Wilhelm von Humboldt

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Wilhelm von Humboldt (lithograph by Franz Krüger ). Humboldt's signature:
Signature Wilhelm von Humboldt.PNG

Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Carl Ferdinand von Humboldt (born June 22, 1767 in Potsdam , † April 8, 1835 in Tegel ) was a Prussian scholar, writer and statesman. As an educational reformer, he initiated the reorganization of the educational system in the spirit of neo-humanism , shaped the Humboldtian ideal of education named after him and established the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin .

Together with his brother Alexander von Humboldt, he is one of the great and influential personalities in German cultural history. While Alexander opened up new horizons primarily in geological and natural science research, Wilhelm's focus was on dealing with cultural-scientific contexts such as educational problems, state theory , the analytical consideration of language , literature and art, as well as active political participation as a reform engine in schools and universities and as a Prussian diplomat.

In the midst of all the diversity of activities in politics, education, culture and science that were determined by enlightenment impulses, Wilhelm von Humboldt always had an eye on the exploration and formation of his own individuality and personality. The target formula, which is again generally applicable to human individuals, is about “the highest and most proportionate development of all human forces into a whole”.


Origin and youth

Memorial stone for Gottlob Johann Christian Kunth , educator of the Humboldt brothers

In the paternal line, the Humboldt brothers were offspring of Pomeranian ancestors from the bourgeoisie. Her grandfather Hans Paul Humboldt became captain in the Prussian military and, because of his services, was raised to the nobility at his own request in 1738 . His son Alexander Georg von Humboldt (1720–1779) was after his retirement from the army at the behest of Frederick the Great Chamberlain to the wife of the heir to the throne until the failure of this marriage in 1769. Already in 1766 Alexander Georg had the wealthy widow of Huguenot origin Elisabeth von Holwede , born Colomb, married and through them came into possession of Schloss Tegel . No savings were made on the training of the sons Wilhelm and Alexander on the Tegeler Gut - in the winter in the Berlin city apartment, since the castle was difficult to heat.

The parents hired renowned personalities such as Joachim Heinrich Campe and Johann Jacob Engel as private tutors, and from 1777 Gottlob Johann Christian Kunth for more than ten years , who coordinated the education plan and supervised the lessons of the various subject teachers. After the death of his employer in 1779, Kunth, who had also acquired a position of trust with the Humboldts with regard to the management of the estate, became an indispensable advisor to the widowed Ms. von Humboldt and then also the asset manager of the two half-orphans . Wilhelm von Humboldt, in turn, later promoted Kunth's rise to work for Freiherr vom Stein in the Prussian reform era and, after his death in 1829, fulfilled his wish to be buried near the Humboldt family grave in Tegel.

As a 13-year-old Wilhelm is said to have spoken Greek, Latin and French and to have been familiar with important authors of the respective literature. His enormous diligence in studying often aroused concern among those close to him. From 1785 the Humboldt brothers frequented Berlin Enlightenment circles . In preparation for the university studies, the brothers took part in private lectures, for example in economics and statistics, natural law and philosophy , through the mediation of Kunth . In connection with this, they also came to the house of the doctor Marcus Herz , who was interested in many things and who gave lectures on philosophy and physics as a follower of Immanuel Kant , and to the salon of his wife Henriette Herz , for whom Wilhelm at times had an enthusiastic affection. There the brothers got to know Moses Mendelssohn , among others , studied the writings of Kant together and discussed the question: What is Enlightenment ? In the following years they received private lessons from Christian Wilhelm von Dohm on world trade. Wilhelm learned the fundamentals of natural law from Ernst Ferdinand Klein and the logic of concepts and judgment from Johann Jakob Engel . He was also introduced by Engel in the writings of John Locke and David Hume .

As a member of their “Bund der Freunde”, one of many virtuous associations that existed at the time, to which both a statute and a secret script belonged, Wilhelm later came into contact with Caroline von Dacheröden , who was also a member of the association as a foreign member.

The goal of the demanding education of her sons for the mother was to qualify them for influential state offices. Wilhelm was earmarked for a law degree, Alexander for state economics, which traded as Kameralia . While Kunth was still in charge, the brothers began their respective studies at the Brandenburg University of Frankfurt , which Wilhelm left after one semester to enroll at the Georg-August University in Göttingen in spring 1788 .

Educational trips, marriage and dealing with the Weimar classics (1788–1797)

Göttingen memorial plaque for Wilhelm von Humboldt

In Göttingen, Humboldt broke away from the given paths and from then on followed his own impulses, interests and insights. During his studies, he devoted himself less to jurisprudence and more to philosophy, history and ancient languages. He also attended events by experts such as the experimental physicist Lichtenberg and the classical philologist Heyne . In addition, he dealt, among other things, with natural history and dealt intensively with Kant's writings.

1788 was also the year in which he met Caroline von Dacheröden , whom he married in 1791 in Erfurt. With their traditional correspondence, for which a tone of mutual idealization cultivated by both spouses is characteristic, Caroline and Wilhelm von Humboldt created a pattern of orientation for the gender relationship for the German bourgeoisie in the 19th and 20th centuries. Both had an "open marriage". Humboldt's concept of optimal individual development included the claim to be able to live out one's own sexuality with changing partners from a commercial environment. His relationship with Johanna Motherby, wife of the doctor William Motherby , in Königsberg is well known . Caroline's long-term family friend in Jena and traveling was Wilhelm von Burgsdorff (1772–1822).

From his place of study in Göttingen, Humboldt undertook a trip to the Rhine / Main area via Kassel, Marburg and Gießen towards the end of 1788, during which he spent a few days in Mainz with the circumnavigator Georg Forster and his wife Therese and on estate Pempelfort entered into a lasting relationship with the militant sensualist philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi . In the summer of 1789 he embarked on another trip that took him to revolutionary Paris on August 3, together with his former teacher Campe . The next day the feudal system was abolished by decree of the Constituent National Assembly . Humboldt attended both a meeting of the new parliament as well as the Bastille , which was recently stormed by the people , whereby, unlike Campe, who was carried away by the enthusiasm for the revolution, he was more of a sober observer. Beyond the events of the revolution, he was interested on the one hand in art and architecture, on the other hand in hospitals, prisons and the situation of Parisian orphans whom he sought out in a foundling house . In his notes it says:

“All vices arise almost out of the disproportion between poverty and wealth. In a country that was generally prosperous, there would be little or no crime. That is why no part of the state administration is as important as that which takes care of the physical needs of the subjects. "

After leaving Paris at the end of August, Humboldt continued the journey until November of that year with a longer stay in Switzerland. As a result of his travel experiences, a need for a regular change of his external environment can be assumed, for a change of place of residence across national borders. Humboldt himself later said: "The principle that one must have been in many situations of all kinds is so firmly embedded in me that I am comfortable with every one I have not yet been to."

Over the Christmas days of 1789, Wilhelm von Humboldt stayed with his fiancée in Weimar, where he had first encounters with Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe . At the beginning of 1790, after completing his four-semester studies, he entered the civil service and got a job in the Department of Justice, where he was trained for the judge's career, but at the same time acquired the additional qualification for the diplomatic service. As early as May 1791 he sought his dismissal with reference to family circumstances, be it that the exercise of the judicial office under the impression of counter-Enlightenment tendencies in the Prussian state was repugnant, be it that his otherwise developed inclinations were decisive or that he was the Employed only to survive his mother and his future father-in-law, the Chamber President of Dacheröden .

After the wedding in Erfurt on June 29, 1791, the young couple lived for the next two and a half years on the Dacheröden'schen estates in Thuringia, where Humboldt now continued his studies of ancient Greek language, culture, art and philosophy with Caroline and engaged in a lively exchange of ideas the classical philologist Friedrich August Wolf from Halle . The preoccupation with antiquity served him for the purpose of "the philosophical knowledge of man in general". He understood the Greek spirit "as the ideal of what we ourselves want to be and produce". In 1793 he wrote On the Study of Antiquity and Greek in particular , which shows his emphatic philhellenism , against whose claim to sole validity even Schiller had reservations.

Wilhelm (2nd from left) with Schiller, his brother Alexander and Goethe in Jena

With his high esteem for ancient Greece, which is characteristic of the intellectual historical epoch of neo-humanism , and with his extensive knowledge, Humboldt already showed himself to be a “junior partner” of German classical music when he and the young family moved to Jena in February 1794 with the young family . The role that he played from then on to Schiller, then also to Goethe, was that of the sharp analyst, constructive critic and accomplished advisor who, among other things, dealt with Schiller's ballads and his Wallenstein drama as artfully as he did with Goethe's Herrmann and Dorothea .

