The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Der Grüne Heinrich
DER GRÜNE HEINRICH, “Green Henry” (1854) is a psychic autobiography of G. Keller in the same sense and with the same limitations as ‘Werther’ or ‘Wilhelm Meister’ is of Goethe. Truth is freely mingled with fiction, and there is a generalizing purpose to exhibit the psychic disease that affected the whole generation of the transition from romanticism to realism in life and art. Green Henry, so named from the color that he affected in dress, was a Swiss burgher's son, brought up too tenderly by a widowed mother. After youthful pranks and experiences, told with delightful freshness, and a not altogether justified dismissal from school he idles away some time in his mother's village in activities of which the description is far better worth while than was the reality. He determines to be a painter, and goes to Munich's artistic Bohemia, whence he finds his way to a count's mansion and thence home to his dying mother and an all-too-tardy and brief repentance. Abandoning art, he enters the civil service. This experience affords occasion for extended political reflections. The tone of the reminiscences makes it clear that Keller would have the reader understand that Heinrich has lived through and risen out of his instability and irresolution and sees life steadily and cheerfully at last. ‘Der Grüne Heinrich’ was slow in gaining recognition. A second edition was not called for till 1879. It has since won general and often extravagant praise. Keen insight, fresh humor and instinct for realistic narration are its outstanding merits; its faults are lack of proportion, occasional garrulity and obtruded moralizing, but most of all the doubt that it leaves in the reader whether the Heinrich who had shown such persistent lack of character, especially in his relations with his mother, would so quickly be capable of discovering, rather than recovering, a normal balance of mind.