Supplementary Appendix: The Romantics’ Jahrbücher Project

Rudolf Haym
The Romantics’ Attempt to Launch a New Critical Journal 1800
after their Break with the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung
and the final issue of Athenaeum [*]

|737| What, however, would be gained by the demise of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung if no other critical journal could be presented as a counter, one that could represent true criticism and the genuine spirit of scholarship and poesy? The critical “Notizen” of Athenaeum, [1] at the very least, seemed worthy of surviving Athenaeum itself, and it was in this form that the idea first emerged. Together with Wilhelm Schlegel, it was especially Schleiermacher to whom these “Notizen” were quite important, and alongside Schlegel no one warmed up to the new project more fully, and no one worked harder to actualize it than did Schleiermacher.

These two men initially had a rather formal, merely external relationship; indeed, it was only through Friedrich Schlegel that they came together in the first place, and though at their first personal meeting Schleiermacher certainly acknowledged the wit, learning, and artistic deftness of this “genteel, elegant man,” he wholly missed the depth and emotion that had made him so fond of the younger brother. A shared inclination for criticism, however, had increasingly strengthened the bond between them.

Schleiermacher was utterly delighted with the deviltry of this witty man, finding that the Schlegelian critiques had “something quite divine and inimitable” about them that he himself despaired of ever equaling. It was a foregone conclusion that no one was better suited for directing such a critical journal than Schlegel, and Schleiermacher considered it an honor to serve under him, promising quite formally and properly, moreover — both for the sake of the cause and because he himself expected to learn so much from such participation — |738| to deliver his “portion of reviews” and also declaring himself ready to provide any service necessary to get the project moving.

In its own turn, Schleiermacher’s enthusiasm ignited and enhanced Schlegel’s. Day and night, Schlegel confessed, he could think of nothing but this plan for a critical journal, which quickly acquired ever greater dimensions. The periodical’s name was now no longer to be merely Notizen or even Kritiken, but rather Kritische Jahrbücher der deutschen Literatur. During the spring and summer of 1800, the correspondence between these two men focused almost exclusively on the disposition, the contributors on whom one could count, and the works the one or other contributor might review, especially Schleiermacher.

The enterprise was far enough along by 7 July 1800 that Schlegel could send the final draft of the Jahrbücher plan from Jena to Berlin. That draft takes as it point of departure the condemnation of existing review journals. A mere “newspaper” could not do justice to the envisioned task. Indeed, the new title was to express the overall disposition of this important enterprise, since the intention was “to accompany the scholarly and artistic progress of the age in an ongoing fashion.”

The primary areas of focus are immediately emphasized as being philosophy, the natural sciences, history, philology, the fine arts and their theory, and in general everything according to its universally human and cultural value, excluding the merely empirical or that which is calculated solely with an eye on purpose. The journal’s disposition was to be republican, and the editor in actuality merely the collective representative and organ of communication among contributors.

The immediately envisioned contributors, however, were precisely the members of the Romantic cooperative, namely, Friedrich Schlegel, Schelling, Ludwig Tieck, Schleiermacher, and August Ferdinand Bernhardi, among whom the latter two were viewed as the most reliable. The “exoteric members” included Henrik Steffens and Johann Wilhelm Ritter, whereas for the specialized area of novels and plays it was the women, namely, Caroline and Dorothea, whose participation would be enlisted.

The form of presentation was to be as little like traditional reviews as possible, and would be left to the free choice of the contributors themselves. Four primary rubrics were envisioned: |739| critical essays; shorter critiques in the manner of the “Notizen”; self-reviews; and “criticism of criticism.” This final rubric was the umbrella for all sorts of deviltry, the penultimate designed as a forum in which to avoid mutual praise and the charge of factionalism, and was also to accommodate the contributions of celebrities such as Goethe, Fichte, and Schiller.

Doubtless a splendid plan. Schleiermacher concurred with it completely except for — and such was a genuine improvement — suggesting that the main editor, the president of this literary republic, be granted a veto. These were essentially the same points brought to bear thirty-eight years later when a quite similar, intellectually excited group of young disciples founded the Halle Jahrbücher, the most intellectually significant and effective general critical periodical in our literary history.

A periodical, based on these principles, of the sort Wilhelm Schlegel and Schleiermacher agreed to establish together would have been an epochal success in the history of literary criticism. It would have attracted all that was radiant and vitally fresh in the literary world into its pages, and would have provided irresistible propaganda for the new notion of education and culture. And it would have become a point of unification for the Romantics quite differently than Athenaeum had been — here alone would the cooperative have genuinely coalesced into a real school.

Unfortunately, at the eleventh hour, even after a publisher had been engaged in the person of Johann Friedrich Cotta and the appearance of the first issue projected for the beginning of 1801, the project collapsed. It collapsed, however, because it was crossed by a different project, albeit one that emerged in the very same camp. Romanticism had to do without a common, shared critical periodical because there were already fractures in the community of its adherents that threatened to burst at any moment.

To wit, long before Schlegel’s break with Christian Gottfried Schütz |740| and company [the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung], it was Schelling — who could least be satisfied with the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung and whose scholarly ambition was characterized by the boldest and most intense striving of them all — who seized on the idea of unifying all truly rigorous scholars into a group for the sake of common activity, an idea he discussed with Fichte and then developed into a plan for founding a critical journal. [2]

Fichte immediately seized control of the idea and tried to formulate it more specifically when he returned to Jena from Berlin [December 1799] and found not only the war with the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung in full swing, but also Schlegel occupied with quite similar ideas. During the winter of 1799–1800, Fichte variously discussed the plan with Schlegel, and on 23 December 1799 sent him a written draft.

Every line of this draft betrays the author of the Wissenschaftslehre — and of Der geschlossne Handelstaat. [3] The confraternity, thus the introduction, must set about this undertaking with a firm moral resolution. Fichte then develops the “concept” of the whole. The enterprise neither can nor should want to be anything but “a pragmatic history of the age with respect to literature and art.” Everything else follows from this concept with logical necessity.

This history must, first, be anchored in the age and, second, accompany the age itself. Such includes: the formulation and presentation of a specific concept of science, scholarship, and art in general, and then a comparison of the present age with precisely this idea that has been set up as a standard; an assessment by way of class and rubric of new publications; and rather than individual reviews, instead exclusively systematic surveys. The external organization of the journal was to be strictly monarchical and bureaucratic, a state whose head alone is named, is alone responsible for everything over against the public, the publisher, and the contributors, and under whom, in graded subordination, a collective of approximately forty scholars were to work!

This plan, as is immediately evident, had not the slightest chance of realization without severe alteration. Wilhelm Schlegel did in any case draw from it for his own project the overall spirit and broader fundamental idea of a historical assessment of the cultural progress of the age, while eliminating the impractical elements entirely. Instead of the systematic unity envisioned by Fichte, Schlegel was instead satisfied with accepting as a fundamental condition the notion of a unity of spirit and striving. He |741| also tried to ensure greater variety and freedom of movement.

One might have thought that the two sides might yet come together. Schlegel, however, could not but resist the rigid one-sidedness of Fichte’s plan; although he would doubtless gladly have welcomed Fichte as a contributor, he saw no way of doing so except by granting him special status.

In his own turn, Fichte had a pronounced disinclination toward the “arrogant shallowness” of which he accused the elder Schlegel, and at most might have tolerated the “obstinate immaturity” of the younger Schlegel while yet hoping the latter might “accept discipline.” Such were his approximate remarks concerning the brothers in a letter to Karl Leonhard Reinhold, a letter that is a remarkable testimony to his tactlessness.

Fichte was great as long as he was able to bring the unconditional element in knowing and willing to expression with incisive logical consistency. As soon as he had to deal with conditional reality, however, as soon as he tried to be especially clever and practical, he committed the most ridiculous blunders, often to the point of becoming petty and ignoble.

What more wretched a blunder could he have come up with than the step he now envisioned, namely, to use the weakling Reinhold’s name as the public representative of the undertaking so as not to prejudice the public against the new critical enterprise through the names of Fichte and Schelling? How was such to be reconciled with the demand at the beginning of his draft, namely, that each person individually and all together had to commit in a “sacred fashion” not to allow ulterior motives of any sort to influence the plan? And how could one reconcile with the obligation to openness and truthfulness the fact that at the same time he debated the plan with Schelling and the Schlegels and zealously tried to win them over to the enterprise, he simultaneously explicated to Reinhold behind their back how because of their unholy alliance with Schelling one could simply not avoid having to include the Schlegels, though he himself would know how to subordinate them later to decidedly subaltern participation?

Despite all the respect the capable core of Fichte’s character doubtless deserves, one must acknowledge that it was solely through his diplomatic maneuvering that the project of the Jahrbücher came to nothing.

Concurrently with his discussions with Reinhold along these lines, Fichte modified his own draft somewhat. Now it was to be a “review journal of existing critical periodicals,” a “critical journal of the second potence,” combined with self-reviews |742| of the more significant writers — both of which points play a role in Schlegel’s draft.

On his return to Berlin in the spring of 1800, however, Fichte found that the bookseller Johann Friedrich Unger and the historian Karl Ludwig Woltmann were already moving forward with a new journalistic undertaking, and it was with this undertaking in mind that Fichte now made a new move, quickly and resolutely taking things in hand.

Because he now believed that, on the given, solid foundation already established, he could dictate the law, he thus returned in essentials to his original draft with its wholly systematic disposition and monarchic constitution. He sent this new, printed program to Wilhelm Schlegel and Schelling at the end of July and beginning of August, asking the latter for a critical survey of the philosophy of nature, the former for the same of poesy and the verbal arts, and Friedrich Schlegel for a treatise on the spirit, purpose, and current situation of philology.

At precisely this time, however, Wilhelm Schlegel had already completely settled things concerning his plan with the publisher Cotta. With this particular publisher, moreover, and even more so through his broader literary contacts and through the disposition of his plan, Schlegel had a distinct advantage over Fichte. Nonetheless, no effort was spared in trying to estrange Fichte von Unger.

With “all the tethers of love and force” Schlegel tried to draw Fichte over to his side. He and his friends, too, now engaged in broad diplomacy, albeit solely with the commendable goal of bringing about a coalition. Schleiermacher was charged with sounding out and working on Fichte, something he went about with a measure of subtlety and deftness worthy of the most seasoned diplomat. Schelling wrote once and then again to Fichte with the same goal, and eventually the suggestion was even made to this formidable rival to divide the editorial office between him and Schlegel.

But in vain. In writing, Fichte initially appealed solely to his obligation to Unger. In the audience Schleiermacher had with him it became quite clear |743| that he was extremely upset by the counterproject that was now crossing his own, and the cordial suggestions and offers Schelling finally put forth similarly wholly missed their mark.

Although we unfortunately possess only a fragment of his answer to these suggestions, the irritated and annoyed tone of this fragment certainly allows us to surmise the rest. It cannot be doubted that he took the opportunity, among his vehement tirades against the Schlegels, to remind Schelling of their own earlier agreements, while making it clear to Schelling that although the two of them together — he and Schelling — could very well undertake a “comprehensive scholarly journal,” such must now never be done together with these unscholarly dilettantes.

This divide et impera worked. Fichte’s words, however, still exerted such enormous influence on Schelling at the time, the conceit of scholarly gentility was so strong in Schelling himself, and Schelling’s own disinclination toward the younger Schlegel so pronounced — that now he, too, with a sudden and unexpected turn, abandoned the Schlegelian project. At the same time, however, Fichte had also managed to impress Cotta. With the withdrawal of the publisher Cotta, who wanted nothing to do with the project without the participation of the two philosophical celebrities, the Schlegelian Jahrbücher project was laid to rest once and for all in November 1800.

In the meantime, however, Fichte had now also become disinterested in Unger’s project, and was heartily glad to see that project abandoned. Now all that remained was the idea of a periodical published together with Schelling, one that might perhaps be elevated even higher by the participation of Goethe and Schiller. Although this plan reappears from time to time in the correspondence between Fichte and Schelling up till May 1801, its demise ultimately came from the fundamental differences of opinion concerning which the initiator of the Wissenschaftslehre, on the one hand, and the founder of the philosophy of identity, on the other, became increasingly clear.

In the end, Schelling independently founded his Neue Zeitschrift für speculative Physik, and a bit later what he had originally intended with Fichte was realized in the Kritisches Journal der Philosophie, for which he had found a useful ally in his countryman Hegel, an ally, moreover, who at the time was also completely in concurrence with Schelling.

Thus did Schellingian philosophy mange to take care of itself. Not so aesthetic criticism. One can best sense the loss the latter suffered through the collapse of the Schlegelian project in Wilhelm Schlegel’s essay — one intended for that project — on Gottfried August Bürger, an essay that quite in contradiction to the philosophical-moral condemnation Schiller had pronounced on Bürger, focuses its assessment of the poet largely with respect to the understanding of the literary-historical conditions of his poetic striving and transforms that fundamental criticism into an eminently fair and just characterization. [4]

That essay constitutes the principal contribution to that particular collection of essays of the two brothers that was intended as a concluding summary of their previous critical activity, or, as Friedrich put it, of their critical individuality, namely, the Charakteristiken und Kritiken. Friedrich’s new contributions to the collection — the conclusion to his essay on Lessing and a piece on Boccaccio — clearly show that his critical wings had weakened, whereas Wilhelm’s essay on Bürger shows quite to the contrary that he was now standing at the zenith of his critical mastery.


[*] Rudolf Haym, Die romantische Schule, 737–44; this account follows Haym’s earlier account of Schelling’s break with the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung; see Schelling’s declaration in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 142 (Saturday, 2 November 1799) 1150–52 (letter/document 252d), esp. note 4, where the portion of Haym’s account preceding this present one is discussed. — Pagination from original; footnotes are those of the present editor. Back.

[1] Athenaeum (1799) 285–340; (1800) 129–64; 238–336. Back.

[2] This plan emerged as early as the summer of 1799. Back.

[3] Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre came out in various versions during the 1790s and was the primary expression of his philosophy at the time; Der geschlossne Handelsstaat. Ein philosophischer Entwurf als Anhang zur Rechtslehre und Probe einer künftig zu liefernden Politik (Tübingen 1800), a utopian model for society. Back.

[4] “Bürger,” in Charakteristiken und Kritiken 2:3–96; Kritische Schriften, 2:1–30; Sämmtliche Werke 8:64–141. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott