compose a course of moral lectures. These added much to his celebrity; his audience consisted often of four hundred persons; sometimes of more. Nor was he less useful by his familiar and friendly intercourse, with his pupils, and by his advice to numerous correspondents, than by his public lectures. The confidence reposed in him was indeed most extraordinary. "Fathers asked him for directions in regard to the education of their sons; mothers wished to receive his instructions as to the mode of forming the hearts and understandings of their daughters, and frequently consulted him concerning the offers of marriage which were made for them; young men requested him to advise them on their studies; to him many persons who had doubts concerning religion, addressed themselves