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Novalis (1772-1801) - pseudonym for Friedrich Leopold, Baron von Hardenberg


German poet who influenced later Romantic thought, sometimes called "the prophet of Romanticism". Novalis took his pseudonym from "de Novali", a name his family had formerly used. The central image of Novalis' visions, a blue flower, became later a symbol of longing among Romantics. The "blue flower" is unattainable and is to remain unattainable. Romantics expressed a longing for home and a longing for what is far off; Schiller called the romantics "exiles pining for a homeland".
"The imagination places the world of the future either far above us, or far below, or in a relation of metempsychosis to ourselves. We dream of traveling through the universe – but is not the universe within ourselves? The depths of our spirit are unknown to us - the mysterious way leads inwards. Eternity with its worlds – the past and future – is in ourselves or nowhere. The external world is the world of shadows – it throws its shadow into the realm of light. At present this realm certainly seems to us so dark inside, lonely. shapeless. But how entirely different it will seem to us – when this gloom is past, and the body of shadows has moved away. We will experience greater enjoyment than ever, for our spirit has been deprived." (from 'Miscellaneous Observations', 1798)

Georg Friedrich Philipp von Hardenburg (Novalis) was born in Oberwiederstedt, Prussian Saxony, into a family of Protestant Lower Saxon nobility. His father was the director of a salt mine. At the age of ten, Novalis was sent to a religious school but he did not adjust to its strict discipline. For some time Novalis lived with his uncle, grandseigneur, who opened for him doors to French rationalism and culture. He then went to Weissenfels, to where his father moved, and entered the Eisleben gymnasium. In 1790-91 he studied law at the University of Jena, where he met Friedrich von Schiller and Friedrich Schlegel. Novalis completed his studies at Wittenberg in 1793. The ideas of the French Revolution spread through Germany and Novalis dreamt of a time when the "walls of Jericho" would tumble down. Goethe's book Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, which he read in 1795, influenced him deeply; he considered it the Bible for the "new age." In 1795-96 he studied the works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. At the age of 21 he moved to Tennstädt and took up a job in the Civil Service.

Der Jüngling bist du, der seit langer Zeit,
Auf unsern Gräbern steht in tiefen Sinnen;
Ein tröstlich Zeichen in den Dunkelheit -
Der höheren Menschheit freudiges Beginnen.
Was uns gesenkt in tiefe Traurigkeit,
Zieht uns mit süsser Sehnsucht nun von hinnen
Im Tode ward das ewge Leben kund,
Du bist der Tod und mächst uns erst gesund.

(from 'Hymnen an die Nacht', 1800)

In 1798 Novalis published a series of philosophical fragments. Novalis' only finished collection of poems Hymnen an die Nacht (1800), was dedicated to his first great love Sophie von Kühn, who died in 1797. Novalis had met her in Weissenfels when she was barely 13-years old. Novalis was not the only one, who recognized that she was an exceptional person; even Goethe and Friedrich Schlegel testified it. In the fall of 1795, she fell ill and from July to August 1796 she undervent three torturous operations on her liver. Sophie's death, two days after her fifteenth birthday, was a deep shock to Novalis. In his sorrow he began to keep a diary, contemplated suicide, and wrote poems about love that reaches beyond the grave. "Ich habe zu Söphichen Religion, nich Liebe," he said. Everything in his life he saw in relation to his lost love: "Meine Liebe ist zur Flamme geworden, die alles irdische nachgerade verzehrt. Zufrieden bin ich ganz; die Kraft, die über de Tod erhebt, habe ich ganz neu gewonnen."

Eight months after the loss of Sophie, Novalis started to study mining at the Academy of Feiberg. There he became friends with Ludwig Tieck and other early Romantics. He was employed as an assistant in the salt works in Weissenfels (1796-97 and 1799-1801) and was also associated in the late 1790s with Bergakademie. In 1798 he got engaged to Julie von Charpentier; he thought that she made Sophie's presence even more apparent. During his journey to Weimar he met Goethe, Herder, and Jean Paul, and in Jena the Schlegel brothers. At that time he was already seriously ill, but he worked on his writings with a new enthusiasm. Between September 1798 and March 1799 Novalis wrote fragments called 'Das Algemeine Brouillon'. They were part of his planned encyclopedia, "a scientific bible," in which he sought to tie together strands of thought from a variety of disparate human knowledge.

Before he could marry Julie, Novalis died of tuberculosis on May 2, 1801, in Weissenfels. His two philosophical romances, Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1802, Henry Von Ofterdingen), about a journey into self-knowledge , and Die Lehrlinge zu Sais, were left incomplete. In Henry Von Ofterdingen a young medieval poet, Henry, seeks the mysterious Blue Flower. "It is not the treasures which have awakened such an inexpressible longing in me," Henry thinks. "There is no greed in my heart; but I yearn to get a glimpse of the blue flower." In the third part Novalis revealed his deep longing for public acceptance. The story tells of a humble young woodsman who secretly weds a princess. After a child is born to them they enter the king's presence, who receives them with joy.

"The genuine poet," Novalis claimed, "is always a priest." Novalis defined romantic poetry as "the art of appearing strange in an attractive way, the art of making a subject remote and yet familiar and pleasant." Everything becomes romantic and poetic, if one removes it to a distance; everything can be romanticized, if one "gives a mysterious appearance to the ordinary, the dignity of the unknown to the familiar and an infinite significance to the finite."

In his essays Novalis developed further his theories of history, referring to such philosophers as Plato, Plotinos, and Fichte. Die Christenheit, oder Europe (pub. 1826) looked nostalgically to times of the undivided Church and society. Novalis predicted, that humankind's historical and spiritual apotheosis will be reached when the epoch of science is left behind. The limitless power of Imagination, "magical knowledge," combines all the elements of senses and scientific principles invented by reason. There is no need to separate a philosopher from a poet.

Novalis called his philosophy "magic idealism." The spiritual world is open for everybody all the time. "Was ich will, das kann ich. – Die Welt soll sein, wie ich will." The capital of the universal society, where spirituality and peace prevail, will be Jerusalem. In Glaube und Liebe (1798) Novalis expresses the belief that universal spirituality is destined to supersede all forms of human government. Schlegel and Novalis were the first to recognize that historical relationships are not of a logical nature. Philosophy appeared to Novalis as home-sickness, as the urge to be at home in all places, and the fairy tale as a dream of "that homeland which is everywhere and nowhere." Novalis' ideas have profoundly influenced generations of German writers, among them Joseph von Eichendorff, Rainer Maria Rilke, Herman Hesse, and Thomas Mann. His thoughts foreshadowed modern visions of the cultural and spiritual rebirth of Europe. "We are near awakening when we dream that we dream," Novalis once wrote.

For further reading: Novalis in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten by Gerhard Schulz (1974); German Poet, European Thinker, Christian Mystic by Friedrich Hiebel (1954); Novalis by John Neubauer (1980); German Romantic Criticism, ed. by A. Leslie Willson (1982); Romantic Vision, Ethical Context: Novalis and Artistic Autonomy by Geza Von Molnár anf Jochen Schulte-Sasee (1987); Eternal Individuality: Towards a Karmic Biography of Novalis by Sergei O. Prokofieff (1992); Fatherland: Novalis, Freud, and the Discipline of Romance by Kenneth S. Calhoon (1992); The Critical Fortunes of a Romantic Novel: Novalis's "Heinrich Von Ofterdingen" by Dennis F. Mahoney (1994); The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (1997); Locating the Romantic Subject: Novalis With Winnicott by Gail M. Newman (1997); 'Novalis' by Rodney Taylor, in Encyclopedia of the Essay, ed. by Tracy Chevalier (1997); Fichte Und Novalis. Transzendentalphilosophisches Denken im romantisierenden Diskurs by Bernward Loheide (2000); Complementary Modes of Representation in Keats, Novalis, and Shelley by Irena Nikolova (2001); Novalis: Fichte Studies by Jane Kneller ( 2003) - In Finnish: Suomeksi Novalikselta on julkaistu valikoima Fragmentteja, suom. Vesa Oittinen (1984). Katkelmia on lisäksi teoksessa Laulujen virta (1936). Juhani Siljon runokokoelmassa Selvään veteen (1919) on käännös runosta 'Hymni'. - For further information: Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis) im Netz - Note: Novalis' life has inspired Penelope Fitzgerald's novel The Blue Flower (1995).

