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on Sundays, I was obliged after church to recite, translate, and in a measure explain, the so-called gospels and epistles. I now thought of doing the same with the Old Testament, which, on account of its singularity, had always particularly interested me.
My father, who did not like to do any thing by halves, determined to ask Dr Albrecht, the rector of our gymnasium, to give me private lessons, until I should have acquired what was most essential in so simple a language; for he hoped that, if this could not be accomplished so quickly as the English, it might yet be done in twice the time.
The rector Albrecht was one of the most original figures in the world: little, not fat but broad; shapeless, though not deformed-in fine, an Esop in gown and wig. A face of more than seventy was completely twisted to a sarcastic smile, while his eyes continued large, and, though red, were still brilliant and intelligent. He lived in the old convent of the Franciscans, the seat of the gymnasium. Even as a child I had often visited him, in com. pany with my parents, when the long dark passages, the chapels turned into reception-rooms, the place all broken up into stairs and corners, had impressed me with a fearful joy. Without annoying me, he examined me as often as we met, and gave me praise and encouragement. One day, at the new arrangement of the pupils after a public examination, he saw me standing not far from his chair as a mere spectator, while he distributed the silver præmia virtutis et diligentiæ. I was looking very eagerly at the little bag out of which he took the medals. He beckoned to me, came down a step, and gave me one of the silver pieces. My joy was great; although others thought this gift, bestowed on a boy not of the school, quite out of order. But for this the honest old man cared little, being always an oddity, and that in a striking way. He had a very good reputation as a schoolmaster, and understood his trade, although his age no longer permitted him to practise it perfectly. But he was hindered almost more by greater circumstances than by his own infirmities. As I had already learned, he was satisfied neither with the consistories, nor the school inspectors, nor the clergy, nor even with the masters. His disposition in
clined him to lay wait for errors and defects, and to the use of satire, and he gave it free play, both in his programmes and in his public discourses; and, as Lucian was almost the only writer whom he read or valued, he spiced all that he said or wrote with biting ingredients.
Happily for those he was discontented with, he never went to work directly, but only jeered at the faults which he wished to punish by hints, allusions, classical quotations, and Biblical sentences. Moreover, his delivery-he always read his speeches was unpleasant, unintelligible, and besides often interrupted by a cough, and frequently by an inward paunch-convulsing laugh, with which he used to announce and accompany the pungent passages. I found this singular man gentle and obliging when I began to take my lessons from him. I went now daily at six o'clock in the evening, and always felt a secret satisfaction when the outer door closed behind me, and I had to travel through the long and dusky cloistered passage. We sat in his library, at a table covered with oilcloth. A much-read Lucian never left his side. In spite of all my inclination, I could not get to the matter without difficulty; for my teacher could not suppress certain sarcastic remarks as to the real truth about Hebrew. I concealed from him my views towards the Jew. German, and talked of a better understanding of the original text. At this he smiled, and said I should soon be satisfied if I only learned to read. This vexed me in secret, and I collected all my attention when we began with the letters. I found an alphabet very similar to the Greek, of which the forms were easy, and the names mostly not strange to me. I had very soon caught and remembered all this, and thought we were now to begin reading. That this was done from the right to the left hand I was quite aware. But now suddenly there ap peared a new host of little letters and signs, of points and strokes of all kinds, which in fact were to represent the vowels. I wondered at this the more, because there were manifestly some vowels in the larger alphabet, and the others appeared only to be hidden under strange designations. It was also told me that the Jewish nation, as long as it flourished, did, in fact, rest satisfied with their former signs, and
knew no other mode of writing or reading. Most willing would I have adopted this ancient, and, as it seemed to me, more convenient fashion. But my old man declared, rather severely, that we must go by the grammar, as it had already been approved and set down. Reading without these points and strokes was a very difficult enterprise, and could be accomplished only by the learned, and those most accustomed to it. I must, therefore, make up my mind to learn these little additional signs. The business, however, seemed to me more and more confused. Now, it turned out that some of the first and greater primitive signs had no value in their own places, that their younger little rivals might not stand there in vain. At one time they indicated a light breathing, at another a softer or harsher guttural, and again served only as supports and buttresses. Nay, last ly, when one thought one had perfectly noticed every thing, some of the great, as well as of the little personages, were reduced to inaction, so that the eye had always a great deal and the lip very little to do.
