Friedrich Nicolai

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Friedrich Nicolai, painting by Ferdinand Collmann after Anton Graff , 1790, Gleimhaus Halberstadt
Berlin memorial plaque on the house at Brüderstraße 13, in Berlin-Mitte
Memorial plaque on the house at Brüderstraße 13 in Berlin-Mitte
The Nicolaihaus on Brüderstraße in Berlin-Kölln

Christoph Friedrich Nicolai , also Nickolai , (born March 18, 1733 in Berlin ; † January 8, 1811 ibid) was a German writer, publisher , critic , author of satirical novels and travelogues, regional historian, main exponent of the Berlin Enlightenment , friend of Lessing , Zelters and Mendelssohns , opponents of Kant and Fichte .


Christoph Friedrich was born on March 18, 1733 as the eighth child of the bookseller Christoph Gottlieb Nicolai († 1752) and his wife in Berlin. He graduated from the Joachimsthal Gymnasium , then went to the Latina of the Francke Foundations in Halle and finally to the Heckersche Realschule in Berlin. He then completed an apprenticeship in bookselling in Frankfurt (Oder) . After the father died, he took over the father's bookstore. In 1760 he married Elisabeth Macaria Schaarschmidt († 1793). She was a daughter of the royal physician Samuel Schaarschmidt and his wife. Christoph Friedrich and Elisabeth Macaria Nicolai had eight children. The father outlived all of his children.


Nicolai saw himself as an enlightener , acquired extensive knowledge in the field of humanities and conducted a lively correspondence with the greats of the era . He then wrote his own writings and became an important, if not undisputed, representative of Protestant Enlightenment theology .

In 1755 Nicolai's letters appeared on the current state of the beautiful sciences in Germany , which made him known in wide circles. In the same year the letters published together with his friend Gotthold Ephraim Lessing on the latest literature appeared (in a total of 24 parts from 1759 to 1765).

The General German Library (after 1793 New General German Library ) published by Nicolai for the third time soon gained the status of the most important organ of the Enlightenment in German. At times more than 150 employees reviewed all the important publications of the time. A total of over 80,000 new publications were discussed. A library of fine sciences and liberal arts in twelve volumes was then brought out in 1759 with Moses Mendelssohn , who was also friends . In 1766 he succeeded in winning Johann Gottfried Herder as an employee of the General German Library , with whom, however, due to irreconcilable differences, a rift began in 1774.

Nicolai was a Freemason as a member of the Berlin lodge “ Zur Eintracht ”, a daughter lodge of the mother lodge “To the Three Worlds” . and founder of the Berlin Wednesday Society as well as a mason researcher.

A literary dispute, among others with Herder and Johann Georg Hamann , who ironically fought against Nicolai , z. B. on the Baphomet of the Templars , began in 1782. Baphometus was Herder's name for Nicolai, who called this alleged secret idol of the Templars the Gnostic “baptism of wisdom”. Hamann named him Coelius after Cicero's friend , Marcus Coelius Rufus, or Nabal (cousin) or Nickel or Nothanker after Nicolai's novel "Life and Opinions ...". Nicolai became a member of the Illuminati in 1783 . In this context, Nicolai is often wrongly assigned the company name "Diocletian"; however, according to the sources, it is rather “Lucian” that is correct. In the middle of 1785 he was appointed regent and prefect of Berlin, but he soon resigned, who believed he smelled a disgusting "perfume of papism " in the order .

In 1781 he became a foreign member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Munich and in 1798 a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences . In 1804 he was accepted as a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg . In 1799 he received his doctorate in philosophy honoris causa from the University of Helmstedt .


Typographic mark by Nicolai

Since 1777 Nicolai was friends with the librarian Johann Erich Biester (1749-1816). Nicolai's grandson Gustav Parthey described Biester in his “memories of his youth” as Nicolai's “closest friend”. In the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, his colleague Biester held an obituary for him in 1811, which appeared in the "Abhandlungen" for 1812/1813 and is freely accessible on the Internet. Close relationships also existed with Friedrich Gedike (1754–1803), who was also a leading representative of the Berlin Enlightenment and editor of the “Berlinische Monatsschrift”, also a member of the Masonic Lodge and the “Wednesday Society”; At that time one spoke of a triumvirate Nicolai, Gedike and Biester.

He had a close friendship all his life with the pastor of the village of Klein-Schönebeck , east of Berlin , Raymund Dapp . Dapp supported him in drafting the book “Description of a journey through Germany and Switzerland”. Nicolai wrote the novel Life and Opinions of Gundibert, a German philosopher , largely during stays in Dapp's house in Klein-Schönebeck. The young Friedrich Vieweg (1761–1835) was induced by Nicolai to begin an apprenticeship as a bookseller and later founded the Vieweg publishing house .


Nicolai's publications are all under the sign of the Enlightenment and oppose a Christianity that the Enlightenment understood as irrational: This is rejected in mystical or pietistic as well as dogmatic variants, as well as against the Jesuit order and all other actual or supposed enemies of the Enlightenment was proceeded. In philosophy, for Nicolai, who was close to Leibniz's and Wolff's thinking, Kant's transcendental philosophy became an object of criticism, like Fichte's emerging idealism . In literary terms, Herder was already criticized by Nicolai, and later by the literature of Sturm und Drang , the Classical and the emerging Romanticism . Nicolai's means of criticism here was usually polemics , which often first triggered violent reactions from those affected and then degenerated into literary disputes, which were often characterized by mutual opinion. What is known about this is the confrontation with the young Goethe , whose Werther Nicolai contrasted a version with a "happy ending" relieved of larmoyance under the title Freuden des Junge Werther in 1775 , which prompted Goethe to replicate with an evil poem, "Nicolai auf Werther's grave ":

A young person, I don't know how,
once died of hypochondria
and was then buried.
Then a beautiful ghost came over,
He had his bowel movements free,
how things are like people.
He just sat down on the grave
and put his little
pile there , looked at his filth in a friendly manner,
went away again with a breath
and said to himself slowly:
“The good person, how has he spoiled himself!
If he had shit like me,
he would not have died! "

Both Goethe and Herder, mentioned earlier, were nevertheless able to appreciate the life and opinions of Herr Magister Sebaldus Nothanker , one of Nicolai's few fictional literary works, as a contemporary document - which was otherwise an exception among contemporaries. From Sturm und Drang to Romanticism, he was ridiculed as a flat rationalist. Over time, sometimes based on a close friendship, Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Caspar Lavater , Christoph Martin Wieland , Johann Heinrich Voss , Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling and Ludwig Tieck became opponents of the bellicose Nicolai. In 1779 Johann Georg Jacobi even successfully promoted a resistance front against Nicolai from Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim , Wieland and Goethe. Fichte subscribed to the work of Friedrich Nicolai's life and strange opinions. A contribution to the literary history of the past century and to pedagogy of the late century (1801).

Nicolai's travel descriptions, a description of a journey through Germany and Switzerland in 1781 and a description of the royal royal cities of Berlin and Potsdam, cannot do without the enlightening polemics, but also contain numerous geographical, economic, political and cultural observations. Nicolai drew a picture of backwardness from Bavaria: the majority of them lived there “stupid bigots” who passed their days with “miserable, pious idleness”. He judged the character of Bavaria: "They are raw children of nature, unaccustomed, full of instinct, full of strength that only need to be properly directed."

Heinrich Heine , who considered him a “bad writer”, later judged: “We have to admit that old Nicolai was a thoroughly honest man who was honest with the German people, and who out of love for the holy cause of the Truth did not shy away from even the worst martyrdom, ridicule. "


In the spring of 1791, Nicolai suffered from a disorder for eight weeks, as a result of which he perceived ghosts ( phantasms ). He cured himself with leeches attached to his buttocks (a medical method that was widespread at the time) and even reported on the success of this measure to the Berlin Academy of Sciences . Thereupon Goethe let him appear in his Faust , in the Walpurgis Night scene , as a "Proktophantasmist" (Steißgeisterseher):

You are still there! No, that is unheard of.
Get out of here! We have cleared up!
The devil's pack, it doesn't ask for any rule.
We're so smart, and yet Tegel is haunted .
How long have I not come out of the madness,
And it never becomes pure; that's unheard of!

This is of Mephistopheles commented as follows:

He's about to sit down in a puddle, that's
the way he soulacts,
And when leeches graze on his rump, He
is cured of ghosts and of ghosts.

