Johann Gottfried von Herder, the German philosopher-historian, literary critic, theologian, and educator whose works inhabit innumerable cultures worldwide—“cultures” to be understood in two senses, linguistic-geographical (as in French, German, and Hindi), and epocal (as in Homeric, Greco-Roman versus medieval)—was born in Mohrungen, East Prussia (now Morag, Poland), the only son of a poor, Pietistic family. His father was stern and undemonstrative; his mother was warmer by nature and close to her son. Herder, shy and studious, began and completed his early education in the local Latin school. Placed at sixteen in the service of his father's superior, he was permitted to read in his “employer's” substantial library and did so voraciously until he was offered a free medical education at Königsberg University by the surgeon of a Russian regiment stationed in the area, then under Russian rule. Fainting on witnessing his first dissection, Herder shifted to theology and supported himself by teaching. He studied under and became a friend of Immanuel Kant, not yet the philosopher of the three great critiques, whose thought Herder would eventually challenge. He also befriended Johann Georg Hamann, the “Magus of the North, ” a philosopher-mystic who, along with Herder, would inspire the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) movement and German Romanticism. Assisted by Hamann, Herder went to teach and preach in the Hanseatic city of Riga, then (1764) in Russian hands, but notably occupied by German Rationalist burghers. There he experienced his “Golden Age, ” admired and respected by the city's leaders and lionized socially. He swiftly emerged as Germany's foremost critic after G.E. Lessing via numerous essays and reviews in the learned regional and national press and via publication of Über die neuere deutsche Literature: Fragmente (1766-67) and Kritische Wälder (1769).
He embarked after five years in Riga on an extended, recuperative sea journey