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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 Eduard Mörike (1804–1875)

GENTLEST and sweetest of all the Suabian poets was Eduard Mörike. He was born on September 8th, 1804, at Ludwigsburg, the birthplace also of Justinus Kerner, David Strauss, and Friedrich Theodor Vischer, with all of whom Mörike subsequently formed friendships. He was destined for the ministry, and studied theology at Tübingen. The gentleness of his character and his quiet winning manners seemed to have marked him for this career. He served as curate in several places in Würtemberg, and in 1834 secured an independent pastorate at Cleversulzbach, near Weinsberg. Here he remained until in 1843 the state of his health obliged him to resign. For several years he earned his livelihood as a private teacher; and in 1851, having married the daughter of the lady with whom he and his sister had been living, he went to Stuttgart, where he had been appointed to a tutorship in St. Katharine’s Institute. In 1866 he was forced to retire altogether from active labors. The remaining years of his life were rendered happy by the comforts of a congenial home, and by intercourse with the steadily increasing number of friends and admirers who sought the poet out. He died on June 4th, 1875. This was the simple outward life of the man, without stirring adventure or event, and without heart-breaking grief. But his inner life was as rich as it was sunny. This contented him. From the quiet beauties of his mental world he dreaded to go forth into the actualities of life. Few poets have been able in the same degree to make the circumstances of their career conform so well to their intellectual needs. The simple character and customs of his Suabian countrymen were sufficient for him; the Suabian landscapes satisfied him. He felt no desire to study men under other conditions, or to seek new emotions under strange skies. He lived in his own poet’s heart: the unaccustomed and the sublime left his simple spirit untouched. His life was that of a poet, without the storm and stress and without the world-woe.

His first important work was a novel in two volumes, published in 1832, and entitled ‘Maler Nolten’ (Nolten the Painter). In its first form much was obscure; but in the revision which Mörike undertook late in life, the underlying design of the work came out more clearly, and the early crudities were polished away by the maturer hand. The story is full of finely poetic fancy; it is one of the best examples of that perfectly naïve blending of the realistic and fantastic, of the natural and the supernatural, which is one of Mörike’s characteristic charms. But the novel is now outlived. It had its roots in the soil of Romanticism, where the mysterious “blue flower” still bloomed in the vesper light of a departing day. Its intense subjectivity transcends all psychological interest, and by losing its foothold in reality deprives the book of a lasting place in literature.

But ‘Maler Nolten’ was an undoubted success, and won for its author a host of friends. In 1838, however, appeared a book which still remains his most important contribution to literature,—the first edition of his collected poems. Whether these lyrics have the freshness of the folk-song, the solemnity of the hymn, or the pathos and humor of the idyl, their tone is always true. A convincing proof of Mörike’s lyric quality is his popularity with the great song composers. The perfect form of the simple song, which charms with its naïve grace and thrills with its restrained emotion, is attained in his poetry as in that of no other German bard except Goethe and Uhland. Clearness, harmony, and limpid flow distinguished his diction, which is free from all “patchwork” and useless phrases; while sincerity of feeling and tenderness of sympathy characterize his conceptions. In his delicate fancy no sharp boundary separates the real world from the fairy realms of the imagination; and in the midst of scenes from actual life there suddenly appear elves and gnomes and nixies, which seem to have their being by the same right of reality as the men and women of coarser mold. This is the privilege only of the naïve and unspoiled poet, to whom fancy is as real as fact. It is only from such a mind that the true folk-song and the true fairy tale can spring.

And Mörike has enriched German literature with one of its most charming fairy tales, ‘Das Hutzelmännlein’ (The Little Dried-up Man), published in 1852. Four years later came the idyllic tale ‘Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag’ (Mozart on the Way to Prague). His ‘Die Regenbrüder’ (Rain Brothers) was taken by Ignaz Lachner as the text of his opera. Translations from Theocritus and Anacreon—for Mörike was a close student of the Greeks—and several compilations complete the list of the poet’s literary works.

General recognition came to Mörike slowly. Nevertheless his poems passed through five editions during his lifetime; and as he added poem after poem to his lyric treasury, leaf after leaf was added to the chaplet of his fame. Before he died, Mörike had come to be recognized as one of the chief lyric poets of his time; and the succeeding generation has sustained this judgment. He was the last great poet of the Suabian group.