Supplementary Appendix: A Ladies’ War at the University of Würzburg

Franz Xaver von Wegele
“A Ladies’ War at the University of Würzburg”
Lecture delivered on 19 February 1885 in Würzburg [*]

I know not whether my honored readers are familiar with the “Ladies’ Peace” of 1529, which brought a much-desired end to a bloody war between Charles V and Francis I of France. It bears this particular name because two illustrious ladies, Margaret (1480–1530), the emperor’s aunt, and Louise of Savoy (1476–1531), the king’s mother, brought it about. [1] The two quarreling princes and their statesmen had over the course of the war become so embittered toward one another that the only course remaining seemed to be to place the establishment of peace in softer and smoother hands, a course that was chosen and indeed ultimately enjoyed success. The Treaty of Cambrai emerged, which for just this reason is known as the “Ladies’ Peace.”

Although it was admittedly not long-lived, that particular fact need not diminish the merits of its illustrious initiators, all the less so insofar as that particular treaty is the only one with such a name attested by history. By contrast, of course, history attests more than one disastrous war caused by the passions of “proud queens,” who are then held accountable for the demise of many a flourishing empire. Whether such is always justifiable must admittedly be examined from case to case, and we will leave this courtly obligation to someone else, or at least to a later age.

Allow me instead to speak here about a ladies’ war that, though not taking place in the loftier regions of politics, nonetheless does have one advantage, namely, that its reality need fear neither doubts nor criticism. This war happened during our own [i.e., nineteenth] century, and although its history has not yet been written, almost all the documents are accessible and have already attracted various scholars.

In recounting this story, I am gratified that we need not be anxious with respect to the horrors of this war, which managed to escape the cruelties and abominations of normal wars. Blood flows only in the rather common liquid form of ink, flashing swords are replaced by sharp tongues, and bullets and arrows appear only in the form of words shot from a distance. And one particularly comforting element is that none of the combatants remained behind on the battlefield; ultimately they all vacated it intact, albeit not always voluntarily, the storms of the age driving them apart and then guiding them away to the most varied points on the compass.

One point is, however, unique: These were not girded amazons or any other figures from some legendary Maidenland who engaged in such discordant behavior, but rather each and every one a well-bred German housewife, conscientious spouse, tender mother with spotless pasts, spotless, that is, with the exception of one concerning whom we will have to become acquainted shortly for obvious reasons.

And yet precisely she is the main player in this drama, the high power among the warring parties, the center of the action. Our queries concerning the setting of this war discloses not some blood-soaked plain somewhere in our German fatherland, but the — despite its fortress enclosure — peaceful town of Würzburg; indeed, even more strange, it was the city’s illustrious university under whose peaceful roof malicious fate assembled these “quarreling queens.”

And the husbands of these bellicose ladies stand not in the service of some god of war, but are instead meritorious teachers of philosophy, jurisprudence, medicine, indeed even of theology, all of them highly educated, renowned servants of scholarship and science. Hardly any shared the warring lust of their better halves; on the contrary, for the longest time they were in fact quite uncomfortable with it all and were loath to take sides and, like Homer’s gods, descend into the battle.

What, however, was the object of this dispute, this war? As justified as the question seems, it is by no means easy to provide a succinct answer. But in the interest of remaining loyal to the truth and of not raising false expectations, let us not conceal the fact that it was not at all a dispute concerning the highest goods of humankind. In fact, at first glance it seems quite to the contrary to be rather petty and small-townish, involving as it initially does merely empty jealousies, gossip, and rivalries of the sort that, given the general human condition, invariably arise even in the most select company. Hence were it not for the setting itself of this war and its background and connection with the grand intellectual and political developments of the age, and if a series of remarkable people did not take the stage in this connection as well — we would be glad simply to leave this war to its own fate and turn our attention to more dignified material.

