Friedrich von Schlegel

Portrait of Friedrich von Schlegel

Friedrich von Schlegel was a German poet, philosopher, philologist, critic and Indologist and brother of August. He was also a major figure in Jena Romanticism. He was born in Hanover, Germany on 10th March 1772 and died in Dresden, Germany on 12th January 1829 aged 56.

Major Works

The journal “Athenaeum” (1798–1800)
Lucinde” (1799)
Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians) (1808)

Biography Timeline

Karl Friedrich von Schlegel was born on 10th March 1772 in Hanover, Germany. His father Johann Adolf Schlegel was the pastor at the Lutheran Market Church in the town. He studied law at Gottingen and Leipzig Universities but was not particularly interested in the subject and was more interested in reading classical literature. He met Friedrich von Friedrich von Hardenberg (otherwise known as Novalis) whilst still a student in Leipzig.

1793: He begins to devote himself entirely to freelance literary work.

1794: He meets Caroline Böhmer in Dresden, the daughter of the famous professor and orientalist, Johann David Michaelis, at Gottingen University. Caroline would later marry his brother August Wilhelm but at the time she had been made pregnant by a French officer in Mainz and recently imprisoned by the French authorities for her revolutionary activity. She awakens Schlegel’s interest in political and social issues.

1795: He writes “Über das Studium der Griechischen Poesie” (On the Study of Greek Poetry) which is published in 1797.

1796: He moves during the summer to the German university town of Jena where his brother August Wilhelm lives, and here he collaborates with Novalis, Ludwig Tieck and Caroline, now married to his brother. Since the arrival of the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the university had been a magnet for German intellectuals. 

1797: Always passionate he had quarrelled with the playwright Friedrich Schiller in Jena who did not like his work and the two became mutual enemies. He moves to Berlin where he shares rooms with Friedrich Schleiermacher. It is here that he meets his future wife Dorothea Veit, the daughter of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and he is a frequent visitor to the many intellectual salons in the city and meets Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder there. 

1798: He founds the journal “Athenaeum” with his brother and contributes his famous fragments on philosophy to it himself. The journal states the principles of Romanticism and has other pieces by August Wilhelm SchlegelNovalis and Schleiermacher. Dorothea leaves her husband, the banker Simon Veit, for Schlegel and their affair becomes a scandal. He publishes “Die Griechen und Römer” (The Greeks and Romans) and “Geschichte der Poesie der Griechen und Römer” (History of the Poesy of the Greeks and Romans) 

1799: He publishes his novel “Lucinde” which is largely autobiographical about a sexual liaison, and although tame by today’s standards, it caused a major scandal. The novel emphasised the idea that freedom in love was more important than practical ethics. In September the couple move back to Jena to stay with August Wilhelm and Caroline.

1800: He lectures on transcendental philosophy at the University of Jena as a Privatdozent from October although not many students attend them. One of those to listen to him is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. What he made of them no one knows but the two did not hit it off and became adversaries for the remainder of their lives. Another notable figure in Jena at the time was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and he met with Schlegel several times.

1801: He finishes his lecture series in March but remains in Jena until December. Novalis dies in March and Schlegel becomes more distant from his brother and Caroline.

1802: He travels to Berlin and Dresden but in June settles in Paris at the house of Baron d’Holbach. Here he founds another new journal entitled “Europa”. He becomes more interested in the visual arts and writes accounts of the paintings in the Louvre and begins to give a series of private lectures on art and art history for the art collector Sulpiz Boisseree. He continues to study Sanskrit and Persian with Alexander Hamilton. Goethe puts on a performance of Schlegel’s play “Alarcos” in Weimar put it is not a success with the public.

1803: He publishes essays on Gothic architecture and the Old Masters in “Europa”.

1804: He and Dorothea move to Cologne and he studies German Gothic architecture and gives lectures on “Die Entwicklung der Philosophie” (the Development of Philosophy) In April Dorothea and he marry in the Swedish Embassy in Paris after she had undergone a conversion from Judaism to Protestantism.

1806: The couple visit Aubergenville where his brother now lives in the house of Madame de Stael.  

1808: Both Friedrich and Dorothea convert to Catholicism on 16th April in Cologne Cathedral. They continue to visit the literary salons including those of Madame de Stael. He publishes “Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians) about the grammatical connections between Sanskrit and the Indo-European languages and argues that people from India were the founders of the first European civilisations.

1809: In March he is appointed to a position as Imperial Court Secretary at the military headquarters for Austria and moves to Vienna, where he is to live for the rest of his life. He edits the army newspaper and writes passionate anti Bonaparte articles for it. He founds two other journals “Deutsches Museum” and “Concordia” and gives public lectures on a variety of subjects. He accompanies Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen to war and is stationed in Pest during the War of the Fifth Coalition.

1811: He publishes two series of lectures in “Über die Neuere Geschichte” (On Recent History).

1813: Klemens von Metternich asks him to draw up proposals for a future German constitution. and Schlegel serves as First Secretary of the Austrian legation to the Diet of Frankfurt.

1814: He is knighted in the Supreme Order of Christ.

1815: He publishes “Geschichte der Alten und Neuen Literatur” (On Old and New Literature) Following the Congress of Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte he serves as First Secretary of the Austrian Legation to the Diet of Frankfurt.

1818: He returns to Vienna.

1819: He visits Rome with Clemens Brentano, Metternich and Friedrich von Gentz. There he meets his wife and her sons

1820: He starts to produce a Catholic journal called “Concordia” which is heavily crtisicsed both by Metternich and his brother, August Wilhelm Schlegel who was at the time professor of Indology in Bonn University working on the publication of the Bhagavad Gita.

1823: The last issue of “Concordia” is produced. 

1828: He begins issuing his “Sämtliche Werke” (Collected Works) and also delivers lectures which are published in “Philosophie des Lebens” (Philosophy of Life).

1829: He publishes “Philosophie der Geschichte” (Philosophy of History).

Karl Friedrich von Schlegel died suddenly of a stroke on 12th January 1829 in Dresden whilst preparing a lecture series. He was buried in the Alter Katholischer Friedhof in Dresden, Germany.

Further Information

List of works by Friedrich von Schlegel.

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