Karl Willhelm Von Humboldt, baron, a German scholar, brother of the preceding, born in Potsdam, June 22, 1767, died at Tegel, April 8, 1835. In 1788 he went to the university of Frankfort-on-the-Oder, and thence to Gottin-gen, where he studied philology under the care of Heyne. He here became intimate with George Forster, and through him with Jacobi and Johannes von Muller. When the French revolution broke out, Wilhelm Humboldt, who had long been a reader of Rousseau, went to Paris (July, 1789), in company with Campe; and the result of his observations there was a great distrust of many theories and abstract ideas which he had previously held. Two years later he published his first work on the subject, a memoir in the Berliner Monatschrift (1792), entitled Ideen uber Staatsverfassung durchdie neue franzosische Constitution veran-lasst, in which he combated the possibility of establishing a constitution on untried theories. He discussed the subject more fully at a later date in a separate book : Idees sur un essai de determiner les limites de l'action que doit ex-ercer l'etat. After completing this work he laid it aside, judging the time inopportune for its publication, and afterward lost the manuscript, which was not found or published until after his death; but there is every reason to believe that he always entertained the opinions expressed in it.
The keynote of the work is individual liberty. It presents a lofty ideal of the rights and duties of the individual, and of the dignity and nobleness to which human nature is able and ought to attain. The government which hinders individual development the least is to him the best. About this time philology and archa3ology had become prominent objects of investigation, and Humboldt, under the guidance of Heyne and Wolf, entered upon the study of Greek literature and art. An early result of his studies appeared in his "Essay on the Greeks " (1792). In July, 1791, he had married Caroline Dacheroden, a brilliant woman, who shared with him his Greek studies. In 1793, at Jena, he contracted with Schiller an intimacy which had great influence on his studies, the poet inducing him to apply himself more closely to philosophy and aesthetics. To this intimacy was added that of Goethe, who was then writing "Hermann and Dorothea" This work owed much to the criticisms and care of Humboldt, who not only superintended its printing, but wrote a commentary on it which ranks as a masterpiece of German criticism. In 1797, having lost his mother, he began his travels.
After remaining with his family some time at Dresden, he went to Vienna and thence to Paris, where he arrived in November. He resided a year and a half in Paris, and then went to Spain, where he travelled during six months. At this time he was occupied with his system of comparative anthropology, or a philosophical history of mental development, in which every phase of literature should be traced to a corresponding civilization. This he based on philology, and his first studies were directed to the old Spanish languages, and particularly the Basque. He returned to Germany in 1801, and was soon after appointed Prussian resident minister in Rome, where he distinguished himself as much in diplomacy as in letters. His knowledge of art enabled him to cultivate friendly personal relations, and his residence became a point of union for the most intelligent men in Rome. His letters to Goethe and Schiller, his translations of Pindar and AEschy-lus, and the poems written during this period, indicate great activity and versatility. In 1806 the defeat of Prussia at Jena rendered his political position a most trying one. He remained unwillingly at Rome during 1807, being desirous of contributing his aid to his country while recovering from its disasters.
In 1808 he was recalled by family affairs, and was immediately appointed minister of state for the departments of religion, public education, and medical establishments. He was called under very trying circumstances, in January, 1809, to reorganize public instruction in Prussia; and the prominent position which that country at present holds in education is in a great measure due to him. In the midst of the apathy and despondency bordering on despair which at that time affected the people and government of Prussia, he succeeded in establishing the university of Berlin, and from its foundation until his death his contributions formed the chief glory of its transactions. All his reforms were effected during a period of general confusion, and in the face of opposition which demanded great firmness, and often severity. When they were fairly established, he reentered the diplomatic service, and on June 14, 1810, was appointed minister at the court of Vienna. At Prague he met with the minister Stein, who was then flying from the pursuit of Napoleon, and with him concerted the part he was to take in the political struggles of the day. Stein had been greatly interested in the energetic reforms of Humboldt, and now gave him his full confidence.
His task at the court of Vienna was to effect the reconciliation of Prussia and Austria, to consolidate the strength of Germany, and to excite it against Napoleon. The difficulty of the effort was greatly increased by the passive position assumed by Austria after the campaign of 1809, and the marriage of Maria Louisa to Napoleon in 1810. Finally in 1813, when Prussia rose against Napoleon, the conference of Prague was held. At this most critical period the perseverance of Humboldt succeeded in overcoming the hesitation of Metternich. Stein, at least, declared that the new course taken by Austria was entirely due to Humboldt, and Talleyrand said of him that there were not in all Europe three statesmen of his ability. He manifested the same shrewdness, reserve, and energy at the conferences of 1813-'15 at Frankfort, Chatillon, Paris, and the congress of Vienna. But with the formation of the treaty known as the "holy alliance " Humboldt had nothing to do, the emperor of Russia insisting that the king of Prussia should not permit Humboldt to know anything of the treaty until it was concluded. During his diplomatic career he showed great genius in debate, quickness of reply, and a most delicate, cutting irony.
In 1816 he went to Frankfort as ambassador, and in 1818 to London and Aix-la-Chapelle. In 1819 he was called to the ministry. At this time the king of Prussia determined not to introduce the representative system which he had promised to the people. Other points of difficulty arose, and Humboldt disagreed with his colleagues. By a decree of Dec. 31, 1819, he was dismissed from the ministry and deprived of his state appointments. He now retired to private life, and devoted himself to literature. His contributions to philology from this time were very extensive, and of such importance that it has been said that before him great minds, such as Herder, Adelung, and Friedrich Schlegel, had led the way, but Humboldt was the first who made of philology a science. Having formed the intention to follow all the languages of the Pacific in detail in order to establish the connection between India and Europe, he began with his work Ueber die Kawisprache auf der Insel Java (3 vols. 4to, Berlin, 1836-'40), in which he traces the languages, history, and literature of the Malay races.
The most valuable portion of the work is its introduction, Ueber die Ver-schiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues und ihren Einfluss auf die geistige Entwickelung des Menschengeschlechts. This was published separately (4to, Berlin, 1836), and embodies the conclusions at which he had arrived in regard to the origin, development, and nature of language in general. Besides this, his principal works are a number of criticisms collected in the Aesthetische Versuche (Brunswick, 1799); a translation of the "Agamemnon" of AEschylus, a work containing also valuable researches into the Greek language and metres; the Berichtigungen und Zusatze zu Adelung" s Mithridates (Berlin, 1817); Pru-fung der Untersuchungen uber die Urbewohner Spaniens, etc. (1821); Bhagavadghita (1826); and Ueber den Dualis (1828). His collected works were published by his brother Alexander (7 vols. 8vo, Berlin, 1841-'52). His Briefe an eine Freundin (2 vols., Leipsic, 1847; 6th ed., 1856; and in 1 vol., 2d ed., 1863; English translation by Catharine M. A. Couper, 2 vols., London, 1849), containing his letters to Charlotte Diede, whose acquaintance he had made in Pyrmont in 1788, are renowned for beauty of thought and feeling.
Among other English translations of his writings is " The Sphere and Duties of Government," by J. Coulthard (1854). The best biography of Wilhelm von Humboldt is by Haym (Berlin, 1856). His collection of MSS. and books he bequeathed to the royal library of Berlin.