Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Johann von Müller

MÜLLER, Johann von (1752–1809), an eminent Swiss historian, was born on 3d January 1752 at Schaffhausen, where his father was a clergyman and rector of the gymnasium. In 1769 he went to the university of Göttingen in order to study theology; but, under the influence of Schlözer, he devoted himself chiefly to historical research. Having passed his theological examination, he was made professor of Greek at the Schaffhausen gymnasium in 1772; and in the same year he published his first work, Bellum Cimbricum. By the advice of Bonstetten, his most intimate friend, he went in 1774 to Geneva, where he acted for some time as a tutor in the house of a councillor of state. At Schaffhausen he had begun to study carefully the sources of Swiss history, and at Geneva he continued his investigations with increasing ardour. Lectures on universal history which he delivered during this period formed the basis of his Vierundzwanzig Bücher allgemeiner Geschichten, one of his most brilliant writings. In 1780 appeared the first volume of his Geschichte der Schweizer, a work which placed him immediately in the front rank of the historical writers of his day. During a visit to Berlin he had an interview with Frederick the Great, from whom he hoped to receive an appointment worthy of his genius and reputation. Disappointed in this expectation, he accepted the professorship of the science of statistics at Cassel, where he wrote his Reisen der Päpste. In 1786, having spent two years partly at Bonstetten's country seat and partly in Bern, he entered the service of the elector of Mainz, by whom he was rapidly promoted to important offices in the state. He was also ennobled and made a knight of the empire (Reichsritter). At Mainz he issued several books, besides the second volume of his History of the Swiss Confederation. When Mainz was occupied by the French in 1792 Müller settled in Vienna, where he remained for twelve years, being connected with the imperial library from 1800. Failing to receive the promotion to which he thought he was entitled, and being forbidden after the appearance of the third volume of his Swiss History to continue the publication of the work, he went in 1804 to Berlin, where he became historiographer and a councillor of war. In Berlin he finished the fourth volume of his Geschichte der Schweizer, edited the works of Herder, and wrote various treatises for the Academy, including one Über die Geschichte Friedrich's II. Up to this time Müller had been an enthusiastic advocate of free institutions, but he now modified his convictions; and in 1807 he accepted from Napoleon the office of secretary of state in the kingdom of Westphalia. Early in 1808 he was transferred at his own request to the office of director-general of public instruction. On 29th May 1809 he died at Cassel.

The value of Müller's contributions to history is marred by the occasional extravagance and obscurity of his style, and by his inadequate appreciation of the tests of historic credibility; but his learning, his generous sympathies, his grasp of great principles, and his power of vividly presenting some aspects of character secure for his writings an enduring place in German literature. An edition of his Sämmtliche Werke, in 40 vols. (published originally in 27 vols. in 1810 to 1819) was issued in 1831 to 1835. Biographies of Müller were compiled by Döring and other writers.