Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2013
The topic of the presence of German Idealism in nineteenth-century British and American literature, or its influence on it, is both impossibly large and not readily tractable. One could begin to trace philologically either all or the most important direct engagements of major English-language literary writers with German texts. For example, Coleridge read Kant, Fichte and Schelling, notoriously including in Biographia Literaria without attribution several pages translated directly from Schelling's Abhandlungen zur Erläuterung des Idealismus der Wissenschaftslehre. George Eliot read and translated Feuerbach and David Strauss; Thomas Carlyle read and was substantially influenced by Fichte in developing his doctrine of the Everlasting Yea, but also by Goethe and especially by Hoffmann, Tieck and Jean Paul in developing the literary form of Sartor Resartus, with its peculiar quasi-existentialist resistance to systematicity. Given the mass of material and the variety of engagements, it would, however, be unprofitable, and quite likely impossible, to comb the archives for evidence of every direct textual engagement of a major English-language literary writer with a German Idealist source, at least as long as we lacked a general account of why these engagements took place and a way of arranging them into categories having to do with general themes and ideas that were taken up.