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Aquarium > Sekundäres > The Life of Novalis > 5. Career and Works

5. Career and Works

Pentecost 1799 he returned to Weissenfels, the summer found him busily working in the salt works again. From the middle of June on he was for one month assistant to von Oppel, who had come from the ducal government to inspect the various installations. Novalis must have impressed through his work; in a letter he sent afterwards to von Oppel he explained his personal situation, his plans to get married and asked for a proper position and income. It was granted in December, he became assessor to the board of three directors.

Novalis got acquainted with Ludwig Tieck and his wife in July, a passionate friendship started, they continued meeting in Weissenfels or at one of Novalis's frequent visits to the brothers Schlegel in Jena where the Tiecks moved in the middle of October. Tieck (1773-1853), who had hitherto published some romantic novels and writings probably impressed through his poetical abilities, something which Schlegel lacked. Through him Novalis learned of the writings of Jacob Böhme (1575-1624), a shoemaker from Görlitz in Bohemia who had turned into a protestant mystic. To him God was basis of all things, including evil, which is necessary to create the god. God creates himself out of this contradiction in his unity. Similar to this the good in man evolving from the evil. His influence reached among others the pietists, the romanticists and the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Novalis writes about him to Tieck: "One sees thoroughly in him the powerful [season of] spring, its gushing, germinating, shaping and mixing forces which bring birth to a world out of the inside – A real chaos full of dark desire and wonderful life – a true, dispersing microcosmos."

A later labelled "romantic circle" formed itself in Jena including Friedrich Schlegel, his brother August Wilhelm and his wife Caroline, the Tiecks, Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling, who was lecturing there, Johann Wilhelm Ritter and others, the latest productions were read to each other and the topics of the time were discussed in "symphilosophical" talks. In the middle of November the group met for a couple of days, visited Jean Paul in Weimar and had, by chance, an afternoon promenade with Goethe.

Triggered by Friedrich Schleiermacher's "Reden über die Religion" (Speeches on Religion), which he had read with great interest, Novalis had just written and read to his friends the essay "Die Christenheit oder Europa" (Christianity or Europe), which draws a vivid picture of the middle ages, united in harmony through the Christian belief, the impact of the cessation through the reformation and concludes with stating the need for the resurrection of a new belief based on Christ, having to be able to guide through the new era of freedom and science just opening up. Schelling, feeling somewhat colder and realistic, was inspired by it to some ironic verses; the friends were thinking of publishing both in the "Athenaeum." Goethe, asked to judge, advised to leave everything in the "abyss of the not-printed." August Wilhelm, who, having the closest contact, had discussed the matter with him, said afterwards that Goethe had studied the writings carefully, had not spared words of explanation and had in general shown a warm, fatherly attitude towards their affairs. Novalis himself had met Goethe three times in his life, always accompanied by others, there seems not to have been any close contact.

Around the turn of the year Novalis started to write the novel "Heinrich von Ofterdingen." In December 1799 he had stayed with Karl Wilhelm Funk at the foot of the Kyffhäuser mountain. Funk himself had written a biography of the Stauffer emperor Friedrich II. In Funks library he must have come across von Ofterdingen, a partly historic and partly legendary figure, a troubadour somehow involved in the "Sängerkrieg" (singers' battle) on the "Wartburg" (castle) near Eisenach in the thirteenth century, when he had to go south to seek the help of Klingsohr. The novel begins with Heinrich drawn or driven by the "blue flower" to leave his house and become a poet. The first part ends with a most astonishing fairy-tale of its kind, dense, symbolic, developing, solving, inspiring but unfathomable.

The manuscript of the first part was ready for print and shown to his friends end of April 1800. He refers to his novel in various letters to his friends as follows:

27/02/1799 to Caroline Schlegel: "... because I feel inclined to use my whole life for one novel – which could alone make a whole library – maybe contain years of learning of a nation. Years of learning is not right, it expresses a certain where to. For me it shall be nothing but transition years from the infinite to the finite."

23/02/1800 to Ludwig Tieck: "The whole (novel) shall be an apotheosis of poetry. Heinrich von Ofterdingen becomes in the first part as a poet mature – in the second one as a poet transfigured."

18/06/1800 to Friedrich Schlegel: "The second part will be a commentary on the first. The antipathy against light and shadow, the longing for clear, hot penetrating ether, the unknown holy, the vesta, in Sophie, the mingling of the romantic of all ages, the petrificated and petrificating (rational) mind, Arctur, chance, the spirit of life, single traits only, like arabescs – like this now look at my fairy-tale ..."


The novel was only printed in June 1802, after the authors death.

The year to come after Novalis had finished the first part of "Heinrich von Ofterdingen" was to be his last; it was filled with business activities. In January he had received the commission to take part in a big geological survey of Saxony, the first half of June he spent on an expedition from Gera to Leipzig on this behalf, accompanied by a young man. At the same time he applied for the installment as "Amtmann" of Weissenfels, the post having become vacant. This involved working out a probal case as proof of ability.

He feels weaker in the summer, Tieck, who had visited him noted that his diet now consisted of mainly milk and vegetables, very few meat and wine.

His personal notes circle around thoughts on sickness, voluptiousness and religion. He writes the poems "Vermählung der Jahreszeiten" (Marriage of the Seasons) in August, "Astralis" in September, parallel to a voluminous expertise concerning lots of land containing coal to be bought by the dukedom. The two poems can now be found among the fragments for the second part of "Heinrich von Ofterdingen."

Of October date his last diary entries; in the middle of the month he visits Dresden where he falls seriously ill probably after hearing the news of his 13 year old brother Bernhard having drowned himself in the river Saale. He has to stay in Dresden, where Julie and his brother Carl are with him, his last two poems are written there.

In December 1800 he is appointed as "Amtmann" and finds himself able to move back to Weissenfels. His state of health gets slightly better and he become optimistic for the future, but Carl writes in a letter that the negative symtoms increase.

We have account of his last days by Carl:

"In the last weeks and days he had secure belief in getting well because the cough got better and except for the exhaustion he did not feel ill himself; when he did not read he reflected on his poetical work which made him say some days before his death: 'Let me be better first, then you shall get to know what real poetry is, I have magnificent songs and poems in my head.' From March 19th on, Sophies deathdate, he got noticeably weaker, several of his friends visited him, Friedrich Schlegel came the 23rd, Novalis was pleased to see him arrive and they had long talks on the projects of each. The 25th, mornings at six after a quiet night he asked his brother for two books, looked something up, then demanded his food and talked until about eight. He asked his brother to play the piano whereover he fell asleep. Friedrich Schlegel later entered the room, Novalis slept until after 12, when he died without the slightest motion. His face in death was unchangedly joyful, as if he lived."

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4. Freiberg Academy


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