About Humboldt's idealizing commitment to ancient Greece and its subsequent influence on the German education system, Peter Berglar judges : “Although Humboldt could not measure himself in depth with Goethe, in dynamics not with Schiller and in creativity with both of them, perhaps he did had the strongest, but certainly the longest, influence on German development. ”Humboldt's close cooperation with Schiller in Jena, in which his brother Alexander also regularly took part, lasted until April 1797. It was interrupted for a long time by Wilhelm's travels and stays in Berlin and Tegel from mid-1795 until Elisabeth von Humboldt's death in November 1796, whose assets passed to the sons and made them materially independent. While Wilhelm was taking over Schloss Tegel, Alexander now got the capital with which he financed his American research trip.

Privatier in Paris and Prussia's envoy in Rome (1797–1808)

When Humboldt looked back in his diary on New Year's Eve 1797, the period from mid-1795 to late autumn just past appeared to be the worst of his life so far. Not only experiences of illness and death in close proximity played a part in this. The intensive exchange of ideas with Schiller and the increasing closeness to Goethe had fascinated Humboldt on the one hand, but also led him to his limits and to self-doubt on the other. When he got stuck with his plan to comprehensively portray the development of the human mind, he complained to Schiller that he lacked "the force that attacks its subject with passion, that is torn away from it and clings to it permanently - to genius. ”In his reply, Schiller traced this back to a“ preponderance of the judgmental faculty over the free-form ”or over the invention, which is characteristic of Humboldt:“ Your subject becomes an object too quickly for you and yet everything in the scientific field must only be achieved through the subjective work can be performed. "

As a result, Humboldt looked for suitable new fields in which to develop and perfect his talents. As Napoleon's Italy campaign meant that his preferred travel destination was temporarily canceled for security reasons, he and his family moved for four years to Paris, which was still moved by the revolution but which was open to foreign visitors. There Humboldt made a number of intense and stimulating acquaintances, such as those of Abbé Sieyès , Mme. De Staël and the revolutionary painter David . Again it was about expanding one's own intellectual horizons in conversation with leading minds of the time, “always guided by the endeavor to penetrate their respective world and benefit from the encounter with it.” From Paris in 1799 he undertook three with Caroline Children and various servants as well as two longer trips to Spain in 1801 without the family, which in the long term proved to be fruitful for him , especially with regard to the linguistic studies of Basque . Only this challenge posed by a language “which nobody in Germany knew and which, due to its pre-Indo-European roots, was so differently constructed from all known languages ​​that studying its grammar was particularly worthwhile if one pursued the relationship between thought and language wanted ”, says Michael Maurer , who produced the great linguist Humboldt.

Wilhelm von Humboldt, portrait statue by Bertel Thorvaldsen, 1808

In the summer of 1801, Humboldt returned to Tegel with his wife and children for a good year. In the following spring the chance opened up for him to come to Italy in a comfortable and profitable way: as Prussian envoy to the Holy See in Rome. It now paid off that he had acquired a diplomatic service qualification and the title of Legation Councilor during his employment in the judiciary . As a man of the world from the nobility, he recommended himself for this post, which was considered to be rather unattractive to possible competitors after the papal state shrank under French rule and the Pope was dependent on Napoleon's grace. With the task of the consular representation of Prussian subjects in Rome, Humboldt was not challenged in terms of time, so that he had enough opportunity to make his representative house, the Palazzo Tomati near the Spanish Steps , together with Caroline a social center of Rome. In addition to members of the Curia, guests included Lucien Bonaparte , who later became Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria , the sculptors Bertel Thorvaldsen and Christian Daniel Rauch as well as the young Karl Friedrich Schinkel , Carl Ludwig Fernow , Friedrich Tieck and August Wilhelm Schlegel accompanied by the woman by Staël.

The fascination that Rome exerted on Wilhelm von Humboldt and that founded his six years as the Prussian ambassador there is revealed in his letter of August 23, 1804 to Goethe:

“Rome is the place where, for our view, the whole of antiquity gathers […] So most of this impression is subjective, but it is not just the sentimental thought of standing where this or that great man stood. It is a violent dragging into one of us, be it through necessary deception, a past that is regarded as noble and sublime, a violence that even whoever wants to cannot resist, because the desolation in which the current inhabitants leave the country , and the unbelievable mass of rubble itself leads the eye there […] But it is only a delusion if we ourselves wish to be residents of Athens or Rome. Only from a distance, only separated from everything common, only antiquity must appear to us as past. "

In the summer of 1805, Alexander von Humboldt, who had returned from his American expedition and was already celebrated as the “second Columbus”, visited his brother and sister-in-law in Rome for more than three months, before going to Paris to undertake a comprehensive scientific analysis of the collected research material . This can be taken as a sign of intensive communication and a warm bond between the brothers, who are sometimes in stark contrast to one another. Their relationship and complementary work is occasionally shown with the image of the "Prussian Dioscuri ".

The liquidation of the Holy Roman Empire , the collapse of Prussia after the defeat at Jena and Auerstedt and the French occupation of Berlin in 1806 pursued Humboldt from his post in Rome. In the autumn of 1806, he wrote to Minister of State Karl August Fürst von Hardenberg , who also carried out the business of Foreign Minister, “I was never ambitious or interested and satisfied with the post in the country I live in and which I love and have neither looked nor looked for wished to get into a different situation, but now I am embarrassed to be idle here and to be able to do nothing for the beleaguered fatherland. "However, there was apparently no other use for him in Berlin, and so he stayed until October 1808 in Rome.

The educational reformer (1809/10)

Memorial plaque in the house Unter den Linden 6 in Berlin-Mitte

A vacation request to settle property matters and to record damage in the looted Tegel Castle gave Humboldt the opportunity to return to Germany. When he arrived there, he soon learned that in the course of the Prussian reforms that had been initiated, he should take over the management of the "Section of Cult and Public Education"; the reform protagonist Freiherr vom Stein supported Humboldt in this post. The Prussian military state, as it had been created by Friedrich Wilhelm I and set on an expansion course by Friedrich II, had initially run down and was humiliatingly dependent on Napoleon. In order to regain strength from this situation, comprehensive reforms were required in the sense of Stein and his colleagues with the aim of giving space to the citizens' striving for freedom awakened by the French Revolution , to promote their personal responsibility and in this way the state and the Nation to tap new resources.

Theoretical foundations

Humboldt's state-theoretical ideas had long been on this line. He is regarded as the progenitor of German liberalism and his approach came in opposition to the monarchical-conservative forces in Prussia and beyond. In his treatise, written in 1792, he wrote "Ideas for an attempt to determine the limits of the effectiveness of the state":

“The real purpose of man - not that which the changing inclination, but which the eternally unchangeable reason prescribes for him - is the highest and most proportional formation of his forces into a whole. For this formation freedom is the first and essential condition. [...] It is precisely the diversity arising from the union of several that is the highest good that society gives, and this diversity is certainly always lost to the degree to which the state interferes. It is no longer actually the members of a nation who live in community with themselves, but individual subjects who come into a relationship with the state, that is, with the spirit which rules its government, and indeed in a relationship in which they already superior power of the state hinders the free play of forces. Uniform causes have uniform effects. The more the state cooperates, the more similar is not only everything that is active, but also everything that is created. [...] But anyone who argues in this way for others is suspected, and not wrongly, of misunderstanding humanity and of wanting to turn people into machines. "

In this upheaval situation, Humboldt's nomination was supported by his appreciation of education for a decent existence:

“What does one ask of a nation, of an age, of the whole human race, if one is to give it respect and admiration? It is demanded that education, wisdom and virtue should rule under him as powerfully and generally as possible [...] If all these demands are limited to the inner being of man, then his nature constantly penetrates the human being Objects outside of himself, and here it is important that he does not lose himself in this alienation, but rather that the illuminating light and the beneficial warmth of everything that he undertakes outside himself always shine back into his innards. For this purpose, however, he must bring the mass of objects closer to himself, imprint the shape of his spirit on this substance and make both more similar to one another. "

Principles and plans for a three-tier general education system

When Humboldt was faced with the appointment to the office on December 15, 1808, he hesitated to accept it, especially after Baron von Stein had been dismissed as Minister of State on November 25 under pressure from Napoleon. It now became apparent that Humboldt should not act as minister and therefore only responsible to the king, but as head of section under Interior Minister Friedrich zu Dohna-Schlobitten . He may have feared that, given the importance of the task, he would not have enough free hand to reorganize the teaching system. Humboldt left the letter of appeal for the new post for two weeks in January 1809, then declined half-heartedly and asked the king to be allowed to continue his diplomatic service in Rome. But that was denied him; on February 20, he was appointed Privy Councilor of State and Director of the Section for Culture and Education in the Ministry of the Interior. After he finally submitted to the circumstances, Humboldt released an astonishing dynamic in his administration in Königsberg and reformed, supported by his colleagues Nicolovius , Süvern and Uhden , both fast-paced and cautious curricula, teacher training and examination systems at elementary and elementary schools, grammar schools and in the university sector, although from his own experience he had not got to know the public school system either as a pupil or as a teacher.

