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. (1720-79, his father Johannes Paul von H. had obtained the Prussian title of nobility in 1738) and Marie Elisabeth von Holwede (a widow, née Colomb), brother of —> Alexander von H. Educated by tutors, learned quickly, then studies of classical philology and law at Frankfurt a. d. Oder and from 1788 at Göttingen. Travelled in Germany, Switzerland and in 1789 in France. A brief period in public service, quitted 1791 and retired to his manors. In 1794 moved to Jena, where Schiller became his friend. 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, but called back in 1803. Now he soon became Geh. Staatsrat and Director of Sektion für Kultus und Unterricht in Innenministerium. He was industrious and skilled in his work. In 1810 he founded the Berlin University. When his organizational ideas were not accepted, he quitted his office in 1810 and was nominated Minister in Vienna. There 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 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, had four sons and four daughters.

WvH has been characterized as a hedonist and Epicurean nature, who deeply admired classical antiquity. He was a great pioneer of linguistics, whose influence was only slowly felt. Sanskrit he learnt from Bopp in London, and carried on its study in the 1820s. 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.

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

– Über den Geschlechtsunterschied. 1794; Plan einer vergleichenden Anthropologie. 1795; Über männliche und weibliche Form. 1795; Hermann und Dorothea. 1799; Über die gegenwärtige französische tragische Bühne. 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 d. Zusammenhang der Schrift mit der Sprache. 1823/24; Über den Dualis. 1827.

– studies on American Indian languages (1821, 1823, 1826) and on Basque.

– “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. 1826; Über die Sprachen der Südseeinseln. 1828.

– Über die Kavisprache. 1-3. 330+312+34+1028+97 p. 11 pl. ABeAW 1932:2-4. 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 515ff.; *A. Dove, A.D.B. 13, 1881, 338-358; *A. Leitzmann (ed.), Briefwechsel zwischen W. von H. und A. W. von Schlegel. Halle 1908; G. Masur & H. Arens, N.D.B. 10, 1974, 43-51; *G. Ramischvili, articles on WvH as a linguist in WZJena 16, 1967, 555-566 & WZBerlin 17:3, 1968, 315-373; *J. Trabant, Lex. gramm. 1996, 434f.; Windisch 82ff.; Wikipedia with several portraits, a photo and further references (and more in German version) including complete biographies.