Friedrich Gottlieb Klopetock, the great German religious poet, was born at Quedlinburg (31 m. s.w. of Magdeburg), Prussia, July 2, 1724; d. at Hamburg
In the autumn of 1745 Klopstock began the study of theology at Jena; but his disgust was speedily aroused by the rudeness of student life there, and in the spring of the following year he removed to Leipsic. Before his departure, however, he had written the first three cantos of the Messias, in prose form. At Leipsic he came into intimate association with Gärtner, Andreas Cramer, A. Schlegel, Rabener, Zachariä, Giseke, and Ebert, who, with others, formed a poetic circle whose productions were published in the Bremer Beiträge edited by Gärtner. Here in an atmosphere of culture and personal affection, Klopstock began the composition of odes on the Horatian model. From the year 1747 date the Lehrling der Griechen, Wingolf Die Künftig Geliebte, and from the following year, Selmar und Selma, An Ebert, An Giseke, Petrarca und Laura, and others. In 1746 he had selected the hexameter as the most suitable form for his epic, and after laboring for nearly two years on the recasting of his prose material into verse published the first three cantos of the Messias in the Bremer Beiträge in 1748. The effect produced on the popular mind was tremendous; in the national literature they opened a new line of development. Above the musical and empty verse jingle of the time the opening songs of the Messias towered incomparable, with their fervid religiosity and poetic fire cast in noble Homeric phrase forms. As Kleist said, so lofty and rich a style had been deemed impossible in Germany. Less enthusiastic natures were carried away by the exalted piety which now found expression in such full-mouthed utterance. In spite of much that was personal in the Messias, much that was historically and critically unwarranted, no one could deny its author the gift of poetic, soulstirring, Christian inspiration.
In 1748 Klopstock left Leipsic and took up the post of tutor in the house of a relative at Langensalza, where his duties gave him ample leisure for the pursuit of his poetic works. At the same time he was at work on the fourth and fifth cantos of the Messias; happy, it may be presumed, in the enjoyment of a vast popularity. Hostile critics, however, were not wanting; the orthodox clergy assailed his "bold fictions," while the followers of Gottsched found fault with the technique of the poem and the excessive sentimentality that characterizes it in parts. In the spring of 1750 Klopstock returned to Quedlinburg, but went soon after to Switzerland, where his Messias had achieved its greatest triumph. He remained in Zurich till the spring of 1751 when he went to Copenhagen at the invitation of Frederick V. whose minister, Bernstorff, was one of his warmest admirers. The recipient of a liberal pension, he could now devote himself to the completion of his great poem. In 1754 he married Margareta Moller, whom, three years earlier, he had met in Hamburg, and had subsequently sung under the name of Cidli, and with whom he lived happily till her death in 1758. From this period date many odes and the plays, Der Tod Adams (1757), Salomo (1764), and Die Hermannsschlacht (1769), the latter revealing his complete lack of the dramatic sense and all contributing, by their unrestrained sentimentality, to the deterioration of dramatic standards in Germany. Frederick V. died in 1766; Count Bernstorff soon after fell from power, and, retiring in 1770 to Hamburg, was followed by Klopstock who passed the remainder of his life in that city with the exception of the years 1774 and 1775, when the Margrave Charles Frederick of Baden summoned him to Carlsruhe. There, in spite of honors conferred upon him, the poet found conditions little to his taste. It was on his return to Hamburg that he met Goethe, but the acquaintance then formed soon came to an end. In 1774 there appeared Die Gelehrtenrepublik containing Klopstock's opinion on literary questions, conditions, and personalities of the times as well as his investigations in the history of the German
It was Klopstock who, to quote Platen, gave new life to the German language and liberated it from the thraldom of the French. Poesy became the beautiful and noble expression of the artist's soul finding full satisfaction in the sincere formulation of the problems that beset it. This has been the main characteristic of German poetry since the time of Klopstock and only they have achieved and retained primacy who have remained faithful to it. Klopstock's joyous and enthusiastic nature found its most grateful expression in the national and sacred song. Whenever he wanders outside of these realms he falls beneath his own level. If the great period in German literature that followed him may be characterized as being marked by a successful assimilation of national poetic elements with foreign elements of ancient and modern times, Klopstock must be regarded as the one who ushered in this new era. The one quality that he possessed above his contemporaries was the element of Germanic patriotism which evinced itself in his life and thought. He is Germanic in the delight he takes in tales of heroic deeds and in nature, home, and love; Germanic above all in that passionate longing for salvation which is the great inheritance of the German people. His admiration of the heroic finds utterance in odes like Kaiser Heinrich, Mein Vaterland, Hermann und Thusnelda, Heinrich der Vogler, Die beiden Musen, Die Königin Luise. His love of nature speaks in the Bardale, Zürichersee, Friedensburg, Rheinwein, Das Rosenband, Die tote Clarissa. A mighty current of faith pulsates in such odes as An Gott, Dem Erlöser, Der Erbarmer, Das grosse Hallelujah, as well as in his magnificent hymn of the Resurrection. This confidence in the Savior reveals itself in the certain hope of a rising from the dead and of an eternal life, and Klopstock is the poet of the future life primarily. When Gervinus in his life characterises the Messias as "an unbroken succession of monstrous errors" he has overlooked this great fact. At the same time he has failed to recognize the essential weakness of the poem which consists in this, that an individual here attempts to create an epic where the necessary conditions and presuppositions are absent. A national epic can arise only on the basis of a common national life and the poet in this case becomes only the mouthpiece as is the case with the Heliand. A "poetic invention" such as Klopstock resorts to in his creation of a Christian mythology is fatal to the epic story from the very beginning, since the true epic poet finds his activity not in creation but in narration of traditional facts; as far as diction is concerned it must be the simple language of the people. Judged by these standards, the Messias as an epic is a failure. But on the other hand it must not be denied the merit of having disseminated throughout the European world, this joyous message of salvation free from all dogmatic and credal restrictions. Klopstock's most unsuccessful attempt was his recasting of the old hymns of the Church which, in their utter lack of sympathy for an objective world and a consciousness of nationality, proved ungrateful material for his talents. On the other hand what he excelled in was his knowledge of classical antiquity and especially of the poetry of the Greeks.
His works first appeared in Leipsic, 7 vols.,1798 1810, but not in complete form till 1844-45, 11 vols.; his correspondence appeared in 3 vols. at Stuttgart, 1839-40. There are numerous editions of all or part of his works; e.g. Oden (Stuttgart, 1889; Eng. transl., London, 1848). Of Messias, on which his fame rests, an Eng. transl. appeared in 4 vols. at Hamburg, 1821-22.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: C. F. Cramer, Klopstock, 2 vols., Hamburg, 1777-78; idem, Klopstock, Er; und über ihn, 5 vols., ib., 1780-92; J. M. H. Döring, Klopstocks Leben, Weimar, 1825; J. W. Löbell, Die Entwickelung der deutschen Poesie vor Klopstock's erstem Auftreten bis zu Goethes Tod, 3 vols., Brunswick, 1856-65; R. Hamel, Klopstockstudien, Rostock, 1879-80; K. Heinemann, Klopstocks Leben und Werke, Bielefeld, 1890; F. Muncker, Klopstock, Geschichte seines Lebens und seiner Schriften, 2 vols., Stuttgart, 1900; Julian, Hymnology, pp. 625-626.
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