Stefan Zweig Biography: Chapter Three - Early Works
Before Stefan left his primary education, he solicited a publisher concerning a volume of poetry he wished published. Stefan did nothing lightly, and he had obsessively researched his first publishing house. He later always claimed to care little for fame, but the 19-year-old Stefan Zweig made certain that any publishing house he chose had already published a cadre of famous writers. He found the perfect publisher, and his first book, Silver Strings, was published in 1901. His desire to see publication was fulfilled before he had even finished college.
Stefan was very concerned about how his first work was received by the reading public. His concerns were unnecessary, however, as all of the major Viennese newspapers hailed him as a bright, rising talent. Zweig worked with the famous editor, Theodor Herzl, and published many more short pieces for newspapers and magazines. Herzl was the publisher of the widely read, Neue Freie Presse. Herzl is considered by historians to be the father of Zionism, and the creator of the State of Israel. He would be just one of the many famous people that Zweig would come to know.
Not one to linger on past successes, Stefan immediately moved on. He was overly critical of his own, early work, and rarely allowed it to be reprinted later in his life. Striving always for greater success and perfection, he began to translate poetry. It was during this time that he befriended Camill Hoffmann.
The two friends spent long hours together, winding their way through the streets and museums of Vienna. They were especially fond of the French poet, Charles Baudelaire, and published a translation of his work in 1902. Zweig wrote the introduction to the translation, and it is no surprise that he was an aficionado of Baudelaire. Baudelaire’s most successful volume, The Flowers of Evil, inspired a whole generation of writers and poets.
Whenever Zweig felt despondent about his own writing, he often turned to his favorite poets. It became therapeutic for him to work tirelessly on translating writers whose words had given him so much hope. Zweig also worked on a compilation of Paul Verlaine’s poetry. Verlaine, another French poet, is famous for his tempestuous relationship with the younger poet, Arthur Rimbaud. Verlaine and Rimbaud also found themselves influenced by the poetry of Baudelaire. Zweig considered all three poets to be visionaries, and he found comfort in their constant, poetic battle against the ennui and shackles of society. Zweig himself felt chained to his own life of boredom and privilege.
During a college trip to Berlin, Zweig avoided the polite society of his youth, and began to hang out in the seedier cafes of the city. It is there that he first met the philosopher, Rudolph Steiner. Steiner would later gain fame from his attempts to mesh spirituality with science. When Zweig first met him, however, Steiner was little more than a vagabond. The two did not spend a great deal of time together, but the company that Steiner kept influenced the young Zweig in many ways. Zweig, the wealthy child of textile millionaires, began to see another side of life. That side was far different from any he had ever known.
Zweig also met Ephraim Moses Lilien, during his stay in Berlin. It is strange to think that Zweig befriended the father of Zionism, Herzl, and then met the man whom historians refer to as the first Zionist-artist. It is especially odd that Zweig might encounter these influences, considering that his own family had all but left their Jewish faith. Whether the two Zionists greatly influenced Zweig’s later writing is speculation at best, however. Though Zweig later had to flee the spreading Nazi empire, he was never what one would call a Zionist champion, in his writing. He was impressed enough by Lilien to maintain a friendship with him, though, and to write the introduction to a book of Ephraim’s art, in 1903. Ephraim repaid Zweig’s effort, by fashioning a ring-seal for Stefan. Zweig used the seal on his handwritten letters, for many years to come.
Another of Zweig’s literary idols was Emile Verhaeren. The Belgian poet fascinated young Zweig, and Stefan dreamed of meeting him. He was able to do so in 1904, and the meeting secured the career of Zweig as a writer. Although Verhaeren was far older than Zweig, he treated the young Stefan with respect, and admiration. Zweig spoke of the meeting in detail afterward, acknowledging that Verhaeren’s faith in him pushed him to continue his writing pursuits.
Despite his occasional bouts of creative depression, Zweig published a volume of short stories in 1904. The volume was entitled, The Love of Erica Ewald, and received good reviews from the well-known German author, Hermann Hesse. This volume of stories began to define the sort of work that Stefan would later perfect: short, powerful, psychological sketches of his characters.