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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Felix Dahn (1834–1912)

FELIX DAHN was born at Hamburg, February 9th, 1834, but when he was only six weeks old the family removed to Munich. His parents, Friedrich and Constance Dahn, were celebrated actors, and members of the Royal Theatre at Munich. His childhood, youth, and early manhood were passed in Munich, with the exception of one year (1852–3) spent at the University of Berlin. A somewhat lonely but not unhappy childhood in the fine old house in the Königinstrasse, with its surroundings of parks and pleasant gardens, developed his dreamy, poetic instincts. His first poem, written at the age of fourteen, is the spontaneous lyric outburst of a boy’s joy in nature.

Dahn was educated at the Latin school and the University of Munich. He was but a lad when Homer opened to him a new world. He began to read the Iliad, and scarcely left off night or day until it was finished. The Odyssey followed in the same way; and in two months he had read them both and begun again at the beginning. Poetry had rendered his mind susceptible to learning, and he read, in school and out, every classic that fell into his hands. History as well as poetry early became a passion to him, and the uniformity of his intellectual development made every province of learning his own. The Teutonic languages, old and new, Anglo-Saxon, Gothic, Norse, etc., as well as Latin, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, and English, were easily assimilated. At the university, both at Munich and Berlin, he devoted himself to history, philosophy, and jurisprudence. In 1857 he became docent in the faculty of law at the University of Munich, and in 1862 was made professor. In the following year he was appointed professor of German law and jurisprudence at Würzburg, and in 1872 he was called to Königsberg to the same chair, and in 1888 to Breslau. He took part in the war of 1870–71, and was present at the battle of Sedan.

Dahn is distinguished as a historian, novelist, poet, and dramatist. His principal historical works are—‘Die Könige der Germanen’ (The Kings of the Germans), 1861–72, 6 vols.; ‘Urgeschichte der Germanischen und Romanischen Völker’ (Primitive History of the Germanic and Romance Peoples), 1878. These two rank high among the contributions to German history and ethnology in the nineteenth century. Among his most prominent works in law is ‘Die Vernunft im Recht’ (Reason in Law), 1879. As a poet and dramatist, several of his performances have attained eminence. In 1857 he published his first collection of poems, and a second collection followed in 1873. ‘Zwölf Balladen’ (Twelve Ballads) appeared in 1875, and ‘Balladen und Lieder’ (Ballads and Songs) in 1878. By far his greatest romance is ‘Der Kampf um Rom’ (The Struggle for Rome), 1876, a work of pre-eminent power and merit. It is a voluminous study, a series of elaborate pictures, dealing with the empires of the East and the West in the sixth century. Its scenes are chiefly laid in Ravenna, at the time of that city’s great splendor under the Gothic sovereignty, and at Rome. The fierce and beautiful Amalaswintha (also called often Amalasonta) is a prominent character; and other vivid types are Cassiodorus, Totila, and Mataswintha. Following this novel, among others, appeared in 1878 ‘Kämpfende Herzen’ (Struggling Hearts); in 1880, ‘Odhins Trost’ (Odin’s Consolation); and in 1882–90 a series of historical novels under the common title ‘Kleine Romane aus der Völkerwanderung’ (Short Novels from the Wandering of the Nations), from the first of which, ‘Felicitas,’ an appended extract is taken.

Among his dramas are ‘Markgraf Rüdeger von Bechelaren’; ‘König Roderich’; and ‘Deutsche Treue’ (German Fidelity).

Collected editions of his fiction and verse appeared in 1898 and 1901. Dahn died in 1912.