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Solomon Gessner, printer and poet, was born at Zurich, in Switzerland, in 1730, where he acquired more celebrity by his poems than by his impressions.
A bad system of education established in his country, made poetry be regarded not only as an idle occupation, but as contrary to religion and morality. Gessner, in attaching himself to the Muses, proved himself the child of Nature. He felt pleasure in painting her in her most agreeable situations, amid the peaceful labours of pastoral life, and the rustic virtues of hospitality. His muse is a shepherdess, distinguished for modesty, innocence, and beauty. Nothing can equal the sprightliness and the delicacy of his Idyllia. This species of poetry he carried to the highest pitch of perfection. More varied than Theocritus, more interesting than Sannazarius, Gessner gave to her the most striking features, and to filial respect the warmest gratitude. He printed his Idyllia in 1773, having previously made the designs, and engraved the plates with his own hand. We also owe to this poet Daphne, or the First Navigator. "If the severe fidelity of history," says a critic, " considers the thirst of wealth as the origin of navigation, it belonged to the fertile imagination of the poet to represent love as raising the first mast, and spreading the first sail on the expanse of the ocean: to picture a young man, animated by the valour which a lively and tender passion inspires, braving the billows on a majestic swan, surrounded by the Nereides, n itons, and sea monsters, who frolic beside his vessel." It is impossible to give to navigation a more pleasing origin; and
had it been consecrated by the poets of antiquity, the gallant Horace would not have cased his heart in triple steel who first ventured in a small bark to expose himself to the deep.
But his reputation became principally extended by the Death of Abel, which met with numerous admirers; the mind being greatly impressed by the union of religious majesty and pastoral simplicity. In the poem of Evander, Gessner proves himself not only a celebrated poet, bnt an admirable landscape painter, a good engraver, and most tasteful musician. He, with great reason, confined the Graces to one family, to which Gessner was admitted. We behold in him at the same time the faithful friend, the good husband, the tender parent, and irreproachable magistrate. He had the good fortune to meet with a companion worthy of him, whose beauty, wit, and talent* formed the happiness of his life. The disposition of Gessner was naturally melancholic; but in the bosom of his family, he became chearful and serene. His conversation was lively and animated; and his manner courteous, notwithstanding the multitude of strangers who obtruded themselves in order to know and to admire him.
He died at Zurich, of a paralytic affection, on the 2d of March, 1788, at the age of fifty-eight.
The poems of Gessner have been translated into the European languages. The Abbes Bertola, Fern, and Matteo Procopeo, professor of Italian literature in the Academy Carolini, have made them known in Italy. A complete translation of his works into French has been executed by Hubert: and in England various of his best publications have met with infinite success.