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JOHANN GOTTLIEB FICHTE.
Ar the time of the great religious division, when Germany was torn by internal factions and ravaged by foreign armies, - when for thirty years the torch of devastation never ceased to blaze, nor the groan of misery to ascend on high,-a skirmish took place near the village of Rammenau, in Upper Lusatia, between some Swedish troops and a party of the Catholic
army. A subaltern officer who had followed the fortunes of Gustavus was left on the field severely wounded. The kind and simple-hearted villagers were eager to render him every aid which his situation required, and beneath the roof one of them, a zealous Lutheran, he was tended until returning health enabled him either to rejoin his companions in arms or return to his native land. But the stranger had found an attraction stronger than those of war or home, he continued an inmate in the house of his protector, and became his son-in-law. The old man's other sons having fallen in the war, the soldier inherited his simple possessions, and founded a family whose generations flowed on in peaceful obscurity until
its name was made illustrious by the subject of the following memoir.
The village of Rammenau is situated in a beautiful and well-cultivated district, diversified by wooded slopes and watered by numerous streams. Its inhabitants are a frugal and industrious people, and preserve, even to the present day, the simple and unaffected manners of their forefathers. Amid this community, withdrawn alike from the refinements and the corruptions of more polished society, the descendants of the Swedish soldier bore an honourable reputation for those manly virtues of our nature which find in poverty a rugged but congenial soil. Firmness of purpose, sterling honesty in their dealings, and immovable uprightness of conduct, became their family characteristics. From this worthy stock the subject of our memoir took his descent. The grandfather of the philosopher, who alone out of a numerous family remained resident in his native place, inherited from his predecessor, along with the little patrimonial property, a small trade in ribbons, the product of his own loom, which he disposed of to the inhabitants of the village and its vicinity. Desirous that his eldest son, Christian Fichte, should extend this business beyond the limited sphere in which he practised it himself, he sent him as apprentice to Johann Schurich, a manufacturer of linen and ribbons in the neighbouring town of Pulsnitz, in order that he might there learn his trade more perfectly than he could do at home. The son conducted himself well during his apprenticeship, rose high in the esteem of his master, and was at last received into the house as an inmate. He there succeeded in gaining the affections of Schurich's daughter. This attachment was for some time kept secret, in deference
to the pride of the maiden's father; but his prejudices having been overcome, young Fichte brought home his bride to his native village, and with her dowry he built a house there, in which some of his descendants still follow the paternal occupation.
JOHANN GOTTLIEB FICHTE was their first child, and was born on the 19th May 1762. At his baptism, an aged relative of the mother, who had come from a distance to be present at the ceremony, and who was revered by all men for his wisdom and piety, foretold the future eminence of the child; and as death soon afterwards set his seal upon the lips by which this prophecy had been uttered, it became invested with all the sacredness of a deathbed prediction. Their faith in this announcement induced the parents to allow their first-born an unusual degree of liberty, and by thus affording room for the development of his nature, the prediction became in some measure the means of securing its own fulfilment.
The boy soon displayed some characteristics of the future man.
He seldom joined the other children in their games, but loved to wander forth into the fields, alone with his own thoughts. There he would stand for hours, his eyes fixed on the far distance, until he was roused from his trance and brought home by the shepherds, who knew and loved the solitary and meditative child. These thoughtful hours, in which the first germs of his spiritual nature were unfolded, left impressions upon him which the cares of future years never obliterated, and they always continued among his most cherished recollections. His first teacher was his own father, who, after the business of the day was over and the garden work finished, instructed him in reading, and told him the story of his own journeyings in Saxony and Franconia. He was an eager scholar, soon mastered his Bible and Catechism, and even read the morning and evening prayers to the family circle. When he was seven years of age, his father, as a reward for his industry, brought him from the neighbouring town the story of Siegfried. He was soon so entirely rapt in this book, that he neglected his other lessons in order to indulge his fancy for it. This brought upon him a severe reproof; and finding that the beloved book stood between him and his duty, he with characteristic determination resolved to destroy it. He carried it to the brook which ran by his father's house, with the intention of throwing it into the water, but long he hesitated before accomplishing his first act of self-denial. At length he cast it into the stream. No sooner, however, did he see it carried away from him, than regret for his loss triumphed over his resolution, and he wept bitterly. His father discovered him, and learned the loss of the book, but without learning the reason of it. Angry at the supposed slight cast upon his present, he punished the boy with unwonted severity. As in his childhood, so also in his after life, did ignorance of his true motives often cause Fichte to be misunderstood and misrepresented. When this matter had been forgotten, his father bought him a similar book, but the boy refused to accept it, lest he should again be led into temptation.
Young Fichte soon attracted the notice of the clergyman of the village, an excellent man who was beloved by the whole community. The pastor, perceiving that the boy possessed unusual abilities, allowed him frequently
to come to his house in order to receive instruction, and resolved, if possible, to obtain for him a scientific education. An opportunity of doing so accidentally presented itself. When Fichte was about eight or nine years of age, the Freiherr von Miltitz, being on a visit to a nobleman resident in the neighbourhood, was desirous of hearing a sermon from the pastor of Rammenau, who had acquired some reputation as a preacher, but had arrived too late in the evening to gratify his wishes. Lamenting his disappointment, he was told that there was a boy in the village whose extraordinary memory enabled him to repeat faithfully any address which he had once heard. Little Gottlieb was sent for, and appeared before the company in his linen jacket, carrying a nosegay which his mother had placed in his hand. He astonished the assembled guests by his minute recollection of the morning's discourse and the earnestness with which he repeated it before them. The Freiherr, who belonged to one of the noblest families in Saxony, and possessed a high reputation for his disinterested benevolence and unaffected piety, determined to make further inquiries respecting this extraordinary child; and the friendly pastor having found the opportunity he wished, easily persuaded him to undertake the charge of the boy's education. The consent of the parents having been with difficulty obtained, — for they were reluctant to expose their son to the temptations of a noble house, - young Fichte was consigned to the care of his new protector, who engaged to treat him as his own child.
His first removal was to Siebeneichen (Sevenoaks), a seat on the Elbe belonging to the Freiherr. The stately solemnity of this place and the gloom of the surround