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Novalis (1799), portrait by Franz Gareis
Novalis (1799), portrait by Franz Gareis
BornGeorg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg
(1772-05-02)2 May 1772
Oberwiederstedt, Electorate of Saxony
Died25 March 1801(1801-03-25) (aged 28)
Weißenfels, Electorate of Saxony
Pen nameNovalis
OccupationProse writer, poet, mystic, philosopher, civil engineer, mineralogist
Alma materUniversity of Jena
Leipzig University
University of Wittenberg
Literary movementJena Romanticism[1]

Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg (2 May 1772 – 25 March 1801), better known by the pseudonym Novalis, was an 18th-century German aristocrat, poet, author, mystic, and philosopher of Early German Romanticism. Hardenberg's professional work and university background, namely his study of mineralogy and management of salt mines in Saxony, was often ignored by his contemporary readers. The first studies showing important relations between his literary and professional works started in the 1960s.[2]


Birth and Early Background

Schloss Oberwiederstedt [de]
Schloss Oberwiederstedt [de]
Coat-of-arms of the Hardenberg family
Coat-of-arms of the Hardenberg family

Novalis, who was baptized as Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr (Baron) von Hardenberg, was born in 1772 at his family estate, the Oberwiederstedt Chateau [de] in the village of Wiederstedt,[3] which is now located in the present-day town of Arstein. Hardenberg descended from ancient,  Lower Saxon nobility. Novalis' father was Heinrich Ulrich Erasmus Freiherr (Baron) von Hardenberg, the estate owner and a salt-mine manager, his mother was Auguste Bernhardine (née von Böltzig), who was Heinrich's second wife. Novalis was the second of eleven children.[4]:5–7 Although Novalis had an aristocratic background, his family was not wealthy.[5]

Novalis's early education was strongly influenced by pietism. His father was a member of the  Herrnhuter Unity of Brethren branch of the Moravian Church,[6] who maintained a strict pietist household. Until the age of nine, he was taught by private tutors who were trained pietist theology,subsequently attending a Herrnhut school in Neudietendorf for three years.[4]:6–7.

When he was twelve, Novalis was put under the charge of his uncle Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Hardenberg, who lived at his rural estate in Lucklum .[7]. Novalis's uncle introduced him to the late Rococo world, where Novalis was exposed to  enlightenment ideas as well as the contemporary literature of his time, including the works of the French  Encyclopedists,  Goethe, Lessing and Shakespeare.[4]:8 At seventeen, Novalis attended the Martin Luther Gymnasium in Eisleben, near Weissenfels where his family had moved in 1785. At the gymnasium, learned rhetoric and ancient literature.[3]

Legal Studies

From 1790-1794, Novalis went to university to study law. He first attended Jena. While at Jena, he became acquainted with Fichte's philosophy.[3] He also formed a close relationship with Schiller. Novalis attended Schiller's lectures on history [4]:11 and tended to him when Schiller suffering from a particularly severe flare-up of his chronic illness.[8] In 1792, Novalis's younger brother, Erasmus enrolled in Leipzig, and Novalis went with him to continue his legal studies. It as at this time that he met Friedrich Schlegel,[4]:13 who became one of Novalis' closest friends.[9] In Leipzig, he also became acquainted with Jean Paul. [4]:34 A year later, Novalis matriculated to Wittenberg where completed his law degree.[10]