With a view to economic constraints and social realities, it was criticized that the Humboldtian ideal of education was too closely tied to its aristocratically privileged existence. But Humboldt himself aimed at a general educational reform; Evidence for this - as well as suggestions for the creation of a civil society in which lifelong learning could become possible - contains his report to the king of December 1809: “There is absolutely certain knowledge that must be general, and even more a certain formation of attitudes and the character that no one should be missing. Everyone is evidently a good craftsman, merchant, soldier and businessman only if he is a good, decent person and citizen who is enlightened according to his status and regardless of his particular profession. If school lessons give him what is necessary for this, he will acquire the special ability of his profession very easily afterwards and always retain the freedom, as so often happens in life, to move from one to the other. "

Humboldt aimed for a three-tier teaching system with elementary, school and university teaching. After each level of instruction, the possibility of entering the profession was provided. The guidelines of the concept were implemented in the “ Königsberg School Plan ” and the “Lithuanian School Plan” in late autumn 1809. They emphasized the need for general human education in contrast to knight academies , cadet schools and some secondary schools , which in many cases were only oriented towards vocational training. For Humboldt, however, the entire educational system required a uniform foundation for all special later professional and gainful activities of the citizens. His high esteem for ancient Greek as a common good of human education found its way into the Lithuanian school plan: "Having learned Greek in this way could just as little be useless for the carpenter as making tables for the scholar."

For the three-year elementary school, Humboldt in his report to the king envisaged as a main principle "that the child must always have full and clear awareness of what he hears, says and does at every moment, and why things are done this way and not differently" , and explained: "By being forced and accustomed to give an account of every thing, even the smallest thing, it learns to think clearly, to want to be determined and to speak audibly at the same time ." In the Königsberg school plan, the core goals of all three are intended Educational stages covered:

“The purpose of teaching in schools is to practice skills and acquire knowledge, without which scientific insight and skill is impossible. Both should be prepared by him; the young person is to be put in a position to be able to collect the material to which all his own creativity must always be connected, partly already now, partly to be able to collect it in the future as he likes, and to develop intellectual-mechanical powers. He is thus preoccupied with learning itself in two ways, then with learning to learn. [...] The student is mature when he has learned so much from others that he is now able to learn for himself. His language lessons z. B. is closed at school when he has come to understand with his own effort and with the use of the available aids every writer with certainty, insofar as he is really understandable, and himself in any given language, according to his general knowledge from the structure of language in general, easy and quick to study into it.
So if elementary lessons make the teacher possible in the first place, school lessons make them dispensable. That is why the university teacher is no longer a teacher, the student is no longer a learner, but he researches himself and the professor directs his research and supports him in it. "

University foundation and leaving office

Monument to Wilhelm von Humboldt in front of the Humboldt University in Berlin

The crowning glory of the reform work was that of Friedrich Wilhelm III. supported establishment of the Berlin University in 1809. From Humboldt's point of view, the presence of other facilities such as the Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Arts, the existence of a complete medical faculty as well as important collections and the Academy of Arts - in connection with the new university, the best conditions for a wide range of extensive scientific teaching. “Never again did a German minister of education,” says Berglar, “have a proud list of appointments.” In the beginning, the most glamorous professorships included Friedrich Schleiermacher , Friedrich Carl von Savigny , Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Barthold Georg Niebuhr . Not an easy business for the organizer, however, as he complained to his wife Caroline in a letter: The scholars are "the most irrepressible and most difficult to satisfy class of people - with their eternally interfering interests, their jealousy, their envy, their lust govern, their one-sided views, where everyone thinks that only their subject deserves support and promotion. "

Humboldt's idea of ​​a university envisaged the unity of research and teaching for university operations and the relationship between lecturers and their students. Both should also be kept free from government demands and requirements of a restrictive kind. Humboldt assumed that the universities in responsible self-regulation also fulfill the state purposes, only from a higher point of view, so to speak, and with means that the state cannot produce from its own resources. Not only for the university sector, but for the entire education system, Humboldt envisaged a future financing that would be independent of the monarchical state coffers and that would be fed from income appropriately allocated state property.

The following measures by Humboldt and his colleagues in the "Section of Culture and Public Education" include:

  • the introduction of the teaching qualification examens 1810 (examen pro facultate docendi) , with which the position of high school teacher was created, who had to prove knowledge of the ancient languages, history and mathematics,
  • the standardization and obligation of the Abitur examination 1812 (which was only enforced in 1834 without exceptions),
  • the "plan of the teaching constitution" of a 10-year high school course in 1816 ( curriculum that remained only a suggestion, but was effective).

At no time had Humboldt given up the resolution to upgrade his position in the State Council in order to be able to work independently and on an equal footing among cabinet colleagues and had hoped to convince the king of the ideas of Baron von Stein. When he realized that he would not get through with it, he submitted his resignation on April 29, 1810 after a year in office. It took two and a half months, during which he was in talks for both the head of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before his dismissal was approved. His successor in office was Friedrich von Schuckmann . Since he had already linked the assumption of the head of the section for culture with the request to be able to return to the diplomatic service later, the appointment as "extraordinary envoy and authorized minister in Vienna", which was also connected with the dismissal, should alleviate his disappointment.

Humboldt has been attacked for his resignation from the state offices he held. Self-love, indulgence, comfort and overestimating oneself are among the assumed motives for his retreats. On the other hand, there is the enormous commitment and the tireless zeal for work that he also displayed in the civil service when it came down to it. His willingness to serve the community was not unconditional. If the political circumstances overly captivated him and threatened to alienate him from his self-image, if he saw no more perspective for an activity in accordance with his own convictions, then all obligations ended for him.

Prussian diplomat and minister (1810-1819)

Caroline von Humboldt had stayed in Rome while her husband was in charge of education. In the fall of 1810 she arrived in Vienna with the children in order to live with him again and to maintain a representative social life in the house on Minoritenplatz . Through his childhood friend Friedrich Gentz , who had entered the Habsburg service, Humboldt managed to get to know the guiding principles of the then Austrian Foreign Minister Metternich . With the help of his diverse international experience and extensive connections, Humboldt had a realistic picture of the various interests. In this way, he was able to reliably predict the Austrian position in Napoleon's conflict with Russia and in the incipient war of liberation against Napoleon for Hardenberg, and in the background promote Austrian accession to the coalition. His assessments and negotiating impulses determined the Prussian initiatives when the Reichenbacher Convention came about and the failed peace congress in Prague in the summer of 1813. He himself saw this as his greatest achievement in the diplomatic service. With this, after the defeat of France under Napoleon, Humboldt justified the claim to a royal endowment, as it was also received by other prominent participants in the wars of liberation: He believed “without presumptuousness to be able to claim that, without me, the matter would not or less well From the Ottmachau estate, which was then awarded to him, with a castle on the Neisse on the outskirts of Ottmachau , he could count on an annual income of 5000 thalers .

