Supplementary Appendix: Schelling: Heinz Widerporst’s Epicurean Confession of Faith

Heinz Widerporst’s Epicurean Confession of Faith [*]

|1| I cannot bear it any longer,
But must rise again to lash out stronger;
Once more stir up all my senses
Which’ve gradually lost their defenses
|5| To all those high, otherworldly screechings
Through which they force me to accept their teachings;
I must again become one of our own —
Made up of just blood, flesh, marrow, bone.
I just don’t know how they can compose
|10| All these endless pieces of religious prose; 
I don’t like to brood on it for an age,
Instead I will attack them in a rage.
So, to stop these spirits of high-standing
From blocking my words and my understanding,
|15| In response, at this very moment I insist
That the only real and true things to exist 
Are what one can feel with one’s hand,
Not things you can only understand
Through mortification, suffering and fasts
|20| Till you wish for release from your body at last.

When they spoke so defiantly of it, it’s true,
I was taken aback and had to think things through;
I read, as if I really knew,
The Speeches and the Fragment too. [1] 
|25| I’d have readily given such things the nod,
Renouncing work and life without God;
I hoped to mock evil, so thereby
Make myself a god up high,
And I had already immersed my soul
|30| In the intuition of the universal whole, [2] 
When my native wit reminded me
That I was as good as lost at sea,
That down the old tracks should I crawl
And be nobody’s fool.
|35| I was not idle about following this call;
But did not become straight like old Saul,
I had to dispel whims of the kind
That had once upset my mind,
And reteach my body how to walk
|40| By sending for as much wine as pork —
All of which proved very worthwhile.
When I had regained my old style,
Out of women I could get a rise,
See brightly out of both eyes;
|45| And having had my fill of things to taste and bite,
At once I sat down to write.

I gave myself this brief:
Do not falter in that belief
Which helped you through fair and foul weather
|50| And held your body and soul together,
Even though it’s not susceptible of proof
Nor reducible to conceptual truth.
How they speak of the inner light!
They talk a lot and prove nothing outright,
|55| They fill your ears with great speeches
About something that just falls to pieces,
That looks like poetry or hallucination,
But is, in fact, all poesy’s negation. 
They say nothing of themselves besides
|60| What they feel within and bear inside.
Thus I intend to further confess
My creed to which all may acquiesce,
As I feel it burn within my frame,
As it swells in every vein:
|65| In evil hours and in good, I have been
Happy with myself and contented within,
For it has slowly dawned on me
That matter is the only certainty,
It protects and guides everything, large or small,
|70| Is righteous father to all,
It is the element to which all thinking does tend;
For all knowledge, the beginning and end.
I don’t worry about the invisible too much,
Instead I remain with what I can see and touch:
|75| What I can smell, taste and feel,
So all my senses grasp what’s real.
Let my one religion be
To love a pretty knee
And breasts so full and hips so slim,
|80| Flowers from which sweet smells overbrim,
All pleasures full of nourishment,
All loves sweet with encouragement. [3] 
This is why, should one religion still exist 
(Though from it all I personally could desist),
|85| Out of all that are around
Only Catholicism could break me down:
As it was in the good old days,
Without all the quarrels, without all the frays;
When in hard times and in good all were One,
|90| Catholics didn’t look to distant climes for fun,
Nor did they at heaven gape,
But still for God they all went ape,
Believed the earth was at the center of a universal dome
And at the center of the earth was Rome,
|95| Where the chief resided
And the holiest scepter presided,
And there lived the parsons with all and sundry
Together, as in milk-and-honey country.
And in the house high up in the sky
|100| The same people lived such luxury, whereby
They held a daily wedding fete
Between the virgins and their wizened old mates;
And at home the wife would scream and shout
And reign supreme, as happens hereabout.
|105| I’d have laughed at this ‘till my sides split,
While also getting much use out of it.
But events have now moved on apace;
It is a scandal, it is a disgrace
That now it is seasonable
|110| For everything to be so very reasonable,
It is comme il faut [4]  to strut around with right and wrong,
And make a parade of fine speeches at the throng;
At every turn, even the youths
Are clipped with virtue’s truths,
|115| And one Catholic brother
Is as good as any other.
So all religion have I renounced and quit;
To none of them will I commit.
I go neither to church nor to hear the priest talk sweetly,
|120| Have finished with all faith completely,
Except that one religion which rules within,
Leads me to sense and the poetic word,
Daily my heart is stirred
At its eternal instigation,
|125| Its perpetual transformation
Without peace or delay.
It is a secret all can survey,
A poem that never dies,
Which speaks to my nose, ears, eyes,
|130| So that I can no longer believe nor attest
But what this religion plants in my breast,
Nor is anything just or secure
But what its revelations make sure;
For in its features so deeply wrought
|135| What is true must needs be sought;
The false ought never to seep its way in
And certainly never emerge from within;
Through forms and images my faith is revealed
And does not stay inside and concealed.
|140| So that from the ciphers that lie to hand
We might solve the mystery and thereby understand
Without recourse to anything real
Except what our fingers are able to feel.
This is why if there’s one religion I mustn’t mock,
|145| It would be found in mosses, rock,
Flowers and all things that are there
And which press forth into light and air;
It reveals itself in depths and heights,
These are the hieroglyphs it writes.
|150| Before the cross I’d happily bend down prone,
If there were a mountain I could be shown
On which, for Christians’ edification,
A temple emerged—purely of nature’s creation—
On top of which shining towers rise
|155| With magnetized bells of a great size,
And on the altars, in the great halls
Crystal crucifixes grace the walls,
Capuchins stand still as stone
Parading with everything vergers might own,
|160| In chasubles fringed with gold
With silver chalices and ostensories to hold.

However, up until the present time
No one has heard such bells chime,
And so I will not lose my thread
|165| But will persist in godlessness instead,
Until someone is sent my way
Who makes faith as plain as day —
Although I doubt he would.
Therefore, I intend to hold good
|170| Until the Last Judgment is upon me,
Which no one else will live to see.
I believe the world exists eternally
And will never decompose internally;
For I’d like to know when it would
|175| Burn all its shrubbery and wood,
And how they’d try to get hell hot
So as to cook up sinners in a pot.
I am delivered from fear’s control,
I can now heal body and soul;
|180| Instead of throwing about my arms
Losing myself in the universe’s charms,
I immerse myself in the bright, deep hue
Of my beloved’s eyes so blue.
I don’t know why the world should make me frown,
|185| Since I know it all the way down:
It’s an animal who is docile and meek
Who never shows us a threatening streak;
There are laws with which it has to agree
And so it lies before me peacefully.
|190| Within it, a giant-spirit has grown,
But all its senses have been turned to stone;
It cannot escape from its tight shell
Nor break out of its iron cell,
Although it is often stirred to flight:
|195| To extend and move onwards with might.
In what is living and even what has died
It struggles towards consciousness with active strides.
This explains how all things appear,
For it swells up and makes them persevere;
|200| This force, through which metals sprout,
Which forces trees in spring to fill out,
Which searches in all depths and heights
For what turns out towards the light,
Which struggles on and spares no pains
|205| But now shoots up to higher domains
Stretching out its limbs yet further,
Before now shortening them together,
Twisting and turning it desperately tries
To find the right shape, form and size.
|210| And struggling thus with its fingers and toes
Against that resistant element to which it’s opposed,
It learns to live in a small space
In which its senses are first put in place;
It’s but a dwarf: enclosed tight,
|215| Finely formed and upright,
Named the son of man in the past,
The giant-spirit finds itself at last.
From a deep sleep and a long dream
He awakes to scarcely recognize how he seems,	
|220| He looks at himself with marvel and pleasure,
Eyes wide open, he examines and takes measure;
He would like to quickly with all his senses
Melt back into nature’s expanses,
But he has now fallen away
|225| And cannot flow back as he did yesterday;
Instead, small and enclosed must he stand
Alone in his own vast land.
Fearful that frightening dreams might foretell
The giant plucking up its courage to rebel,
|230| And like the first god of the golden age
Devouring its own children in a rage.
He fails to realize that he and the giant are the same,
For he has forgotten his previous names,
And torments himself with ghosts of the dead.
|235| And yet he could say to himself instead:
I am the deity who nourishes within
The spirit which moves what is and what’s been.
From the early struggles the dark force induces
Past the gush of primordial life-juices,
|240| Through which matter and force swell out,
And the first blossoms and buds sprout,
Up until the first beam of a newly-born light
That, like a second creation, breaks through the night,
And that for the world’s thousand eyes,
|245| Like day does night, illuminates the skies;
And at last dwelling within the youthful power of thought,
Through which nature recreates itself from naught,
As one power, one pulse, one life,
Restriction and expansion’s one continual strife. [5] 

|250| For this reason there is nothing that I do detest
More than a foreign, if distinguished guest,
Who struts about from North to South
With evil speeches in his mouth
About the essence of the natural sphere;
|255| Who esteems himself so very dear.
These men derive from a distinct new race
With a special sense and spiritual grace;
They consign all others to a damned fate
And have sworn an eternal oath of hate
|260| Against matter’s works and existence;
Pictures strengthen their resistance
And they speak on religion as on a female
Whom one ought only to gaze at through a veil [6] 
So as to prevent any sensuous allusion.
|265| They produce verbal confusion,
Feel themselves all-mighty and a cut above,
And believe their members to have grown large from love,
Carrying the new Messiah still unborn
Who—elected by their decree—is sworn
|270| To lead all the poor men
Great and small into a pen
Where they stop teasing and having fun,
But in a nice and Christian manner appear as One, 
And they do anything else which is dubbed prophetic.
|275| They are, indeed, by nature non-magnetic,
Although if they happen to touch a spirit who is true
And feel his power within them accrue,
They believe that they have brought about this existence
To now point North without assistance.
|280| But their spirits are so very slack
That they can only speak of others’ acts;
They understand how to shake and befuddle,
To leave all our thoughts in a muddle,
And think thereby they make spirits rich,
|285| But all that happens is that noses itch,
Stomachs are polemically upset
And appetites are never whet.
I advise anyone who has read it,
So as to heal their corrupted spirit,
|290| To take a beautiful girl aside
And in her the meaning of Lucinde  confide.

 However, to all of them and their kind,
I will make known, and not stay resigned,
That against their sanctity and piety,
|295| Their superior sense and otherworldly society,
I will scandalize intently all life long 
As long as I can still hold on
To the worship of matter and light
And to German poetry’s fundamental might.
|300| So long as I cling to those two sweet eyes upon her face,
So long as I feel myself in the embrace
Of arms that promise admiration,
And by her lips am given consolation,
Her melody resonating in key,
|305| Her life penetrating into me,
Then I can only strive for what’s true,
All smoke and shimmer I will pierce through,
Then no thoughts in my head
Could flicker here and there like ghosts of the dead.
|310| They would instead have nerves, blood, marrow and flesh,
And would be born free, strong and fresh.

But to the others I am still polite 
And add, so as to conclude aright:
Let the devil and saltpeter fall
|315| On Russians [7]   and Jesuits all.

This text was written in Frau Venus’ nest
Where I, Heinz Widerporst, have confessed;
The second called by such a name, [8] 
God give us still many seeds the same.


[*] Translation by Daniel Whistler and Judith Kahl; reprinted here with their kind permission.

Schelling’s “Epikurisch Glaubensbekenntniss Heinz Widerporstens” was first published in Plitt 1:282–89, having been rejected for inclusion in Athenaeum by Wilhelm Schlegel and, as ultimate arbiter, Goethe (see Wilhelm’s letter to Schleiermacher on 16 December 1799 [letter 257d]), possibly — Friedrich von Hardenberg intimates as much in a letter to Friedrich Schlegel on 31 January 1800 (Novalis Schriften 4:318) — because of the apprehension that, like Fichte just a few months before, Schelling might draw the reproach of atheism; Goethe also opposed including Hardenberg’s “Die Christenheit oder Europa,” which was similarly excluded.

Schelling published parts of it (lines 184–249) anonymously in his own Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik 1 (1800) no. 2, 152–55, with the title “Noch etwas über das Verhältniss der Naturphilosophie zum Idealismus,” (Yet something else concerning the relationship between the philosophy of nature and idealism), with the concluding note that the “continuation” would follow (it did not; repr. Sämmtliche Werke 4:546–48).

Various versions of the text exist (see KGA V/3 245–47 for the copy sent to Schleiermacher in Friedrich Schlegel’s handwriting). For a critical edition, see Andreas Arndt and Wolfgang Virmond, Religionsphilosophie und speculative Theologie. Der Streit um die Göttlichen Dinge (1799–1812). Quellenband, ed. Walter Jaeschke (Hamburg 1994), 21–31.

Erich Schmidt had access to a clean copy of the poem from Schelling’s literary estate in Caroline’s handwriting and published an edition collating this copy with what Plitt published; see Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schellings Gedichte und poetische Übersetzungen, ed. Erich Schmidt (Leipzig 1913), 1–14. For other editions see Luigi Pareyson, ed., Schellingiana Rariora (Torino 1977), 85 (who also prints the text itself 86–98); English translations of excerpts can be found in David Farrell Krell, The Tragic Absolute (Bloomington 2005), 16, and Robert J. Richards, The Romantic Conception of Life: Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe (Chicago 2002), 103–4.

The title seems to derive from Gustav Plitt, though Friedrich Schlegel refers to it as Schelling’s “Epikurisch Glaubensbekenntniss” in a letter to Schleiermacher around 15 November 1799 (letter 255c).

Concerning the poem’s content, see Rudolf Haym, Die romantische Schule, 552–54:

Had Friedrich’s Schlegelian “philirony” had its way, this remarkable poem would have been published in Athenaeum alongside Hardenberg’s essay. Wilhelm Schlegel, however, more circumspect about such things and advised, moreover, by Goethe, voted against publication, and so “Heinz Widerporst’s Epicurean Confession of Faith” shared the same fate as “Europa,” with the author publishing merely an excerpt several months later — in fact, the poem’s more serious and unpolemic part, which betrays little of the cheeky disposition of the rest of the poem — in his own periodical, Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik.

It was only after almost seventy years under lock and key that the entirety of the piece finally came to light. As its title already indicates, it is a challenging counter to the mystical excessiveness of Schleiermacher’s Speeches and Hardenberg’s fragment, both of which are repeatedly referenced in the piece, a poetic pamphlet composed in language that is equally earthy and intentionally exaggerative as that of, for example, Goethe’s irreverent piece against Wieland [Götter, Helden und Wieland: Eine Farce (Leipzig 1774), in which Wieland, abducted from his bed, is magically confronted with “real” figures of Greek literature and mythology].

Heinz Widerporst wants nothing to do with all this “intuition of the cosmos” or with “losing oneself in the universe,” nor with any of the otherworldly teachings, vague references to some “inner light,” or any other of the prophetic pronouncements of the new apostles. Over against them, he maintains that “the “only real and true things to exist / Are what one can feel with one’s hand,” and that the only acceptable religion is that consisting in fresh and resolute sensual enjoyment.

And yet — he is himself not at all as far from the poetic proclaimers of piety as might appear at first glance. For he would be quite accepting — were there to be religion after all — of the old Catholic religion, which was, after all, full of poesy and buoyant sensuality! Not only has he obviously read Jakob Böhme, concerning whom Fichte and Tieck were arguing at the same time, but his veneration of the material world exhibits a wholly poetic-idealistic background. That is, he basically venerates not the material world or “matter,” but rather nature, a “secret all can survey, / A poem that never dies” that speaks to the discerning spirit through all our senses.

The heart of this entire confession of faith, after all, was indeed that particular excerpt published in the Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik to which Goethe himself also felt drawn and which ultimately the author of the “Apprentices in Sais” [Hardenberg’s unfinished novel “Die Lehrlinge zu Sais,” published posthumously in Novalis Schriften, ed. Friedrich Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck, 2 vols. (Berlin 1802), 2:159–246, one of whose chapters has the title “Nature”] could as easily have composed as Heinz Widerporst. For here the reference is to the “giant spirit” that, with senses turned to stone, lies hidden in nature, and yet yearning and stirring, “in what is living and even what has died / It struggles towards consciousness with active strides.”

And it finally succeeds, for it is in human beings that the giant spirit finds itself. Awakened from its long dream, it hardly recognizes itself and is inclined to “melt back into nature’s expanses.” If however, human beings recognize themselves, if they become aware of their origin in nature, then they can stand without fear over against nature and say to themselves:

 I am the deity who nourishes within
The spirit which moves what is and what’s been.
From the early struggles the dark force induces
Past the gush of primordial life-juices
. . .
And at last dwelling within the youthful power of thought,
Through which nature recreates itself from naught,
As one power, one interplay and weaving,
A drive and impulse towards a life always increasing!

What these verses are in fact presenting in this brief, also structurally poetic version is Schelling’s philosophy of nature — a new combination of Fichteanism and Goetheanism, by all appearances the combination in which the Goethean element is more strongly represented than anywhere else. In Jena, during precisely the time when most of the Romantic disciples were also in personal contact and when their strivings and goals were most tightly intertwined, this philosophy of nature also joined in the weave constituting the school’s various endeavors. Back.

[1] Allusions to Schleiermacher’s Über die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern (Berlin 1799), which had appeared in June 1799 (trans. by John Oman as On Religion. Speeches to its cultured despisers [London 1893]), and Friedrich von Hardenberg’s “Die Christenheit oder Europa,” written in 1799 but not published in Athenaeum as Hardenberg had anticipated (like Schelling’s “Heinz Widerporst,” because of the opposition of Wilhelm and Goethe), but rather only posthumously in 1826 in Novalis Schriften, ed. Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel, 4th ed., vol. 1 (Berlin 1826), 187–208 (translated by Margaret Mahony Stoljar as “Christendom or Europe,” in Novalis: Philosophical Writings [Albany, NY 1997], 137–52). Although the title “Die Christenheit oder Europa. Ein Fragment” (whence presumably Schelling’s allusion here) first appears in that 1826 edition — Friedrich von Hardenberg referred to the piece as “Europa” (in a letter to Friedrich Schlegel on 31 January 1800 [Novalis Schriften 4:317]) — Schelling and perhaps the other members of the circle in Jena seem to have known the piece by the title “Fragment” or at least loosely as a “fragment” (“fragment” being capitalized in German in either case). Back.

[2] “Intuition of the universe” is a central concept in Schleiermacher’s Über die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern. Back.

[3] The following lines, 83–106, are usually read as a parody of Hardenberg’s “Die Christenheit oder Europa.” Back.

[4] Fr., here: “[as is] fashionable.” Back.

[5] An alternate version for lines 248–49 reads: “As one power, one interplay and weaving, / A drive and impulse towards a life always increasing.” Back.

[6] Allusion to Schleiermacher’s name, Germ. lit.: “maker of veils.” Back.

[7] Allusion to August von Kotzebue, who was emerging as a deft literary adversary of the Jena group, not least with his play Der hyperboreische Esel oder die heutige Bildung. Ein drastisches Drama, und philosophisches Lustspiel für Jünglinge in einem Akt (Leipzig 1799) (see Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 21 October 1799 [letter 250] and esp. supplementary appendix 250.1). He will reappear in later letters esp. as the target of Wilhelm’s Kotzebuade, his Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen für den Theater-Präsidenten von Kotzebue bei seiner gehofften Rückkehr in’s Vaterland. Mit Musik. Gedruckt zu Anfange des neuen (Braunschweig 1801). Back.

[8] The first having been the protagonist of a farce by Hans Sachs, Hayntz [also: Hainz] Widerporst (1534). Back.

Translation © 2013