Spitteler: Autobiographical Statement

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Spitteler: Autobiographical Statement

(Written at the time of the awarding of the Nobel Prize)

I was born on April 24, 1845, in the little town of Liestal in the Canton of Baselland. When I was four we moved to Bern, where my father had been appointed treasurer of the newly established Swiss Confederacy. In the winter of 1856–57 I returned home with my parents. I attended the Gymnasium at Basle and lived with an aunt; later I lived in Liestal and went by train to Basle daily to attend the Obergymnasium called the “Pädagogium.” Wilhelm Wackernagel and Jacob Burckhardt were my teachers there. At my father’s request I took up the study of law at the University of Zürich in 1863. Later, 1865–70, I studied theology in Zürich, Heidelberg, and Basle. After taking my theological examination at Basle I went to Petersburg at the invitation of General Standertskjöld to be the tutor of his younger children. I left for Petersburg in August, 1871 and stayed there until 1879. During this period, spent partly in Russia and partly in Finland, I worked on Prometheus und Epimetheus, which, after my return to Switzerland, I published in 1881 at my own expense under the pseudonym Carl Felix Tandem. The book was completely neglected; because it was not even reviewed I abandoned all hope of making poetry my living and was compelled instead to teach school (Neuveville, Canton Bern, 1881–1885) and work for newspapers (Grenzpost, Basle, 1885–86; Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 1890–92). In July, 1892, fate suddenly granted me financial independence. I moved to Lucerne, where I have lived happily with my family ever since. The following works of mine appeared after Prometheus und Epimetheus: Extramundana (1883), a book which I consider mediocre; Schmetterlinge (1889) [Butterflies]; Friedli der Kolderi (1891); Gustav (1892); Litterarische Gleichnisse (1892) [Literary Parables]; Balladen (1896); Der Gotthard (1897); Conrad der Leutnant (1898); Lachende Wahrheiten (1898) [Laughing Truths]. Between 1900 and 1906 the four volumes of my epic Olympischer Frühling [Olympian Spring] were published: I. Die Auffahrt [Overture]; II. Hera die Braut [Hera the Bride]; III. Die Hohe Zeit [High Tide]; IV. Ende und Wende [End and Change].

The first two parts remained as unnoticed as all my other books. But between the publication of the second and third volumes, a musician, the famous Felix Weingartner, suddenly announced Olympischer Frühling (together with Prometheus) to the German public in a special pamphlet called Carl Spitteler, ein künstlerisches Erlebnis (München, 1904). That was the breakthrough. Felix Weingartner had discovered me for the world. To the Swiss public I had long before been recommended by J. V. Widmann.

In 1909 a revised edition of my epic in five volumes was published; by the end of 1920 it had run into several editions. After Olympischer Frühling I published Glockenlieder (1906) [Bell Songs]; Imago (1908); Gerold und Hansli, die Mädchenfeinde (1907) [Two Little Misogynists], translated into several languages; and Meine frühesten Erlebnisse (1914) [My Earliest Experiences].…

[© The Nobel Foundation, 1919. Carl Spitteler is the sole author of the text.]