Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (October 12, 1825 - November 28, 1898), a poet and, as he was born in Zürich, is a fellow-townsman of Gottfried Keller.
Like Keller, Meyer is a master of the Novella, but in all other respects there is a most striking difference. Keller was a sturdy commoner and always retained a certain affinity with the soil; there is a wholesome vigor about him. Meyer is of patrician descent; His father, who died early, was a statesman and historian; his mother a highly gifted woman of fine culture. Thus the boy grew up in an atmosphere of refinement.
Having finished the Gymnasium, he took up the study of law, but history and the humanities were of greater interest to him. Even in the child two traits were observed that later characterized the man and the poet: he had a most scrupulous regard for neatness and cleanliness, and he lived and experienced more deeply in memory than in the immediate present.
Meyer found himself only late in life; for many years also, being practically bilingual, he wavered between French and German. The Franco-German War brought the final decision, and from now on his works appeared in rapid succession. He died in his home in Kilchberg above Zürich, November 28, 1898.
- 1876 Jürg Jenatsch (Grisons, 30 years war)
- 1891 Angela Borgia (Italian Renaissance)
Meyer's main works are historical novellas:
- 1873 Das Amulett (The Amulet), French Revolution
- 1878 Der Schuss von der Kanzel (The Shot from the Pulpit), Switzerland
- 1879 Der Heilige (The Saint) Thomas Becket, Middle ages, England
- 1881 Plautus im Nonnenkloster (Plautus in the Nunnery), Renaissance, Switzerland
- 1882 Gustav Adolfs Page (Gustav Adolf's Page) 30 years war
- 1883 Das Leiden eines Knaben (The Suffering of a Boy), France
- 1884 Die Hochzeit des Mönchs (The Wedding of the Monk), Italy
- 1885 Die Richterin (The Judge) Carolingian time, Grisons
- 1887 Die Versuchung des Pescara (The Temptation of Pescara), Renaissance, Italy
- 1872 Huttens letzte Tage (Hutten's Last Days)
Meyer's lyric verse is almost entirely the product of his later years. It has none of the youthful exuberance of Goethe's earlier lyrics; a note of quiet calm, a mellow maturity pervades all; both joy and sorrow live only in the memory. And still Meyer loved life's exuberant fullness, and a more finely attuned ear hears through this calm the beat of a heart that felt joy and sorrow deeply. Everywhere there is apparent a love of nature interpreted with all the modern subtlety of feeling.
Meyer was a Swiss and his landscape, is that of Switzerland, one might even say that of Zürich. Nature hardly ever speaks in herself, but only in her human relationship; not the field alone, but the field and the sower, or the field and the reaper; not the lake alone, but the lake and the solitary oarsman.
The poet loves the work of human hands and especially its highest form, that of art. Thus a Roman fountain, a picture, a statue become the subject of his verse. Of all the arts he loved sculpture most, and in its chaste self-restraint his poetry is like marble. Give marble a voice and you have a poem of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer.
His poetry is also akin to marble in its perfection of form that is faultless, because it is the living rhythmic embodiment of an idea, of an experience. Witness but the melody and the rhythm of 'der römische Brunnen' or of the 'Säerspruch'.
In English letters Walter Savage Landor is a kindred spirit and his Finis, except for a note of haughty pride, might well be the epitaph of the Swiss poet:
I strove with none, for none was worth my strife. Nature I loved and, next to Nature, Art: I warmed both hands before the fire of life; It sinks, and I am ready to depart.
From the PD book "A Book of German Lyrics", ed. Friedrich Bruns, that is currently being proofed for Project Gutenberg.