Niebuhr, Karsten

Niebuhr, Karsten a distinguished German traveler in the Orient, noted for his valuable contributions to the modern researches of Oriental customs, etc., was born at Lildingworth, in the duchy of Lauenburg, March 17, 1733, of humble but worthy parentage. His early educational advantages were rather limited, but a thirst for knowledge kept him busy in study, even while employed as a tiller of the soil. He was especially fond of mathematics, and achieved such success in the study of geometry that he was considered competent to fill the position of land-surveyor in his native district. The little income secured from this position he laid out in books, and by the aid of a good library fitted himself for the university. He was admitted at Gottingen, and there studied until, in 1756 or 1757, he was offered a place in the corps of Hanoverian engineers. About 1760 he entered the Danish service, and in the year following was offered employment by the Danish government in a scientific expedition to Arabia, which was then going out at the expense of that government for the purpose of enlarging Biblical knowledge, especially of the Old-Testament Scriptures. The project originally contemplated only the mission of a single Arabic scholar, but it was finally extended to include a mathematician for purposes of. astronomical and geographical observation (and for this place Niebuhr was chosen), a naturalist, a draughtsman, and a physician. Niebuhr delayed the expedition eighteen months in order to fit himself properly for the task, and, as the result proved, this step was truly proper, for he alone lived to return from the expedition, and from him alone we have obtained the valuable results of that liberal act of the Danish king, Frederic V, and his learned minister, count von Bernstorff — most noble patrons of learning. The other members of the, expedition to which Niebuhr belonged were the noted Orientalist of that day, professor Frederick Christian von Haven, Peter Forskil as naturalist, Christian Charles Cramer as physician, and George William Baurenfeind as painter or draughtsman. By the royal instructions for the expedition, a perfect equality was established- among the five members; and they were enjoined to decide every difference of opinion regarding their course by plurality of voices, or, if votes should be equal, by lot. They sailed from Copenhagen in January, 1761, in a frigate of the Danish royal navy, and arrived, not without some accidents, at Constantinople, whence, after a short residence, the travelers proceeded in a merchant vessel to Alexandria, ascended the Nile, and reached Cairo in November, 1761. Having carefully explored the Pyramids and other antiquities of Lower Egypt, they crossed the desert to Mount Sinai and Suez, embarked at that port in an Arab vessel, and landed at Loheia, in Arabia Felix, the destined seat of their mission, in December, 1762. They crossed the country, mounted on asses, the usual conveyance, and, after visiting:several places of interest, finally arrived at Mocha, where the philologist Von: Haven unfortunately died, in May, 1763. The surviving travelers, proceeding from thence to Sana, the capital of Yemen, were favorably received by. the imam; but they had meanwhile lost another of their number, the naturalist Forskal, who died on the road. His companions returning to Mocha, there embarked in an English vessel for Bombay, on the voyage to which place the painter Baureqfeind expired; and at Bombay Niebuhr had the affliction of burying the last of his fellow-travelers, the physician Cramer. The fact is admitted by Niebuhr that his ill-fated friends persisted in living after the European manner under the burning sun of Arabia; and it may be surmised that they lost their lives through that disregard to necessary habits of abstinence for which the Danes in their tropical colonies are remarkable, even above all other people. Niebuhr himself, who had suffered severely from illness with the rest of his party, after their decease adopted the same diet as the natives of the countries in which he was traveling, and thenceforth enjoyed excellent health. Sailing from Bombay, he visited Persia, including the ruins of Persepolis; ascended the Euphrates; proceeded by way of Bagdad and Aleppo to the Syrian coast; embarked for Cyprus, returned from that island to the continent; saw Jerusalem and Damascis; passed through Aleppo, and over Asia Minor to Constantinople; and finally returned to Copenhagen in November, 1767. Niebuhr was welcomed in Denmark as he deserved. The government undertook at its charge the engraving of all the plates of his travels, which were to be presented to him as a free gift; and he was left to publish the result of his labors at his own cost and for his own profit. Resolving to commence with the description of Arabia, he printed, in the year 1772, his volume under the title Reischreibung von Arabien, and it became the text- book of every writer, from the historian Gibbon almost down to the present day, whoever has had occasion to treat of the ancient and modem aspect of that country. The depth of research, the fidelity of delineation, and the accuracy of detail which it exhibits on the geography of Arabia, and the enduring character and condition of its inhabitants, have rendered this work of Niebuht classical. He has sometimes been compared, and the comparison is just and appropriate, with the historian of Halicarnassus: both travelers were characterized by accuracy of observation, strict veracity, and a simplicity of narrative which art alone. can never attain. The appearance of this work was followed in 1774-78 by two volumes of equal merit and interest, narrating his Reisen in Arrabien und den angrdnzenden Landern. To these volumes it was his intention to add a third, enriched with the result of his inquiries into the state of the Mohammedan religion and Turkish empire, and containing his astronomical observations; but some causes, not sufficiently explained, delayed this publication, until a fire, which in 1795 destroyed the king's palace at Copenhagen, and with it the original plates both of his published and unedited works, put an end to the design. The third volume was, however, published in 1837, owing to the liberality of the bookseller Perthes of Hamburg, and the affection of Niebuhr's family; particularly of his daughter, under the title of Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien und andern umliegenden landern. It contains his remarks on Aleppo, his voyage to Cyprus, and his visit to Jaffa and Jerusalem, his return to Aleppo, and journey thence through Kdniyeh to Constantinople, and an abridged account of his route through Bulgaria, Wallachia, Poland, and Germany, to Denmark. After the publication of the first two volumes of his travels he contributed to a German periodical journal, among other papers, two on the Interior of Africa and the Political and Military State of the Turkish Empire. His principal works, which were published in German at Copenhagen, have been translated into French and Dutch, and reprinted at Amsterdam and Utrecht. Niebuhr himself likewise edited and published, in his usual generous spirit, at his own cost, some of the reports of his traveling companions. He lived for a long period after his return, and even at one time projected an expedition into Africa; but his wife dissuaded him from the project, and he retired to quiet life in the little village of Meldorf, where he performed the duties of a civil functionary. It was during this period of his life that Barthold Georg was born to him. (See the preceding article.) Karsten Niebuhr died April 26,1815, leaving the character of being at once one of the most truthful and scientifically exact travelers of modern times. See Brit. and For. Rev. 1843, p. 480 sq.; 1844, p. 83 sq.; Biblical Repository, vol. viii; Christian Examiner, 1852, p. 413 sq.; English Cyclopaedia and the biographical sketch published by his son (Kiel, 1817).

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