Postage stamp (1952) from the series Men from the History of Berlin

At the Congress of Vienna , Humboldt acted as the right-hand man for the hard of hearing Hardenberg , was a member of numerous special committees, including the one responsible for editing the Congress Act, and contributed numerous memoranda to the content of the Federal Act during the negotiations on the German Confederation . His own ideas of a reorganization of German conditions under liberal auspices, however, fell more and more to the side in view of the restorative tendencies that would eventually form into the Holy Alliance . As a well-known representative of the reform wing in Prussia, the longer he aroused the suspicion of Metternich. Nor did he have any scruples about having Humboldt's private correspondence with Caroline monitored and then discrediting him with Hardenberg with such knowledge. Because Humboldt, as the executive organ of Prussian diplomacy, adhered to the specifications made to him and therefore recommended himself as the best possible successor to Hardenberg from his own point of view, but sometimes described his wife's political practice extremely critically: “He surrounds himself with some bad, partly insignificant people, wants to do everything himself and therefore leaves everything behind, allows the greatest abuses out of good-naturedness and wastes a terrible time with the lady [...] His whole place, as he created her, is a corruption and cannot last. "

At the end of his intensive efforts at the Congress of Vienna and finally - after Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo - at the Paris Peace Congress , Humboldt had achieved little for his own goals and sat between stools. After the negotiations had been concluded, due to the clear conflict between Metternich and Humboldt, his role was played out in Vienna. In Berlin, Hardenberg did not want to offer the potential rival any space; and the post of Prussian ambassador in Paris, which was actually intended for him, failed due to French resistance. For example, he was initially sent to Frankfurt am Main for follow-up negotiations on open territorial issues in the German Confederation for the whole of 1816 and then - at his own request for a limited time - appointed as envoy to London. He continued to strive for at least a ministerial position, as had been in mind since 1808, which Hardenberg had repeatedly promised him and which had been withheld from him. Now he was no longer trying to reach a decision on this by mutual agreement, but in contrast to Hardenberg. Humboldt only looked after the ambassador's affairs in London for a good six months, then he asked, ostensibly for family reasons, to be recalled. Hardenberg accepted the request to keep him away from Berlin, and only a second, addressed directly to the king, brought half success: Humboldt was once again supposed to protect Prussian interests with the German Confederation in Frankfurt am Main.

In January 1819 he was finally appointed by the king to a ministerial office, that of estate affairs. Instead of taking immediate action, Humboldt asked for time to orientate himself and made it clear that he wanted a secondary position that was independent of Hardenberg. Humboldt agreed to only accept the alternative of accepting the position immediately as offered or not at all. Under other conditions, this could have offered the chance to create liberal foundations for a constitutional monarchy and thus the constitutional promise of Friedrich Wilhelm III. to fulfill under their own direction. In order to obtain what was certainly the last possible effect in this regard, Humboldt let the renewed demand for a reform of the State Council rest and accepted the offered ministry despite Hardenberg's continued reserve and regardless of his own constitutional plans. The politically interested public, whose expectations had probably already tipped the scales in favor of the offer to Humboldt, reacted accordingly happily to his acceptance. Until July, however, he remained busy with his Frankfurt duties before he took up the new position in Berlin.

At the worst possible moment for his constitutional ideas, Humboldt now had to take office. At the same time as his inauguration, the Karlovy Vary resolutions were negotiated and passed between the Prussian and Austrian heads of government , which provided for the suppression and persecution of liberal aspirations at universities and in public life. Although Hardenberg's and Humboldt's draft constitution was presented to the constitutional commission appointed by the king under different auspices, the die against a constitutional development in Prussia had already been cast with the Karlovy Vary Agreement. Humboldt's fight, for which he was even able to win a number of his colleagues at times, took place in a long-lost position. His vigorous advocacy against arbitrary police measures in the course of "demagogue" persecutions led to Hardenberg's instigation to his dismissal on December 31, 1819, which he calmly accepted, renouncing pension claims.

Builder and castle owner in Tegel

Humboldt redefined the place and content of his own existence. He decided in favor of his parents' inheritance in Tegel as the future center of his life, albeit in a form that corresponded to his inclinations and aesthetic ideas in a completely different way than was the case for "Schloss Langweil" from childhood. Ancient art and culture had become the most important benchmark in his educational path: Now they should also shape the house. This required extensive renovation and expansion of the existing complex, with which Humboldt entrusted Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who had been valued since their meetings in Rome . Schinkel expanded the existing building stock in an architectural bravura with a four-tower classicist facade and created an interior that was then furnished in a stylish way with the acquisitions of marble sculptures and plaster casts made by Wilhelm and Caroline over the decades. This not only resulted in a unique residential complex, but also a first Prussian antiquity museum.

The congenial collaboration of Humboldt and Schinkel - the inauguration of the renovation took place in October 1824 in the presence of the Prussian Crown Prince couple and other illustrious guests - was to be repeated a few years later when the Altes Museum am Lustgarten was built - master builder: Schinkel, object furnishings: Wilhelm von Humboldt come to fruition. In his capacity as chairman of the Verein der Kunstfreunde, founded in 1825, which promoted art and artists, Humboldt, with his extensive knowledge of the ancient world, was undoubtedly extremely useful in setting up the Altes Museum . And so, in the course of the museum's opening in 1830, he again enjoyed great esteem and honors from the king and was asked to attend the meetings of the State Council again from now on. Serious political engagement was no longer considered, and Humboldt was then only cautious about his seat of honor.

At the end of his life, Humboldt opened up a new area with the published correspondence, according to Michael Maurer , with which he was able to set a monument for himself. Correspondence by letter would therefore have been of particular importance to him, who at times had struggled in vain for a poetic productivity that met his own demands and who perhaps for that reason did not follow a notion that a person could be realized in a work, which was probably more appropriate for Goethe and Schiller . Humboldt found himself in life itself, in the incompleteness and abundance that it contained. "It is precisely this closeness to life that is reflected in the letter, in the countless facets of thousands of letters to dozens of interlocutors, in the chosen, changing you."

In 1829, after Caroline's death, who had encouraged and strengthened him in all walks of life, Humboldt began to age more rapidly; he himself meticulously described the symptoms of Parkinson's disease that was developing in him .

Every evening he, who also otherwise adhered to a clearly structured daily routine in his Tegel domicile, dictated a sonnet off the cuff . That of December 26, 1834 contains the lines:

I love you, the silent walls of my apartment,
and I have built you up with love;
if one sees the meaning of the dweller in the house,
mine will last long after me in you.

His descendants contributed to the realization of this vision - across all the historical shifts of the 19th and 20th centuries - and continued the dual use of Tegel Castle as a family residence and museum, which is partially accessible to interested visitors, until the present day.

Theodor Fontane paid tribute to the family grave in the castle park on his hikes through the Mark Brandenburg : “The famous couple of brothers, who were to give this piece of Brandenburg sand for centuries a meaning and make it a pilgrimage site for thousands, rests there together at the feet of a granite column from whose height the figure of 'hope' looks down on the graves of both. "

Founder of comparative linguistics research and science

Wilhelm von Humboldt, chalk drawing by Johann Joseph Schmeller

During the decade and a half in his Tegel Empire, Humboldt was primarily concerned with language studies. He had partly collected the material for this himself on his travels, partly developed it in his extensive correspondence, and partly obtained it from his brother Alexander's research trips. From 1827 the brother was back in Berlin and often visited Tegel. After Wilhelm's death, which he survived for more than two decades, he wrote:

“He saw a new general linguistics arise alongside himself and powerfully promoted a reduction of the manifold in the structure of language to types that are based in the mental faculties of mankind: encompassing the whole world in this manifold, exploring every language in its structure as if it were it was the only object of his research, [...] the immortalized was not only among his contemporaries the one who had studied most languages ​​grammatically; He was also the one who explored the connection between all forms of language and their influence on the spiritual education of mankind most deeply and most sensibly. "

In addition to the foreign languages ​​learned at a young age, Humboldt's command of languages ​​extended to English, Italian, Spanish, Basque, Hungarian, Czech, and Lithuanian; His scientific research focused on the native languages ​​of America (Náhuatl-Mexican, Otomí, Huastek, Maya, Tarahumara, Quechua, Muisca, Guaraní, etc.), Coptic, Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian Sanskrit, Burmese, and Hawaiian and Old Javanese. Wilhelm von Humboldt is one of the founders of Basque linguistics. From his studies of the ancient American languages ​​from 1820 to 1823 around thirty grammars and dictionaries, which he wrote and which were more or less extensive, emerged. In a lecture on the origin of grammatical forms and their influence on the development of ideas , he tried to show that the educational value of languages ​​is determined by the extent to which they are rich in grammatical forms. In this regard, Humboldt's (ancient) Greek, Sanskrit and Semitic languages ​​were particularly valued .

In his Typology of Languages, Humboldt assumed that language had to pour the substance of the world of appearances into mental form. Language mediates between empirical facts and ideas. The degree of formation of matter results in a genetic scale of language evolution with three types: At the lowest level, language initially only designates objects, and the connections must be considered by those who understand. B. is facilitated by the position within the sentence. Humboldt describes the languages ​​at this level as isolating language . However, thinking about grammatical references slows down the flow of thoughts. In the second stage, the agglutinating languages ​​have form- giving components in the form of affixes , such as: B. in Turkish. This makes the grammatical references more explicit, but here, too, the root of the word and the formative components are still clearly separated. At the third, highest level, the word itself acquires a “grammatical individuality” through inflection (number, gender, case, etc.), especially through root inflection , and thus not only becomes a lexical carrier of meaning, but also shows itself through incorporated or changed word components also the grammatical relationships. Examples are the old Indo-European ( Sanskrit , ancient Greek ) or the Semitic languages. Because at this stage no matter remains formless, i.e. every sound unit is permeated by a conceptual unit, the language inspires and moves through its “eurythmy”, which intensifies the effect of the ideas.

