1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lenz, Jakob Michael Reinhold

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LENZ, JAKOB MICHAEL REINHOLD (1751–1792), German poet, was born at Sesswegen in Livonia, the son of the village pastor, on the 12th of January 1751. He removed with his parents to Dorpat in 1759, and soon began to compose sacred odes, in the manner of Klopstock. In 1768 he entered the university of Königsberg as a student of theology, and in 1771 accompanied, as tutor, two young German nobles, named von Kleist, to Strassburg, where they were to enter the French army. In Strassburg Lenz was received into the literary circle that gathered round Friedrich Rudolf Salzmann (1749–1821) and became acquainted with Goethe, at that time a student at the university. In order to be close to his young pupils, Lenz had to remove to Fort Louis in the neighbourhood, and while here became deeply enamoured of Goethe’s friend, Friederike Elisabeth Brion (1752–1813), daughter of the pastor of Sesenheim. Lenz endeavoured, after Goethe’s departure from Strassburg, to replace the great poet in her affections, and to her he poured out songs and poems (Die Liebe auf dem Lande) which were long attributed to Goethe himself, as was also Lenz’s first drama, the comedy, Der Hofmeister, oder Vorteile der Privaterziehung (1774). In 1776 he visited Weimar and was most kindly received by the duke; but his rude, overbearing manner and vicious habits led to his expulsion. In 1777 he became insane, and in 1779 was removed from Emmendingen, where J. G. Schlosser (1739–1799), Goethe’s brother-in-law, had given him a home, to his native village. Here he lived in great poverty for several years, and then was given, more out of charity than on account of his merits, the appointment of tutor in a pension school near Moscow, where he died on the 24th of May 1792. Lenz, though one of the most talented poets of the Sturm und Drang period, presented a strange medley of genius and childishness. His great, though neglected and distorted, abilities found vent in ill-conceived imitations of Shakespeare. His comedies, Der Hofmeister; Der neue Menoza (1774); Die Soldaten (1776); Die Freunde machen den Philosophen (1776), though accounted the best of his works, are characterized by unnatural situations and an incongruous mixture of tragedy and comedy.

Lenz’s Gesammelte Schriften were published by L. Tieck in three volumes (1828); supplementary to these volumes are E. Dorer-Egloff, J. M. R. Lenz und seine Schriften (1857) and K. Weinhold, Dramatischer Nachlass von J. M. R. Lenz (1884); a selection of Lenz’s writings will be found in A. Sauer, Stürmer und Dränger, ii.; Kürschner’s Deutsche Nationalliteratur, vol. lxxx., (1883). See further E. Schmidt, Lenz und Klinger (1878); J. Froitzheim, Lenz und Goethe (1891); H. Rauch, Lenz und Shakespeare (1892); F. Waldmann, Lenz in Briefen (1894).