Nietzsche often criticized English philosophers and praised French philosophers. Could he read English and French? Or did he read translations of English and French philosophical writings?

2 Answers 2


According to the Nietzsche Channel, Nietzsche read Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground in a French translation by E. Halpérine et Ch. Morice.

The Nietzsche Library at the Nietzsche Channel contains a reconstruction of his library. This collection lists plays by Shakespeare in English along with translations in German. The works of Shelley were in German translation. He had a copy of Francis Galton's Inquiry into human faculty and development.

From the above, I assume he could read French. Searching this reconstruction of his library may provide suggestions about the extent he was familiar with either French or English.


The Nietzsche Channel http://www.thenietzschechannel.com/


Frank Hubery has answered the question for Nietzsche's knowledge of French. I'd add the following extract from Nietzsche's April 1875 letter to Marie Baumgartner :

He himself confirms the shakiness of his French in a letter to Marie Baumgartner of April 1875, when he thanks her for correcting his mistranslation from Montaigne in Schopenhauer as Educator: “To the discoverer of my mistake many thanks; you see my French is in rather a sorry state, and before I idealize Montaigne I should at least understand him properly”. (Duncan Large, 'Nietzsche and/in/on Translation', Journal of Nietzsche Studies , Vol. 43, No. 1, Special Issue: Proceedings from the North American Nietzsche Society (Spring 2012), pp. 57-67 : 59.) If Nietzsche's French was in a 'sorry state' he must have had an elementary acquaintance with the language.

One might note Brobjer's comment :

On the whole, Nietzsche's French was such that he did not read fiction in French before about 1880. ((Thomas H. Brobjer, 'Nietzsche's Reading and Private Library, 1885-1889', Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Oct., 1997), pp. 663-693 : 666.)

As to English the following extract is one piece of evidence :

Towards a Genealogy of Morals (1887) is to a large extent a response to Nietzsche's reading of and about "English psychologists," including Rée; and in the history of law (his library contains ten books within this field and the majority of these are annotated by Nietzsche). (Thomas H. Brobjer: 673.)

'...reading of "English psychologists"' points tentatively to some knowledge of English but this quote suffers from the rather serious defect that Paul Rée (1849–1901) was a German, not an English, psychologist.

English words do occur in Nietzsche's writing, of which Duncan Large observes that :

... the linguistic diversity is at times dazzlingly extreme. Foreign words abound—mostly Latin and French but also ancient Greek, Italian, English, Spanish, Provençal, Sanskrit. (Duncan Large, 'Nietzsche and/in/on Translation', Journal of Nietzsche Studies , Vol. 43, No. 1, Special Issue: Proceedings from the North American Nietzsche Society (Spring 2012), pp. 57-67 : 60.)

However, knowledge of individual words does not demonstrate any considerable knowledge of the language.

Overall I accept the judgement of Duncan Large :

As an academic classicist Nietzsche himself translated between German, Greek, and Latin, but his command of modern foreign languages was relatively unimpressive, and he viewed language learning as a necessary evil, looking forward to the time when a new lingua franca would obviate the need for language learning or translation at all. (Large: 57.)

If Nietzsche did tackle English it is likely to have been with the help of a dictionary. There is, so far as I know, no indication that he read or wrote the language with command or fluency.

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