Georg Gottfried Gervinus

* 20.05.1805 in Darmstadt; ✝ 18.03.1871 in Heidelberg

Scholar, Historian, Literary historian



Gervinus was a professor at Heidelberg from 1835 onwards, and was called to the University of Göttingen in 1836. There, as one of the ‘Göttingen Seven’, he was expelled from office by King Ernst August of Hanover on account of Gervinius’s protest against Ernst August being ‘in breach of the constitution’ – an expulsion which resulted in widespread public notice. Later he recommenced his academic activities in Heidelberg, meanwhile writing in a liberal and polemical political vein to great effect. In 1848 he was elected to the national parliament in Frankfurt. In 1853 he was, during a celebrated trial, found guilty of high treason by the Mannheim Court because of democratic tendencies in his writings, and condemned to prison. This judgment was overturned on appeal. After that he withdrew by degrees from public view.

Gervinus’s Geschichte der poetischen National-Literatur der Deutschen (5 volumes, 1835-1842) is generally regarded as his masterpiece. In it he helped found the concept of a post-classical literary historiography based on a critical and progressive view of, and called for the nation’s education and edification. He regarded Shakespeare (5 volumes 1849) as its ‘necessary complement’. This work had its genesis in the period of disappointment following the failure of the 1848 revolution, and recommended its readers to draw ethical strength from the British playwright; it became one of the best respected German Shakespeare books of the nineteenth century, even circulating in an English translation. In the end he came to include Handel’s music in the same cannon as Shakespeare’s plays (Händel und Shakespeare: ZurÄsthetik der Tonkunst, 1868).



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Citation and Licence

Gervinus, Georg Gottfried, in: The Digital Shakespeare Memorial Album. Edited by Christa Jansohn. URI: (Accessed on 26.09.2023)

This text is published under the following licence: CC BY-ND 3.0 DE. Digitzed media reproduced with the permission of the library of Birmingham.

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