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Aquarium > Sekundäres > The Life of Novalis > 4. Freiberg Academy

4. Freiberg Academy

Finding himself more and more involved again in active life, his interest in sciences grew and he decided to take up studies at the mining academy in Freiberg. It was the most respected school for such studies at the time in Europe, led by the famous Abraham Gottlob Werner; Novalis later set him a memorial in his novel. His wish is granted by the ducal government and beginning of December 1797 he moved to Freiberg.

The weeks before, aside his work, he studied Hemsterhuys again. The teachings of Frans Hemsterhuys are of the existence of a unity of the whole universe not perceptible by the human mind, only to be grasped by a not yet developed moral organ within man; love being the basic power of this new organ and poetry, in a wider sense, the means of its expression, the language of the Gods. He also transposed Newtons antagonism of the centrifugal and centripetal powers to all spheres, seeing attraction equal to love and repulsion equal to egotism.

Novalis visited A.W. Schlegel, Fichte and others in Jena, after one of those visits he writes to Friedrich Schlegel: "best one, feel it with me – this almanach [a publication] drew me again into the world of the poets – the old love of my youth [i.e.poetry] awakes."

On his way to Freiberg he stopped in Leipzig and met Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling for the first time, who had proposed a theory seeing nature and spirit as two equal worlds on the same basis, nature being visible spirit, spirit being invisible nature. He had been a close friend of Hölderlin and Hegel during their studies at the protestantic theological school in Tübingen.

The academy at Freiberg had fifty to sixty students in a city of ten thousand inhabitants with a lack of the social life usually found near universities. But the students had access, even without recommodation, to the first families in town. One of them Novalis entered, it was the family of the head of the mining board, von Charpentier, who had before been a professor at the academy. Novalis was well accepted, to the birthday of Charpentiers wife on January 22nd 1798 he wrote a poem entitled "Der Fremdling" (The Stranger), stating his own momentary position in the world. Five of the family's seven children still lived in the house, among them Julie, which was to become his fiancee a year from the birthday party. Some scholars claim that he went to live with the family from spring 1798 on, but facts are not clear. In a letter to a niece of his friend Just in Tennstedt from February 1798 he wrote: "Julie is a crawling poison, one finds her, before one really notices, everywhere within oneself and it becomes the more dangerous the more pleasant it seems. Were I a young daredevil I would try once such a poisoning, but dulled as I am, it only exites my old nerves to light, joyful vibrations and warms my rigid blood for hours."

In this Freiberg period his awakening interest in the world and the sciences finds its expression in numerous fragments he put to paper. He stayed in vivid contact with the brothers Schlegel in Jena and Berlin; they planned and undertook the edition of a periodical called "Athenaeum." It first appeared in May 1798, bearing as its second article a collection of his fragments entitled "Blüthenstaub" (Pollen). For this publication, he initially used the name Novalis. One of the fragments goes: "Goethe is the true governor of the poetic spirit on earth." Goethe's diary shows that they had met for lunch March 29th in Weimar together with August Wilhelm Schlegel and for an evening session at Schiller's place the same day, but not much contact seemed to have happened because in a letter to Schiller of July 1798 Novalis expresses his wish to see Goethe once "open and communicative."

In the same spring of 1798 another collection of fragments emerged, being devoted to the new king and queen of Prussia. Friedrich Wilhelm III got to the throne in his 27th year after the death of his father. Since 1793 he was married to Louise, who bore him a second son in the year of the inthronisation (who was to become German emperor in 1871 at Versailles). His becoming king was generally applauded, several changes being hoped for. In fact, a somewhat more liberal and moral atmosphere got established, the charme of the queen helping with it. On May 11th in 1798, Novalis sends a group of fragments to Friedrich Schlegel in Berlin entitled "Glaube und Liebe" (Belief and Love), to be published in the "Jahrbuch der preussischen Monarchie" (Annals of the Prussian Monarchy) soon after. In these writings he deals with the monarchy and the state, seeing it as a means of education with the aim to bring humanity to its highest level. The two classes he sees as the educated and the uneducated, with the former being in the duty to educate the latter. The king is the symbol for the ideal man, the ultimate aim is to make everybody able to hold the throne. – The king himself was not quite open to these ideas, probably out of lack of understanding, a word of him is rendered: "One expects more of a king than he is able to give." The praise of the queen he found tasteless. Further publication was forbidden by the censors, the alias saving Novalis of direct criticism; literary activities were considered as below the dignity of the nobles.

But these were not the only writings Novalis produced aside his studies in Freiberg. He began "Die Lehrlinge zu Sais" (The Apprentices of Sais), an unfinished novel dealing with the various approaches toward and the explanations of nature and the problems of being in it, all somewhat centered around the motto of Apollos temple in Delphi: "Know yourself."

