Authors: August Wilhelm Schlegel

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German critic and translator

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Charakteristiken und Kritiken, 1801 (with Friedrich Schlegel)

Über dramatische Kunst und Litteratur: Vorlesungen, 1809-1811 (2 volumes; A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, 1815)

Betrachtungen über die Politik der dänischen Regierung, 1813

Vorlesungen über Theorie und Geschichte der bildenden Künste: Gehalten in Berlin, im Sommer 1827, 1827

Kritische Schriften, 1828

Vorlesungen über schöne Litteratur und Kunst, 1884

Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Poesie: Vorlesungen, gehalten an der Universität Bonn seit dem Wintersemester 1818/19, 1913

Drama:

Ion: Ein Schauspiel, pb. 1803

Poetry:

Gedichte, 1800

Rom: Elegie, 1805

Poetische Werke, 1811 (2 volumes)

Translations:

Dramatische Werke, 1797-1810 (9 volumes; of William Shakespeare)

Historische, literarische, und unterhaltende Schriften, 1800 (of Horace Walpole)

Blumenstraüsse Italienische, Spanische, und Portugiesische Poesie, 1804

Bhagavad-Gita, 1823

Indische Bibliothek, 1823-1830 (3 volumes)

Ramayana, 1929-1846 (4 volumes)

Edited Text:

Athenäum: Eine Zeitschrift, 1798-1800 (3 volumes; with Friedrich Schlegel)

Miscellaneous:

Sämmtliche Werke, 1846-1847 (12 volumes; collected works)

Biography

August Wilhelm Schlegel (SHLAY-guhl) was born in Hannover to one of Germany’s most prominent literary families. His father was the pastor and author Johan Adolph Schlegel, and his uncle was the playwright and critic Johann Elias Schlegel. August’s younger brother, Friedrich, was a literary theorist and leader of a group of early German Romantic intellectuals which included August. For five years, August was married to Caroline Schlegel (later Caroline Schelling), an author, letter writer, and controversial intellectual celebrity.{$I[A]Schlegel, August Wilhelm}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Schlegel, August Wilhelm}{$I[tim]1767;Schlegel, August Wilhelm}

August Schlegel’s talents as a writer and thinker became evident during his studies in the local Gymnasium (secondary school), and in 1786 his family sent him to study theology and philology at the University of Göttingen, where he came under the influence of the poet Gottfried Burger. In 1791 Schlegel moved to Amsterdam to work as a private tutor. From Amsterdam, he went to Jena, site of an important German university. He became a Privatdozent (tutor attached to the university) in 1795 and obtained a position as professor of literature two years later. His younger brother, Friedrich, joined him in Jena in 1796. Jena became the gathering place for a Romantic school of German intellectuals that included the Schlegel brothers, Friedrich von Hardenberg (known as Novalis), Ludwig Tieck, Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, and Friedrich Schiermacher. During his time at Jena, August Schlegel contributed to a number of literary journals that were founded and edited by Friedrich Schiller.

In 1796, August Schlegel married Caroline Michaelis, a widow and the brilliant daughter of a Göttingen University professor. Together, August and Caroline Schlegel began translating the works of William Shakespeare from English into German. They completed seventeen plays, which established Shakespeare’s reputation in Germany and are considered among the finest translations of literary works into the German language.

The home of August and Caroline Schlegel became a gathering place for the Jena circle of Romantic philosophers, poets, and critics. In 1801, though, Caroline left August for Friedrich Schelling. After a divorce, she married Schelling in 1804. Following her departure, August Schlegel gave up the Shakespeare project. However, he continued to promote Shakespeare’s work as representing the highest level of European dramatic art.

During the years in Jena, the two Schlegel brothers founded and edited the journal Athenäum (the Atheneum). This journal became one of the central texts of the Romantic movement, publishing essays and poems by many of the key intellectual figures of the new generation of German literature at the opening of the nineteenth century. Among the influential ideas expressed in this journal was the concept of romantic irony, which involved intentional, self-conscious self-contradiction in the arts. In these pages, also, August Schlegel developed his ideas about the distinctions and relations between Classic and Romantic thinking.

From 1801 to 1804, August Schlegel delivered a series of lectures in Berlin. Titled Vorlesungen über schöne Litteratur und Kunst (lectures on fine literature and art), these set forth Romantic conceptions, such as the primacy of the artist and an emphasis on nature. Schlegel also translated poetry from Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. As a result of his efforts to consider and bring together varied national literary traditions, Schlegel became one of the founders of the study of comparative literature.

August Schlegel became acquainted with Madame de Staël, one of the central figures in the early European Romantic movement. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had provided her with a letter of introduction to Schlegel, and she offered Schlegel twelve thousand francs per year to serve as her literary adviser and as tutor to her children. Schlegel set out on a long period of travel with Madame de Staël in 1804. They traveled through France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, and Russia. In 1808, Schlegel delivered a series of lectures in Vienna, published as A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, that are often considered among his most important works of criticism. In these lectures, he promoted Shakespeare as a dominant figure in world literature.

Schlegel served as a propagandist and secretary for the crown prince of Sweden, Bernadotte, in 1813 and 1814. During this time, he wrote pamphlets supporting the war against Napoleon. In these years, also, he began including the aristocratic “von” in his name. Following his time in Sweden, he met with Madame de Staël and spent most of his time with her until her death in 1817.

In 1816 and 1817, Schlegel studied Sanskrit, the classical language of India, in Paris. Sanskrit had been recognized as a relative of the European languages at the end of the eighteenth century, and a number of Romantics had developed an interest in this language. Schlegel’s brother Friedrich wrote an influential book, Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (1808; On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians, 1849). However, August Schlegel’s studies of Sanskrit literature and Indian culture went much further than those of Friedrich.

August Schlegel was appointed professor of the history of art and literature at the University of Bonn in 1818. For the rest of his career, the literature of ancient India was his overriding passion. He collected and edited Sanskrit texts and translations under the title Indische Bibliothek (Indian library). This work earned him recognition as the founder of Sanskrit philology in Germany. After his translations of Shakespeare, August Schlegel’s efforts on behalf of ancient Indian scholarship are considered among his greatest accomplishments.

August Schlegel has been overshadowed by his younger brother, Friedrich. Although he believed that poetry was the greatest of the arts, August’s own poetry was never regarded as of the highest quality. His chief gifts lay in literary criticism and in translation.

BibliographyAtkinson, Margaret E. August Wilhelm Schlegel as a Translator of Shakespeare. New York: Haskell House, 1977. A short but valuable discussion of Schlegel’s work in bringing the works of William Shakespeare into German literature.Behler, Ernst. German Romantic Literary Theory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. An account of how new theories of literature emerged from the Romantic movement in Germany.Heine, Heinrich. The Romantic School, and Other Essays. Edited by Jost Hermand and Robert C. Holub. New York: Continuum, 1985. Originally published as Die romantische Schule (1836). This work by a younger German Romantic contains a description of August Schlegel as an elderly professor.
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