Schlegel, Friedrich von

Schlegel, Friedrich von

(frē`drĭkh fən shlā`gəl), 1772–1829, German philosopher, critic, and writer, most prominent of the founders of German romanticismromanticism,
term loosely applied to literary and artistic movements of the late 18th and 19th cent. Characteristics of Romanticism

Resulting in part from the libertarian and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, the romantic movements had in common only a
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. Educated in law at Göttingen and Leipzig, he turned to literature, writing Die Griechen und Römer (1797). It was followed by experimental literary works, notably Lucinde (1799) and Alarcos (1802). With his brother, August Wilhelm von Schlegel, he founded and edited the Athenaeum, the principal organ of the romantic school. His lectures at Jena (1800) and in Paris (1802) had a widespread influence. His study in Paris of Sanskrit and of Indian civilization later contributed to his outstanding work, Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier [on the language and wisdom of India] (1808). From 1808 to 1819 he engaged in political and diplomatic activities and also wrote works in history and literature. At Vienna, after 1818, he edited Concordia, issued his collected works (1822–25), and lectured on philosophy. Schlegel, during his early period, held that comprehension of life depends on the richness and variety of experience. He called it "romantic irony" that truth changes from experience to experience and that wisdom depends on the recognition of the fickleness of truth. Later, after he and his wife, Dorothea von Schlegel, had joined (1808) the Roman Catholic Church, he became more conservative. Among his translated lectures are The Philosophy of History (tr. 1835), The Philosophy of Life and the Philosophy of Language (tr. 1847), and The History of Literature (tr. 1859).
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Schlegel, Friedrich Von


Born Mar. 10, 1772, in Hanover; died Jan. 12,1829, in Dresden. German critic, philologist, idealist philosopher, writer, and theorist of romanticism. Brother off A. W. von Schlegel.

F. von Schlegel studied classical philology in Leipzig. In articles written in the 1790’s under the influence of J. J. Winckelmann, he viewed ancient Greek poetry as the prototype of true art and the embodiment of the objectively beautiful. He sharply criticized modern culture and art for preferring “the mannered, the characteristic, and the individual,” for mixing genres, and for tirelessly striving after “the new, the piquant, and the striking” (On the Study of Greek Poetry, 1797).

Schlegel lived in Jena from 1796 to 1801. He published the journal Athenaeum with A. von Schlegel from 1798 to 1800 and formulated the basic tenets of the Jena school of romantics. In this period he extolled the romantic art of his time. He regarded Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Goethe as the greatest representatives of romantic art, which he distinguished from the classical art of antiquity. In his numerous “fragments” and aphorisms Schlegel advanced the Utopian ideal of a new, universal poetry and culture that would aesthetically transform the world. The new poetry and culture would be oriented toward the “infinite plenitude of the universe” and would undergo a continuous, never-ending process of creative development. The new culture would constantly reflect upon itself and its works; it would fuse art, philosophy, science, and religion. Schlegel regarded ancient mythology as the prototype of such a fusion and dreamed of a new mythology, the beginnings of which he saw in the natural science of his day and in post-Kantian idealist philosophy (A Conversation About Poetry, 1800).

Associated with Schlegel’s theory of a universal poetry and culture is his treatment of irony, which he viewed as an expression of the dynamism of the world and of cognition. Irony expresses a feeling of wholeness; it impels the artist to rise above limitations imposed by the individual self, by the material represented, and by the means of representation.

According to Schlegel, the novel is an encyclopedia of the spiritual life of an individual and the highest genre of the new poetry. He regarded Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister and Cervantes’ Don Quixote as exemplars of the genre. Schlegel’s unfinished and fragmentary novel Lucinde (1799), which provoked a charge of immorality, was based on a romantic theory of love and marriage as spiritual and physical union and as the harmonious mutual complementing of man and woman.

From 1802 to 1804, Schlegel lived in Paris. From 1803 to 1805 he published the journal Europa, which was devoted to the concept of the spiritual communality of European culture. His Geschichte der alten und neueren Literatur (vols. 1–2, 1813–15; English translation under the title Lectures on the History of Literature) continued the tradition of J. G. von Herder and played an important role in the development of romantic historicism. National literatures in this work are examined as unique entities. For Schlegel, a national literature expressed the spiritual life of its people and reflected the peoples religious, philosophical, and political history.

After his conversion to Catholicism in 1808, Schlegel lived in Vienna. He took up a position in the Austrian government and worked closely with Metternich. Schlegel, who in the 1790’s had favored republicanism and supported the ideals of the French Revolution, now espoused the conservative romantic ideal of a “true empire.” In the journal Concordia (1820–23), he viewed the Austrian estate monarchy as an embodiment of this romantic ideal. In The Philosophy of Life (1828), The Philosophy of History (vols. 1–2, 1829), and The Philosophy of Language and Speech (1830), Schlegel developed the notion of a universal Christian philosophy. Criticizing various philosophical systems, particularly German classical idealism, as forms of divided consciousness, he maintained that the restoration of the inner wholeness of human consciousness was a prerequisite for a true philosophy of life based on the principles of Christian spiritualism. This wholeness involved the unity of all mental faculties, including reason, imagination, and will.

One of the founders of German Sanskrit studies and of comparative linguistics, Schlegel was the author of On The Language and Wisdom of the Indians (1808).


Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe. Edited by E. Behler et al. Munich, 1956–77. (Continuing publication.)
In Russian translation:
Literaturnaia teoriia nemetskogo romantizma. Leningrad, 1934. Pages 169–210.
“Liutsinda.” In Nemetskaia romanticheskaia povest’, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1935.


Berkovskii, N. Ia. Romantizm v Germanii. Leningrad, 1973.
Enders, C. Friedrich Schlegel: Die Quellen seines Wesens und Werdens. Leipzig, 1913.
Anstett, J.-J. La Pensée religièuse de F. Schlegel. Paris, 1941.
Mennemeier, F. N. Friedrich Schlegels Poesiebegriff. Munich, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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