Parallel to the "Lehrlinge" the "Hymnen an die Nacht" (Hymns to the Night) were created, considering the third hymn as the basic one (the encounter at Sophie's grave) being written somewhat earlier and the last ones being finished at the turn of the years 1799/1800. It was printed end of September 1800 in the "Athenaeum" and is often regarded as his deepest writing, mingling darkness and light, the mystery of Christ, the evolution of humanity and his own received revelations in highly poetical phrase.

The scientifical spirit of the time was eager and active, important discoveries having just been made and being expected. The new idea of the galvanism stirred the minds, Johann Wilhelm Ritter, who made astonishing electric and magnetic experiments with low means in a Jena attic had published his work (Proof That Galvanism Accompanies The Process Of Life In The Animal World) and was to become the founder of physical chemistry. The effort was to find a general principle or power as basis of life. Friedrich Schlegel states that galvanism was one of Novalis's most loved ideas. Novalis started a collection of thoughts he called "Allgemeines Brouillon," in which he tried to establish analogies between the different sciences, his plan was to come out with an encyclopedian collection encircling the heart of all matter. In it is talk of spiritual physics, chemical music, poetic physiology, physical history or moral astronomy, just to name a few. Over the time the notes grew to an amount of 350 pages. Friedrich Schlegel wrote to his friend Friedrich Schleiermacher "Hardenberg is busy kneading religion and physics into one dough. It is going to become an interesting pancake."

End of May 1798 Novalis falls sick and has to retire for four weeks of the summer to Teplitz, a popular bath in Bohemia. After this, on a weekend in August he meets all his friends, Schelling, the brothers Schlegel and Caroline in Dresden. They visit the collection of antiques and paintings there and were all very impressed by Raphael's Sixtinian Madonna.

Back in Freiberg he continues his studies. The students were compelled to spend three to four days per week in the mines to gain practical knowledge, judging from the amount of notes and the books he read the times were diligent. He read Schelling, Alexander von Humboldt, writings on mathematics and philosophy and got, due to his own illness, into the system of the Scotish doctor John Brown. Brown looked at life as the ability of being sensitive to irritations and held sickness as caused by either too low (asthenic) or too high (sthenic) sensitivity, the treatment consisting of rebalancing the state through remedies.

Novalis shows special interest in the works of Franz von Baader (1765-1841), a catholic philosopher from München, whose theory was organic and wholistic, seeing all spiritual things manifested in the sensible world and one basic energy in all – love.

His father had given him a horse which he used frequently, riding was considered helpful against tuberculosis. He was concerned about his health now, for one he wanted to complete his various literary plans, for the other he had become more and more acqainted with Julie and looked forward to a "bourgeois" lifestyle. Julie had been struck by a severe nervous pain in the face which lasted until Christmas when it suddenly ceased. Novalis seems to have cared for her a lot; at Christmas they finally get engaged. In a later letter, where he recapitulates his life, he says that in this period of pain the idea of an alliance with Julie first came to his mind, although in a letter of December 10th to Friedrich Schlegel he says: "The early death is my big win – going on living the second gain." Writing to the same end of January the following year he thinks of his parents, his friends, brothers and sisters and Julie being dependent on him: "A very interesting life seems to be waiting for me but honestly, I rather would be dead."

In the same letter where he tells Friedrich Schlegel the first time of his new love he proposes the plan of "errecting a literary, republican order – which is nevertheless mercantile-political – a real lodge of cosmopolitans." He was thinking of a printing shop, and Jena, Hamburg or Switzerland should be housing the office. The time was rich with free-masonry and philantrophic societies, the tower-society in Goethe's novel "Wilhelm Meister" might also have given an example. A direct cause might have been the "Atheismusstreit" (atheism-quarrel), which a writing of Fichte on religion, having been confiscated by the duke, had stirred up and had made Fichte move from Jena to Berlin. But it stayed a plan, not mentioned anywhere else except in this letter.

The republican ideas must be seen in view of the situation in Europe at large. The French Revolution had been a recent event, Napoleon's star was on the rise.

Around this time Friedrich Schlegel might have given him the impulse to write the "Geistliche Lieder" (Spiritual Songs) by asking him in a letter of December 1798 to "saturate practics and history in your religion." Ten of the fifteen songs were written before and around Easter 1799, when he visited Sophies grave again in Grüningen. They express a kind of mythology of christianity, telling of Christ and mother Mary, of the possibility of their recognition and of the existence of a higher, transcendent world, of the soothing consolation the realization of such can give. He presented them to his friends in autumn who were very touched, some of the songs have entered the protestantic song-books.

3. Sophie
5. Career and Works


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Jermey Adler:
»Novalis & Philo-Sophie«

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