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Friedrich von Schlegel

Poet, writer on aesthetics, and literary historian, b. at Hanover, March 10, 1772; d. at Dresden, January 12, 1829

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Schlegel, FRIEDRICH VON, poet, writer on aesthetics, and literary historian, the “Messias” of the Romantic School, b. at Hanover, March 10, 1772; d. at Dresden, January 12, 1829. Of the two brothers Schlegel, who are regarded as the real founders of the Romantic School, Friedrich the younger is the more important. The outward life of the “Messias” of the Romantic School, as Rahel named him, in its variety, is typical of the Romanticists. Destined at first for commercial life, he turned to higher studies in his sixteenth year, proceeded after a rapid preparation to the University of Gottingen, and there studied first jurisprudence and then philology. At Leipzig he devoted himself to the study of art and the history of ancient literature. After a short residence in Dresden, where he visited the art collections, he settled with his brother in Jena, but later moved to Berlin, where he formed a friendship with his later wife, Dorothea Veit (nee Mendelssohn), according to the principles which he had laid down in his notorious “Luzinde” (Berlin, 17 99). In 1800 he returned to Jena to qualify as tutor, but in 1802 proceeded to Dresden and thence to Paris, where he delivered lectures on philosophy and edited the journal “Europa”. In 1804 he married Dorothea, who had separated from her husband and embraced Protestantism; both became Catholics in 1808 at Cologne, and henceforth begins for the restless and poverty-stricken Schlegel a period of peace. Recommended from Cologne, he secured a position as secretary in the court and state chancellery at Vienna, and in 1809 accompanied Archduke Charles to war, issuing fiery proclamations against Napoleon and editing the army newspaper. In 1811 while at Vienna he began his lectures—on modern history. He was full of bitterness against Napoleon and enthusiastically in favor of the medieval imperial idea. In the following year he delivered his famous lectures on the history of ancient and modern literature.

From 1815 to 1818 Schlegel resided at Frankfort as counselor of the Austrian legation to the federal diet. He then accompanied Metternich to Italy, visiting Rome at the request of his wife. On his return to Vienna, he edited the journal “Concordia” (1820-3), wherein he championed the idea of a Christian state. After preparing the edition of all his works (10 vols., 1822-5), he again delivered lectures on the philosophy of life and the philosophy of history, continuing at Dresden in 1828 on the philosophy of speech and words. Here a stroke of apoplexy brought him to an early death. Schlegel essayed all three branches of poetry, but without much success. In 1805-6 he published a “Poetisches Tagebuch”, which in addition to small lyrical pieces contains the epic “Roland”. Three years later appeared his “Gedichte” (Berlin, 1809), which are models of metrical art and noble language, but sacrifice freshness to artificiality. The romance “Luzinde” he later condemned. His tragedy “Alarkos” possesses no enduring worth, although Goethe had it produced at Weimar. Schlegel’s importance lies in his numerous literary-critical writings, and in his successful efforts to unite similarly minded friends (Tieck, Novalis, Schleiermacher) into an association, the “School of Romanticism” (1798). To establish and spread the principles of the new school, Schlegel founded with his brother August Wilhelm the journal “Athenaum” (1798); this was given up after two years, but not until it had attained its object. It proclaimed the program for the many-sided strivings of Romanticism.

Of the works of Schlegel two still maintain their high importance: “Ueber die Sprache and Weisheit der Inder” (Heidelberg, 1808; tr. into French, Paris, 1837), and “Die Geschichte der alten and neuen Literatur” (Vienna, 1815, tr. into French, Paris, 1829). While these two works may be surpassed in many particulars, they yet contain in embryo the modern achievements in both domains. P. Baumgartner, the latest author of a universal literature, thus regarded Friedrich von Schlegel as his guide and master, to whom he believed he owed his chief inspiration. The following works have been translated into English: “Philosophy of History” (London, 1869); “Lectures on Modern History” (London, 1849); “Aesthetic and Miscellaneous Works” (London, 1875).


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