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Austrian family of scholars and writers, descendants of Wurzbach Lipmann, members of which became prominent during the eighteenth century.

Perlin Lipmann Sonnenfels:

Austrian scholar; son of Wurzbach Lipmann, chief rabbi of Brandenburg. Perlin Lipmann emigrated to Austria, where he became the agent of the princely house of Dietrichstein at Nikolsburg. He, together with his children, embraced the Catholic faith some time between the years 1735 and 1741. He assumed the name Aloys Wiener, and later removed to Vienna, where he became teacher of Semitic languages at the university, and Hebrew interpreter at the juridical court. In 1746 he was knighted and received a patent of nobility entitling him to use the name Sonnenfels, which his two sons adopted. Perlin's wife remained faithful to Judaism.

Joseph von Sonnenfels:

Austrian jurist and novelist; born at Nikolsburg, Moravia, 1732; died at Vienna April 25, 1817; son of Perlin Lipmann, and brother of Franz Anton von Sonnenfels. Joseph, who was baptized in his early youth, received his elementary education at the gymnasium of his native town, and then studied philosophy at the University of Vienna. In 1749 he joined, as a private, the regiment "Deutschmeister," advancing to the rank of corporal; upon his discharge in 1754 he took a course in law at the University of Vienna, whereafter he established himself as a counselor at law in the Austrian capital. From 1761 to 1763 he officiated as secretary of the Austrian "Arcierengarde," and in the latter year was appointed professor of political science at the University of Vienna, twice acting as rector magnificus. In 1779 he received the title of "Wirklicher Hofrath," and was in 1810 elected president of the Academy of Sciences, a position which he held until his death.

Joseph von Sonnenfels.

Among Sonnenfels' many works may be mentioned: "Specimen Juris Germanici de Remediis Juris, Juri Romano Incognitis," Vienna, 1757; "Ankündigung einer Teutschen Gesellschaft in Wien," ib. 1761; "Betrachtungen über die Neuen Politischen Handlungsgrundsätze der Engländer," ib. 1764; "Grundsätze der Polizei, Handlung und Finanzwissenschaft," ib. 1765-67 (8th ed. 1819); "Briefe über die Wienerische Schaubühne," ib. 1768 (reedited by Sauer, ib. 1884); "Von der Verwandlung der Domänen in Bauerngüter," ib. 1773; "Ueber die Abschaffung der Tortur," Zurich, 1775 (2d ed. Nuremberg, 1782); "Abhandlung über die Aufhebung der Wuchergesetze," Vienna, 1791; "Handbuch der Innern Staatsverwaltung," ib. 1798; "Ueber die Stimmenmehrheit bei Criminalurtheilen," Vienna, 1801 (2d ed. 1808). His "Gesammelte Werke" appeared in ten volumes (Vienna, 1783-87), and contained most of his belletristic works, poems, and dramas.

From 1765 to 1767 and from 1769 to 1775 Sonnenfels was editor of "Der Mann ohne Vorurtheil," in which paper he defended the liberal tendencies in literature. He improved the Vienna stage especially through his critical work "Briefe über die Wienerische Schaubühne," in which he attacked the harlequin of the Vienna theater, causing this figure to be eliminated from the personnel of the stage.

He was chiefly instrumental in bringing about the abolition of torture in Austria (1776). Sonnenfels' attitude toward Lessing placed the former in a very unfavorable light, as it was due to his intrigues and jealousy that Lessing was not called to Vienna. Sonnenfelswas severely condemned for his action in this affair.

Franz Anton Sonnenfels, Freiherr von:

Austrian philanthropist; born at Nikolsburg, Moravia, July 12, 1735; died at Troppau Jan. 11, 1806; son of Perlin Lipmann and brother of Joseph von Sonnenfels, with whom he was baptized. He was educated at the gymnasium of his native town, and entered as agent the service of the princes of Dietrichstein; his extraordinary ability attracted the attention of Emperor Joseph II., who bestowed upon him the title of "Hofrath," and attached him to the office of the secretary of the imperial household. In 1797 he was knighted.

Having no children, he and his wife, Maria Rosalia (née Geyer; died March 18, 1811), left their fortunes to charitable institutions, especially in the city of Nikolsburg. Sonnenfels was buried in the cemetery of that city, and a monument was erected over his grave Oct. 21, 1860.

  • Wurzbach, Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, xxxv. 315 et seq., 317-343;
  • Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon;
  • Kopetzky, Joseph und Franz von Sonnenfels, Vienna, 1882.
S. F. T. H.
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