Reiske, John James

, an extraordinary scholar, and equally extraordinary man, who has furnished us with very curious memoirs of his life, was born Dec. 25, 1716, at Zorbig, a small town near Leipsic, of ancestors of whom he knew nothing, except that his grandfather was an innkeeper. He was educated at the school of Zorbig until ten years old, then was removed to Soschen, where a gentleman, to whom he afterwards in gratitude dedicated his remarks on the “Tusculan questions,” brought him very forward. Thence he went to school at Halle, where he complains of the length of the prayers, and of the ignorance of his teacher, who knew nothing of Latin. In 1733 he removed to the university of Leipsic; but instead of attending to Greek, mathematics, and polite literature, gave himself, “in an evil hour,” to Rabbinical learning, and Arabic. Such, however, was his oeconomy, that although during the five years he remained here, he received from home only two hundred dollars, he contrived not only to live, but to purchase most of the Arabic books then extant, and in 1736 he had read them all. The last year, indeed, he obtained a scholarship of twenty dollars a-year, | which he might have enjoyed longer, had he not in 1738 determined to visit Holland, without ever considering how he was to travel without money. He set out, however, from Leipsic to Lunenburg in the common waggon, and thence by the Elbe to Hamburgh, where he visited Reimarus, who at first received him coolly, but on discovering his learning, gave him letters, and became his fast friend; nor, he adds, did the worthy men of Hamburgh send him penniless on the way.

On his arrival at Amsterdam, he was well received by a friend of his mother’s, who had married a linen-draper there. Nextr day he visited Dorville, to whom he had a letter of recommendation from professor Wolfe. Dorville offered him 600 florins a-year to live with him and be his amanuensis; but Reiske told him that he was not come to Holland to make his fortune, which he could have done better in his own country, but to look for Arabic manuscripts. Dorville seemed surprized and a little angry at such an answer from a man who had not a shilling; but afterwards, Reiske says, “we were very good friends, though I wonder we did so well together, for we were much of the same temper, hasty, passionate, and selfwilled.” He then went to Leyden, where he had the mortification to be told that there was no provision in Holland for strangers, that it was vacation time, that the scholars were all gone, and the library quite inaccessible. He contrived, however, to pick up a livelihood, by being corrector of the press for Alberti’s Hesychius, and giving a few lessons, when he could procure pupils. At length he got introduced to Schultens, who allowed him to copy Oriental Mss. at his house, and teach his son Arabic. At the desire of Schultens, he applied himself to the Arabic poets, and published an edition of the “Moallakat” in i740; but they did not quite agree about some passages in it, and this laid the foundation of the misunderstanding between them. In the mean time he made a catalogue of Arabic Mss. in the Leyden library, a work which employed him some months, and for which he was rewarded with nine guilders, about eighteen shillings!

All this, however, he called “going on well,” and proceeds to date his misfortunes from his displeasing the friends of Burman. When Burman sent his “Petronius” to press, he was old and bed-ridden, and the correction of the work fell upon Reiske. He made some alterations in | the first volume, which Burman lived to see and was pleased with; but happening to take some greater liberties with the text of Petronius, in the second, all Barman* s friends became his enemies; his scholars deserted him, and Dorville broke with him. Peter Burman, the son, wrote a preface against Reiske, which he answered in the “Acta Eruditorum.” During his residence here, as he saw nothing was to be done in divinity, he made some progress in the study of physic, and intended to return home and practise; but, he informs us, “straightness of circumstances, oddness of humour, and the love of Arabic, always kept him from it.

Two things determined him to leave Holland, the one was that he had offended Schultens by some remarks on the study of Arabic; the other, that in the thesis which he wrote for his medical degree, he incurred the suspicion of materialism; but having got this degree June 10, 1746, he bade adieu to Holland. After a long apostrophe in admiration of Holland, which, he says, he wishes he had never seen, or never left, he informs us that while with Dorville, he translated into Latin, some small French tracts, which that author inserted in his “Miscellanea Critica;” made collections for him from Mss. or other literary curiosities; translated his “Charito” into Latin, and collated the copy which Dorville had received from Cocchi at Florence. They quarrelled, however, because Dorville not only altered some parts of this translation, but obliged Reiske to do the same himself before his face.

