Heinrich von Kleist

Article

May 17, 2022

Bernd Heinrich Wilhelm von Kleist (* October 10 [according to his own information] or October 18, 1777 [according to church records] in Frankfurt (Oder), Brandenburg, Prussia; † November 21, 1811 at Stolper Loch, today Kleiner Wannsee) was a German playwright , storyteller, poet and publicist. Heinrich von Kleist was an "outsider in the literary life of his time […] beyond the established camps" and the literary epochs of Weimar Classicism and Romanticism. He is best known for the "historical chivalric drama" Das Käthchen von Heilbronn, his comedies The Broken Jug and Amphitryon, the tragedy Penthesilea and for his novellas Michael Kohlhaas and The Marquise of O....

Biography

Family, education and military service (1777–1799)

Heinrich von Kleist came from a family of the Pomeranian aristocracy, which held a prominent position in Prussia. He was born the fifth child and first son of his father. His family produced numerous generals and field marshals, many landowners, but also a number of scholars, high-ranking diplomats and officials. Kleist's father, Joachim Friedrich von Kleist (* 1728, † 1788), served as a staff captain in the foot regiment of Prince Leopold of Brunswick in the garrison town of Frankfurt an der Oder. From a first marriage to Caroline Luise, née von Wulffen († 1774), came Kleist's two half-sisters, Wilhelmine, known as Minette, and Ulrike Philippine, who later became very close to Kleist. In 1775 Joachim Friedrich married his second wife Juliane Ulrike, née von Pannwitz (* 1746; † 1793), who gave birth to the children Friederike, Auguste Katharina, Heinrich and finally his younger siblings Leopold Friedrich and Juliane, called Julchen. After the death of his father in 1788, Kleist was brought up in Berlin on the boarding house of the Reformed preacher Samuel Heinrich Catel. It was probably through Catel, who was also a professor at the French Gymnasium, that Kleist became aware of the works of classical poets and contemporary philosophers of the Enlightenment, with whom he continued to engage during his military service. Before joining the Prussian army, he broke off his studies at the Brandenburg University in Frankfurt because he wanted to give priority to a traditional military career. In June 1792, true to his family tradition, the young Kleist joined the 3rd Battalion of the Potsdam Guards Regiment as a corporal. Under General Inspector Ernst von Rüchel, he took part in the Rhine campaign against France and in the siege of the first bourgeois republic on German soil in Mainz. Despite growing doubts about being a soldier, Kleist remained in the military and was promoted to ensign in 1795 and lieutenant in 1797. Privately, however, he took up mathematical and philosophical studies in Potsdam together with his friend Rühle von Lilienstern and gained admission to the university. In 1797 he and his siblings sold the inherited paternal property, the small manor Guhrow in the Spreewald, for 30,000 talers, of which he had one seventh after he came of age in October 1801. In March 1799 he expressed his intention to give up military service, which he found intolerable, and to base his life plan not on wealth, dignity and honor, but on intellectual development and to take up academic studies, even against the expected opposition from his family.

Studies and first job (1799–1801)

After his requested discharge from the military [in favor of his studies], which was granted against Ernst von Rüchel’s resistance, Kleist began studying physics, cultural history, natural law, Latin and – to reassure his relatives – at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder in April 1799, alongside mathematics. to study camera science. He was particularly interested in physics