Friedrich Halm is the pseudonym of the playright and dramatist Eligius Franz Joseph, Freiherr von Münch-Bellinghausen who was born in Cracow in 1806. He died in Vienna in 1871.
Of his many dramatic works the best known are Griseldis (1837); Der Adept (1836; publ. 1838), Camoens (1838), Der Sohn der Wildnis (1842), and Der Fechter von Ravenna (1857). Griseldis is based on the well-known story of the faithful wife whose loyalty and devotion are put to the severest tests but who triumphs in the end. Der Sohn der Wildnis ("The Son of the Wilderness") is a romantic drama depicting the power of womanly love and virtue over rude barbarian strength. It was presented on the English stage under the title of Ingomar the Barbarian. Der Fechter von Ravenna ("The Gladiator of Ravenna"), regarded as one of Halm's best dramas, is a tragedy having for its hero Thumelicus the son of Arminius, the liberator of Germany from Roman rule. All of these are distinguished by elegance of language, melodious versification and clever construction, and were for a time exceedingly popular.
Theatrically these plays are very effective, but the characters are improbable and the situations are often strained. Their popularity, which they owe largely to their smooth, polished and beautiful diction and skillfully interspersed lyrics, has not been lasting. Of Halm's numerous other dramas we may mention the vivid and powerful Sampiero (1856, depicting the tragic loss of humanity attendant upon political fanaticism); Iphigenie in Delphi (1856); Begum Somru (1863); Wildfeuer (1864); a German version of Shakespeare's Cymbeline that appeared on the stage in 1842, and an extremely effective and humorous comedy entitled Verbot und Befehl ("Prohibition and Command", 1856).
He is also the author of lyrics, short stories, and of a narrative poem Charfreitag ("Good Friday") (1864). His poems, Gedichte, were published in Stuttgart, 1850 (new ed. Vienna. 1877). His stone bust still sits on top of the famous Burgtheater in Vienna, alongside those of Schiller, Goethe and Grillparzer.
Halm's short stories, or novellas, which tend to focus on spiritual issues and self-destructive monomaniacal characters, are far superior to most of his dramas and are striking and impressive in content, full of psychological insights - especially his earliest major story, Das Auge Gottes ("The Eye of God"), about the supernatural reverberations of the blasphemous act of the desecration of a holy icon, and his final narrative masterpiece, Das Haus an der Veronabrücke ("The House on Verona Bridge"), centring on the inner collapse of a man given over to one overriding "idée fixe". His novella, Die Marzipanliese ("Marzipan Lise"), is credited with being one of the first "criminal fiction tales" of German literature and is now available as an audio book on CD. Furthermore, the composer, Brahms, used some of Halm's verse as the basis for a number of his Lieder.
Overall it can be said that it is as a short-story writer that Halm has secured a place in the history of German/Austrian literature. His novellas mark Halm out as a writer of talent, psychological penetration and substance.
His collected works, Samtliche Werke, were published arranged in chronological order in eight volumes (1856-1864), to which four posthumous volumes were added in 1872. Also published was Ausgewählte Werke, ed. by A. Schlossar in 4 vols. (1904).