Georg Buchner

On this date in 1813, playwright and poet Karl Georg Buchner was born in Goddelau, Germany. The eldest child of the Buchner family, his siblings included freethinkers Alexander and Ludwig (and Louise, Mathilde and Wilhelm). He studied medicine in Strasbourg and Gissen. An intense student of Spinoza's writings, Buchner earned a doctorate in philosophy and lectured in natural history in Zurich, Switzerland. Having developed a passion for radical politics, for a short time he edited Der Hessische Landbote, a pamphlet with the well-known Revolutionary-era slogan: "Peace to the Huts and War to the Palaces." In spite of living only until age 23, Buchner gained a reputation as a powerful playwright and, though he only wrote one, novella author. He wrote the play "Leonce and Lena" (1838) and part of a play called "Woyzeck" (published posthumously in 1879). Some of his other plays have been lost, but "Danton's Death" (1835), was a well-received play that depicted an atheistic Thomas Paine (whom he called "Payne"). "Danton's Death" was written about two years before his own death and, by the author's claim, was completed in less than five weeks.

George Seibel wrote of him: "Buchner, in the brief span of his life, manifested much of that spirit of Thomas Paine which stalked through Germany during centuries, which has thrust into the flesh of theology the thorn of higher criticism . . . " ("Thomas Paine in Germany," in The Open Court, Vol. 34, edited by Paul Carus, January 1920). "There is no God . . . God cannot have created the world," said Buchner's "Payne" in "Danton's Death." While a political refugee in Zurich, he died of typhoid fever. His death devastated the Buchner family, as partially recalled by Ludwig: "Who could describe the grief? The scenes I then lived through cast the first, but a deep and abiding, shadow on my young heart..." (quoted in Alexander Buchner's "Introduction" to Last Words on Materialism and Kindred Subjects, 1901, p. xxvii). In 1923, Buchner's hometown of Darmstadt, Germany, created the Georg Buchner Prize for literature, which is still one of the most prestigious awards in the country. D. 1837.

Mercier: But what about morality?
Payne: First you adduce morality as a proof of God, and then cite God in support of morality. You reason in a beautiful circle, like a dog biting his own tail.

—-Buchner's "Payne" in "Danton's Death"

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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