The Novalis House, a place of commemoration for an early romantic poet in Weißenfels an der Saale
The romantic movements in Germany and England took different pathways in many respects. But there are
also similarities. For instance, both movements, particularly in the early period, were influenced by
their attitude to the French Revolution. While the German romantic movement was extremely wide-embracing
and very much influenced by the (romantic) philosophy of German Idealism and included music and art as
equal partners, the English romantic movement clearly laid most emphasis on poetry. The names of the
high romantics – Byron, Shelley and Keats – are also known in Germany. But it was the early romantic,
S.T. Coleridge (1772–1834) who made the connection between poetry, Germany and German philosophy.
William Wordsworth (1770–1850), probably a better known early romantic in Germany accompanied him on his
extensive travels in Germany. As a result of these journeys Coleridge got to know some of the most
important German romantics. Novalis was probably not unknown to him. However, Novalis is first explicitly
mentioned in print in the (published) lectures on German literature given by the Victorian literary and
social critic Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881). His long essay on Novalis shows deep understanding, which is
why Carlyle, like before him Coleridge, must be viewed as an important mediator between German and
English culture. He translated Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister" just as Coleridge before him had
translated Schiller's "Wallenstein." Both Goethe and Schiller were viewed as "romantic
poets" in the English-speaking world.
Novalis, Steel Engraving by Eduard Eichens, 1845
Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772–1801), known as NOVALIS, is the most important representative of the early
romantic period in Germany. He died too early to implement his extensive plans and to summarise his manifold
thoughts and research results. His works remained fragmentary. As a philosopher, mathematician and chemist
he left an important archive for his period. The early death of his first fiancée, Sophie von Kühn,
moved the poet to a mystic schwärmerei for death and night. In the "Hymnen an die Nacht"
he eulogises his dead love and thus makes her immortal.
Some of his "Geistliche Lieder" were included in the hymnals of protestant churches.
His Bildungsroman "Heinrich von Ofterdingen" which contains the myth of the blue flower
remained unfinished, as did his second novel "Die Lehrlinge zu Sais."
Friedrich von Hardenberg was born on 2nd May 1772 in the castle of the village of Oberwiederstedt, not far
from Mansfeld. His father, Baron Erasmus von Hardenberg (1738–1814), had been made director of the saline
works belonging to the Electorate of Saxony and moved with his family to Weißenfels to the large house,
Klosterstraße 24, which is nowadays called the Novalis House. The town authorities made two small rooms of
this building which belongs to the town available to the "Literaturkreis Novalis" which was
founded in 1991. With the aid of the town museum a selection of paintings, drawings, manuscripts and
publications is on exhibition which refer to the family of Hardenberg, the life of Friedrich and his two
fiancées, Sophie von Kühn and Julie von Charpentier. The director of the office of the Literaturkreis
can inform visitors about other important persons and places of remembrance in the town itself and in the vicinity.
The Novalis House in Klosterstraße 24
The visitors should not miss the small baroque garden pavilion near the house and, in the town park, the bust of
Friedrich von Hardenberg which was erected there on the occasion of the centenary of his death.
In spite of his delicate health Friedrich received a varied but strongly religious education, first from his mother,
later from governesses and tutors. In 1790 he extended his knowledge of Latin and Greek at the grammar school in
Eisleben and began to study law and philosophy at the University of Jena. Here he made the acquaintance of Friedrich
Schiller. At the end of 1791 he continued his studies in Leipzig and got to know Friedrich Schlegel. In June 1794 he
passed the first state examination in law at the University of Wittenberg.
At the beginning of 1796 he returned to Weißenfels and played an extensive part in the supervision of the saline
refineries in Artern, Bad Kösen and Bad Dürrenberg. In 1798 in order to extend his knowledge of mining he began
to study at the mining academy in Freiberg in Saxony. In addition to publishing his poetic works he pays visits to
Schlegel, Schelling, Goethe and Jean Paul. In December of that year he becomes betrothed to Julie von Charpentier
(1776–1811), the daughter of a mining director.
In May 1799 back in Weißenfels he completes an immense programme of work both for the saline authorities and in
fulfilment of his philosophical and poetic ambitions. He is appointed to the office of Amtshauptmann for the
Thuringian region of Saxony.
As a result of this stress his strength was soon exhausted. Tuberculosis of the lung contributed to the
deterioration of his state of health. In the presence of his brother, Karl, and his friend Friedrich Schlegel,
a haemorrhage puts an early end to his life on 25th March 1801.
Tuesday to Friday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 10 a.m. – 12 a.m. and 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Novalis-Haus, Klosterstraße 24, 06667 Weißenfels, Germany
information on Carlyle and Novalis
have a look at the related site within the Victorian Web.