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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 Emanuel Geibel (1815–1884)

THE CHIEF note in Geibel’s nature was reverence. A spirit of reverent piety, using the phrase in its widest as well as in its strictly religious sense, characterizes all his poetical utterances. He intended to devote himself to theology, but the humanistic tendencies of the age, combined with his own peculiar endowments, led him to abandon the Church for pure literature. The reverent attitude of mind, however, remained, and has left its impress even upon his most impassioned love lyrics. It appears too in his first literary venture, a volume of ‘Classical Studies’ undertaken in collaboration with his friend Ernst Curtius, in which is displayed his loving reverence for the great monuments of Greek antiquity. He felt himself an exile from Greece, and like Goethe’s Iphigenia, his soul was seeking ever for the land of Hellas. And through the influence of Bettina von Arnim this longing was satisfied; he secured the post of tutor in the household of the Russian ambassador to Athens.

Geibel was only twenty-three years of age when this good fortune fell to his lot. He was born at Lübeck on October 18th, 1815. His poetic gifts, early manifested, secured him a welcome in the literary circles of Berlin. During the two years that he spent in Greece he was enabled to travel over a large part of the Grecian Archipelago in the inspiring company of Curtius; and it was upon their return to Germany in 1840 that the ‘Classical Studies’ appeared, and were dedicated to the Queen of Greece. Then Geibel eagerly took up the study of French and Spanish, with the result that many valuable volumes were published in collaboration with Paul Heyse, Count von Schack, and Leuthold, which introduced to the German public a vast treasury of song from the literatures of France, Spain, and Portugal. The first collection of Geibel’s own poems in 1843 secured for the poet a modest pension from the King of Prussia.

Geibel also made several essays at dramatic composition. He wrote for Mendelssohn the text of a ‘Lorelei,’ but the composer died before the music was completed. A comedy called ‘Master Andrew’ was successful in a number of cities; and of his more ambitious tragedies, ‘Brunhild’ and ‘Sophonisba,’ the latter won the famous Schiller prize in 1869.

In 1852 Geibel received an appointment as royal reader to Maximilian II., and was made professor at the University of Munich. It was also from the King of Bavaria that he procured his patent of nobility. In the same year that he took up his residence in Munich he married; but the death of his wife terminated his happy family relations three years later, and the death of the King severed his connection with the Bavarian court. Moreover, his sympathy with the revolutionary poets, such as his intimate friend Freiligrath, his own enthusiasm for the popular movement, and the faith which he placed in the King of Prussia, led to bitter attacks upon him in the Bavarian press, and eventually to his resignation from the faculty of the university. He returned to his native city of Lübeck. The Prussian King trebled his annual income, and the poet was raised above pecuniary cares. The last years of his life were saddened, without being embittered, by feeble health. He died on April 6th, 1884.

There was sometimes a touch of effeminate sentimentality in Geibel’s work, but he did not lack force and virility, as his famous ‘Twelve Sonnets’ and his political poems, entitled ‘Zeitgedichte,’ show. He could speak strong words for right and justice, and in all his poems there is a musical beauty of language and a perfection of form that render his songs contributions of permanent value to the lyric treasury of German literature.