Supplementary Appendix 256.1

Ludwig Ferdinand Huber’s Review of Athenaeum 1798, 1799 [*]

Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 372 (Thursday, 21 November 1799) 473–77

Berlin, bei Vieweg dem ältern: Athenäum A Periodical by August Wilhelm Schlegel and Friedrich Schlegel. 1798. No. 1, 177 pages. No. 2, 178pages.

Berlin, bei Frölich: Athenäum. — 1799. Nos. 3 and 4, 340 pages. gr. 8vo. *)

*) [Editors’ original footnote:] In order to accommodate the repeated wish of the authors of Athenäum for a quick review of same, several months ago we assigned that review to a well-known writer who lives quite far from Jena. We carefully chose a man who to our knowledge has never been the least opposed to the Schlegels. This present review arrived from him on 15 November [1799]. We thought it necessary to relate these circumstances to our readers that they may clearly see that the recent quarrel between Wilhelm S. and us could not conceivably have had even the slightest influence on this present review. For precisely that reason, however, we also believe that the way to proceed with the highest degree of impartiality is by printing this review immediately and without changing even a single word in it.

The Editors of the A. L. Z.

In this journal, a fraternal alliance of not inconsiderable talents and erudition strives “with respect to subject matter to achieve the greatest universality possible in that which aims directly at culture,” and “with respect to discourse” aims “for the highest degree of free communication.” Here, then, cultivated persons are sharing from their own inventory that which might be of interest to other cultivated persons, namely, their own works, thoughts, ideas, and critical judgments in the disciplines of art and philosophy. A different plan or purpose cannot be demanded: the contributors must be assessed according to their individuality, or what they offer must be of such a disposition that it makes the reader forget their individuality.

The latter is in fact not the case here; instead, the editors are so focused on their own literary individuality, are so intent on making it one and the same with every conceivable object, that at the very least they should have given up the idea of being contemporary journalistic authors. For a journal’s relationship with its public does not quite allow for the scope the Messieurs Schlegel lend to the concept of the “highest degree of free communication” in their discourse. They are, as they themselves announce, “guided by the shared principle of never stating merely halfway what we consider to be the truth.” Such can, of course, represent an undeniably fine and praiseworthy goal depending on the “considerations” one is choosing to rise above.

If, however, such considerations are in fact those of the laws of expression and ideas shared by all languages, nations, and ages, one does indeed risk saying some things one should have said neither half nor wholly. Everyone is familiar with Chamfort’s voluminous literary estate of witty or cheeky ideas and anecdotes; the Messieurs Schlegel are also familiar with it, and indeed seem to adduce it with respect to the Blütenstaub in the first issue and the Fragmente in the second issue of their Athenäum. [1]

If, however, it were not a literary estate, if the author had indeed thrust these unequal children of his life in society out among the public during his lifetime, had he forced them into service inside one hundred eighty-two pages of a periodical, had many of his disconnected ideas, instead of being merely empty and wrong, instead also been the most affected and incomprehensible word associations imaginable by writers afflicted with excessive self-estimation, on the one hand, and contempt for the public, on the other, authors who do otherwise genuinely have the gift of wit and intelligence — then Chamfort would hardly have done himself great honor even with the better of those ideas.

The Messieurs Schlegel remark quite frequently and in extremely varied turns of phrase how the public seems to be lagging quite far behind them. Now, it seems they should perhaps have chosen a different path to allow that public to keep up with them at least to a certain extent in such a journal. The first step, of course, is that they might have been a bit more reserved with precisely that remark.

To be sure, one can indeed occasionally say extremely harsh things to the age, in which regard Rousseau is a striking enough example of how far one can get using such a method; Rousseau, however, did not employ this method in journals, and a contemporary journalistic writer who chooses to utter such things contra the age can consider himself lucky if, indeed, the age values him as much as did princes those comical advisors who served them up sour crumbs for their money.

