Wieland, Christoph Martin (1733–1813)

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WIELAND, CHRISTOPH MARTIN (17331813), German writer, publisher, and classicist and one of the most influential literary figures of the German Enlightenment. The son of a Lutheran minister, Christoph Martin Wieland was born in Oberholzheim, Upper Swabia, near the imperial city of Biberach on 5 September 1733. At the age of thirteen, after attending the local public school of Biberach, Wieland was sent to Klosterbergen in the vicinity of Magdeburg, one of the most prestigious boarding schools of the time. Already an avid reader, Wieland acquired the reputation of a freethinker and, not surprisingly, his literary interests proved stronger than his dedication to his law studies at Tübingen (17501751). From 1752 to 1759, he was a student of the literary polemicist Johann Jakob Bodmer (16981783) in Zurich. After working as a private tutor in Bern (17591760) and as a professor of philosophy at the University of Erfurt (17691772), Wieland became the tutor of Karl August, the future duke of Weimar, in 1772.

Many of Wieland's works reflect his love of the classics and his profound knowledge of European literature, both of which become evident through his numerous commentaries and his often-criticized Shakespeare translations. Influenced by Bodmer (the teacher of the German poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock [17241803]), Wieland's early works such as Die Natur der Dinge (1751; The nature of things) are profoundly religious in character, whereas his later works become more frivolous and suggestive in tone. Autobiographical elements appear with striking frequency in most of Wieland's writings. From 1760 to 1769, for example, Wieland served as municipal administrator in Biberach. Some of his experiences as a public administrator reappear in comic form in his later work Die Geschichte der Abderiten (1781; translated as The republic of fools, 1861), which belongs to the category of fools' literature and pointedly ridicules bourgeois pettiness and the fruitlessness of religious quarrels. Probably the first socially critical novel, Die Geschichte der Abderiten systematically portrays life in the Republic of Abdera, the ancient Greek symbol of folly, where things happen in reversal of what one would consider normal. His earlier works Der Sieg der Natur über die Schwärmerey, oder die Abenteuer des Don Sylvio von Rosalva (1764; translated as Reason triumphant over fancy, exemplified in the singular adventures of Don Sylvio de Rosalva, 1773) and Der goldene Spiegel (1772; The golden mirror) reveal Wieland's potential as a future novelist. Scholars view his most famous work, Die Geschichte des Agathon (1766/1767; The history of Agathon), which appeared in several revised editions between 1773 and 1793, as the first and one of the finest examples of the genre of the Bildungs-roman (novel concerned with the intellectual or spiritual development of the main character). Influenced by Euripides's play Ion, Die Geschichte des Agathon uses a classical setting and focuses on the discrepancy between youthful idealism and the harsh realities of life. Kidnapped by pirates from his sheltered home at Delphi, its hero Agathon, who arguably could be seen as a reflection of Wieland's own youthful self, endures a long odyssey of fruitless searching for wisdom and happiness. As a disillusioned old man, Agathon eventually realizes that human beings rarely act the way they should and that the purpose of life must be to find a compromise between head and heart, which means between rational thought and human passions.

Many of Wieland's works, such as his Die Geschichte der Abderiten, first appeared as sequels in his own literary journal Der teutsche Merkur (The German Mercury). Wieland had cultivated the idea of creating a literary journal for a considerable time and was able to realize this goal with the help of the Jacobi brothers in 1772, during his time in Weimar. Wieland's presence at Weimar contributed to the duchy's rise to prominence as Germany's cultural capital because it attracted figures such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (17491832) and Friedrich von Schiller (17591805) as well. Wieland's relationship to Goethe and Schiller became strained over the years and eventually culminated in a polemic campaign against the aging poet. Proponents of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) movement initiated the campaign against Wieland and were joined at a later stage by adherents of the rising Romantic movement. Nonetheless, during his final years, Wieland's residence at Weimar became a place of pilgrimage for Germany's most noted and promising writers.

Wieland's reputation as one of the most prominent writers of his age is probably best illustrated by the poet's decoration with the Cross of the Legion of Merit in 1808 by Napoleon Bonaparte. Celebrated as the "German Voltaire" during his lifetime, Wieland's literary contribution fell into near oblivion in the nineteenth century, and scholars have only recently come to view him as one of the most important literary figures of the German Enlightenment as well as a precursor of German classicism and Romanticism.

See also Enlightenment ; German Literature and Language .


Primary Sources

Wieland, Christoph Martin. Gesammelte Schriften. Edited by Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften. Hildesheim, 19861987.

. The History of Agathon. Translated from the German. London, 1773.

. History of the Abderites. Translated and with an introduction by Max Dufner. Bethlehem, Pa., 1993.

. Musarion and Other Rococo Tales. Translated and with an introduction by Thomas C. Starnes. Columbia, S.C., 1991.

. Oberon: A Poem from the German by Wieland. Translated by William Sotheby. New York, 1978. Originally published London, 1798.

. Sämtliche Werke. Edited by Heinrich Düntzer. 40 vols. Berlin, 1879.

Secondary Sources

Baldwin, Claire. The Emergence of the Modern German Novel: Christoph Martin Wieland, Sophie von La Roche, and Maria Anna Sagar. Rochester, N.Y., 2002.

Budde, Bernhard. Aufklärung als Dialog: Wieland's antithetische Prosa. Tübingen, 2000.

Erhart, Walter. Entzweiung und Selbstaufklärung. Christoph Martin Wieland's "Agathon" Projekt. Tübingen, 1991.

Günther, Gottfried, and Heidi Zeilinger. Wieland-Bibliographie. Berlin, 1983.

Jørgensen, Sven-Aage et al. Christoph Martin Wieland: Epoche-Werk-Wirkung. Munich, 1994.