However, the Chinese language, a language in which a highly developed intellectual culture was expressed, was just as much a problem for Humboldt's typology as the decline in inflection in modern European languages ​​(e.g. in English). So he modified his theory of stages: Poor inflection and thus relative formlessness no longer meant for him intellectual simplicity or even mindlessness. On the contrary, the disappearance of flexion allows greater mobility of the mind; At a developed level, once he has gained confidence in dealing with the forms, he no longer needs the display of the grammatical relationships through morphological indicators with "full-sounding syllables" (as in the case of the root inflection), but he resolves the inflection forms with the help of auxiliary verbs and Prepositions on. As a result, analytical languages ​​such as Chinese or English required the mind to do more work than the “almost machine-like” help provided by inflection: Here, thought freely rules over the sounds of speech and frees itself from the material aspects of the inflected forms. With this, of course, language loses some of its aesthetic qualities. The parallels between Humboldt's developmental typology and the aesthetic ideal of inflectional languages ​​and Hegel's dialectical development of art through to the ideal of the classical art form cannot be overlooked.

Postage stamp (1985) for the 150th anniversary of death

The source of this comprehensive linguistic research urge was Humboldt's conception of man , in which language played the key role: “Because the human mind is the cradle, home and dwelling of language, all its properties pass over to the same thing unnoticed and hidden from itself.” And In a treatise on the national character of languages, Humboldt writes: “In so far as language, in that it denotes, actually creates, gives indefinite thinking a stamp, the spirit , supported by the action of several , penetrates the essence of things in new ways yourself a. […] Some nations are more content with the picture that their language creates for them of the world, and only try to bring more light, context and balance into it. Others dig themselves more laboriously into the thought, believing that they can never put enough into the expression to make it adaptable, and thereby neglect the perfection of the form. The languages ​​of both then bear the stamp of it. "

Interpersonal understanding in a developed form requires a common language; and, according to Humboldt, this is also the driving force and medium of scientific progress: “For understanding is not a meeting of modes of representation in an indivisible point, but a meeting of spheres of thought, which are shared by the general part and dominate the individual. In this way the spiritual advancement of the human race becomes possible, since every expansion of thought that has been gained can pass into the possession of others without shackling freedom in them, which is necessary for appropriation and for new expansion. ”In every dialogue in which a subject opens up hits linguistic objects that the other person has formed, uses them and develops them further, but also through the constant reshaping of thoughts in the case of multilingualism, the emergence of this common language can be promoted, which is always a lively, dialogical and not just an artifact or through Is a convention-based character system.

Humboldt's remark about the convention theory of language reads like an anticipated critique of the semiotics of the 20th century :

“The most detrimental influence on the interesting treatment of any language study has had the limited notion that language came about by convention and that the word is nothing but a sign of an independent thing or concept. This view, of course undeniably correct up to a certain point, but furthermore also completely wrong, kills all spirit and banishes all life as soon as it begins to dominate, and one thanks to it for the so often repeated platitudes: [...] that every language, if one only knows how to use it correctly, is about equally good [...] the language is its own and independent being, an individual, the sum of all words, the language is a world that lies between the appearing external and the active in us lies in the middle [...] "

Different languages ​​require different spaces of association for the terms they designate. For this reason, replacing specific linguistic symbols with mathematical universals would miss the essence of language, “which can only be grasped as particular.” Even the words used to designate empirical objects are never perfect synonyma in different languages ; This applies all the more to terms for thoughts and sensations with even more indefinite outlines. For Humboldt, language, as a never-ending organic whole, is closely related to the individuality and thinking styles of those who speak it.

In this sense, the Tegel brothers experienced a particularly fruitful meeting of spheres of thought together - and let posterity benefit from it. Because of his political offices, Wilhelm developed more Prussian patriotism and occasionally missed it with Alexander, who stayed in Paris for a long time. But basically both of them lacked any patriotic narrow-mindedness, and in their academic work they were united by their cosmopolitan approach. Herbert Scurla saw in the following sentences by Wilhelm von Humboldt, to which Alexander expressly referred in "Kosmos", a common legacy of the Humboldt brothers:

“If we want to designate an idea that is visible through the whole of history in an increasingly expanded validity; If any one proves the often disputed but still more often misunderstood perfection of the whole race: it is the idea of ​​humanity, the endeavor to abolish the limits which prejudices and one-sided views of all kinds are hostile placed between men; and to treat all of humanity, regardless of religion, nation and color, as a large, closely fraternized tribe, as a whole existing for the attainment of a purpose, the free development of inner strength. This is the ultimate, external goal of sociability and at the same time the direction of man, which man himself has placed in him through indefinite expansion of his existence. "


Caroline and Wilhelm von Humboldt had eight children:

  • Caroline von Humboldt (* May 16, 1792 - January 19, 1837)
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt (May 5, 1794 - August 15, 1803)
  • Eduard Emil Theodor von Humboldt-Dacheroeden (born January 19, 1797 - † July 26, 1871) ∞ Mathilde von Heineken (born May 4, 1800 - † September 19, 1881), called Dacheroeden by Humboldt from October 3, 1809
  • Aurora Raffaele Adelheid von Humboldt (* May 17, 1800 - December 14, 1856) ∞ August von Hedemann (1785-1859)
  • Gabriele von Humboldt (1802–1887) ∞ Heinrich von Bülow (1792–1846)
  • Louise von Humboldt (July 2, 1804 - October 18, 1804)
  • Gustav von Humboldt (7 January 1806 - 12 November 1807)
  • Hermann von Humboldt (April 23, 1809 - December 29, 1870) ∞ Eleonore Camilla Priscilla von Reitzenstein (May 27, 1827 - December 16, 1871), from the Schwarzenstein family

Philosopher of his own kind

Philosophy can also be added to the various fields of activity in which Wilhelm von Humboldt tried himself and gained importance, as Volker Gerhardt shows. An important witness to Humboldt's philosophical rank is John Stuart Mill , who placed him in line with Socrates in his canonical work On Liberty and counted him among the most important philosophers of all. Mill added the complementary structure of freedom, diversity and self-determination to the combination of individuality, freedom and the public, which was decisive for Socrates, in connection with the claim to truth and knowledge. This connection, Mill noted, was otherwise only to be found in Humboldt's educational theory. For Volker Gerhardt it becomes clear that "Humboldt, together with Socrates, is the most important source of information for Mill's reasoning of his theory of freedom."

According to Gerhardt, Humboldt differs from the representatives of modern political philosophy in that he does not deal primarily with problems of legitimation, justice, the form of government or the demarcation of politics and morality, but that he - the legitimacy of the form of government and government action presupposing - let us deal with the question “what a well-legitimized state that is concerned with the welfare of the people can contribute to the best possible development of the strengths of its citizens ! [...] His attention is focused on what makes a legitimate state a good state! "Humboldt's criterion for this turns out to be an" unheard of paradigm shift "in that he only uses the satisfaction of the citizens as a yardstick:" Humboldt dares, luck and Linking the satisfaction of people to a condition for which the state is never responsible, but always also the effort of the individual with pleasure: And that is the development of the best strength of the individual as described by the concept of education. "Make it The state, to offer its citizens this leeway, can then count on an increase in its possibilities, Gerhardt continued in his interpretation of Humboldt. "Only if the States:" If participation is the basic principle of politics, she has found in Wilhelm von Humboldt the first time an all-stranded dynamic shape. "Just so-scale political system but would also viewed in the long term as legitimate education to support so that everyone can find a productive way of shaping their own existence , one can hope that the legitimacy of the community will also endure. "

Humboldt's early philosophical writings, including On the Gender Difference and Its Influence on Organic Nature and On the Male and Female Form , do not aim at topics of contemporary school philosophy, but instead show him, according to Gerhardt, as a sui generis thinker based on his own problems . “ Individuality , universality , life and the self-understanding spirit are the four dimensions whose integral connection Wilhelm von Humboldt is concerned with in his philosophical writings.” They offer solutions “that are finally to be taken note of by contemporary philosophy so that they can be critically examined and systematically worked on. ”Gerhardt sees the reasons why technical philosophers were reserved about Humboldt because he sometimes treats what seems to be marginal and does not always reveal the subject-specific subject to which he wants to contribute. It must therefore be “salvaged like a treasure trove of thoughts that do not belong to the central doctrinal pieces of philosophy.” Georg Zenkert has a similar view of the fragments of Wilhelm von Humboldt's writings on educational theory, which fully served their purpose as a guide: “Less is fragmentary the work of Humboldt as his reception. "

Image of man in excerpts from scriptures

Humboldt's ideas and writings have had a long-lasting impact on questions of education, identity and language. These were often more about outline sketches and thematic introductions than detailed concepts. Michael Maurer sees centrifugal tendencies in the diverse and fragmented work of Humboldt and an “astonishing carelessness” in this regard. But Humboldt was less concerned with its effect on others than with gaining one's own being. He treated the effect as a secondary aspect, which, as it were, inevitably occurs when there is enough substance. He saw his work not so much in his writings as in his life. "He stylized his biography, himself, as a role model from which one could learn - and can learn." In everything, Humboldt aimed at the big picture of being human. His language expressions were and are not always easy to follow.

