Friedrich von Schlegel – 250

Friedrich von Schlegel (source: Wikimedia)

250 years ago, on March 10, 1772, Friedrich von Schlegel was born in Hanover. Schlegel was a key figure of the Romantic movement and a highly original thinker and philosopher whose ideas are still influential today. But while his work still stimulates academic research and debate it seems that he does not capture the public imagination anymore. This might explain why hardly any events are planned to mark this anniversary. As far as I can make out only the Deutsches Romantik-Museum in Frankfurt am Main is marking Schelling’s 250th birthday with a small exhibition.

Friedrich von Schlegel’s life and work, however, is quite fascinating. He studied law in Göttingen and Leipzig, and it was in Leipzig that he became friends with Novalis. He then lived for a while in Dresden before joining his equally influential brother August Wilhelm in Jena. Here he met Goethe, Fichte, Herder and Wieland, and also had a dispute with Schiller about aesthetics which proved crucial for the development of Romanticism. Together with his brother he edited Athenaeum (1798-1800), one of the most important periodicals of the Romantic movement.

Concordia (Acton.d.52.4)

From 1797 until 1798 he lived in Berlin where he met his future wife Dorothea Brendel Mendelssohn in the famous salon of Rahel Levin and became friends with Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schleiermacher. In 1799 he returned to Jena to give lectures on philosophy, having gained his post-doctoral Habilitation qualification. From 1802 until 1804 he lived in Paris where he founded the journal Europa (1803-1805) and studied Sanskrit. After getting married in 1804 he settled in Cologne. In 1808 he and his wife converted to Catholicism and finally settled in Vienna where he joined the Civil Service. Here he gathered the followers of the Romantic movement around the periodical Concordia (1820-1823). In his final years he attempted to present his philosophical ideas in several lecture cycles. He died on January 12, 1829, in Dresden where he was giving a series of lectures on the philosophy of language. To me the life of Friedrich von Schlegel presents itself as one of constantly being involved in new projects (he founded and edited four journals) and maintaining a wide circle of friends to develop and promote his ideas.

Anyone interested in Schlegel’s life and work will find abundant material at the University Library; over 200 titles are listed in our online catalogue with Friedrich Schlegel as either author or subject. Our holdings of original editions of Schlegel’s writings are sadly not comprehensive; however, we hold several works he published in the later part of his life. We are particularly proud to have the set of volumes collecting his philosophical lectures, namely: Philosophie des Lebens Hh.39.31 (lectures held in 1827, published in 1828), Philosophie der Geschichte Hh.39.27-28 (lectures held in 1828, published in 1829) and Philosophische Vorlesungen, insbesondere über Philosophie der Sprache und des Wortes Hh.39.26 (lectures held in December 1828/January 1829, published in 1830).

The main resource for Schlegel scholars is of course the critical edition of his works and correspondence: Friedrich Schlegel: kritische Ausgabe seiner Werke (749:3.c.95.72-106). Sadly, like many other German critical editions the progress of publication is slow. Having begun publication in 1958 it is still not complete. However, sections 1 and 2 presenting the works published in Schlegel’s lifetime and the unpublished papers are complete. The outstanding volumes are for section 3 which contains the correspondence of Dorothea and Friedrich Schlegel. It would be nice if the 250th anniversary might provide the impetus for the completion of this critical edition.

Christian Staufenbiel

George Steiner bequest

Professor George Steiner’s donation

I was recently delighted to catalogue and add to our collections a number of rare German philosophy and literature titles. These rather special books came from the library of the eminent literary scholar, the late Professor George Steiner who sadly died earlier this year. Numerous obituaries have been published outlining his career and achievements. George Steiner had finally settled in Cambridge after a long career which took him from the University of Chicago to Harvard, Oxford, Princeton and Geneva. Living in Cambridge he became a regular user of the University Library and it was his wish that some of the most precious volumes of his library should come eventually to the University Library.

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Jürgen Habermas wins Kluge prize

508px-JuergenHabermas_retouchedThe German philosopher Jürgen Habermas was recently awarded with the Kluge Prize by the Library of Congress in Washington DC. The prize rewards lifetime achievement in disciplines not covered by the Nobel prizes, with its main criteria being deep intellectual accomplishment in the human sciences. Habermas was chosen for his scholarly work as much as for his deep engagement with public debate. He shares the prize with Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor.

Habermas is one of the most renowned contemporary philosophers worldwide who is mostly known for his work on communicative rationality and the public sphere. After studying philosophy, history, psychology, German literature and Economics, Habermas gained his PhD in 1954 with his thesis Das Absolute und die Geschichte. Von der Zwiespältigkeit in Schellings Denken (9500.d.1076). He started his Habilitation at the University of Frankfurt under Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, but differences with Horkheimer prompted him to transfer to the University of Marburg. There, he completed the work on his Habilitations-thesis Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit. Untersuchungen zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft (9003.d.2511) in 1961 under Wolfgang Abendroth.

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Johann Gottlieb Fichte

200 years ago, on 27th January 1814, Johann Gottlieb Fichte died of typhus in Berlin.  He was 51 years old.

Fichte was a major philosopher of the German idealism movement; his work followed on from Kant and preceded Hegel.  He was appointed Professor of Philosophy at the University of Jena in 1794, but dismissed from that post in 1799 after being accused of atheism.  In 1809 he was offered the Chair of Philosophy at the new University of Berlin, a position which he held until his death and which then remained vacant until Hegel was appointed to it in 1818. Continue reading