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Johann Paul Friedrich Richter

Born 21 March 1763(1763-03-21)
Wunsiedel, Germany
Died 14 November 1825 (aged 62)
Bayreuth, Germany
Pen name Jean Paul
Occupation novelist
Nationality German
Writing period 1783-1825
Genres humour
Subjects education, politics

Jean Paul (21 March 1763 – 14 November 1825), born Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, was a German Romantic writer, best known for his humorous novels and stories.


Life and work

Jean Paul was born at Wunsiedel, in the Fichtelgebirge mountains (Bavaria). His father was an organist at Wunsiedel. In 1765 he became a pastor at Joditz near Hof, and in 1767 at Schwarzenbach, but he died on 25 April 1779, leaving the family in great poverty. After attending the Gymnasium at Hof, Jean Paul went in 1781 to the University of Leipzig. His original intention was to enter his father's profession, but theology did not interest him, and he soon devoted himself wholly to the study of literature. Unable to maintain himself at Leipzig he returned in 1784 to Hof, where he lived with his mother. From 1787 to 1789 he served as a tutor at Töpen, a village near Hof; and from 1790 to 1794 he taught the children of several families in a school he had founded in nearby Schwarzenbach.

Jean Paul began his career as a man of letters with Grönländische Prozesse ("Greenland Lawsuits", published anonymously in Berlin) and Auswahl aus des Teufels Papieren ("Selections from the Devil's Papers", signed J. P. F. Hasus), the former of which was issued in 1783-84, the latter in 1789. These works were not received with much favour, and in later life Richter himself had little sympathy for their satirical tone. A spiritual crisis he suffered on 15 November 1790, in which he had a vision of his own death, altered his outlook profoundly. His next book, Die unsichtbare Loge ("The Invisible Lodge"), a romance published in 1793 under the pen-name Jean Paul (in honour of Jean Jacques Rousseau), had all the qualities that were soon to make him famous, and its power was immediately recognized by some of the best critics of the day.

Encouraged by the reception of Die unsichtbare Loge, Richter composed a number of books in rapid succession, the most notable of which was the novel Siebenkäs in 1796-97. The book's slightly supernatural theme, involving a Doppelgänger and pseudocide, stirred some controversy over its interpretation of the Resurrection, but these criticisms served only to draw awareness to the author. This series of writings assured Richter a place in German literature, and during the rest of his life every work he produced was welcomed by a wide circle of admirers.

After his mother's death in 1797, Richter went to Leipzig, and in the following year to Weimar, where he started work on his most ambitious novel, Titan, published between 1801-02. Richter became friends with such Weimar notables as Herder, by whom he was warmly appreciated, but despite their close proximity, Richter never become close to Goethe and Schiller, both of whom found his literary methods repugnant; but in Weimar, as elsewhere, his remarkable conversational powers and his genial manners made him a favorite in general society. In 1801 he married Caroline Meyer, whom he had met in Berlin the year before. They lived first at Meiningen, then at Coburg; and finally, in 1804, they settled at Bayreuth.

Here Richter spent a quiet, simple and happy life, constantly occupied with his work as a writer. In 1808 he was fortunately delivered from anxiety about outward necessities by Prince Primate Karl Theodor von Dalberg, who gave him a pension. Richter continued producing works on a variety of topics throughout the rest of his life, but perhaps more enduring than these late works themselves was his support of the younger writer E. T. A. Hoffmann, who long counted Richter among his influences. Richter wrote the preface to Fantasy Pieces a collection of Hoffmann's short stories published in 1814.

In September 1821 Jean Paul lost his only son, Max, a youth of the highest promise; and he never quite recovered from this shock. He lost his sight in 1824, and died of dropsy at Bayreuth, on 14 November 1825.

Characteristics of his work

Friedrich Schiller said of Jean Paul that he would have been worthy of admiration if he had made as good use of his riches as other men made of their poverty—the classic approach of "Weimar".

But in working out his conceptions, Jean Paul found it appropriate to express any powerful feeling by which he might happen to be moved. He made it his style to use seemingly out-of-the-way facts or psychological notions which occurred to him. Hence every one of his works is irregular in structure and his style lacks directness, though never grace. His imagination was one of extraordinary fertility, and he had a surprising power of suggesting great thoughts by means of the simplest incidents and relations. The love of nature was one of Jean Paul's deepest pleasures; his expressions of religious feelings are also marked by a truly poetic spirit, for to him visible things were but the symbols of the invisible, and in the unseen realities alone he found elements which seemed to him to give significance and dignity to human life. His humour, the most distinctive of his qualities, cannot be dissociated from the other characteristics of his writings. It mingled with all his thoughts, and to some extent determined the form in which he embodied even his most serious reflections. That it is sometimes extravagant and grotesque cannot be disputed, but it is never harsh nor vulgar, and generally it springs naturally from the perception of the incongruity between ordinary facts and ideal laws.

