1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Varnhagen von Ense, Karl August
VARNHAGEN VON ENSE, KARL AUGUST (1785-1858), German biographer, was born at Düsseldorf on the 21st of February 1785. He studied medicine at Berlin, but devoted more attention to philosophy and literature, which he afterwards studied more thoroughly at Halle and Tübingen. He began his literary career in 1804 as joint-editor with Adelbert von Chamisso (q.v.) of a Musenalmanach. In 1809 he joined the Austrian army, and was wounded at the battle of Wagram. Soon afterwards he accompanied his superior officer, Prince Bentheim, to Paris, where he carried on his studies. In 1812 he entered the Prussian civil service at Berlin, but in the following year resumed his military career, this time as a captain in the Russian army. He accompanied Tettenborn, as adjutant, to Hamburg and Paris, and his experiences were recorded in his Geschichte der Hamburger Ereignisse (London, 1813), and his Geschichte der Kriegszüge des Generals von Tettenborn (1815). At Paris he entered the diplomatic service of Prussia, and in 1814 acted under Hardenberg at the congress of Vienna. He also accompanied Hardenberg to Paris in 1815. He was resident minister for some time at Karlsruhe, but was recalled in 1819, after which, with the title of “Geheimer Legationsrat,” he lived chiefly at Berlin. He had no fixed official appointment, but was often employed in important political business. In 1814 he married Rahel Antonie Friederike, originally called Levin, afterwards Robert, and sister of the poet, Ludwig Robert (1778-1832). She was born in 1771 at Berlin, where she died in 1833. By birth she was a Jewess; but before her marriage she made profession of Christianity. Although she never wrote anything for publication, she was a woman of remarkable intellectual qualities, and exercised a powerful influence on many men of high ability. Her husband, who was devotedly attached to her, found in her sympathy and encouragement one of the chief sources of his inspiration as a writer. After her death he published a selection from her papers, and afterwards much of her correspondence was printed. Varnhagen von Ense never fully recovered from the shock caused by her death. He himself died suddenly in Berlin on the 10th of October 1858.
He made some reputation as an imaginative and critical writer, but he is famous chiefly as a biographer. He possessed a remarkable power of grouping facts so as to bring out their essential significance, and his style is distinguished for its strength, grace and purity. Among his principal works are Goethe in den Zeugnissen der Mitlebenden (1824); Biographische Denkmale (5 vols., 1824-30; 3rd ed., 1872); and biographies of General von Seydlitz (1834), Sophia Charlotte, queen of Prussia (1837), Field-Marshal Schwerin (1841), Field-Marshal Keith (1844), and General Bülow von Dennewitz (1853). His Denkwürdigkeiten und vermischte Schriften appeared in 9 vols. in 1843-59, the two last volumes appearing after his death. His niece, Ludmilla Assing, between 1860 and 1867, edited several volumes of his correspondence with eminent men, and his Tagebücher (14 vols., 1861-70). Blätter aus der preussischen Geschichte appeared in 5 vols. (1868-69); his correspondence with Rahel in 6 vols. (1874-75); and with Carlyle (1892). His selected writings appeared in 19 vols. in 1871-76. There is also an extensive literature dealing with Rahel Varnhagen von Ense; see especially her husband's Rahel, ein Buch des Andenkens (3 vols., 1834); Aus Rahels Herzensleben (1877); E. Schmidt-Weissenfels, Rahel und ihre Zeit (1857); Briefwechsel zwischen Karoline von Humboldt, Rahel und Varnhagen von Ense (1896); O. Berdrow, Rahel Varnhagen (1900).