Christoph Friedrich Nicolai - Encyclopedia




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CHRISTOPH FRIEDRICH NICOLAI (1733-1811), German author and bookseller, was born on the 18th of March 1733 at Berlin, where his father, Christoph Gottlieb Nicolai (d. 1752), was the founder of the famous Nicolaische Buchhandlung. He received a good education, and in 1749 went to Frankfort-onOder to learn his father's business, finding time also to become acquainted with English literature. In 1752 he returned to Berlin, and began to take part in literary controversy by defending Milton against the attacks of J. C. Gottsched. His Briefe ilber den jetzigen Zustand der schonen Wissenschaften in Deutschland, published anonymously in 1755 and reprinted by G. Ellinger in 1894, were directed against both Gottsched and Gottsched's Swiss opponents, Johann Jakob Bodmer and Johann Jakob Breitinger; his enthusiasm for English literature won for him the friendship of Lessing and Moses Mendelssohn. In association with Mendelssohn he established in 1757 the Bibliothek der schonen Wissenschaften, a periodical which he conducted until 1760. With Lessing and Mendelssohn Nicolai founded in 1759 the famous Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend; and from 1765 to 1792 he edited the Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek. This latter periodical served as the organ of the so-called "popular philosophers," who warred against authority in religion and against what they conceived to be extravagance in literature. The new movement of ideas represented by Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Kant and Fichte, Nicolai was incapable of understanding, and he made himself ridiculous by foolish misrepresentation of the aims of these writers. Of Nicolai's independent works, perhaps the only one which has some historical value is his Anekdoten von Friedrich II. (1788-1792). His romances are forgotten, although Das Leben and die Meinungen des Herrn Magister Sebaldus Nothanker (1773-1776), and his satire on Goethe's Werther, Freuden des jungen Werthers (1775), had a certain reputation in their day. Between 1788 and 17 9 6 Nicolai published in 1 2 vols. a Schweiz, which bears witness to the narrow conservatism of his views in later life. He died in Berlin on the nth of January 1811.

Nicolai's Bildniss and Selbstbiographie was published by M. S. Lowe in the Bildnisse jetzt lebender Berliner Gelehrter, in 1806. See also L. F. G. von Gockingk, F. Nicolai's Leben and literarischer Nachlass (1820); J. Minor, Lessings Jugendfreunde, in J. Kurschner's Deutsche Nationalliteratur, vol. lxxii. (1883); O. Hoffmann, Herders Briefwechsel mit Nicolai (1887); E. Friedel, Zur Geschichte der Nicolaischen Buchhandlung (1891); and E. AltenkrUger, F. Nicolais Jugendschriften (1894).

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