Jean Paul's personality was deep and many-sided; with all his willfulness and eccentricity he was a man of a pure and sensitive spirit, with a passionate scorn for pretence and an ardent enthusiasm for truth and goodness.

The last scene of Jean Paul's "Flegeljahre" was the inspiration behind Robert Schumann's composition "Papillons" Op. 2.

19th century works on Jean Paul

Richter's Sämtliche Werke (Complete Works) appeared in 1826-28 in 60 volumes, to which were added 5 volumes of Literarischer Nachlass (literary bequest) in 1836-38; a second edition was published in 1840-42 (33 volumes); a third in 1860-62 (24 volumes). The last complete edition is that edited by R. Gottschall (60 parts, 1879). Editions of selected works appeared in 16 volumes (1865), in Kürschner's Deutsche Nationalliteratur (edited by P. Nerrlich, 6 vols, pp. 388-487), &c. The chief collections of Richter's correspondence are:

  • Jean Pauls Briefe an F. H. Jacobi (1828)
  • Briefwechsel Jean Pauls mit seinem Freunde C. Otto (1829-33)
  • Briefwechsel zwischen H. Voss und Jean Paul (1833)
  • Briefe an eine Jugendfreundin (1858)
  • P. Nerrlich, Jean Pauls Briefwechsel mit seiner Frau und seinem Freunde Otto (1902).

See further:

  • The continuation of Richter's autobiography by C. Otto and E. Fürster (1826-33)
  • H. Dring, J. P. F. Richters Leben und Charakteristik (1830-32)
  • Richard Otto Spazier, JPF Richter: ein biographischer Commentar zu dessen Werken (5 vols, 1833)
  • E. Fürster, Denkwürdigkeiten aus dem Leben von J. P. F. Richter (1863)
  • Paul Nerrlich, Jean Paul und seine Zeitgenossen (1876)
  • J. Firmery, Étude sur la vie et les œuvres de J. P. F. Richter (1886)
  • P. Nerrlich, Jean Paul, sein Leben und seine Werke (1889)
  • Ferdinand Josef Schneider, Jean Pauls Altersdichtung (1901); and Jean Pauls Jugend und erstes Auftreten in der Literatur (1906).

Richter's more important works have been translated into English, Quintus Fixlein and Schmelzles Reise, by Carlyle; see also Carlyle's two essays on Richter.


  • Joy is inexhaustible, unlike seriousness.
  • Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.
  • Many young people get worked up about opinions that they will share in 20 years.
  • Too much trust is a foolishness, too much distrust a tragedy.
  • The German language is the organ among the languages. (Die deutsche Sprache ist die Orgel unter den Sprachen.)
  • A man never describes his own character so clearly as when he describes another.

List of works

  • Grönländische Prozesse 1783-1784
  • Auswahl aus des Teufels Papieren 1789
  • Leben des vergnügten Schulmeisterlein Maria Wutz 1790
  • Die unsichtbare Loge 1793
  • Hesperus (book) 1795
  • Biographische Belustigungen 1796
  • Leben des Quintus Fixlein 1796
  • Siebenkäs 1796
  • Der Jubelsenior 1797
  • Das Kampaner Tal 1797
  • Des Luftschiffers Giannozzo Seebuch 1801
  • Titan 1800-03
  • Flegeljahre (unfinished) 1804
  • Vorschule der Aesthetik 1804
  • Levana oder Erziehlehre 1807
  • Dr. Katzenbergers Badereise 1809
  • Des Feldpredigers Schmelzle Reise nach Flätz 1809
  • Leben Fibels 1812
  • Bemerkungen über uns närrische Menschen
  • Clavis Fichtiana (see also Johann Gottlieb Fichte)
  • Das heimliche Klaglied der jetzigen Männer
  • Der Komet 1820-1822
  • Der Maschinenmann
  • Die wunderbare Gesellschaft in der Neujahrsnacht
  • Freiheits-Büchlein

External links

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Johann Paul Friedrich Richter (1763-03-211825-11-14) was an influential German novelist and short-story writer. He is usually known by his pseudonym, Jean Paul.


  • A timid person is frightened before a danger, a coward during the time, and a courageous person afterward.
  • Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good; try to use ordinary situations.
  • Flowers never emit so sweet and strong a fragrance as before a storm. When a storm approaches thee, be as fragrant as a sweet-smelling flower.
  • Never part without loving words to think of during your absence. It may be that you will not meet again in life.
  • Only actions give life strength; only moderation gives it a charm.
  • In later life, as in earlier, only a few persons influence the formation of our character; the multitude pass us by like a distant army. One friend, one teacher, one beloved, one club, one dining table, one work table are the means by which one's nation and the spirit of one's nation affect the individual.
  • The German language is the organ among the languages. (Die deutsche Sprache ist die Orgel unter den Sprachen.)

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