After some stay at his native place Zorbig, where he could find no opportunity of settling advantageously, he was obliged to return to Leipsic. In 1747, he tells us he was made professor for the publication of a tract, entitled “De principibus Mahummedanis literarum laude claris.” From this time he lived, during many years, in want and obscurity, frequently not knowing where to get bread to eat. What he did get, he says, was hardly earned, by private instruction, writing books, correcting for the press, translations, and working for reviews; and thus he went on from 1746 to 1758.*


The reader will wonder how Reiske could be in such want with so many occupations. As a corrector of the press alone, he would have done very well; what ruined him was, his being a reader of books, as well as a writer, and would often buy them without thinking whether he should have money enough left to buy next day’s dinner, Besides this, he had the rage of pub-


lishing things which mouldered away in a dark room, and besides this he had his mother to keep. He used to buy leather, and send it to Zorbig, where they sold it by retail. Note by Mrs. Reiske.

| In the mean time, in 1748, he wrote his “Prograrmna de epocha Arabum, &c.” for which he was made Arabic professor, but in tins office he complains of being rewarded by an ill-paid salary of one hundred dollars a year. In the autumn of that year a bookseller at Leyden agreed with him for a publication of Abulfeda’s History in Latin and Arabic: the first sheet was accordingly printed, and made him known in France and England; and the whole, he says, would have followed, if it had not been for his quarrel with Schultens. Reiske appears to have had an extraordinary propensity to quarrelling, and being a reviewer, vva& not sparing of the means, by reviewing in an arrogant and petulant style the works of those persons with whom he was living in apparent friendship. He even unblushingly avows that a sort of revenge led him to speak ill of the works of some of his friends. He speaks at the same time of the bitter remorse with which he reflected on his treatment of Schultens, who “had been a father to him,” acknowledges the acid of youthful pride which mixed with his criticisms, and yet talks of being influenced by the “conscience and duty” of a reviewer

Among the works which he performed for bread, and invita Minerva, were a translation of the life of Christina from the French, and an index to the translation of the History of the academy of inscriptions. Those which he wrote con amore were his criticisms in the Leipsic Acts, which were very numerous, his “Greek Anthology,” and in 1754 the first part of his tc Annales Moslemici,“dedicated to the curators of the university of Leyden, who, as he says, did not thank him, and he sold only thirty copies. After a little Arabic effusion, called” Risalet Abit Walicit,“he began his” Animadversiones ad autores Gra3cos,“and printed five volumes of them, which cost him 1000 thalers, of which he never saw more than 100 again.I have, however,“he says,” enough for five volumes more, and should go quietly out of the world, if I could once see them printed, for they weflo? ingenii mei (that is supposing it to be allowed that my genius has any flowers); and sure I am, that little as their worth is now known, and much as they have been despised, the time will come when party and jealousy shall be no more, and justice will be done | them. Should they come oat in my life-time, it will pay me for all my trouble if they should not, an ever-waking God will take care, that no impious hand seizes on my work, and makes it his own* Possibly there may arise some honourable Godfearing man, who may hereafter publish them unadulterated to my posthumous fame, and for the good of literature: such is my wish, such are my prayers to God, and he will hear those prayers."

In 1755, he was chosen fellow of Gotsched’s society of the fine arts. This produced two small papers, which are in the Transactions of that society, and an acquaintance with his wife, the sister of Probst, who came with him to Leipsic. Her modesty, goodness of heart, and love of learned men, caught his heart; but the war broke out, and he did not marry till nine years after. In 1756 he made a catalogue of the Arabic coins in x the library at Dresden, and translated Thograi in a couple of days. It came out with a preface and notes, containing accounts of the Arabic poets. There were only two hundred copies printed.

The war now raged very fiercely all over Saxony, and poor Reiske was obliged to avail himself of Ernesti’s generosity* who gave him his table for two years; but in 1758, his fortunes took a surprizing and most unexpected turn, and he was made independent, by being appointed rector of the school of St. Nicholas. This he tells us he had had an omen of at the beginning of the year; for, rising on new year’s day, at three o’clock in the morning, as was his constant custom, to pursue his translation of Libanius’s letters, he found that he had come to a letter written to Anatolius, and the first word he read was Anatolius. “Now,” says he, “thought I, the year is come in which God will let the light of his countenance shine upon thee; and in five weeks after Haltaus (his predecessor) died.

About 1763 he translated Demosthenes and Thucydides into German, and married Mrs. Reiske, a woman of great j literary accomplishments. In 1768 he issued proposals for his edition of Demosthenes, which forms the first two volumes of his “Oratores Graeci.” On this occasion we have an interesting note from Mrs. Reiske. “When the work went to press, only twenty thalers of the subscription money had come in. The good man was quite struck down with this, and seemed to have thrown away all hope. His grief went to my soul, and I comforted him as well as I could, and persuaded him to sell mv jewels, which he at | length came into, after I had convinced him that a few shining stones were not necessary to my happiness.” The work at length appeared in 1770. His “Theocritus,” published in 1765, he calls a bookseller’s job, and it certainly is not the best of his critical efforts. It was published iti 2 vols. 4to, to which he would have added a third, could he have agreed with his bookseller. His “Plutarch” and “Dionysius Halicarnassensis” were also edited by him for the booksellers but the “Oratores Graeci” was the work of his choice, and one on which his reputation may safely rest.

Reiske died August 14, 1774. Much of his character may be learned from what he has himself told us. Mrs. Reiske, who completes his memoirs, attributes to him a high degree of rectitude, and adds, that he often blamed himself in cases where he deserved no blame, and always thought he ought to be better than he was. He thought ill of mankind, and we have seen that some part of his own practice was not very well calculated to lessen that bad opinion in other minds. When speaking of his ill-treatment of Schultens, who had accused him of irreligion, he denies this, and adds, “the worst he could say of me, happily for me, was, that I was a proud, insolent, and ungrateful young man.

Mrs. Reiske informs us that his unexampled love of letters produced not only all the works he has published, and all the Mss. he left behind him; but every man who had any thing to publish, might depend upon his countenance and protection. He gave books, advice, subscription, even all that he had. Nay, he made up to several people that had treated him ill, only in order that he might make their works better. He was also a man of great charity. As a scholar his character is too well known to require a prolix detail of his various knowledge. He had read all the Greek and Latin authors, and all the Arabic ones, more than once, and was likewise acquainted with the best Italian, French, English, and German writers. He read Tillotson’s and Barrow’s sermons constantly, and used to translate them for his wife into French. His memory was so wonderful that he remembered all he had heard, and could repeat a sermon he had heard almost verbatim. In the last days of his life he called all his learned works trifles. “All these troublesome labours,” said he, “cannot preserve me from the judgment seat, at which I must soon appear my | only confidence proceeds from the thoughts of having lived uprightly before God.

His commerce with the learned was most extensive. Among his correspondents he enumerates Abresch, Alberti* Albinus, Askew, Bandini, Bartholomei, Bernard, Bianconi, Bilder, Bondam, Findley, Gesner, Gronovius, Havercamp, Hemsterhuys, Michaelis, Osel, cardinal Quirini, Reimarus, Sebusch, Wolfe, and Wittembach. Of some of these, however, he speaks with little respect. Of his works, twenty-seven of which are enumerated by Harles, we have noticed the principal. He wrote his own life as far as 1771, which was continued by Mrs. Reiske, and published in 1783. 1

1 Life as above, in Maty’s Review, vol. VII. Harles fie vitis philologorunj, vol. IV. —Saxii Onomast.