1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alexis, Willibald

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5136661911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1 — Alexis, Willibald

ALEXIS, WILLIBALD, the pseudonym of Georg Wilhelm Heinrich Häring (1798–1871), German historical novelist. He was born on the 29th of June 1798 at Breslau, where his father, who came of a French refugee family, named Hareng, held a high position in the war department. He attended the Werdersche Gymnasium in Berlin, and then, serving as a volunteer in the campaign of 1815, took part in the siege of the Ardenne fortresses. On his return he studied law at the universities of Berlin and Breslau and entered the legal profession, but he soon abandoned this career and devoted himself to literature. Settling in Berlin he edited, 1827–1835, the Berliner Konversationsblatt, in which for the first two years he was assisted by Friedrich Christoph Förster (1791–1868): and in 1828 was created a doctor of philosophy by the university of Halle. In 1852 he retired to Arnstadt in Thuringia, where after many years of broken health he died on the 16th of December 1871.

Häring made his name first known as a writer by an idyll in hexameters, Die Treibjagd (1820), and several short stories in which the influence of Tieck is observable; but his literary reputation was first established by the historical romance Walladmor (1823), which, published as being “freely translated from the English of Sir Walter Scott, with a preface by Willibald Alexis,” so closely imitated the style of the famous Scotsman as really to deceive even Scott’s admirers. The work became immediately popular and was translated into several languages, including English. It was followed by Schloss Avalon (1827), with regard to which the author adopted the same tactics and with equal success. These historical novels, however, were of considerable literary merit, and would doubtless have achieved popularity even without the borrowed plumage. Soon afterwards Häring published a number of successful short stories (Gesammelte Novellen, 4 vols., 1830–1831), some books of travel, and in the novels Das Haus Dusterweg (1835) and Zwölf Nächte (1838) showed for a while a leaning towards the “Young German” school. In Cabanis (1832), however, a story of the time of Frederick the Great, he entered the field of patriotic-historical romance, in which he so far excelled as to have earned the name of “der Märkische Walter Scott” (Walter Scott of the Mark). From 1840 onwards he published at short intervals a series of romances, each dealing with some epoch in the history of Brandenburg. Among them may be especially noted Der Roland von Berlin (1840), Der falsche Woldemar (1842), Die Hosen des Herrn von Bredow (1846–1848), Ruhe ist die erste Bürgerpflicht (1852), Isegrimm (1854) and Dorothe (1856). In all these the author shows himself as a keen observer of men and things; the characters, situations and natural surroundings are excellently delineated, and the patriotic feeling which pervades them is not overdone. Häring also made a name for himself in the field of criminology by commencing in 1842, in conjunction with the publicist, Julius Eduard Hitzig (1780–1849), the publication of Der neue Pitaval (continued by A. Vollert, 36 vols., Leipzig, 1842–1865; new edition, 24 vols., Leipzig, 1866–1891), a collection of criminal anecdotes culled from all nations and all times. This publication attained great popularity, and is to-day of psychological interest and value.

His Gesammelte Werke were published in 20 volumes (Berlin, 1874); the Vaterländische Romane separately in 8 volumes (Berlin, 1881, 1884), and since the expiry of the copyright in 1901, in many cheap reprints. Cp. W. Alexis’ Erinnerungen, edited by M. Ewert (1900), and essays by Julian Schmidt (Neue Bilder aus dem geistigen Leben unsrer Zeit, 1873), G. Freytag (Werke, vols. 16 and 23), A. Stern (Zur Literatur der Gegenwart, 1880) and T. Fontane (in Bayreuther Blätter, vi., 1883).