Education as an individual determination

At the center of Humboldt's thinking and striving was education both as a personal task and as a state task to be carried out in the best possible socio-political manner, to which he, as a reformer, has devoted himself as much as he has shown. In his writings there are still reflections and references that make his motives in this regard clear in an expanded form.

“The last task of our existence: to create as great a content as possible for the concept of humanity in our person, both during the period of our life and beyond, through the traces of living work that we leave behind This task is solved solely through the connection of our ego with the world in the most general, active and free interaction. This alone is now also the actual yardstick for judging the processing of every branch of human knowledge. For only that path can be the right one in everyone on which the eye is able to pursue an immovable progress up to this final goal, and here alone can the secret be sought, to animate that which otherwise remains eternally dead and useless and to fertilize. "

“Man should retain his character which he once received through nature and situation; only in him does he move easily, is he active and happy. That is why he should no less satisfy the general demands of people and set no limits to his spiritual training. [...] Man can certainly collect enough material in individual cases and periods of his life, but never as a whole. The more material it transforms into form, the more diversity it transforms into unity, the richer, livelier, more powerful, more fertile it is. But the influence of many relations gives it such a variety. The more it opens up to it, the more new sides are alluded to in it, the more active its inner activity must be to develop them individually and to combine them into a whole. "

About gender differences

Already in the conversations with Friedrich Schiller during his time in Jena, Humboldt tried to clarify how, according to the idea of ​​the “whole human being”, the male and female elements combine in manifold variations in the respective individual. He also wrote two essays, both of which appeared in the Horen in 1795 .

“The generating force is more attuned to the effect, the receiving force more to the reaction. What is animated by the former we call masculine , what animates the latter is feminine . Everything male shows more self-activity, everything female shows more suffering receptivity. However, this difference exists only in direction, not in capacity. [...] It is precisely through this difference that they satisfy nature's demands. Should the violence of the male force threatening destruction be contrasted with another, it must not be of the same kind. [...] Since everything male now has strained energy , everything female has perseverance , the ceaseless interaction of both forms the unlimited power of nature, whose effort never dies down and whose rest never degenerates into inaction. "

“The figure of women is definitely more eloquent than the male; and, like the harmony of soulful music, all its movements are more finely and gently modulated, since here too the man betrays a greater vehemence and heaviness. [...] But not the figure alone, also the voice, which is even more powerful to arouse the feeling directly, has the same peculiarity in both sexes. It sounds gentler and more melodic, but in manifold, changing vibrations from the woman's mouth; simpler, but more penetrating and stronger from the man's mouth, and both express the feelings of their soul according to their character. "

Berglar saw these publications as an outlet for Humboldt to scientifically sublimate his specific eroticism.

About historiography

Humboldt's reflections on the "moving causes in world history" and on a coherent historiography arose after he left the diplomatic service. As the "causes of world events" he determined one of the following three: the nature of things, human freedom and the coincidence of chance.

“There are two things that the course of this investigation has tried to hold on to: that in everything that happens, an idea that is not immediately perceptible prevails, but that this idea can only be recognized by the events themselves. The historian, therefore, seeking everything in material matter alone, must not exclude their rule from his presentation; he must at least leave the space open for their effect; Furthermore, going further, he must keep his mind receptive to them and active in order to punish and recognize them; but above all he must be careful not to reproduce ideas that he has created himself for reality, or even to sacrifice something of the living wealth of the individual in search of the connection of the whole. This freedom and delicacy of opinion must have become so inherent in his nature that he brings it with him to contemplation of every occurrence; for none is separate from the general context, and of everything that happens, as shown above, lies a part outside the circle of immediate perception. If the historian lacks that freedom of opinion, he does not recognize the events in their scope and depth; if it lacks gentle tenderness, it violates its simple and living truth. "

For the historian Lothar Gall , Humboldt's ideas in this regard go “far beyond what is feasible”. It is an ideal that no historian's work can correspond to, and Humboldt himself never tackled a major historiographical work that had even come close to fulfilling his theoretical demands. Michael Maurer sees one reason for this in Humboldt's “platonic forms of thought” (see theory of ideas ), which is based on cultural understanding and historical thinking . The size of his will in many cases meant that he got stuck in drafts. One of the causes was a methodological problem: while his brother Alexander was able to gain groundbreaking knowledge of nature by collecting, observing and analyzing, Wilhelm struggled “with the Platonic objectification of a subject whose subjectivity he had clearly recognized, but whose literary representation he did not want to succeed as long as he tried to keep the individual at bay. ” Leopold von Ranke continued Wilhelm von Humboldt's historiographical approach as the founder of a school of history,“ which was saturated with Humboldtian historical thinking. ”


In 1814 he received the Iron Cross 1st class on a white ribbon. The Black Eagle Order , the highest Prussian order, was given to him by King Friedrich Wilhelm III. awarded on September 15, 1830.

In August 1815 he was awarded the Dannebrogorden .

In 1822, Humboldt was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society .

Paul Martin Otto created the seat in front of the main building of the Humboldt University in Berlin in 1883.

The moon crater Humboldt was officially named after Wilhelm von Humboldt by the International Astronomical Union in 1935 .

The German Society for Linguistics awards the Wilhelm von Humboldt Prize every year .

See also


  • Socrates and Plato on the deity . 1787-1790
  • Ideas for an attempt to determine the limits of the effectiveness of the state (Written in 1792; the entire text was only published posthumously, in 1851, from the estate) Digitized and full text in the German Text Archive
  • About the gender difference and its influence on organic nature . 1794
  • About male and female form . 1795
  • Plan of a Comparative Anthropology . 1797
  • The eighteenth century . 1797
  • Aesthetic attempts. First part. About Göthe's Herrmann and Dorothea . Braunschweig: Vieweg, 1799 ( www.zeno.org )
  • Lazio and Hellas . 1806
  • History of the decline and fall of the Greek free states . 1807-1808
  • Memorandum on the external and internal organization of the higher scientific institutions in Berlin . 1808-1809
  • About the future state of Germany . 1813 (memorandum)
  • Pindar's "Olympic Odes" . Translation from the Greek, 1816
  • Aeschylus' "Agamemnon" . Translation from the Greek, 1816
  • About the comparative language study in relation to the different epochs of language development . 1820
  • On the job of the historian . 1821
  • About the origin of grammatical forms and their influence on the development of ideas . 1822
  • About the alphabet and its connection with the structure of language . 1824
  • Bhagavad-Gita . 1826
  • About the Dualis . 1827
  • About the language of the South Sea islands . 1828
  • About Schiller and the course of his spiritual development . 1830
  • Review of Goethe's second stay in Rome . 1830
  • About the difference in the structure of human language and its influence on the spiritual development of the human race . 1836
  • About the Kawi Language on the Island of Java , 1838, Volume 1 , Volume 2 , Volume 3 .
  • Sonnets , collection of poems, with a preface by Alexander v. Humboldt, with the remark “originally not intended for publication”; engraved portrait as intent, first edition posthumously, foreword by Alexander v. Humboldt, Berlin, in Georg Reimer, 1853, 352 p. [1] .

