1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vischer, Friedrich Theodor

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VISCHER, FRIEDRICH THEODOR (1807-1887), German writer on the philosophy of art, was born at Ludwigsburg on the 30th of June 1807, and was the son of a clergyman. He was educated at Tübingen, and began life in his father's profession. In 1835 he became Privatdozent in aesthetics and German literature at his old university, was advanced in 1837 to extraordinary professor, and in 1844 to full professor. In consequence, however, of his outspoken inaugural address, he was suspended for two years by the Württemberg government, and in his enforced leisure wrote the first two volumes of his Aesthetik, oder Wissenschaft des Schönen (1846), the fourth and last volume of which did not appear till 1857. Vischer threw himself heartily into the great German political movement of 1848-49, and shared the disappointment of patriotic democrats at its failure. In 1855 he became professor at Zürich. In 1866, his fame being now established, he was invited back to Germany with a professorship at Tübingen combined with a post at the Polytechnikum of Stuttgart. He died at Gmunden on the 14th of September 1887. His writings include literary essays collected under the titles Kritische Gänge and Altes und Neues, poems, an excellent critical study of Goethe's Faust (1875), and a successful novel, Auch Einer (1878; 25th ed., 1904). Vischer was not an original thinker, and his monumental Aesthetik, in spite of industry and learning, has not the higher qualities of success. He attempts the hopeless task of explaining art by the Hegelian dialectic. Starting with the definition of beauty as “the idea in the form of limited appearance,” he goes on to develop the various elements of art (the beautiful, sublime and comic), and the various forms of art (plastic art, music and poetry) by means of the Hegelian antitheses — form and content, objective and subjective, inner conflict and reconciliation. The shape of the work also is repellently Hegelian, consisting of short highly technical paragraphs containing the main argument, followed by detailed explanations printed in different type. Still, Vischer had a thorough knowledge of every branch of art except music, and much valuable material is buried in his volumes. In later life Vischer moved considerably away from Hegelianism, and adopted the conceptions of sensuous completeness and cosmic harmony as criteria of beauty; but he never found time to rewrite his great book. His own work as a literary artist is of high quality; vigorous, imaginative and thoughtful without academic technicality.

See O. Keindl, F. T. Vischer, Erinnerungsblätter (1888); J. E. von Günthert, F. T. Vischer, ein Charakterbild (1888); I. Frapan, Vischer-Erinnerungen (1889); T. Ziegler, F. T. Vischer (Vortrag) (1893); J. G. Oswald, F. T. Vischer als Dichter (1896). (H. St.)