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Gottfried August Bürger Biography

Gottfried August Bürger Image

BÜRGER, Gottfried August (1747-94). A German poet. He was born in Molmerswende, the son of a country clergyman, and studied theology at Halle and law at Göttingen, where his poetic genius was fired by the works of Shakespeare and by Percy's Reliques. He was closely associated with the Göttingen Poetical Society (Dichterbund), contributed to its organ, the Musenalmanach, and from 1778 until his death was its editor. The University of Göttingen gave him an honorary degree in 1787 and soon after made him assistant professor (without salary) of philosophy and aesthetics, a curious post for one of dissolute youth and discreditable manhood. The greatest work of his misguided genius was produced while he was still young. His best ballad, Lenore (1774), coincided in date with Goethe's Götz yon Berlichingen, and the beginning of the decade of literary storm and stress. Goethe, who was soon to speak of him as a "sad example," thought his earlier poems "worthy of a better age." Critics to-day see in them the most potent influence towards the revival of the ballad form in which so much of the best German poetry of the next generation was cast. These ballads are classics familiar to every German schoolboy. Some of the most striking, besides the incomparable Lenore, are Der wilde Jägcr, Das Lied vom braven Mann, Die Weiber von Weinsberg, Der Kaiser arid der Abt and Bürger's own favorite Lenardo and Blandine. Bürger also revived the sonnet form in German, and his experiments in it were praised as models by Schiller, who, however, severely criticised some of Burger's more popular poems. His ballads have retained their popularity to this day, and his poems have appeared in many editions. His collected works were edited by his friend Reinard (4 vols., 1796). He was introduced to English readers in Der wilde Jäger and Lenore by Walter Scott in his The Chase and William and Helen, two ballads from the German of G. A. Bürger (Edinburgh and London, 1796). The elder Dumas translated Lenore into French. Burger's imagination was fresh and naïve, but it was not rich or sustained. His taste was more elegant than delicate; his style was studied, though clear and forcible. The moral tone of most of his poems, virile and almost uniformly noble, contrasts strangely with that of his life. His qualities were those which command popular favor, and his defects those which the majority of readers readily condone. His place in German letters is apparently secure. The most complete edition of Burger's poems is Gedichte von Gottfried August Bürger (Hg. von A. Sauer, Berlin u. Stuttgart, 1884). Consult H. Pröhle, G. A. Bürger, Sein Leben und Seine Dichtungen 1856. For additions and corrections consult Herrig's Archiv, vol: xxi, pp. 169-179.

The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. IV (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 167.