Johann Gottfried Seume

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Johann Gottfried Seume, painting by Veit Hanns Schnorr von Carolsfeld , 1798, Gleimhaus Halberstadt
Signature Johann Gottfried Seume.JPG
Memorial plaque on the successor building of his birth house in Poserna
The former Göschen publishing house in Grimma 1952 - today the Seumehaus

Johann Gottfried Seume (born January 29, 1763 in Poserna , Electoral Saxony ; † June 13, 1810 in Teplitz , Bohemia ) was a German writer and poet ; best known for his walk to Syracuse .


Seume was born in 1763 as the son of the farmer and former cooperage Andreas Seume and the farmer's daughter Regine Liebing. He attended the village school and the Latin school of Rector Korbinsky in Borna . From 1776 to 1777 he was a student at the traditional Nikolaischule in Leipzig.

Seume studied 1780-81 at the University of Leipzig theology and was in 1781 en route to Paris from Hessian soldiers advertisers taken forced to serve in the army and the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel to England to fight in the American War of Independence rented . After months of crossing, he landed at Halifax in Canada in August 1782 , but there was no more fighting there. His admiration for the natural informality of the inhabitants was reflected in his often quoted poem Der Wilde : "A Canadian who did not know Europe's whitewashed courtesy ...". In Halifax he made friends with the Hessian officer Karl von Münchhausen .

In August or September 1783 he was transported back to Bremen and, after fleeing the Hessian army, brought to Emden by recruits from the Prussian king Friedrich II , where he served as a musketeer until 1787 . Two attempts to escape from the Prussian service failed; he was threatened with the often fatal punishment of running the gauntlet , which was converted into a prison sentence through the mediation of Colonel Wilhelm René de l'Homme de Courbière .

When he was granted leave from the Prussian service on bail, he went to Saxony and continued to study law, philosophy, philology and history there at the University of Leipzig from 1789 to 1792. He finished his studies with a master's degree, completed his habilitation and then worked as a court master, as he did during his studies . His employment in the service of Count Gustav Otto Andreas von Igelström soon gave him a position as a secretary with officer rank from his brother, the Russian general Otto Heinrich von Igelström (1737-1823). As such he experienced the suppression of the Polish uprising on the side of the ruling Russians, but in 1796 he was discharged from the Russian army. Nevertheless, he remained very interested in military issues throughout his life, so that in his travel writings he repeatedly mentions how many soldiers are needed to defend or conquer the fortress or city he visited.

Seume worked from 1797 until his first big hike (1801) in Grimma as a proofreader for his friend, the publisher Georg Joachim Göschen , after he had moved his publishing house to Grimma. In 1797 he published a volume of poems, Rückerinnerungen, together with Münchhausen .

In the following years, starting in 1801, he made two long trips that took him to large parts of Europe . So Seume traveled to Syracuse in 1801/1802 and covered large parts of the 7000 km on foot. At the end of his work Walk to Syracuse Seume did not immediately write an elegy on his shoemaker named Heerdegen (like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote on Johann Martin Mieding ), but he remembered him in the following words: “... To the praise of my shoemaker, the manly old army sword in Leipzig, I still have to tell you that I went out and came back in the same boots without having to put on new shoes, and that these still have the reputation of going on such a hike in terms of architecture. ”Then it came to the following years too. However, he had to have her soles repaired for the second time during his walk in Palermo , as he wrote himself.

Back in Leipzig via Paris , he worked as a writer and gave language lessons as a private tutor. A second trip took him to Russia , Finland and Sweden in 1805/1806 . He described his impressions on these trips with a particular focus on the respective social, economic and political conditions. Johann Gottfried Seume is therefore regarded as a cultural-historical travel writer who reported with accuracy and sobriety about the conditions in foreign countries. Due to his own experiences as a soldier in North America and Germany, he was particularly committed to the freedom of individual people and entire peoples. Seume describes the first twenty years of his life until he returned from America in his autobiography Mein Leben (1809), which appeared posthumously in 1813.

Although he was quite sociable, the resoluteness of his views repelled many. About his ascetic way of life he said:

"I don't drink wine, coffee, liqueur,
smoke or snuff,
eat the simplest dishes,
and have never been sick, not at sea or under the most varied of skies."

Another very famous quote that is attributed to him is:

"Wherever you sing, sit down,
bad people have no songs."

This is almost certainly a popular variant of a stanza of his poem Die Gesänge von 1804:

“Wherever one sings, calm down,
without fear of what one believes in the country;
Wherever one sings no one is robbed;
Bad guys don't have songs. "

Seeum's grave in Teplitz

In the last years of his life, Seume's financial situation deteriorated. A first application for a Russian officer's pension was rejected. In addition to a foot ailment, Seume suffered from severe kidney and bladder disease in 1808, from which he never recovered. When the foot complaint improved, he went to Weimar to see his friend Christoph Martin Wieland , who made a second application in 1809. Seume hoped for a cure in the Bohemian town of Teplitz , borrowed money and hiked with Christoph August Tiedge to the health resort, but died there ten days after his arrival. He was buried in the local cemetery. The news of the approval of the pension did not reach him during his lifetime.


