Scientist, natural philosopher, writer
Born: 02.05.1773 in Stavanger
Died: 13.02.1845 in Berlin
Qualified to lecture: 1796 in Kiel (medicine)
University lecturer: 1804 - 1806 and 1808 - 1814 Halle, 1811 - 1832 Breslau, from 1832 Berlin
Steffens was born in Stavanger, governed by Denmark at that time, as the son of a immigrant regimental doctor from Holstein. He commenced his studies of natural history in 1790 in Copenhagen, choosing mineralology as his main subject. He qualified as a lecturer in 1796 and became a private lecturer at the University of Kiel.
In 1798 Steffens received a grant which enabled him to travel from Hamburg over the Harz to Erfurt and Jena. He met Goethe and A.W. Schlegel, became friends with Schelling, whose work he already knew, and heard Fichte’s lectures. In 1799 he also met Tieck, F. Schlegel and Schleiermacher in Berlin, before continuing his mineralogical studies at the mining college in Freiberg. In 1802, Steffens returned to Copenhagen for 2 years, before being offered a full professorship in natural philosophy, physiology and mineralology in Halle an der Saale. Schleiermacher and Reil were among his colleagues. Napoleon's invasion in 1806 led to a two-year break in Steffens' lectures. In 1811, he transferred to Breslau where he became professor of physics and philosophy. When Friedrich Wilhelm III mobilised an army against Napoleon, Steffens gave a series of emphatic speeches to inspire young men to military service. Although he had had no military experience at all, he volunteered and took part in the war of 1813/14.
Afterwards, Steffens returned to his teaching in Breslau. Later, however, he became increasingly isolated because of his political views, and was glad to be called to Berlin in 1832. There, he became professor of natural philosophy, anthropology and religious philosophy. In 1833, he was appointed rector of the University.
In his later years, Steffens increasingly pursued his literary interests. After a series of novels, he published his last work, the ten volume autobiography "Was ich erlebte" (what I have experienced) before his death in 1845.
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Last update: 2003-07-25 (me)