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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 Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty (1748–1776)

HÖLTY, one of the best of the German lyric poets of the eighteenth century, was born in Mariensee, near Hannover. The son of a country minister, he was excellently grounded by his father in the classics and modern languages. Though incessantly, even as a boy, poring over his studies, and thereby weakening his constitution, he yet escaped being a bookworm; for, growing up in the country, he early developed that passion for nature and for solitude which colored all his poetry. In 1769 he went to Göttingen to study theology. Here, falling in with Bürger, Voss, the Stolbergs, and other poets of kindred tastes, he became one of the founders of the Göttingen “Hainbund.” This league of young enthusiasts was aflame for Klopstock, then considered the greatest German poet, for patriotism and for friendship, detested Wieland’s sensual poems and his Frenchified manner, read the classics together, and wrote poetry in friendly emulation. Hölty’s constitutional melancholy deepened when the girl whom he had celebrated under the name of “Laura” married. His health was further undermined by the shock of the death of his father, to whom he was fondly attached. The year after, on September 1st, 1776, he died of consumption, not quite twenty-eight years of age.

Hölty is an engaging figure. His poems reveal a lovable personality. The strain of sentimentality that runs through all his work is not affectation, as it was with so many of the younger poets of that age in which Rousseau had made sentimentality fashionable, but was the true expression of Hölty’s nature. He chose by preference themes in which the thought of death was in some shape present, and he was most effective where this thought served as the shadow in the bright picture of fleeting joys. A presentiment of his own early death hovered constantly about him; but it neither marred his enjoyment of the present, nor did it diminish his delight in the beauties of nature, or prevent his outbursts of youthful frolic. His range was small; but within its limits his work was perfect, and many of his songs have become the common property of the people. His wide knowledge of ancient and modern poetry made him familiar with many verse forms; his own poems are marked by harmony of form and matter, and by great technical skill in the handling of subjects both gay and grave. They show on the one hand a deep feeling for nature and solitude, and again an innocent gayety in treating of the simple social relations. He combined in a curious degree a capacity for enjoyment of the passing moment with a profound melancholy and longing for death. The influence of the English poets with whom Hölty was well acquainted is easily traceable, and in his verse one hears the mournful echo of Young’s ‘Night Thoughts.’