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Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi
(25 January 1743 - 10 March 1819) Germany

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi

Philosopher

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Friedrich Jacobi was born at Düsseldorf, the second son of a wealthy Jewish sugar merchant, and was educated for a commercial career. Of a retiring, meditative disposition, Jacobi associated himself at Geneva mainly with the literary and scientific circle of which the most prominent member was Le Sage. He studied closely the works of Charles Bonnet, and the political ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. In 1763 he was recalled to Düsseldorf, and in the following year he married and took over the management of his father's business.

After a short time, he gave up his commercial career, and in 1770 became a member of the council for the duchies of Jülich and Berg, in which capacity he distinguished himself by his ability in financial affairs, and his zeal in social reform. Jacobi kept up his interest in literary and philosophic matters by an extensive correspondence, and his mansion at Pempelfort, near Düsseldorf, was the centre of a distinguished literary circle. With Christoph Martin Wieland he helped to found a new literary journal, Der Teutsche Merkur, in which some of his earliest writings, mainly on practical or economic subjects, were published.

Here too appeared in part the first of his philosophic works, Edward Allwill's Briefsammlung (1776), a combination of romance and speculation. This was followed in 1779 by Woldemar, a philosophic novel, of very imperfect structure, but full of genial ideas, and giving the most complete picture of Jacobi's method of philosophizing.

In 1779, he visited Munich as member of the privy council; but, after a short stay there, differences with his colleagues and with the authorities of Bavaria drove him back to Pempelfort. A few unimportant tracts on questions of theoretical politics were followed in 1785 by the work which first brought Jacobi into prominence as a philosopher. The outbreak of the war with the French republic induced Jacobi in 1793 to leave Düsseldorf, and for nearly ten years he lived in Holstein. There he became intimately acquainted with Karl Leonhard Reinhold, and with Matthias Claudius.

During the same period the excitement caused by the accusation of atheism brought against Gottlieb Fichte at Jena led to the publication of Jacobi's Letter to Fichte (1799), in which he made more precise the relation of his own philosophic principles to theology.

Soon after his return to Germany, Jacobi received a call to Munich in connection with the new academy of sciences just founded there. The loss of a considerable portion of his fortune induced him to accept this offer; he settled in Munich in 1804, and in 1807 became president of the academy.

In 1811 appeared his last philosophic work, directed against Friedrich Schelling specially (Von den göttlichen Dingen und ihrer Offenbarung), the first part of which, a review of the Wandsbecker Bote, had been written in 1798. A bitter reply from Schelling was left without answer by Jacobi, but gave rise to an animated controversy in which Fries and Baader took prominent part.

In 1812 Jacobi retired from the office of president, and began to prepare a collected edition of his works. He died before this was completed. The edition of his writings was continued by his friend F Koppen, and was completed in 1825. The works fill six volumes, of which the fourth is in three parts. To the second is prefixed an introduction by Jacobi, which is at the same time an introduction to his philosophy. The fourth volume has also an important preface.

Goethe's letters to the philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi suggest that the two men had a physical, homosexual relationship, Mr. Karl Hugo Pruys, an acclaimed biographer, wrote in his newly-released biography, "The Tender Caress of the Tiger". He presents Goethe as having had his first sexual relationship in the 1870's with philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, of whom he said in a later memoir, "At midnight you still sought me in the darkness - I felt my soul was reborn. From that moment I could never leave you again."

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