Bunsen was born in 1791, at Corbach, in the little principality of Waldeck, and grew up under the severe and simple training of a frugal German household, and with a solid and vigorous German education. He became in time Heyne’s pupil at Goettingen, and very early showed the qualities which distinguished him in his after life—restless eagerness after knowledge and vast powers of labour, combined with large and ambitious, and sometimes vague, ideas, and with depth and fervour of religious sentiment. He entered on life when the reaction against the cold rationalistic theories of the age before him was stimulated by the excitement of the war of liberation; and in his deep and supreme interest in the Bible he kept to the last the stamp which he then received. More interesting than the recollections of a distinguished man’s youth by his friends after he has become distinguished—which are seldom quite natural and not always trustworthy—are the contemporary records of the impressions made on him in his youth by those who were distinguished men when he was young. In some of Bunsen’s letters we have such impressions. Thus he writes of Heyne in 1813:—
Poor and lonely did I arrive in this place [Goettingen]. Heyne received me, guided me, bore with me, encouraged me, showed me in himself the example of a high and noble energy, and indefatigable activity in a calling which was not that to which his merit entitled him. He might have superintended and administered and maintained an entire kingdom without more effort and with yet greater efficiency than the University for which he lived; he was too great for a mere philologer, and in general for a professor of mere learning in the age into which he was cast, and he was more distinguished in every other way than in this.... And what has he established or founded at the cost of this exertion of faculties? Learning annihilates itself, and the most perfect is the first submerged; for the next age scales with ease the height which cost the preceding the full vigour of life. Yet two things remain of him and will not perish—the one, the tribute left by his free spirit to the finest productions of the human mind; and what he felt, thought, and has immortalised in many men of excellence gone before. Read his explanations of Tischbein’s engravings from Homer, his last preface to Virgil, and especially his oration on the death of Mueller, and you will understand what I mean. I speak not of his political instinct, made evident in his survey of the public and private life of the ancients. The other memorial which will subsist of him, more warm in life than the first, is the remembrance of his generosity, to which numbers owe a deep obligation.
And of Schelling, about the same time, whom he had just seen in Munich:—