Nicolai, Christoph Friedrich

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Nicolai, Christoph Friedrich (1733-1811): German Critic.

Christoph Friedrich Nicolai was born in Berlin on March 18, 1733. In order to learn the family trade, he served an apprenticeship with a bookseller in Frankfurt an der Oder from 1749 to 1751. Nicolai returned to Berlin to join the family publishing business in 1752.

By the early 1750s, Nicolai established himself as a literary critic. In his effort to establish a German literary tradition, he wrote “Briefe über den itzigen Zustand der schönen Wissenschaften in Deutschland (Letters on the Current State of the Fine Arts in Germany, 1755). Soon thereafter, Nicolai collaborated with Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim and Mendelssohn, Moses to produce Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste (Library of the Fine and Liberal Arts, 1756-1759) and Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend (Letters Concerning the Most Recent Literature, 1759-1765). One of Nicolai’s most significant achievements was the review journal Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek, or ADB (Universal German Library, 1765-1806).

As a fervent advocate of the Enlightenment, Nicolai expressed his disdain for the newer movements of Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) and Romanticism in the form of satire. In 1775 he published “Freuden des jungen Werthers (Joys of Young Werther), in which he parodied Goethe, Johann Wolfgang’s epistolary novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther (The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1774). He also parodied Kantian philosophy for its esoteric and obscure abstractions in Geschichte eines dicken Mannes worin drey Heurathen und drey Körbe nebst viel Liebe (Story of a Fat Man including Three Marriages and Three Rejections Together with Much Love, 1794).

Further Reading:

Konzett, Matthias, ed., Encyclopedia of German Literature, Vol. 2, 2000.

Sarah Tusa

Lamar University