Supplementary Appendix 194c.1

Schiller in the Periodical Athenaeum

Heinz Härtl, “Athenaeum-Polemiken,” in Debatten und Kontroversen: Literarische Auseinandersetzungen in Deutschland am Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts, edited by Hans-Dietrich Dahnke and Bernd Leistner (Berlin, Weimar 1989), 2:246–357, here 257–61. With kind permission of the author, Heinz Härtl, and the Aufbau Verlag GmbH & Co. KG in Berlin, Germany. [*]

Factors residing not solely in theoretical differences prompted Schiller and Friedrich Schlegel, despite not inconsiderable common ground, to understand their respective theories as being mutually incompatible, so much so that a break took place between them in 1796. During the Athenaeum period proper (1798–1800), they then tended to speak disparagingly about each other, albeit sooner only in passing if at all. Personal antipathy may well have played a role as well. Schiller was embittered at Schlegel’s bitingly critical review of Die Horen in 1796 and of the Musen-Almanach for 1796 and 1797, reacting with several xenia that Schlegel, however, did not really take seriously. Schlegel’s self-understanding as primarily a critic conflicted with Schiller’s own as primarily a poet. After the end of Die Horen, Schiller turned to renewed poetic production, especially as a playwright, whereas Schlegel declared prose to be the formal ideal of modern poesy.

As theoreticians, the two were doubtless not hostile toward each other merely because their theories differed. The problematical polemic obtaining between intellectually kindred thinkers who develop their conceptions virtually simultaneously resides not least in the fact that precisely such proximity leads to conflict generated by, e.g., competitive envy or even a suspicion of plagiarism. Around 1795, Schiller and Schlegel developed their converging theories independently in the treatises “Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung” and “Über das Studium der griechischen Poesie.” [1] General agreement obtained in their historical-philosophical view of the course of literature from antiquity to the present as a development from naturalness and objectivity to reflection and subjectivity, a view lending legitimacy to the significance and singularity of modernity from the perspective of historical development. They also largely agreed concerning the dual nature of the poetic types as naive and sentimental (Schiller) or objective and interesting (Schlegel). Antiquity was allegedly naive or objective, modernity sentimental or interesting. In Schiller’s theory, however, the historical aspect tended to be overshadowed by the poetic-typological; that is, Schiller viewed the characteristics “naive” and “sentimental” as attaching simultaneously to two fundamental possibilities of poetic creation, viewing himself — in contrast to Goethe — as a sentimental poet, that is, as an artist creating from the perspective of the idea whose task was to bring the — lost — ideal to expression in literature.

In 1798 Schlegel viewed Schiller’s theory with considerable contempt, a theory not, however, “diametrically contrary” to his own. [2] He was satisfied neither with Schiller’s poetic typology nor with his concept of the sentimental. In Schlegel’s view, Schiller had prematurely fixed what in fact was yet to be developed further. There could be no question of ahistorical aesthetic delineation for Schlegel, who to the contrary was intent on mixing and connecting. It was not the reification of the ideal, but rather the approximation to the ideal as an infinite poetic-historical progression that was needed. In that sense, Schlegel inserted a dynamic quality into Schiller’s theory, in which elements of the real and ideal remained more directly mediated one with the other. Schlegel’s theory constituted an aesthetic reduction of Schiller’s ideal of regaining human totality. From a different perspective, this also means that Schlegel went beyond Schiller’s understanding of the autonomy of art. In Schiller’s aesthetics, art was ultimately an instrument of moral ennoblement and social improvement. By contrast, Schlegel was probably the first theoretician to propagate progress in the arts as a goal in and of itself.

Schlegel’s disrespectful position toward Schiller’s theory as expressed in the complete silence regarding Schiller in Athenaeum was discernible only to those few initiates who wanted and indeed were able to read the Schlegels’ periodical as an indirect criticism of the editor of Die Horen. Several fragments took issue with Schiller’s aesthetics without any accompanying, readily discernible reference to them. The “specifically provocative nuance,” as already determined, consisted in “proceeding as if Schiller had not yet said anything at all concerning the subject under discussion.” [3] . . .

It comes as no surprise that Schiller assumed a generally hostile posture toward this experiment of beginning a periodical similar to Die Horen just after the latter’s demise, an experiment, moreover, whose goal was to surpass both the previous journal itself and the aesthetics proclaimed by its editor. In two letters to Goethe, Schiller reacted to the first volume of Athenaeum by reproaching the “impudent, determined, cutting and one-sided style” of the “fragments” that made him physically ill, and expressed his chagrin at finding the Schlegelian “virtue” of “deep insight into matters” unfortunately admixed with “so many egotistical and objectionable ingredients that they lose a great deal of their value and usefulness”; he similarly confesses to finding “in the aesthetic criticisms of both brothers so much barrenness, dryness, and purposeless strictness in words, that I am often in doubt as to whether they are really thinking of the same subject.” [4] Here Schiller takes exception to the postulating, esoteric character of Schlegelian theory, one deviating from the functional determination of art in Schiller’s own theory, for example, in the declaration that “the will of the poet can tolerate no law above itself.” [5] Schiller was also reacting as an artist who had experienced the insufficiency of any theory for the creative process. Just a month before these pronouncements on Athenaeum, he had already questioned whether “the philosophy of art” had “anything to say to the artist,” remarking, moreover, “how little the poet gains in actual practice from any universal, pure concepts.” [6]

On the whole, however, Schiller expressed himself so rarely concerning Athenaeum that one fundamental element of his relationship with it is precisely this frugality of expression, which in its own turn was a concession to Goethe’s close relationship with its editors. [7] . . .

In contrast to Schiller, Goethe could also not but be sympathetic toward Athenaeum given the understanding the Schlegel brothers brought to his work. As early as 1796, Friedrich Schlegel was greeting the poesy of this “Proteus among artists” in Reichardt’s journal Deutschland as the “dawn of true art and pure beauty,” and as early as the very first issue of Athenaeum, Friedrich von Hardenberg’s “Blüthenstaub”-fragments enthroned Goethe as the “true representative of the poetic spirit on earth.” [8] This praise of Goethe constitutes the downbeat of a confession to him that runs through every issue of Athenaeum.

This hymnic elevation of Goethe derives primarily neither from an arbitrary subjective whim nor from a covert attempt to play him off against Schiller. The early Romantics instead viewed Goethe as the only poet and writer whose entire previous corpus of work gave legitimacy to their hope of resolving the old querelle des anciens et des modernes of the Enlightenment by mediating the model of antiquity to modern literature. . . .

That the author of Wallenstein was nowhere mentioned in Athenaeum, while the authors officially praised Goethe’s poesy as the only exemplary tendency of modern literature, was an unprecedented bit of vengeance-seeking driven by literary-political calculation: “If we treat Schiller badly, we will ruin our personal relationship with Goethe, a relationship that is more important to me than all the literary deviltry in the world.” [9] By praising the one while simultaneously remaining utterly silent regarding the other, the authors made Goethe appear to readers of Athenaeum as an ally, patron, and beneficiary of Athenaeum without those same readers becoming aware of the periodical’s attacks on Schiller. And since Goethe genuinely sympathized with the Schlegels and indeed profited from their praise, Schiller, lest he damage his own alliance with Goethe, could not come out publicly against Athenaeum. That is, the Schlegels had won Goethe over to their side while simultaneously excluding Schiller from the polemic altogether, a situation that had considerable consequences in what followed, since whoever attacked Athenaeum was at once also indirectly attacking especially Goethe, though also Schiller. As the authors of the Xenien, the latter two had opened the literary wars that the early Romantics now, in a varied fashion, carried forward.


[*] This excerpt is part of Heinz Härtl’s broader, detailed examination and assessment of the polemics that surrounded Athenaeum essentially from the appearance of its very first volume; Härtl’s excellent essay chronicles and documents what for modern readers is often a surprisingly exciting story of the passionate literary debates and reactions this periodical generated. Back.

[1] In English, see Arthur O. Lovejoy, “The Meaning of ‘Romantic’ in early German Romanticism” (1916), and “Schiller and the Genesis of German Romanticism” (1920), in Essays in the History of Ideas (Baltimore 1948), 183–206 and 207–27; also Hans Eichner, “The Supposed Influence of Schiller’s Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung on Fr. Schlegel’s Über das Studium der griechischen Poesie,” in Germanic Review 30 (1955) 260–64. Back.

[2] Friedrich to Wilhelm on 6 March 1798 (Walzel, 362; KFSA 24:99). Back.

[3] Franz Norbert Mennemeier, “Fragment und Ironie beim jungen Friedrich Schlegel: Versuch der Konstruktion einer nicht geschriebenen Theorie,” in Romantikforschung seit 1945, ed. Klaus Peter (Königstein/Ts 1980), 229–50, here 245. Back.

[4] Schiller to Goethe on 23 and 27 July 1798, Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller 120, 123. Back.

[5] Fragment 116, Athenaeum (1799) 206 (translation here from Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow [Minneapolis 1971], 175). Back.

[6] To Wilhelm von Humboldt on 27 June 1798. Back.

[7] Concerning Goethe and Schiller’s correspondence during the summer and autumn of 1798 concerning Athenaeum, see Caroline’s letter to Friedrich Schlegel on 14–15 October 1798 (letter 204) with supplementary appendix 204.1. Back.

[8] Friedrich Schlegel: “Ueber das Studium der Griechischen Poesie,” in Deutschland (1796) 2, no. 2, 258–59. Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis): Athenaeum (1798) 103; trans. Novalis: Philosophical Writings, trans. Margaret Mahony Stoljar (Albany, N.Y. 1997), 44. Back.

[9] Wilhelm to Schleiermacher on 1 November 1799 (letter 252c). It might be pointed out that Friedrich did have some reservations against this practice, albeit more because of its potentially artificial nature than in principle. He remarks in his letter to Wilhelm on 17 February 1798 after discussing a particular passage Wilhelm and Caroline vetoed from inclusion in Athenaeum because they apparently read it as a barb against Schiller (Walzel, 352; KFSA 24:89): “Although I do concur fully with the principle of avoiding Schiller for now, here its implementation seems a bit affected to me.” Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott