Sketch of Ernst Moritz Arndt
Statue of Ernst Moritz Arndt in front of the Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald main building
Ernst Moritz Arndt (December 26, 1769 - January 29, 1860), was a German patriotic author and poet. Early in his life, he fought for the abolition of serfdom, later against Napoleonic dominance over Germany, and had to flee to Sweden for some time due to his anti-French positions. He is one of the main founders of German nationalism and the movement for German unification. After the Carlsbad Decrees, the forces of the restauration counted him as a demagogue and he was only rehabilitated in 1840.
Arndt played an important role for the early national and liberal Burschenschaft movement and for the unification movement, and his song "Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland?" acted as an unofficial anthem.
Long after his death, his anti-French war propaganda was used again by nationalists in both World Wars. This together with some strongly antisemitic statements has led to a rather ambivalent view of Arndt today.
Early life and studies
Arndt was born at Schoritz on the island of Rügen, which at that time belonged to Sweden, as the son of a prosperous farmer, and emancipated serf of the lord of the district, Count Putbus; his mother came of well-to-do German yeoman stock. In 1787 the family removed to the neighbourhood of Stralsund, where Arndt was enabled attend the academy. After an interval of private study he went in 1791 to the University of Greifswald as a student of theology and history, and in 1793 removed to Jena, where he fell under the influence of Fichte.
On the completion of his university course he returned home, was for two years a private tutor in the family of Ludwig Koscgarten (1758-1818), pastor of Wittow, and having qualified for the ministry as a candidate of theology, assisted in the church services. At the age of twenty eight he renounced the ministry, and for eighteen months he led wandering life, visiting Austria, Hungary, Italy, France and Belgium. Returning homewards up the Rhine, he was moved by the sight of the ruined castles along its banks to intense bitterness against France. The impressions of this journey he later described in Reisen durch einen Teil Deutschlands, Ungarns, Italiens und Frankreichs in den Jahren 1798 und 1799 (1802-1804).
Opposition of serfdom and Napoleonic rule
In 1800 he settled in Greifswald as privat-docent in history, and the same year published Über die Freiheit der alten Republiken. In 1803 appeared Germanien und Europa, a fragmentary ebullition, he himself called it, of his views on the French aggression. This was followed by one of the most remarkable of his books, Geschichte der Leibeigenschaft in Pommern und Rügen (Berlin, 1803), a history of serfdom in Pomerania and on Rügen, which was so convincing an indictment that King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden in 1806 abolished the evil.
Arndt had meanwhile risen from privat-docent to extraordinary professor, and in 1806 was appointed to the chair of history at the university. In this year he published the first part of his Geist der Zeit, which, he flung down the gauntlet to Napoleon and called on countrymen to rise and shake off the French yoke. So great is the excitement it produced that Arndt was compelled to take refuge in Sweden to escape the vengeance of Napoleon.
Settling in Stockholm, he obtained government employment, and devoted himself to the great cause which was nearest his art, and in pamphlets, poems and songs communicated his enthusiasm to his countrymen. Schill's heroic death at Stralsund compelled him to return to Germany and, under the disguise of Aßmann, teacher of languages, be reached Berlin in December.
In 1810 he returned to Greifswald, but only for a few months. He again set out on his adventurous travels, lived in close contact, with the first men of his time, such as Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, August von Gneisenau and Heinrich Friedrich Karl Stein, and in 1812 was summoned by the last named to St Petersburg to assist in the organization of the final struggle against France. Meanwhile, pamphlet after pamphlet, and his stirring patriotic songs, such as "Was ist das deutsche Vaterland?" "Der Gott, der Eisen wachsen ließ," and "Was blasen Trompeten?" were on all lips.
When, after the peace, the University of Bonn was founded in 1818, Arndt was appointed to impart of his Geist der Zeit, in which he criticized the reactionary policy of the German powers. The boldness of his demands for reform offended the Prussian government, and in the summer in 1819 he was arrested and his papers confiscated.
Although speedily liberated, he was in the following year, at the instance of the Central Commission of Investigation at Mainz, established in accordance with the Carlsbad Decrees, arraigned before a specially constituted tribunal. Although not found guilty, he was forbidden to exercise the functions of his professorship, but he was allowed to retain the stipend. The next twenty years he passed in retirement and literary activity.
In 1840 he was reinstated in his professorship, and in 1841 was chosen rector of the university. The revolutionary outbreak of 1848 rekindled in the venerable patriot his old hopes and energies, and he took seat as one of the deputies to the National Assembly at Frankfurt. He formed one of the deputation that offered the Imperial crown to Frederick William IV, and indignant at the king's refusal to accept it, he retired with the majority of von igerns adherents from public life.
He continued to lecture and to write with freshness and vigour, and on his 90th birthday received from all parts of Germany good wishes and tokens of affection. He died at Bonn. Arndt was twice married, first in 1800, his wife dying in the following year; a second time in 1817. His youngest son drowned in the Rhine in 1834.
Arndts untiring labour for his country rightly won for him the title of the most German of all Germans. His lyric poems are not, however, all confined to politics. Many among the Gedichte are religious pieces of great of amy. Among his other works are
- Reise durch Schweden (1797);
- Nebenstunden, Beschreibung und Geschichte der Shetländischen Inseln und Orkaden (1820);
- Die Frage über die Niederlande (1831);
- Erinnerungen aus dem äusseren Leben (an autobiography, and the most valuable source of information for Arndt's life, 1840);
- Rhein und Ahrwanderungen (1846),
- Wanderungen and Wandlungen auf dem Reichsfreiherrn von Stein (1858), and
- Pro populo germanico (1854), which was originally intended to form the fifth part of the "Geist der Zeit".
There are monuments to his memory at Schoritz, his birthplace, and in Bonn, where he is buried.
Biographies have been written by
- E. Langenberg (1869) and
- Wilhelm Baur (1882); see also
- H. Meisner and R. Geerds, E. M. Arndt, Ein Lebensbild in Briefen (1898), and
- R. Thiele, B. M. Arndt (1894).
- Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald (old German university named after him)
- O.C. Hiss, Kleine Geschichte der geheimen Presse, Vanitas Presse: Berlin, 1946
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.