1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Keller, Gottfried

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KELLER, GOTTFRIED (1819-1890), German poet and novelist, was born at Zurich on the 19th of July 1819. His father, a master joiner, dying while Gottfried was young, his early education was neglected; he, however, was in 1835 apprenticed to a landscape painter, and subsequently spent two years (1840-1842) in Munich learning to paint. Interest in politics drew him into literature, and his talents were first disclosed in a volume of short poems, Gedichte (1846). This obtained him recognition from the government of his native canton, and he was in 1848 enabled to take a short course of philosophical study at the university of Heidelberg. From 1850 to 1855 he lived in Berlin, where he wrote his most important novel, Der grüne Heinrich (1851-1853; revised edition 1879-1880), remarkable for its delicate autographic portraiture and the beautiful episodes interwoven with the action. This was followed by Die Leute von Seldwyla (1856), studies of Swiss provincial life, including in Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe one of the most powerful short stories in the German language, and in Die drei gerechten Kammmacher, almost as great a masterpiece of humorous writing. Returning to his native city with a considerable reputation, he received in 1861 the appointment of secretary to the canton. For a time his creative faculty seemed paralysed by his public duties, but in 1872 appeared Sieben Legenden, and in 1874 a second series of Die Leute von Seldwyla, in both of which books he displayed no abatement of power and originality. He retired from the public service in 1876 and employed his leisure in the production of Züricher Novellen (1878), Das Sinngedicht, a collection of short stories (1881), and a novel, Martin Salander (Berlin, 1886). He died on the 15th of July 1890 at Hottingen. Keller's place among German novelists is very high. Few have united such fancy and imagination to such uncompromising realism, or such tragic earnestness to such abounding humour. As a lyric poet, his genius is no less original; he takes rank with the best German poets of this class in the second half of the 19th century.

Keller's Gesammelte Werke were published in 10 vols. (1889-1890), to which was added another volume, Nachgelassene Schriften und Dichtungen, containing the fragment of a tragedy (1893). In English appeared, G. Keller: A Selection of his Tales translated with a Memoir by Kate Freiligrath-Kroeker (1891). For a further estimate of Keller's life and works cf. O. Brahm (1883); E. Brenning, G. Keller nach seinem Leben und Dichten (1892); F. Baldensperger, G. Keller; sa vie et ses oeuvres (1893); A. Frey, Erinnerungen an Gottfried Keller (1893); J. Baechtold, Kellers Leben. Seine Briefe und Tagebücher (Berlin, 1894-1897); A. Köster, G. Keller (1900; 2nd ed., 1907); and for his work as a painter, H. E. von Berlepsch, Gottfried Keller als Maler (1895).