As that of which I already knew the substance had now to be stuttered out in a strange jargon, while a certain snuffle and grunt, unattainable in its full perfection, were not a little recommended to me, I lost a good deal of my interest in the matter, and amused myself childishly with the old names of these accumulated signs. There were emperors, kings, and dukes, who, domineering here and there in accents, entertained me not a little. But these thin jests also soon lost their charm; while, nevertheless, I came off a gainer, as in reading, translating, repeating, learning by heart, the substance of the book came out the more vividly, and it was properly in this that I wished for explanation from my old friend.
before this time, the discrepancy between the traditional and the actual and possible had struck me forcibly, and I had put my domestic teachers to much distress about the sun which stood still on Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon, to say nothing of other difficulties. All this was now stirred
up, while, in order to become master of Hebrew, I occupied myself exclusively with the Old Testament, and studied it through, no longer in Luther's version, but in the verbal
translation printed beside the text by Sebastian Schmidt. Here, unhappily, our lessons began to be cut short, so far as knowledge of the language was concerned. Reading, interpretation, grammar, transcription, and repetition of words, seldom lasted a full half hour; for I began immediately to attack the meaning, and although we were still engaged on the first book of Moses, to give vent to much which had been suggested to me by the later books. At first the kind old man attempted to recall me from such excursions; but at last he too seemed entertained by them. He now could not at all restrain his usual cough and laughter; and although he took good care to give me no pretext for compromising him, yet I did not relax in my zeal. Nay, as I was more concerned to propose my doubts than to have them solved, I advanced in vi gour and boldness, which his demeanour seemed to justify. In fine, I could draw nothing from him, but that over and over, with his paunch-convulsing laugh, he exclaimed, “Ah, mad fellow! ah, mad boy !"
Nevertheless, my childish vivacity, which examined the Bible on all sides, must have seemed to him tolerably serious, and deserving of some help. He therefore referred me, after some time, to the great English Biblical work which stood at hand in his library, and in which the explanation of difficult and uncertain passages was attempted in an intelligent and judicious way. The translation had, by the great labours of German divines, obtained some advantages over the original. The different opinions were stated, and at last a kind of reconciliation attempted, by which the dignity of the book, the ground of religion, and our human understanding, were enabled in a manner to co-exist. Now as often as, towards the close of the hour, I expressed some of my common questions and doubts, he referred me to the Repository. I took the volume, he let me read, turned over his Lucian, and when I uttered my remarks upon the book, his usual laugh was all the answer he gave to my acuteness. In the long summer day he let me sit as long as I pleased, often alone. By-and by, he permitted me to take one volume after another home with me.
A man may turn as he will, and
undertake any thing whatsoever, but will always return into the road which Nature has once for all prescribed to him. And so it happened with me in the present case. My pains about the language, about the substance of the sacred writings themselves, all ended at last in producing a livelier picture in my imagination of that fair and celebrated land, and of all that lay around it, as well as of the peoples and events which through thousands of years ennobled that spot of earth.
This small space was to see the origin and growth of the human race. Thence were to come our first and only accounts of primitive history; and this locality was to lie before our imagination, no less simple and conceiva ble than varied, and suited to the most wondrous migrations and settlements. Here, between four recorded rivers, rises a small delightful space, set apart from the whole habitable earth for youthful man. Here was he to develop his first capacities; and here, at the same time, was the lot to befall him, which was appointed for all his posterity, of losing peace by striving after know. ledge. Paradise was forfeited; men increased and corrupted themselves; and were utterly destroyed by the wrathful Elohim. Only a few were saved from the general inundation; and scarcely had this horrible flood disappeared, when the well-known ancestral soil lay once more before the eyes of the grateful survivors.
Two rivers out of four, the Eu. phrates and the Tigris, still flowed in their beds. The name of the former remained, the other seemed marked by its course. More accurate traces of the Paradise could not be expected after such a revolution. The renewed race of man went forth from hence a second time. They were impelled to nourish and employ themselves in many different ways; but chiefly to collect about them great herds of tame animals, and to wander with them in all directions.
This mode of life, as well as the increase of the families, compelled the peoples soon to separate from each other. They could not immediately resolve to bid farewell for ever to their kindred and friends, and they struck upon the thought of building a lofty tower, which, from a great distance, would mark to them the way back. But this attempt failed like that
former enterprise. They were not to be at once happy and wise, numerous and united. They were put to confusion; the building stopped; the men dispersed; the world was peopled, but divided.
