The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Bürger, Gottfried August

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BÜRGER, Gottfried August, German poet: b. 1 Jan. 1748, at Wolmerswende, near Halberstadt; d. Göttingen, 8 June 1794. He showed an early predilection for solitary and gloomy places and the making of verses, for which he had no other model than hymnbooks. He learned Latin with difficulty. In 1764 he studied theology at the University of Halle, and in 1768 he went to Göttingen, in order to exchange theology for law, but soon formed connections here equally disadvantageous to his studies and his morals, so that his grandfather, who had hitherto maintained him, withdrew his support. The friendship of several distinguished young men at the university was now of great service to him. He studied the ancient classics and the best works in French, Italian, Spanish and English, particularly Shakespeare, and the old English and Scottish ballads. Percy's ‘Reliques’ was his constant companion. His poems soon attracted attention. In 1772 he obtained the office of baillie in Alten-Gleichen, but throughout his life he was involved in pecuniary difficulties. In 1774 he married the daughter of a neighboring baillie, named Leonhart, but his marriage was unfortunate. He conceived a violent passion for the sister of his wife and married her in 1784, soon after his first wife's death. She also his celebrated “Molly,” died the first year of their marriage. At the same time be was obliged by intrigues, to resign his place. He was made professor extraordinary in Göttingen, but received no salary, and this favorite poet of the nation was obliged to gain his living by poorly rewarded translations for booksellers. A third marriage in 1790, with a young lady of Swabia, who had publicly offered him her hand in a poem, completed his misfortunes; he procured a divorce from her two years afterward. The government of Hanover afforded him some assistance shortly before his death. His songs, odes, elegies, ballads, narrative poems and epigrams hold a very high place in German literature, Schlegel especially commending his work, though Schiller criticised him very severely. The first collection of his poems appeared in Göttingen in 1778. His complete works were first published by Reinhard at Göttingen in four volumes in 1796-98, and this edition has been repeatedly published since. Other editions of his work and letters have also been published, and his life has been written by Döring; Pröhle, ‘G. A. Bürger: Sein Leben und Seine Dichtungen’ (Leipzig 1865), and others.