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Freytag, Gustav

FREYTAG, GUSTAV (1816-1895), German novelist, was born at Kreuzburg, in Silesia, on the 13th of July 1816. After attending the gymnasium at Ols, he studied philology at the universities of Breslau and Berlin, and in 1838 took the degree with a remarkable dissertation, De initiis poëseos scenicae apud Germanos. In 1839 he settled at Breslau, as Privatdocent in German language and literature, but devoted his principal attention to writing for the stage, and achieved considerable success with the comedy Die Brautfahrt, oder Kunz von der Rosen (1844). This was followed by a volume of unimportant poems, In Breslau (1845) and the dramas Die Valentine (1846) and Graf Waldemar (1847). He at last attained a prominent position by his comedy, Die Journalisten (1853), one of the best German comedies of the 19th century. In 1847 he migrated to Berlin, and in the following year took over, in conjunction with Julian Schmidt, the editorship of Die Grenzboten, a weekly journal which, founded in 1841, now became the leading organ of German and Austrian liberalism. Freytag helped to conduct it until 1861, and again from 1867 till 1870, when for a short time he edited a new periodical, Im neuen Reich. His literary fame was made universal by the publication in 1855 of his novel, Soll und Haben, which was translated into almost all the languages of Europe. It was certainly the best German novel of its day, impressive by its sturdy but unexaggerated realism, and in many parts highly humorous. Its main purpose is the recommendation of the German middle class as the soundest element in the nation, but it also has a more directly patriotic intention in the contrast which it draws between the homely virtues of the Teuton and the shiftlessness of the Pole and the rapacity of the Jew. As a Silesian, Freytag had no great love for his Slavonic neighbours, and being a native of a province which owed everything to Prussia, he was naturally an earnest champion of Prussian hegemony over Germany. His powerful advocacy of this idea in his Grenzboten gained him the friendship of the duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, whose neighbour he had become, on acquiring the estate of Siebleben near Gotha. At the duke's request Freytag was attached to the staff of the crown prince of Prussia in the campaign of 1870, and was present at the battles of Wörth and Sedan. Before this he had published another novel, Die verlorene Handschrift (1864), in which he endeavoured to do for German university life what in Soll und Haben he had done for commercial life. The hero is a young German professor, who is so wrapt up in his search for a manuscript by Tacitus that he is oblivious to an impending tragedy in his domestic life. The book was, however, less successful than its predecessor. Between 1859 and 1867 Freytag published in five volumes Bilder aus der deutschen Vergangenheit, a most valuable work on popular lines, illustrating the history and manners of Germany. In 1872 he began a work with a similar patriotic purpose, Die Ahnen, a series of historical romances in which he unfolds the history of a German family from the earliest times to the middle of the 19th century. The series comprises the following novels, none of which, however, reaches the level of Freytag's earlier books. (1) Ingo und Ingraban (1872), (2) Das Nest der Zaunkönige (1874), (3) Die Brüder vom deutschen Hause (1875), (4) Marcus König (1876), (5) Die Geschwister (1878), and (6) in conclusion, Aus einer kleinen Stadt (1880). Among Freytag's other works may be noticed Die Technik des Dramas (1863); an excellent biography of the Baden statesman Karl Mathy (1869); an autobiography (Erinnerungen aus meinen Leben, 1887); his Gesammelte Aufsätze, chiefly reprinted from the Grenzboten (1888); Der Kronprinz und die deutsche Kaiserkrone; Erinnerungsblätter (1889). He died at Wiesbaden on the 30th of April 1895.

Freytag's Gesammelte Werke were published in 22 vols. at Leipzig (1886-1888); his Vermischte Aufsätze have been edited by E. Elster, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1901-1903). On Freytag's life see, besides his autobiography mentioned above, the lives by C. Alberti (Leipzig, 1890) and F. Seiler (Leipzig, 1898).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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