CHRISTOPH MARTIN WIELAND

Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813) was a German poet, writer and philosopher and an exponent of the German Late Enlightenment (Spätaufklärung) at the end of the 18th century. Wieland was born in Oberholzheim (Baden-Württemberg) as the son of a predikant. During his legal studies in Tübingen he wrote his first literary works (Die Natur der Dinge, Zwölf moralische Briefe in Versen, Anti-Ovid, all published in 1752). As an author he enjoyed the protection of several patrons in Switzerland and Germany. As from 1758 his religiously inclined poetry was substituted by more prosaic works with a philosophical and educational purport revealing his turn from religion to lighter genres. In 1764 he wrote Don Sylvia von Rosalva, a romance imitating Don Quijote, but also referring to Oriental tales. Important was the ‘Bildungsroman’ Geschichte des Agathon (1766), which was set in Greek Antiquity and which is considered a precursor of the modern psychological novel in German literature. His philosophical novels advocate an education in which reason and emotions are balanced, but which condemns forms of ‘excessive fantasies’ (Schwärmerei). In the 1760s Wieland introduced Shakespeare in Germany by translating 22 plays in prose. After a period as professor of philosophy in Erfurt, Wieland published Der goldene Spiegel oder die Könige von Scheschian, which was modelled on the Thousand and one nights and which earned him a position as tutor of the sons of the duchess of Weimar, where he spent the rest of his life. In Weimar he founded the literary journal Der teutsche Merkur which gew out to become one of the most influential cultural publications (1773-1789). In this period he befriended Goethe and Schiller, who moved to Weimar in the 1770s. Among the most important works of this period are Die Abderiten, eine sehr wahrscheinliche Geschichte (1774), a didactic novel, the romantic epic Oberon (1780), and the moralistic work Agathodämon (1799), which shows his combination of Enlightenment rationalism and religion. Under the influence of the French vogue of fairy tales at the end of the 18th century, represented by the extensive publication Le cabinet des fées, Wieland published the collection of tales Dschinnistan (1786-1789), which consisted of translations/ reworkings of existing tales and three original tales (‘Der Stein der Weisen,’ ‘Timander und Melissa,’ and ‘Der Druide oder die Salamanderin und die Bildsäule’). Wieland can be considered as one of the founding fathers of the modern German literary tradition, and he especially influenced Goethe, who of course became the great literary figure of his time. For a long time his Rococo style was not appreciated, however, but in the 20th century his irony, cosmopolitanism and warm humanism were praised. Several editions of his collected works (Sämtliche Werke appeared from 1794 onwards.

The fragments:

It was Wieland who introduced the Thousand and one nights in German literature as a model for literary techniques, concepts and forms. In 1778 he wrote the poem Schach Lolo, an adaptation of the story of ‘King Yunan and the sage Duban’, figuring an Oriental monarch, and he wrote several adaptations of Thousand and one nights stories. Nevertheless, his attitude towards the genre of the Oriental tale was not unambiguous, because, according to him, they could lead to an immersion in excessive imagination (Schwärmerei), which he deemed incompatible with Enlightenment thought. In Die Sieg der Natur über die Schwärmerei oder die Abenteuer des Don Sylvio von Rosalva (1764) the hero lapses into lethargy by over-indulgence in Oriental fairy tales, but remarkably, he is cured by hearing an exemplary tale, after the fashion of Shahrazad. The philosophical novel Der goldene Spiegel (1772) is explicitly constructed as a continuation of the Thousand and one nights: the work is conceived as a frame story, in which the Sultan, a descendant of Shahriyar, listens to a pseudo-chronicle of a Chinese kingdom, read to him by his favourite concubine and his vizier. The story relates the successive generations of emperors who are representatives of various kinds of bad government, corruption and negligence. In the end Wieland draws the image of his ideal king governing an ideally organized society, according to the laws of nature and rationality, and based on law, human compassion and social order. The book was supplemented with the short novel Die Geschichte des Philosophen Danischmend (1775), also in Oriental style. The story contains embedded tales and refers to the topoi of the genre of the mirror-for-princes, both German and Oriental, and can be seen as the last exponent of the German Fürstenspiegel tradition. In the collection Dschinnistan (1785-1789) Wieland combined fairy tales translated from the Cabinet des fées with original tales, in spite of his avowed dislike of the genre. He justified this work by arguing that fairy tales were popular among a wide audience and that they could have an educational effect, provided that they were not against a rational view of life, for instance by inserting implausible, supernatural, plots. As in Don Sylvio von Rosalva, the telling of Oriental tales can have a healing effect, restoring the reader to his rational senses.

 

Sources/references:

Christoph Martin Wieland, Werke, 5 vols., eds. Fritz Martini/ Hans Werner Seiffert, München 1964-1968.

Sven Aage Jorgensen/ Klaus Bohnen/ Per Ohrgaard, Aufklärung. Sturm und Drang, frühe Klassik, 1740-1789, De Boor/ Newald (eds.), Geschichte der deutschen Literatur, vol. VI, C.H. Beck, München 1990.

Gerhard Schulz, Die deutsche Literatur zwischen Französischer Revolution und Restauration, erster Teil: 1789-1806, De Boor/ Newald (eds.), Geschichte der deutschen Literatur, vol. VII/1, C.H. Beck, München 2000.

Nina Berman, German literature on the Middle East; discourses and practices, 1000-1989, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2013.

Klaus Schaefer, Christoph Martin Wieland, J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart/ Weimar 1996.

Ulrich Marzolph/ Richard van Leeuwen (eds.), The Arabian nights encyclopedia, 2 vols., ABC-Clio, Santa Barbara etc. 2004.

Michael Zaremba, Christoph Martin Wieland; Aufklärer und Poet; eine Biographie, Böhlau, Köln etc. 2007.

Sami al-Ahmedi, ‘Wieland und 1001 Nacht,’ Ph.D. diss., Leipzig 1969.

Weblinks:

http://www.gutenberg.org/author/Wieland,+Christoph+Martin (Project Gutenberg)

http://www.ub.uni-bielefeld.de/diglib/aufkl/teutmerk (Der teutsche Merkur)