Saphir, Moritz (Moses) Gottlieb

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SAPHIR, MORITZ (Moses) GOTTLIEB (1795–1858), Austrian satirist and critic. Born into a Yiddish-speaking, Orthodox family in Lovasbereny, near Budapest, Saphir, the son of a merchant, attended the Pressburg (Bratislava) yeshivah, and later the more advanced yeshivah of Rabbi Samuel *Landau in Prague. He then studied literature at Pest, and his subsequent contact with the German language, literature and culture led him to abandon traditional Judaism. Saphir then began to write German verse and Yiddish comedies. In 1823 Adolf Baeuerle, the founder-editor of the Wiener Theater-Zeitung, sought his collaboration, but Saphir's satirical and sensational articles were a source of scandal, and in 1825 he left Vienna for Berlin. There, too, he engaged in polemics with the literary élite and found it advisable to take refuge in Munich. From there Saphir was eventually expelled because of a satire on the Bavarian king and, for a brief time, he joined *Heine and *Boerne in Paris. In 1832 Saphir turned his back on liberalism and was baptized as a Lutheran. Five years later he founded his own periodical, Der Humorist, in Vienna. Saphir's biting wit, much feared in his time, was no longer directed against Metternich's reactionary policies, but rather against general human foibles and follies. His popularity and influence did not wane until after the Revolution of 1848. Saphir's works include humorous and satirical poems, essays, feuilletons, literary criticism, theater reviews, comedies, short stories, sketches, and short novels. His Humoristischer-Volkskalender (1850–66) had an unusually wide vogue and his Pariser Briefeueber Leben, Kunst, Gesellschaft und Industrie (1855) was frequently reprinted. Saphir's witticisms circulated throughout the German-speaking world, and his satirical sketches were recited by actors for several decades. In later years he referred to his Jewish origin as a birth deformity, corrected by a baptismal operation. Saphir's collected works appeared from 1887 in 26 volumes. A collection of proverbs and sayings by Saphir – (Sprichwoerter und Redensarten im Biedermeier. Prosatexte, ed. W. Mieder) appeared in 1998.


A. Saver, Probleme und Gestalten (1933), 141–94; S. Koesterich, Saphirs Prosastil (thesis, Frankfurt, 1934); M. Robitsek, Saphir Gottlieb Móric (Hung., 1938), incl. bibl.; S. Kaznelson (ed.), Juden im deutschen Kulturbereich (19623), 895–7, and index. add. bibliography: J. Sonnleitner, "Bauernfeld – Saphir – Nestroy: literarische Streitfaelle im oesterreichischen Vormaerz," in: W. Schmidt-Dengler et al. (eds.), KonflikteSkandaleDichterfehden in der oesterreichischen Literatur (1995), 92–117; S.P. Scheichl, "Saphir – kein Wiener Heine," in: Les écrivains juifs autrichiens (du "Vormärz" à nos jours), texts collected and ed. by J. Doll (2000), 27–41; P. Wruck, "Gelegenheitsdichtung und literarische Geselligkeit. Das Beispiel der Berliner 'Mittwochsgesellschaft' und des 'Tunnel über der Spree' und ihrer Liederbuecher; im Anhang Moritz Gottlieb Saphir: 'Der Gelegenheitsdichter,'" in: Berliner Hefte zur Geschichte des literarischen Lebens, no. 4 (2001), 36–59; P. Varga, "'Magyar vagyok!' Identität und Ungarn bild von Moritz Gottlieb Saphir," in: E. Kulcsár-Szabó (ed.), "Das rechte Maß getroffen" (2004), 98–107.

[Sol Liptzin]