The walk to Syracuse in 1802 describes the writer's impressions as a travel experience in a new way: subjective, idiosyncratic, political, critical, close to everyday life. A number of other authors followed the example of Seume, who vividly depicted the respective conditions and the upheavals of the 19th century in their works. Examples are Ferdinand Freiligrath and Carl Schlickum . From 1839 they migrated through Westphalia. The travel impressions were later reproduced in the book The picturesque and romantic Westphalia after the work was completed by Levin Schücking .

In Friedrich Christian Delius ' story The Walk from Rostock to Syracuse, the protagonist travels in Seume's footsteps - based on the true experiences of Klaus Müller, who left the GDR illegally from June 8th to October 19th, 1988 in order to realize his childhood dream.

In his novel The Long Slumber Johann Gottfried Seume, which was awarded the Johann Gottfried Seume Literature Prize in 2017, Jan Decker lets the end of his walk through Syracuse fictionally experience today on the route from the Thuringian Forest to Grimma.

There is a Seume memorial in the Göschenhaus in Grimma-Hohnstädt.

The museum in Schloss Lützen keeps 66 original letters and around two dozen original manuscripts by the poet. It is in possession of the largest handwritten collection and dedicates its own exhibition to it.

The International Johann Gottfried Seume Association "Arethusa" eV . in Grimma has been awarding the Johann Gottfried Seume Literature Prize every two years since 2001 .


  • In Bremen, on June 12, 1864, on the initiative and through own financing of the writer Hermann Allmers, a portrait medallion made of bronze based on the design by the artist Victor von Meyenburg for Johann Gottfried Seume was attached to the workhouse on the street Herrlichkeit, because this is supposedly the place where where the poet, who had been forced into military service, managed to escape with the help of Bremen citizens. After the original site was destroyed in the war, the plaque was re-cast on a stele designed by August Traupe and placed on the Werderufer in Bremen on July 23, 1963 (inscription on the reverse: In 1783 the poet was rescued by citizens of Bremen on his escape).
  • Next to Seume's grave in Teplitz, in a park that was formerly a cemetery, there is the Chapel of the Cross , now called Seume's Chapel, and not far from there is a memorial to him.
  • A large-format portrait of the poet (1.75 m × 1.70 m) has been in the Seume-Haus at the Schwanenteich of the St. Augustin high school in Grimma since 1989. The artist Günter Ketelhut (* 1926), who lives in Bahren near Grimma, created it on behalf of the Seume Club in Grimma at the time.
  • Various schools and streets in Germany and Austria are named after Seume.

Works (selection)

Walk to Syracuse. Title page and frontispiece of the first edition from 1803
My life. Title page of the first print in 1813
  • Poems. Cologne 1800.
  • About the life and character of the Empress of Russia Catherine II , 1797 ( digitized version at the Bielefeld University Library )
  • Walk to Syracuse in 1802 , 1803. (see fig.) ( Digitized and full text in the German text archive ), also Nördlingen: Greno, Nördlingen 1985, series Die Other Bibliothek , ISBN 978-3-921568-19-4 .
  • Apocrypha , posthumously 1811. New edition critical of the text: Lumpeter & Lasel, Eutin 2013, ISBN 978-3-9812961-9-8 .
  • My summer 1805 , 1806.
  • Mein Leben (autobiography),supplementedby Georg Joachim Göschen and Christian August Heinrich Clodius , published posthumously by Georg Joachim Göschen, Leipzig 1813, digitized version of the first edition
  • My life . Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-8353-3182-2 (first unabridged edition)
  • Seumes works in two volumes. 4th edition. Selected and introduced by Anneliese and Karl-Heinz Klingenberg. Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin / Weimar 1983. (The edition contains the following works: My Life , Poems , Walk to Syracuse , My Summer , Apocrypha , Preface to a small volume of remarks and conjectures on heavier parts of Plutarch )
  • Prose writings , with an introduction by Werner Kraft . Joseph Melzer Verlag, Darmstadt 1974. (Contains, among others, the five titles and letters mentioned above.)
  • Letters. Ed. V. Jörg Drews . Frankfurt 2002.
  • From my world , Ed. Heide Hollmer. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 2010.
  • Walk to Syracuse in 1802 , unabridged reading with Thomas Thieme , director: Veronika Hübner, 429 min., Mp3-CD, MDR 1998 / Der Audio Verlag 2015, ISBN 978-3-86231572-7 .

Radio play adaptations

  • My life . Radio play for two voices. With Peter Fricke , Matthias von Stegmann . Editing: Garleff Zacharias-Langhans, composition: Wulf Schaeffer, director: Christoph Lindenmeyer. BR 1994. As a podcast / download in the BR radio play pool.
  • Some news about the incidents in Poland in 1794 . With Jens Wawrczeck , Lorenz Meyboden. Arrangement: Garleff Zacharias-Langhans, composition: Ernst Horn , director: Bernhard Jugel / Ernst Horn. BR 1994.

Literature (selection)

  • Three men and a memorial: Seume, Allmers, Meyenburg. Karl Wolfgang Biehusen, November 27, 2008, accessed on September 9, 2010 .
  • Jan Carstensen: If you are doing well, you are doing well. In: Landwirtschaftliches Wochenblatt Westfalen Lippe 49, 2008, p. 96
  • Robert Eberhardt: Seume and Münchhausen. With the reprint of the recollections from 1797. Wolff, Schmalkalden 2010 ISBN 978-3-941461-03-1
  • Volker Ebersbach : Seume in Teplitz. Popp, Grimma 1999 ISBN 3-932960-07-6
  • Gerhard K. Friesen: Overlooked Canadian poetry by Johann Gottfried Seume. German-Canadian Yearbook - German-Canadian Yearbook, 14, ed. Lothar Zimmermann, Hartmut Froeschle , Myka Burke. Historical Society of Mecklenburg, Upper Canada, Toronto 1995 0316-8603
  • Wolfgang Griep: Excursion to the north. About Johann Gottfried Seume's journey in the summer of 1805. Eutiner Landesbibliothek, Eutin 2004, ISBN 3-9808529-6-2 .
  • Albert Meier : Seume, Johann Gottfried. In: Walther Killy (Ed.): Literaturlexikon . Vol. 11, pp. 16-18.
  • Urs Meyer: Political Rhetoric. Theory, history and analysis of rhetoric using the example of the late Enlightenment scientist Johann Gottfried Seume. mentis, Paderborn 2001
  • Urs Meyer: The canon of the late Enlightenment - for example Johann Gottfried Seume. In: Anett Lütteken, Matthias Weishaupt u. Carsten Cell (ed.): The Canon in the Age of Enlightenment. Wallstein, Göttingen 2009, pp. 146–163
  • Gabi Pahnke (Ed.): "Here I am sitting in my hermitage again." The Saxon Seume and his (adopted) home Leipzig . Aisthesis, Bielefeld 2013 ISBN 978-3-89528-960-6
  • Johannes Paul : Johann Gottfried Seume: “Walk to Syracuse”. In: Adventurous Journey through Life - Seven Biographical Essays. Wilhelm Köhler, Minden 1954, pp. 113-139
  • Bruno Preisendörfer : The daring traveler. Johann Gottfried Seume and the unprotected life. Galiani, Berlin 2012 ISBN 978-3-86971-060-0
  • Dirk Sangmeister: Seume and some of his contemporaries. Contributions to the life and work of a headstrong late enlightener. Ulenspiegel, Erfurt 2010 ISBN 978-3-932655-39-5 (= Germany's eighteenth century, studies 2.)
  • Dirk Sangmeister:  Seume, Johann Gottfried. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 24, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-428-11205-0 , pp. 281-283 ( digitized version ).
  • Jakob Starzinger: "rock face" vs. "Flower Valley". Perception of others and self-stylization in JG Seumes "Mein Sommer 1805". In: transit. European Review , 2nd year 2006, volume 1. ( full text, PDF )
  • Inge Stephan: Johann Gottfried Seume. A political writer of the German Late Enlightenment. JB Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart 1973
  • Rudolf WolkanSeume, Johann Gottfried . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 34, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1892, pp. 64-67.
  • Eberhard Zänker: Johann Gottfried Seume. A biography. Faber & Faber, Leipzig 2005

Web links

Wikisource: Johann Gottfried Seume  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Johann Gottfried Seume  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. "Twenty-two weeks we had swum around without seeing the slightest land." Seume: My life . P. 131.
  2. see: Continuation to Seume: Mein Leben von C. A. H. Clodius.
  3. Dirk Igelström:  Seume, Johann Gottfried. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 24, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-428-11205-0 , pp. 281-283 ( digitized version ).
  4. KW Biehusen: My eyes are getting dark. Retrieved December 1, 2017 .
  5. ^ Friedrich Christian Delius: The walk from Rostock to Syracuse . Narrative. 1st edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1995, ISBN 3-498-01302-5 (as paperback: 1998, ISBN 978-3-499-22278-8 ).
  6. Jan Decker: The long slumber . Novel. 1st edition. Edition 21, Thun 2017, ISBN 978-3-9524467-5-1 ( reading sample PDF ).
  7. Göschenhaus - Seume memorial. Retrieved December 1, 2017 .
  8. ^ Museum in Lützen Castle
  9. Wolfgang Biehusen: Three men and a monument: Seume, Allmers, Meyenburg . In: Jahrbuch der Männer vom Morgenstern 83, 2004, pp. 123–150.
  10. Beate Mielsch: Monuments open sculptures fountain . Bremen 1980, pp. 19, 51, fig. 20, 21.
  11. ^ Rudolf Priemer : 1989: Grimma artist paints Seume as a border crosser. Günter Ketelhut's picture is underrepresented in the outbuilding of the St. Augustin high school. In: Leipziger Volkszeitung, Muldental edition, January 23, 2017, p. 28.
  12. ^ BR radio play Pool - Seume, My Life