Precisely such highly significant connections, however, are what we encounter here, connections simultaneously leading us into the very center of the crisis by virtue of which a respected German university, one that was long the “mighty fortress” of the disciples of Loyola, in intimate association with the grand changes of the age, successfully made the irrevocable transition from the ban of obsolete orders of earlier centuries into the freer forms of modernity. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire educated world in Germany at the time followed these events with undivided attention and excitement, and indeed was over certain stretches quite empathetically involved. Under these circumstances, it is probably not without merit to recall these events here now.

To this end, let us return to the beginning of our century. The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was creaking at every joint, and its fate was overdue. But before the final coup de grace, the ultimately fatal blow was delivered in the form of secularization. The ecclesiastical states, both large and small, were seized and distributed to the secular leaders who, by surrendering the left bank of the Rhine River to France, had suffered losses of both land and population. Palatinate Bavaria had in this context lost its territory on the left bank of the Rhine and was now compensated by, among other things, receiving the two bishoprics Würzburg and Bamberg.

It was in this way that the Bavarians first came to Franconia. The two prince bishops of Würzburg and Bamberg were given a reduced allowance and thenceforth remained restricted to their ecclesiastical office, to which at least their predecessors had not always attached particular importance.

It went quite without saying, moreover, that the thoroughgoing, enlightened system that the powerful minister Montgelas had already begun implementing in the old Bavarian territories would simultaneously be extended to the newly acquired provinces as well. For various reasons, the inhabitants of the bishopric Würzburg were not particularly excited about this change. The loss of state independence was perceived all the more painfully insofar as the new system wounded or otherwise damaged not a few interests in the former ecclesiastical state.

Implementation of this new organization in the Franconian provinces was in the hands of the general territorial commissar, Count von Thürheim. The count, who came from a very old Swabian line and was also a gifted and brilliant cavalier, had been educated in the Stuttgart Karlsschule, where he became an intimate and enduring friend of the young Schiller. Politically he was completely dedicated to the principles of his master, Montgelas, and proved to be a useful ally in implementing the latter’s plans, one of which we must examine more closely.

Immediately after the Bavarian government acquired the Franconian provinces, people in Munich began toying with the idea of establishing a university of the highest caliber in the midst of those provinces. For a time it was still undecided whether the envisioned institution would be located in Würzburg or Bamberg. Something similar had already existed in both towns for some time, albeit in the sense of the older, strict ecclesiastical disposition, the only difference being that the university in Würzburg had had a much more normal and distinguished history, and had accommodated the demands of the progressing age to an extent that really should not have allowed anyone to vacillate in deciding which competing institution clearly merited preference.

On the other hand, however, Bamberg did have an extremely influential advocate for its own claims in the person of Dr. Adalbert Friedrich Marcus, director of the hospital founded by the prince bishop of the two bishoprics, Franz Ludwig von Erthal, who had died in 1795.

A talented physician and proven organizer, Marcus had guided the institution entrusted to him to a high degree of excellence and now also understood how to exert considerable influence on Count von Thürheim. Regardless, however, of which of the two competing towns would ultimately be chosen, no one doubted that amid this reorganization of one of the two earlier universities the religious affiliation of the professors was not to be a consideration. Negotiations had already begun and indeed even been concluded with a number of respected scholars.

The elect included first and foremost the youthful Friedrich Schelling, who was still basking in the fresh fame brought him by his philosophy of nature. One of the most zealous adherents of his system was Marcus, and it was precisely he who had prompted Count von Thürheim to offer Schelling a position. On his own initiative, however, the count had also brought about the appointment of Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm von Hoven as professor of pathology, who was and remained in a relationship of the most loyal and enduring friendship with Thürheim as well as with Schiller from their days at the Karlsschule together. Hoven, at the time court physician in Ludwigsburg, had long yearned for an academic position and was at just this time close to receiving a position as professor of medicine in Jena thanks to Schiller’s efforts. When Thürheim’s offers reached him, however, he had no doubt which choice he would make.

The university in Jena, which at the time was undergoing a precarious crisis , was to lose not only Schelling to the anticipated Franconian university, but several other valued faculty members as well, for example, the solid jurist Gottlieb Hufeland, a native of Danzig; the representative of rationalist Protestant theology, Eberhard Gottlob Paulus; also Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer, who was both a theologian and a philosopher and who later provided such excellent service to Bavaria’s educational system and was the founder of the line that still flourishes among us by that name.

One might point out in this context that very few of the respected and renowned scholars of that time were not seriously considered for positions in Franconia in this connection, as were, for example, Daub, Schleiermacher, Savigny, etc., though for various reasons only in a few cases were these laudable intentions successful.

Schelling, Paulus, and von Hoven all arrived in Würzburg just as the primary question, namely, Würzburg or Bamberg, was being decided in favor of the former. The reasons for this choice were obvious enough and have already been alluded to above. Enough, the experiment of restructuring was to be carried out at the university created by the prince bishop Julius Echter (1545–1617), one of the leaders of the Counter Reformation in Germany. This university, as regards both institutional considerations and personnel, did justice only to a modest extent to the legitimate demands made by modernity on an institution of this kind, even though during the previous half-century here, too, the older system had indeed been profoundly shaken and subject to various changes.

The university did in any case include a number of respectable names, foremost the excellent physiologist Ignaz Döllinger, father of the famous theologian. Because philosophy was the department in the worst shape, it was there that the imminent restructuring, were it to be meaningful at all, would have to be implemented most exhaustively. It was, by the way, the opinion of at least part of the older professors that such change was indeed needed, and once it became known that Würzburg was to become Bavarian, several directed themselves to Munich with proposals in this regard, while still others, however, wanted to hear nothing of the alleged necessity of such changes.

In the meantime, the Bavarian administration was resolutely following the path it had laid out. The familiar organizational decrees of 3 November 1803 contained the entire sum of the envisioned changes and left precious little remaining of traditional structures. In truth it involved a secularization of the prince-bishopric university by way of a thoroughgoing and comprehensive program the likes of which had never been even remotely implemented, not even in the case of the universities that had undergone restructuring, such as Halle and Göttingen. Some of the implemented measures did indeed unmistakably go too far, such as the elimination of the traditional departmental structure and especially the amalgamation of the Catholic and newly appointed Protestant professors of theology into a single “section.”

Nonetheless it is equally undeniable that, if the Würzburg university has since that time been able to compete with the other German universities, that capability must be acknowledged as the result of this reorganization. What was correct and useful asserted itself, and when, let us say, a bit too much good was implemented, time itself smoothed things out and returned them to the proper measure. It was in any case a rather remarkable spectacle that commenced on which all of Germany kept its eyes fixed in astonishment. Not everyone believed that what was being created would indeed prove tenable. Goethe, for example, in a letter to Schelling, alludes with considerable skepticism to a set of circumstances “that are taking form in a peculiar way” (on 29 November 1803 [letter 381f]).

Nor did the implementation go without difficulties, though, commensurate with the nature of things, they developed only slowly before the changing circumstances of the age suddenly brought a complete and abrupt end to the new creation. For the time being, however, the undertaking was bathed in the radiance of new hope. A new light had risen over Würzburg, and a considerable portion of modern German scholarship, science, and intellectual culture had in one fell swoop been incorporated into the institution established by Julius Echter.

To that extent, these three years of the initial Bavarian rule in Franconia do indeed constitute a remarkable episode in the history of the Würzburg university, despite the fact that the whole came and just as quickly vaporized more in the manner of a phantom. And the talented representative of the most modern form of philosophy, a person, moreover, intimately associated with the leaders of the Romantic school, stood foremost among the elect as both personality and teacher; nor were the anticipated changes at the university by any means finished.

But now it is time to become acquainted with our bellicose lady friends. The women in question here are Madam Caroline Schelling, Madam von Hoven, Madam Paulus, [2] Madam Hufeland, and also Madam Niethammer.

