Novalis was the pseudonym of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg (May 2, 1772 – March 25, 1801), a poet, an author and philosopher of early German Romanticism.
Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg was born in 1772 at Oberwiederstedt manor (now part of Arnstein, Saxony-Anhalt), in the Harz mountains. The family seat was a manorial estate, not simply a stately home. Novalis descended from ancient, Low German nobility. Different lines of the family include such important, influential magistrates and ministry officials as the Prussian chancellor Karl August von Hardenberg (1750–1822). An oil painting and a christening cap commonly assigned to Novalis are his only possessions now extant. In the church in Wiederstedt, he was christened Georg Philipp Friedrich. He spent his childhood on the family estate and used it as the starting point for his travels into the Harz mountains.
Novalis’s father, the estate owner and salt-mine manager Heinrich Ulrich Erasmus Freiherr von Hardenberg (1738–1814), was a strictly pietistic man who had become a member of the Moravian (Herrnhuter) Church. His second marriage was to Auguste Bernhardine von Böltzig (1749–1818), who gave birth to eleven children: their second child was Georg Philipp Friedrich, who later named himself Novalis.
At first, Novalis was taught by private tutors. He attended the Lutheran grammar school in Eisleben, where he acquired skills in rhetoric and ancient literature, common parts of the education of this time. From his twelfth year, he was in the charge of his uncle Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Hardenberg at his stately home in Lucklum.
Novalis studied law from 1790 to 1794 at Jena, Leipzig, and Wittenberg. He passed his exams with distinction. During his studies, he attended Schiller’s lectures on history and befriended Schiller during his illness. Novalis also met Goethe, Herder, and Jean Paul and befriended Ludwig Tieck, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and the brothers Friedrich and August Wilhelm Schlegel.
In October 1794, Novalis worked as actuary for August Coelestin Just, who was not only his superior but also his friend and, later, his biographer. During this time, Novalis met the 12-year-old Sophie von Kühn (1782–1797). On March 15, 1795, when Sophie was 13 years old, the two became engaged to marry. The following January, Novalis was appointed auditor to the salt works at Weißenfels.
In the period 1795–1796, Novalis concerned himself with the scientific doctrine of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, which greatly influenced his world view. He not only read Fichte’s philosophies but also developed Fichte's concepts further, transforming Fichte’s Nicht-Ich (German "not I") to a Du ("you"), an equal subject to the Ich ("I"). This was the starting point for Novalis's Liebesreligion ("religion of love").
The cruelly early death of Sophie in March, 1797, affected Novalis deeply. She was only 15 years old, and the two had not married yet. Novalis was in a state of mourning and suffering for a period of time after her death.
That same year, Novalis entered the Mining Academy of Freiberg in Saxony, a leading academy of science, to study geology under Professor Abraham Gottlob Werner (1750–1817), who befriended him. During Novalis's studies in Freiberg, he immersed himself in a wide range of studies, including mining, mathematics, chemistry, biology, history, and, not least, philosophy. It was here that he collected materials for his famous encyclopaedia project.
Novalis's first fragments were published in 1798 in the Athenäum, a magazine edited by the brothers Schlegel, who were also part of the early Romantic movement. Novalis’s first publication was entitled Blüthenstaub (Pollen) and saw the first appearance of his pseudonym, "Novalis." In July 1799, he became acquainted with Ludwig Tieck, and that autumn he met other authors of so-called "Jena Romanticism".
Novalis became engaged for the second time in December 1798. His fiancée was Julie von Charpentier (1776–1811), a daughter of Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Toussaint von Charpentier, a professor in Freiberg.
From Pentecost 1799, Novalis again worked in the management of salt mines. That December, he became an assessor of the salt mines and a director. On the December 6, 1800, the twenty-eight-year-old Hardenberg was appointed "Supernumerar-Amtshauptmann" for the district of Thuringia, a position comparable to that of a present-day magistrate. But from August onward, Hardenberg suffered from tuberculosis, and on March 25, 1801, he died in Weißenfels. His body was buried in the old cemetery there.
Novalis lived long enough to see the publication only of Pollen, Faith and Love or the King and the Queen, and Hymns to the Night. His unfinished novels Heinrich von Ofterdingen and The Novices at Sais, his political speech Christendom or Europa, and numerous other notes and fragments were published posthumously by his friends Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel.