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Alexander Baumgartner

Poet and writer on the history of literature, b. at St. Gall, Switzerland, June 27, 1841; d. at Luxemburg, Sept. 5, 1910

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Baumgartner, ALEXANDER, poet and writer on the history of literature, b. at St. Gall, Switzerland, June 27, 1841; d. at Luxemburg, September 5, 1910. His father was Gallus Jakob Baumgartner, a prominent statesman. At the abbey school of Maria Einsiedeln in Switzerland, where Alexander when fourteen years old began his higher studies, a decisive influence was exercised over the impressionable spirit of the pupil by the well-known poet and scholar, Father Gall Morel. The intellectual bent there first developed was confirmed at the Jesuit school at Feldkirch, where the boy spent his last two gymnasial years. After passing an excellent examination he entered the Society of Jesus in 1860. After his studies in 1874 he was assigned to the editorial staff of the periodical “Stimmen aus Maria-Laach“, which had been founded three years before. For thirty-six years he devoted his pen to this journal as a loyal collaborator, so that scarcely a number appeared without some article from him. Owing to the expulsion of the Jesuits from Germany, he repeatedly changed the place of publication of the periodical. He also took two long journeys. In 1883 he went to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Scandinavia, and the provinces of the Baltic as far as St. Petersburg. Three years later he visited Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Both tours are commemorated in the well-known books of travel, “Nordische Fahrten” (1889 and 1890). Other and shorter vacation trips had more for their object the physical and intellectual relaxation of the over-strained powers which, however, gave way at too early an age. He was buried in the cemetery at Luxemburg near his old friend and countryman, Father Joseph Spillman, S.J.

Father Baumgartner was born with a poetic nature. His talent was best evidenced in his poems for special occasions. His best work of this kind is his “Festspiel zur Calderonfeier” (1881), which appeared first in the “Stimmen aus Maria-Laach“, but was soon, owing to repeated requests, published in book form with a brief biography of the Spanish poet. A translation into Spanish by Orti y Lara of the artistic work soon followed. His “Lauretanische Litanei” in fifty-nine sonnets was also written for a special occasion and was printed for the first time in 1883 and translated into Dutch in 1890. His talent for poetry was shown no less brilliantly in his fine translations of foreign poetry. In 1884 appeared, as a small book, the translation of an Icelandic poem of the fourteenth century to the Virgin, “Die Lilie”.

Baumgartnerls fame rests on his writings on the history of literature. His numerous articles in the “Stimmen aus Maria-Laach“, which were collected and issued in 1912 as a supplementary volume to his “Geschichte der Weltliteratur”, were all written with the intent that they should form part of his larger history and life work. In earlier years, as preparatory writings, he had issued “Lessings religiosen Entwicklungsgang” (1877), “Longfellow” (1887), an appreciation of the poems of the American poet which passed into a second edition ten years later, “Joost van den Vondel” (1882), a biography of the great Dutchman translated four years later into Dutch, and lastly the celebrated biography of Goethe in three volumes (1879). In addition he published two works as expressions of gratitude and piety: “Erinnerungen an Bischof Greith” (1884), and “Gallus Jakob Baumgartner” (1892). Two years previously he had issued the unfinished work of his father, “Die Geschichte des Kantons St. Gallen”, in three volumes. The six volumes of his history of the literature of the world are well known: “Westasien and die Nillander” (1897); “Indien and Ostasien” (1897); “Die klassische Literatur der Griechen and Romer” (1900); “Die lateinische and griechische Literatur der christlichen Volker” (1900); “Die franzosische Literatur” (1905); and lastly “Die italienische Literatur” (1911), during the writing of which he died.

It is hardly necessary to say that a man of such spirit was also a fine critic. The thoroughly Catholic point of view in all his works is also self-evident. His strong religious convictions led him to take part in the dispute over Catholic literature by the publication of the pamphlet “Die Stellung der deutschen Katholiken zur neueren Literatur”. Father Baumgartner, however, was not contentious by nature; he was rather a lover of peace, although a harmless love of mischief showed itself at times in his writings. As a loyal son of his Order he always felt that with the pen he exercised a sacred office for the defense of truth and the honor of God.


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