HUMBOLDT, Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Carl Ferdinand, Freiherr von

HUMBOLDT, Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Carl Ferdinand, Freiherr von. Potsdam 22.6.1767 — Tegel bei Berlin 8.4.1835. German Diplomat and Linguist interested in Sanskrit. Son of the Prussian Kammerherr and Major Alexander Georg von H. (1720–1779, his father Johannes Paul von H. had obtained the Prussian title of nobility in 1738) and Marie Elisabeth von Holwede (a widow, née von Colomb), brother of —> Alexander von H. Educated by tutors, learned quickly, then studies of classical philology and law at Frankfurt a. d. Oder and soon from 1788 at Göttingen. Travelled in Germany and Switzerland and in 1789 in France. A brief period in Prussian public service, quitted 1791 and retired to his manors. In 1794 moved to Jena, where Schiller became his friend, soon also Goethe. In 1797-1801 in Paris, during travels to Spain in 1799 and to Gascogne and Biscaya in 1801 became interested in Basque. He adopted a liberal political view criticizing excessive public control, which made him suspicious in Prussian eyes. In 1802 he was nominated the Prussian resident for Vatican in Rome until 1803, remained there until 1808. Back in Prussia he soon became Geh. Staatsrat and Director of Sektion für Kultus und Unterricht in Innenministerium. He was industrious and skilled in his work. Involved in the foundation of Berlin University (1810) and worked vigorously on its organization. But when his organizational ideas were not accepted, he quitted his office still in 1810 and was nominated Minister in Vienna, until 1813. Then he had an important role in Vienna Congress. As early as 1813 he had propagated the unification of Germany. In 1816, when France had denied to accredit him, he was sent to London. In July 1819 he became member of Prussian cabinet, but had to leave on 31 December. Rejecting the pension offered by the king he now spent the rest of his life in his manor in Tegel (near Berlin, still extant) concentrating on his studies. It has been said the retirement of liberal WvH meant the definite victory of authoritarian and militarian class rule in Prussia. Married 1791 Karoline von Dacheröden (1766–1829), had four sons and four daughters.

WvH has been characterized as a hedonist and Epicurean nature, who deeply admired classical antiquity. Wife. After an anthropological phase Basque aroused his lasting interest in languages and comparative linguistics. He was a great pioneer of linguistics, whose influence was only slowly felt. He had known Bopp in London and in 1821 began the study od Sanskrit under him in Berlin. He was also influenced by A. W. von Schlegel and Grimm brothers. In the quarrels of Bopp and von Schlegel he kept an intermediate position. The Old Javanese (Kavi) he learnt from the specimens in Raffles’ History of Java. In 1828 he suggested to purchase of the Sanskrit manuscripts of Chambers collection to Berlin, which after much delay and criticism was realized in 1842.

Publications: Ideen einer Versuch, die grenzen der Wirksamkeit des Staates zu bestimmen. 1792 (the whole work only in 1851); Über die innere und äussere Organisation der höheren wissenschaftlichen Anstalten. 1809; Über die Aufgaben des Geschichtsschreibers. ABAW. B. 1822; further works, also translations from Greek.

Plan einer vergleichenden Anthropologie. 1795; Ästhetische Versuche: Hermann und Dorothea. 1799; Über die gegenwärtige französische tragische Bühne. P. 1799; Verinnerung über Schiller und den Gang seiner Geistesentwicklung. 1830.

Über Sprachwissenschaft. 1812; Einleitung in das gesamte Sprachstudium. 1810-12; Das vergleichende Sprachstudium. 1820; Über d. Einfluss des verschiedenen Characters der Sprachen auf Literatur und Geistesbildung. 1821; “Über die Buchstabenschrift und ihren Zusammenhang der Schrift mit der Sprache”, ABeAW 1824 (1826), 161-188; “Über den Dualis”, ABeAW 1827 (1830), 161-187.

Studies on American Indian languages (1821, 1823, 1826) and on Basque (e.g. Prüfung der Untersuchungen über die Urbewohner Hispaniens vermittels der baskischen Sprache. B. 1821).

– “Ueber die in der Sanskrit Sprache durch die Suffixa twâ und ya gebildeten Verbalformen”, Ind. Bibl. 1:4, 1823, 433-467 & 2:1, 1824, 71-134.

Über die unter dem Namen Bhagavad-Gítá bekannte Episode des Mahábhárata. 64 p. ABeAW 1825; “Über die Bhagavad-Gita. Mit Bezug auf die Beurtheilung der Schlegelschen Ausgabe im Pariser asiatischen Journal” [by Langlois], Ind. Bibl. 2, 182?, 218-259 & 328-372.

– “Mémoire sur la séparation des mots dans les textes samscrites”, JA 11, 1827, 163-172; “Observations sur la séparation des mots dans les textes sanscrits, et sur la nature de l’alphabet dévanagari”, trad. par Viguier, JA 2:5, 1830, 437-463 = review of Ghatakarpara by Dursch, “mit Anmerkungen über Sandhi”, Jb. f. wiss. Kritik 73-75, April 1829, 579-595.

Über d. grammatischen Bau der chinesischen Sprache. B. 1826; Über die Sprachen der Südseeinseln. 1828.

Über die Kavisprache. 1-3. 330+312+34+1028+97 p. 11 pl. ABeAW 1832:2-4. B. 1836-40 (with Einleitung: “Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaus”).

Gesammelte Werke. 1-7. B. 1841-52; Gesammelte Schriften. 1-17. B. 1903-36.

Sources: * Benfey 1869, 515-556; A. Dove, A.D.B. 13, 1881, 338-358 (republ. in Sebeok 1966:1, 71-101); G. Masur & H. Arens, N.D.B. 10, 1974, 43-51; Cl. Menze, “Das indische Altertum in der Sicht W.v.H.s und Hegels”, A. Gethmann-Siefert & O. Pöggeler (eds.), Welt und Wirkung von Hegels Ästhetik. Bonn 1986, 245-294; *G. Ramischvili, articles on WvH as a linguist in WZJena 16, 1967, 555-566 & WZBerlin 17:3, 1968, 315-373; Stache-Rosen 1990, 5f.; Stache-Weiske 2017, 532; H. Steinthal, *Ursprung der Sprache. B. 1888, 58-81 (republ. in Sebeok 1966:1, 102-120); *J. Trabant, Lex. gramm. 1996, 434f.; Windisch 82ff.; Wikipedia with portrait, bust, further references and bibliography (and more in German version). The same portrait is often reproduced e.g. in Pedersen 1959, 130 and Rau 3.

*A. Leitzmann (ed.), Briefwechsel zwischen W. von H. und A. W. von Schlegel. Halle 1908; *R. Freese, WvH. Sein Leben und Werken, dargestellt in Briefen, tagebüchern und Dokumenten seiner Zeit. B. 1955, 2nd wholly rev. ed. Darmstadt 1986; *W. v. Rössle (ed.), WvH: Briefe. Auswahl. Munich 1952; *S. Lefmann, Franz Bopp, sein Leben und seine Wissenschaft. B. 1897 (Nachtrag: “Briefwechsel zwischen Franz Bopp und Wilhelm von Humboldt); several other letter publications.

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