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BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICE OF THE
ABRIDGED FROM THE “AUGSBURGER ALLGEMEINE
ZEITUNG” OF 6th DECEMBER, 1878.
The author of this work died at Gratz on the 7th of September, 1878. In devoting a few lines to his memory we have not a long and distinguished career to describe, for a brief span of life was all that was granted him, but to the last moment he sought to turn it to the best account.
The present work has enjoyed a wide circulation in Germany, but few of its readers could have known anything of the author but his name. The protracted studies which form the basis of it, the skilful handling of documentary material which seemed to betray the practised historian, must have suggested a man of ripe years, whose life had been passed in study, as the author; no one certainly would have sought him among the young officers of a cavalry regiment, whose tastes generally lie in any direction rather than that of historical research.
Karl von Gebler was the son of Field-marshal Wilhelm von Gebler, and was born at Vienna in 1850. Although early destined for the military career, he laid the foundations of a superior education in the grammar schools.
Having passed through the gymnasium, in 1869 he joined the 7th regiment of the line as a private, and before long attained the rank of lieutenant in the 4th regiment of Dragoons. Being an excellent draftsman and skilled in military surveying, he was often employed on the general's staff in drawing maps. In addition to his extensive knowledge of military affairs, he had many of the accomplishments befitting his calling; he was an excellent shot and a bold rider. But the duties of a cavalry officer were soon too limited for his active mind and intellectual tastes, and he sought also to win his spurs on the fields of literature. He occupied his leisure in translating the work of a French staff officer, “Success in War,” to which he made some additions. He also published “The True Portrait of a Royal Hero of the 18th Century," in a newspaper; and finally, “Historic Sayings."
A night ride, undertaken in the performance of his official duties, from which he returned at daybreak to exercise at the riding school, brought on severe hemorrhage and inflammation of the lungs. The two physicians who attended him gave him up ; in a consultation at his bedside, prudently held in Latin, they gave him twenty-four hours to live. One of them having taken leave, the other returned to the patient, who, with quiet humour, greeted him with the classic words, “Morituri te salutant !” The worthy doctor found, to his horror, that the patient had understood all that had passed, and had no easy task to persuade him that his case was not so bad after all. He had, however, in consequence of some local circumstances, already ordered the coffin.
Gebler's constitution surmounted the danger; by the spring he was able to join his parents at Gratz. But his health had sustained so severe a shock that he was compelled to abandon the military career. His parents removed to Gries, near Botzen, for the sake of a milder climate on his account. Here he revived wonderfully; he seemed to have taken a new lease of life, and devoted himself altogether to literary pursuits. The critical studies before mentioned of the assumed historic sayings of great men, and among them of Galileo's famous dictum, “E pur si muove,” brought him into closer acquaintance with this hero of science. He accumulated so large a
material for a biographical sketch of the great Italian, that the limits of an essay seemed too narrow, and he resolved to undertake a more comprehensive work on the subject, which he thought would fill up a gap in German literature. In the autumn of 1875 the work, which had occupied him four years, was completed. It was not a little gratifying to the young author that one of the first publishers in Germany, Cotta, of Stuttgard, undertook the publication on very favourable terms, and brought it out in 1876. It met with great approval, and brought him into association with many eminent literary men in Italy and Germany. Galileo's own country was foremost in recognition of his services. The academies of Padua and Pisa, and the Accademia dei Lincei sent him special acknowledgments, and King Victor Emmanuel rewarded him with the order of the Crown of Italy.
Before this work was finished he had removed with his father, having in the meanwhile lost his mother, to Meran, and during the first year of his residence there his health improved so much that he was able to take part in social life, and to enlarge the sphere of his labours and influence. Society in this little town owed much in many ways to the intellectual and amiable young officer. Whenever a good and noble cause required support, his co-operation might be reckoned on. In common with many other lovers of art and antiquity, he took a lively interest in the preservation and restoration of the Maultasch-Burg, which promises to be one of the chief sights of Meran. Unhappily he did not live to see the completion of the work.
With increase of health his zest for work increased also, and he addressed himself to a great historical task. The subject he selected was the Maid of Orleans. The preliminary studies were difficult in a place destitute of all aids to learning. His researches were not confined to the collection of all the printed material; in 1876 he had planned to search out the documentary sources wherever they were to be found, but before this he made close studies in the field of psychology and mental Ruf's great
pathology. The work of Ruf on the subject, the learned chaplain of a lunatic asylum, attracted his attention, and he entered into communication with the author. experience and philosophical acquirements were of great service to Gebler in his preliminary studies on Joan of Arc. But the project was not to be carried out. Just as he was about to write the second chapter, an essay of Berti's at Rome occasioned him to enter on fresh studies on Galileo.
Domenico Berti, who had examined the original Acts of Galileo's trial, though, as his work shows, very superficially, spoke contemptuously of the German savans, comparing them with blind men judging of colours, as none of them had seen the original Acts in the Vatican. This had special reference to the document of 26th February, 1616, which the German writers on the subject, and Gebler among them, declared to be a forgery. Being a man of the strictest love of truth, this reproach induced him, in spite of his health, which had again failed, in May, 1877, to go to Rome, where he obtained access to the Vatican. For ten weeks, in spite of the oppressive heat, he daily spent fourteen hours in the Papal Archives, studying and copying with diplomatic precision the original Acts of Galileo's trial. As the result of his labours, he felt constrained to declare the document in question to be genuine. Actuated only by the desire that truth should prevail, in the second part of his work, written at Rome, he without hesitation withdrew the opinion he had previously advocated as an error.
His first work had made a flattering commotion in the literary world, but the additional publication called forth a still more animated discussion of the whole question, which the readers of this journal will not have forgotten. Gebler took part in it himself, and, then suffering from illness, wrote his reply from a sick bed.
His sojourn in Rome had sadly pulled him down. On his return home, in July, 1877, he had lost his voice and was greatly reduced. But in October of the same year he once more roused himself for a journey to Italy. The object of the
previous one was to follow his hero in yellow and faded historic papers, but this time the task he had set himself was to pursue the tracks of Galileo in all the cities and places in any way connected with his memory. The result of these travels was an article in the Deutsche Rundshau, No. 7, 1878, “On the Tracks of Galileo.” In this paper Gebler again dispels some clouds in which Galileo's previous biographers had enveloped him. We in these less romantic days are quite willing to dispense with the shudder at the stories of the dungeon, etc., and are glad to know that Galileo was permitted to enjoy a degree of comfort during his detention not often granted to those who come into collision with the world.
“On the Tracks of Galileo” was Gebler's last literary work. His strength of will and mental powers at length succumbed to his incurable malady. The mineral waters of Gleichenberg, which he had been recommended to try, did him more harm than good. He wrote thence to a friend, “I am in a pitiable condition, and have given up all hope of improvement.” Unfortunately he was right. He had overtasked his strength. His zeal for science had hastened his end, and he may well be called one of her victims.
His last days were spent at Gratz, where his boyhood had been passed, and he rests beside his only brother. Both were the pride and joy of their father, now left alone.
In appearance Karl von Gebler was distinguished and attractive looking. No one could escape the charm of the freshness and originality of his mind, in spite of constant ill health. The refined young student, with the manners of a man of the world, was a phenomenon to his fellow-workers in the learned world. We have heard some of them say that they could not understand how Gebler could have acquired the historian's craft, the technical art of prosecuting research, without having had any special critical schooling.
The writer of these lines will never forget the hours spent with this amiable and, in spite of his success, truly modest young man in his snug study. The walls lined with books,