1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Devrient

DEVRIENT, the name of a family of German actors.

Ludwig Devrient (1784–1832), born in Berlin on the 15th of December 1784, was the son of a silk merchant. He was apprenticed to an upholsterer, but, suddenly leaving his employment, joined a travelling theatrical company, and made his first appearance on the stage at Gera in 1804 as the messenger in Schiller’s Braut von Messina. By the interest of Count Brühl, he appeared at Rudolstadt as Franz Moor in Schiller’s Räuber, so successfully that he obtained a permanent engagement at the ducal theatre in Dessau, where he played until 1809. He then received a call to Breslau, where he remained for six years. So brilliant was his success in the title-parts of several of Shakespeare’s plays, that Iffland began to fear for his own reputation; yet that great artist was generous enough to recommend the young actor as his only possible successor. On Iffland’s death Devrient was summoned to Berlin, where he was for fifteen years the popular idol. He died there on the 30th of December 1832. Ludwig Devrient was equally great in comedy and tragedy. Falstaff, Franz Moor, Shylock, King Lear and Richard II. were among his best parts. Karl von Holtei in his Reminiscences has given a graphic picture of him and the “demoniac fascination” of his acting.

See Z. Funck, Aus dem Leben zweier Schauspieler, Ifflands und Devrients (Leipzig, 1838); H. Smidt in Devrient-Novellen (3rd ed., Berlin, 1882); R. Springer in the novel Devrient und Hoffmann (Berlin, 1873), and Eduard Devrient’s Geschichte der deutschen Schauspielkunst (Leipzig, 1861).

Three of the nephews of Ludwig Devrient, sons of his brother, a merchant, were also connected with the stage. Karl August Devrient (1797–1872) was born at Berlin on the 5th of April 1797. After being for a short time in business, he entered a cavalry regiment as volunteer and fought at Waterloo. He then joined the stage, making his first appearance on the stage in 1819 at Brunswick. In 1821 he received an engagement at the court theatre in Dresden, where, in 1823, he married Wilhelmine Schröder (see Schröder-Devrient). In 1835 he joined the company at Karlsruhe, and in 1839 that at Hanover. His best parts were Wallenstein and King Lear. He died on the 5th of April 1872. His brother Philipp Eduard Devrient (1801–1877), born at Berlin on the 11th of August 1801, was for a time an opera singer. Turning his attention to theatrical management, he was from 1844 to 1846 director of the court theatre in Dresden. Appointed to Karlsruhe in 1852, he began a thorough reorganization of the theatre, and in the course of seventeen years of assiduous labour, not only raised it to a high position, but enriched its repertory by many noteworthy librettos, among which Die Gunst des Augenblicks and Verirrungen are the best known. But his chief work is his history of the German stage—Geschichte der deutschen Schauspielkunst (Leipzig, 1848–1874). He died on the 4th of October 1877. A complete edition of his works—Dramatische und dramaturgische Schriften—was published in ten volumes (Leipzig, 1846–1873).

The youngest and the most famous of the three nephews of Ludwig Devrient was Gustav Emil Devrient (1803–1872), born in Berlin on the 4th of September 1803. He made his first appearance on the stage in 1821, at Brunswick, as Raoul in Schiller’s Jungfrau von Orleans. After a short engagement in Leipzig, he received in 1829 a call to Hamburg, but after two years accepted a permanent appointment at the court theatre in Dresden, to which he belonged until his retirement in 1868. His chief characters were Hamlet, Uriel Acosta (in Karl Gutzkow’s play), Marquis Posa (in Schiller’s Don Carlos), and Goethe’s Torquato Tasso. He acted several times in London, where his Hamlet was considered finer than Kemble’s or Edmund Kean’s. He died on the 7th of August 1872.

Otto Devrient (1838–1894), another actor, born in Berlin on the 3rd of October 1838, was the son of Philipp Eduard Devrient. He joined the stage in 1856 at Karlsruhe, and acted successively in Stuttgart, Berlin and Leipzig, until he received a fixed appointment at Karlsruhe, in 1863. In 1873 he became stage manager at Weimar, where he gained great praise for his mise en scène of Goethe’s Faust. After being manager of the theatres in Mannheim and Frankfort he retired to Jena, where in 1883 he was given the honorary degree of doctor of philosophy. In 1884 he was appointed director of the court theatre in Oldenburg, and in 1889 director of dramatic plays in Berlin. He died at Stettin on the 23rd of June 1894.