Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg (2 May 1772 – 25 March 1801), better known by his pen name Novalis, was an 18th-century German aristocrat, poet, author, mystic and philosopher of Early German Romanticism.
Novalis was born into a minor aristocratic family in Lower Saxony. He was the second of eleven children; his early household observed a strict Peitist faith. He studied law at the University of Jena, the University of Leipzig,and the University of Wittenberg. While at Jena, he befriended the playwright and poet Friedrich Schiller, also published his first poem. In Leipzig, he met Friedrich Schlegel, becoming lifetime friends. Novalis completed his law degree in 1794 at the age of 22. He then worked as a legal assistant in Tennstedt immediately after graduating. There, he met Sophie von Kühn. The following year Novalis and Sophie became secretly engaged. Sophie became severely ill soon after the engagement and died just after her 15th birthday. Sophie's early death had a life-long impact on Novalis and his writing.
Novalis enrolled at the Mining Academy of Freiberg in 1797, where he studied a wide number of disciplines including electricity, medicine, chemistry, physics, mathematics, mineralogy, and natural philosophy. He also met many of the formative figures of Early Germanic Romanticism at this time, including Goethe, Friedrich Schelling, Jean Paul, and August Schlegel. After finishing his studies, Novalis served as a director of salt mines in Saxony and later in Thuringia. During this time, Novalis also wrote his major poetic and literary works, including Hymns to the Night, which was published in Friedrich Schlegel's Athenaeum. In 1800, Novalis began showing signs of illness, which is thought have been either tuberculosis or cystic fibrosis. He died on March 25, 1801 at the age of 28.
Novalis's early reputation as a romantic poet was primarily based on his literary works, which were published by his friends Friedrich Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck shortly after his death in 1802. These works include the collection of poems, Hymns to the Night and Spiritual Hymns, and his unfinished novels, Heinrich von Ofterdingen and The Novices at Sais. Schlegel and Tieck published only a small sample of his philosophical and scientific writings.
The depth of Novalis's knowledge in fields like philosophy and natural science has only come to be more broadly appreciated with the more extensive publication of his notebooks in the twentieth century. These notebooks show that Novalis was not only well read in these disciplines, he also sought to integrate this knowledge with his art. This goal can be seen in Novalis's use of the fragment, an literary form that he developed in collaboration with Friedrich Schlegel. The fragment allowed him to synthesize poetry, philosophy, and science into a single artform that could be used to address a wide variety of topics. Just as his Novalis's literary works has established his reputation as a poet, the notebooks and fragments have established his intellectual role in the formation of Early German Romanticism.