Austrian writer Gustav Meyrink, born Gustav Meyer in Vienna on this day in 1868, was the illegitimate son of a German baron and an Austrian actress.
Establishing a bank in Prague in 1889, Meyrink lived the highlife, of sorts; a dandyish playboy who drove the first automobile in Prague and whose bohemian lodgings contained “a confessional booth, a terrarium filled with exotic African mice, a large picture of Madame Blavatsky, and a sculpture of a ghost disappearing into a wall.”
However all was not well, and in 1891 Meyrink was on the brink of shooting himself, but as he prepared to leave this mortal coil a pamphlet on the subject of occultism was pushed under the door. Whatever the truth of this story (and Meyrink was the only witness), he dedicated himself thereafter to tireless spiritual enquiry which led him to Kabbalah, Freemasonry, Theosophy, as well as yoga and various other Oriental disciplines. He was, along with Aleister Crowley, Bram Stoker and W.B. Yeats, a member of the occultist Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Ten years later Meyrink was accused of embezzlement; by the time his name was cleared he had served three months’ prison and emerged ruined and embittered. He embarked on a new career as a writer, first gaining notoriety as a savage satirist.
World War I represented the best and worst of times for Meyrink. He was an unrepentant pacifist; this as well as his numerous Jewish associates made him an enemy of the far right then in the ascendant. But the war years also saw the publication of his most successful work. Der Golem was an adaptation of a Jewish folk legend set in the Prague ghetto, originally conceived as a collaboration with the dark visionary illustrator Alfred Kubin but finally appearing in novel form in 1915.
Tired of attacks in newspapers and occasionally in person, Meyrink retreated to Bavaria, where he spent much of his time in a treehouse. After the suicide of his son in 1932, Meyrink — already in ill-health — lost the will to live and died facing the sun while meditating.