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Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel

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, morphological typology, and was the first to notice what became known as Grimm's law. As a young man he was an atheist, a radical, and an individualist. In 1808, the same Schlegel converted to Catholicism. Two years later he was a diplomat and journalist in the service of the reactionary Clemens von Metternich, surrounded by monks and pious men of society.[5]

Friedrich Schlegel
Franz Gareis Portrait Friedrich Schlegel.jpg
Friedrich Schlegel in 1801
Born 10 March 1772
Died 12 January 1829 (1829-01-13) (aged 56)
Alma mater University of Göttingen
University of Leipzig
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]


Life and workEdit

Hanover's Market Church
Oil painting after Domenico Quaglio (1832)

Karl Friedrich von Schlegel was born on 10 March 1772 at Hanover, where his father, Johann Adolf Schlegel, was the pastor at the Lutheran Market Church. For two years he studied law at Göttingen and Leipzig, and he met with Friedrich Schiller. In 1793 he devoted himself entirely to literary work. In 1796 he moved to Jena, where his brother August Wilhelm lived and collaborated with Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, Fichte, and Caroline Schelling, who married August Wilhelm. 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 (History of the Poesy of the Greeks and Romans) (1798). Then he turned to Dante, Goethe, and Shakespeare. In Jena he and his brother founded the journal 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 Veit, a daughter of Moses Mendelssohn and the mother of Johannes and Philipp Veit.[5] In 1799 he published Lucinde, an eccentric and unfinished novel, which is remarkable 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, mirroring his liaison with Dorothea Veit, and it contributed to the failure of his academic career in Jena [7] where he completed his studies in 1801 and lectured as a Privatdozent on transcendental philosophy. In September 1800 he met four times with Goethe, who would later stage his tragedy Alarcos (1802) in Weimar, albeit with a notable lack of success.

In June 1802 he arrived in Paris, where he lived in the house formerly owned by Baron d'Holbach) and joined a circle including Heinrich Christoph Kolbe. He lectured on philosophy in private courses for Sulpiz Boisserée, and under the tutelage of Antoine-Léonard de Chézy and linguist Alexander Hamilton he continued to study Sanskrit and the Persian language. He edited the journal Europa (1803), where he published essays about Gothic architecture and the Old Masters. In April 1804 he married Dorothea Veit in the Swedish embassy in Paris, after she had undergone the requisite conversion from Judaism to Protestantism. 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). Here he advanced his ideas about religion and importantly argued that a people originating from India were the founders of the first European civilizations. Schlegel compared Sanskrit with Latin, Greek, Persian, and German, noting many similarities in vocabulary and grammar. The assertion of the common features of these languages is now generally accepted, albeit with significant revisions. There is less agreement about the geographic region where these precursors settled, as set forth in the Out of India theory. Since the timing and space remain unknown, the Urheimat remains the subject of much speculation.

The unfinished Cologne cathedral (1856) with medieval crane on the south tower

In 1808, he and his wife joined the Roman Catholic Church in the Cologne Cathedral. From this time on, 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 military headquarters, editing the army newspaper and issuing fiery proclamations against Napoleon. He accompanied archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen to war and was stationed in Pest during the War of the Fifth Coalition. Here he studied the Hungarian language. Meanwhile he had published his collected Geschichte (Histories) (1809) and two series of lectures, Über die neuere Geschichte (On Recent 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.

Schlegel's grave at the Old Catholic Cemetery, Dresden

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]

Following the Congress of Vienna (1815), 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 Wilhelm, then professor of Indology in Bonn and busy publishing the Bhagavad Gita. Schlegel 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, while preparing a series of lectures.

Dorothea von Schlegel (1790) by Anton Graff

Dorothea SchlegelEdit

Friedrich Schlegel's wife, Dorothea von Schlegel, authored 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.


Friedrich von Schlegel (1829) by Josef Axmann

Friedrich Schlegel and his brother August Wilhelm occupy canonical positions in the history of German literature as the critical leaders of the Romantic school, which derived from them most of its governing ideas concerning the characteristics of the Middle Ages and the methods of literary expression. Of the two Schlegel brothers, Friedrich was unquestionably the more brilliant and original. 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. Schlegel stated that his goal was a unified representation of philosophy, prose, poesy, genius, and critique. Key elements were his conceptions of a "progressive universal poesy", romantic irony, and a new mythology.

Selected worksEdit

  • Vom ästhetischen Werte der griechischen Komödie (1794)
  • Über die Diotima (1795)
  • Versuch über den Begriff des Republikanismus (1796)
  • Georg Forster (1797)
  • Über das Studium der griechischen Poesie (1797)
  • Über Lessing (1797)
  • Kritische Fragmente („Lyceums“-Fragmente) (1797)
  • Fragmente („Athenaeums“-Fragmente) (1797–1798)
  • Lucinde (1799)
  • Über die Philosophie. An Dorothea (1799)
  • Gespräch über die Poesie (1800)
  • Über die Unverständlichkeit (1800)
  • Ideen (1800)
  • Charakteristiken und Kritiken (1801)
  • Transcendentalphilosophie (1801)
  • Alarkos (1802)
  • Reise nach Frankreich (1803
  • Geschichte der europäischen Literatur (1803/1804
  • Grundzüge der gotischen Baukunst (1804/1805)
  • Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (1808)
  • Deutsches Museum (as ed.), 4 Vols. Vienna (1812–1813)
  • Geschichte der alten und neueren Literatur (lectures) (1815)


  • Ludwig Tieck und die Brüder Schlegel. Briefe ed. by Edgar Lohner (München 1972)

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 zu 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. ^ a b 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. ^ a b Speight (, Allen 2007). "Friedrich Schlegel". In Zalta, Edward N. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. .
  6. ^ Ernst Behler, German Romantic Literary Theory, 1993, p. 36.
  7. ^ a b   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainBöhme, 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 domainChisholm, 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.

Further readingEdit

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