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Johann Christian Günther Gunther


Johann Christian Günther was the first modern German poet.


His father, a horticulturist of some note in his time and a disillusioned physician, looked askance at the literary interest of his precocious son and early disowned him.


He began the study of medicine at Frankfurt an der Oder but soon left for Wittenburg. In 1717 he removed to Leipzig, where he supported himself chiefly by writing "occasional" poetry.


In Leipzig, where he was befriended by Johann Burkhard Mencke (1674–1732), who recognized his genius, he published a poem on the peace of Passarowitz (concluded between the German emperor and the Porte in 1718) which acquired him reputation. A recommendation from Mencke to Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, king of Poland, proved worse than useless, as Günther appeared at the audience drunk. From that time he led an unsettled and dissipated life, sinking ever deeper into the slough of misery, until he died at Jena on March 15, 1723, when only in his 28th year. Goethe pronounces Günther to have been a poet in the fullest sense of the term. His lyric poems as a whole give evidence of deep and lively sensibility, fine imagination, clever wit, and a true ear for melody and rhythm; but an air of cynicism is more or less present in most of them, and dull or vulgar witticisms are not infrequently found side by side with the purest inspirations of his genius.


  • Günther's occasional poetry may be disregarded; his personal lyrics are best remembered. To the confusion of posterity he celebrated Leonore Jachmann under various names, and various other maidens under the name of Leonore. Goethe's verdict, that Günther did not know how to restrain himself and so his poetry as well as his life was squandered, merely reflects the Günther myth of the time. Goethe's further judgment, that Günther possessed all that was needed in life to create a second life by the aid of poetry, is a fair statement and indicates at the same time the presence of a Goethean quality in Günther's poetry.