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Adalbert Stifter

Poet and pedagogue, b. October 23, 1805; d. October 28, 1868

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Stifter, ADALBERT, poet and pedagogue, b. at Oberplan in Bohemia, October 23, 1805; d. at Linz, October 28, 1868. His father was a linen weaver and flax dealer. In these humble surroundings the talented boy received the first intellectual. stimulus from his mother and grandmother, who told him fairy-tales, stories, and legends. At school he was an apt scholar and, among other things, showed talent for music and drawing. After the sudden death of his father in 1817, his grandfather sent him to the Benedictine gymnasium at Kremsmünster in Upper Austria, where Father Plazidus Hall took the clever boy under his care. In 1827 Stifter went to the University of Vienna. Here, after completing the usual philosophical course, he applied himself to legal studies; but his natural bent eventually led him to attend lectures in mathematics and the natural sciences. He supported himself by giving private lessons among the leading families, and in this way formed a wide connection among the Viennese aristocracy, his circle of acquaintances including the family of the imperial chancellor, Prince Metternich. He wished to be a teacher of natural science and passed the written examination for this with honor in 1830, without the oral examination, however. Although now thirty-two years old and still a candidate for the position of teacher, he married the penniless daughter of a retired artillery officer. It was impossible for him to find a more secure position, and he was obliged to continue earning a precarious livelihood by giving private lessons. His position, however, improved when a story, “Der Condor”, published in the “Wiener Zeitschrift” in 1840, suddenly made him famous. This was soon followed by other stories, which were later collected and published under the title of “Studien”.

A new era in Stifter’s existence began with the year 1848. It was in that year that the revolutionary uprisings, which filled the streets of Vienna with turmoil and violence, drove him from the capital to Linz. There, after vainly trying to obtain a position as a teacher, he offered his services to the provincial government of Upper Austria, and his great pedagogical abilities were now at last recognized. Count Leo Thun, the reorganizer of the Austrian school system, appointed Stifter in 1850 a member of the school board at Linz. There was no longer any lack of honors and recognition: he received the medal for art and science and the cross of a knight of the Order of Francis Joseph, and was greatly esteemed by the Empress Elizabeth. But, in spite of all this, Stifter gradually became morose and eccentric. It became impossible for him to overcome an ever-increasing depression, the after-effect of his early disappointments. As he entered the sixties, a severe liver complaint developed which obliged him to make repeated visits to Karlsbad. In 1865 he retired with his full salary and the title of imperial councillor. He visited his home for the last time in 1867, and soon after was seized with the painful illness which, in spite of his wife’s careful nursing, proved fatal. He died childless.

As a poet, Stifter belonged to the late Romantic School, like Droste-Hülshoff and Mörike. His contemplative spirit, his delicate perception of nature, the richness of his imagination, and his shrinking from the tumult of the day are all traits of true Romanticism, as is evident in his “Studien”, and “Bunte Steine”. As an older man, about 1850, the greater composure of his style bore a resemblance to the classicism of Goethe, as is shown in his “Nachsommer”, and still more in his “Witiko”. That he was also an excellent pedagogue is made evident not only in his work as a member of the school-board, but also in his writings, which bear evidence of his excellent pedagogical knowledge. His latest biographer says: “In advance of his times, he held up as the aim of the future most of the achievements which have been realized by modern pedagogy, and was thus, until death, in word and deed a model, a leader, and a discoverer of new paths for the school he loved so dearly.” Several of his works were often reprinted during his lifetime. A complete edition, edited by Apprent, was issued at Pesth in 1870. A popular edition of selected works was published at Leipzig in 1887. Professor Sauer is editing a new and carefully prepared edition for the “Library of German Authors of Bohemia” (“Bibliothek deutscher Schriftsteller aus Böhmen”, Prague, 1901).



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