Breitinger, Johann Jakob

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Breitinger, Johann Jakob (1701 - 1776), Swiss Literary Critic.

Breitinger, along with Bodmer, Johann Jakob, made the English poets such as John Milton unavoidable in any discussion of literary standards. Born in Zurich, the son of a government official, Bodmer studied philology, theology, and history at the University of Zurich. Bodmer’s first professional work consisted of writing scholarly works in Latin. This produced his first major work, a critical edition of the Septuaginta (1730).

Breitinger’s name and fame will always be linked with Bodmer due to Discourse der Mahlern (1721) a weekly journal which was modeled after the Spectator. It was in this publication that they began an important critical trend in German literature by utilizing English, rather than French, works as standards of excellence for literature.

Breitinger’s most important theoretical works were Kritische Dichtkunst (1740) and Kritische Abhandlung von der Natur den Absichten, und dem Gebrauch der Gleichnisse (1740) in which he attacked the strict formalist criticism espoused by the leading German critic of the day, Gottsched, Johann Christoph. Breitinger defended the broadest possible use of imagination and the wonderful in poetry. He emphasized an approach that he and Bodmer termed autoelic writing, which meant, art for art’s sake. Breitinger also reintroduced the German public to Homer as well as introducing them to the works of Pope, Alexander and John Locke.

In 1731 he was named professor of Hebrew and Greek at the Carolina Gymnasium in Zurich where he remained for over thirty years. Breitinger died in Zurich in 1776.

Further Reading:

F. Radant, From Baroque to Storm and Stress, 1977.


B. Keith Murphy

Fort Valley State University

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