In 1758, the 28-year-old Johann Georg Hamann, part of a circle of young Prussian intellectuals including Immanuel Kant, found himself destitute and despondent in London. He picked up an English Bible and started reading in a new way as God’s personal address to him. The experience was overwhelming. It would be a catalyst not only for his spiritual awakening as an orthodox Christian but for the ideas that would define his unique and prescient contributions to Western thought: his critique of rationalism; the centrality of language; the embodiment of truth; the necessity of faith; and the condescension of the Triune God.
Hamann recorded his insights and discoveries in a series of notebooks and journals that would be known as the Londoner Schriften. They include “On the Interpretation of Scripture,” “Biblical Meditations of a Christian,” “Thoughts on the Course of My Life,” “Thoughts on Church Hymns,” “Fragments,” “Meditations on Newton’s Study on Prophecies,” and additional material.
According to Hamann scholar John R. Betz, the London Writings “represent a cultural and literary deposit of the first rank, comparable in spirit and scope to Augustine’s Confessions.” Furthermore, “These writings are indispensable to understanding everything he subsequently wrote.” They also constitute the best introduction to Hamann’s writings. “There is an undeniable advantage in beginning with these writings, which, unlike Hamann’s later authorship, are direct and personal, written in clear, accessible prose.”
Unpublished during his lifetime, the writings were first printed in part from 1821 to 1825. The first critical edition of its parts was published piecemeal by Josef Nadler in two volumes beginning in 1949. Hamann’s spiritual journals had wide-ranging influence—from German romanticism to Kierkegaard, from Pietism to the confessional Lutheran revival.
A critical edition of the London Writings as a whole by Oswald Bayer and Bernd Weissenborn was published in 1993. The Hamann revival in the late 20th century led to significant scholarship in English, which was accompanied by translations of some of Hamann’s writings, including portions of the London Writings. But this current project is the first English translation of the entire work.
The translator is John W. Kleinig, Lecturer Emeritus at Australian Lutheran College. He has a degree in German language and literature from the University of Adelaide, a Divinity degree from Luther Seminary, and the M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Theology from Cambridge. He is the author of the Concordia commentaries on Leviticus and Hebrews and two books on Lutheran spirituality.
The editor is Gene Edward Veith, Professor of Literature Emeritus at Patrick Henry College. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Kansas and is the author of 22 books on Christianity and Culture. He was the Chair of the Translation Committee for the Lutheran Service Book and was an editor for Concordia: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.
The translation was commissioned by Ballast Press™, which published English translations of Gustaf Wingren’s Luther on Vocation and Adolf Koeberle’s The Quest for Holiness.