Work editions

  • Collected Writings . Edition of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, ed. by Albert Leitzmann , Berlin 1903–1936, reprinted 1968.
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt. Works in five volumes . Edited by Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft , Darmstadt (Vol. I: Schriften zur Anthropologie und Geschichte, 3rd, compared to the 2nd unchanged. Edition 1980), (Vol. II: Schriften zur Altertumskunde und Ästhetik. Die Vasken, 3rd, compared to the 2nd edition. unchanged. ed. 1979), (Vol. III: Schriften zur Sprachphilosophie, 4th unchanged. Edition. 1963), (Vol. IV: Schriften zur Politik und Bildungswesen, 2nd, complete ed. 1964), (Vol. V: Small writings, autobiographical material, poems, letters, comments and notes on Volume IV, Appendix).
  • Works in five volumes . Study edition, Darmstadt 2002

Wilhelm von Humboldt. Writings on Linguistics Edited by Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, Tilman Borsche, Bernhard Hurch, Jürgen Trabant and Gordon Whittaker. Supervised by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh 1994 ff. (8 volumes so far)

Single issues

  • About the difference in the structure of human language and its influence on the spiritual development of the human race . Paderborn 1998
  • About the language. Speeches in front of the academy . Tubingen 1994
  • Education and language . 5. through Edition, Paderborn 1997
  • Ideas for an attempt to determine the limits of the state's effectiveness . Stuttgart 1986


  • Wilhelm von Humboldt. Letters: historical-critical edition. Edited and commented by Philip Mattson . Dept. 1 vol. 1: 1781 to June 1791. Berlin 2014
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt. Letters: historical-critical edition. Edited and commented by Philip Mattson . Dept. 1 vol. 2: July 1791 to June 1795. Berlin 2015
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt. Letters to Friedrich August Wolf. Critical to the text ed. and commented by Philip Mattson . Berlin, New York 1990
  • Letters from Wilhelm von Humboldt to a friend , with a facsimile of Humboldt's, anonymous edition: Therese von Bacheracht , FA Brockhaus, Leipzig , 1847, 2nd edition 1848
  • Letters from Wilhelm von Humboldt to a friend. With an introduction by Ludwig Geiger . Stuttgart 1884. Reprint: Bremen 2012
  • New letters from Wilhelm von Humboldt to Schiller 1796–1803. Ed. And ed. by Friedrich Clemens Ebrard . Berlin 1911. Reprint: Paderborn 2011
  • Wilhelm and Caroline von Humboldt in their letters. Edited by Anna von Sydow . 7 volumes. Leipzig 1910-1916


Lexicon entries


Detailed biographies

  • Rudolf Freese (Ed.): Wilhelm von Humboldt. His life and work, represented in letters, diaries and documents of his time. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt, 1986.
  • Lothar Gall : Wilhelm von Humboldt. A Prussian in the world. Propylaen Verlag, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-549-07369-8 .
  • Rudolf Haym : Wilhelm von Humboldt. Life picture and characteristics. Gaertner, Berlin 1856.
  • Michael Maurer : Wilhelm von Humboldt. A life as a work. Böhlau Verlag, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2016, ISBN 978-3-412-50282-9 .
  • Herbert Scurla : Wilhelm von Humboldt. Becoming and working. Claassen, Düsseldorf 1976, ISBN 3-546-48255-7 .
  • Paul Robinson Sweet: Wilhelm von Humboldt. A biography. Ohio State University Press, Columbus 1978-1980 (English).


  • Dietrich Benner : Wilhelm von Humboldt's theory of education. 3. Edition. Juventa, Weinheim 2003.
  • Irina Mallmann: The idea of ​​general education according to Wilhelm von Humboldt and the economization of modern educational processes. GRIN Verlag, Munich 2018, ISBN 978-3-668-81016-7 .
  • Ruprecht Mattig: Wilhelm von Humboldt as an ethnographer. Educational Research in the Age of Enlightenment. Juventa Verlag, Weinheim 2019, ISBN 978-3-7799-6088-1 .
  • Clemens Menze : The educational reform of Wilhelm von Humboldt. Schroedel, Hanover 1975.
  • Clemens Menze: Fundamentals of the educational philosophy of Wilhelm von Humboldt. In: Hans Steffen (Hrsg.): Education and society. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1972, pp. 5-27.
  • Heinz-Elmar Tenorth : Wilhelm von Humboldt. Education policy and university reform. Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2018, ISBN 978-3-506-78880-1 .


  • Tilman Borsche : Speech Views. The concept of human speech in Wilhelm von Humboldt's philosophy of language. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1981.
  • Hermann Fischer-Harriehausen: Wilhelm von Humboldt's principle of relativity from today's perspective . In: Anthropos. Internationale Zeitschrift für Völker- und Sprachenkunde , Vol. 89 (1994), pp. 224-233.
  • Jürgen Trabant : Apeliotes or the sense of language: Wilhelm von Humboldt's language image. Fink, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-7705-2381-4 .
  • Jürgen Trabant: Views of the World. Wilhelm von Humboldt's language project . Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-406-64021-6 .
  • Jürgen Trabant (Ed.): Wilhelm von Humboldt. Language, Poetry and History. Fink, Munich 2018, ISBN 978-3-7705-6344-9 .
  • Frank Schneider: The type of language. A reconstruction of Wilhelm von Humboldt's concept of language on the basis of the question of language origin. Nodus, Münster 1995, ISBN 3-89323-124-2 .
  • Elke Slomma: Wilhelm von Humboldt and Indonesian Studies in Berlin. In: Ingrid Wessel (Ed.): Indonesia at the end of the 20th century. 2nd Edition. Abera, Hamburg 1998, ISBN 3-934376-07-X .
  • James W. Underhill: Humboldt, Worldview and Language. , Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2009.


  • Cord-Friedrich Berghahn: The risk of autonomy. Studies on Karl Philipp Moritz, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Heinrich Gentz, Friedrich Gilly and Ludwig Tieck. Universitätsverlag Winter, Heidelberg 2012, ISBN 978-3-8253-5988-1 .
  • Siegfried August Kaehler : Wilhelm von Humboldt and the state. Munich, Berlin 1927.
  • Eberhard Kessel: Wilhelm von Humboldt. Idea and reality. Stuttgart 1967.
  • Pedagogical Review , Volume 71, 2017, Issue 5: Wilhelm von Humboldt (* 22.06.1767) on his 250th birthday.
  • Paul Ortwin Rave : Wilhelm von Humboldt and the Tegel Castle. Berlin 1952.
  • Hazel Rosenstrauch : eloquent and equal. Caroline and Wilhelm von Humboldt . Eichborn 2009.

