The Suabian Poets
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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Of German novelists Gustav Freytag holds the foremost place. He was born at Kreuzburg, in Silesia, in 1816, and graduated at the University of Berlin in 1838. After lecturing for a few years on the German language and literature he devoted himself to literature at Leipsic, where he edited "Die Grenzboten." In 1870 he served in the Franco-Prussian War, on the staff of the Crown Prince. After the war he resumed his newspaper work.
He died at Wiesbaden in 1895. His first publication was a volume of poems, then a comedy, then a tragedy. His greatest success was with the comedy "The Journalists" (1853), which still remains on the stage. His first novel, "Soll und Haben" (Debit and Credit) (1855), was notably successful. It depicted accurately the social conditions of its time, showing the relation of modern industrialism to the life of the times. A wholesale grocer, prosperous in business, is set in contrast with a nobleman who represents the effete force of feudalism. The hero, Anton Wohlfahrt, begins a commercial career in the store, and becomes a member of the firm, and falls in love with the baron's daughter, Lenore. Her mother asks Anton to help her husband out of embarrassments produced by an attempt to run a mill on his estate. The baron rejects his aid, and Anton returns to the store. Lenore is engaged to a young nobleman, Fink, who has served in the store and has visited America. Fink advances money for the improvement of the estate and ultimately purchases it. Fink marries Lenore and Anton marries his partner's sister. Freytag's second story, "The Lost Manuscript" (1864), tells how Werner, a scholar, seeking for the lost books of Tacitus, finds his future wife, Ilse, a noble type of a German woman. But Werner in his devotion to scholarship, neglects his wife, whose beauty attracts a Prince. The seducer endeavors to ensnare the innocent wife until even Werner sees his aim. The covers of the lost manuscript are at last found, but the precious con-tents have disappeared. The professorial life is vividly and humorously described, and the nobleman is contrasted with him to his own discredit.
Freytag next published "Pen Pictures from the German Past" (1859-62), which consisted of studies of German life in various periods since the Fourteenth Century.
The sketch of Doctor Luther in this series has been most popular. Then followed the series of historical novels called "The Ancestors" (1872-80), in which the author traced a typical German family in each successive period with most careful attention to historical accuracy. This ambitious work was intended to be not merely correct in external antiquarianism, but to reveal the true spirit of the actors at each successive stage. In this series "Ingo" and "Ingraban" are the most attractive. Freytag's fault is his tendency to point a moral, and to philosophize too much. Besides his novels he wrote an autobiography and some critical and historical essays. He died at Wiesbaden in 1895.
Diversified experience in mercantile and military life as well as in foreign gave Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Hackländer (1816-1877) abundant material for authorship. Having served in the Prussian artillery, he wrote sketches of soldier life which attracted the attention of Baron von Taubenheim, who took him on a journey to the East. After his return he became secretary to the Crown Prince of Würtemberg and traveled with him in Italy. He accompanied the Austrian Marshal, Radetzky, in the campaign against Piedmont in 1849. When again in Italy in 1859 he was invited to the headquarters of the Emperor of Austria, who afterward gave him a patent of hereditary nobility. His chief residence was at Stuttgart, where he was director of the royal buildings, but he went on many tours. He was in 1857 one of the founders of the well-known illustrated journal "Uber Land und Meer" (Over Land and Sea). For this he wrote many of his stories and sketches of travel. His novels include "Handel und Wundel" (1850), translated by Mary Howitt under the title "Behind the Counter" ; "The New Don Quixote" (1858), "Day and Night" (1860), "The Last Bombardier" (1870), "Forbidden Fruit" (1876). His faculty of quick observation and humorous sketching were better adapted to books of travel than to long novels. Among his comedies the best are "Geheimer Agent" (The Domestic Agent) and the "Magnetic Cures." A number of one-act pieces proved very popular on the stage. After his death an incomplete autobiography was published.
Fritz Reuter is a master in German dialect stories. He describes with genial humor the joys and sorrows of the humblest class in country and village. The characters are so carefully and vividly drawn that they are immortalized. Fritz Reuter was born in 1810 at the sleepy old town of Stavenhagen in Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He was educated at the Universities of Rostock and Jena. It was a troublons time, and the Government was still alarmed by the Revolution of 1830. When some students made a noisy demonstration in 1833, Reuter was arrested, tried and condemned to death for high treason. But the King 0f Prussia commuted the sentence to thirty years' imprisonment, and after Reuter had had experience of several prisons, he was discharged by the amnesty granted by Frederick William IV in 1840. He now took to farming, but failed, and became a private tutor. In 1853 he published his first volume, "Funny Stories and Rhymes." It was written in Platt Deutsch or Low German, and the homely mirth of the stories was strengthened by the appropriate dialect. Its success led to the publication of another, "Wedding Eve Stories," and still another, "The Journey to Belgium," telling the adventures of some peasants who traveled to Belgium to find out the secret of industrial prosperity. "Kein Hüsing" (1858), a poem of village life, was followed by other poems. "Old Camomile Flowers" (1862) is a series of sketches, chiefly autobiographic.
