The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Grillparzer, Franz

GRILLPARZER, grĭl'pärt-sĕr, Franz, Austrian poet and dramatist: b. Vienna, 15 Jan. 1791; d. there 21 Jan. 1872. His early education was conducted in a desultory fashion; in 1807 he began the study of jurisprudence at the University of Vienna, but his father's death in 1809 leaving the family in needy circumstances, Franz was oblizged to become a private tutor. In 1813 he was appointed to a post in the court library, but as it involved no remuneration he abandoned it after a short time and became a clerk in the revenue administration of Lower Austria. In 1818 he was appointed poet to the Holburg Theatre and also became connected with the department of the exchequer in the same year. He was made director of the archives of that department in 1832 and retired in 1856. He regarded his official positions merely as a means of maintaining his independence while furthering his literary career. Upon his retirement he received the title of Hofrat.

His literary career began with the tragedy of ‘Blanca von Castilien’ in 1807-09, a close imitation of Schiller's ‘Don Carlos.’ It was followed by ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Alfred der Grosse,’ but Griliparaer remained unknown to literary fame until 1817, when ‘Die Ahnfrau’ was first presented. It was a great success in Austria and Germany, but the fact that the critics at once placed the author in the same category with Müllner and Houwald greatly annoyed Grillparzer, who disliked being rated as a “fate-dramatist.” The year 1818 saw the production of ‘Sappho,’ a veritable classic after the manner of the ‘Tasso’ of Goethe and in which the poet first showed his true genius. ‘Das goldene Vliess’ appeared in 1821. One of the greatest trilogies in German literature, it was not a great success on the stage, due, the author claimed, to the pernicious influence of Metternich. In 1823 he completed his historical tragedy, ‘König Ottokars Glück und Ende,’ but difficulties with the censor prevented its production until 1825. It portrayed the fall of Ottokar of Bohemia in his struggle with Rudolph of Hapsburg. In 1828 Grillparzer brought out another historical tragedy ‘Ein treuer Diener seines Herrn,’ written two years previously. It was rather too didactic for the period and was coolly received, A sad period now intervened in the poet's life. A visit to Goethe at Weimar about this time led him to contrast the intellectual freedom of Saxony with the narrow, obscurantist policy of Metternich at Vienna, where he himself was constantly embroiled with the public authorities. To this must be added his hopeless love for Katharina Fröhlich. Feeling that all happiness was denied him, the poet shrank from marriage although seemingly his love was requited. His despair was expressed in ‘Tristia ex Ponto’ (1835).

In 1831 he finished his greatest drama, ‘Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen,’ a new version of the story of Hero and Leander, and perhaps the greatest of German love-tragedies. ‘Der Traum, ein Leben’ was completed in 1834; it is the author's technical masterpiece and has been called “the Austrian ‘Faust.’ ” It was followed in 1838 by the comedy, ‘Weh dem, der lügt,’ which was not well received. Thereafter the author was disheartened and turned away from the theatre for ever. He visited Paris and London in 1836 and the near East in 1843. The revolution of 1848 came too late to arouse him from his pessimistic outlook on life. True, his plays were reinstated in Vienna and honors were showered upon him, his 80th birthday being celebrated as a national holiday, but he held aloof from the theatre. At his death he left three tragedies among his papers. These are ‘Die Jüdin von Toledo’; ‘Ein Bruderzwist im Hause Habsburg’ and ‘Libussa.’ It was not until almost a full quarter of a century after his death that his countrymen realized that he was a dramatist and poet of first rank, and the connecting link between Goethe, Lessing and Schiller and the moderns. Consult Ehrhard, ‘Franz Grillparzer: TLe théâtre en Autriche’ (Paris 1900); Friedmann, ‘II dramma tedesco del nostro secolo’ (Vol. III, Milan 1893): Lange, ‘Grillparzer, sein Leben, Dichten und Denken’ (Gütersloh 1894); Littrow-Bischoff, ‘Aus dem persönlichen Verkehr mit Franz Grillparzer’ (Vienna 1873); Sittenberger, ‘Grillparzer’ (Berlin 1903); Traube, ‘Grillparzers Lebensgeschichte’ (Stuttgart 1884); and Saur, ‘Introduction to Grillparzer's Works’ (ib. 1892). See Sappho.