Supplementary Appendix 303.1

Friedrich Schlegel’s public disputation (1801) and lecturing in Jena

Friedrich Schlegel received his doctorate in Jena on 17 August 1800 on the basis of his earlier writings on Greece. He did, however, have to participate in the obligatory public disputation to acquire lecturing privileges. Such was held in Jena on 14 March 1801.

Even Schiller, by no means an ardent supporter of Friedrich, remarks in a letter to Goethe on 16 March 1801 that the university subjected Friedrich to considerable chicanery in the matter of his Habilitation disputation: [1]

The philosophical faculty here has, at its own cost, furnished material for amusing conversation. Friedrich Schlegel had to hold a disputation, and, in order to annoy him, Messrs. Ulrich, Hennings, and others rummaged up an old and obsolete law by which they themselves appointed his opponents, a thing which from time immemorial had been done by the disputants themselves.

Upon the good advice of a few friends, Schlegel — without raising any objections — submitted to this chicane, and acted quite good-naturedly towards the one of these officially appointed opponents — whose behaviour was the more modest; the other, however, a Professor Augusti, — who, according to the opinion of all, was a wretched individual and had come and been recommended from Gotha — began the argumentation by making insulting personal remarks, and besides this, behaved so impudently and stupidly that Schlegel was compelled to reply in the same fashion.

Ulrich, who was present as dean of the faculty, and allowed all these rudenesses on the adversary’s part to pass, solemnly denounced some of Schlegel’s replies; but the latter did not remain in his debt for these, and got all the laughter on his side, and there were scandalous scenes. But, according to the general account, Schlegel is said to have behaved with great moderation and propriety, and it is expected that this affair will again raise faith in him as a lecturer, and that had fallen very low.

Goethe answered on 18 March 1801 from Weimar: [2] “I hope that Schlegel may gain some good from his fight, for, in truth, I have not heard even his best friends say anything in praise of him as a lecturer.”

Rudolf Haym discusses Friedrich’s plans to launch a philosophical career for himself in Jena and recounts Friedrich’s wretched Habilitation disputation on 14 March 1800, which had been postponed since October 1800: [3]

This launch genuinely did come about, albeit accompanied by an unequivocally pathetic fiasco. Unfortunately, just as earlier, when he launched his poetic career in the narrower sense, financial considerations played a not inconsiderable role. Since Fichte was no longer in Jena, and since Schelling, who had spent the entire summer of 1800 in Bamberg, initially would not be returning to his position there either, [Friedrich] Schlegel decided himself to claim the inheritance of the two philosophical principles at the university, that is, to take up the cause of philosophical Idealism from the lectern in Jena, thereby simultaneously also addressing his financial problems.

In vain did his brother, who had similarly been in Bamberg since the beginning of August, warn him against this undertaking, and in vain did Schleiermacher predict precisely the chicanery the university would doubtless perpetrate against him.

Friedrich writes to Wilhelm on 6 August 1800 from Dornburg near Jena (letter 265j):

You further warned against taking any steps with respect to lecturing in philosophy. — Do you perhaps know that Schelling will be returning and perhaps has the same intentions? — That would doubtless stand in my way, and I would be quite sorry not having known about it beforehand. But now I cannot go back. 60 students have signed up, and in the next few days I will have to apply for my doctoral candidacy with the faculty; otherwise it is too late. — Do let me know what you know about this matter; I implore you.

Schleiermacher writes Friedrich from Berlin on 11 July 1800: [4]

As far as your project with respect to lecturing at the university is concerned, my dear friend, since you are already familiar with my penchant for beginning by saying “no” you will not be surprised that I do so now as well. If you genuinely are considering remaining in Jena and lecturing even beyond next winter, then you are certainly right in going ahead and getting the doctorate; — but do you really want to do so?

A priori I rather doubt it. It would, however, hardly be worth the trouble merely to lecture this winter, nor worth the considerable annoyance — for they will without a doubt engage in every conceivable chicanery at your examination, with the dissertation, during the public disputation, and wherever else they possibly can. It seems to me it would not be all that difficult for you to assemble interested students in a privatissimum, where you can lecture — unless things in Jena are different than here — without having the doctorate.

Haym continues his account:

[Friedrich] Schlegel, however, already could not or at least no longer wanted to turn back. He had already begun surreptitiously to makes his plans known and had assembled a not inconsiderable number of subscribers among students who were anxious to become acquainted with the philosophical system of the author of Lucinde.

He had at the same time taken the necessary steps among the philosophical faculty and had received his doctorate in August [1800] without having to take the examen rigorosum [see above regarding his previous writings on antiquity contributing to this relaxation of requirements].

His trial lecture on 18 October 1800 on what can only be viewed as a truly Schlegelian topic, namey, “On Enthusiasm or Rapture,” was deemed adequate for granting him the privilege of becoming a Dozent or private lecturer, indeed, the public lecture catalogue for the winter 1800–1801 announced two lecture courses, a private course on transcendental philosophy and an unpaid course on the “nature of the scholar.”

It was not until later, during the new Privatdozent’s obligatory disputation, which had been postponed until the end of the winter semester, that the trouble, scandal, and annoyance began. The dean, adducing faculty statutes concerning such matters but with an obvious intent for chicanery, himself officially appointed two opponents for the disputant [see Schiller’s letter to Goethe cited above]. One was Professor Augusti, who immediately cited Lucinde and a passage from the Athenaeum-fragments.

Schlegel countered insult with insult, the Schlegelian party among the students boisterously took his side in these initial attacks, and it was only with considerable effort that the dean was finally able to put an end to the tempestuous scene and indeed the entire disputation.

[Haym’s fn:] Schiller’s account to Goethe of the course of events here (16 March 1801) is quite correct. The above, somewhat more detailed account derives from the Jena lecture catalogues and from the protocol and official files of the dean of the philosophical faculty at the university.

One might add that apart from the official opponents, Schlegel was indeed also allowed to invite two of his own, one of whom was Johann Bernhard Vermehren, and that it was the thesis non criticie sed historice est philosophandum to which Augusti responded with the fragment from Athenaeum that maintains that “the historian is a prophet facing backwards” [5] and that Paulus defended Schlegel against the faculty, and that the entire incident resulted in a revision of the statutes governing disputations.

As one might imagine, the account given by the Dean Ulrich, who was clearly on Augusti’s side and who was, of course, defending his own actions in the matter, makes enormously entertaining reading with its copious references to Schlegel’s “discourteous comportment,” “heated transcendental contentiousness,” and “eccentricity.” [6]

Schlegel’s experiences with lecturing itself, on the other hand, were considerably more unpleasant even than this disputation, in which Schlegel, at least according to the opinion of most, comported himself better than his opponents. Schelling’s anticipated travel plans had come to naught, not least because he “could not possibly stand by and watch the well-laid foundation destroyed in this way,” [7] and he had returned to Jena and essentially “slain” his opponent over the course of a few lectures.

The primary cause, however, that from day to day Friedrich’s auditorium became increasingly empty, was Friedrich himself. Consistently strong in promises and announcements and weak in executing and delivering on those promises, he was doomed to run aground when it came to presenting methodically a systematic whole.

Quite obviously, he was lacking in essentials. In the awkward position of having to lecture on the philosophy of Fichte and Schelling, which he himself, as it were, had only done in his dreams, he filled his lectures with paradoxes and polemics or with rhetorical gushings on the general spirit of Idealism, and when finally all his students disappeared, and when they spoke behind his back about how he occasionally spouted nothing but nonsense, he convinced himself that they were simply “unspeakably stupid” and that the best thing to do was to view the entire business of lecturing solely “from the perspective of irony.” [8]

Nonetheless, the entire undertaking cost him an enormous amount of time, monopolized him completely and, worse yet, yielded extraordinarily poor financial results.

For Caroline’s accounts of Friedrich’s disputation, see her letters to Wilhelm on 26 March 1801 and 22 June 1801 (letters 303, 322).


[1] Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller, 2:365. Back.

[2] (Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller, 2:367 Back.

[3] Die romantische Schule, 676–77. Back.

[4] Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:206–7; KFSA 25:141. Back.

[5] Fragment 80; trans. Peter Firchow, Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, (Minneapolis 1971), 170. For Friedrich’s theses and Caroline’s parody of them, see her letter to Wilhelm on 26–27 March 1801 (letter 303), note 17. Back.

[6] For these texts, texts see KFSA 25:694–707 with annotations. Back.

[7] To Fichte on 31 October 1800 (letter 273). Back.

[8] To Wilhelm on 10 November 1800 (letter 274a). Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott