Novalis, Friedrich a German literary character, whose real name was Von Hardenberg, is noted in the history of philosophy, belles-lettres, and also in hymnology and religious literature generally. He was born at Wiederstedt, in Mansfeld territory, near Eisleben, May 2, 1772, of Moravian parents. In 1790 he entered the University of Jena, and continued his studies at Leipsic and Wittenberg. In 1795 he settled at Weissenfels, in Thuringia, and there he devoted himself to the mining industry. He was to have been married shortly after his location, but his affianced died just before the important change in his life was to take place, and he was thus made very morose and mystical. He finally quitted the place and returned to Jena. He formed an intimate acquaintance in this university town with A. W. Schiegel, Fichte, Schelling, and with Tieck, the romance writer, and devoted himself to literary productions. It was there that he begun his Heinrich von Ofjerdiingqen, a never-completed philosophical romance, and by him designed as an apotheosis of poesy. The hero, Heinrich, is an old German poet, supposed by some to be the author of the Nibelungen Lied; and the purpose of Novalis evidently is to show the whole world, with every. profession and pursuit, on its poetical side. The conclusion, as drawn from rough notes, is most singular. He intended Heinrich to go into a land where men, beasts, minerals, and even tones and colors, held converse; where the world of fairy tales (Mahrchen) was to become visible, and the real world to be considered as a tale. (It may be observed here that Novalis regarded the popular traditions with singular respect, and discerned in them, or fancied he discerned, a deep meaning). "He was accustomed," says his biographer, "to regard the most ordinary occurrence as a miracle, and the supernratural as something ordinary." In 1800, Novalis, who had been for years inclined to consumption, was taken with the disease in its worst form; and in the days of his sickness he enjoyed communion with the writings of Lavater, Zinzendorf, and. other mystical writers, as well as with the Biblical treasures. . Indeed, the Holy Bible, which he regarded truly as God's Word, and higher than any other book, was his regular companion, and the Christian Savior his constant dependence. As one has aptly said, Novalis's love for his Redeemer was the key-note of his religious life, sustaining him in all his afflictions. He died March 19, 1801, in the house of his parents, gently amid the music of the piano which he had asked his brother to play. He had constantly sought for a symbol of the deepest spiritual relations between music and nature, to the study of which his life was devoted. "The expression of his face," says Tieck, "was very much like that of John the Evangelist, as given on the glorious plate by Albert Durer. . . His friendliness, his geniality,, made him universally beloved . .. He could be as happy as a child; he jested with cheerfulness, and permitted himself to become the object of jests for the company. Free from all vanity and pride of learning, a stranger to all affectation and hypocrisy, he was a genuine true man, the purest and most lovely embodiment of a noble immortal spirit." Novalis's writings are read either with some degree of enthusiasm or not read at all. Hence, while almost idolized by the partisans of the romantic school to which he belonged, he is mentioned with a kind of benevolent contempt by the opponents of that school. His imagination and enthusiasm are almost boundless; he darts from prodigy to prodigy with a celerity that cannot be followed, unless the reader allows himself to sympathize with the author. The effects of the ideal philosophy of Fichte, and the love of tales so predominant in the romantic school, are plainly discernible in Novalis's works. He had literally constructed an unreal world of his own, and seems to have breathed an atmosphere utterly unlike that of the actual world. A desire of combining religious fervency with philosophy is also apparent; and thus that combination of speculation and enthusiasm which is found in the writings. of the Alexandrian Platonists and the Mystics was very acceptable to him. His Hymnen an. die Nacht, or "Hymns to the Night," and the latter part of Ofterdingen, are equally remarkable for the vast power manifested in the construction, and the dimness of the construction itself, while here and there the acuteness- of some remarks is not to be mistaken. His Lehrlinge zu Sais or the "Pupils at Sais," is another fragment of a romance, the object of which was to reveal Novalis's view of physical science, for which and mathematics he had a great taste. If one desires an insight into the characteristics of Novalis, he may get it truly by combining into a rounded whole the speculative idealism of Shelley, the weird romanticism of Chatterton, and the ardent piety of Kirke White. As a leader of the romantic school of German literature, his influence on the belief and tastes of the German mind was like that of his contemporaries Coleridge and Wordsworth on those of the English. It must, however, be borne in mind, for an understanding of this statement, that German literature at that time bore the marks either of the old scholasticism, or of the materialism introduced from France, or of the classic culture introduced by Lessing and his coadjutors. The element then revived was the mediaeval element of chivalry, the high and lofty courage, the delicate aesthetic taste, which had marked the Middle Ages. Herder (q.v.), to whom Germany owes much, disgusted with the stoical and analytic spirit of the Kantian philosophy, had already attempted, and not in vain, to throw the mind back to an appreciation of old history, and especially had manifested an enthusiastic admiration of Hebrew literature; but now, as if by one general movement, the public taste was turned to an appreciation of the freshness of feeling and fine elements of character which existed in the Christianity of the Middle Ages (see Farrar, Crit. Hist. of Free Thought, p. 239, 240). If the works thus far mentioned are remarkable for singular combination, his Geistliche Lieder (spiritual songs) are no less so for their perfect simplicity and pure spirit of devotion. The tender ardor of romance has certainly nowhere been expressed more beautifully than in the spiritual songs of Novalis, which form a favorable contrast to the insipid moralizing rhymes of the period of the Illuminati; and though they do not bear the stamp of Church hymns, still they are.well adapted to be sung in quiet solitude, even within the heart. Those who have not access to the German may find two specimens in good English version in Saunders's Evenings with the Sacred Poets (new ed. rev. N.Y. 1870, 12mo), p. 169. But by far the most important of Novalis's writings are his posthumous fragments, for they furnish us a better insight into his philosophical notions. It is in these that he touches upon many points in morals, physics, and philosophy. Indeed, he develops in them somewhat at large a philosophical system, and there can be no doubt that he would have figured prominently as a German philosopher had he not died so young.
