His grandfather had been one of Frederick the Great's generals and his father was a Prussian officer. Although not originally intended for a military career, Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué ultimately gave up his university studies at Halle to join the army, and he took part in the Rhine campaign of 1794. The rest of his life was devoted mainly to literary pursuits. He was introduced to August Wilhelm von Schlegel, who published Fouqué's first book, Dramatische Spiele von Pellegrin, in 1804. His next work, Romanten vom Tal Ronceval (1805), showed more plainly his allegiance to the romantic leaders, and in the Historie vom edlen Ritter Galmy (1806) he versified a 16th century romance of medieval chivalry.
Sigurd der Schlangentöter, ein Heldenspiel (1808), the first modern German dramatization of the Nibelungen saga, attracted attention to him, and influenced considerably subsequent versions of the story, such as Hebbel's Nibelungen and Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen. These early writings indicate the lines which Fouqué's subsequent literary activity followed; his interests were divided between medieval chivalry on the one hand and northern mythology on the other. In 1813, the year of the rising against Napoleon, he again fought with the Prussian army, and the new patriotism awakened in the German people left its mark upon his writings.
Between 1810 and 1815 Fouqué's popularity was at its height; the many romances and novels, plays and epics, which he turned out with extraordinary rapidity, appealed exactly to the mood of the hour. The earliest of these are the best -- Undine, which appeared around 1811, being, indeed, one of the most charming of all German Märchen and the only work by which Fouqué's memory still lives today. A more comprehensive idea of his powers may, however, be obtained from the two romances Der Zauberring (1813) and Die Fahrten Thiodolfs des Isländers (1815).
From 1820 onwards the quality of Fouqué's work rapidly degenerated, partly owing to the fatal ease with which he wrote, partly to his inability to keep pace with the changes in German taste. He remained the belated romanticist, who, as the reading world turned to new interests, clung the more tenaciously to the paraphernalia of romanticism; but in the cold, sober light of the post-romantic age, these appeared merely flimsy and theatrical. The vitalizing imaginative power of his early years deserted him, and the sobriquet of a "Don Quixote of Romanticism" which his enemies applied to him was not unjustified.
Fouqué's first marriage had been unhappy and soon ended in divorce. His second wife, Karoline von Briest (1773-1831) enjoyed some reputation. as a novelist in her day. After her death Fouqué married a third time. Some consolation for the ebbing tide of popular favour was afforded him by the munificence of Frederick William IV of Prussia, who granted him a pension which allowed him to spend his later years in comfort. He died in Berlin on the 23rd of January 1843.
Fouqué's Ausgewählte Werke, edited by himself, appeared in 12 vols. (Berlin, 1841); a selection, edited by M Koch, will be found in Kürschner's Deutsche Nationalliteratur, vol. 146, part ii. (Stuttgart, 1893); Undine, Sintram, etc., in innumerable reprints. Bibliography in Goedeke's Grundriss zur Geschichte der deutschen Dichtung (2nd ed., vi. pp. 115 ff., Dresden, 1898). Most of Fouqué's works have been translated, and the English versions of Aslauga's Knight (by Carlyle), Sintram and his Companions and Undine, have been frequently republished. For Fouqué's life cf. Lebensgeschichte des Baron Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué. Aufgezeichnet durch ihn selbst (Halle, 1840), (only to the year 1813), and also the introduction to Koch's selections in the Deutsche Nationalliteratur.