1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hölderlin, Johann Christian Friedrich
HÖLDERLIN, JOHANN CHRISTIAN FRIEDRICH (1770–1843), German poet, was born on the 20th of March 1770, at Lauffen on the Neckar. His mother removing, after a second marriage, to Nürtingen, he began his education at the classical school there. He was destined by his relations for the church, and with this view was later admitted to the seminaries at Denkendorf and Maulbronn. At the age of eighteen he entered as a student of theology the university of Tübingen, where he remained till 1793. He was already the writer of occasional verses, and had begun to sketch his novel Hyperion, when he was introduced in this year to Schiller, and obtained through him the post of tutor to the young son of Charlotte von Kalb. A year later he left this situation to attend Fichte’s lectures, and to be near Schiller in Jena. The latter recognized in the young poet something of his own genius, and encouraged him by publishing some of his early writings in his periodicals Die neue Thalia and Die Horen. In 1796 Hölderlin obtained the post of tutor in the family of the banker J. F. Gontard in Frankfort-on-Main. For Gontard’s beautiful and gifted wife, Susette, the “Diotima” of his Hyperion, he conceived a violent passion; and she became at once his inspiration and his ruin. At the end of two years, during which time the first volume of Hyperion was published (1797), a crisis appears to have occurred in their relations, for the young poet suddenly left Frankfort. In spite of ill-health, he now completed Hyperion, the second volume of which appeared in 1799, and began a tragedy, Der Tod des Empedokles, a fragment of which is published among his works. His friends became alarmed at the alternate depression and nervous irritability from which he suffered, and he was induced to go to Switzerland, as tutor in a family at Hauptwill. There his health improved; and several of his poems, among which are Der blinde Sänger, An die Hoffnung and Dichtermut, were written at this time. In 1801 he returned home to arrange for the publication of a volume of his poems; but, on the failure of this enterprise, he was obliged to accept a tutorship at Bordeaux. “Diotima” died a year later, in June 1802, and the news is supposed to have reached Hölderlin shortly afterwards, for in the following month he suddenly left Bordeaux, and travelled homewards on foot through France, arriving at Nürtingen destitute and insane. Kind treatment gradually alleviated his condition, and in lucid intervals he occupied himself by writing verses and translating Greek plays. Two of these translations—the Antigone and Oedipus rex of Sophocles—appeared in 1804, and several of his short poems were published by Franz K. L. von Seckendorff in his Musenalmanach, 1807 and 1808. In 1804 Hölderlin obtained the sinecure post of librarian to the landgrave Frederick V. of Hesse-Homburg, and went to live in Homburg under the supervision of friends; but two years later becoming irremediably but harmlessly insane, he was taken in the summer of 1807 to Tübingen, where he remained till his death on the 7th of June 1843.
Hölderlin’s writings are the production of a beautiful and sensitive mind; but they are intensely, almost morbidly, subjective, and they lack real human strength. Perhaps his strongest characteristic was his passion for Greece, the result of which was that he almost entirely discarded rhyme in favour of the ancient verse measures. His poems are all short pieces; of his tragedy only a fragment was written. Hyperion, oder der Eremit in Griechenland (1797–1799), is a romance in letters, in which the stormy fervour of the “Sturm und Drang” is combined with a romantic enthusiasm for Greek antiquity. The interest centres not in the story, for the novel has little or none—Hyperion is a young Greek who takes part in the rising of his people against the Turks in 1770—but in its lyric subjectivity and the dithyrambic beauty of its language.
Hölderlin’s lyrics, Lyrische Gedichte, were edited by L. Uhland and G. Schwab in 1826. A complete edition of his works, Sämtliche Werke, with a biography by C. T. Schwab, appeared in 1846; also Dichtungen by K. Köstlin (Tübingen, 1884), and (the best edition) Gesammelte Dichtungen by B. Litzmann (2 vols., Stuttgart, 1897). For biography and criticism, see C. C. T. Litzmann, F. Hölderlins Leben (Berlin, 1890), A. Wilbrandt, Hölderlin (2nd ed., Berlin, 1891), and C. Müller, Friedrich Hölderlin, sein Leben und sein Dichten (Bremen, 1894).
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