Our gaze, our interest remain, however, still fastened on these regions. At last a founder of a race comes forth from hence anew, and impresses a decided character on his descendants, thereby to combine them for all time into a great nation, holding toge ther through all changes of fortune and of country.
From Euphrates, Abraham, not without Divine guidance, wanders towards the west. The desert opposes no final hinderance to his march. He reaches the Jordan, passes over the river, and spreads himself in the fair southern regions of Palestine. This land had been taken possession of before, and tolerably peopled. Mountains, not of extreme height, but stony and unfruitful, were cut through by many watered valleys, favourable to cultivation. Cities, towns, single settlements, lay scattered over the plain, and on slopes of the great valley which pours its waters into Jordan. Thus peopled, thus tilled was the country; but the world was still so wide, and the men so little careful, necessitous, or laborious, that they did not at once occupy all about them. Between their possessions large spaces spread, in which pasturing herds could move freely hither and thither. In these spaces Abraham disposes himself, with his brother Lot near him. But they cannot remain long in such spots. That very mode of settlement in the land, with a population that shrinks and swells, and productions which never remain in equipoise with the wants, brings unexpectedly a famine, and the stranger suffers with the native, whose own support his accidental presence has made more difficult. The two Chaldean brothers remove towards Egypt; and thus the stage is pointed out to us on which, for some thousands of years, the most important events of the world were to take place. From Tigris to Euphrates, from Euphrates to Nile, we see the earth peopled, and in this space a man, beloved of Heaven, and whom we already esteem worthy, moves to and fro with his herds and possessions, and in a short time amply increases them.
The brothers return; but, taught by the distress they had suffered, they take the resolution of separating from each other. Both indeed remain in southern Canaan ; but while Abraham stays at Hebron, by the wood of A Mamre, Lot goes towards the vale of =Siddim. If our imagination is bold enough to give to the Jordan a subterranean outlet, so as to gain, instead of the present Dead Sea, a dry soil, this place will appear to us a second paradise; the more because the inhabitants and neighbours, notorious for effeminacy and crime, lead us from this to suppose their life commodious and luxurious. Lot lives among them, but apart.
But Hebron and the wood of Mamre appear to us as the dignified spots where the Lord speaks with Abraham, and promises him all the land so far as his gaze can reach in all directions. From these quiet regions, from these pastoral peoples, who associate with the celestials, receive them as guests, and hold many dialogues with them, we are compelled to turn our eyes once more towards the East, and to think of the state of the surrounding world, which, on the whole, may per haps have resembled that of the single land of Canaan.
Families stay together; they combine, and the mode of life of the tribes is determined by the locality which they have appropriated, or now appropriate. On the mountains which pour their waters into the Tigris we find warlike peoples, who even thus early foreshow those future conquerors and rulers of the world; and in a military expedition, prodigious for those times, give us a prelude of their coming exploits. Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, has already a powerful influence over his allies. He reigns long; for twelve years before Abraham's arrival in Canaan, he had made the peoples as far as Jordan tributary. They resisted at last, and the allies prepared for war. We find them unexpectedly on a road by which probably Abraham also reached Canaan. The peoples on the left and lower side of Jordan were subdued. Chedorlaomer directs his march southwards to the peoples of the wilderness, then, turning north, strikes the Amalekites; and when he has also mastered the Amorites, reaches Canaan, falls upon the kings of the Valley of Siddim, strikes
and scatters them, and moves with great booty up the course of Jordan, in order to extend his conquests as far as Lebanon.
Among the prisoners, plundered and dragged along with their property, Lot is one, who shares the fate of the country where he lives as a stranger. Abraham hears it, and at once we see the patriarch as a warrior and hero. He draws together his servants, divides them into bands, falls upon the cumbersome load of spoil, confuses the victors, who could not suspect an enemy in the rear, and recovers his brother and his goods, together with much of those of the conquered kings. By this short expedition Abraham takes, as it were, possession of the land. He appears to the inhabitants a protector, a rescuer, and by his disinterestedness a king. The kings of the Valley receive him with thanks; Melchisedec, the king and priest, with blessings.
