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Aquarium > Sekundäres > The Life of Novalis > 3. Sophie

3. Sophie

Novalis' uncle wanted to help his talented nephew into a career in the big world, so he contacted the Prussian minister Karl August von Hardenberg to obtain a position in the administration of the Prussian state. Until the response would come it was decided to let Novalis attain some practical experience in administrative work through an apprenticeship as an "Aktuarius" (actuary) in the office of Kreisamtmann Coelestin August Just, the local presiding magistrate of the dukedom of Saxony in Tennstedt. Novalis stayed with Just from November 1794 to the beginning of 1796. He was much praised for his work there; his relationship with his superior turned into a friendship.

Apart from business, Novalis studied thoroughly the philosophy of Fichte during this time. He left more than five hundred pages of notes on the subject. He came to know Fichte personally; the philosopher lectured in Jena. There is an account of a meeting in the house of Niethammer in Jena in May 1795 where also Friedrich Hölderlin was present. Fichte, strongly influenced by Kant, tried to develop all structures of the consciousness, including all structures of its possible contents, out of one basic thought, which he called the self establishment of the ego. To him, all existence was only real in relationship to a consciousness; the world therefore consisted of ego (i.e. he who established himself) and not ego, the latter being the beyond of the former.

Sophie von Kühn
Sophie von Kühn
Right at the beginning of his stay in Tennstedt Novalis made the acquaintance of Sophie von Kühn, which was to be of great influence on his further life and literary works. On an official journey on Monday the 17th of November 1794 he entered the house of von Rockenthien in Grüningen, accompanied by a friend, and met the stepdaughter, Sophie. He immediately fell in love with her, in his own words: "a quarter of an hour decided my life." Her family presented Sophie as fourteen years old, but she was actually twelve and a half. Novalis payed frequent visits to Grüningen and half a year later, two days before her thirteenth birthday, Sophie told him that she wanted to be his.

To illustrate Sophie's character, we give a page of Novalis's diary where he put down reflections on her personality. It is entitled "Klarisse," written in August or September of 1796:

"Her prematureness. She wishes to please everybody. Her obedience to and fear of her father. Her decency and yet innocent simple-mindedness. Her rigid-mindedness and her pliancy to people she once got fond of or whom she fears. Her behavior in illness. Her moods (humour). What she likes to talk about. Her civility to strangers. Her well-doing. Her propensity to infantile play. Attachedness to other women. Her judgements. Her opinions. Dress, dance. Activity in the household. Love to her brothers and sisters. Her musical ear. Her loved ones. Taste, religiousity. Free enjoyment of life. (...) Propensity to female activities. She does not want to be anything – she is something. Her face – her stature – her life, her health – her political situation. Her movements. Her speech. Her hand. She does not make much out of poetry. Her conduct against others, against me. Openness. She does not seem to have come yet to actual reflection – I came myself to it only at a certain period. With whom she has been together all her life. Whereabout has she been ? What does she like to eat. Her behavior towards me. Her fright of marriage. I must ask her concerning her peculiarities (...) Her way to feel joy – to be sad. What pleases her most of people and things. Did her temperament wake up? (...) Her smoking tobacco. Her attachedness to her mother, like a child. (...) Her boldness against her father. (...) Her fear of ghosts. Her economizing. (...) Face at obscenities. Talent to imitate. (...) Judgements about her. She is moderate – well-doing. She is irritable – sensitive. Her inclination to be educated. (...) Her attention to alien judgements. Her spirit of observation. Love of children. Spirit of order. Thirst for power. Her carefulness and passion for the proper – she wants that I please everywhere. She did not like that I turned so early to the parents, and let it in general be noticed to soon. She likes to hear narrate. She does not want to be troubled by my love. My love presses her often. She is cold throughout. Unbelievable ability to disguise, to hide, of women in general. Her fine spirit of attention. Her right tact. (...) They are more perfect than we are. More free than we are. Ordinarily, we are better. They perceive better than we do – their nature seems to be our art – our nature their art. They are born artists. They individualize, we universalize. She does not believe in a life after death – but in metempsychosis. She is interested in Schlegel. She does not like too much attention, yet dislikes neglect. She has fear of spiders and mice. She wants me always joyous. I shall not see the wound. She allows not to say you (i.e. adress second person singular) to her. The H on her cheek. Favourite dish – herb soup – beef and beans – eel. She likes to drink wine. She likes to see something – loves the comedy. She reflects more about others than about herself."


