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Seldwyla Folks Three Singular Tales   By: (1819-1890)

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Gottfried Keller may fitly be called the greatest narrative writer that Switzerland has ever produced. Born July 19, 1819, near Zurich, he was reared in direst poverty. By dint of the hardest labor and by practicing the utmost frugality, his father was barely able to provide bread for wife and children. But in the midst of this penury the genius of his young son Gottfried expanded. As a mere child he gave already unmistakable evidence of being a dreamer, a thinker, a philosopher, a "fabulist," an artist. Just able to write, the little boy forever scribbled poems and fanciful tales, made rapid sketches with pencil and pen, portraits, caricatures, landscapes. At the village school he imbibed knowledge like a sponge. Soon the gnarled old schoolmaster, half peasant, half teacher, looked aghast at his little scholar: he had no more to teach him. Generous friends sent the youth to Munich, there to study art. For at that time his desire was to become a great painter. Desperately and with fiery energy the young fellow devoted himself to study, and his attainments were considerable. They would fully have sufficed for a career as a mediocre portrait painter. But his very excess of zeal led to surfeit, to exhaustion, to a period of lethargy. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." This fit of listlessness lasted even for some time after Gottfried's return home. All effort with him slackened.

Patrons finally intervened. With their aid he went to Heidelberg, and for two full years, 1848 1850, he there pursued literary and historical research. The historian, Hettner, took great interest in the young Swiss. Next he went to Berlin, and during the ensuing five years he wrote and studied in a desultory manner there. Great attention was paid him by Goethe's intimate friend, Varnhagen von Ense, and the latter's wife, the "seeress," Rahel, who drew the shy young man into their wide literary circle, comprising for two decades the beaux esprits of the capital. But his bluntness of speech, his sturdy Swiss republicanism, often gave offense.

For that was one of the remarkable points about Gottfried Keller: despite his long residence on German soil and the flattering reception accorded him by the intellectual élite there, he remained a thorough democrat, an uncompromising friend of the plain people, a fearless champion of Swiss free government, a hater of tyranny in any form, a despiser of monarchs and their favors. Among his poems, later collected into a bulky tome, there are many that breathe defiance to royalty by "divine grace."

Much of this sentiment of anti monarchism has crept into his first great work, the "Gruener Heinrich." This, a sort of autobiography in guise of a big novel, alive with adventure as well as thoughts on men and things, he first published from 1854 to 1855, but it was afterward recast in characteristic fashion, 1879 1881. In a manner of speaking, his "Gruener Heinrich" is also a confession of faith. There are many didactic passages in it; the whole book, in fact, breathes the convictions of its author... Continue reading book >>

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