Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel

Friedrich Schlegel

Friedrich Schlegel in 1801
Born 10 March 1772
Died 12 January 1829 (1829-01-13) (aged 56)
Alma mater University of Göttingen
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Jena Romanticism
Post-Kantian transcendental idealism[1]
Historicism[2]Romantic linguistics[3]
Main interests
Philology, philosophy of history
Notable ideas
Coining the term "historicism" (Historismus)[2]

Karl Wilhelm Friedrich (after 1814: von) Schlegel (10 March 1772 – 12 January 1829), usually cited as Friedrich Schlegel, was a German poet, literary critic, philosopher, philologist and Indologist. With his older brother, August Wilhelm Schlegel, he was one of the main figures of the Jena romantics. He was a zealous promoter of the Romantic movement and inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Adam Mickiewicz and Kazimierz Brodziński. Schlegel was a pioneer in Indo-European studies, comparative linguistics, in what became known as Grimm's law, and morphological typology. As a young man he was an atheist, a radical, and an individualist. Ten years later, the same Schlegel converted to Catholicism. Around 1810 he was a diplomat and journalist in the service of Clemens von Metternich, surrounded by monks and pious men of society.[5]

Life and work

Die Marktkirche Anfang des 19. Jahrhunderts;
Ölgemälde nach Domenico Quaglio von 1832

Karl Friedrich von Schlegel was born on 10 March 1772 at Hanover, and his father was the Lutheran pastor Johann Adolf Schlegel in the Marktkirche. For two years he studied law at Göttingen and Leipzig, and met with Friedrich Schiller. In 1793 he devoted himself entirely to literary work. In 1796 he moved to Jena where his brother August lived and collaborated with Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, Fichte and Caroline Schelling, whom he married. Novalis and Schlegel had a famous conversation about German idealism. In 1797 he quarreled with Schiller, who did not like his polemic work.[6] Schlegel published Die Griechen und Römer (The Greeks and Romans), which was followed by Geschichte der Poesie der Griechen und Römer (The History of the Poetry of the Greeks and Romans) (1798). Then he turned to Dante, Goethe and Shakespeare. In Jena he and his brother founded the Athenaeum, contributing fragments, aphorisms and essays in which the principles of the Romantic school are most definitely stated. They are now generally recognized as the deepest and most significant expressions of the subjective idealism of the early romanticists.[7] After a controversy, Friedrich decided to move to Berlin. There he lived with Friedrich Schleiermacher and met Henriette Herz, Rahel Varnhagen, and his future wife Dorothea, a daughter of Moses Mendelssohn and the mother of Philipp Veit.[5] In 1799 he published Lucinde, an eccentric and unfinished romance, which is interesting as an attempt to transfer to practical ethics the Romantic demand for complete individual freedom.[8] Lucinde, in which he extolled the union of sensual and spiritual love as an allegory of the divine cosmic Eros, caused a great scandal by its manifest autobiographical character, and contributed to the failure of his academic career in Jena [7] where he lectured as a Privatdozent in Transcendental philosophy. In September 1800 he met four times with Goethe. In 1801 he graduated in philosophy. In Alarcos, a tragedy (1802) in which, without much success, he combined romantic and classical elements.

Old photo of the cathedral before completion shows the east end finished and roofed, while other parts of the building are in various stages of construction.
Unfinished cathedral, 1856 with ancient crane on south tower.

In June 1802 he arrived in Paris, where he had a circle including Heinrich Christoph Kolbe and edited the review Europa (1803). He lectured on philosophy in private courses for Sulpiz Boisserée, and carried on under Alexander Hamilton and Antoine-Léonard de Chézy to study Sanskrit and the Persian language. (He lived in the house formerly owned by Baron d'Holbach). In his magazine Europe he published about Gothic architecture and Old Masters. In April 1804 he married Dorothea Veith in the Swedish embassy in Paris. In 1806 he and his wife went to visit Aubergenville, where his brother lived with Madame de Staël.

In 1808 he published an epoch-making book, Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of India). He argued that a people originating from India have been the founders of the first European civilizations, but also promoted his ideas about religion. Schlegel compared Sanskrit with Latin, Greek, Persian, and German, and found many similarities in vocabulary and grammar. The assertion of the common features of these languages is now generally accepted (by some edits and reformulations). Less agreement is about in what geographic region these precursors language is settled, (Out of India theory). Unfortunately, neither time nor space are known and the term Urheimat therefore subject of much speculation. In the same year he and his wife joined in the Cologne Cathedral the Roman Catholic Church. From this time he became more and more opposed to the principles of political and religious freedom. He went to Vienna and in 1809 was appointed imperial court secretary at the headquarters and accompanied archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen to war, issuing fiery proclamations against Napoleon and editing the army newspaper. Schlegel was stationed in Pest, during the War of the Fifth Coalition; there he studied the Hungarian language. Meanwhile he had published his collected Geschichte (Histories) (1809) and two series of lectures, Über die neuere Geschichte (On the New History) (1811) and Geschichte der alten und neuen Literatur (On old and new literature) (1815). In 1814 he was knighted in the Supreme Order of Christ.

In collaboration with Josef von Pilat, editor of the Österreichischer Beobachter, and with the help of Adam Müller and Friedrich Schlegel, Metternich and Gentz projected a vision of Austria as the spiritual leader of a new Germany, drawing her strength and inspiration from a romanticised view of a medieval Catholic past.[9]

In 1815, after the Congress of Vienna he was councilor of legation in the Austrian embassy at the Frankfurt diet, but in 1818 he returned to Vienna. In 1819 he and Clemens Brentano made a trip to Rome, in the company of Metternich and Gentz. There he met with his wife and her sons. In 1820 he started a conservative Catholic magazine Concordia (1820–1823), but was criticized by Metternich and by his brother August, then professor of Indology in Bonn and busy publishing the Bagavad Gita. Friedrich began the issue of his Sämtliche Werke (Collected Works). He also delivered lectures, which were republished in his Philosophie des Lebens (Philosophy of Life) (1828) and in his Philosophie der Geschichte (Philosophy of History) (1829). He died on 12 January 1829 at Dresden, preparing a series of lectures.


Friedrich von Schlegel (1829) by Josef Axmann

A permanent place in the history of German literature belongs to Friedrich Schlegel and his brother August Wilhelm as the critical leaders of the Romantic school, which derived from them most of its governing ideas as to the characteristics of the Middle Ages, and as to the methods of literary expression. Of the two brothers, Friedrich was unquestionably the more original genius. He was the real founder of the Romantic school; to him more than to any other member of the school we owe the revolutionizing and germinating ideas which influenced so profoundly the development of German literature at the beginning of the 19th century.

Dorothea Schlegel

Friedrich Schlegel's wife, Dorothea von Schlegel was the author of an unfinished romance, Florentin (1802), a Sammlung romantischer Dichtungen des Mittelalters (Collection of Romantic Poems of the Middle Ages) (2 vols., 1804), a version of Lother und Maller (1805), and a translation of Madame de Staël's Corinne (1807–1808) — all of which were issued under her husband's name. By her first marriage she had two sons, Johannes and Philipp Veit, who became eminent Catholic painters.

Selected works

The poet's grave at the Alter Katholischer Friedhof, Dresden


Friedrich Schlegel's Sämtliche Werke appeared in 10 vols. (1822–1825); a second edition (1846) in 55 vols. His Prosaische Jugendschriften (1794–1802) have been edited by J. Minor (1882, 2nd ed. 1906); there are also reprints of Lucinde, and F. Schleiermacher's Vertraute Briefe über Lucinde, 1800 (1907). See R. Haym, Die romantische Schule (1870); I. Rouge, F. Schlegel et la genie du romantisme allemand (1904); by the same, Erläuterungen In F. Schlegels Lucinde (1905); M. Joachimi, Die Weltanschauung der Romantik (1905); W. Glawe, Die Religion F. Schlegels (1906); E. Kircher, Philosophie der Romantik (1906); M. Frank '"Unendliche Annäherung" Die Anfänge der philosophischen Frühromantik' (1997); Andrew Bowie From Romanticism to Critical Theory. The Philosophy of German Literary Theory (1997).


  1. Frederick C. Beiser, German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781-1801, Harvard University Press, 2002, p. 349.
  2. 1 2 Brian Leiter, Michael Rosen (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 175: "[The word 'historicism'] appears as early as the late eighteenth century in the writings of the German romantics, who used it in a neutral sense. In 1797 Friedrich Schlegel used 'historicism' to refer to a philosophy that stresses the importance of history..."; Katherine Harloe, Neville Morley (eds.), Thucydides and the Modern World: Reception, Reinterpretation and Influence from the Renaissance to the Present, Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 81: "Already in Friedrich Schlegel's Fragments about Poetry and Literature (a collection of notes attributed to 1797), the word Historismus occurs five times."
  3. Angela Esterhammer (ed.), Romantic Poetry, Volume 7, John Benjamins Publishing, 2002, p. 491.
  4. Michael N. Forster, After Herder: Philosophy of Language in the German Tradition, Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 9.
  5. 1 2 Speight (, Allen 2007). "Friedrich Schlegel". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy..
  6. Ernst Behler, German Romantic Literary Theory, 1993, p. 36.
  7. 1 2  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Böhme, Traugott (1920). "Schlegel, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von". In Rines, George Edwin. Encyclopedia Americana.
  8.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Schlegel, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  9. Adam Zamoyski (2007), Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, pp. 242–243.

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