Relationship with Sophie von Kühn

After graduating from Wittenberg, Novalis moved to  Tennstedt to work as an actuary for August Cölestin Just, who became both his friend and biographer.[3] During the time he worked for August Coelestin Just, Novalis met the 12-year-old Sophie von Kühn, who at that time was considered old enough to receive suitors. [11]:17 He became infatuated with her on their first meeting, and the effect of this infatuation appeared to transform his personality.[4]:19 In 1795, two days before Sophie turned thirteen they got secretly engaged. Later that year Sophie's parents gave their consent for the two to become engaged,[12]:128  Novalis's brother Erasmus supported the couple, but the rest of Novalis's family resisted agreeing to the engagement due to Sophie's unclear aristocratic pedigree.[11]:25 During this time, Sophie suffered declining health due to a liver abscess.[3] As a result she underwent liver surgery in Jena, which was performed without anesthesia.[11]:24 In January 1797, Novalis was appointed auditor to the salt works at Weissenfells. To earn a stable income for his marriage, he accepted the position and moved to Weissenfells to assume his duties. Sophie, on the other hand, stayed with her family.[3] Sophie once more became extremely ill, during which time Novalis's parents finally relented and agreed to the couple's engagement. However, two days after her fifteenth birthday, Sophie died, while Novalis was still in Weissenfells. Four months later, Novalis's brother also died from a prolonged illness.[11]:24–25

The death of Sophie, as well as his younger brother, affected Novalis deeply; by the summer of 1797, he adopted the pen name "Novalis" and committed himself to poetic expression.[11]:1–2 His choice of pen name was taken from his 12th-century ancestors who named themselves de Novali, after their settlement Grossenrode, or magna Novalis.[13] Her death served as the inspiration for one the few works Novalis published in his life time, the Hymns to the Night[14]

At the Mining Academy of Freiberg

In 1795–1796, Novalis entered the Mining Academy of Freiberg in Saxony, a leading academy of science, to study geology under Professor Abraham Gottlob Werner (1750–1817), who befriended him. During Novalis' studies in Freiberg, he immersed himself in a wide range of studies, including mining, mathematics, chemistry, biology, history and, not least, philosophy. It was here that he collected materials for his encyclopaedia project, Das allgemeine Brouillon. Similar to other German authors of the Romantic age, his work in the mining industry, which was undergoing then the first steps to industrialization, was closely connected with his literary work.[15]

Literary and philosophical connections

In the period 1795–1796, Novalis concerned himself with the philosophical doctrine of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, which greatly influenced his worldview. He not only read Fichte's philosophies but also developed his concepts further, transforming Fichte's Nicht-Ich (German "not I") to a Du ("you"), an equal subject to the Ich ("I"). This was the starting point for Novalis' Liebesreligion ("religion of love").

Novalis' first fragments were published in 1798 in the Athenäum, a magazine edited by the Schlegel brothers, who were also part of the early Romantic movement. Novalis' first publication was entitled Blüthenstaub (Pollen) and saw the first appearance of his pseudonym, "Novalis". In July 1799, he became acquainted with Ludwig Tieck, and that autumn he met other authors of so-called "Jena Romanticism".


Novalis became engaged for the second time in December 1798. His fiancée was Julie von Charpentier (1776–1811), a daughter of Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Toussaint von Charpentier, a professor in Freiberg.

From Pentecost 1799, Novalis again worked in the management of salt mines. That December, he became an assessor of the salt mines and a director. On the 6 December 1800, the twenty-eight-year-old Hardenberg was appointed Supernumerar-Amtshauptmann for the district of Thuringia, a position comparable to a present-day magistrate.


From August 1800 onward, Hardenberg was suffering from tuberculosis. On 25 March 1801, he died in Weißenfels.[7] His body was buried in the old cemetery there.

Novalis lived long enough to see the publication only of Pollen, Faith and Love or the King and the Queen and Hymns to the Night [de]. His unfinished novels Heinrich von Ofterdingen and The Novices at Sais, his political speech Christendom or Europa, and numerous other notes and fragments were published posthumously by his friends Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel.


Novalis, who was deeply read in science, law, philosophy, politics and political economy, started writing quite early. He left an abundance of notes on these fields and his early work displays his ease and familiarity with them. His later works are closely connected to his studies and his profession. Novalis collected everything that he had learned, reflected upon it and drew connections in the sense of an encyclopaedic overview on art, religion and science. These notes from the years 1798 and 1799 are called Das allgemeine Brouillon (literally "general rough draft"), now available in English under the title Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia.[16] Together with Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis developed the fragment as a literary artform. The core of Hardenberg's literary works is the quest for the connection of science and poetry, and the result was supposed to be a "progressive universal poesy”.[17] Novalis was convinced that philosophy and the higher-ranking poetry have to be continually related to each other.[18]

The fact that the romantic fragment is an appropriate form for a depiction of "progressive universal poesy”, can be seen especially from the success of this new genre in its later reception.

