Friedrich Schlegel
Friedrich Schlegel in 1801
Born(1772-03-10)10 March 1772
Died12 January 1829(1829-01-12) (aged 56)
Alma mater
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Epistemology, philology, philosophy of history
Notable ideas

Karl Wilhelm Friedrich (after 1814: von) Schlegel (/ˈʃlɡəl/ SHLAY-gəl,[7] German: [ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈʃleːɡl̩];[7][8][9] 10 March 1772 – 12 January 1829) 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 Jena Romanticism.

Born into a fervently Protestant family, Schlegel rejected religion as a young man in favor of atheism and individualism. He entered university to study law but instead focused on classical literature. He began a career as a writer and lecturer, and founded journals such as Athenaeum. In 1808, Schlegel returned to Christianity as a married man with both him and his wife being baptized into the Catholic Church. This conversion ultimately led to his estrangement from family and old friends. He moved to Austria in 1809, where he became a diplomat and journalist in service of Klemens von Metternich, the Foreign Minister of the Austrian Empire. Schlegel died in 1829, at the age of 56.[10]

Schlegel was a promoter of the Romantic movement and inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Adam Mickiewicz and Kazimierz Brodziński. The first to notice what became known as Grimm's law, Schlegel was a pioneer in Indo-European studies, comparative linguistics, and morphological typology, publishing in 1819 the first theory linking the Indo-Iranian and German languages under the Aryan group.[11][12] Some of his works were set to music by Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann.

Life and work

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 here he collaborated with Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, Fichte, and Caroline Schelling, who married August Wilhelm. In 1797 he quarreled with Schiller, who did not like his polemic work.[13]

Dorothea von Schlegel (1790) by Anton Graff

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.[14]

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.[10] In 1799 he published Part I of Lucinde, A Novel, which was seen as an account of his affair with Dorothea, causing a scandal in German literary circles. The novel, to which no further parts were ever added, attempted to apply the Romantic demand for complete individual freedom to practical ethics.[15] Lucinde, which extolled the union of sensual and spiritual love as an allegory of the divine cosmic Eros, contributed to the failure of his academic career in Jena [14] 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 Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of India). Here he advanced his ideas about religion and 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, although the Out-of-India model has generally become discredited.

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

In 1808, he and his wife joined the Catholic Church in the Cologne Cathedral. From this time on, he became more and more opposed to the principles of political and religious liberalism. 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.[16]

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 Schlegel

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. She was the eldest daughter of Moses Mendelssohn which made the prodigious composers Felix and Fanny her niece and nephew.

Selected works


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 Asko Nivala, The Romantic Idea of the Golden Age in Friedrich Schlegel's Philosophy of History, Routledge, 2017, p. 23.
  3. ^ Elizabeth Millan, Friedrich Schlegel and the Emergence of Romantic Philosophy, SUNY Press, 2012, p. 49.
  4. ^ 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."
  5. ^ Angela Esterhammer (ed.), Romantic Poetry, Volume 7, John Benjamins Publishing, 2002, p. 491.
  6. ^ Michael N. Forster, Kristin Gjesdal (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of German Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century, Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 81.
  7. ^ a b Wells, John C. (2008), Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.), Longman, ISBN 9781405881180
  8. ^ "Friedrich – Französisch-Übersetzung – Langenscheidt Deutsch-Französisch Wörterbuch" (in German and French). Langenscheidt. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  9. ^ "Duden | Schlegel | Rechtschreibung, Bedeutung, Definition". Duden (in German). Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  10. ^ a b Speight (, Allen 2007). "Friedrich Schlegel". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.((cite encyclopedia)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link).
  11. ^ Watkins, Calvert (2000), "Aryan", American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), New York: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-82517-2, ...when Friedrich Schlegel, a German scholar who was an important early Indo-Europeanist, came up with a theory that linked the Indo-Iranian words with the German word Ehre, 'honor', and older Germanic names containing the element ario-, such as the Swiss [sic] warrior Ariovistus who was written about by Julius Caesar. Schlegel theorized that far from being just a designation of the Indo-Iranians, the word *arya- had in fact been what the Indo-Europeans called themselves, meaning [according to Schlegel] something like 'the honorable people.' (This theory has since been called into question.)
  12. ^ Schlegel, Friedrich. 1819. Review of J. G. Rhode, Über den Anfang unserer Geschichte und die letzte Revolution der Erde, Breslau, 1819. Jahrbücher der Literatur VIII: 413ff
  13. ^ Ernst Behler, German Romantic Literary Theory, 1993, p. 36.
  14. ^ 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 (ed.). Encyclopedia Americana.
  15. ^  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.
  16. ^ Adam Zamoyski (2007), Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, pp. 242–243.

Further reading