The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Wieland, Christoph Martin

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WIELAND, vē'länt, Christoph Martin, German author: b. in the Swabian village of Oberholzheim, near Biberach, 5 Sept. 1733; d. Weimar, 20 Jan. 1813. The son of a country clergyman, after thorough preparation, he went in 1750 to the University of Tübingen to study law, but most of his time was devoted to belles-lettres. In 1751 appeared his ‘Zwolf Moralische Briefe,’ which met with very favorable reception. He also wrote at this time the didactic poem, ‘Anti Ovid.’ In 1752 he went to Zurich as a literary companion to J. J. Bodmer (q.v.). Inspired by the deeds of Frederick the Great to write a poem exhibiting the ideal of a hero, he chose the story of Cyrus. The first five cantos appeared in 1759, but the poem remained unfinished. About this time he published ‘Araspes and Panthea,’ an episode from the ‘Cyropædia’ of Xenophon. After a brief residence he left Bodmer's house, became a tutor, and in 1760 returned to Biberach. In 1762 he went to live with Count Stadion, an accomplished scholar, but a thorough man of the world, averse to all religious enthusiasm. Wieland had been prone to religious mysticism; but the gay pleasure-seeking life of the society with which he now came in contact, and the sceptical and cynical kind of literature now most at his command, produced an entire change of sentiment. The first indication of this new philosophy of life appears in the tale of ‘Nadine,’ which he styles a composition in Prior's manner. This was followed in 1764 by ‘Die Abenteuer des Don Sylvio de Rosalva’ (‘The Adventures of Don Sylvio de Rosalva’), a work for which Don Quixote serves as model. In 1766-67 appeared his ‘Agathon,’ which established his reputation. The ‘Musarion’ (1768), a production distinguished for grace, ease and harmony, advocates a rational unity of the sensual and spiritual. In 1770 he wrote ‘Die Grazien’ (‘The Graces’); and the ‘New Amadis’ in 1771, a poem which celebrates the triumph of intellectual over mere physical beauty. In 1769 he was appointed professor primarius of philosophy at the Unirersity of Erfurt. In his ‘Verklagter Amor’ (‘Cupid Accused’) he defended amatory poetry; and in the ‘Dialogen des Diogenes von Sinope’ (1770) gave a general vindication of his philosophical views. In 1772 he was invited to Weimar by the Duchess Anna Amalia as tutor to her two sons. Turning his attention to dramatic poetry, he wrote the ‘Wahl des Hercules’ (‘Choice of Hercules’), and the ‘Alceste.’ He also edited the ‘Deutscher Mercur,’ a monthly, which he conducted till near the close of his life. His views, as exhibited therein, however, showed so much of the narrow conventional spirit of French criticism, that he was attacked by Goethe in the satire ‘Götter, Helden und Wieland’ (‘Gods, Heroes and Wieland’). This Wieland answered with great good nature, recommending it to all who were fond of wit and sarcasm. Goethe and Herder were soon drawn to Weimar, where the Duchess Anna Amalia formed a circle of talent and genius, later also joined by Schiller. In 1774 appeared the ‘Geschichte der Abderiten,’ in which Wieland sought with an engaging wit to correct the provincialism of his time. ‘Oberon’ (1780), a romantic epic, is the most finished of his works. Wieland also prepared translations of Horace, Lucian and the ‘Letters’ of Cicero. His translations of Shakespeare (1762-66), made the English poet “an open book for Germans.” He superintended (1794-1802) an edition of his ‘Works’ in 45 volumes. These were also edited by Gruber (1818-28 and 1867-75), and there are many editions of selections, some of which have been translated into English. Wieland's place in literature in a sense falls within the group headed by Goethe, Schiller and Lessing; not so stellar as these, he was yet singularly attuned to his time. A veritable German Voltaire, his influence, exerted especially through the ‘Deutscher Mercur,’ was immense. Of facile and incessant wit, no other writer had more to do with shaping the German language to elegant expression. This explains the delight with which the work of Wieland was met in his day. Consult Loebell, ‘Entwickelung der Deutschen Poesie’ (1858); Ranke, ‘Zur Beurtheilung Wielands’ (1885); Hirzel, ‘Wieland's Beziehungen zu den deutscher Romantikern’; Lenz, W., ‘Wieland's Verhältniss zu Spenser, Pope, und Swift’; and Gruber's biography, with his editions.