Novalis' whole works are based upon an idea of education: "We are on a mission: we are called upon to educate the earth."[19] It has to be made clear that everything is in a continual process. It is the same with humanity, which forever strives towards and tries to recreate a new Golden Age – a paradisaic Age of harmony between man and nature that was assumed to have existed in earlier times. This Age was described by Plato, Plotinus and Frans Hemsterhuis, the last of whom was an extremely important figure for the German Romantics.

This idea of a romantic universal poesy can be seen clearly in the romantic triad. This theoretical structure always shows its recipient that the described moment is exactly the moment (kairos) in which the future is decided. These frequently mentioned critical points correspond with the artist's feeling for the present, which Novalis shares with many other contemporaries of his time. Thus a triadic structure can be found in most of his works. This means that there are three corresponding structural elements which are written differently concerning the content and the form.

Hardenberg's intensive study of the works of Jakob Böhme, from 1800, had a clear influence on his own writing.[20]

A mystical worldview, a high standard of education, and the frequently perceptible pietistic influences are combined in Novalis' attempt to reach a new concept of Christianity, faith and God. He forever endeavours to align these with his own view of transcendental philosophy, which acquired the mysterious name "magical idealism",[21] drawing heavily from the critical or transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant and J. G. Fichte (the earliest form of German idealism), and incorporates the artistic element central to Early German Romanticism. The subject must strive to conform the external, natural world to its own will and genius; hence the term "magical".[22] At the same time, Novalis' emphasis on the term "magic" represents a challenge to what he perceived as the disenchantment that came with modern rationalistic thinking and therefore functions as a "solution" of sorts to the lamentation in Hymnen an die Nacht.[23]:88  David Krell argues that magical idealism has a hidden aspect that is focused on the body and disease, which Krell calls "thaumaturgic idealism."[24] This view can even be discerned in more religious works such as the Spiritual Songs (published 1802), which soon became incorporated into Lutheran hymn-books.

Novalis influenced, among others, the novelist and theologian George MacDonald, who translated his 'Hymns to the Night' in 1897.[25] More recently,Frederick Beiser has argued that Novalis and the Early Romanticism (Frühromantik) movement as a whole has been recognized as constitutes a separate philosophical school,[26], and the distinctness of Frühromantik as a philosophy is at least as important as its role as an aesthetic or literary movement.[27]

The philosopher and esotericist Rudolf Steiner spoke in various lectures (now published) about Novalis.[28]


In August 1800, eight months after completion, the revised edition of the Hymnen an die Nacht was published in the Athenaeum. They are often considered to be the climax of Novalis’ lyrical works and the most important poetry of the German early Romanticism.

Romantic poet Novalis (1772–1801), portrait by Friedrich Eduard Eichens from 1845
Romantic poet Novalis (1772–1801), portrait by Friedrich Eduard Eichens from 1845

The six hymns contain many elements which can be understood as autobiographical. Even though a lyrical "I", rather than Novalis himself, is the speaker, there are many relationships between the hymns and Hardenberg's experiences from 1797 to 1800.

The topic is the romantic interpretation of life and death, the threshold of which is symbolised by the night. Life and death are – according to Novalis – developed into entwined concepts. So in the end, death is the romantic principle of life.

Influences from the literature of that time can be seen. The metaphors of the hymns are closely connected to the books Novalis had read at about the time of his writing of the hymns. These are prominently Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (in the translation by A.W. Schlegel, 1797) and Jean Paul’s Unsichtbare Loge (1793).

