Home  »  library  »  prose  »  Critical and Biographical Introduction

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 Georg Ebers (1837–1898)

GEORG EBERS, distinguished as an Egyptian archæologist and as a historical novelist, was born in Berlin in 1837. At ten years of age he was sent to school in Keilhau, where under the direction of Froebel he was taught the delights of nature and the pleasure of study. His university career at Göttingen was interrupted by a long and serious illness. During his convalescence he pursued with avidity his study of Egyptian archæology, and with neither dictionary nor grammar to help him in the mastery of hieroglyphics, he acquired to some degree this ancient language. Later, under the learned Lepsius, he became a thorough and brilliant scholar in the science which is his specialty. It was at this epoch that he wrote ‘An Egyptian Princess,’ for the purpose of realizing to himself a period which he was studying. Thirteen years later his second work, ‘Uarda,’ was published. When restored to health, he launched himself with enthusiasm on the life of a university professor. He taught for a time at Jena, and in 1870 removed to Leipsic. He has made several journeys into Egypt, sharing his experiences with the public.

‘The Egyptian Princess’ is Ebers’s most representative romance. It is perhaps the subtle quality of popularity, rather than exceptional merit, which has insured its success. The scene of the story is laid at the time when Egypt drew its last free breath, unconscious that at the very height of its intellectual vigor its national life was to be cut off; the time when Amasis held the throne of the Pharaohs, and Cambyses was king of Persia. ‘Uarda’ gives a picture of Egypt under one of the Rameses. ‘Homo Sum,’ a tale of the desert anchorites in the fourth century, is filled with the spirit of the early Christians. In the story of ‘Die Schwestern’ (The Sisters) Ebers takes the reader to Memphis, the temple of Serapis, and the palace of the Ptolemies. The ethical element enters largely into the novel ‘Der Kaiser’ (The Emperor), of Christianity in the time of Hadrian.

In the ‘Frau Bürgermeisterin’ (The Burgomaster’s Wife), Ebers leaves behind him the world of antiquity, and deals with the heroic struggle against the Spanish rule made in 1547 by the city of Leyden. ‘Gred,’ a long and quiet novel, most carefully executed, is a minute picture of middle-class Nürnberg, some centuries ago. ‘Ein Wort’ (A Word: Only a Word) also stands apart from the historical romances. It is a psychological and ethical story, working out the development of inconspicuous character. Both in ‘Serapis’ and ‘The Bride of the Nile,’ the victory of Christianity over heathenism is celebrated. Not less interesting than his fiction is his book of travels called ‘Durch Gosen zum Sinai’ (Through Goshen to Sinai). In 1889, on account of his health, Ebers resigned his professorship. He died at Tutzing, Bavaria, August 8th, 1898. His latest works were ‘Barbara Blonberg’ (1897) and ‘Arachne’ (1898).