In the beginning Novalis's brother Erasmus showed himself a bit sceptical in his letters, concerning the quick falling in love, but later Erasmus came himself down to Grüningen, at the same time as brother his Carl; they both found the scene there very charming, and at a time there was even talk of a multiple liason between the two families. Sophie and Novalis's engagement was originally kept a secret in front of the father.

An interesting occurence: in a fictitious marriage announcement sent to a friend the date of marriage was given as the 19th, the day of its announcement as the 25th of March; the first date turned out later to be the date of Sophie's death, the second date was Novalis's death date.

His wish to marry Sophie made him eager to attain a position with an income that would enable him to support a household and a family. The above mentioned plans of a higher career did not come to fruition, so he decided to enter the saltmines' administration under his father. On the 30th of December, 1795, he was admitted as assistant to the board of directors and started work in February 1796 after attending a two week course in chemistry with the pharmacist Johann Christian Wiegleb, in Langensalza. The pharmacist adhered to the phlogiston theory, which traced the flammability of matter to a special substance contained within the phlogiston. It was only a few years previous that Lavoisier had discovered the role of oxygen in the combustion process. Novalis's job in the saltworks consisted mainly of making inspection journeys to the various branches. The works were run by the government of the dukedom of Saxony.

In November of 1795, about the same time that Novalis's career was taking shape, his fiancee fell seriously ill. Sophie was affected by an inflammation of the liver which developed in ups and downs until it got very bad in summer of 1796. She was brought to Jena and operated on by Johann Christian Stark, the doctor of Schiller. It had to be repeated twice in August and September, but the wound would not heal. Goethe paid her a visit in Jena. Toward the end of the year she was brought back to Grüningen. Sophie died there on the 19th of March, 1797.

Novalis visited Sophie for the last time five days before her death. He left her in the certainity of her death, apparently unable to bear it any longer. His grief grew when his brother Erasmus, with whom he had studied in Leipzig, died of tuberculosis in the following month.

From the middle of April to the beginning of July Novalis put down his daily moods and thoughts in a journal. At first he felt a strong conviction to follow Sophie into death. In a letter he related various dates important between him and Sophie: their engagement on the 15th, her birthday on a 17th, her death on the 19th, the message getting to him on the 21st of March. He expressed his desire to die on the 23rd of March in the following year. As a matter of fact, he died on the 25th of March four years to come.

In his diary, he reflected on both the daily intensity of his feelings for Sophie and the rigidness of his decision to follow her. He did not work for the three months following Sophie's death; he stayed first in Tennstedt near her grave and then at his parents house in Weissenfels. Novalis first visited Sophie's grave to Easter Sunday (16th of April), and he went frequently there after. During thsi time he read Goethe's "Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre" (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship). On the 13th of May he received August Wilhelm Schlegels translation of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" which touched him deeply; from the evening of the same day he recalled a visit to Sophies grave: "I blew the grave in front of me like dust – centuries were like moments – her closeness was tangible – I believed she should always appear." Apparently the encounter at the grave impressed him deeply, he eventually transformed it into the third hymn of the poem "Hymnen an die Nacht" (Hymns to the Night) two years later.

In the local church's annals the entry of Sophie's death is followed by a short poem by Novalis: "Verblühe denn, du süsse Frühlings Blume. / Gott pflanzte dich ins bessre Leben ein. / In seiner ewgen Liebe Heiligthume / Da wirst du ungetrübt uns Himmelswonne seyn!" It can now be found engraved on a plate in the churchyard's wall.

He turned again to his studies of Fichte, and on May 29th there is an entry: "between the turnpike and Grüningen I had the pleasure to find the actual idea of Fichtes ego." – On June 29th, at the end of the journal, there is the mysterious entry: "Xtus und Sophie" (Christ and Sophie).

2. Studies
4. Freiberg Academy


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Letzte Änderung am 03.03.2002.
© 1997-2006 f.f., l.m.
Jermey Adler:
»Novalis & Philo-Sophie«

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