The Hymns to the Night display a universal religion with an intermediary. This concept is based on the idea that there is always a third party between a human and God. This intermediary can either be Jesus – as in Christian lore – or the dead beloved as in the hymns. These works consist of three times two hymns. These three components are each structured in this way: the first hymn shows, with the help of the Romantic triad, the development from an assumed happy life on earth through a painful era of alienation to salvation in the eternal night; the following hymn tells of the awakening from this vision and the longing for a return to it. With each pair of hymns, a higher level of experience and knowledge is shown. Some of the poems notably lament the historical replacement of European Paganism by Christianity, creating ambiguity about the exact view of the Hymns on Christianity and polytheism.[23]:76–77 


The novel fragments Heinrich von Ofterdingen and Die Lehrlinge zu Sais (The Novices of Sais) reflect the idea of describing a universal world harmony with the help of poetry. The novel 'Heinrich von Ofterdingen' contains the "blue flower", a symbol that became an emblem for the whole of German Romanticism. Originally the novel was supposed to be an answer to Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, a work that Novalis had read with enthusiasm but later on judged as being highly unpoetical. He disliked the victory of the economical over the poetic.

The grave of Novalis in the Weißenfels cemetery
The grave of Novalis in the Weißenfels cemetery

The speech called Die Christenheit oder Europa was written in 1799, but was first published in 1826. It is a poetical, cultural-historical speech with a focus on a political utopia with regard to the Middle Ages. In this text Novalis tries to develop a new Europe which is based on a new poetical Christendom which shall lead to unity and freedom. He got the inspiration for this text from Schleiermacher’s Über die Religion (1799). The work was also a response to the French Enlightenment and Revolution, both of which Novalis saw as catastrophic and irreligious. It anticipated, then, the growing German and Romantic theme of anti-Enlightenment visions of European spirituality and order.


Christopher Warnes posits that Franz Roh might have been inspired by Novalis's term "magischer Realist"[29], which lead Roh to coin the term "magischer Realismus" in his 1925 book Nach-Expressionismus, Magischer Realismus: Probleme der neusten europäischen Malerei (Post-expressionism, Magic Realism: Problems in Recent European Painting).

Walter Pater includes Novalis's quote, "Philosophiren ist dephlegmatisiren, vivificiren" ("to philosophize is to throw off apathy, to become revived")[2] in his conclusion to Studies in the History of the Renaissance. Novalis' poetry and writings were also an influence on Hermann Hesse.

20th-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger uses a Novalis fragment, "Philosophy is really homesickness, an urge to be at home everywhere" in the opening pages of The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. [30]

The libretto of Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde contains strong allusions to Novalis' symbolic language, especially the dichotomy between the Night and the Day that animates his Hymns to the Night.

Novalis was also an influence on George MacDonald, and so indirectly on C. S. Lewis, the Inklings, and the whole modern fantasy genre. Borges refers often to Novalis in his work.

Novalis house plaque, Freiberg.
Novalis house plaque, Freiberg.

Novelist Penelope Fitzgerald's last work, The Blue Flower, is a historical fiction about Novalis, his education, his philosophical and poetic development, and his romance with Sophie.

The krautrock band Novalis, beside taking their name from him, adapted or used directly poems by Novalis as lyrics on their albums.

The American avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage made the short film First Hymn to the Night – Novalis in 1994. The film was issued on Blu-ray and DVD in an anthology of Brakhage's films by Criterion Collection.[31]

In tribute to his writings, Novalis records are produced by AVC Audio Visual Communications AG, Switzerland.

The main character in artist/animator Chris Powell's award-winning animated film Novalis is a robot named after Novalis.[32]

Collected works

Novalis Museum at Weissenfels
Novalis Museum at Weissenfels

Novalis' works were originally issued in two volumes by his friends Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel (2 vols. 1802; a third volume was added in 1846). Editions of Novalis' collected works have since been compiled by C. Meisner and Bruno Wille (1898), by E. Heilborn (3 vols., 1901), and by J. Minor (3 vols., 1907). Heinrich von Ofterdingen was published separately by J. Schmidt in 1876.

