Supplementary Appendix 296.1

Rudolf Haym’s discussion of the influence of Chamfort’s wit on Friedrich Schlegel [*]

Haym picks up on Wilhelm Schlegel’s letter to Schleiermacher on 22 January 1798 (letter 194a), particularly the following remarks concerning Friedrich:

. . . he succeeds with such far better than with entire letters, just as he fares better with fragments better than with treatises, and with self-coined neologisms better than with fragments. Indeed, in the final analysis his entire genius is limited to mystical terminology. . . . someone who constantly offers up his inner wealth in all sorts of distorted forms while simultaneously searching with unspeakable grief for this or that thought which he hast lost on the staircase like a pin.

Haym comments:

And yet it was precisely this inner wealth through which Friedrich at least for now assumed intellectual leadership of the nascent circle around him. It was he who enabled the young, critical, poetic generation to attain a specific doctrine and, through that doctrine, a specific consciousness of its own uniqueness and of that which differentiated it not only from the older school, but also from Goethe and Schiller.

And it was precisely the fact that he had fallen in love with the fragmentary literary form that enabled him in his own turn to present and articulate in the most effective way possible the entire inventory of his convictions at the time [in Berlin, before he moved back to Jena], something he would never have been capable of doing systematically. Only by surrendering himself, as it were, to what his brother had extolled as his talent for “mystical terminology” was he able to produce a confession of faith that at least from a distance resembled a system.

His fragment-period was at the same time also his theoretically most productive period, and in the heady flush of this fertile renewal of his intellectual life he boasted of having become young in Berlin for the third time, just as, one might add, he had become young for the second time during his university period through his new enthusiasm for Winckelmann and the Greeks.

In Lessing, as we saw [earlier in Haym’s discussion of Friedrich], he had encountered the universal ideal of a fragmentist in the grand style. But it was a Frenchman who at precisely this time became his immediate model for the truly fragmentary form of the fragment, to wit, a form free from all pedantry and a form that resolves every thought, every idea into esprit and wit.

Wilhelm had published an exhaustive review in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung of Chamfort’s posthumously published works, emphasizing especially the value and charm of the witty writer’s aphorisms, which filled the final volume. [1] And now Friedrich Schlegel, too, was smitten by Chamfort, repeatedly picking up on individual sentences and even according the Frenchman what at the time was the highest praise, namely, the predicate of a “genuine cynic,” referring to his ideas and observations on the wisdom of life as “a book full of solid wit, deep feeling, delicate sensitivity, mature reason, and firm masculinity; and of suggestive traces of vital passion, and at the same time exquisitely and perfectly expressed. Without comparison, the highest and best of its type.” [2]

To combine Lessing’s revolutionary polemic with Chamfort’s wit, and in this particular aphoristic form to articulate the profundity of the new philosophy and the postulates of the new poesy — what an irresistible challenge for Friedrich!


[*] Rudolf Haym, Die romantische Schule, 247–48. Back.

[1] Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1796) 338 (Thursday, 27 October 1796) 241–48; 339 (Friday, 28 October 1796) 249–54; 340 (Saturday, 29 October 1796) 257–63; Sämmtliche Werke 10:272–304. Back.

[2] “Kritische Fragmente,” Lyceum der schönen Künste (1797) vol. 1, no. 2, 163. Trans. Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis 1971), 156 (fragment 111). Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott