Supplementary Appendix 258a.1

Wilhelm Dilthey on the
Break between the Romantics and the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung [*]

The most recent volume of August Koberstein’s excellent literary history, whose third volume is of fundamental importance for the history of Romanticism, has among other things once more recalled to more vivid memory the literary battles the Romantics fought and the significance these battles had.

The recently published correspondence of Schleiermacher with his Romantic friends attests with sufficient clarity how seriously these battles were taken in the Romantic circle, how all the grander literary plans of these friends receded for a time behind these battles, and how, finally, they ultimately prompted Friedrich Schlegel to seek his fortune in Paris and otherwise soured A. W. Schlegel on Germany itself.

This correspondence also mentions a letter A. W. Schlegel wrote contra Ludwig Ferdinand Huber during the course of these disputes (3:147 [6 January 1800]); this letter, found in Schleiermacher’s literary estate, provides a sufficiently exemplary expression of A. W. Schlegel’s talent for literary warfare to serve as a delightful specimen of this man’s light, playful polemical wit.

It deals, moreover, with the crucial turn of events in this dispute: the break with the Jena Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. This break, however, involved a schism in the midst of what had hitherto been the progressive party itself, and also sundered the previous link connecting this extreme Romantic party with the German public. There was little significance in the fact that Friedrich Nicolai had come out satirically against them, [1] the same Nicolai who had successively assaulted Wolffianism, Kantianism, and the Fichtean philosophy with his shallow, derisive invectives.

Just as little could the attacks of people like Falk, [2] Merkel, [3] and Kotzebue [4] worry the Romantics, since these men were in fact spokesman for the quotidian, covertly frivolous literature calculated for brainless entertainment and coquettish flirtation with morality; one would have to have a short memory indeed to take the moral indignation of these people for anything more than mere theatrical effect. Things stood quite differently, however, with the Jena Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung and thus also with the significance of the conflict with that journal.

For readers or authors of modern journals and periodicals, it is an object of considerable, and for the latter especially wistful interest to note the extraordinary power with which during the previous [eighteenth] century learned periodicals dominated scholarly opinion. And what different character was exhibited by Germany’s three great learned journals! And yet how long was the period during which each ruled a broad and important readership!

[Excursus on the Acta eruditorum, with which esp. Leibniz was associated and which, so Dilthey, was more inclined to learn than to criticize, and Friedrich Nicolai’s Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek, which was more inclined to criticize than to learn.]

The significance and competence of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, which the entrepreneur Bertuch founded in grand style in Jena in 1785, was completely different. Taking this currently emerging university as the focal point of such an undertaking was a brilliant move. The editors were also extraordinarily well chosen with respect to this particular decade.

At the time, Schütz’s philological reputation was second to hardly any other scholar, and his prudent, comfortable manner allowed him to maintain an excellent rapport with his colleagues. The most important point, however, was that he had, with both animated interest and a clear intellect, grasped the emergent [Kantian] critical philosophy, albeit not with the profundity with which, a few years later, his colleague in the same field Gottfried Hermann did.

Hufeland, a respected jurist, was second in line, attending more to the external tasks; it was of significance, however, that he cultivated an enthusiastic interest in natural law. Their mediate position enabled these two editors to combine the interests of the strict scholarly disciplines with participation in the grand movements of critical philosophy, so much so that it is difficult to say whether critical philosophy contributed more to the emerging power of this periodical or the periodical more to the advancement of critical philosophy.

Kant himself published a famous review of Herder’s Ideen. [5] Otherwise the philosophical reviews during this initial period came largely from the pen of Kraus, the famous Königsberg friend and student of Kant. Then it was Reinhold, who at the time was making extraordinary contributions to the spread of Kantian philosophy in person in Jena through his astute and noble eloquence. Schütz’s correspondence, published by his son, demonstrates the extent to which the Literatur-Zeitung also attracted the most significant personalities in other disciplines as well.

Of course, here, too, one should neither expect nor indeed demand any all-encompassing balance. Whereas the center of gravity of the Acta eruditorum resided in the exact sciences, so also that of the Literatur-Zeitung in humanism. We have already mentioned the connection with critical philosophy. The philology of people like Schütz and Wolf was intimately connected with the poetic movement of the time; the Literatur-Zeitung also drew poesy into the sphere of its criticism. Both Schiller and Goethe contributed, and on occasion of [Schiller’s periodical] Die Horen moved into an even closer association with it, albeit one a bit oppressive judging by Schiller’s well-known dictatorial letter to Schütz. Juxtaposed with such relationships, the ties to the exact sciences receded considerably.

In the 1790s, however, precisely this humanistic orientation, initially characterized by a kind of peaceful cohesion, began fragmenting into sharp, opposing partisan factions. The foundation on which the spirit of the journal itself was based, namely, critical philosophy, itself began considerable movement. And it was precisely in Jena that this movement came about. Moreover, the narrow confines of this small university town made these emergent contradictions all the more bitter, all the more personal, and all the more disinclined to accept a balance of power. Precisely that which initially contributed to the journal’s quick florescence now proved to be a source of considerable trouble.

Initially the journal had simply allowed itself to be carried along by what was still a comparatively gentle wave. In 1788 it declared that Reinhold had in fact brought critical philosophy to completion with his theory of the faculty of representation. Within the Jena movement, the journal had moved forward from Reinhold to Fichte, albeit probably already not without a certain measure of inner scruples. With the practical forcefulness unique to his entire personality, Fichte had immediately, from the outset of his new philosophical direction, come into contact with it, and from the moment he arrived in Jena had also tried to come to an understanding with both Schiller and Goethe concerning the fundamentals of his own thinking. In this sense, his personality focused quite naturally on trying to establish the self-enclosed dominion of critical humanism.

In the meantime, A. W. Schlegel had settled in Jena at the beginning of 1796 [correct: July 1796] to lecture on aesthetics and to work with the Jena Literatur-Zeitung. He quickly came to dominate the entire field of aesthetics there, and his critical acumen and creativity also soon made him by far the most significant contributor to the journal. The industrious facility with which he signed his name to a whole factory of reviews — to which his wife also made a considerable contribution — simultaneously made it possible for him to dominate the discipline even with regard to the masses of material that needed to be addressed.

The list of his reviews, which he himself published after breaking with the A.L.Z., [6] confronts us with a register one cannot peruse without a feeling of awe before the enormous diligence involved in producing such a body of work. This association with Fichte and A. W. Schlegel, however, also constituted the most extreme point to which the A.L.Z. would allow itself to be swept along. And indeed, precisely this position had already proven to be problematical for it.

Jena itself began to be filled with, as it were, young geniuses. “A nest of vipers,” the jurist Feuerbach called it later, bitterly recalling the earlier situation there. [7] It was with exquisite malice that Nicolai, in his famous article, [8] described the conflicts and collisions of the various intellectual personalities in the small university town; in this sense, of course, it was considerably easier for the representatives of the Berlin intelligentsia to avoid one another!

The Literatur-Zeitung had particularly burdensome problems with Schelling. Even the accounts of his friends during this period, for example, as attested in Schleiermacher’s correspondence, demonstrate how his defiant and presumptuous sense of self at the time could sometimes reach the point of terrorism in discourse with others. He demanded from the A.L.Z. nothing less than permission either to review his own works himself, or personally to choose his reviewers. [9]

At the same time, it was precisely with respect to this point that the experiential sciences were most bitterly, irreconcilably opposed to the discipline of philosophy; hence it was here that the A.L.Z. had to decide between the two directions, directions it had hitherto so laboriously and fretfully kept united. Its association with Friedrich Schlegel, however, who had just attained the most extreme point of his own paradoxical career in certain respects with his Lucinde, no longer seemed sustainable.

The A.L.Z. had cautiously avoided taking any position concerning the writings of its Romantic contributors in which their program itself was explicated, e.g., Athenaeum, preferring instead to remain utterly silent. Hence when the Romantics did indeed emerge as a self-enclosed party, and a storm of attacks raised itself against them, the journal had an excuse to terminate its association with them by breaking with A. W. Schlegel himself. Two insignificant incidents provided the occasion for doing so.

The incidents were the following.

Nicolai had written an extremely flaccid, affected satire against the Romantics, the Vertraute Briefe von Adelheid B** an ihre Freundin Julie S***, in which he has an adherent of the new school recite sentences from Athenaeum in all sorts of foolish situations before being “healed” from this illness by a lady of the world educated in Nicolai’s own school.

This tasteless piece was praised in the A.L.Z., but praised as if the critic had no inkling of its connection with the Schlegels. Regardless of how vehemently the editors denied it, no one can doubt that they had full knowledge of this maneuver or had solicited it outright themselves, not least because at the same time, in a comedy performed during a family celebration at the house of none other than Schütz himself, a similar protagonist appeared, also speaking in aphorisms extracted from Athenaeum.

The break, of course, came about quickly thereafter, and in the Intelligenzblatt on 13 November 1799, A. W. Schlegel took leave of the Literatur-Zeitung. [10] The break was immediately followed by a series of reviews by Huber attacking Athenaeum, Lucinde, and the letters by Vermehren and Schleiermacher on those works, [11] reviews cast in that unique theater pose of noble, moral indignation which Huber could affect so facilely. To Koberstein’s insistence that he does not know “whether Huber was also the author of these bitter, malicious reviews of Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the letters on this novel by Vermehren and Schleiermacher . . . but I doubt it,” one can only respond that this most well-read of literary connoisseurs of this period in fact somehow missed the letter by Huber included in Schütz’s correspondence (2:175).

In that letter, Huber details his review of Lucinde exactly as it then appeared in the A.L.Z.. This is the source of Koberstein’s beneficent judgment of Huber. Never, however, has anyone more wretchedly whitewashed an author than did Therese Huber in the two volumes of works and correspondence of her husband, [12] where she poeticizes his life into nothing less than a harmless idyll. The names of Schiller, Körner, A. W. Schlegel, Kotzebue, in short everyone around whom this man’s real life revolved, appear nowhere in this idyll.

She cannot, however, prevent one from acquiring a look at the true inner disposition of this man. In his youth, one sees everywhere signs of a drifting, empty, but frantic search for brilliance driven by the most peculiar illusions. It is simply incredible to see how he can speak about the “brilliant passages” in the laborious contrivance of his foolish tragedy Das heimliche Gericht, [13] how he then sets himself up as a grand historian, etc. Incapable of any serious, enduring pursuit, he throws himself into aesthetic criticism, his primary focus being the reading and criticism of inferior novels; what he occasionally ends up writing smacks of the style of Kotzebue and the latter’s coterie, while simultaneously (and perpetually) parroting expressions from Schiller, Forster, and A. W. Schlegel alongside references to “sublime morality.” He is one of those personalities whose slack weakness and inner contradiction fill one with disgust.

The following letter from A. W. Schlegel to this man [14] was written immediately after the publication of the review of Athenaeum and of Der hyperboreische Esel. After the printing of the first review, Huber had — quite in character — written Schlegel and the latter’s wife, Caroline, to spell out his reasoning and open a correspondence with them concerning the review. [15] The following letter concludes that correspondence. [16]

The dispute to which it alludes was the beginning of those particular battles that also led to the schism of the A.L.Z. itself into the Jena and Halle versions [1804]. And with that, the former power of the Literatur-Zeitung utterly dissipated. The changes that have since taken place within the publishing industry and the scholarly world have militated against the emergence of any journal of this sort again.


[*] This essay was originally the introduction to Wilhelm Schlegel’s letter to Ludwig Ferdinand Huber on 28 December 1799 (letter 258a) published in “Ein Brief A. W. Schlegel’s an Huber,” Preussische Jahrbücher 8 (1861), 225–35 (the letter itself on 231–35).

On this same topic, see also the supplementary appendix Garlieb Merkel on C. G. Schütz, the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, and Wilhelm Schlegel, and, perhaps surprisingly, Urban Wiesing’s essay on the scandal surrounding Auguste’s death. Back.

[1] See the supplementary appendix on Nicolai’s Vertraute Briefe von Adelheid B**. Back.

[2] Falk variously lampooned the Romantics in, among other places, his Taschenbuch für Freunde des Scherzes und der Satire and Gigantomachia, das ist heilloser Krieg einer gewaltigen Riesenkorporation gegen den Olympus (n.p. 1800). Back.

[3] See the supplementary appendix 252.1. Back.

[4] The reference is esp. to Der hyperboreische Esel oder die heutige Bildung. Ein drastisches Drama, und philosophisches Lustspiel für Jünglinge in einem Akt (Leipzig 1799); see supplementary appendix 250.1. Back.

[5] Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit, 4 vols. (Riga, Leipzig 1784–91); reviewed by Immanuel Kant in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1785) 4 (Thursday, 6 January 1785) 17–20, 21–22. Back.

[6] In a supplement to Athenaeum (1800) following page 164; see his declaration in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 45 (13 November 1799) (letter/document 255a), note 1. Back.

[7] Anselm Feuerbach in a letter from Kiel to Christian Gottfried Schütz on 12 May 1802 (Christian Gottfried Schütz. Darstellung seines Lebens, 2:94):

If you have perhaps asked yourself, “I wonder how Feuerbach is doing?” I can answer you: Infinitely well! Oh, anyone who has lived in Jena — in this cave full of vipers — would be happy even in a place with more modest charms, such as my Kiel. Back.

[8] “Gelehrtengeschichte, Weltweiswheit, und Poesie,” Neue allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek 56 (1801), 1:142–206, here beginning on 148. Back.

[9] See his missive to the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 142 (Saturday, 2 November 1799) (letter/document 252d). Back.

[10] Letter/document 255a. Back.

[11] Johann Bernhard Vermehren, Briefe über Friedrich Schlegels Lucinde zur richtigen Würdigung derselben (Jena 1800); Schleiermacher, Vertraute Briefe über Friedrich Schlegels Lucinde zur richtigen Würdigung derselben (Lübeck, Leipzig 1800). The two reviews appeared back-to-back in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1800) 366 (Thursday, 25 December 1800) 692–64 (Vermehren); 694–96 (Schleiermacher). Back.

[12] L. F. Huber’s Sämtliche Werke seit dem Jahre 1802 nebst seiner Biographie, 4 vols., ed. Therese Huber (Tübingen 1806–19). Here the frontispiece and florid font choice for the title page (1806):



[13] Ludwig Ferdinand Huber, Das heimliche Gericht. Eine dramatisirte Geschichte, in Thalia 2, no. 5 (1788) 1–66; no. 6 (1789) 72–83; no. 9 (1790) 3–40; book edition 1791. For a synopsis and excerpt from Wilhelm’s review of the play, see Caroline’s letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 27 December 1799 (letter 258), note 13. Back.

[14] Wilhelm Schlegel to Huber on 28 December 1799 (letter 258a). Back.

[15] Although Huber’s letter seems not to be extant, it can be approximately reconstructed from Caroline’s responses to him on 22 and 24/27 November 1799 (letters 256, 257) and her letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 27 December 1799 (letter 258). Back.

[16] Though see Huber’s letter to Wilhelm on 9/11 January 1800 (letter 258). Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott