HIRZEL, Bernhard

HIRZEL, Bernhard. Enge near Zürich 12.8.1807 — Paris 6.6.1847. Swiss Indologist, Priest and Politician. Priest and Docent in Zürich. Son of Johannes H., a wealthy industrialist, and Margaretha Bürkli. Studied theology at Carolinum in Zürich, where he learnt well Hebrew and Arabic. In 1831 further studies at Berlin, where Bopp introduced him to Sanskrit, soon 1831-32 also under Chézy in Paris, then back to Berlin. After a few years’ studies he debuted with his Śakuntalā translation (based on Chézy’s text and translation), which is said to be written in elegant and good German, but containing a number of mistakes. In 1833 Ph.D. Göttingen, ordained priest and habilitation at the just reestablished Zürich University, taught Sanskrit there and thus became the founder of Swiss Indology. As his main occupation he was Inspector der Stipendiaten. He also worked as a priest and was active in politics. According to Wikipedia he became Professor in 1835, but no other source confirms this. In 1833 he married Maria Elisabeth Tobler (1811–1856), their only son was the father of —> Arnold Hirzel.

The life of Hirzel soon started to go to ruin. Because of family problems and financial worries he accepted in 1837 the minister’s office in Pfäffikon, in the east of Canton Zürich. In September 1839 he headed the so-called prayer-revolt against the government. The revolt was dispersed by army, but the cabinet had to quit. Now Hirzel concentrated on Hebrew studies and became interested in Gothic and Old High German. He taught privately local teachers. Irregular lifestyle, poverty and change in cantonal politics forced him in 1845 to give up his curacy and his priesthood, to avoid suspension. Now he retook his docentship at Zürich and tried with poor succes to find ways of income. His position deteriorated quickly and in the end of 1846 he had to run away because of a forged draft. Now he settled down in Paris hoping to find a chance for scholarly work. He lived with a mistress, because of whom he had deserted his wife. Again a failure and desperate he committed suicide with poison.

During his checquered life Hirzel had little time for profound scholarly work and could publish only translations. He collected material for an edition of the Śrutabodha. In a letter to Bopp he claimed to have presented his dissertation on this text at Göttingen, but such a work seems to be unknown (cf. Windisch). Among his very few students were Ettmüller, Sauppe and Schweizer-Sidler.

Publications: Reputed Göttingen diss. Ars metrica des Calidasa. 1833 is not preserved.

Translated: Sakuntala oder der Erkennungsring. 29+155 p. Zürich 1833, 2nd ed. 1849; Urwasi und der Held. Indisches Melodrama von Kalidasa, dem Dichter der Sakuntala metrisch übersetzt. 30+164 p. Frauenfeld 1838; Krischnamisra, Prabodha­tschandrodaja, oder der Erkenntnismonaufgang, philosophisches Drama und Meghaduta oder der Wolkenbote. Lyrisches Gedicht von Kalidasa, beides metrisch übersetzt. 102+42 p. Zürich 1846.

Translated: Das Lied der Lieder oder Sieg der Treue (Das hohe Lied). 10+81 p. Zürich 1840; wrote himself in Hebrew Gedicht des Todesboten über dem Erdkreis. With German translation. 56+50 p. Zürich 1844.

Mein Antheil an den Ereignissen des 6. Septembers 1839. Ein Wort der Wahrheit an die Schweizerbrüder in der Nähe und Ferne. 16 p. Zürich 1839.

Sources: *P. Aerne, 150 Jahre Zürichputz. 1989, 63-?? and *ZTb 1992 (1993), 227-263; A. Etter, “B.H.: der erste Sanskritist an der Universität Zürich”, 150 Jahre Zürichputz. 1989, 122-130; *Adolf Frey, B.H. Zürcher Roman. Zürich 1918 (a novel); Meyer von Kronau, A.D.B. 12, 1880, 483f.; *F. Richner (ed.), Vom Luxus des Geistes. 1994, 241-272; F. Richner, Web HistLexSchweiz; Windisch 95f.; Wikipedia briefly.

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