1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gellert, Christian Fürchtegott

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GELLERT, CHRISTIAN FÜRCHTEGOTT (1715–1769), German poet, was born at Hainichen in the Saxon Erzgebirge on the 4th of July 1715. After attending the famous school of St Afra in Meissen, he entered Leipzig University in 1734 as a student of theology, and on completing his studies in 1739 was for two years a private tutor. Returning to Leipzig in 1741 he contributed to the Bremer Beiträge, a periodical founded by former disciples of Johann Christoph Gottsched, who had revolted from the pedantry of his school. Owing to shyness and weak health Gellert gave up all idea of entering the ministry, and, establishing himself in 1745 as privatdocent in philosophy at the university of Leipzig, lectured on poetry, rhetoric and literary style with much success. In 1751 he was appointed extraordinary professor of philosophy, a post which he held until his death at Leipzig on the 13th of December 1769.

The esteem and veneration in which Gellert was held by the students, and indeed by persons in all classes of society, was unbounded, and yet due perhaps less to his unrivalled popularity as a lecturer and writer than to his personal character. He was the noblest and most amiable of men, generous, tender-hearted and of unaffected piety and humility. He wrote in order to raise the religious and moral character of the people, and to this end employed language which, though at times prolix, was always correct and clear. He thus became one of the most popular German authors, and some of his poems enjoyed a celebrity out of proportion to their literary value. This is more particularly true of his Fabeln und Erzählungen (1746–1748) and of his Geistliche Oden und Lieder (1757). The fables, for which he took La Fontaine as his model, are simple and didactic. The “spiritual songs,” though in force and dignity they cannot compare with the older church hymns, were received by Catholics and Protestants with equal favour. Some of them were set to music by Beethoven. Gellert wrote a few comedies: Die Betschwester (1745), Die kranke Frau (1748), Das Los in der Lotterie (1748), and Die zärtlichen Schwestern (1748), the last of which was much admired. His novel Die schwedische Gräfin von G. (1746), a weak imitation of Richardson’s Pamela, is remarkable as being the first German attempt at a psychological novel. Gellert’s Briefe (letters) were regarded at the time as models of good style.

See Gellert’s Sämtliche Schriften (first edition, 10 vols., Leipzig, 1769–1774; last edition, Berlin, 1867). Sämtliche Fabeln und Erzählungen have been often published separately, the latest edition in 1896. A selection of Gellert’s poetry (with an excellent introduction) will be found in F. Muncker, Die Bremer Beiträge (Stuttgart, 1899). A translation by J. A. Murke, Gellert’s Fables and other Poems (London, 1851). For a further account of Gellert’s life and work see lives by J. A. Cramer (Leipzig, 1774), H. Döring (Greiz, 1833), and H. O. Nietschmann (2nd ed., Halle, 1901); also Gellerts Tagebuch aus dem Jahre 1761 (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1863) and Gellerts Briefwechsel mit Demoiselle Lucius (Leipzig, 1823).