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Adalbert de Chamisso

Schloß Boncourt 1781 - Berlin 1838


The poet and naturalist Adelbert von Chamisso was born Louis Charles Adélaïde in 1781 in Chateaux Boncourt in Champagne. In 1790 his family fled France to escape the revolution and settled in Germany. In 1796 Chamisso became the Queen of Prussia’s page and was allowed to attend the French school in Berlin. After beginning a career in the military, he soon turned his attention to philosophy and German literature.
In 1803 he published the "Musenalmanach" with Wilhelm Neumann. Together with other authors of the almanac, which included Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, they began holding regular literary midnight meetings, and later became the "Nordstern" poetry group. Despite his French origins, Adelbert von Chamisso had to fight for the Prussians against Napoleon. In 1808, he was granted his longed-for release from the army. He began studying new languages and in 1810, he moved to Paris. He translated lectures on literature by the philosopher and founder of the Romantic Movement, A.W. Schlegel.
From 1812, Adelbert von Chamisso studied natural sciences in Berlin, with botany as his main focus. During renewed outbreaks of war, he wrote his literary fairytale "Peter Schlemihl", which contained autobiographical references relating to Chamisso’s inner development. His style is characterised by precise descriptions of his protagonists’ state of mind. The story of Peter Schlemihl tells of how he sells his shadow to the devil, without knowing that this will make him an outcast. He rejects the devil’s offer to swap back his shadow for Schlemihl’s soul, and spends the rest of his days travelling as a vagrant naturalist.
From 1815-18, Adelbert von Chamisso himself travelled to the South Seas and around the world as a botanist, on one of the journeys led by the German-Russian captain Otto von Kotzebue. The newly discovered "Chamisso Islands" in Alaska were named after him. Chamisso documented his experiences in his travel writings. In 1819, the Berlin University appointed him Doctor of Philosophy.
In the same year, Adelbert von Chamisso married his long-term partner Antonie Piasta. From 1824, he was a member of the "Mittwochsgesellschaft" which made its focus the unifying of "the real poets and excellent minds of Berlin".
Chamisso wrote prolifically and received increasing recognition. In 1833, he was named the first curator of the Botanical Garden in Berlin. In 1835, Chamisso fell ill and now restricted himself to compiling a dictionary and grammar book of the Hawaiian language, which he had become familiar with during his South Sea journey.
Adelbert von Chamisso died on 21st August 1838.


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