1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Richter, Johann Paul Friedrich
|←Richter, Jeremias Benjamin||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 23
Richter, Johann Paul Friedrich
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RICHTER, JOHANN PAUL FRIEDRICH (1763-1825), usually called Jean Paul, famous German humorist, was born at Wunsiedel, in Bavaria, on the 21st of March 1763. His father was a schoolmaster and organist at Wunsiedel, but in 1765 he became a pastor at Joditz near Hof, and in 1776 at Schwarzenbach, where he died in 1779. After attending the gymnasium at Hof, Richter went in 1781 to the university of Leipzig. His original intention was to enter his father's profession, but theology did not interest him, and he soon devoted himself wholly to the study of literature. Unable to maintain himself at Leipzig he returned in 1784 to Hof, where he lived with his mother. From 1787 to 1789 he served as a tutor at Töpen, a village near Hof; and afterwards he taught the children of several families at Schwarzenbach.
Richter began his career as a man of letters with Grönländische Prozesse and Auswahl aus des Teufels Papieren, the former of which was issued in 1783-84, the latter in 1789. These works were not received with much favour, and in later life Richter himself had little sympathy with their satirical tone. His next book, Die unsichtbare Loge, a romance, published in 1793, had all the qualities which were soon to make him famous, and its power was immediately recognized by some of the best critics of the day. Encouraged by the reception of Die unsichtbare Loge, he sent forth in rapid succession Hesperus (1795), Biographische Belustigungen unter der Gehirnschale einer Riesin (1796), Leben des Quintus Fixlein (1796), Blumen- Frucht- und Dornenstücke, oder Ehestand, Tod und Hochzeit des Armenadvokaten Siebenkäs (1796-97), Der Jubelsenior (1797), and Das Kampaner Tal (1797). This series of writings won for Richter an assured place in German literature, and during the rest of his life every work he produced was welcomed by a wide circle of admirers.
After his mother's death he went in 1797 to Leipzig, and in the following year to Weimar, where he had much pleasant intercourse with Herder, by whom he was warmly appreciated. He did not become intimate with Goethe and Schiller, to both of whom his literary methods were repugnant; but in Weimar, as elsewhere, his remarkable conversational powers and his genial manners made him a favourite in general society. In 1801 he married Caroline Meyer, whom he met in Berlin in 1800. They lived first at Meiningen, then at Coburg; and finally, in 1804, they settled at Bayreuth. Here Richter spent a quiet, simple and happy life, constantly occupied with his work as a writer. In 1808 he was fortunately delivered from anxiety as to outward necessities by the prince-primate, K. T. von Dalberg, who gave him a pension of a thousand florins. Before settling at Bayreuth, Richter had published his most ambitious novel, Titan (1800-3); and this was followed by Flegeljahre (1804-5), two works which he himself regarded as his masterpieces. His later imaginative works were Dr Katzenbergers Badereise (1809), Des Feldpredigers Schmelzle Reise nach Flätz (1809), Leben Fibels (1812), and Der Komet, oder Nikolaus Marggraf (1820-22). In Vorschule der Aesthetik (1804) he expounded his ideas on art; he discussed the principles of education in Levana, oder Erziehungslehre (1807); and the opinions suggested by current events he set forth in Friedenspredigt (1808), Dämmerungen für Deutschland (1809), Mars und Phöbus Thronwechsel im Jahre 1814 (1814), and Politische Fastenpredigten (1817). In his last years he began Wahrheit aus Jean Pauls Leben, to which additions from his papers and other sources were made after his death by C. Otto and E. Forster. In 1821 Richter lost his only son, a youth of the highest promise; and he never quite recovered from this shock. He died of dropsy, at Bayreuth, on the 14th November 1825.
Schiller said of Richter that he would have been worthy of admiration “if he had made as good use of his riches as other men made of their poverty.” And it is true that in the form of his writings he never did full justice to his great powers. In working out his conceptions he found it impossible to restrain the expression of any powerful feeling by which he might happen to be moved. He was equally unable to resist the temptation to bring in strange facts or notions which occurred to him. Hence every one of his works is irregular in structure, and his style lacks directness, precision and grace. But his imagination was one of extraordinary fertility, and he had a surprising power of suggesting great thoughts by means of the simplest incidents and relations. The love of nature was one of Richter's deepest pleasures; his expressions of religious feelings are also marked by a truly poetic spirit, for to Richter visible things were but the symbols of the invisible, and in the unseen realities alone he found elements which seemed to him to give significance and dignity to human life. His humour, the most distinctive of his qualities, cannot be dissociated from the other characteristics of his writings. It mingled with all his thoughts, and to some extent determined the form in which he embodied even his most serious reflections. That it is sometimes extravagant and grotesque cannot be disputed, but it is never harsh nor vulgar, and generally it springs naturally from the perception of the incongruity between ordinary facts and ideal laws. Richter's personality was deep and many-sided; with all his wilfulness and eccentricity he was a man of a pure and sensitive spirit, with a passionate scorn for pretence and an ardent enthusiasm for truth and goodness.
Richter's Sämtliche Werke appeared in 1826-28 in 60 vols., to which were added 5 vols of Literarischer Nachlass in 1836-38; a second edition was published in 1840-42 (33 vols.); a third in 1860-62 (34 vols.). The last complete edition is that edited by R. Gottschall (60 parts, 1879). Editions of selected works appeared in 16 vols. (1865), in Kürschner's Deutsche Nationalliteratur (edited by P. Nerrlich, 6 vols., 1884-87), &c. The chief collections of Richter's correspondence are: Jean Pauls Briefe an F. H. Jacobi (1828); Briefwechsel Jean Pauls mit seinem Freunde C. Otto (1829-33); Briefwechsel zwischen H. Voss und Jean Paul (1833); Briefe an eine Jugendfreundin (1858); P. Nerrlich, Jean Pauls Briefwechsel mit seiner Frau und seinem Freunde Otto (1902). See further the continuation of Richter's autobiography by C. Otto and E. Förster (1826-33); H. Döring, J. P. F. Richters Leben und Charakteristik (1830-32); R. O. Spazier, J. P. F. Richter: ein biographischer Kommentar zu dessen Werken (5 vols., 1833); E. Forster, Denkwürdigkeiten aus dem Legen von J. P. F. Richter (1863); P. Nerrlich, Jean Paid und seine Zeitgenossen (1876); J. Firmery, Étude sur la vie et les œuvres de J. P. F. Richter (1886); P. Nerrlich, Jean Paul, sein Leben und seine Werke (1889); F. J. Schneider, Jean Pauls Altersdichtung (1901); by the same, Jean Pauls Jugend und erstes Auftreten in der Literatur (1906). All Richter's more important works have been translated into English, Quintus Fixlein and Schmelzles Reise, by Carlyle; see also Carlyle's two admirable essays on Richter.