Wilhelm von Humboldt Criticism - Essay

Paul Robinson Sweet

W. H. Bruford (essay date 1959)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bruford, W. H. “The Idea of ‘Bildung’ in Wilhelm von Humboldt's Letters.” In The Era of Goethe: Essays Presented to James Boyd, pp. 17-46. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1959.

[In the following essay, Bruford presents a detailed examination of Humboldt's theory of “bildung,” or the quest for perfection, noting that its evolution was inextricably linked to Humboldt's own life experiences.]

The name of Wilhelm von Humboldt is inseparably connected with the growth of German ideas about ‘Bildung’. The importance of his personal influence on university and school education in Prussia and in Germany as a whole is beyond all question. A...

(The entire section is 11153 words.)

Robert E. Goldsmith (essay date January 1967)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Goldsmith, Robert E. “The Early Development of Wilhelm von Humboldt.” Germanic Review 42, no. 1 (January 1967): 30-48.

[In the following essay, Goldsmith discusses the resulting intellectual effects of Humboldt's decision to resign from government service via an examination of Humboldt's letters to his wife.]

“Unbegreiflich ist mir noch der Gang, den ich nehmen mußte, um so anders zu werden …”1

Wilhelm von Humboldt in 1791 prepared to resign his position in the Berlin Kammergericht and, rejecting the career and mode of life for which he had been educated, set out in pursuit of an ideal he...

(The entire section is 8972 words.)

Roger Langham Brown (essay date 1967)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Brown, Roger Langham. “Humboldt's Conception of Linguistic Relativity.” In Wilhelm von Humboldt's Conception of Linguistic Relativity, pp. 109-20. The Hague: Mouton, 1967.

[In the following essay, Brown discusses Humboldt's theory of linguistic relativity, concluding that his ideas provided the motivation for future scholars to study links between language and culture.]

It would of course be wrong to suggest that Humboldt was the first to put forward a theory of linguistic relativity, at least if that term is interpreted in a loose way. The idea that there is some relation between national character and the national language had been current for a long...

(The entire section is 3880 words.)

Paul R. Sweet (essay date winter 1971)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sweet, Paul R. “Wilhelm von Humboldt (1967-1835): His Legacy to the Historian.” Centennial Review 15, no. 1 (winter 1971): 23-37.

[In the following essay, Sweet offers an account of Humboldt's achievements in linguistic theory and education, focusing particularly on his ideas about history.]


As a mature man with substantial claims to distinction as statesman, man of letters and accomplished scholar in several fields, Wilhelm von Humboldt reportedly let it be known that he wished to be identified simply as “Baron Humboldt, brother of the famous explorer.” This not entirely characteristic modesty expressed a resigned attitude...

(The entire section is 4879 words.)

Cora Lee Nollendorfs (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Nollendorfs, Cora Lee. “The Role of the ‘Aesthetic Subject’ in the Theoretical Writings of Friedrich Schiller and Wilhelm von Humboldt: The Aesthetics of Reception in the Eighteenth Century.” In Eighteenth-Century German Authors and Their Aesthetic Theories: Literature and the Other Arts, edited by Richard Critchfield and Wulf Koepke, pp. 203-19. Columbia: Camden House, 1988.

[In the following essay, Nollendorfs outlines Humboldt and Schiller's ideas regarding the role of the reader or viewer of a work of art, noting Humboldt's success at outlining a receptivity theory that has continued to remain relevant through the years.]

In Rezeptionsgeschichte:...

(The entire section is 7305 words.)

Angela Esterhammer (essay date winter 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Esterhammer, Angela. “Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Dialogic Situation, and Speech as Act.” Wordsworth Circle 27, no. 1 (winter 1996): 13-16.

[In the following essay, Esterhammer focuses on Humboldt's conceptions of language and the reciprocal nature of the act of speech, suggesting that these provide a significant insight into the study of Romantic literary texts.]

Language, in the isolated word and in connected discourse, is an act, a truly creative performance of the mind,” declared the philologist Wilhelm von Humboldt in the 1830s (On Language, trans. Heath [1988], 183). Humboldt's dynamic conception of language has been...

(The entire section is 3159 words.)

Jeffrey Grossman (essay date February 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Grossman, Jeffrey. “Wilhelm von Humboldt's Linguistic Ideology: The Problem of Pluralism and the Absolute Difference of National Character—Or, Where Do the Jews Fit In?” German Studies Review 20, no. 1 (February 1997): 23-47.

[In the following essay, Grossman stresses the connection between Humboldt's political and cultural ideas and his theories of language, asserting that this relationship also informed Humboldt's attitude towards Jews in Germany.]

In 1918, Max Kohler wrote of Wilhelm von Humboldt: “[It] may well be that, if he had remained in active political life, the reactionary forces would have been unable to check Jewish emancipation in Germany...

(The entire section is 10907 words.)