Supplementary Appendix 405.2

Review of Richard Chenevix, Kritische Bemerkungen, Gegenstände der Naturlehre betreffend (1805) [*]

Finally the poor, abandoned, theorizing empiricists in Germany have received highly significant support from England. A member of the London Academy of Science has appeared incognito in Germany, like the noble English mylords in our plays, just when the danger is most acute, and now allows himself to render a faithful account of everything. — “When I had the pleasure of making your acquaintance in Halle,” this excellent gentleman writes in one of his witty letters, “I had just come to Germany”— veni [1]

“And knew absolutely nothing about Fichte and Schelling; the names of these German philosophical luminaries have not yet become known abroad. I was therefore (how modest is the author!) incapable of understanding some of their statements. I have, however, since then received the key to all these splendors that have emanated from Jena (how convenient!). — When I saw that it was a matter of chemistry (Fichte?), I could no longer conceal my indignation.” — vidi [2]

One learned by way of an essay in the Philosophical Transactions and in the Annales de Chimie — official journals of the natural sciences on whose scientific authenticity one can rely — what a distinguished man was anonymously sojourning in Germany, and was frightfully alarmed. Everyone gathered about. The incognito ceased.

A good-natured German scholar received the high honor of revealing to the public the identity of this distinguished guest. The scholar introduced him with effusive complements and deep bows. —

“You behold here,” he said, “an extremely famous man, one who has grandly served the sciences” (though just which specific services, he considered superfluous to relate). “This gentleman frequently visits [Claude] Berthollet in Paris. You will, gentlemen, even find him honorably mentioned in [Marc-Auguste ] Pictet’s travelogues. He is loftily elevated above the petty striving of the scholarly republic in Germany, in se teres atque rotundus.” [3]

The great man waved silently and graciously to the scholar, cast a distinguished, indignant glance at the gathering, which was composed in part of people seduced and led astray by a disreputable philosophy of nature — and began to speak. Everyone fell silent. Long passages were read from Örsted’s Materialien zu einer Philosophie des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts. [4] One believed in order to refute it. Nothing less.

A plethora of statements deriving from the notorious philosophy of nature that the distinguished man found printed in various papers, then also several about which he learned from others, are all mixed together. Then we are told that imagination may not proceed without judgment; that the sciences seek the truth; that the ambition to distinguish oneself from the common mass of people is a powerful motivator driving many a philosopher; that such was also the case with the man who set the temple in Ephesus afire, and similar bits of wisdom never before heard in Germany.

One believes that these wise statements are somehow being related to the statements of the philosophers of nature, and that one is now shown how those statements derive from the true system of the philosophy of nature rather than from misunderstandings, and how they betray imagination without judgment. Nothing less.

The man has powers of judgment, for how otherwise could he frequent Berthollet, appear in Pictet’s travelogues, analyze the Palladium (which may even be intended to be understood allegorically)? These are the premises; the gentleman offers no others, nor are others necessary. The conclusion is obvious: wrongheadedness, fabricated perceptions, violations of human understanding, assaults against reason, etc. All the extravagances of the adherents, as expected, are heaped on the serious research of serious scholars.

The Germans are seriously accused of teaching a kind of philosophy at their universities that has found absolutely no adherents in England and France. The entire pompous declamation is directed against [Jacob Joseph] Winterl’s [1732–1809] chemistry and Schelling’s philosophy of nature, hence it could well seem suspicious that both the distinguished gentleman as well as the humble German scholar believe to this very hour that Winterlian chemistry was modeled after the philosophy of nature, since, as anyone with even the most superficial historical acquaintance with the two knows, the two in fact arose utterly independently of each other and espouse mutually contradictory principles.

