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Aquarium > Sekundäres > The Life of Novalis > 2. Studies

2. Studies

In June 1790, at eighteen years old, Novalis was sent to the gymnasium in Eisleben; he seemed to have lived in the house of the headmaster Jani, a respected pedagogue. The lessons consisted of Greek and Latin language, thirty-five a week; among the authors read were Cicero, Virgil, Horaz, Ovid, Seneca, Xenophon, Demosthenes, Pindar and Homer.

Novalis had already written more than a hundred poems, mainly epigonisms of current styles; he also made attempts at prose, drama, and poetical translations of classical authors.

Due to the sudden death of Jani in October of that year he left the school in Eisleben. He was accepted in the same month to the university of Jena. The outstanding teaching personalities at Jena were Reinhold, who lectured on Kant's philosophy, and Schiller, who was a professor of history.

Novalis got interested in philosophy, although he did not penetrate the subject thoroughly, as he later confessed. He attended the lectures of Schiller on the history of the European states and on the crusades. Schiller's personality impressed Novalis strongly and he got acquainted with his professor. His legal studies were left aside; student activities like fencing took up his time. His interests lay in philosophy, history, and poetry, all areas without bread earning potential. He met Herder, who had influenced Goethe in his youth and was now superintendent of the protestant church in Weimar.

In April 1791, his poem "Klagen eines Jünglings" (Mournings of a Young Man) was published in "Neuer Teutscher Merkur," a periodical edited by Christoph Martin Wieland, as an example of worthwhile production by the young generation.

His father finally asked Schiller to use his influence on Novalis hoping that the professor would point out the usefulness of legal studies to his student. Schiller succeeded, and with further parental guidance, Novalis was gently forced to move to the University of Leipzig, which he did in October 1791, willing to devote himself to his studies. Leipzig, a city of thirty thousand inhabitants, was still the "Little Paris" which Goethe had experienced thirty years earlier. Novalis's brother Erasmus (born 1774) joined him in the beginning of 1792, and together they preferred the social life to their studies. He wrote later: "we played brilliant parts in the theatre of the world." He apparently did attend some lectures on mathematics and the natural sciences.

The outstanding event of this period is the acqaintance with Friedrich Schlegel, who became his friend until his death. Let us take a glance at the life of this extraordinary man:

Friedrich Schlegel
Friedrich Schlegel
Friedrich Schlegel, born in 1772, led a restless life. Considered a difficult child, Schlegel was educated by different people, his uncle, his elder brothers. A very unsatisfying apprenticeship in a bank at the age of fifteen, and an education in the classical languages, which he mastered by age eighteen. Then Schlegel attended university, first at Göttingen, for less than one year. In May 1791, he moved to Leipzig, where he met Novalis. Schlegel had an unquenchable intellectual curiosity; he read a lot, fast and concentrated. In Leipzig he fell in love with a married woman who toyed with him but eventually let him down. He considered first suicide, and then murdering the woman, but instead he turned to gambling, where he lost and fell into debts. Brother August Wilhelm saved him from financial ruin, but he remained burdened with debt. In 1793 he accompanied Caroline Böhmer, designated wife of August Wilhelm, in his brother's absence and got to know the fascinating woman. He eventually quit university and decided to live as a writer. Avoiding creditors, he moved to a village near Dresden and spent two disciplined years in the country, writing "Geschichte der Poesie der Griechen und Römer" (History of Ancient Greek and Roman Poetry). In 1796 he lived for one year with August Wilhelm and Caroline in Jena, before moving to Berlin, where he lived with Schleiermacher and met his later wife, Dorothea Veit, daughter of the philosopher Moses Mendelsohn. In autumn 1799 he came back to Jena. The house of August Wilhelm and Caroline became for the next two years the meeting-point of what was afterwards called "Romantic Circle." Novalis, Tieck, Schelling, Ritter and others were frequent guests. Schlegel became the founder of the Romantic movement in literature through his writings, mostly delivered in the form pointed aphorisms or fragments. The programmatic organ of the Romanticists was the periodical "Athenaeum" (1798-1800), edited by him and his brother. He held lectures at Jena university on transcendental philosophy. In his novel "Lucinde" he expressed a new, free attitude towards love. The brothers Schlegel were the first to acknowledge Goethe in their critical writings, but then they developed a romantic counter-point to him. Goethe had their play "Ion" performed at his Weimar theatre. In the summer of 1801 (after Novalis's death), Schlegel and Dorothea were without possibilties and money in Jena, so they moved to Paris. Schlegel gave private lectures on European literature to the brothers Boisserée (collectors of German medival art, friends of Goethe; they inspired the completion of the cathedral at Köln). He also studied Persian languages and met Alexander Hamilton – the "only man on the continent to know sanskrit" – and learned from him. Schlegel wrote "Sprache und Weisheit der Indier" (Language and Wisdom of India), a fundamental text for indologic and comparative language studies. He officially married Dorothea Veit in April 1804; afterwards they accompanied the brothers Boisserée to Köln, where they stayed for the following four years. In April 1808 Schlegel converted to Catholicism and moved to Vienna. In March 1809 he became the secretary to Count Stadion, the Austrian prime minister. When Napoleon occupied Vienna in June, Schlegel was asked to edit the "Österreichische Zeitung" (Austrian Newspaper) until December. Afterwards he took the greatest part in establishing the "Österreichischer Beobachter" (Austrian Spectator), the most important paper of the era Metternich, and was its editor until December 1810. He gave lectures, especially "Geschichte der älteren und modernen Literatur" (History of Ancient and Modern Literature), in which he described the national literatures as an organic, individual whole. From 1815 to 1818 he was secretary of Austria to the (first) Federal German Parlament which resided in Frankfurt. He died in 1829.


Friedrich Schlegel wrote to his brother August Wilhelm in January 1792: "Fate gave a young man into my hands who might become everything." And one month later: "He might become everything or nothing." In the letter of January Schlegel gave a characterization of Novalis: "A still very young being – of slim, good appearance, very fine face with black eyes of majestic expression when he talks with fire of something beautiful – unbelievable much fire – he talks three times more and three times as fast as we others – the fastest apprehension and reception. The studies of philosophy gave him exuberant ease to form beautiful philosophic thoughts – his favorite authors are Plato and Hemsterhuys – with wild fire he told me one of the first evenings his opinion – of no evil being in the world – and everything approaching again the golden age ... he has already been a lot in sociability (he gets acquainted right away with everybody)." Novalis writes to Friedrich Schlegel in a letter of August 1793: "For me you have been the high priest of Eleusis. I learned through you to know heaven and hell – through you I have tasted of the tree of knowledge."

In Leipzig, Novalis seems to have lived beyond his expenses and gotten into debt. In a letter to his father, dated February, 1793, he told of an unfortunate love affair in the beginning of the year and of the pains of passion, and he announced his decision to enter military service in order to strengthen and stabilize his character. It turned out there was not enough money in the family to get him into the desired position, an outcome which may have been arranged as his family did not at all like his idea.

Novalis decided instead to continue his studies and moved to the University of Wittenberg in May 1793. In the sober atmosphere of the town where Martin Luther started the Reformation movement, he finished his studies in one and a quarter years' time, acquainting himself with the history of the Catholic church in addition to his other studies, and passed his examinations with the highest marks.

1. Childhood
3. Sophie


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Letzte Änderung am 03.03.2002.
© 1997-2006 f.f., l.m.
Jermey Adler:
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