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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Ernst Moritz Arndt (1769–1860)

SPRUNG from the sturdy peasant stock of the north, to which patriotism is a chief virtue, Ernst Moritz Arndt first saw the light at Schoritz, Island of Rügen (then a dependency of Sweden), December 29th, 1769. His father, once a serf, had achieved a humble independence, and he destined his clever son for the ministry, the one vocation open to him which meant honor and advancement. The young man studied theology at Greifswald and Jena, but later turned his attention exclusively to history and literature. His early life is delightfully described in his ‘Stories and Recollections of Childhood.’ His youth was molded by the influence of Goethe, Klopstock, Bürger, and Voss. After completing his university studies he traveled extensively in Austria, Hungary, and Northern Italy. His account of these journeys, published in 1802, shows his keen observation of men and affairs.

He began his long service to his country by his ‘History of Serfdom in Pomerania and Sweden,’ which contributed largely to the general abolition of the ancient abuse. He became professor of history in the University of Greifswald in 1806, and about that time began to publish the first series of the ‘Spirit of the Times.’ These were stirring appeals to rouse the Germans against the oppressions of Napoleon. In consequence he was obliged to flee to Sweden. After three years he returned under an assumed name, and again took up his work at Greifswald. In 1812, after the occupation of Pomerania by the French, his fierce denunciations again forced him to flee, this time to Russia, the only refuge open to him. There he joined Baron von Stein, who eagerly made use of him in his schemes for the liberation of Germany. At this time his finest poems were written: those kindling war songs that appealed so strongly to German patriotism, when “songs were sermons and sermons were songs.” The most famous of these, ‘What is the German’s Fatherland?’ ‘The Song of the Field-marshal,’ and ‘The God Who Made Earth’s Iron Hoard,’ still live as national lyrics.

Arndt was also constantly occupied in writing pamphlets of the most stirring nature, as their titles show:—‘The Rhine, Germany’s River, but Never Germany’s Boundary’; ‘The Soldier’s Catechism’; and ‘The Militia and the General Levy.’ After the disasters of the French in Russia, he returned to Germany, unceasingly devoted to his task of rousing the people. Though by birth a Swede, he had become at heart a Prussian, seeing in Prussia alone the possibility of German unity.

In 1817 he married Schleiermacher’s sister, and the following year was appointed professor of history in the newly established University of Bonn. Shortly afterward suspended, on account of his liberal views, he was forced to spend twenty years in retirement. His leisure gave opportunity for literary work, however, and he availed himself of it by producing several historical treatises and his interesting ‘Reminiscences of My Public Life.’ One of the first acts of Frederick William IV., after his accession, was to restore Arndt to his professorship at Bonn. He took a lively interest in the events of 1848, and belonged to the deputation that offered the imperial crown to the King of Prussia. He continued in the hope and the advocacy of German unity, though he did not live to see it realized. The ninetieth birthday of “Father Arndt,” as he was fondly called by his countrymen, was celebrated with general rejoicing throughout Germany. He died shortly afterward, on January 29th, 1860.

Arndt’s importance as a poet is due to the stirring scenes of his earlier life and the political needs of Germany. He was no genius. He was not even a deep scholar. His only great work is his war-songs and patriotic ballads. Germany honors his manly character and patriotic zeal in that stormy period of Liberation which led through many apparent defeats to the united Empire of to-day.

The best German biographies are that of Schenkel (1869), W. Baur (1882), and Langenberg (1869); the latter in 1878 edited ‘Arndt’s Letters to a Friend.’ J. R. Seeley’s ‘Life and Adventures of E. M. Arndt’ (1879) is founded on the latter’s ‘Reminiscences of My Public Life.’