1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gerstenberg, Heinrich Wilhelm von

GERSTENBERG, HEINRICH WILHELM VON (1737–1823), German poet and critic, was born at Tondern in Schleswig on the 3rd of January 1737. After studying law at Jena he entered the Danish military service and took part in the Russian campaign of 1762. He spent the next twelve years in Copenhagen, where he was intimate with Klopstock. From 1775 to 1783 he represented Denmark’s interests as “Danish Resident” at Lübeck, and in 1786 received a judicial appointment at Altona, where he died on the 1st of November 1823. In the course of his long life Gerstenberg passed through many phases of his nation’s literature. He began as an imitator of the Anacreontic school (Tändeleien, 1759); then wrote, in imitation of Gleim, Kriegslieder eines dänischen Grenadiers (1762); with his Gedicht eines Skalden (1766) he joined the group of “bards” led by Klopstock. His Ariadne auf Naxos (1767) is the best cantata of the 18th century; he translated Beaumont and Fletcher’s Maid’s Tragedy (1767), and helped to usher in the Sturm und Drang period with a gruesome but powerful tragedy, Ugolino (1768). But he did perhaps even better service to the new literary movement with his Briefe über Merkwürdigkeiten der Literatur (1766–1770), in which the critical principles of the Sturm und Drang—and especially its enthusiasm for Shakespeare,—were first definitely formulated. In later life Gerstenberg lost touch with literature, and occupied himself mainly with Kant’s philosophy.

His Vermischte Schriften appeared in 3 vols. (1815). The Briefe über Merkwürdigkeiten der Literatur were republished by A. von Weilen (1888), and a selection of his poetry, including Ugolino, by R. Hamel, will be found in Kürschner’s Deutsche Nationalliteratur, vol. 48 (1884).