1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kleist, Ewald Christian von
KLEIST, EWALD CHRISTIAN VON (1715–1759), German poet, was born at Zeblin, near Köslin in Pomerania, on the 7th of March 1715. After attending the Jesuit school in Deutschkrona and the gymnasium in Danzig, he proceeded in 1731 to the university of Königsberg, where he studied law and mathematics. On the completion of his studies, he entered the Danish army, in which he became an officer in 1736. Recalled to Prussia by Frederick II. in 1740, he was appointed lieutenant in a regiment stationed at Potsdam, where he became acquainted with J. W. L. Gleim (q.v.), who interested him in poetry. After distinguishing himself at the battle of Mollwitz (April 10, 1741) and the siege of Neisse (1741), he was promoted captain in 1749 and major in 1756. Quartered during the winter of 1757–1758 in Leipzig, he found relief from his irksome military duties in the society of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (q.v.). Shortly afterwards in the battle of Kunersdorf, on the 12th of August 1759, he was mortally wounded while leading the attack, and died at Frankfort-on-Oder on the 24th of August following.
Kleist’s chief work is a poem in hexameters, Der Frühling (1749), for which Thomson’s Seasons largely supplied ideas. In his description of the beauties of nature Kleist shows real poetical genius, an almost modern sentiment and fine taste. He also wrote some charming odes, idylls and elegies, and a small epic poem Cissides und Paches (1759), the subject being two Thessalian friends who die an heroic death for their country in a battle against the Athenians.
Kleist published in 1756 the first collection of his Gedichte, which was followed by a second in 1758. After his death his friend Karl Wilhelm Ramler (q.v.) published an edition of Kleists sämtliche Werke in 2 vols. (1760). A critical edition was published by A. Sauer, in 3 vols. (1880–1882). Cf. further, A. Chuquet, De Ewaldi Kleistii vita et scriptis (Paris, 1887), and H. Pröhle, Friedrich der Grosse und die deutsche Literatur (1872).