August Wilhelm von Schlegel

Portrait of August Wilhelm Schlegel

August Wilhelm von Schlegel was a German poet, translator and critic, and one of the leading influences within Romanticism which established in the town of Jena. He was born in Hanover, Germany on 8th September 1767 and died in Bonn, Germany on 12th May 1845 aged 77.

Major Works

“Ion” (1803)
“Rom Elegie” (1805)
“Poetische Werke” (1811)
On the Theory and History of the Plastic Arts” (1827)
“Kritische Schriften” (Critical Works) (1828)

Biography Timeline

August Wilhelm Schlegel was born on 8th September 1767 in Hanover, Germany. His father was Johann Adolf Schlegel a Lutheran pastor and poet and his mother was Johanna Christiane Erdmuthe (née Hübsh). He was educated at the Hanover Gymnasium.

1786: He goes to the University of Göttingen where he studies theology and then classical philology under Christian Gottlob Heyne. Whilst a student he meets Wilhelm von Humboldt and Caroline Böhmer who encouraged him in his studies.

1790: His youngest brother, Friedrich Schlegel, joins him in Göttingen. They both study the works of Immanuel Kant and Johann Gottfried Herder amongst others.

1791: He finishes at Göttingen and moves to Amsterdam where he works as a private tutor to Willem Ferdinand Mogge Muilman, the son of a Dutch banker.

1796: He moves to the German university town of Jena to work as a literary critic after receiving an invitation from Friedrich von Schiller. His brother Friedrich follows him there. He marries Caroline Böhmer, now a widow. She helps Schlegel with his literary translations of Shakespeare Dante and Petrach. Their house becomes a meeting place for many famous figures from the Romantic period such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Novalis, Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schelling. 

1797: He publishes a volume of poems.

1798: The brothers found the “Athenaeum” magazine after difficulties getting their works accepted in other journals. It includes critical articles about philosophical issues and literary works of the day and appears twice a year between 1798 and 1800. A particular target are the sentimental novels of August Lafontaine. A rift develops between Schiller and both brothers over their criticism of his work “Die Horen”. He also writes articles for the “Jenaer Allgemeine Litteratur-Zeitung”. His success at translating Shakespeare and Dante gains him an extraordinary professorship at the University of Jena.

1799: Caroline not only helps with the translations but also publishes articles in the Athenaeum under her own name such as “Die Gemalde”. She has since been credited with a greater importance in the formulation of Romantic ideas than was accepted at the time.

1801: Schlegel and Caroline separate and he moves to Berlin on his own where he lectures on literature and art at the University. He publishes a collection of joint essays with his brother Friedrich entitled “Charakteristiken und Kritiken”.

1802: His play “Ion” is performed in Weimar in January with the help of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe but is not well received.

1803: He divorces Caroline and she marries the philosopher Friedrich Schelling whom she had been having an affair with for some time. Schlegel publishes the two-volume work “Spanisches Theater” which includes translations of works by Pedro Calderón de la Barca.

1804: He publishes “Blumensträusse Italiänischer, Spanischer, und Portugiesischer Poesie” (Bouquets of Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese Poetry) with translations of woreks by Dante, Boccaccio, Miguel de Cervantes, and Torquato Tasso. Schlegel now becomes a constant companion to Madame de Stael and tutor to her children. He travels to Switzerland, Italy and France with her acting as a literary adviser.

1805: He gives a series of lectures in Vienna outlining his ideas.

1807: His essay “Comparaison entre la Phedre de Racine et celle d’Euripide” attacking French Classicism and expounding Romanticism gains a lot of negative attention in France.

1808: He delivers lectures on dramatic art and literature in Vienna. Madame De Stael and her children are with him on the visit.

1809: His Vienna lectures are published between 1809 and 1811 as “Vorlesungen über Dramatische Kunst und Literatur” (A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature).

1810: He is ordered to leave the Swiss Confederation as an enemy of French literature.

1812: He travels to Moscow, St Petersburg and Stockholm with Madame de Stael and her fiancé Albert de Rocca and acts as secretary to Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte.

1816: An extended version of his “Course of Lectures” is published which have already been widely read in England, France Holland and Italy.

1817: Madame de Stael dies and he leaves her household.

1818: In August he marries Sophie Paulus, the daughter of the German theologian Heinrich Paulus in Heidelberg, however they only stay together for a few weeks and she doesn’t go with him to Bonn where he is appointed Professor of Indology, Literature and Art History. He lectures there until 1844. 

1820: He begins publishing the academic journal “Indische Bibliothek” which continues until 1830.

1821: He becomes legally divorced from Sophie.

1823: He founds a special printing press for Sanskrit and makes the first complete translation of the “Bhagavadgītā” from Sanskrit into Latin.

1826: The seventeen-year old Felix Mendelssohn is inspired by Schlegel’s German translation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and writes a concert overture on the theme. (Friedrich Schlegel’s wife Dorothea is the aunt of Mendelssohn).

1827: He publishes “On the Theory and History of the Plastic Arts”.

1828: His two-volume collection of critical writings “Kritische Schriften” appears. 

1829: He publishes “The Rāmāyana”.

1832: He publishes “Reflections on the Study of the Asiatic Languages”.

1835: He becomes chairman of the organising committee to establish a monument to Ludwig van Beethoven in his birthplace, Bonn. 

August Wilhelm Schlegel died on 12th May 1845 in Bonn, Germany three months before the official unveiling of the Beethoven monument. He was buried in the Alte Friedhof in Bonn.

Further Information

Gutenberg project’s list of works by Schlegel.