A journal is similarly not really the place where one can put oneself on display on the highest of the many levels one thinks one occupies above others. In a general sense, when works of genius suddenly appear to which the age seems to pay double homage through its own astonishment, namely, insofar as those works not only have moved ahead in anticipation but also pull the age along after them, so also are such works essentially either superior to every past and future age, or — and this is likely the true mark of such works — they belong to all ages. Now, it is quite true that no one would come upon the idea of demanding such works in a periodical; and a condescending tone toward its age is all the less appropriate to essays in a periodical insofar as such a tone is perceived least frequently in precisely such works.

Hence insofar as Athenäum, a periodical by no means ungenerously endowed with wit and spirit, has nonetheless not enjoyed particular success among the public, and insofar as it has perhaps experienced the ingratitude of the reading public to such a considerable degree that the booksellers’ advertisement on the jacket of the fourth issue — as diametrically opposed as this may well be to the treatment the public might endure on not a few pages of Athenäum itself — promises the continuation of the literarischer Reichs-Anzeiger [2] for the first issue of volume 3, presumably because the journal would sooner find its place precisely in connection with these factional literary struggles — insofar, that is, as these things are indeed the case, one must lay the blame for such squarely at the feet of the editors themselves.

Much of the sophisticated criticism, many of the astute remarks, many of the accurate, considered, profound statements concerning art and works of art and certainly all sorts of other interesting subjects could not help but be for all practical purposes lost on the public given the lack of general interest in the material, its treatment, or indeed occasionally both in most of this journal’s essays, and given the contempt, so arrogantly evident on so many pages of this journal, for things of general interest.

It must indeed be viewed as a psychological peculiarity that the editors of Athenäum, in penning hundreds of statements such as “Goethe’s purely poetical poetry is the most complete poetry of poetry” [197], or “the French Revolution, Fichte’s philosophy, and Goethe’s Meister are the greatest tendencies of the age” [190], are simultaneously capable of leveling the same weapons at those among their fellow citizens in the German literary republic who in their own turn have leveled deserved derision at them for so innumerably many such phrases.

But the one does not help the other, and the greatest service Athenäum might yet provide would be as a deterrent example of the nonsense that an excessive craving for originality and the spirit of literary factionalism can generate in minds otherwise by no means lacking in excellent gifts.

A genuinely original mind never really seeks to be original, and with their invectives against ordinariness those who would be original begin to promote the former to a greater extent than it would otherwise ever have been capable of doing simply by itself. And when in their artificial mischievousness and daring they even try to wrest the well-earned laurel wreath from Wieland’s graying head, the originality of oracular sayings such as those adduced above will doubtless offer him sufficient consolation for any derision with which they otherwise find it convenient to dispense with his alleged lack of originality.

This latter point similarly touches on the other primary transgression adduced above. One of the characteristics of literary factionalism is to focus on certain, already established reputations in order to topple them, and to elevate ever higher those which without such factionalism are already firmly enough grounded, indeed, to elevate them into the loftiest, most unattainable heights — evidence of the same impulse, namely, vanity! Apart for perhaps a contemporaneous genius one thinks one can use, as it were, as a pedestal for one’s own fame, and a few great minds of earlier centuries concerning whose works one repeats, to be sure, merely the admiration of the entirety of their own cultured posterity, but in a tone and with such expressions as if from the reservoir of the most profound, exclusive wisdom of initiates, one tries to establish an alliance with kindred spirits whose secret password is actually none other than the familiar French one: “Nul n’aura de l’esprit, hors nous et nos amis.” [3]

What emerges is a faction that must deal with opposing factions, and amid all the varied struggles and activities, one misuses art and knowledge and thought as factional tools and shibboleths the way political factions misuse freedom and law in their own battles and activities. It is indeed high time to warn German literature of this reef, all the more so because men who would otherwise be called to pilot this ship are occasionally exhibiting a desire to take on the role of partisan heads or factional supporters, a role that in Germany, which has only an ideal reading public, is both pointless and empty, providing not the slightest advantage to either party.

This reviewer is sincerely convinced that it is not his fault that the above, general remarks concerning Athenäum have brought him virtually to the end of his review, allowing him to complete all the more quickly a more detailed assessment of the contents of the four issues before him.

Among all the individual essays excepting Blüthenstaub (issue 1), the Fragmente (issue 2), the essay Über die Philosophie (issue 3), [4] several shorter notices, and the Literarischer Reichsanzeiger (issue 4), one can legitimately maintain that most lack little, and some nothing in accommodating both the purpose and the spirit one can indeed wish for this journal. Although the dialogue on languages [5] occasionally struggles quite successfully with the brittle nature of the material, it is precisely this struggling that makes it somewhat fatiguing given its length, and less fruitful than it might have been given the occasionally sophisticated findings one finds strewn about in it. –

The elegies translated from the Greek attest similarly harsh struggles, [6] and the question invariably arises whether a language already as cultivated as German must still even submit to such struggles; it thus accords quite with the talent of Herr Wilhelm Schlegel in the language arts that the canto translated from Ariosto prompts such reservations considerably less than do the translations from the Greek. [7]

The “Beyträge zur Kritik der neuesten Literatur” [8] and several of the notices in issue 4 offer much sophisticated and accurate criticism that is as animated as it is smooth; and the essay “Ueber Goethes Meister” [9] can certainly provide both entertainment and help to the friends of this excellent piece. —

The dialogue “Die Gemälde” is of equal value with respect to the formative arts, [10] as is the essay on “Zeichnungen zu Gedichten.” [11] In an original poem by Herr Wilhelm Schlegel, namely, “Die Kunst der Griechen,” [12] one must lament once more the evidence one finds of the harsh struggle mentioned above, the hammer-work already encountered in his translations from the Greek. May he take instruction from his own, lovely lines at the conclusion of this poem:

And though language flow not, quite on its own, as a melody from our lips,
Though no southerly spring, gently wafting across this country's meadow,
Does cradle us through life, nonetheless God did bestow on us more strictly raised ones
The unending impulse and drive of joy in playing.

That is to say, language can indeed flow quite on its own, “as a melody from the lips” of the German poet more than he seems to believe! — An essay by Hülsen on the natural equality of human beings exhibits brightness and clarity, but little precision or specificity. [13]


[*] Translations from the fragments in Athenaeum and bracketed pagination are from Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis 1971). — Footnotes from present editor except the editors’ original footnote. Back.

[1] “Blüthenstaub,” by Friedrich von Hardenberg, Athenaeum (1798) 70–106; “Fragmente,” Athenaeum (1798) 179–322. — Oddly, perhaps, Huber spells “Blüthenstaub” here without the “-th,” whereas later he spell is correctly, i.e., according to the title as printed in Athenaeum. Back.

[2] “Litterarischer Reichsanzeiger oder Archiv der Zeit und ihres Geschmacks,” Athenaeum (1799) 328–40; it was not continued in volume 3 (1800).



[3] Fr., “No one shall have wit save we and our friends,” from Molière, Les femmes savantes (1672), act iii, scene ii, a play satirizing erudite pretension. Back.

[4] Friedrich Schlegel’s essay “Ueber die Philosophie: An Dorothea, von F.,” Athenaeum (1799) 1–38. Back.

[5] Wilhelm Schlegel’s dialogue “Die Sprachen: Ein Gesrpäch über Klopstocks grammatische Gespräche,” Athenaeum (1799) 3–69. Back.

[6] “Elegien aus dem Griechischen,” by both Wilhelm and Friedrich, Athenaeum (1799) 107–140. Back.

[7] “Eilfter Gesang des rasenden Roland; nebst einer Nachschrift des Uebersetzers an L. Tieck von W.,” Athenaeum 247–84. Back.

[8] “Beyträge zur Kritik der neuesten Litteratur. W.,” Athenaeum (1798) 141–77. Back.

[9] Friedrich’s “Über Goethe’s Meister,” Athenaeum (1798) 323–54. Back.

[10] “Die Gemählde: Ein Gespräch von W.,” Athenaeum (1799) 39–151. Back.

[11] “Ueber Zeichnungen zu Gedichten und John Flaxman’s Umrisse: Von W.,” Athenaeum (1799) 193–246.

Click on the following image to open a gallery of selections from Flaxman’s illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy:



[12] “Die Kunst der Griechen: Elegie an Goethe von W.,” Athenaeum (1799) 181–192. Back.

[13] “Ueber die natürliche Gleichheit der Menschen: Von Hülsen,” Athenaeum (1799) 152–80. Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott