Bodmer, John James

, a voluminous writer, and one of the, revivers of literature in Germany, was born at Zurich, July 19, 1693, and notwithstanding his father’s design to bring him up to the church, or for trade, he seemed born for the sciences, and particularly the belles lettres. He concealed his dislike, however, for the ministry, until the time when he might have been admitted, and then declined proceeding any farther. His father then would have him pursue trade, and in 1717 sent him to Bergamo for that purpose. This being of course as disagreeable to him as the study of divinity, he returned home after two years, his predilection for poetry growing more and more upon him. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a translation of which fell in his way, filled his head with poetical images, and the English Spectator formed his morals, while he studied his philosophy in Bayle and Montaigne. The German language was at this time in a barbarous state; literature was at a low ebb, and the pedantic studies of the schools were not to the liking of such a youth as Bodmer. Finding nothing, therefore, to read in his own language, he confined himself to the classics of antiquity, and gave up every other employment, except the study of the history and politics of Swisserland. In history, however, he looked only for men, manners, and language; and was desirous of forming from it a system of psychology.

In 1737 he was elected a member of the grand council of Zurich, but this excited no ambition. Having lost his children, he refused every kind of civil promotion, and took as much pains to avoid as others do to procure such honours. His object was to reform the taste of his country, and with this view, for many years all his writings were of the didactic and critical kind. In 1721 he and Breitinger | made their first appearance in the republic of letters, by a periodical paper, in the manner of the English Spectator, to which they gave the title of the “Painter of Manners,” and which contributed in a very great degree to the reformation of style. This was followed by many other works, which procured Bodmer the high character of the restorer of the German language, criticism, and poetry. He published also various pieces relative to the history of Swisserland, the greater part of which appeared in the Helvetic Bibliotheque, and have since been inserted in the supplement of Lauffer’s history of Swisserland. In 1748 and 1758, he and his former colleague Breitinger re-published many pieces of German poetry of the thirteenth century: Bodmer also translated some old English ballads, and published the poetry of Opitz with critical remarks. All these contributed essentially to the refinement of German taste and style but Bodmer reached his fiftieth year before he became himself a poet. He had hitherto been terrified at the restraint which rhime imposes, and made no attempt of the kind, until Klopstock, by introducing hexameters, opened the way to ease and variety. Bodmer had studied Milton and Klopstock, and as he was the son of a clergyman, and once destined for the church, this, and a desire to tread in the steps of these illustrious predecessors, determined him to choose a subject from the Bible. Perhaps, says his biographer, his creative powers suggested to him the patriarchs instead of the Achilleses and Æncases. Hitherto his pen had not touched on a national subject, nor could he find any creative fund in national history. Animated therefore by the genius of Milton, he ventured to write an epic in an age in which the poetic fire appeared to be extinguished. His hero was Noah, who having survived the destruction of the first, became the father of a new race of men. Bodmer, by charging this new generation with the crimes of all ages, rendered his poem at once moral and political, and, under the title of the “Noachide,” it was printed at Zurich, 1752, 1765, and 1772.

His other works were, a German translation of Milton, Zurich, 1769; and of Homer, ibid. 1769; of Apollonius Rhodius, ibid. 1779; Collections for the history of the Allies, ibid. 1739 Dissertation on the wonderful in poetry, 1749; Critical observations on portraits in poetry Letters on Criticism A collection of all his smaller epic poems, entitled Calliope; A collection of critical and poetical works, | the fountain of the German language, 1768; a magnificent edition, already noticed, of the '^Minnisinger,“or Old German Bards, 1758. He also wrote parodies on Lessing’s Fables, and the Tragedies of Weiss, both very inferior, to his other works. In 1767 hisNoahwas translated by Mr. Collier, and partakes of all the faults of such compositions as the” Death of Abel." Bodmer’s great fault, indeed, was that inflated and bombast style, which has been since his time so popular in Germany, and which, in the dramatic form, some years ago, threatened to debase the taste of this country. His imagination is fertile, and occasionally bursts into something like sublimity, but is rarely under the guidance of judgment or taste. Having something of both, however, at the time his countrymen had neither, he cannot be denied the merit of giving a more favourable direction to their studies but it was his misfortune to acquire fame when there was none to dispute it, and as his country increased in its number of scholars and critics, he in vain endeavoured to preserve his superiority by being jealous of rising merit. The first critic when German criticism was in its infancy, he would also be the first when she was advanced to maturity but he outlived his authority, and was no longer the first, although he might rank among the best. He died Jan. 2, 1783. 1

1 Biog. Univ. Meister’s Portraits des homines illustres de la Suisse. Billuisse, &c. Portraits of illustrious Germans. Crit. Rev. vol. II. and Month. Rev. vol. XIV. Nj S. —Saxii Onomast.