The prophecies of an endless posterity are now renewed, nay, take a wider and wider extension. From the waters of Euphrates to the river of Egypt all the land is promised him. Yet there seems a failure of his immediate offspring. He is eighty years old, and has no son. Sarah, trusting less in the Divine power than he, becomes impatient. She wishes, in the Oriental fashion, to have a descendant through her maid. But scarcely has Hagar been committed to the master of the family, scarcely is there hope of a son, before dissension breaks out. The wife treats her own dependant harshly enough, and Hagar flies, in order to find a better fortune among other tribes. She turns back, not without signs from on high, and Ishmael is born.
Abraham is now ninety-nine years old, and the promises of a numerous posterity are constantly repeated, so that at last both the pair think them ridiculous. And yet is Sarah at last pregnant, and brings forth a son, to whom is given the name Isaac.
On the legitimate continuation of the human race, history, for the most part, depends. It becomes necessary to trace the most important public events up into the secrets of families; and thus also do the marriages of the patriarchs suggest some peculiar con siderations. It seems that the Divine power which loved to guide the destiny of man, had wished to represent
here, as in an archetype, connubial events of all kinds. Abraham, so long united in childless marriage with a beautiful woman whom many coveted, finds himself, in his hundredth year, the husband of two women, the father of two sons, and at this moment his domestic peace is broken. Two women side by side, and two sons by two mothers, cannot possibly agree. The side least favoured by law, usage, and opinion, must give way. Abraham must sacrifice his regard for Hagar and for Ishmael. Both are dismissed, and Hagar is now compelled, against her will, to enter on a road which she once pursued in voluntary flight. At first it seems as if both her child and she must perish; but the angel of the Lord, who had before sent her back, now again rescues her, that Ishmael also may become a great people, and the most improbable of all prophecies may have even an overflowing fulfilment.
Two parents in advanced years, and one son of their old age-here at last, at all events, we may look for domestic quiet and earthly happiness! Not at all. Heaven is still preparing the heaviest of trials for the patriarch. But of this we cannot speak, without first proposing several considerations.
If a natural universal religion were to arise, and a special revealed one to be developed from it, then the countries in which our imagination has been lingering, the mode of life, and race of men, were the very fittest for the purpose. At least, we do not find that in the whole world any thing equally favourable and encouraging existed. Even natural religion, if we suppose that it had arisen before in the human mind, implies much sensibility; for it rests upon the persuasion of an universal providence, which conducts the course of the world as a whole. A particular religion, reveal ed by Heaven to this or that people, brings with it the belief in a special providence, pledged by the Divine Being to certain favoured men, families, races, and peoples. It seems hard for this to develop itself in men from within. It requires tradition, usage, assurance from of old.
It is therefore beautiful that the Israelitish tradition represents the very first men who confide in this providence as heroes of faith, following all the commands of that high Being,
whose servants they profess themselves as unreservedly as they undoubtingly persevere in expecting the final fulfil ment of his promises.
As a particular revealed religion lays for its ground the idea that one man may be more favoured by Heaven than another, it arises also pre-eminently from the separation of classes. The first men appeared nearly allied; but their employments soon divided them. The hunter was the freest of all; from him arose the warrior and the ruler. Those who tilled the field, bound themselves to the soil, and raised dwellings and barns to preserve what they had gained, might also thus early think themselves of some importance, because their condition promised con tinuance and security. To the herds. man in his employment, there seemed given the most unlimited condition, and a boundless heritage. The increase of the herds proceeded without end, and the space which was to support them expanded on all sides. These three classes seem from the very first to have regarded each other with dis like and contempt; and, as the herdsman was an abomination to the townsmen, so in turn he avoided them. The hunters vanish from our sight among the hills, and re-appear only as conquerors.
The patriarchs belonged to the class of herdsmen. Their manner of life upon the sea of deserts and pastures, gave breadth and freedom to their minds. The vault of heaven, under which they dwelt, with all its mighty stars, elevated their feelings. They had more need than the active, skilful huntsman, or the secure, careful, householding husbandman, of the immovable faith that a God walked beside them, visited them, cared for them, guided and protected them.
We are compelled to make another reflection in passing to the rest of the history. Humane, beautiful, and cheering as is the religion of the patriarchs, yet traits of savageness and cruelty are mingled with it all, out of which man may either rise or again sink in it, and be lost.
That hatred should appease itself by the blood, by the death of the conquered enemy, is natural. That men concluded a peace upon the battle-field among the ranks of the slain, may easily be conceived. That they should similarly think to strengthen a com