He tells of the part played by the village of Stavenhagen in the uprising of the German people against Napoleon in 1813, of his own imprisonment, how he courted his wife, and his apprenticeship on the farm. The leading characters are the comical bailiff, Uncle Bräsig, pious Parson Behrens and his bustling wife, and the rascal Pomuchelskopp. The truth of these pictures of village life places Reuter high among the realists of the Century. He died in 1874.
Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882) became widely known by his homely stories of peasants of the Black Forest and afterward published large novels which, though powerful, had only a temporary success. He was born at Nordstetten in Würtemberg and was of Jewish parentage. He studied at the Universities of Tübingen, Munich, and Heidelberg, and for his participation in students' riotous frolics in 1836 he was imprisoned for some months. His first essay in authorship was on "Judaism and the latest Literature;" then came "The Ghetto," a series of Jewish romances, and a translation 0f the Jewish philosopher Spinoza. But meanwhile he was contributing to periodicals his tales of peasant life, which, when collected as "Black Forest Village Stories" (1843), were enthusiastically received, not in Germany alone, but throughout the civilized world. Their happy mingling of the real and the ideal was helped by their genial humor. Auerbach's tragedies met with little success on the stage, but the story of "Little Barefoot" (1856) renewed his former reputation. His most ambitious work, "On the Heights" (1851), contrasted tiresome court life and its ambitions and intrigues with quiet peasant life, and aimed also to inculcate the philosophy of Spinoza. It belongs to the class of "purpose" novels. The heroine is an admirable character and there are others truly human. "The Villa on the Rhine" (1868) was another philosophical romance, but treated different problems. "Waldfried" (1874), a patriotic story of a German family from 1848 to 1871, has not the at-traction of good literary style. Auerbach afterward returned to sketches of the Black Forest in "After Thirty Years" (1876) and other stories. After 1859 he lived chiefly in Berlin, but he died at Cannes, in France, where he had gone for the sake of his health.
Friedrich Spielhagen's best novel is a worthy successor of Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister," but he has been so busy in production that he has not always kept up to his high standard. He was born at Magdeburg in 1829 and studied in the Universities of Berlin, Bonn, and Greifswald. His literary ambition was aroused but his earliest novels seemed failures. In 1860 he began to publish his "Problematic Natures" showing the struggle between old established feudalism and the rising industrialism of the time, yet showing also the futility of the efforts of a man, richly endowed by nature, to attain high ideals unless he recognizes his own limitations and the conditions of the world around. It was intended partly as a picture of his own mental state, but in the very act of making the picture he was enabled to outgrow it. The work attracted attention and Spielhagen was engaged to furnish novels to a newspaper. He wrote some dramas which were partially successful, and made several translations from French and English, chiefly of important works, as Emerson's "English Traits." But his chief and almost incessant work has been as a novelist. "In Rank and File" was his second strong novel. "Quisisana" (1880) is highly interesting, showing a vigorous man of fifty, who falls in love with a beautiful ward, but overcomes his passion and marries her to the young man of her choice, while her filial affection only distresses him who has made the sacrifice. In 1890 Spielhagen published an autobiographical work called "Finder and Inventor," which treats particularly of his early life and the circumstances under which he produced his typical novel.
Georg Moritz Ebers (1837-1898) won distinction both as an Egyptian archaeologist and as historical novelist. Born at Berlin, he studied at the University of Göttingen, and during convalescence from an injury to his feet began to investigate the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Afterward by the instruction of Richard Lepsius he became well versed in that science. His first novel, "An Egyptian Princess" (1864), was written to impress on his own mind the period he was studying. He had already visited the principal museums in Europe and in 1869 went to Egypt, Nubia, and Petra. On his return he was made professor of Egyptian antiquities in the University of Leipsic. A visit to Egypt in 1872 resulted in the discovery of a papyrus which now bears his name. Various treatises on his special subject maintained his reputation as an Egyptologist. He resigned his professorship in 1889, and died after long illness in 1898. In literature Ebers owes his fame to his romances reconstructing the ancient life of the valley of the Nile. The "Egyptian Princess" is a story of the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses, the king of Persia. "Uarda" (1877) belongs to a much more ancient period, when Rameses the Great was ruler. "Homo Sum" (1878) tells of the desert anchorites of the Fourth Century after Christ. "The Sisters" (1880) again takes the reader back to Memphis in the time of the Ptolemies. "The Emperor" (1881) treats of Christianity in the time of Hadrian. In other novels Ebers comes down to mod-ern history, as in "The Burgomaster's Wife" (1882), which shows the struggle of the people of Leyden against Spanish rule in 1547. "Gred" is a story of mediaeval Nuremberg. "A Question" (1881) is a modern idyl, and "A Word" (1883) a psychological study. After these Ebers returned again to his familiar field in "Serapis," "A Bride of the Nile," and "Cleopatra." He wrote also an excellent biography of his instructor, Lepsius.