To understand the friction that developed between them, one must bear in mind first that the Schelling, von Hoven, and Paulus families all had been assigned private apartments within the university itself, to wit, in the immediately adjacent so-called “seminary for the nobility,” which in the meantime had been suspended as such. [3] Paulus and von Hoven occupied one wing, Schelling the other, facing theirs.

Initially the cordial relationship between the wives of these newly appointed faculty members depended to a large extent on that between their husbands, and one certainly had reason to expect that the latter would become as close as possible insofar as some of them, notably Schelling and Paulus, had already been closely acquainted in Jena and in any event were under no illusion regarding the aversion the native population had toward the recently imposed Bavarian administration, an aversion they would no doubt also direct toward the professors appointed by that same administration.

In fact, however, these professors did not really manage to elevate themselves to any such harmonious behavior, something prompted at least in part by the fundamental antithesis that soon enough developed precisely between Schelling and Paulus, in part (and even more so) by the tension that for various reasons emerged between their wives, tension that came to ever sharper expression the more those wives now found themselves thrown together spatially by virtue of their new accommodations.

By far the most important of these women was obviously Caroline Schelling, nor can there be any doubt that through her intellectual superiority and its occasional, provocative engagement she both intentionally and unintentionally contributed not inconsiderably to the disagreeable strife and falling out that emerged. It remains equally certain, however, that she can by no means be viewed as being solely responsible for it. This woman has so often been the object of the most exhaustive and pointed discussion precisely during the past two decades that one can probably assume a general familiarity with the essentials of her life. [4]

When she arrived in Würzburg, she had already had a tumultuous life whose full and often questionable content has become really known only quite recently. Her sojourn in Mainz, whither her childhood friendship with the wife of Georg Forster had led her after the death of her first husband, represents the genuinely critical point amid the tangled paths onto which both the confusing events of the age and her own personality had plunged her. It was in this context that her middle-class social and her moral existence had run aground. [5]

At the time, it was Wilhelm Schlegel who appeared on the scene to rescue her from this distress; quite unconcerned with the opinion of the world, he performed the highest service a man could perform for a woman under the circumstances. Schlegel had become acquainted with Caroline as a young widow during his student days in Göttingen and been smitten by the irresistible magic of her personality and her superior intellectual gifts and education. Although she had earlier rejected his advances, she now had no trouble acknowledging his services with her hand. On 1 July 1796, [6] the marriage took place that would unite two fundamentally different personalities. The newlyweds took up residence in Jena, where Wilhelm Schlegel had recently settled at Schiller’s behest.

A new life seemed to open up for Caroline in Jena. The ambiguous years of her recent past lay behind her, and the incomparable elasticity of her nature now began developing in all its full, victorious power. She quickly became the center of a witty, intelligent, and ambitious literary circle. Her fascinating, newly blossoming charm and the richness of her intellect exerted an irresistible effect, albeit with the one qualification that to the same degree men were attracted to her, women felt put off.

At the same time, she began assisting her husband with his aesthetic and critical works, probably also occasionally trying her own hand as a writer. Without a doubt, the impression one receives is that she surely had the talent and gifts to be a writer in a broader context. She has even been praised for having resisted the temptation to do just that. We can share this particular position all the less, however, insofar as one cannot really discern what should have kept her from doing so in the first place, assuming she had ever genuinely felt the urge.

Be that as it may, those who wish to become acquainted with her literary and intellectual talents must read her letters, a fairly large collection of which has been accessible for fifteen years now. This singular epistolary collection, which begins when Caroline was but fifteen years old, [7] is now a part of literary history. It is a riveting collection even though one is sometimes put off by the rather careless tone in which she sometimes speaks about serious matters.

In any event, in this context it is still striking enough that her inclination to speak in the most derogatory terms about Schiller certainly contributed to the rather tense character quickly assumed by the relationships between the Schlegel circle and that writer. We also mention this particular circumstance here because that strained relationship continued in Würzburg as well. As is already well known, the relationship between Caroline and Wilhelm Schlegel did not endure. Wilhelm had to yield to the much younger Schelling, whose star was just then on the rise.

