1902 Encyclopedia > Christopher Martin Wieland

Christopher Martin Wieland
(Christoph Martin Wieland)
German writer

xWIELAND, CHRISTOPHER MARTIN (1733-1813), Ger-man man of letters, was born on the 5th September 1733 at Oberholzheim, a Swabian village near Biberach, then an imperial city. He was carefully educated by his father, who was a clergyman at Oberholzheim ; and at a very early age he gave evidence of a strong literary impulse. In his fourteenth year he was sent to the school of Klosterbergen, near Magdeburg, where he attracted a good deal of atten-tion, not only by his knowledge of the classics and of French and English literature, but by his power of lucid and grace-ful expression. When he was about sixteen he left school and went to live with a relative at Erfurt, who undertook to prepare him for the university by reading with him the writings of the philosopher Wolff. Having spent a year and a half with this relative, he went for some time to Biberach, whither his father had been transferred from Oberholzheim. At Biberach he met a young kinswoman, Sophie Gutermann, with whom he fell in love, and who exercised a powerful influence upon the development of his intellect and imagination. While talking with her, after they had heard his father preach a sermon on the text " God is Love," he conceived the scheme of his first poem, Die Natur der Dinge. In 1750 he went to the university of Tubingen, nominally for the purpose of studying law; but in reality he devoted his attention wholly to literature. At Tiibingen he wrote his poem on the Nature of Things, and in 1752 it was published anony-mously. Here also he wrote Anti-Ovid, Lohgesang auf den Fruhling, Moralische Briefe, and Moralisehe Erzahlungen. At home Wieland had been strictly brought up, and his home training had been confirmed at the Klosterbergen school, the head-master of which was a member of the straitest sect of the Pietists. In his early writings, there-fore, Wieland appears as a youth of a deeply serious dis-position, with an ardent enthusiasm for what he conceives to be the highest ideas of theology and ethics.
Bodmer, the Swiss critic and poet, strongly attracted by this new literary force, cordially invited Wieland to visit him at Zurich. Wieland accepted the invitation, and lived for many months in Bodmer's house. In 1754 the two friends parted; for, although they had apparently the same aims and motives, they were in reality very unlike one another, and Bodmer was apt to play rather too osten-tatiously the part of a guide and patron. Wieland con-tinued to reside in Switzerland, remaining in Zurich about

