Gellert, Christian Fürchtegott

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Gellert, Christian Fürchtegott (1715-69): German Poet and Moralist.

Christian Fürchtegott Gellert was a prominent writer, stylist, and university lecturer in Germany.

Raised in a poor, religious family, Gellert, the son of a pastor, worked as a private tutor until he was able to study at the University of Leipzig. He was eventually appointed to the university faculty, and his lectures were extremely well attended.

Gellert wrote and corresponded extensively. He is best known for his Fables and Tales (1746-48), a collection of realistic fables and didactic stories and a best seller of its day. Important too is his novel, The Life of the Swedish Countess of G (1747-48), which mixes imaginative literature with moral instruction. Inspired by La Chaussée, Pierre-Claude Nivelle de, Gellert also authored a number of comedies. These plays introduced middle class characters and settings into German literature. In 1757, he published the popular Spiritual Odes and Songs, in which religious feeling is tempered by rationalism. Bach, Johann Sebastian, Haydn, Franz Joseph, and Beethoven, Ludwig van later set many of these poems and hymns to music. Gellert also wrote A Practical Guide to Good Taste in Letters (1751), in which he argued for simplicity and directness in correspondence.

Revered during his lifetime, Gellert was quickly forgotten after his death. The object of several studies since 1967, he is thought to have been instrumental in preparing German literature for its Sturm und Drang and Classical periods.

Further Reading:

Friedrich Koch, Christian Fürchtegott Gellert: Poet und Pädagoge der Aufklärung, 1992.

David Witkosky

Auburn Montgomery