Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Open Access)


Colby College. Philosophy Dept.


Henry O. Schmidt

Second Advisor

Philip S. Bither


What was German Romanticism? The answer to this question is contained in a combination of the philosophies d theories of the early Nineteenth Century in Germany. Perhaps the most influential of these philosophies on German Romanticism was Fichte's philosophy of Transcendental Idealism. According to Fichte an individual should attempt to transcend the world of materialism and enter the sphere of the spiritual, of metaphysics. Schelling's Philosophy of Nature describes the existence of God in nature. An individual could achieve the uplifted state of which Fichte spoke through a contemplation of nature, the substance which contained endlessness, totality, and the secret of eternity. Hegel introduced the idea of introspection, of self-contemplation through his philosophy of egocentricism. This was to become one of the main characteristics with which the Romantic poet of this age was to be identified. Schleiermacher concentrates on the idea of God and stresses dogmatic religion as the best possible symbol for a belief in the Deity. His idea of Christian Faith became very important to the German Romantic writers as many of these men were Catholics. Directly opposed to Schleiermacher was Feuerbach, an advocate of the anthropomorphic concept of God; that is, that man created God in his own image. .Although this was a philosophy of the times, it didn't find a place within Romantic thought as the Romantics were primarily concerned with the discovery of something above and beyond themselves and their contemporaries. It was August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel who administered a form to the chaotic element of Romantic spiritualism. August Wilhelm suggested the ancient Greek writings as the model for Romantic literary writings. Friedrich Schlegel provided a definition of Romantic poetry which was to formulate the basic theory for the Romantic writers it began with the concept that Romantic poetry was a progressive, universal poetry. This emphasized the idea of eternal becoming that was certainly an important aspect of Romantic thought. The fusion of these theories and philosophies forms a coherent definition of German Romanticism. The extent of the app11.catioll of these theories and philosophies to the literary writings the German Romantics was first investigated through a study of Wackenroder's novel “Herzensergie rungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders”. A revival of an interest in the art of the Middle Ages is the focal point of this lark. It is quite consistent with Schlegel's desire to study the past for future inspiration. The romantic concept of love finds expression in Friedrich Schelegel’s novel “Lucinde”. Perfect love becomes the fusion of the minds and bodies of two individuals. German Romanticism reaches its peak in the writings of .Novalis. His novel “Heinrich von Ofterdingen” is a portrait of the Romantic poet who yearns for entrance into the reed of eternal creativity. Novalis' "Hymnen an die Nacht” represents some of the most beautiful poetry of the Romantic school. After Novalis, romantic ideals began to be perverted by the literary writes. Tieck introduces romantic irony in his play "Der Gestiefelte Kater" -a technique completely foreign to the earlier Romantic. He also sees a demonic element in nature and incorporates this idea into his Marchen "Der Blonde Eckbert". Eichendorff blends phantasy with reality in his novel, “Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts”. The Taugenicht is a romantic character filled with a yearning for the unknown, but his milieu is a very realistic one - he falls in love with a simple, naive girl and lives among the peasants. Brentano also combines reality with phantasy, but he accentuates the realistic element through brutal descriptions and the use of "Grausamkeit”. He does retain romantic ideology in his portrayal of the reunion of two lovers in the Beyond after death. His story "Die Geschichte vom braven Kasperl und dem schonen Annerl” l is typica1 of Brentano's style. Arnim follows much the samne technique. His subject matter is of a very realistic tone and hi s preoccupation with the psychology of his characters is of a realistic nature -the mad veteran in “Der Tolle Invalide” is a good example of this. But Arnim does not completely reject romantic ideology. It comes forth in this same story in the characterization of Rosalie, the mad veteran's wife; she is das EwigWeibliche whose sincere, deep love for her husvand 1s his salvation. Chamisso's “Peter Schlemihl” is the same type of writing which brings together romantic idealism and stark realism under the guise of a fanciful Marchen. In the novel “Undine” by de 1a Motte-Fouque one feels this same effect and yet one is also strongly attracted to the poetic quality of this beautiful story. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Marchen “Der Goldene Topf” represents the complete perversion of romantic ideals. Phantasy and reality become one in this tale as the reader is transported into the world that is at one moment very bourgeois and at the next moment, the sphere of creativity, of poetry. "Der Vierundzwanzigste Februar", a play by Zacharias Werner represents the last of the writings of the decadent Romantics. It is primarily realistic in nature, although it still utilizes romantic thought in an extremely secondary sense and only to a limited degree. The main commentary on the Romantic school is Heine's polemic “Die Romantische Schule”. This is a rather subjective analysis of the school which must be viewed for the most part, as a mirror of the times. Heiner’s condemnation of the sentimentality of the Romantic school seems to show little depth of thought; nevertheless, it dealt the death blow to German Romanticism. The conclusion of this paper recognizes, first of all, the sincerity of the Romantic Movement. The basic sensual-spiritual conflict which plagued the Romantics is a concept which arises again and again and is one of' the main dilemmas faced by the German writers of the Twentieth Century. Because it constantly reappears, Romantic ideology seems to express a thought process which is inherent to the German mind. It is for the German an inescapable type of idealism toward which he inevitably turns.


german romanticism, philosophy, theory, german romantics, literary writings