Niebuhr's History of Rome.*
It is only at distant intervals, that great discoveries are made in those branches of science that have long been objects of attention and interest. When once made they strike us with surprise, not so much at the sagacity which has been manifested in the investigation, and the extraordinary success which has attended it, but that they should so long have escaped the attention of the curious and the profound.
Such was Niebuhr's great discovery of a lost Roman Literature, or rather his revival of that discovery from the 17th century. A most sagacious scholar of that period, Perizonius of Leyden, wrote a treatise to show that there once existed an indigenous Roman literature which had perished, while a totally distinct one, fashioned after a foreign model, had taken its place. This idea met with no encouragement in Perizonius' own day, and, in fact, scarce attracted any attention, till Niebuhr revived it, about thirty years ago, in a series of Lectures, delivered, first at Berlin, and afterwards at Rome. Niebuhr, with great and unwonted generosity, acknowledged the "enquires" of Perixonius as "masterly;" but, as they led to nothing in his own day and slumbered for a century and a half, we cannot consider the extraordinary merit of Niebuhr as materially lessened by the fact, that the true theory of the early literature and the early history of Rome, was first broached by the former. Perhaps no fact of remote times, to which there is not direct and positive historical testimony, is better established than that the ancient chroniclers drew their materials chiefly from ancient ballads, and that the historians used these chronicles as authority without knowing the source whence te latter derived their narratives.
The ballads of Rome, then, had perished in the days of the historians, except perhaps from the mouths of the common people; but the stories remained, and were made the basis of Rome's early history. On this are grounded the admirable lays of Macaulay, who, getting the stories from the history, professes to restore the ballads. For the sake of the old Romans, we hope they are a fair specimen of the songs of their bards. If they are so, the marvel is that these should ever have perished. If we are delighted with the lays of Macaulay, we should not forget that we owe them to the researches of Niebuhr.
We need not wonder that Niebuhr has produced the greatest historical work of the day. "It is the work of my life," he tells us, "which is to preserve me a name not unworthy of my father's." How few works of the present day have the merit of being the work of a life, and of being written to preserve a name!
Familiarity with the most remarkable people the world has yet seen for grandeur of purpose and fixedness of aim, may have inspired this idea. Their immortal works urged him to achieve immortality, and to produce a history worthy of the people whose rule lasted a thousand years, and whose influence is still felt in every portion of the civilized world. Through this work we are probably better acquainted with the Romans of the first six centuries after the building of the city, than were their countrymen of the Augustan age. The fable and the fact of the early ages are much better ascertained and distinguished in these volumes, than they were by the contemporaries of Cicero.
The style appears to us admirably adapted to the subject; earnest and dignified; in fact, as it should be, very Roman. Though not graceful, it is energetic and impressive; judging of it from the translation, which alone we have seen. This is well executed, and as little German as any translation can well be. We hope our countrymen will duly honor the great historical work of the nineteenth century.
* Lea & Blanchard, Publishers, Philadelphia. [[This footnote appears at the bottom of column 1.]]
[This item was attributed to Poe by Hull as, "This last touch, as well as the whole review, is characteristic of Poe. I think he is the author."]
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[S:0 - EM, 1845]