1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kerner, Justinus Andreas Christian

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 15
Kerner, Justinus Andreas Christian

KERNER, JUSTINUS ANDREAS CHRISTIAN (1786–1862), German poet and medical writer, was born on the 18th of September 1786 at Ludwigsburg in Württemberg. After attending the classical schools of Ludwigsburg and Maulbronn, he was apprenticed in a cloth factory, but, in 1804, owing to the good services of Professor Karl Philipp Conz (1762–1827) of Tübingen, was enabled to enter the university there; he studied medicine but had also time for literary pursuits in the company of Uhland, Gustav Schwab and others. He took his doctor’s degree in 1808, spent some time in travel, and then settled as a practising physician in Wildbad. Here he completed his Reiseschatten von dem Schattenspieler Luchs (1811), in which his own experiences are described with caustic humour. He next co-operated with Uhland and Schwab in producing the Poetischer Almanack für 1812, which was followed by the Deutscher Dichterwald (1813), and in these some of Kerner’s best poems were published. In 1815 he obtained the official appointment of district medical officer (Oberamtsarzt) in Gaildorf, and in 1818 was transferred in a like capacity to Weinsberg, where he spent the rest of his life. His house, the site of which at the foot of the historical Schloss Weibertreu was presented by the municipality to their revered physician, became the Mecca of literary pilgrims. Hospitable welcome was extended to all, from the journeyman artisan to crowned heads. Gustavus IV. of Sweden came thither with a knapsack on his back. The poets Count Christian Friedrich Alexander von Württemberg (1801–1844) and Lenau (q.v.) were constant guests, and thither came also in 1826 Friederike Hauffe (1801–1829), the daughter of a forester in Prevorst, a somnambulist and clairvoyante, who forms the subject of Kerner’s famous work Die Seherin von Prevorst, Eröffnungen über das innere Leben des Menschen und über das Hineinragen einer Geisterwelt in die unsere (1829; 6th ed., 1892). In 1826 he published a collection of Gedichte which were later supplemented by Der letzte Blütenstrauss (1852) and Winterblüten (1859). Among others of his well-known poems are the charming ballad Der reichste Fürst; a drinking song, Wohlauf, noch getrunken, and the pensive Wanderer in der Sägemühle.

In addition to his literary productions, Kerner wrote some popular medical books of great merit, dealing with animal magnetism, a treatise on the influence of sebacic acid on animal organisms, Das Fettgift oder die Fettsäure und ihre Wirkungen auf den tierischen Organismus (1822); a description of Wildbad and its healing waters, Das Wildbad im Königreich Württemberg (1813); while he gave a pretty and vivid account of his youthful years in Bilderbuch aus meiner Knabenzeit (1859); and in Die Bestürmung der württembergischen Stadt Weinsberg im Jahre 1525 (1820), showed considerable skill in historical narrative. In 1851 he was compelled, owing to increasing blindness, to retire from his medical practice, but he lived, carefully tended by his daughters, at Weinsberg until his death on the 21st of February 1862. He was buried beside his wife, who had predeceased him in 1854, in the churchyard of Weinsberg, and the grave is marked by a stone slab with an inscription he himself had chosen: Friederike Kerner und ihr Justinus. Kerner was one of the most inspired poets of the Swabian school. His poems, which largely deal with natural phenomena, are characterized by a deep melancholy and a leaning towards the supernatural, which, however, is balanced by a quaint humour, reminiscent of the Volkslied.

Kerner’s Ausgewählte poetische Werke appeared in 2 vols. (1878); Sämtliche poetische Werke, ed. by J. Gaismaier, 4 vols. (1905); a selection of his poems will also be found in Reclam’s Universalbibliothek (1898). His correspondence was edited by his son in 1897. See also D. F. Strauss, Kleine Schriften (1866); A. Reinhard, J. Kerner und das Kernerhaus zu Weinsberg (1862; 2nd ed., 1886); G. Rümelin, Reden und Aufsätze, vol. iii. (1894); M. Niethammer (Kerner’s daughter), J. Kerners Jugendliebe und mein Vaterhaus (1877); A. Watts, Life and Works of Kerner (London, 1884); T. Kerner, Das Kernerhaus und seine Gäste (1894).