1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Seume, Johann Gottfried

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SEUME, JOHANN GOTTFRIED (1763–1810), German author, was born at Poserna, near Weissenfels, on the 29th of January 1763. He was educated, first at Borna, then at the Nikolai school and university of Leipzig. The study of Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke weakened his interest in theology, and, breaking off his studies, he set out for Paris. On the way he was seized by Hessian recruiting officers and sold to England, whereupon he was drafted to Canada.. After his return in 1783 he deserted at Bremen, but was captured and brought to Emden; a second attempt at flight also failed. In 1787, however, a citizen of Emden became surety for him to the amount of 80 talers, and he was allowed to visit his home. He did not return, but paid off his debt in Emden with the remuneration he received for translating an English novel. He taught languages for a time in Leipzig, and became tutor to a Graf Igelström, whom, in 1792, he accompanied to Warsaw. Here he became secretary to General von Igelström, and, as a Russian officer, experienced the terrors of the Polish insurrection. In 1796 he was again in Leipzig and, resigning his Russian commission, entered the employment of the publisher Göschen. In December 1801 he set out on his famous nine months’ walk to Sicily, described in his Spaziergang nach Syrakus (1803). Some years later he visited Russia, Finland and Sweden, a journey which is described in Mein Sommer im Jahr 1805 (1807). His health now began to fail, and he died on the 13th of June 1810, at Teplitz. His reputation rests on the two books just mentioned, to which may be added his autobiography, Mein Leben (1813, continued by C. A. H. Clodius). These works reflect Seume’s sterling character and sturdy patriotism; his style is clear and straightforward; his descriptions realistic and vivid. As a dramatist (Miltiades, 1808), and as a lyric poet (Gedichte, 1801), he had but little success.

Seume’s Gesammelte Schriften were first edited by J. P. Zimmermann (1823–1826); his Sämtliche Werke (1826–1827), passed through seven editions. The most recent edition is J. G. Seume’s Prosaische und poetische Werke (10 vols., 1879). See O. Planer and C. Reissmann, J. G. Seume. Geschichte seine: Lebens und seiner Schriften (1898).