1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leo, Heinrich

LEO, HEINRICH (1799–1878), German historian, was born at Rudolstadt on the 19th of March 1799, his father being chaplain to the garrison there. His family, not of Italian origin—as he himself was inclined to believe on the strength of family tradition—but established in Lower Saxony so early as the 16th century, was typical of the German upper middle classes, and this fact, together with the strongly religious atmosphere in which he was brought up and his early enthusiasm for nature, largely determined the bent of his mind. The taste for historical study was, moreover, early instilled into him by the eminent philologist Karl Wilhelm Göttling (1793–1869), who in 1816 became a master at the Rudolstadt gymnasium. From 1816 to 1819 Leo studied at the universities of Breslau, Jena and Göttingen, devoting himself more especially to history, philology and theology. At this time the universities were still agitated by the Liberal and patriotic aspirations aroused by the War of Liberation; at Breslau Leo fell under the influence of Jahn, and joined the political gymnastic association (Turnverein); at Jena he attached himself to the radical wing of the German Burschenschaft, the so-called “Black Band,” under the leadership of Karl Follen. The murder of Kotzebue by Karl Sand, however, shocked him out of his extreme revolutionary views, and from this time he tended, under the influence of the writings of Hamann and Herder, more and more in the direction of conservatism and romanticism, until at last he ended, in a mood almost of pessimism, by attaching himself to the extreme right wing of the forces of reaction. So early as April 1819, at Göttingen, he had fallen under the influence of Karl Ludwig von Haller’s Handbuch der allgemeinen Staatenkunde (1808), a text-book of the counter-Revolution. On the 11th of May 1820 he took his doctor’s degree; in the same year he qualified as Privatdozent at the university of Erlangen. For this latter purpose he had chosen as his thesis the constitution of the free Lombard cities in the middle ages, the province in which he was destined to do most for the scientific study of history. His interest in it was greatly stimulated by a journey to Italy in 1823; in 1824 he returned to the subject, and, as the result, published in five volumes a history of the Italian states (1829–1832). Meanwhile he had been established (1822–1827) as Dozent at Berlin, where he came in contact with the leaders of German thought and was somewhat spoilt by the flattering attentions of the highest Prussian society. Here, too, it was that Hegel’s philosophy of history made a deep impression upon him. It was at Halle, however, where he remained for forty years (1828–1868), that he acquired his fame as an academical teacher. His wonderful power of exposition, aided by a remarkable memory, is attested by the most various witnesses. In 1830 he became ordinary professor.

In addition to his lecturing, Leo found time for much literary and political work. He collaborated in the Jahrbücher für Wissenschaftliche Kritik from its foundation in 1827 until the publication was stopped in 1846. As a critic of independent views he won the approval of Goethe; on the other hand, he fell into violent controversy with Ranke about questions connected with Italian history. Up to the revolutionary year 1830 his religious views had remained strongly tinged with rationalism, Hegel remaining his guide in religion as in practical politics and the treatment of history. It was not till 1838 that Leo’s polemical work Die Hegelingen proclaimed his breach with the radical developments of the philosopher’s later disciples; a breach which developed into opposition to the philosopher himself. Under the impression of the July revolution in Paris and of the orthodox and pietistic influences at Halle, Leo’s political convictions were henceforth dominated by reactionary principles. As a friend of the Prussian “Camarilla” and of King Frederick William IV. he collaborated especially in the high conservative Politisches Wochenblatt, which first appeared in 1831, as well as in the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, the Kreuzzeitung and the Volksblatt für Stadt und Land. In all this his critics scented an inclination towards Catholicism; and Leo did actually glorify the counter-Reformation, e.g. in his History of the Netherlands (2 vols. 1832–1835). His other historical works also, notably his Universalgeschichte (6 vols., 1835–1844), display a very one-sided point of view. When, however, in connexion with the quarrel about the archbishopric of Cologne (1837), political Catholicism raised its head menacingly, Leo turned against it with extreme violence in his open letter (1838) to Goerres, its foremost champion. On the other hand, he took a lively part in the politico-religious controversies within the fold of Prussian Protestantism.

Leo was by nature highly excitable and almost insanely passionate, though at the same time strictly honourable, unselfish, and in private intercourse even gentle. During the last year of his life his mind suffered rapid decay, of which signs had been apparent so early as 1868. He died at Halle on the 24th of April 1878. In addition to the works already mentioned, he left behind an account of his early life (Meine Jugendzeit, Gotha, 1880) which is of interest.

See Lord Acton, English Historical Review, i. (1886); H. Haupt, Karl Follen und die Giessener Schwarzen (Giessen, 1907); W. Herbst, Deutsch-Evangelische Blätter, Bd. 3; P. Krägelin, H. Leo, vol. i. (1779–1844) (Leipzig, 1908); P. Kraus, Allgemeine Konservative Monatsschrift, Bd. 50 u. 51; R. M. Meyer, Gestalten und Probleme (1904); W. Schrader, Geschichte der Friedrichs-Universität in Halle (Berlin, 1894); C. Varrentrapp, Historische Zeitschrift, Bd. 92; F. X. Wegele, Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Bd. 18 (1883); Geschichte der deutschen Historiographie (1885); G. Wolf, Einführung in das Studium der neueren Geschichte (1910). Leo’s Rectitudines singularum personarum nebst einer einleitenden Abhandlung über Landsiedelung, Landbau, gutsherrliche und bäuerliche Verhältnisse der Angelsachsen, was translated into English by Lord Acton (1852).  (J. Hn.)