The German lyricist Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin was born in 1770 in Lauffen am Neckar. According to his mother's wishes, he attended the Latin grammar school in Nürtingen and later the evangelical monastic schools in Denkendort and Maulbronn. While studying at the University of Tübingen, Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin met his fellow students Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling. They became friends and influenced each other in their artistic endeavours.
In 1793-94 Friedrich Hölderlin met the famous German author Friedrich Schiller, who found Hölderlin a position as a tutor for the family of Charlotte von Kalb in Waltershausen im Grabfeld. He lost this position after a short while because he lacked the strictness required of a teacher.
From 1794 Hölderlin studied theology at the University of Jena and met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In 1796 he starting working as a tutor again, this time for the family of the Frankfurt banker Jakob Gontard. There he became acquainted with Gontard's wife, Susette, with whom he fell in love and who later influenced the character Diotima in his epistolary novel "Hyperion." Gontard became aware of this fact and felt his honor violated; therefore, Hölderlin had to leave both his job and his residence on short notice. He fled to Homburg to his friend Isaac von Sinclair.
During his financial troubles, he was supported for a time by his mother and his patron, Friedrich Schiller. For three months in 1801, Friedrich Hölderlin went to Hauptwil, Switzerland, where he tutored the younger sister of the businessman Emanuel von Gonzenbach.
In 1802 Hölderlin worked in Bordeaux, France, as the tutor for the children of the Consul from Hamburg, the wine merchant Meyer. After only a few months, Hölderlin returned to Swabia. On his return to Stuttgart, his physical condition had worsened to the point that his friends did not recognize him on account of his confused state. This is when the news of Susette Gontard's death from rubella reached him. Hölderlin then went back to his mother in Nürtingen to work on his translations of Sophokles and Pindar.
In 1804 his friend Sinclair, the head of the government of Hesse-Homburg, gave Hölderlin a position as court librarian, where he wrote for the Landgrave Friedrich V von Hessen-Homburg the hymn "Patmos," among others. In 1805 he published his "Nighthymns" and his most famous poem "Halves of Life" ("Hälfte des Lebens").
His friend Sinclair was arrested in February of 1805 for high treason by Elector Friedrich II von Württemberg.
Hölderlin was suspected as a co-conspirator. Only by the official health report on Hölderlin by the Homburg doctor and court apothecary Müller was Hölderlin able to escape extradition. In the report from April 9, 1805, he was described as having succumbed to insanity, his nerves shattered, and was brought to the Authenrieth Clinic in Tübingen.
In 1807 he was placed in the care of the family of Ernst Zimmer, a carpenter in Tübingen. There he lived the remaining 36 years of his life in a tearoom in the so-called Hölderlin Tower in Zimmer's house overlooking the Neckar Valley.
Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin died in Tübingen in 1843.