Christoph Friedrich Nicolai
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Nicolai was born in Berlin, where his father, Christoph Gottlieb Nicolai (d. 1752), was the founder of the famous Nicolaische Buchhandlung. He received a good education, and in 1749 went to Frankfurt (Oder) to learn his father's business, finding time also to become acquainted with English literature.
In 1752 Nicolai returned to Berlin, and began to take part in literary controversy by defending John Milton against the attacks of JC Gottsched. His Briefe über den jetzigen Zustand der schönen Wissenschaften in Deutschland, published anonymously in 1755 and reprinted by G Ellinger in 1894, were directed against both Gottsched and Gottsched's Swiss opponents, Johann Jakob Bodmer and Johann Jakob Breitinger; his enthusiasm for English literature won for him the friendship of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Moses Mendelssohn. In association with Mendelssohn he established in 1757 the Bibliothek der schonen Wissenschaften, a periodical which he conducted until 1760. Together with Lessing and Mendelssohn, Nicolai edited the famous Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend between 1759 and 1765; and from 1765 to 1792 he edited the Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek. This latter periodical served as the organ of the so-called popular philosophers, who warred against authority in religion and against what they conceived to be extravagance in literature.
Of Nicolai's independent works, perhaps the only one which has some historical value is his Anekdoten von Friedrich II (1788-1792). His romances are forgotten, although Das Leben und die Meinungen des Herrn Magister Sebaldus Nothanker (1773-1776), and his satire on Goethe's Werther, Freuden des jungen Werthers (1775), had a certain reputation in their day. Between 1788 and 1796, Nicolai published in twelve volumes a Beschreibung einer Reise durch Deutschland und die Schweiz, which bears witness to the narrow conservatism of his views in later life.
Nicolai died in 1811 in Berlin.
Nicolai's Bildniss und Selbsbiographie was published by Moses Samuel Löwe in the Bildnisse jetzt lebender Berliner Gelehrter, in 1806.
- Leopold F. von Göcking, Friedrich Nicolais Leben und literarischer Nachlass (1820)
- Jakob Minor, Lessings Jugendfreunde, in Joseph Kürschner's Deutsche Nationalliteratur, vol. lxxii. (1883)
- Otto Hoffmann, Herders Briefwechsel mit Nicolai (1887)
- Ernst Friedel, Zur Geschichte der Nicolaischen Buchhandlung und des Hauses Brüderstraße 13 in Berlin (1891)
- Ernst Altenkrüger, Friedrich Nicolais Jugendschriften (1894)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press