Wilhelm Scherer

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Wilhelm Scherer

Wilhelm Scherer (born April 26, 1841 in Schönborn , Lower Austria ; † August 6, 1886 in Berlin ) was an Austrian German philologist.


Scherer was born as the son of a Franconian and an Austrian at Schönborn Castle (Göllersdorf) . His father died when he was four years old. The mother soon married a friend of her late husband. After moving several times, Wilhelm Scherer attended the Academic Gymnasium in Vienna from 1854 . At the age of 17 he switched to the University of Vienna and studied German philology with Franz Pfeiffer .

In 1860 Scherer went to Berlin, where he heard from Moriz Haupt , Franz Bopp , Leopold von Ranke and Karl Müllenhoff , among others . Above all, Müllenhoff supported the talented student and in 1864 involved him in the publication of the monuments of German poetry and prose from the 8th to the 12th centuries. Century . In Berlin Scherer was in contact with Jacob Grimm , about whose life and work he published his first book in 1865.

In 1862 Scherer received his doctorate in Vienna. In 1864 he completed his habilitation. After four years as a private lecturer , in 1868 he succeeded his teacher Pfeiffer at the Vienna Chair for German Philology. In 1872 he was appointed to the newly founded Kaiser Wilhelms University of Strasbourg in the realm of Alsace-Lorraine . After five years he went back to Berlin, where he took over the professorship created for him for modern German literary history.

At the age of 38 he married the singer Marie Leeder (1855–1939). Wilhelm Scherer died of a stroke at the age of 45 . He was buried in the Old St. Matthew Cemetery in Berlin . Many of his students, including Konrad Burdach , Richard M. Meyer , Gustav Roethe , Erich Schmidt , Ferdinand Wrede and Edward Schroeder , worked well into the 20th century and influenced the development of German studies.


Scherer published in all areas of German philology. The history of the German language (1868) and the widely published history of German literature (1883) are his main works . He is considered one of the founders of the Goethe philology. In 1885 he helped prepare the Weimar edition (Sophien edition) of Goethe's works.

Scherer is considered one of the most influential German scholars. As one of the last representatives of his discipline, he independently represented all main areas of German studies in research and teaching. Scherer founded Germanistic seminars in Strasbourg and Berlin and was one of the first university lecturers to study recent German literature. The Scherer School he founded was for a long time controversial in the history of science as a refuge for literary positivism .

The division of German language history into 300-year segments, which is still common today, goes back to him , namely Old High German (750–1050), Middle High German (1050–1350), Early New High German (1350–1650) and New High German (1650 to date).

Scherer also put forward the theory of the heyday. This is an attempt to periodise German literary history. Scherer said that about every 300 years there would be a cycle-like change from flowery (womanly) epochs to epochs of decline (male) epochs. The times of maximum flowering would be around 1200 and 1800. The periods of prosperity would have been from 1050 to 1350 and 1650 to 1950. Periods of decline would have been 750 to 1050 and 1350 to 1650. The separation was not so strict, but rather relative, as something would be passed on from one past epoch to the next. Remnants of a biologically determined interpretation of literature that was based on age and the change of the seasons, i.e. nature, flowed into this periodization theory.

Scherer was instrumental in equipping the humanities faculties of universities with seminar libraries as reference libraries . As a result, seminars no longer had to be held in the apartments; H. held in the professors' private libraries. Thanks to the seminar libraries, the most important books of the respective subject became generally available at the location of teaching and research.


Grave site (honor grave)


  • Jacob Grimm , 1865
  • Life of Williram's abbot von Ebersberg in Baiern , 1866
  • On the history of the German language , 1868
  • German studies
    • Vol. I: Spervogel , 1870
    • Vol. II: The Beginnings of Minnesong , 1870
  • Spiritual poets of the German Empire. Studies , 1874
  • Lectures and essays on the history of intellectual life in Germany and Austria , 1874
  • History of German poetry in the eleventh and twelfth centuries , 1875
  • Beginnings of the German prose novel and Jörg Wickram von Colmar , 1875
  • From Goethe's early days , 1879
  • History of German Literature , 1883
  • Emanuel Geibel , 1884
  • Talk to Jakob Grimm , 1885
  • Memorial speech for Karl Müllenhoff , 1885
  • Essays on Goethe , 1886 ( online  - Internet Archive )
  • Poetics , 1888 ( digitized version and full text in the German text archive ) Chap. The types of seals , chap. The exchange value of poetry and literary intercourse
  • Wilhelm Scherer. Writings , ed. v. Konrad Burdach, 1890


  • Correspondence. Wilhelm Scherer - Erich Schmidt , ed. v. Werner Richter u. Eberhard Lämmert, 1963:
  • Correspondence 1872–1886. Wilhelm Scherer - Elias von Steinmeyer , ed. v. Horst Brunner u. Joachim Helbig, 1982:
  • Wilhelm Scherer. Letters and documents from the years 1853 to 1886 , ed. v. Mirko Nottscheid u. Hans-Harald Müller, 2005 ISBN 3-89244-826-4 .


  • Constantin von Wurzbach : Scherer, Wilhelm . In: Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich . 29th part. Kaiserlich-Königliche Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, Vienna 1875, pp. 210–213 ( digitized version ).
  • Edward SchröderScherer, Wilhelm . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 31, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1890, pp. 104-114.
  • Peter Salm: Three directions in literary studies. Scherer, Walzel, Staiger. Tübingen: Niemeyer 1970. (= concepts of linguistics and literary studies; 2) ISBN 3-484-22002-3 :
  • Uta Dobrinkat: Presented literary history. On the relationship between the present and the past in Wilhelm Scherer's literary historiography using the example of sketches from older German literary history and the history of German literature. Dissertation FU Berlin 1979.
  • Jürgen Sternsdorff: Science constitution and establishment of an empire. The development of German studies with Wilhelm Scherer; a biography based on unpublished sources. Frankfurt am Main u. a .: Lang 1979. (= European university publications; series 1, German literature and German studies) ISBN 3-8204-6632-0 .
  • Wolfgang Höppner: The “inherited, experienced and learned” in Wilhelm Scherer's work. A contribution to the history of German studies. Cologne u. a .: Böhlau 1993. (= European cultural studies; 5) ISBN 3-412-03893-8 :
  • Wolfgang Höppner:  Scherer, Wilhelm. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 22, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-428-11203-2 , p. 693 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Hans-Jürgen Mende : Lexicon of Berlin tombs. Berlin 2006.
  • Herbert Zeman: Wilhelm Scherer: (April 26, 1841 - August 6, 1886) ; Departure of Goethe Research, Düsseldorf, 2013 (= Düsseldorf Goethe Lectures; 3). ISBN 978-3-9811005-3-2 .

Web links

Wikisource: Wilhelm Scherer  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Uwe Meves: German Philology at the Prussian Universities in the 19th Century (2011)
  2. ^ Wilhelm Scherer: History of German poetry in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Strasbourg / London 1875.
  3. ^ Carlos Spoerhase : Experimenting with books. What is needed for a workable seminar? In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , April 2, 2014, p. N4.
  4. Constantin von Wurzbach : Scherer, Wilhelm . In: Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich . 29th part. Imperial-Royal Court and State Printing Office, Vienna 1875, pp. 210–213 ( digitized version ).