Carl (Karl) Anton Postl, [pseud. Charles Sealsfield], author, was born on March 3, 1793, in the village of Poppitz, near Znaim, Moravia, the son of Anton and Juliane (Rabel) Postl. After studies in Znaim from 1802 to 1807 he went to Prague in 1808 and was a student at the convent of the Order of the Holy Cross with the Red Star. Postl became a monk in 1813 and was ordained a priest in 1814. He rose to prominence in the administration of his order, but in 1823 he suddenly disappeared. Despite the efforts of police in Prague and Vienna, no information about Postl's subsequent whereabouts surfaced for over forty years. Even today Postl's life remains shrouded in mystery, partly because of his flight and partly because of his work and personality. Adopting the name Charles Sealsfield, by which he is still known to historians of American and German literature, he appeared in New Orleans in 1823 and subsequently lived in Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia, and Kittanning, Pennsylvania. He alternated writing with travels. He returned to Europe several times and may have traveled quite extensively in North America. It is not known for certain whether he traveled throughout Texas, Mexico, and the Southwest, but modern scholars have deemed it probable. Postl may have owned a plantation on the Red River at some point, but there is no definitive evidence to support it. In 1827 he published two volumes titled Die Vereinigten Staaten von Nordamerika, nach ihrem Politischen, Religiösen, und Gesellschaftlichen Verhältnissen Betrachtet. This was the only work he published under the pseudonym Charles Sidons. In 1828 an English translation appeared under the name Sealsfield. He published his first novel Tokeah; or, The White Rose in 1829. From 1829 to 1832 he may have worked as a journalist in the Southwest. He immortalized Texas in his novel Das Kajütenbuch (Zurich, 1841), or The Cabin Book (New York, 1844; London, 1852). In addition to this novel about Texas, in which he portrays the fledgling republic as the world's great hope for the future, Sealsfield wrote twelve other novels and book-length interpretations of North America and Europe. A Jacksonian in his political views, he shared much in terms of literary style and aesthetics with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, James Fenimore Cooper, and Sir Walter Scott. His books were widely read. Because of this popularity, an eighteen-volume edition of the collected works was published in Stuttgart in 1843–46. Yet, after the publication of Süden und Norden (1842–43; published in English in 1844 as North and South; or, Scenes and Adventures in Mexico), when he was at the height of his literary career, Sealsfield published no more. In the 1850s he retired to Solothurn, Switzerland, where he died on May 26, 1864, still a fugitive from the imperial police and a literary enigma. He had never married. His will, with its substantial legacies to his family in Moravia, revealed the author's earlier identity, and literary scholarship has established Sealsfield's place in two national literatures.
A Sealsfield revival started in the 1930s in Germany with a complete edition in 1937 of Sealsfield's writings about America, and again in the 1970s, this time spreading to Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and the United States. The Charles-Sealsfield-Gesellschaft in Germany publishes a yearbook of Sealsfield scholarship. An edition of representative works, under the direction of Karl J. R. Arndt, commenced in 1972. The Cabin Book, which helped to motivate the Adelsverein and encouraged German migration to Texas, depicts a land both promising and dangerous, inhabited by legendary men, where "you sow nails at night, and find horseshoes in the morning." The work was immensely popular and remained one of the most widely read books in Texas throughout the nineteenth century. Highly derivative of the anonymous A Visit to Texas (1834), Sealsfield's heroic novel was the first important discussion of Texas in the German language; coupled with William Kennedy's Goethean Texas: The Rise, Progress, and Prospects of the Republic of Texas, which appeared the same year, it presents Texas as a rich field of opportunities. Although often considered overwhelmingly exuberant and optimistic, with a heavy admixture of manifest destiny, the book also warns that change and progress can be costly, even deadly, in personal terms. Some learned immigrants during Sealsfield's day took both the encouragement and the admonitions to heart. Approximately 100 printings of the novel, either as complete or revised editions or as excerpts in at least five languages, attest to its lasting appeal.
Eduard Castle, Der grosse Unbekannte: Das Leben von Charles Sealsfield (Karl Postl) (Vienna and Munich: Manutius Presse, 1952). Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 133. Glen E. Lich, "Sealsfield's Texas: Metaphor, Experience, and History," Yearbook of German-American Studies 22 (1987). Thomas Ostwald, ed., Charles Sealsfield-Leben und Werk (Brunswick: Graff, 1976). Günter Schnitzler, Erfahrung und Bild: Die dichterische Wirklichkeit des Charles Sealsfield (Karl Postl) (Freiburg: Rombach, 1988).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Glen E. Lich,
“Postl, Carl Anton,”
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