Ludwig Tieck’s achievements are the more remarkable because they were made at a time when it was difficult for a member of the lower classes to gain access to a university education and to make the social connections necessary for success. Tieck, an indefatigable worker, began to write while still at school and sold his stories to paying journals. In 1797, he published the Herzensergiessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders (The Outpourings of an Art Loving Friar, 1974), written with his friend Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, who died the following year. This and similar stories established his literary connection with the early Romantic school. In 1799, he joined the circle of the brothers Schlegel (August Wilhelm and Friedrich) in Jena, where he also became a close friend of Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg).
Tieck exemplified the Romantics’ interest in medieval literature, in contrast to the classicist tradition, which attempted to emulate the ancients. Like the Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm), Schlegel, Sophie Mereau, and Achim von Arnim, Tieck contributed to the immense surge of philological activity at that time, which made long-forgotten medieval works accessible to the public in linguistically modernized, printed versions. Therefore, Tieck published an edition of Ulrich von Lichtenstein’s Frauendienst in 1810; his interest in the theater is reflected in a collection of older German plays, Deutsches Theater, containing works by Hans Sachs, Martin Opitz, Andreas Gryphius, and others. In addition, Tieck shared the Romantics’ interest in Shakespeare and Cervantes, whom they considered to be ideological and literary forerunners of their own school of thought. Tieck translated Cervantes’ Don Quixote into German, but his chief interest remained the theater. Tieck’s translations in the two-volume Alt englisches Theater, published in 1811, introduced pre-Shakespearean drama to German readers. Also significant was his publication of a Shakespeare translation by August Wilhelm Schlegel, Tieck’s daughter Dorothea, and Count Baudissin, which quickly superseded Johann Heinrich Voss’s translation. Among Tieck’s other Shakespearean works are his translation of The Tempest as Der Sturm (1796), prefaced by the important essay “Shakespeares Behandlung des Wunderbaren,” his “Briefe über Shakespeare,” and Shakespeares Vorschule (1823-1829).
No less notable was Tieck’s effort to publish editions of his contemporaries’ works. Among these were Novalis, Friedrich Müller, Heinrich von Kleist, Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, and the collected works of Friedrich August Schulze.