Considered an important figure in nineteenth-century German Realism, he is best known for Immensee, Der Schimmelreiter, and other novellas. Over the course of his career, he also published poetry and short stories.
During his time as a law student in Berlin and Kiel, he published his first poetry collection.
He was greatly influenced by the work of poet Joseph von Eichendorff.
He was married to Konstanze Esmarch until her death in 1864. Later in life, he married Dorothea Jensen.
He was a contemporary of fellow German author Gottfried Kinkel.