Movie and TV

Web links

Wikisource: Wilhelm von Humboldt  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Wilhelm von Humboldt  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Quoted from Gall 2011, p. 10 f.
  2. a b Maximilian Gritzner : Chronological register of the Brandenburg-Prussian class increases and acts of grace from 1600–1873. Berlin 1874, p. 23.
  3. ^ Andreas W. Daum: Alexander von Humboldt . CH Beck, Munich 2019, p. 13-14 .
  4. ^ Manfred Geyer: Enlightenment. The European project. Reinbek b. Hamburg 2012. p. 338 ff.
  5. ^ Manfred Geyer: Enlightenment. The European project. Reinbek b. Hamburg 2012. pp. 338, 342; Gall 2011, pp. 29, 31.
  6. Berglar 1970, p. 39 f .; Gall 2011, pp. 32-37, 51, 87 f.
  7. Quoted from Scurla 1984, p. 59.
  8. Gall 2011, p. 52.
  9. Quoted from Scurla 1984, p. 63.
  10. Gall 2011, p. 31.
  11. Detailed considerations in Scurla 1984, pp. 73-85.
  12. Berglar 1970, pp. 44-48.
  13. Berglar 1970, p. 42.
  14. Berglar 1970, p. 42.
  15. ^ Andreas W. Daum: Alexander von Humboldt . CH Beck, Munich 2019, p. 31-34 .
  16. Scurla 1984, p. 198.
  17. ^ Gall 2011, p. 83.
  18. ^ Gall 2011, p. 89.
  19. Maurer 2016, p. 146 f.
  20. Quoted from Scurla 1984, p. 256.
  21. ^ Andreas W. Daum: Alexander von Humboldt . CH Beck, 2019, p. 62, 66, 103 .
  22. Quoted from Scurla 1984, p. 266.
  23. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume I: Writings on anthropology and history (3rd edition 1980), pp. 64 and 71 f.
  24. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume I: Writings on anthropology and history (3rd edition 1980), p. 236 f. (Theory of human education)
  25. Gall 2011, pp. 133-136.
  26. ^ Report of the Section of Cult and Teaching to the King, December 1809. In: Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume IV: Writings on politics and education. Darmstadt 1982 (3rd edition), pp. 210-238, here p. 218.
  27. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume IV: Writings on politics and education. Darmstadt 1982 (3rd edition), p. 189.
  28. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume IV: Writings on politics and education. Darmstadt 1982 (3rd edition), p. 224 f.
  29. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume IV: Writings on politics and education. Darmstadt 1982 (3rd edition), p. 169 f.
  30. ^ Gall 2011, p. 160.
  31. Berglar 1970, p. 94.
  32. Quote from Manfred Geier: The Humboldt Brothers. Reinbek bei Hamburg 2009, p. 267. One of the effects of the founding of the Berlin university was the closure of the Frankfurt / Oder University , which Humboldt had attended.
  33. Gall 2011, pp. 162-165.
  34. “Humboldt needs the Prussian king and state authorities to give his ideas of education, pure science and language, literature and culture a productive freedom. Therefore it is not difficult for him to leave the civil service on his own initiative if he does not succeed in what he is striving for. […] Since March 31, 1810, however, cabinet orders have 'destroyed his effectiveness as section chief' […] But Humboldt cannot and does not want to work like this. The lowering of the service law 'deeply offended' him personally. For him it is a question of honor and duty to resign from his post under these conditions. ”(Manfred Geier: Die Brüder Humboldt , Reinbek bei Hamburg 2009, p. 269 f.)
  35. Scurla 1984, pp. 406-411.
  36. Quoted from Gall 2011, p. 298.
  37. Scurla 1984, p. 422 f .; Gall 2011, note 235, p. 403.
  38. ^ Letter of July 25, 1813; quoted in Gall 2011, p. 258.
  39. “His indirect resistance to the Russian plans,” says Gall with a view to the monarchical restoration alliance of the Holy Alliance, “also earned him the opposition of the tsar and the associated mistrust of his own king, who continues to adhere to the felt bound by a close, emotionally sound partnership with the Russian monarch. And England and Austria, too, saw their own plans seriously disturbed by Humboldt's behavior, not to mention France. On the other hand, the representatives of the German national movement and the representatives of the Prussian army who were allegedly cheated of their victory saw the Prussian diplomats with Humboldt at their head as symbolic figures for Prussia's retreat in the diplomatic field. "(Gall 2011, p. 297.)
  40. Gall 2011, p. 313 f.
  41. Gall 2011, pp. 321-323.
  42. Gall 2011, p. 324.
  43. Gall 2011, pp. 334-337; Scurla 1984, pp. 562-564.
  44. “The new Tegel was more than just the construction of a private living area; it meant an aesthetic statement, a monument-like foundation, which should preserve and convey the individuality of the founder to posterity. "(Maurer 2016, p. 278)
  45. Maurer 2016, p. 253. His path led Humboldt to the realization, writes Maurer elsewhere, "that decisive things cannot be achieved through a work, but through the development of all forces in the shaping of one's own life." Ibid, p. 11)
  46. A brief medical analysis of Humboldt's illness can be found in Meticulous First Describer - How Humboldt lived his Parkinson's disease , CME 2008; 5 (2): 45; Springer publishing house
  47. Berglar 1970, p. 134. The total of 1183 old age sunnets were placed in a hidden box after they were composed, which Wilhelm von Humboldt's clerk Ferdinand Schulz gave to the deceased's brother, who was surprised by this, as an inheritance. (Maurer 2016, p. 280)
  48. Quoted from Scurla 1976, p. 605.
  49. ↑ In 1827 he spoke with Harry Maitey , the first Hawaiian in Prussia, and presented the results in 1828 at the Berlin Academy of Sciences (Moore, Anneliese: Harry Maitey: From Polynesia to Prussia. In: Hawaiian Journal of History 11 (1977): 125-161, pp. 138-139).
  50. Gall 2011, p. 344 f.
  51. W. v. Humboldt: About the origin of grammatical forms and their influence on the development of ideas. Lecture 1822.
  52. About the Kawi language on the island of Java. (1830-35)
  53. ^ Afterword of the editor to: Wilhelm von Humboldt: Schriften zur Sprach. Edited by Michael Böhler. Supplemented edition Stuttgart 1995, p. 252.
  54. ^ Wilhelm von Humboldt: About the nature of language in general. From: Latium and Hellas . In: Writings on Language. Edited by Michael Böhler. Supplemented edition Stuttgart 1995, p. 7 f.
  55. Maurer 2016, p. 234.
  56. ^ Gerda Hassler: On the conception of language as an organic whole in Wilhelm von Humboldt and on its reinterpretations in the 19th century. In: Journal for Phonetics, Linguistics and Communication Research, 38 (1985) 5, pp. 564-575.
  57. Quoted from Scurla 1976, p. 611.
  58. ^ Volker Gerhardt: Wilhelm von Humboldt as a philosopher. In: Pedagogical Review. Issue 5, Volume 71, 2017, p. 460 f.
  59. ^ Volker Gerhardt: Wilhelm von Humboldt as a philosopher. In: Pedagogical Review. Issue 5, Volume 71, 2017, p. 462 f.
  60. ^ Volker Gerhardt: Wilhelm von Humboldt as a philosopher. In: Pedagogical Review. Issue 5, Volume 71, 2017, p. 466 f.
  61. ^ Volker Gerhardt: Wilhelm von Humboldt as a philosopher. In: Pedagogical Review. Issue 5, Volume 71, 2017, p. 462 f.
  62. ^ Georg Zenkert: Wilhelm von Humboldt's educational theory as anthropology. In: Pedagogical Review. Issue 5, Volume 71, 2017, p. 471.
  63. ^ For Peter Berglar, Wilhelm von Humboldt is, among other things, "the man of the many facets that constantly threatened to get confused, the universal ideas that found no proper place within the narrow Prussian-German reality of his day; the man, all in all, of approaches without perfection. "(Berglar 1962, p. 8 f.)
  64. Maurer 2016, p. 295.
  65. Lothar Gall refers to erratic statements that are sometimes too complex for readers. Humboldt himself had already described it to Friedrich Schiller as a mistake of his own, "throwing the ideas too raw and too much as a whole instead of properly processing and analyzing them."
  66. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume I: Writings on anthropology and history (3rd edition 1980), p. 235 f. (Theory of education)
  67. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume I: Writings on anthropology and history (3rd edition 1980), p. 340 f. and 346. (Plan of a comparative anthropology)
  68. Gall 2011, p. 78 f.
  69. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume I: Writings on anthropology and history (3rd edition 1980), p. 277 f. and 285. (About the gender difference)
  70. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume I: Writings on anthropology and history (3rd edition 1980), p. 334 f. (About the male and female form)
  71. Berglar 1962, p. 49 f. Berglar quotes elsewhere from Humboldt's sonnet cycle Woman loyalty from 1809, in which it says among other things: “Never forget it: to tolerate and love / the one she serves, woman is born. / Because luckily it is not chosen according to its own instincts, / only a tool for the benefit of others. "(Berglar 1962, p. 140.)
  72. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume I: Writings on Anthropology and History (3rd edition 1980), p. 579. (Considerations on the moving causes in world history)
  73. ^ Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (eds.): Wilhelm von Humboldt - works in five volumes. Volume I: Writings on anthropology and history (3rd edition 1980), p. 605 f. (On the Historian's Job)
  74. ^ Gall 2011, p. 355.
  75. Maurer 2016, p. 81. “With Humboldt, history can be explained by including the subject, the historian, in the process of knowledge. But it only works if you get involved in Humboldt's terminology. This includes the Platonic separation of phenomena and the ideas that rule them. "(Ibid., P. 226)
  76. Maurer 2016, p. 98 f.
  77. Maurer 2016, p. 228.
  78. Louis Schneider: The book of the black eagle . Page 208 (32), Duncker, Berlin 1870
  79. 1815, Aug. 10, 2nd class, Riddere, Kongelig dansk hof- og statskalender. 1826. Carl Friderich Schubart, Kiobenhavn, p. 9 digitized
  80. ^ Member History: Wilhelm von Humboldt. American Philosophical Society, accessed October 6, 2018 .
  81. Review in: Frankfurter Rundschau
predecessor Office successor
Wilhelm Uhden Prussian envoy to the Holy See
Basil of Ramdohr (from 1814)
Karl Finck von Finckenstein Prussian envoy to Austria
Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig von Krusemarck
Constans Philipp Wilhelm von Jacobi-Klöst Prussian envoy to the United Kingdom
Heinrich von Werther (from 1821)
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on December 16, 2005 .