Novalis's Correspondence was edited by J. M. Raich in 1880. See R. Haym Die romantische Schule (Berlin, 1870); A. Schubart, Novalis' Leben, Dichten und Denken (1887); C. Busse, Novalis' Lyrik (1898); J. Bing, Friedrich von Hardenberg (Hamburg, 1899), E. Heilborn, Friedrich von Hardenberg (Berlin, 1901).

The German-language, six-volume edition of Novalis works Historische-Kritische Ausgabe - Novalis Schriften (HKA) is edited by Richard Samuel, Hans-Joachim Mähl & Gerhard Schulz. It is published by Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart, 1960–2006.

English translations

Several of Novalis's notebooks and philosophical works or books about Novalis and his work have been translated into English:

  • The Birth of Novalis: Friedrich von Hardenberg's Journal of 1797, With Selected Letters and Documents, trans. and ed. Bruce Donehower, State University of New York Press, 2007.
  • Classic and Romantic German Aesthetics, ed. Jay Bernstein, Cambridge University Press, 2003. This book is in the same series, the Fichte-Studies and contains a selection of fragments, plus Novalis' Dialogues. Also in this collection are fragments by Schlegel and Hölderlin.
  • Fichte Studies, trans. Jane Kneller, Cambridge University Press, 2003. This translation is part of the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy Series.
  • Henry von Ofterdingen, trans. Palmer Hilty, Waveland Press, 1990.
  • Hymns to the Night, trans. by Dick Higgins, McPherson & Company: 1988. This modern translation includes the German text (with variants) en face.
  • Hymns to the Night / Spiritual Songs, Tr. George MacDonald, Foreword by Sergei O. Prokofieff, Temple Lodge Publishing, London, 2001.
  • Klingsohr's Fairy Tale, Unicorn Books, Llanfynydd, Carmarthen, 1974.
  • Novalis: Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia (Das Allgemeine Brouillon), trans. and ed. David W. Wood, State University of New York Press, 2007. First English translation of Novalis's unfinished project for a "universal science," it contains his thoughts on philosophy, the arts, religion, literature and poetry, and his theory of "Magical Idealism." The Appendix contains substantial extracts from Novalis' Freiberg Natural Scientific Studies 1798/1799.
  • Novalis: Philosophical Writings, transl. and ed. Margaret Mahoney Stoljar, State University of New York Press, 1997. This volume contains several of Novalis' works, including Pollen or Miscellaneous Observations, one of the few complete works published in his lifetime (though it was altered for publication by Friedrich Schlegel); Logological Fragments I and II; Monologue, a long fragment on language; Faith and Love or The King and Queen, a collection of political fragments also published during his lifetime; On Goethe; extracts from Das allgemeine Broullion or General Draft; and his essay Christendom or Europe.
  • The Novices of Sais, trans. by Ralph Manheim, Archipelago Books, 2005. This translation was originally published in 1949. This edition includes illustrations by Paul Klee. The Novices of Sais contains the fairy tale "Hyacinth and Rose Petal."


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  20. ^ Mayer, Paola (1999). "An Interrupted Reception: Novalis". Jena Romanticism and Its Appropriation of Jakob Böhme: Theosophy, Hagiography, Literature. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 82. ISBN 9780773518520. Cite has empty unknown parameters: |1= and |2= (help)
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  23. ^ a b Josephson-Storm, Jason A. (2017). The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-40336-6. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)
  24. ^ Krell, David Farrell (1998). Contagion: Sexuality, Disease and Death in German Idealism and Romanticism. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana State University. p. 21-22. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)
  25. ^ Novalis (1897) [1800], translated by MacDonald, George, "Novalis-Hymns to the Night: Translated by George MacDonald and found in Rampolli (1897)", The George MacDonald WWW Page: Home to the George MacDonald Society, archived from the original on 10 April 2020, retrieved 18 October 2020
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Further reading

External links

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