The Schlegels , too, made fun of Nicolai's sense of reality in the magazine Athenaeum : “If something disappears when you have six blood hedgehogs placed on your anus, it is a mere appearance; if it remains, it is a reality ”. Even with E. T. A. Hoffmann , the Nicolai leech cure appears again. In the " Golden Pot " (1814), the extremely sensible Deputy Principal Paulmann said to the student Anselmus, who was somewhat confused by visions:

"Yes! […] One has examples that certain phantasms often occur to people and can really frighten and torment them, but that is a physical illness and blood hedgehogs that are applied, salva venia , to the buttocks, like a famous one who has already died, help Scholar proved. "




  • Burkhart Brückner: Experiences of Delirium. Autobiographical reflections in popular philosophy and medicine of the German Late Enlightenment using the example of Friedrich Nicolai and Markus Herz. In: Cardanus - Jahrbuch für Wissenschaftsgeschichte 4, (2004), pp. 75–89.
  • Erich Donnert: Anti-revolutionary-conservative journalism in Germany at the end of the Old Reich. Johann August Starck (1741-1816). Ludwig Adolf Christian von Grolmann (1741–1809). Friedrich Nicolai (1733-1811). Frankfurt a. M. 2010
  • Rainer Falk: "They do not stop making services for our literature and their friends" - Friedrich Nicolai (1733–1811). Mitteldeutscher Verlag Halle (Saale) 2012, ISBN 978-3-89812-964-0
  • Rainer Falk, Alexander Košenina (ed.): Friedrich Nicolai & the Berlin Enlightenment. Hanover 2008, ISBN 978-3-86525-081-0 .
  • Christopher Spehr: Enlightenment and Ecumenism. Attempts at reunification between Catholics and Protestants in German-speaking countries in the late 18th century . Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-16-148576-9 , pp. 374-410. ( limited preview in Google Book search)
  • Pamela Selwyn: Everyday Life in the German Book Trade. Friedrich Nicolai as Bookseller and Publisher in the Age of Enlightenment 1750-1810. Pennsylvania University Press, 2000.
  • Horst Möller: Enlightenment in Prussia. The publisher, publicist and historian Friedrich Nicolai. Berlin 1974.
  • Marcel Reich-Ranicki : Friedrich Nicolai - The founder of our literary life In: The lawyers of literature dtv 1996, pp. 32–52
  • Franz MunckerNicolai, Friedrich . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 23, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1886, pp. 580-590.
  • Horst MöllerNicolai, Friedrich. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 19, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-428-00200-8 , pp. 201-203 ( digitized version ).

See also

Web links

Commons : Friedrich Nicolai  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Friedrich Nicolai  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karlheinz Gerke: The members of the Berlin Masonic Lodge "Zur Eintracht" 1754–1815 in 260 years of Johannisloge zur Eintracht p.37. (PDF; 4.5 MB) Johannisloge zur Eintracht e. V., 2014, accessed May 3, 2015 .
  2. Reinhard Markner: "Your name was also on it." Friedrich Nicolai, Johann Joachim Christoph Bode and the Illuminati. In: Rainer Falk. Alexander Košenina (Ed.): Friedrich Nicolai and the Berlin Enlightenment. Hannover 2008, pp. 199-225, especially pp. 220f
  3. Erich Donnert: Anti-revolutionary-conservative journalism in Germany at the end of the Old Empire. Johann August Starck (1741-1816). Ludwig Adolf Christian von Grolmann (1741–1809). Friedrich Nicolai (1733-1811). Frankfurt a. M. 2010, p. 11
  4. ^ Marian Füssel: Weishaupts Gespenster or revisited. On the history, structure and legend of the Illuminati Order. , 2000.
  5. ^ Foreign members of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1724. Christoph Friedrich Nicolai. Russian Academy of Sciences, accessed October 10, 2015 .
  6. biography. In: Retrieved June 8, 2013 .
  7. Goethe, Berlin Edition, Vol. 2, p. 259
  8. Hans Kratzer: "They are raw children of nature" - Friedrich Nicolai died 200 years ago, who became famous for his radical polemics against Bavaria. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of January 24, 2011
  9. Meeting on February 22, 1799. Also in the New Berlin Monthly Journal published by Nicolai : Example of an appearance of several phantasms. No. 203, May 1799, pp. 321-360
  10. Faust I, verse 4144ff
  11. French soulager , "facilitate", "relieve", "liberate"
  12. Athenaeum, Vol. 2, p. 337, digitizedhttp: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3D1E4TAAAAYAAJ~IA%3D~MDZ%3D%0A~SZ%3D337~ double-sided%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D
  13. E. T. A. Hoffmann: The golden pot , 2. Vigil. In: Poetic works in six volumes , Berlin: Aufbau 1963, Vol. 1, p. 289.