This, however, is part of the distinguished, charming légèreté [5] that is so loftily elevated above such pedantry. Finally, on the occasion of several passages from Dr. [Christian Samuel] Weiss’s [1780–1856] dynamic view of crystallization, which is also cited in extenso, [6] the highly distinguished, truly simple, unanalyzable palladium of all enemies of the philosophy of nature appears, one that slays each and every opponent:

“There are axioms of that which is evidently false (of that which the prince does not understand), and one thing I do know is that reason disapproves of the system of Herr Dr. Weiss (and simultaneously Schelling’s philosophical system and Winterl’s system of chemistry).” – vici [7]

The man stopped speaking, and everyone was astonished. Everything the good, honorable German opponents had been trying to attain in such multifarious ways, albeit not always as deftly as one might wish, one could now have in so simple a fashion. Admittedly, however, one would have to be Berthollet’s friend, a member of the London Academy of Science, and mentioned by Pictet were one to dare something of this sort with any hope of success.

And therewith Schelling’s profound striving, and the excellent Winterl’s thirty-year diligence — Praise be to God! — are successfully carried to their graves.

The effects of this almost divine discourse were incredible. The good-natured German scholar tried to save the old Hungarian natural scientist [8] by pointing out how he had engaged in speculation and experiments quite alone, and without any literary society. Too bad this well-intentioned excuse cannot help the old man! He shows on every page of his piece that he is well acquainted with all more recent attempts, and cites Gilbert’s Annalen even up to the most recent issues.

Yet another famous German, one who was unfortunate enough to take up with Dr. Weiss, hastily withdraws from him and asks that one pardon his own ignorance. Even our own Literatur-Zeitung, [9] which the humble scholar, quite in the sense of his master, severely reproaches, will have to determine how it can retreat by and by.

In a word: One simply cannot imagine a more comical farce, one in which the foppish, boastful, and ignorant foreign prince, the guileless hometown master of ceremonies, and the assembled people — all so assiduously endeavor to maintain the ridiculous tone as masterfully as possible. Not even the slightest trace of a serious investigation disrupts the pleasant illusion.

H. S. [10]


[*] Kritische Bemerkungen, Gegenstände der Naturlehre betreffend: geschrieben während eines Aufenthalts in Deutschland, von Richard Chenevix, Mitglied der Londoner Societät der Wissenschaften (“Critical remarks concerning elements of the doctrine of nature, written during a stay in Germany, by Richard Chenevix [ca. 1774–1830], member of the London Academy of Science”), trans. Ludwig Wilhelm Gilbert (Halle 1805), a special printing from Gilbert’s Annalen der Physik (1805) vol. 20, no. 4, 417–54. The review appeared in the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1806) 61 (Thursday, 13 March 1806), 486–88. Back.

[1] Latin: “I came.” Back.

[2] Latin: “I saw.” Back.

[3] Original: in seipso totus teres atque rotundeus (Latin, “one smooth and round within himself,” in the sense of “one uniform and regular in all his actions”); Horace, The Satires and Epistles of Horace Done into English with Notes, ed. S. Dunster, 2nd ed. (London 1712), Book 2, Satire 7:86, p. 222. Back.

[4] Hans Christian Örsted, (correct:) Materialien zu einer Chemie des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (Regensburg 1803). Back.

[5] Fr., “lightness, casualness.” Back.

[6] Latin, “in full, at length.” Back.

[7] Latin,” I conquered.” Back.

[8] Winterl had taught in Hungary. Back.

[9] I.e., the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung itself. Back.

[10] Der Freimüthige oder Ernst und Scherz (1806) 72 (Friday, 11 April 1806), 288; 73 (Saturday, 12 April 1806), 292; 74 (Monday, 14 April 1806), 296, published an article with the title “Reiseabentheuer des Hrn. Chenevix,” citing a lengthy personal letter from Chenevix himself translated into German from the French original concerning Chenevix’s “final adventures by land and by sea.” The intent of the article and letter was to disprove recent news of the alleged shipwreck and death of this man who “was everywhere respected despite the supercilious judgment that the familiar terrorism of a highly presumptuous literary journal [i.e., the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung in this present review] recently pronounced on him.” Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott