Novalis

Portrait of Novalis

Novalis (Birth name Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg) was a German aristocrat and poet, novelist, philosopher and mystic. He was born in Wiederstedt, Germany on 2nd May 1772 and died in Weissenfels, Germany on 25th March 1801 aged 28.

Major Works

“Blütenstaub” (1798)
Glauben und Liebe” (Faith and Love) (1798) 
“Die Christenheit oder Europa”
 (Christendom or Europe) (1799)
“Hymnen an die Nacht” (Hymns to the Night) (1800) 
Heinrich von Ofterdingen” (1802)

Biography Timeline

Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg was born on 2nd May 1772 in Wiederstedt, Germany. His father, Heinrich Ulrich Erasmus Freiherr von Hardenberg, was the manager of a salt mine and a member of the Moravian Church. His Mother, Auguste Bernhardine von Böltzig, was his father’s second wife. Both parents outlived him. The family descended from minor nobles in Lower Saxony and Hardenberg grew up on the family lands around the manor of Oberwiederstedt. He was educated at home and then went to the Lutheran grammar school in Eisleben.

1784: He moves to live with his uncle, Gottlob Friedrich Wilhelm von Hardenberg.

1790: He attends lectures at the university of Jena, the centre of German Romanticism at the time, and makes the acquaintance of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Fichte, and becomes great friends with August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Freidrich von Schlegel, Ludwig Tieck, Friedrich Schelling, and Friedrich von Schiller as well as two of their wives Caroline Schlegel-Schelling and Dorothea Veit-Schlegel.

1791: His first publication is the poem “Klagen eines Jünglings” which appears in Christoph Martin Wieland’s publication Neuem Teutschen Merkur.

1794: He begins studying law in Jena, Leipzig, and Wittenberg and begins work on its completion. He falls in love with the twelve 12-year-old Sophie von Kühn whilst working in the Prussian civil service in Tennstedt.

1795: He and Sophie get secretly engaged. He begins work on his studies of the philosopher Johann Fichte.

1797: He attends the Academy of Freiberg to study mining which eventually leads to an administrative post at the salt mines in Weissenfels. Just after he starts his studies Sophie dies of tuberculosis. He has nursed her in her final days and is devastated at her death. With the help of his friends he eventually recovers and continues working on his interests in philosophy (particularly Immanuel Kant), medicine, biology and geology. 

1798: He begins using the pen name Novalis at this period which harks back to an old family name but also indicates in his mind “the one who clears new ground”. He is famous for his philosophical fragments and two are published in the first issue of the Athenaeum journal edited by Friedrich von Schlegel. “Blütenstaub” (Pollen) are one hundred and fourteen fragments and is his attempt to unite philosophy with science and poetry in true Romantic style. The other is the controversial “Glauben und Liebe” (Faith and Love). The ethos of the Athenaeum writers was to establish a unified philosophical group through what they called Symphilosophie or a shared philosophising. About this time Novalis begins work on his idea for “Das Allgemeine Brouillon” (Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia), which like most of his other work was published posthumously. Later in the year he becomes engaged to Julie von Charpentier.

1799: In his essay “Die Christenheit oder Europa” (Christendom or Europe) he calls for a universal Christian church to restore itself to a time, in his opinion, before it was destroyed by the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

1800: He writes six joint prose and verse poems “Hymnen a die Nacht “(Hymns to the Night). From August he begins to cough up blood and after a major haemorrhage in November he is temporarily moved to Dresden for treatment.

1801: In January, he requests to be with his parents again and becomes a mine inspector at the saltworks at Weissenfels. 

Novalis, or Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg dies on 25th March 1801 at his parent’s home in Weissenfels, Germany probably of tuberculosis, although recent research suggests possible cystic fibrosis which was prevalent in his family. He was buried in Weissenfels’s Alter Friedhof (Old Cemetery). His mythical romance “Heinrich von Ofterdingen”, an idealised vision the romantic searchings of a young poet in the Europe of the Middle Ages, is published the following year.

Further Information

List of works by Novalis.