August Wilhelm (later: von) Schlegel (September 8, 1767 – May 12, 1845) was a German poet, translator, critic, and leader of German Romanticism.
Schlegel was born at Hanover, where his father, Johann Adolf Schlegel (1721-1793), was a Lutheran pastor. He was educated at the Hanover gymnasium and at the university of Göttingen. With his brother Friedrich, the principal philosopher of German romanticism, he founded Athenaeum (1798-1800), the chief journal of the movement. Having spent some years as a tutor in the house of a banker at Amsterdam, he went to Jena, where, in 1796, he married Karoline, the widow of the physician Böhmer and in 1798 was appointed extraordinary professor. Here he began his translation of Shakespeare, which was ultimately completed, under the superintendence of Ludwig Tieck, by Tieck's daughter Dorothea and Wolf Heinrich, Graf von Baudissin. This rendering is one of the best poetical translations in German, or indeed in any language. At Jena Schlegel contributed to Schiller's periodicals the Horen and the Musenalmanach; and with his brother Friedrich he conducted the Athenaeum, the organ of the Romantic school. He also published a volume of poems, and carried on a rather bitter controversy with Kotzebue.
At this time the two brothers were remarkable for the vigour and freshness of their ideas, and commanded respect as the leaders of the new Romantic criticism. A volume of their joint essays appeared in 1801 under the title Charakteristiken und Kritiken. In 1802 Schlegel went to Berlin, where he delivered lectures on art and literature; and in the following year he published Ion, a tragedy in Euripidean style, which gave rise to a suggestive discussion on the principles of dramatic poetry. This was followed by Spanisches Theater (2 vols, 1803/1809), in which he presented admirable translations of five of Calderon's plays; and in another volume, Blumensträusse italienischer, spanischer und portugiesischer Poesie (1804), he gave translations of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian lyrics.
In 1807 he attracted much attention in France by an essay in the French language, Comparaison entre la Phèdre de Racine et celle d'Euripide, in which he attacked French classicism from the standpoint of the Romantic school. His lectures on dramatic art and literature (Über dramatische Kunst und Literatur, 1809-1811), which have been translated into most European languages, were delivered at Vienna in 1808. Meanwhile, after a divorce from his wife Karoline, in 1804, he travelled in France, Germany, Italy and other countries with Madame de Staël, who owed to him many of the ideas which she embodied in her work, De l'Allemagne.
In 1813 he acted as secretary of the crown prince of Sweden, through whose influence the right of his family to noble rank was revived. Schlegel was made a professor of literature at the university of Bonn in 1818, and during the remainder of his life occupied himself chiefly with oriental studies, although he continued to lecture on art and literature, and in 1828 he issued two volumes of critical writings (Kritische Schriften). In 1823-1830 he published the journal Indische Bibliothek and edited (1823) the Bhagavad Gita with a Latin translation, and (1829) the Ramayana. These works mark the beginning of Sanskrit scholarship in Germany.
After the death of Madame de Staël Schlegel married (1818) a daughter of Professor Paulus of Heidelberg; but this union was dissolved in 1821.
He died at Bonn in 1845.
As an original poet Schlegel is unimportant, but as a poetical translator he has rarely been excelled, and in criticism he put into practice the Romantic principle that a critic's first duty is not to judge from the standpoint of superiority, but to understand and to characterize a work of art.