The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Dehmel, Richard

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DEHMEL, dā'mẹl, Richard, German lyric poet: b. at Wendisch-Hermsdorf in the Spreewald, of Slavic-German descent, 18 Nov. 1863. He was the son of a forester and got his first impressions of nature wandering in the oak forests tended by his father. After finishing the schools of his native city, he became a student at the Sophiengymnasium at Berlin, but later went to Danzig and was graduated from the Gymnasium in that city. At the university — chiefly at Berlin — he devoted himself to philosophy and the sociological and natural sciences. He finished at Leipzig with a thesis on the insurance business. Up to the year 1895 he was then secretary of the Association of German Fire Insurance Companies. In this difficult work he learned, as he himself states, self-control. While in this position he published his first books of poems, ‘Erlösungen’ (1891), ‘Aber die Liebe’ (1893) and ‘Lebensblätter’ (1895). After serving the insurance company for seven years, he resigned and moved to Pankow near Berlin. There he wrote ‘Weib und Welt’ (poems and fairy tales 1896); ‘Der Mitmensch’ (tragi-comedy, 1895); ‘Lucifer’ (pantomimic drama, 1899); and the children's book ‘Fitzebutze’ (1900; 15th ed., 1910), which he wrote in connection with his first wife, Paula Dehmel, from whom he separated in 1899. After remarrying and traveling for several years in Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Holland and England, he settled down at Blankenese, near Hamburg. In 1903 he published a lyrical novel ‘Zwei Menschen.’ In 1906 he published his complete works up to that date after having subjected them to a thorough revision. Later works are ‘Michel Michael’ (a comedy, 1911) and ‘Schöne Wilde Welt’ (new poems and proverbs, 1913).

In his earlier writing Dehmel was influenced by Heine and Schiller and later by Liliencron, Strindberg and Nietzsche. He claimed to stand as an artist between the pure empiricists like Liliencron and the pure metaphysicians like Mombert. His relation to Nietzsche he defined by saying: “Nietzsche is a doubting dissector of the ordinary emotions of the soul and I as a faithful believer give a synthesis of the unusual emotions.” By some critics Dehmel is considered the greatest lyrical genius since Goethe. Others are willing to admit his genius but object to the extreme realism of some of his poems. To be just to him it is necessary to remember that he is constantly struggling toward higher levels. He stresses the importance of the feelings, but connects them with our intelligence. There is always with him an interaction of intellect and emotions. The result is a constant emphasis of the need of self-control and self-development. All about us, to be sure, are mysteries, but we must fathom them to the best of our ability. He has always been a hard worker and a champion of the rights of the workingman. His poems are finished in form and represent diverse metrical schemes. Dehmel volunteered his services in the European War, even though he was over 50 years of age. He was permitted to go to the front, was soon promoted to a lieutenancy and awarded the iron cross for distinguished services. Consult Lessing, O. E., ‘Masters in Modern German Literature’ (Dresden 1912). Also the histories of German Literature of Kummer and Biese.

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