The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Schlegel, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Schlegel, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von
Edition of 1920. See also Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

SCHLEGEL, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von, German critic and philosophical writer, brother of A. W. Schlegel: b. Hanover, 10 March 1772; d. 11 Jan. 1829. As a student at Göttingen and Leipzig he was a voracious reader, especially of the classics. In his earliest publications, including the important essays ‘Von den Schulen der griechischen Poesie’ (1794); ‘Über die Diotima’ (1795); ‘Über das Studium der griechischen Poesie’ (1797), he appeared as a brilliant classical scholar and as an ardent worshipper of the objective harmony of “pure Hellenism.” His unfinished ‘Geschichte der Poesie der Griechen und Römer’ (1798) had a lasting influence on the modern conception of the æsthetic values of Homer. But Schiller's distinction of two separate artistic types (the “naïve” and the “sentimental”), together with the consciousness of his own disharmonious self, caused him to discard his “graecomania.” In Jena and in Berlin, where he alternately resided between 1796 and 1802, he was deeply influenced by Fichte, Schleiermacher and Schelling. During this period he wrote his essay ‘On Goethe's Wilhelm Meister’ (1798), his ‘Gespräch über die Poesie’ (1800) and a great mass of aphorisms, published as ‘Fragmente’ and ‘Ideen.’ Most of these works appeared in the Athenæum, which he conducted conjointly with his brother from 1798 to 1800. They are now generally recognized as the deepest and most significant expressions of the subjective idealism of the early romanticists. Most of their peculiar catch-words have been created by F. Schlegel. To him, religion is identical with “Bildung,” with the free and endless cultivation of each man's individuality toward the “divine centre.” “Romantic poetry” should be “progressive Universalpoesie”; it should give, in endless progression, intimations of the infinite through earthly symbols. “Romantic irony” is the necessary state of mind that enables us to recognize the appearances of life and poetry as mere “allegories” of infinite meanings. F. Schlegel was extremely fertile in discovering and illuminating new problems in the psychology of art, literature and ethics, so that he has been frequently called the forerunner of Nietzsche. But his mystical and paradoxical terminology made these “fragments” almost unintelligible to the general public, until Wilhelm Schlegel simplified and systematized his brother's ideas in his Berlin and Vienna lectures. Friedrich's eccentric novel, ‘Lucinde’ (1799), in which he extolled the union of sensual and spiritual love as an allegory of the divine cosmic Eros, caused a great scandal by its manifest autobiographical character, and contributed to the failure of his academic career in Jena. In 1802 he went to Paris, where he edited a monthly periodical, Europa, and began the study of Sanskrit. His book ‘Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier’ (1803) was the first scholarly treatment of its subject. After having embraced the Catholic faith he went to Vienna (1808), where he was employed in several official and diplomatic positions. Having gained the confidence of Metternich he secured the appointment as Austrian counsellor of legation at the Diet of Frankfort (1815). In 1818 he was again at Vienna. His later works, including ‘Geschichte der alten und neueren Literatur’ (1815), ‘Philosophie des Lebens’ (1828) and ‘Philosophie der Geschichte’ (1829) show an increasingly dogmatic standpoint in religious questions and reactionary tendencies in politics.

His wife, Dorothea (1763-1839), was the daughter of Moses Mendelssohn, the Jewish philosopher. In 1798 she left her first husband, the banker Veit, in order to become F. Schlegel's devoted “comrade” and literary helpmate. She published the products of her own pen, including the novel ‘Florentin’ (1801), under her husband's name; her adaptations of ‘Merlin the Magician’ (1804) and of ‘Loher and Maller’ (1805) have been included in Bohn's English edition of Schlegel's collected works. The ‘Sämtliche Werke,’ published in 15 volumes (1846), excluded the most important works of his pre-Parisian period. His ‘Prosaische Jugendschriften,’ on which his fame now rests almost entirely, were collected in two volumes by J. Minor (1882). Good selections (‘Fragmente’) were edited by E. von der Leyen (1904); ‘Briefe an seinen Bruder Wilhelm,’ ed. by Walzel (1890); Haym, R., ‘Die romantische Schule’ (1870; new ed., 1914); Wernaer, R. M., ‘Romanticism’ (1910); Joachimi, ‘Die Weltanschauung der Romantik’ (1905); Rouge, J., ‘Frédéric Schlegel et la genèse du romantisme allemand’ (1904); Enders, C., ‘F. Schlegel’ (1913).

Traugott Böhme,
Professor of Greek and History.