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Charles Follen's Search for Nationality and Freedom

Charles Follen's Search for Nationality and Freedom

Germany and America, 1796-1840

Edmund Spevack

ISBN 9780674110113

Publication date: 07/30/1997

This unique account of the life of German nationalist and revolutionary Charles Follen opens a window on several worlds during the first half of the nineteenth century. Seldom does one biography embrace so many important historical issues and events.

Trained as a lawyer in his native Germany, Follen was involved in student nationalism, eventually turning to revolutionary Jacobinism. He fled to Switzerland in 1819 after conspiring in the first political murder of modern German history--the assassination of the playwright August von Kotzebue. In Switzerland, Follen secretly continued activities for revolutionizing Germany. When his plans were discovered in 1824, he fled to America. For ten years, Follen taught at Harvard; he was the first professor of German literature at an American institution of higher learning. He played a central role in the early importation of German ideas to New England, contributing to the fields of literature, philosophy, and theology. His marriage to Eliza Lee Cabot allowed him to move in elite Boston social circles. After his ordination as a Unitarian minister in 1836, Follen combined his interest in social reform (including an ardent devotion to the antislavery movement) with clerical service. Unitarian leader William Ellery Channingand abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison became Follen's close friends.

During the last two years of his life, Follen began to doubt his own power to bring about political change and suffered a crisis in self-confidence before his accidental death at the age of forty-three.


  • Spevak has written the first comprehensive biography of Charles Follen...[It] is clearly written; his perceptive analysis places Follen in the broadest context; and his research is superb. The 48 pages of notes reflect Spevak's extensive work in primary sources in Europe and the U.S. Highly recommended for research collections and those with special emphasis on 19th-century American social reform, Unitarianism, and abolitionist thought.

    —R. Detweiler, Choice


  • Edmund Spevack was a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press