Kurth-Voigt, Lieselotte E. Perspectives and Points of View: The Early Works of Wieland and their Background. Baltimore, 1974.

Mayer, Gerhart. Der deutsche Bildungsroman: Von der Aufklärung bis zur Gegenwart. Stuttgart, 1992.

McCarthy, John A. Christoph Martin Wieland. Boston, 1979.

Schelle, Hansjörg, ed. Christoph Martin Wieland: Nordamerikanische Forschungsbeiträge zur 250. Wiederkehr seines Geburtstages 1983. Tübingen, 1984.

Shookman, Ellis. Noble Lies, Slant Truths, Necessary Angels: Aspects of Fictionality in the Novels of Christoph Martin Wieland. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1997.

Ulrich Groetsch

Christoph Martin Wieland

views updated May 18 2018

Christoph Martin Wieland

The German poet and author Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813), sometimes called the German Voltaire, was a typical stylist of the German rococo period.

Christoph Martin Wieland was born on Sept. 5, 1733, in Oberholzheim zu Biberach in Württemberg. His father a pastor, had been influenced by the Pietistic movement of A. H. Francke. As a student, Wieland attended the University of Erfurt and then the University of Tübingen, where he studied law. His real interest, however, was literature.

While still at the University of Tübingen, Wieland wrote the epic Hermann; Zwölf moralische Briefe in Versen; and Anti-Ovid (1752). J. J. Bodmar's attention was attracted by this Pietistic literature, and he invited Wieland to Zurich in the summer of 1752. However, he was soon disillusioned by Wieland's "frivolity." Wieland remained in Switzerland as a tutor until 1760. An inner change had come over him by the time he returned to Biberach as town clerk. Instead of austere Pietism he now held a lighthearted philosophy of life. Thus in his prose translation of William Shakespeare's works (1762-1766), Wieland—who now responded to the elegant and playful tastes of the rococo—failed to grasp the depth of Shakespeare's genius. However, he excelled as a translator of Horace's epistles and satires, of Cicero's letters, and of the complete works of Lucian. Don Sylvio von Ros-alva, an imitation of Don Quixote, appeared in 1764, and his Comische Erzählungen was issued in 1765.

Wieland's novel Agathon (1766-1767) remains a psychological masterpiece. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing praised and recommended it as "a novel of classic taste." Its background is ancient Greece, but symbolically Wieland described his own artistic and spiritual development. Platonic philosophy is set against hedonistic irony, sex against Eros. In the end the hero gains only a Pyrrhic victory over sophism. His Musarion oder die Philosophie der Grazien (1768) can be considered a continuation of Agathon, but the conflict between sensuous delight and purity of character is here softened by a spirit of renuciation and a determination to seek pleasure.

In 1769 Wieland was appointed to a chair of philosophy at the University of Erfurt. In 1772 he published a political novel, Der goldne Spiegel oder die Könige von Scheschian. This volume, an enthusiastic defense of an absolute but enlightened monarch whose one aim is the happiness of his people, so impressed the Duchess Anna Amalia of Saxe-Weimar that she invited Wieland to become, with the title of Herzoglicher Hofrat, tutor to the princes Karl August and Konstantin in Weimar. Wieland remained in Weimar until his death.

In 1773 Wieland founded the journal Der Teutsche Merkur, later continued as Der neue Teutsche Merkur until 1810. In 1774 Die Geschichte der Abderiten, his best-known political satire, appeared. In it he blended mythology and philosophy and personal and social allusions to the contemporary scene in a vivid satire aimed at intellectual snobs and spineless sycophants.

Wieland's greatest literary achievement was Oberon: Ein romantisches Heldengedicht in zwölf Gesängen (1780). This verse narrative, in a romantic-heroic vein, was greatly admired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This epic of great rococo virtuosity was based on a 16th-century prose version of the Old French Huon de Bordeaux, into which Wieland wove Shakespeare's story of Oberon and Titania.

In 1797 Wieland purchased a small estate at Ossmannstädt near Weimar, but financial troubles forced him to give it up after six years. In 1800 he composed an epistolary novel entitled Aristipp und einige seiner Zeitgenossen about life and thought in 4th-century Greece. On Oct. 6, 1808, he was presented to Napoleon Bonaparte in Weimar. Wieland died on Jan. 20, 1813.

The formal elegance of Wieland's works has misled many critics and literary historians. They have misinterpreted his sensitive personality, his inner change from a pious protégé of Bodmer's to an Epicurean, and his change from a Platonist to a skeptic and satirist. Wieland's artistic and human vision strove toward ultimate reconcilation of pleasure-seeking materialism and spiritual integrity. His enlightened vision was rooted in a passionate belief in human progress and perfectibility.

Further Reading

An extensive treatment of Wieland in English is Derek M. van Abbe, Christopher Martin Wieland: A Literary Biography (1961). An older study of Wieland is Charles Elson, Wieland and Shaftesbury (1913). Extensive material on Wieland and his times is in W. H. Bruford, Culture and Society in Classical Weimar, 1775-1806 (1962). Useful background studies are J. G. Robertson, A History of German Literature, revised by Edna Purdie (1902; 5th ed. 1966); Ernst Rose, A History of German Literature (1960); and Ernest L. Stahl and W. E. Yuill, Introductions to German Literature, vol. 3: German Literature of the 18th and 19th Centuries (1970).

Additional Sources

McCarthy, John A. (John Aloysius), Christoph Martin Wieland, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. □

Wieland, Christoph Martin

views updated Jun 11 2018

Wieland, Christoph Martin (1733–1813) German novelist and poet. His works include prose translations of 22 of Shakespeare's plays – the first to be made in German – and the novels Agathon (1766–67); Peregrinus Proteus (1791) and Aristipp (1800–01). He also wrote the verse epic Oberon (1780).

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