Austrian poet; born May 1, 1817, at Baja, Hungary; died April 10, 1879, at Währing, a suburb of Vienna. Although of Jewish parentage, he was brought up in the Protestant Church. Upon his completion of the high-school course in Budapest, he entered the University of Vienna with the view of devoting himself to the study of medicine; but in 1833 ill health compelled him to abandon his scientific pursuits, and he then attempted to follow his father's commercial career. Barely six months had elapsed when he suddenly left the parental home and registered at the University of Leipsic as a free student in the course of philosophy. In Leipsic he found his true calling. Induced by his friend Gustav Kühne, then editor of the "Zeitung für die Elegante Welt," he published his first poems, "Nächte. Gepanzerte Lieder," Leipsic, 1838, which met with great success. Gutzkow predicted for the author the fame of a Byron. Encouraged by the success of his first work, he soon followed it up by another, "Der Fahrende Poet," Leipsic, 1838, consisting of four songs: "Hungary," "Vienna," "Weimar," and "Die Wartburg," the first of which is a splendid picture of Hungarian life and customs, and contains some of the best lines in the entire work. The "Stille Lieder," which appeared later (Leipsic, 1840), are the very antithesis to the author's "Gepanzerte Lieder," and were greeted with the same unqualified favor.
Beck's next attempt was at drama; but his tragic play, "Saul" (Leipsic, 1841), produced in Budapest, although a model of poetic diction, and abounding in spirited and brilliant lines, was totally wanting in dramatic action. With his masterpiece, an epic poem entitled "Yankó, der Ungarische Rosshirt" (Leipsic, 1842; 3d ed., 1870), Beck returned to his proper element; in no other work did he paint a truer picture of his native land and its people.
In 1843 Beck took up his abode in Vienna, where he formed an intimate acquaintance with the poet Lenau, whose style, it is said, he imitated in his works. Another year, however, found him back in Berlin, engaged in preparing a complete collection of his poems, which was first published in Berlin in 1844 and has since run into several editions. This work brought him into conflict with the Prussian government, which at first suppressed the entire edition. Later, however, the author's appeal to the Higher Court of Censure (Oberzensurgericht) released all but two of his poems from the interdiction.
The social and political movements in which the poet took part during this period called forth his "Lieder vom Armen Mann," Berlin, 1848, 4th ed. (?), and another series of "Gepanzerte Lieder," Berlin, 1848. The Hungarian insurrection of 1848 drew him again to Vienna, and in an eloquent poem entitled "An Franz Joseph" (Vienna, 1849, two editions), he pleaded for a general amnesty in behalf of his defeated fellow-countrymen.
In Vienna, Beck was for some time attached to the editorial staff of the ministerial organ "Lloyd," occasionally contributing to its literary columns; but, disconsolate at the death of his wife, which had occurred only a few months after their marriage, he seized the opportunity of a change of scene, when he was offered the charge of a new journal devoted to art and literature, "Frische Quellen," founded in Budapest. Only a few numbers of this publication were issued; and Beck soon returned to the Austrian metropolis, where he spent his remaining years.
Despite a tendency to allow ulterior motives to influence his writings, Beck remained a true poet. His inspired enthusiasm and passionate sympathy for downtrodden Judaism lifted some of his creations to an almost prophetic height; while the fiery zeal with which he embraced the cause of suffering humanity lent to others of his poems a touch of pathos and reality. But it was in the soul-stirring descriptions of the singular, wildly passionate life of his native land and people that Beck reached the sublime. His superb epic poem "Yankó" seems, however, to have exhausted the fire of his genius. His later works—"Aus der Heimath," Dresden, 1852; "Mater Dolorosa," a novel, Berlin, 1854; "Yadwiga," an epic poem, Leipsic, 1863; "Still und Bewegt," a collection of poems,Berlin, 1870; "Monatsrosen," Berlin, 1848; and others—are but feeble echoes of his earlier inspirations.
- Bibliothek der Deutschen Klassiker, Hildburghausen, 1863;
- Freundesgruss, dedicated to Beck by Moriz Carriere, in Zeitung für die Elegante Welt, 1837, No. 232;
- Silhouetten Oesterreichischer Dichter und Künstler, in Iris, Gratz, 1850-51;
- Jüdisches Athenäum: Gallerie Berähmter Männer Jüdischer Abstammung, Leipsic, 1851;
- Der Komet: Beilage für Literatur, Kunst, etc., Leipsic, 1838, No. 1;
- C. von Wurzbach, Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, s.v.:
- Brockhaus, Konversations-Lexikon, 14th ed.;
- Meyer, Konversations-Lexikon, 5th ed.;
- Blätter für Litterarische Unterhaltung, 1838, pp. 963, 967; 1839, Nos. 225-228; 1841, Nos. 14, 358, 359, Leipsic;
- Zeitung für die Elegante Welt, 1837, No. 254; 1838, No. 224, Leipsic;
- Litterarische und Kritische Blätter der Börsenhalle, 1838, pp. 211, 219; 1841, Nos. 36, 37, Hamburg;
- Schmidt, Gesch. der Deutschen Literatur im 19. Jahrhundert, iii., Breslau, 1855;
- La Grande Encyclopédie, s.v.