Gellert, Christian Furchtegott

, an eminent German poet and moral writer, was born at Haynichen, in Saxony, July 4, 1715. His father was a clergyman of a small income, who had thirteen children. Gellert was educated at home, where his poetical powers first appeared in a poem on the birth-day of his father, which was succeeded by many others, but all these in his maturer years he committed to the flames. He was afterwards sent to school at Meissen r where he learned Greek and Latin, and in 1734 he went to Leipsic, whence, after studying four years, his father’s narrow income obliged him to recall him. Gellert wished much to continue at the university, but he submitted to necessity, and at home had an opportunity of again turning his attention to those poetical pursuits for which he had early displayed a predilection; and perhaps it is to his recall from the university that we owe the beauty and simplicity of his fables. At this time he occasion-ally composed sermons, which are in general distinguished both for spirit and sound reasoning, but they contain several indications of a taste not very correct, and a judgment not arrived at maturity. In 1741 he again returned to the university of Leipsic, with a nephew of his own, of whose education he had the charge. Here he met with some friends, from whose conversation and directions he confesses that he derived very considerable advantage. About this time he published several tales and fables in a periodical publication. In 1745 he acquired the right of giving public lessons in the university, particularly on- morals. He had early received an impression of the importance of Christian morality, and thought that he could not pass over the subject in silence, without neglecting one of the most essential duties of his | Situation. Soon after the commencement of his academical labours, he published his “Tales and Fables.” Amongst these, the manner in which the character of a devotee was drawn, was much admired. This suggested to Gellert the idea of his comedy of the “Devotee,” which was first published in the Bremen Magazine, but afterwards caused him much vexation. Many condemned it because it appeared to them to have a mischievous tendency, by exposing piety and seriousness to ridicule. But Gellert was not a man who could attempt to sap the foundations of real religion and morality, though he wished to expose hypocrisy and affectation to merited contempt. Among the many flattering instances of public approbation which the “Tales and Fables” produced, Gellert was particularly pleased with that of a Saxon peasant. One day, about the beginning of winter, he saw the man drive up to his door a cart loaded with fire-wood. Having observed Gellert, he asked him whether he was the gentleman who wrote such fine tales? Being answered in the affirmative, he begged pardon for the liberty which he took, and left the contents of his cart, being the most valuable present he could make. At this time the Germans had no original romances of any merit. In order to give some celebrity to this species of composition in his own country, he published the “Swedish Countess,” a work of a melancholy cast, and containing many indications of that depression of spirits which embittered the latter days of Gellert. In 1747 he published a book entitled “Consolations for Valetudinarians,” which was received with as much eagerness as his other works, and translated into various languages. It contains a melancholy representation of the sufferings which he himself endured. Nothing, however, could overcome his activity, and in 1748 the continuation of hisf “Tales and Fables” was published. About this time he was deprived of the society of several friends who had often dispersed the gloom that resulted from his disorder. The only intimate friend that remained was Havener, who persuaded Gellert to give to the public some of his letters. In 1754 he published his “Didactic Poems,” whicu were not so well received as his Tales and Fables, and he himself seems to have been sensible that they were not so agreeable, although useful and instructive. He bestowed particular care on some sacred songs, which were received with great enthusiasm all over | Germany, both in the Roman catholic and protestant states. About this time he was appointed professor extraordinary in philosophy, and gave lectures on the Belles Lettres. From this period Gellert suffered extremely from an hypochondriac affection. His days were spent in melancholy reflections, and his rights in frightful dreams. But he made prodigious efforts to resist this malady, and to continue to perform his academical duties; and these efforts were often successful. The constant testimonies of the approbation with which his works were received, and the sympathy of his friends, were never-failing sources of consolation, and served to spread many cheerful moments over the general languor of his life. The calamities of war which desolated Germany after 1757, induced Gellert for some time to quit Leipsic. While in the country, he was attacked by a severe illness, from which, however, contrary to all expectation, he recovered. In 1761 the chair of a professor in ordinary was offered him, but he refused to accept it, from a persuasion that the state of his health was such as to render him incapable of discharging the duties of the situation with that regularity and attention which he thought necessary. In 1763-4, Gellert went to Carlsbad by the advice of his physicians to drink the waters, which, however, seem to have given him little relief. After a few years more of almost constant suffering, GeHett died at Leipsic, on the 13th of December. 1769. Some time before his death he revised and corrected his moral lessons, which he published at the request of the elector of Saxony. He was a man of the easiest and most conciliating manners; pleasing even to strangers; and of a disposition to form and preserve the most valuable friendships. He was open and enthusiastic in his attachments, ready at all times to givtt his counsel, labour, and money, to serve his friends. In himself, of a timid and hypochondriac habit, and disposed to criticise both his own character and works with a severity of which his friends could not acknowledge the justice. He had a constitutional fear of death, which, notwithstanding, receded as the hour of trial approached; so that he died with calmness and fortitude. In this he is thought to have resembled our Dr.Johnson, but in other respects his character and habit seem to approach nearer to those of Cowper. His works were published in ten vols. 8vo, in 1766; and after his death a more complete edition at Leipsic, in eight rolumes, with engravings. Kutner | has celebrated his various excellencies; he says, “a century will perhaps elapse, before we have another poet capable of exciting the love and admiration of his contemporaries, in so eminent a degree as Gellert, and of exercising so powerful an influence on the taste and way of thinking of all ranks.” Though not deserving all this, he was an agreeable and fertile writer; the poet of religion and virtue; an able reformer of public morals. His “Moral Lessons” were translated into English, and published by Mrs. Douglas of Eduam house, 1805, 3 vols. 8vo, with an excellent life of the author, to which this article is chiefly indebted. 1


Life as above. Life by Ernesti in vol. II, of his “Opuscula Oratoria.