If we examine all the writings of Novalis in order to determine how far and in what particulars he has influenced German religious thought, we find him completing the cycle of mysticism which sprang from the mixed influence of. Fichte. (q.v.) and Jacobi (q.v.). Schlegel, in whom it first manifested itself; took refuge from the abyss of scepticism, to which his. extreme subjective principles led, in an objective revelation, as the organ of eternal verities otherwise unknown. Schleiermacher, while making human consciousness the supreme arbiter and test of truth, yet would assimilate them all to the perfect mind of Christ, the divine man, the type of infinite purity and love. — Novalis, proceeding one step further, regards it as, the true purport of philosophy to destroy the individual, the finite, the imperfect, the subjective self, and to enable us to become one with the infinite and all-perfect mind. To him the foundation of all philosophy is faith, that is, an inward light which reveals to us the infinite and the real, a direct perception of the Divinity; an irresistible conviction of the presence of the great Spirit of the universe in all we see, hear, and feel around us. Thinking is to him but the reflection, or the dream of faith — one which pictures to us truth only in dim, unreal, and fantastic forms. It is only where we cause our own individuality to sink and die within us, when the peculiar thoughts and feelings of the finite self are crushed under the power of the higher feelings, and we become absorbed in the Divine, that we rise to the full light of truth, and gaze upon things as they are. In Novalis, accordingly, we no longer see the idealist taking his stand upon the principles of a purely subjective philosophy; but we see him, having left the road, and introduced the additional element of a higher faith, completely overcoming the subjective point of view, sinking the individual self in the great Spirit of the universe, and evincing a sublime mysticism that strives to unite man with God (comp. Morell, Specul. Philippians in the 19th Cent. p. 622).
Tieck edited the works of Novalis and sketched the life of his friend soon after his demise. But three quarters of a century's search and criticism have discovered many complementing and correcting traits for the general portrait, and brought to light a quantity of valuable letters and fragments. A near relative has recently edited. these in a new work on Novalis, on occasion of the centenary of his birth. The general results are: Novalis was not so near Roman Catholicism as Tieck and Schlegel have represented him (comp. on this point ,the severe strictures by Hagenbach in his German Rationalism, p. 346-349; and Hurst's transl. of Ch. Hist. 18th and 19th Cent. ii. 283 sq.). Novalis's so-called Mariolatric hymns were not the free expression of his personal religion, but were written as integral parts of his uncom-pleled mediaeval romance, Heinrich von Ofterdingen. His heart ever remained true to his Moravian training, though his theology assumed a less fettered form. somewhat in the (subsequent) manner of Schleiermacher. "The suspicion that he was a Roman Catholic at heart could only have arisen through forgetfulness of the fact that, at the serene elevation at which Novalis habitually dwelt, the little geometrical fences which cut up the great field of Christianity into petty angular sectarian garden-spots were almost invisible. To very many this Nachlese (see below) will prove very welcome, especially to all who love to see in the Christian life a vital synthesis of ethics and aesthetics. Very recently George Macdonald has brought out The Spiritual Songs of Novalis and other Translations in Verse (Lond. 1876, 12mo). See Novalis Schriften herausgegeben vonz Fr. Schlegel u. Ludwig Tieck? (Berl. 1802, 2 vols. 8vo; 4th ed. 1826); Friedrich v. Hardenberg: eine Nachlese aus den Quellen des Fanilienarchivs herausgegeben von einer Mitglied der Familie (Gotha, 1874, 8vo); Kahnis, Hist. German Protestantism, p. 202; Vilmar, Gesch. d. deutsch. Literatur, p. 500 sq.; Carlyle, Essay on Novalis (in "Miscell. Works"), vol. ii; Gervinus, Gesch. d. deutschen Dichtung Koberstein, Gesch. d. deutschen Literatur, 3:2202 sq., 2428 sq. ,Wolff, Encyclop. d. deutsch. Nationalliteratur. 3:393-396; Meth. Qu. Rev. Jan. 1874, p. 177; 'Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 1876.