five years and in Bern about a year, and supporting him-self by working as a tutor. During the early part of his residence in Switzerland Wieland maintained the serious tone that had marked his first writings. In his Briefe von Verstorbenen an hinterlassene Freunde, Sympathien, Emp-findungen eines Christen, and other works of this period he sought to give expression to the loftiest spiritual aspira-tions ; and in the letter in which he dedicated the Emp-findungen to the court preacher Sack, in Berlin, he went out of his way to rebuke the frivolity of certain Anacreontic poets, whom he denounced as "a band of epicurean pagans." But Wieland's mystical and ascetic doctrines did not at all correspond to his real impulses, and soon after he left Bodmer's house he began to feel that he had misunderstood his own character. His piety became less enthusiastic, and he learned to have a keen appreciation of pleasures which he had formerly condemned as incompatible with any high or worthy conception of the ends of human life. This change led to a kind of literary activity wholly different from that by which he had made his reputation. He wrote two dramas, Johanna Grey (in which he made free use of Rowe's play Lady Jane Grey) and Clementina von Poretta; and he chose as the subject of an epic poem the career of Cyrus, who was to be presented as a hero closely resembling Frederick the Great. Cyrus he never finished ; but he completed Araspes und Panthea, a poem in which he developed an episode from the Cyropxdia of Xenophon.
In 1760 he settled at Biberach as director of the chancery. The appointment was a poor one, and for a time Wieland found life at Biberach extremely dull and tiresome. By and by, however, he made the acquaintance of Count Stadion, an experienced man of the world, at whose house Wieland became a constant visitor; there he met, among many other persons whose society he liked, his first love, Sophie, who had married Von Laroche, the count's confidential friend and "factotum." Under these new influences the change of tone which had been begun in Switzerland was soon completed; and in Don Sylvio von Rosalva (1764), a romance, intended to be taken as an imitation of Don Quixote, he gave himself the pleasure of laughing at principles and sentiments which he had formerly held to be sacred. This work was followed by Komische Erzählungen (1766), the cynical grossness of which far surpassed that of any contemporary German writer. Wieland himself seems to have felt that in these tales he had gone too far, for, although in his next work, Agathon (1766-67), the hero of which is a disciple of Plato, he sometimes treads on slippery ground, his ulti-mate aim is to show that the true rule of life is to hold the balance even between the spiritual and the physical impulses of man. His unfinished Idris und Zenide (1768) has a less worthy motive ; but in the didactic poem Mus-arion (1768) he returned to the idea of Agathon, that fanaticism and sensuality are equally opposed to enduring happiness, and that he is most to be envied who knows how to gratify all legitimate impulses without allowing any of them to become unduly powerful. To Wieland, when his mind and character were fully developed, this law of conduct seemed to be the highest to which man can attain, and he was never tired of indirectly expounding it in his later writings. At Biberach he devoted much time to the study of Shakespeare, and in 1762-66 he published, in eight volumes, translations of twenty-two of Shake-speare's plays.
In 1765 Wieland had married a lady of Augsburg, to whom he was warmly attached. Four years afterwards he was made professor of philosophy at Erfurt, where he remained until 1772. During his stay at Erfurt he wrote Dialogen des Diogenes von Sinope ; Beiträge zur geheimen
Geschichte des menschlichen Verstandee unci Herzens, aus den Archiven der Natur; Der goldene Spiegel; Die Grazien, a didactic poem; Combabus, a disagreeable tale in verse; and Der neue Amadis, a comic poem in eighteen cantos.
In 1772 Wieland settled for life at Weimar, his position at first being that of a tutor to the two sons of the duchess Anna Amalia. Here he founded the monthly periodical, Der Deutsche Mercur, which he edited until 1796. For this periodical he wrote constantly, and, con-sidering the immense number of his productions, it is surprising that he was able to maintain, on the whole, so high a level of excellence. By far the best of his works is the poem Oberon, the only work by him which has still a wide circle of readers in Germany. It was published in 1780. Among other original writings produced in Weimar may be named a comic romance, Die Geschichte der Abderiten (1774), Der verklagte Amor (1774), Das Wintermarchen (1776), and Das Sommermarchen (1777). In 1782 and 1786 appeared translations of the Epistles and Satires of Horace; and in 1788 and 1789 he issued a translation of Lucian, his study of whom led to his writing Neue Gbttergesprache (1791), Geheime Geschichte des Philo-sophen Peregrinus Proteus (1791), and Agaihodamon (1799). From 1793 to 1802 he was engaged in issuing a revised edition of his writings; but in 1796 he found time to establish a new periodical, Das Attische Museum, in which he printed, among other things, translations of some of the comedies of Aristophanes. In 1797 Wieland bought Osmannstiidt, an estate near Weimar; and there he lived for some years with his large family. At Osmannstiidt he wrote his last important romance, Aristipp und einige seiner Zeitgenossen (1800-2). In 1801 his wife died, and two years afterwards he sold his estate and returned to Weimar, where he spent his last years in translating and annotating the Letters of Cicero. He died on 20th January 1813.
Wieland was a man of many moods, and his friends, when talk-ing with him, could never be quite sure that they would not un-intentionally offend him. But, although vain and over-sensitive, he often gave evidence of an essentially humane and generous spirit. As a writer he lacked force of imagination and depth of feeling ; and even at his best he had too narrow a range of vision to be a great moral teacher. Nevertheless, he has an important place in the history of German literature. He was the founder in Germany of the psychological romance, and few of his successors in this kind have surpassed his delicate and subtle analyses of complicated motives. Both in prose and in verse he was a master of the art of composition, and most of the younger writers of his day learned something from the clearness, ease, and grace of his style. To him belongs the merit of having first suggested to his countrymen that it might be worth their while to study their native literature as well as that of France, England, and Italy.
Wieland's Collected Works, edited by Gruber, were issued in 53 vols, in 1818-
182S and in 36 vols, in 1851-56. There are biographies of Mm by Gruber (1827-28),
Loebell (1858), and Ofterdingen (1877). Much light is thrown on his character
by his letters: see Ausgewiihlte Briefe (1815-16) and Briefe an Sophie Laroche
(1820). (J. SI.)

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