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Gerstacker, Friedrich

GERSTACKER, FRIEDRICH (1816-1872), German novelist and writer of travels, was born at Hamburg on the 10th of May 1816, the son of Friedrich Gerstäcker (1790-1825), a celebrated opera singer. After being apprenticed to a commercial house he learnt farming in Saxony. In 1837, however, having imbibed from Robinson Crusoe a taste for adventure, he went to America and wandered over a large part of the United States, supporting himself by whatever work came to hand. In 1843 he returned to Germany, to find himself, to his great surprise, famous as an author. His mother had shown his diary, which he regularly sent home, and which contained descriptions of his adventures in the New World, to the editor of the Rosen, who published them in that periodical. These sketches having found favour with the public, Gerstäcker issued them in 1844 under the title Streif-und Jagdzüge durch die Vereinigten Staaten Nordamerikas. In 1845 his first novel, Die Regulatoren in Arkansas, appeared, and henceforth the stream of his productiveness flowed on uninterruptedly. From 1849 to 1852 Gerstäcker travelled round the world, visiting North and South America, Polynesia and Australia, and on his return settled in Leipzig. In 1860 he again went to South America, chiefly with a view to inspecting the German colonies there and reporting on the possibility of diverting the stream of German emigration in this direction. The result of his observations and experiences he recorded in Achtzehn Monate in Südamerika (1862). In 1862 he accompanied Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Egypt and Abyssinia, and on his return settled at Coburg, where he wrote a number of novels descriptive of the scenes he had visited. In 1867-1868 Gerstäcker again undertook a long journey, visiting North America, Venezuela and the West Indies, and on his return lived first at Dresden and then at Brunswick, where he died on the 31st of May 1872. His genial and straightforward character made him personally beloved; and his works, dealing as they did with the great world hitherto hidden from the narrow "parochialism" of German life, obtained an immense popularity. This was not due to any graces of style, in which they are singularly lacking; but the unstudied freshness of the author's descriptions, and his sturdy humour, appealed to the wholesome instincts of the public. Many of his books were translated into foreign languages, notably into English, and became widely known on both sides of the Atlantic. His best works, from a literary point of view, are, besides the above-mentioned Regulatoren, his Flusspiraten des Mississippi (1848); the novel Tahiti (1854); his Australian romance Die beiden Sträflinge (1857); Aus dem Matrosenleben (1857); and Blau Wasser (1858). His Travels exist in an English translation.

Gerstäcker's Gesammelte Schriften were published at Jena in 44 vols. (1872-1879); a selection, edited by D. Theden in 24 vols. (1889-1890). See A. Karl, Friedrich Gerstäcker, der Weitgereiste. Ein Lebensbild (1873).

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

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