The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Meyer, Conrad Ferdinand

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MEYER, Conrad Ferdinand, Swiss novelist and poet: b. Zürich, 11 Oct. 1825; d. Kilchberg, near Zürich, 1898. He devoted himself in his earlier years chiefly to studies in history and art. The two historians who influenced Meyer particularly were Vulliemin at Lausanne and Jacob Burckhardt at Bâsle whose book on the ‘Culture of the Renaissance’ stimulated his imagination and interest. From his travels in France and Italy (1857) Meyer derived likewise much inspiration for the settings and characters of his historical novels. His mind matured slowly and it was not until the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 that he found himself and his genius. In Meyer's novels a great crisis will often release latent energies and precipitate a catastrophe. In the same manner his own life which so far had been one of dreaming and experimenting, was stirred to the very depths by the events of 1870. Meyer identified himself with the German cause and as a manifesto of his sympathies published the little epic, “Hutten's Last Days” in 1871. The following two decades from 1870 to 1890 were the years of harvesting and brought to light a number of historical novels and tales.

C. F. Meyer's works include six long and five shorter historical tales, two short epic poems and a volume of lyrics, among them some ballads of exceptional merit. The periods of the Renaissance and Counter Reformation furnished the subjects for most of his novels in which the æsthetic charm of a picturesque setting is combined with keen psychological analysis. ‘Jürg Jenatsch’ describes the political plots and intrigues in which the Swiss canton, Graubünden, became involved during the Thirty Years' War through the conflict between Spain-Austria and France. The hero is a Protestant minister and fanatic patriot who, in his determination to preserve the independence of his little country, does not shrink from murder and treason and in whom noble and base motives are strangely blended. ‘The Saint’ tells the story of Thomas à Becket of Canterbury who, from being a devoted servant of his worldly lord, King Henry II, turns against him when he is made archbishop of Canterbury and henceforth serves the interest of a higher lord or his representative, the Church of Rome. In the ‘Monk's Wedding’ Dante himself is introduced at the court of Cangrande in Verona as narrator of the strange adventure of a monk who, after the death of his brother, is forced by his father to break his vows but who, instead of marrying the widow, falls in love with another young girl and runs blindly to his fate. ‘Die Richterin,’ a more sombre tale, introduces Charlemagne and his palace school; ‘The Tempting of Pescara’ tells of the great crisis in the life of Pescara, general of Charles V and husband of Victoria Colonna. Among his shorter stories may be singled out ‘Gustav Adolf's Page,’ ‘Plautus in a Nunnery’ and ‘The Shot from the Pulpit’ as three gems of his inimitable art. Most of his plots spring from the deeper conflict between freedom and fate and culminate in a dramatic crisis in which the hero, in the face of a great temptation, loses his moral freedom and is forced to fulfill the higher law of destiny. As a psychologist and interpreter of enigmatic characters Meyer has not his equal in the field of the historical novel. See Saint, The.

Bibliography. — C F. Meyer's works are published by H. Haessel, Leipzig, in 9 volumes. The most recent and complete biography is by D'Harcourt, R., ‘C. F. Meyer: Sa vie son œuvre’ (Paris 1913). Two older biographies by Langmesser, A. (Berlin 1905), and Frey, A. (Stuttgart 1909). Other monographs: Taylor, M. L., ‘A Study of the Technique of C. F. Meyer's Novellen’ (Chicago 1909); Blaser, O., ‘C. F. Meyer's Renaissance novellen’ (Berne 1905); Korrodi, E., ‘C. F. Meyer: Studien’ (Leipzig 1912). Several novels are accessible in annotated American editions, but only two, so far, in translations: ‘The Monk's Wedding’ (Boston 1887); and ‘The Tempting of Pescara’ (New York 1890). Consult also, ‘German Classics of the Nineteenth Century,’ Vol. 14.

Ewald A. Boucke,
Professor of German, University of Michigan.