The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Bitzius, Albert

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BITZIUS, Albert (pseud. Jeremias Gotthelf), Swiss author: b. at Murten in Switzerland, 4 Oct. 1797; d. in Lutzelflüh im Emmental in Switzerland, 22 Oct. 1854. He belonged to a family of pastors, and after studying theology in Bern and Göttingen and traveling in Germany, he became first vicar and in 1832 pastor in Lützelflüh, which position he occupied until his death. He did not begin writing until late in life. His first work, ‘Der Bauernspiegel, oder die Lebensgeschichte des Jeremias Gotthelf’ appeared in 1836. It sketches the development of a poor country orphan boy, but is not an autobiography. Henceforth Bitzius was a prolific writer and in the last 18 years of his life became one of the important novelists not only of Switzerland but of the German language in general. He was not a conscious artist, but was nevertheless wonderfully gifted by nature. He saw things as they were, was susceptible to all impressions of life and reproduced them in true fashion — a genuine realist, though not a naturalist. He knows the peasant folk of his native country with all their fads and foibles. He sketches his characters with epic simplicity and yet elevates them into the domain of the universal. His peasant world is a mirror of the world in general. His greatest work is ‘Uli der Knecht’ (1841). It tells the story of a poor peasant laborer who develops into the owner of a prosperous farm. A plain theme, to which the epic imagination of Bitzius gives universal application. Vreneli, the chief woman character, charms us by the nobility and purity of her soul. Another novel almost on the same plane is ‘Uli der Pächter’ (1849). Three other novels may be classed in importance with Uli; ‘Anne Babi Jowäger’ (1843-44); ‘Geld und Geist’ (1842-46); and ‘Käthi, die Grossmutter’ (1847). One of his short stories, ‘Elise die seltsame Magd’ (1850) was particularly attractive to Gottfried Keller. Other works of lesser importance are ‘Leiden und Freuden eines Schulmeisters’ (1838); ‘Fünf Mädchen’ (1838); ‘Dursli, der Branntweinsäufer’ (1839); ‘Die Käserei in der Vehfreude’ (1850); ‘Zeitgeist und Bernergeist’ (1852). Bitzius is an interpreter of peasant psychology. In the writing of country and village stories he was a pioneer, and in his ideas on social betterment he pointed to the future. At times the preacher and reformer obtrudes and endangers the artistic effect, but we must admire the sincerity of his desire to ameliorate the condition of the poor. Consult Muret, Gabriel, ‘Jeremie Gotthelf’ (Paris 1913); also Roedder, E. C., in Vol. VIII of ‘The German Classics’ (New York 1914).

William F. Hauhart,
Assistant Professor of German, University of Michigan.