Selected works:

  • Klagen eines Jünglings, 1791
  • Blütenstaub, 1798 (in Athenäum 1)
    - Pollen (in German Romantic Criticism, translated by Alexander Gelley, 1982)
  • Glauben und Liebe, oder der König und die Königin, 1798 (in Jahrbücher der Preussischen Monarchie under der Regierung von Friedrich Wilhelm III)
    - Faith and Love or the King and Queen, in Philosophical Writings (translated by Margaret M. Stoljar, 1997)
  • Fragmenten, 1798
    - Pollen and Fragments: Poetry and Prose of Novalis (translated by Arthur Versluis, 1989)
    - Fragmentteja (valik. ja suom. Vesa Oittinen, 1986)
  • Das allgemeine Brouillon, 1798-99
    - Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia: Das Allgemeine Brouillon (translated, edited, and with an introduction by David W. Wood, 2007)
  • Die Christenheit, oder Europa, 1799 (in Schriften, ed. Ludwig Tieck, 1826)
    - Christianity or Europe (in Hymns to the Night and Other Selected Writings, translated by Charles E. Passage, 1960)
  • Hymnen an die Nacht, 1800
    - Hymns to the Night (translated by George MacDonald, 1897) / Hymns to the Night (translated by Mabel Cotterell, 1948) / Hymns to the Night (translated by Dick Higgins, , 3rd ed., 1988)
  • Schriften, 1802 (2 vols., edited by Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel)
  • Heinrich von Ofterdingen, 1802
    - Henry of Ofterdingen (translated by Palmer Hilty, 1949)
  • Novalis schriften. Kritische neuausgabe auf grund des handschriftlichen nachlasses, 1901 (edited by E. Heilborn)
  • Novalis’ ausgewählte werke in drei bänden, 1903 (3 vols., edited by Wilhelm Bölsche)
  • Schriften, 1907 (4 vols., edited by J. Minor)
  • Sämtliche werke, 1924 (4 vols., edited by Ernst Kamnitzer)
  • Gesammelte werke, 1945-46 (5 vols., edited by Carl Seelig)
  • Fragmente, 1947 (edited by Otto Michel)
  • Werke, Briefe, Dokumente, 1953 (4 vols., edited by E. Wasmuth)
  • Sacred Songs, 1956 (translated by Eileen Hutchins)
  • Hymns to the Night and Other Selected Writings, 1960 (translated by Charles E. Passage)
  • Gesammelte Werke, 1967
  • Werke und Briefe, 1968 (edited by Alfred Kelletat)
  • Werke, 1969 (edited by Gerhard Schulz)
  • Schriften, 1975, rev. ed. 1977-88 (5 vols., edited by Paul Kluckhohn and Richard Samuel)
  • Selected Aphorisms and Fragments, 1982 (in German Romantic Criticism, translated by Alexander Gelley)
  • Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose, 1989 (translated by Arthur Versluis)
  • Philosophical Writings, 1997 (edited by Margaret M. Stoljar)
  • The Birth of Novalis: Friedrich von Hardenberg’s Journal of 1797, with Selected Letters and Documents, 2007 (translated and edited by Bruce Donehower)

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