The New International Encyclopædia/Bürger, Gottfried August

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BÜRGER, bụr'gẽr, Gottfried August (1747-94). A German poet. He was born in Molmerswende, the son of a country clergyman, and studied theology at Halle and law at Göttingen, where his poetic genius was fired by the works of Shakespeare and by Percy's Reliques. He became a leading member of the Göttingen Poets' Union (Dichterbund), contributed to its organ, the Musenalmanach, and from 1779 until his death was its editor. The University of Göttingen gave him an honorary degree in 1787, and soon after made him professor (without salary) of philosophy and æsthetics, a curious post for one of dissolute youth and discreditable manhood. The greatest work of his misguided genius was produced while he was still young. His best ballad, Lenore (1773), coincided in date with Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen, and the beginning of the decade of literary storm and stress. Goethe, who was soon to speak of him as a ‘sad example,’ thought his earlier poems ‘worthy of a better age.’ Critics to-day see in them the most potent influence toward the revival of the ballad form in which so much of the best German poetry of the next generation was cast. These ballads are classics familiar to every German schoolboy. Some of the most striking, besides the incomparable Lenore, are Der wilde Jäger, Das Lied vom braven Mann, Die Weiber von Weinsberg, Der Kaiser und der Abt, and Bürger's own favorite Lenardo und Blandine. Bürger also revived the sonnet form in German, and his experiments in it were praised as models by Schiller, who, however, severely criticised some of Bürger's more popular poems. His ballads have retained their popularity to this day, and his poems have appeared in many editions. His collected works were edited by his friend Reinard (4 vols., 1796). He was introduced to English readers in William and Helen (1775), Walter Scott's version of Lenore. The elder Dumas translated Lenore into French. Burger's imagination was fresh and naïve, but it was not rich or sustained. His taste was more elegant than delicate: his style was studied, though clear and forcible. The moral tone of his poems, virile and almost uniformly noble, contrasts strangely with that of his life. His qualities were those which command popular favor, and his defects those which the majority of readers readily condone. His place in German letters is apparently secure.