Ralph Waldo Emerson

1803 (Boston, Mass.) – 1882 (Concord, Mass.)

Whitman described him as “sane and clear as the sun.” Emerson gathered a community around him in Concord, including Hawthorne, Alcott, Fuller and Thoreau (a treasured friend and protégé, whose cabin by Walden Pond was built on Emerson’s land). He was supportive both of Alcott’s utopian projects, and (strongly at first) of Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass.’ James’ father was a disciple, and got Emerson to be his son’s godfather. Holmes also knew him, and wrote about his thoughtful mode of speech. He met Coleridge, Wordsworth, Mill and Carlyle (a strong influence and lifelong correspondent) on a visit to Britain.

William James

1842 (New York) – 1910 (Chocorua, N.H.)

Henry James was William James’s brother and close friend, Emerson his godfather. He went up the Amazon to collect zoological specimens with Agassiz, and studied with Helmholtz. Wright and Peirce (a lifelong friend) were close Harvard colleagues; Santayana, Du Bois, Sidis and Stein were among his students. He met Russell in England, Bergson and Charcot in France, and Freud on his only U.S. visit. Meeting Wundt (his fellow-founder of experimental psychology) in Germany, they thought little of each other. Wells drove up just after he’d been found up a ladder by his brother, spying on his colleague Chesterton.

William James knew…

Friedrich Schleiermacher

1768 (Breslau, Prussia, now Wrocław, Poland) – 1834 (Berlin)

Fichte was influential on his thought. Schleiermacher met both Schlegel brothers in Berlin — Friedrich Schlegel had an adjoining apartment, and together they translated Plato’s ‘Dialogues’ (the work is still admired today, though its joint nature led to strains in the friendship, and Schleiermacher increasingly took it over himself). In Jena, he joined the Schlegels and Novalis in founding the influential journal Athenaeum (Tieck was another friend in romanticist circles). He was a colleague of Humboldt’s in founding Berlin University, where his relationship with Hegel was marked by mutual wariness and antipathy.

Karl Marx

1818 (Trier, Germany) – 1883 (London)

Feuerbach and Bauer (whom Marx followed to Bonn) were early influences among the ‘Young Hegelians’ Marx met when studying in Berlin, arguing against Hegel’s dominant views. Hess and Herwegh were also among this circle — most of whom Marx ended up drifting away from. Engels was his great lifetime friend, collaborator and financial supporter, who really interested Marx in communism. Marx considered his friend Heine not only a poet, but a fighter. Proudhon impressed him strongly, but their friendship was short. Marx wrote to ask Darwin if he could dedicate ‘Capital’ to him, but they never met.

Karl Marx knew…

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietsche

1844 (Röcken bei Lützen, Germany) – 1900 (Weimar)

Wagner was a close friend — Nietzsche visited frequently, was a strong admirer of the older man, and at Christmas sent Cosima Wagner music he’d composed (the friendship did not survive his transparent attack on Wagner in print). Nietzsche had an unsettling friendship with Andreas-Salomé, driving him to the despair out of which ‘Thus Spake Zarathrustra’ was begun. A long friendship with Burckhardt began when Nietzsche was appointed to Basel University. Strindberg, Liszt, Brandes and Taine were correspondents. He was visited by Steiner when he’d been overtaken by madness.

Friedrich Nietzsche knew…

  • Georg Brandes
  • Hyppolite Taine
  • Rudolf Steiner
  • Richard Wagner
  • Franz Liszt
  • August Strindberg
  • Carl Spitteler
  • Gottfried Keller
  • Jacob Burckhardt
  • Lou Andreas-Salomé

Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer

1766 (Württemburg, Germany) – 1848 (Munich)

Many of Niethammer’s friends and acquaintances were part of an extended gang with Jena connections. Schiller was a university colleague there, Hölderlin, Fichte and Novalis are famously supposed to have spent an evening together at Niethammer’s, and on Saturdays, Schiller and Schelling played cards with him. Niethammer was one of Hegel’s closest friends, and helped him get various jobs. Hegel wrote to him admiringly of Napoleon whom he’d just seen — Napoleon’s army was fighting the Prussians just outside Jena, and duly won; helpfully for Hegel, who was trying to finish a book, without closing down the university.

Friedrich Schelling

1775 (Leonberg, Germany) – 1854 (Bad Rogatz, Switzerland)

Hegel and Hölderlin were close and influential friends as seminary students — he had known Hölderlin from school; helping Hegel find jobs, he eventually grew bitter at his success. Fichte recommended Schelling (his disciple) for his post in Jena; Goethe commanded it. In Jena, he met Novalis, enjoyed warm relations with Goethe, was particularly close to August Schlegel (eventually marrying his wife), but failed to appreciate Schiller. Schelling succeeded Fichte, dismissed for his atheism; he proceeded to fall out with both Fichte and Hegel, engaging in catty criticism with Hegel until his death. Müller studied with him in Berlin.

Johann Gottfried Herder

1744 (Mohrungen, E. Prussia, now Morąg, Poland) – 1803 (Weimar)

Kant, initially influential, let him attend his lectures free, but they broke off before long; meanwhile he became Hamann’s protégé. His ideas profoundly affected Goethe when they met in Strasbourg (Herder was there for an eye operation); Goethe later got him a lifetime position in Weimar, though they subsequently fell out. Jean Paul moved to Weimar to be close to Herder; Wieland was another associate there. Forster’s translation of a Sanskrit play strongly influenced Herder. He met Klopstock in Denmark and Diderot and d’Alembert in France. Lessing was a respected acquaintance, though they disagreed healthily.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte

1762 (Rammenau, Germany) – 1814 (Berlin)

Fichte sent his hero Kant a paper some weeks after a mutually-disappointing first visit; Kant got it published, and Fichte’s name was made. Hegel arrived in Jena with Fichte already an established colleague. Schelling, initially something of a disciple, took over his post when Fichte was dismissed for his atheism (the two later broke off). Novalis wrote extensively on him; Lavater was a correspondent; Humboldt attended his lectures whenever he could. Fichte contributed to Schiller’s journal, though their relationship was prickly. He had no meaningful contact with Klopstock, despite marrying the old poet’s niece.

Arthur Schopenhauer

1788 (Danzig, now Gdánsk, Poland) – 1860 (Frankfurt-am-Main)

Practically all of Schopenhauer’s significant connections arose early in his career, and even then he was careful to distance himself from those — Hegel, Schelling, Fichte — whose positions he was about to undermine (inimitably describing all three as charlatans). Wieland, the Schlegels, the Grimms and Goethe all attended his mother’s salon, Goethe telling her that her son had a great future, and lending him his experimental optical apparatus. Impressed by Humboldt’s achievements, Schopenhauer was disappointed by the man. Increasingly reclusive in later years, he preferred his poodles’ company to that of most men.