The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Schlegel, August Wilhelm von
SCHLEGEL, shlā'gĕl, August Wilhelm von, German critic, poet and translator: b. Hanover, 5 Sept. 1767; d. Bonn, 12 May 1845. At the University of Göttingen he received a thorough philological training under Heyne and became an admirer and friend of Bürger, with whom he was engaged in an ardent study of Dante, Petrarch and Shakespeare. From 1791 to 1795 he was tutor in a Dutch family at Amsterdam. Soon after his return to Germany he settled in Jena (1796), following an invitation of Schiller. His critical contributions to Schiller's Horen and to the Jenaer Allgemeine Litteratur-Zeitung, together with his translations from Dante and Shakespeare, established his literary reputation and gained for him a professorship at the University of Jena (1798). His house became the intellectual headquarters of the “romanticists,” and was visited at various times between 1796 to 1801 by Fichte, Friedrich Schlegel, Schelling, Tieck, Novalis and others. From 1798 to 1800 he and his brother Friedrich edited the Athenæum, a periodical intended to express the “romantic” view of life and literature. In 1801 he went to Berlin, where he lectured before distinguished audiences on the æsthetic and philosophical creed of the romanticists. In 1804 he began to accompany Mme. de Staël, as tutor to her sons and adviser in her literary work, on her extended travels in Switzerland, France, Italy, England and Scandinavia. Mme. de Staël's book ‘De l'Allemagne’ shows distinct traces of his influence. In 1808 he was in Vienna and delivered his celebrated ‘Vorlesungen über dramatische Kunst und Literatur’ (pub. 1809-11). In 1813-17 he acted as secretary to the crown prince of Sweden, after which he joined again the household of Mme. de Staël until her death in 1817. In 1818 he became professor at the University of Bonn. He founded a special printing office for Sanskrit and edited several old Indian texts. As an Orientalist he was unable to adapt himself to the new methods opened by Bopp. As a critic he carried on the tradition of Lessing and Herder. Without possessing Lessing's power of style and personality he commanded a wider range of artistic susceptibility. His unerring linguistic and historical scholarship and the calm objectivity of his judgment enabled him to carry out, even more successfully than Herder himself, Herder's demand that literary criticism should be based on a sympathetic penetration into the specific individuality of each poetic production rather than on the application of preconceived æsthetic standards. He established models for the new method of analytical and interpretative criticism in his essays on Goethe's ‘Hermann and Dorothea’ and on Shakespeare's ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ His Vienna lectures ‘On Dramatic Art and Literature’ were translated into most of the languages of Europe and stand as a permanent contribution to critical literature; his definition of the terms “classic” and “romantic” met with general recognition; his views on the so-called “three unities” and on the “correctness” of Shakespeare evoked an especially strong echo in England and finally made the Johnsonian attitude toward Shakespeare appear obsolete.
Formal perfection of language is the chief merit of his poems, which suffer from a lack of originality. In his drama ‘Ion’ (1803) he vainly attempted to rival Goethe's ‘Iphigenie.’ He prided himself on being “model and master in the art of sonnets” among the Germans. He is at his best in sparkling literature parodies such as ‘Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen für Kotzebue’ (1801).
His universal receptivity for poetical values, together with his rare facility of linguistic expression, predestined him to be a translator of the first order. His translations from Shakespeare were his greatest artistic contribution to German literature. It is due to him that Shakespeare is hardly less known in Germany than he is in England. Only 17 plays of the so-called Schlegel-Tieck Shakespeare were translated by Schlegel (1797-1810); the remainder were added, from 1825 to 1833, by Graf Wolf Baudissin and (very inadequately) by Dorothea Tieck, while Tieck himself acted only as a reviser and annotator. Schlegel also translated parts of Dante's ‘Divina Commedia’ (1791-97). His ‘Blumensträusse, italiänischer, spanischer und portugiesischer Poesie’ (1804) included Petrarca's sonnets. The two volumes of ‘Spanisches Theater’ (1803-09) introduced five plays of Calderon into German literature. His theoretical essays on the art of translating have guided several generations of German translators. His breadth of culture made him truly a “cosmopolitan of art and poetry.” As a critic and as a translator he has lastingly contributed to the realization of Goethe's idea of a “Welt-Literatur.”
His first wife, Caroline Michaelis (1763-1809), whom he married in 1796, was the widow of Dr. Böhmer. She was the most brilliant among the “romantic” women. She assisted Schlegel in some of his literary productions, and the publication of her correspondence in 1871 established for her a posthumous reputation as probably the greatest of German letter-writers. She separated from Schlegel in 1801 and became the wife of the young philosopher, Schelling, soon after.
Bibliography. — Schlegel's ‘Sämtliche Werke’ have been edited in 12 volumes by E. Böcking (1846); 'Vorlesungen über schöne Literatur und Kunst' (ed. by Minor, 3 vols., 1884); ‘Œuvres écrites en français’ (3 vols., 1846). Consult Strauss, D. Fr., ‘Kleine Schriften’ (1862); Haym, R., ‘Die romantische Schule’ (1870; new ed., 1914); Huch, Ricarda, ‘Blütezeit der Romantik’ (1899); ‘Caroline, Briefe aus der Frühromantik’ (ed. by Erich Schmidt, 2 vols., 1913); Sidgwick, Mrs. Alfred, ‘Caroline Schlegel and her Friends’ (1889); Bernays, M., ‘Zur Entstehungsgeschichte des Schlegelschen Shakespeare’ (1872); Genée, R., ‘A. W. Schlegel und Shakespeare’ (1903); Gundolf, F, ‘Shakespeare und der deutsche Geist’ (1911); Helmholtz, A. A., ‘The Indebtedness of S. T. Coleridge to A. W. Schlegel’ (1907).