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Johann David Wyss

Johann David Wyss Johann David Wyss[1†]

Johann David Wyss (28 May 1743 – 11 January 1818) was a Swiss author, best remembered for his book The Swiss Family Robinson[1†][2†][3†], one of the most popular books of all time[1†]. The book was edited by his son, Johann Rudolf Wyss, a scholar known for writing the Swiss national anthem[1†]. Another of Wyss’s sons, Johann Emmanuel Wyss, illustrated the book[1†]. Wyss has been described as an author whose style was "firmly Christian and moral in tone"[1†].

Early Years and Education

Johann David Wyss was born on May 28, 1743, in Bern, Switzerland[4†]. Little is known about his early life and family background[4†][1†]. However, it is known that in his young adulthood, he served as a military chaplain in Italy[4†]. This role likely exposed him to a variety of experiences and cultures, which may have influenced his later writings[4†].

Wyss was not only a military chaplain but also an accomplished linguist[4†]. His linguistic skills would have been beneficial in his role as a chaplain, allowing him to communicate effectively with a diverse range of people[4†].

Later, he became the rector of the Reformed Protestant Cathedral in Bern[4†]. This position, coupled with his previous experience as a military chaplain, suggests that Wyss was a respected and influential figure in his community[4†].

Unfortunately, there is no available information about his formal education. However, given his roles as a military chaplain and rector, it can be inferred that he received a substantial education, likely in theology[4†].

Career Development and Achievements

Johann David Wyss is best remembered for his book, The Swiss Family Robinson[1†][2†][4†]. The story was inspired by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, but Wyss wanted to write a story from which his own children would learn[1†][4†]. The father in the story taught important lessons to his children[1†][4†].

The Swiss Family Robinson was first published in German in 1812, then translated into English two years later[1†]. It has since become one of the most popular books of all time[1†]. The book was edited by his son, Johann Rudolf Wyss, a scholar known for writing the Swiss national anthem[1†]. Another of Wyss’s sons, Johann Emmanuel Wyss, illustrated the book[1†].

Wyss has been described as an author whose style was "firmly Christian and moral in tone"[1†]. There are also many underlying tones of Christianity throughout the book, particularly with regard to many of the characters and their moral philosophies[1†].

Jules Verne reportedly declared that The Swiss Family Robinson was one of his favorite books[1†], so much so that he was inspired to write a sequel, The Castaways of the Flag (1900), nearly a century after Wyss’s death[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Johann David Wyss is best known for his book “The Swiss Family Robinson” (Der schweizerische Robinson), which was first published in German in 1812[1†][5†]. The book was then translated into English two years later[1†][5†]. It has since become one of the most popular books of all time[1†][5†]. The book was edited by his son, Johann Rudolf Wyss, a scholar known for writing the Swiss national anthem, “Rufst du, mein Vaterland”. Another of Wyss’s sons, Johann Emmanuel Wyss, illustrated the book[1†][5†].

Here are some of his main works:

Analysis and Evaluation

“The Swiss Family Robinson” is a Robinsonade, a specific genre of story modeled after Daniel Defoe’s influential 1719 adventure novel, "Robinson Crusoe"[7†]. Unlike many other Robinsonades, the stranded protagonists in “The Swiss Family Robinson” are not alone. Instead, the focus of the novel is on a family[7†]. This drastically alters the dynamic of the traditional castaway narrative, as the various members of the family are able to rely on one another and turn to each other for support during difficult times[7†].

The island’s abundant resources also add a degree of ease—and an element of the fantastical—to the family’s plight[7†]. Over the years since the novel’s publication, critics have pointed out the relative absurdity of geographically incompatible animals like flamingos, lions, kangaroos, and penguins all residing on the same island[7†]. However, the novel was not necessarily intended to be a factual accounting of life on a desert island; instead, it was designed to be a didactic adventure story about self-reliance, the beauty of the natural world, and Christian values[7†].

Johann David Wyss was a clergyman, and he originally conceptualized “The Swiss Family Robinson” as an instructional story for his own children[7†]. The lessons the father in the novel imparts to his sons mirror many of the common parables, fables, and biblical stories commonly taught to children in Christian households of Wyss’s time[7†]. Furthermore, Wyss heavily emphasizes the relationship between the Christian god and the natural world, attributing the island’s plentiful resources to providence, or divine care[7†].

The relationship between humans and nature is explored throughout the novel—and in many other Robinsonades—as the family endeavors to create their colony on the island[7†]. In many ways, nature provides for them, offering everything they need to clothe, feed, and shelter themselves[7†]. However, the natural world also poses threats: wild animal attacks and inclement weather continuously disrupt the family’s efforts[7†].

Personal Life

Johann David Wyss was a pastor at Bern’s Protestant Cathedral[8†]. He was known to have four sons, with whom he spent a great deal of time[8†]. They were an unusually close-knit family, engaging in activities such as sports and studying together[8†]. Wyss’s relationship with his sons was instrumental in the creation of “The Swiss Family Robinson”, as he originally wrote the story for and with his four sons[8†][2†][9†].

In his young adulthood, Wyss served as a military chaplain in Italy[8†][4†]. Later, he became the rector of the Reformed Protestant Cathedral in Bern[8†][4†]. He was known to be an accomplished linguist[8†][4†].

Wyss lived longer than his son Johann Rudolf, who died twelve years after him at the age of 48[1†]. Johann David Wyss passed away in 1818 at the age of 74[8†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Johann David Wyss’s legacy is primarily tied to his book “The Swiss Family Robinson”, which has become one of the most popular books of all time[1†][5†][3†]. The story, originally written for his own children, has been translated into many languages and continues to be read by children and adults around the world[1†][5†][3†].

Wyss’s style has been described as "firmly Christian and moral in tone"[1†], and there are many underlying tones of Christianity throughout the book[1†]. His work has influenced many, including Jules Verne, who reportedly declared that “The Swiss Family Robinson” was one of his favorite books[1†]. Verne was so inspired by Wyss’s work that he wrote a sequel, “The Castaways of the Flag”, nearly a century after Wyss’s death[1†].

Despite his passing in 1818, Wyss’s influence continues to be felt today[1†]. His work has not only entertained but also educated generations of readers about the importance of family, self-reliance, and resourcefulness[1†][5†][3†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Johann David Wyss [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Johann David Wyss: Swiss pastor and writer [website] - link
  3. Wikiwand - Johann David Wyss - Wikiwand [website] - link
  4. Britannica Kids - Johann David Wyss [website] - link
  5. Goodreads - Author: Johann David Wyss (Author of The Swiss Family Robinson) [website] - link
  6. LibraryThing - Author - Johann David Wyss [website] - link
  7. eNotes - The Swiss Family Robinson Analysis [website] - link
  8. eNotes - Johann David Wyss Biography [website] - link
  9. Bookology magazine - Wyss, Johann David – Authors Emeritus [website] - link
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