Christian Morgenstern was born just as the Franco-Prussian War ended, and he died shortly before the outbreak of World War I. His life span covers a long interval of peace in the history of modern Germany. The lack of external political problems may have been responsible in part for his attention to that which ailed the country from within, particularly the crass materialism he perceived and the callousness of the upper class with regard to the plight of the worker.
Morgenstern was the only child of Carl Ernst Morgenstern, a landscape painter, and his wife Charlotte, né Schertel. Both parents came from artists’ families. Because of the frequent changes of residence necessitated by his father’s profession, Morgenstern’s education was erratic. He changed schools frequently and sometimes received private tutoring. After the death of his mother in 1881 of tuberculosis—a disease from which he also suffered, requiring frequent sanatorium visits—he was sent to his uncle’s family in Hamburg. This arrangement proved to be unsuitable, and when his father married again, Morgenstern was sent to a boarding school in Landshut. The strict, oppressive environment there, which included corporal punishment, was unbearable for him, and his bitter complaints to his father resulted in his removal from the school after two years. In March, 1884, he joined his parents in Breslau and attended a local Gymnasium for four years. Although Morgenstern’s schooling was not a positive experience, he began to write poetry and became acquainted with the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and medieval German mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. Shortly before entering a military academy in 1889, he met Friedrich Kayssler, who became an actor and Morgenstern’s best and lifelong friend. It quickly became obvious that Morgenstern was not suited for the military life; in 1890, he entered the Gymnasium in Sorau and, after his...
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