Klopstock, Frederic Theophilus

, a German poet of the greatest renown, was born at Quedlinburg, July 2, 1724. He was the eldest of eleven children, and distinguished himself in his youth among his companions in bodily and mental exercises. At the age of sixteen he went to college, and being placed under Freitag, a very able tutor, he made himself familiar with the languages, and acquiring a taste for the beauties of the best classical authors, made attempts in composition both in prose and verse. In the latter he wrote some pastorals, but not contented with these humbler efforts, he formed at this early period the resolution of composing an epic poem, and fixed upon the “Messiah” as his subject. Such an effort was not known in the German language and the high opinion he had of Virgil, his favourite poet amongst the ancients the honour of being the first who should offer the Cerman public a work like the fiLneid; the warmth of patriotism that early animated him to raise the fame of German literature in this particular to a level with that of other European countries; the indignation he felt in reading the book | of a Frenchman, who had denied the Germans every talent for poetry; all combined with the consciousness of his own superior powers, to spur him on to the execution of his exalted purpose. In 1745 he went to the university of Jena, where he commenced the study of theology; but in the midst of his academical pursuits he was planning his projected work, and sketched out his three first cantos, first in prose, but afterwards in hexameters, and was so pleased with having introduced a metre into German poetry, as ever afterwards to defend this mode of versification. In 1746, he removed from Jena to Leipsic, and became a member of a society of young men who had formed themselves into a literary club for mutual improvement. About this time he exercised his genius in lyric compositions. Several of his odes, together with the three first cantos of his Messiah, appeared in a periodical paper entitled “Bremen Contributions.” At length the publication of ten books of his Messiah made his name known throughout Germany, and raised his reputation very high. It found friends and enemies, admirers and critics, every where but its approbation was owing as much to the sacredness of the matter as the beauty of the poetry Christian readers loved it as a book that afforded them at length, amidst the themes of orthodoxy, some scope for devout feeling; young preachers quoted it in the pulpit, and coupled the name of Klopstock with that of the prophets. The stauncher class of divines, indeed, gave the poem the appellation of presumptuous fiction, contaminating the scripture-history with fables, and undermining the faith. The partisans of the German grammarian Gottsched raised the greatest clamour against the work, on the ground of the language, and sought by poor arguments and sorry wit to depreciate its merits. The Swiss critics, as opponents to the Saxons, on the other hand, extolled and defended it with all their might. Bodmer, in particular, the admirer and translator of Milton, embraced the cause of the German epic bard with enthusiastic ardour, and contributed very greatly, by his warm euloaium, to accelerate the universal celebrity of his poem. Klopstock heard and profited by the public disquisitions, but never engaged in any of the disputes.

Klopstock travelled into Switzerland in 1750, to pay a visit to Bodmer of Zurich, in consequence of an invitation, where he was received with every token of respect. The | sublime scenery of that country, the simplicity of the inhabitants, and the freedom they enjoyed, were much suited to his taste. Here he intended to have spent the remainder of his life, but baron Bernstorff caused an invitation to be sent to him to reside at Copenhagen, with assurances of such a pension as would make him independent. Klopstock acceded to the proposal, and set out in 1751, by the way of Brunswick and Hamburgh, at which latter place he became acquainted with Miss Muller, a lady perfectly adapted to his own mind, whom he soon after married. They seemed destined to be one of the happiest couples, but he was soon deprived of her, for she died in childbed: her memory, however, was sacred to Kiopstock to the last moment of his existence. He lived chiefly at Copenhagen, till 1771, after which he resided at Hamburgh as Danish legate, and counsellor of the margrave of Baden, who gave him a pension. The latter part of his life was little varied by incidents, and after he had brought the Messiah to a conclusion, he continued to employ himself in composition, and in the correction and revision of his works. He died at Hamburgh, March 14, 1803, being seventy-nine years of age, and was interred with the greatest solemnity, not unmixed with superstitious and fanciful circumstances. By those who were intimate with him he is represented as a truly amiable man, happiest in a small circle of private friends, and particularly fond of the society of young persons. The character of Kiopstock, as a poet, is that of exuberance of imagination and sentiment. His sublimity is great, but he is apt to lose himself in mystical abstraction, and his excess of feeling sometimes betrays him into rant and extravagance. His odes and lyric poems have likewise been much admired by his countrymen, and his dramas display great force and dignity, but they are better adapted to the closet than the stage. The great merit of his works is in the diction; he enchants by his noble and energetic style, but their beauties cannot be preserved in a translation, and it is in Germany alone that they can be sufficiently appreciated. As an excellent specimen of his talents as a prose writer, we may notice his “Grammatical Dialogues,” which abound with judicious remarks. 1

1

Memoirs of Frederic and Margaret Klopstook, 1809, 8vo.—Rees’s Cyclopædia.—Dict. Hist.