Schelling had come to Jena in 1798 as a newly appointed professor of philosophy. As the herald of a new philosophical system, namely, the philosophy of nature and transcendental Idealism, and despite his youth, he was already a celebrity and, in addition, a self-assured, impressive personality. Once he entered the Schlegel circle, he quickly caused an upheaval initially affecting primarily the relationship between Wilhelm Schlegel and his wife. Caroline felt powerfully drawn to the philosopher, who was twelve years her junior, and when her daughter, Auguste, who seemed to stand between him and her, died in 1800, [8] the final obstacle was removed that might have separated them for the long term.

The Duke of Weimar legally granted Caroline and Wilhelm’s mutually agreed divorce, and the blessing of the church legitimized an affectionate relationship that had already prompted criticism from various quarters. This was the path along which Caroline, after a previously stormy life’s journey, finally reached a secure harbor, becoming the intellectually equal wife and colleague of her freely chosen husband. Schelling understood how to tame her, and she in her own turn found abiding happiness, without reproach, in his warm affection.

It was this woman, then, who in the autumn of 1803 appeared in Würzburg as Schelling’s partner and took up residence within the university. It hardly need be mentioned that her appearance became the object of universal attention all the more quickly insofar as she was anything but a reticent, modest, timid personality.

She had, moreover, come with the conviction that her spouse surpassed all his colleagues in both intellect and merit, and expected that the rest of the world would voluntarily subscribe to this, her opinion, as well. Later opinion suggested, and not without a measure of justification, that she was also hoping to share the not inconsiderable influence Schelling at least for a time did indeed exert on the running of the university, and thereby herself to become the dominant focal point of society.

She did without a doubt possess both the requisite intellectual gifts as well as the social virtuosity to fill such a role, and indeed she immediately took the necessary measures in her domestic arrangements commensurate both with that particular goal and with her own inclinations. Successful implementation of such a plan, however, required two things. First, Schelling had to maintain within the corporation the determinative influence initially accorded him, and then also the initial, respectful element of trust accorded him by the university trustee, Count von Thürheim.

Second, the question arose whether his colleagues and their wives, on whom the Schellings were, after all, initially dependent, would be inclined to submit to such dominion without resistance. And it was precisely from this side that the calculations of Madam Schelling met the first resistance, specifically initially from the Paulus and von Hoven families, with whom the Schellings, as we now already know, resided in such close quarters. The quiet element of opposition that had already developed between Schelling and Paulus in Jena now quickly escalated in Würzburg thanks to the fundamentally different cast of their personalities.

Schelling was offended by the arid rationalism Paulus advocated, and the mystical character Schelling’s own system began to take on at precisely this time struck Paulus as being nothing more than obscurantism and charlatanism. Indeed, Paulus soon moved into a hostile posture contra Schelling, out of conviction, true, but also in his uniquely sneaky fashion, and in the process forgot the common opponent mentioned earlier.

The other housemate, von Hoven, Schiller’s boyhood friend, was a harmless fellow of a sociable and agreeable nature; moreover, there could not really be talk of any fundamental antithesis between him and Schelling. The jurist Hufeland, who had also come from Jena, did not live in the university complex proper and in any event sought his social contacts in Würzburg’s fine society, otherwise letting things take their course. Niethammer’s appointment was still in the making.

Under these circumstances, the faction of peace among the husbands clearly enjoyed the majority, and the remaining decisions thus depended on the wives.

We are already acquainted with Madam Schelling. As already noted, she was conscious of her own superiority over her housemates and was hoping to yoke them to her triumphal chariot. As far as intellectual gifts and social virtuosity were concerned, Madams Paulus and von Hoven could not really compete with her by any stretch of the imagination; they did, however, bring their own habits along with them and possessed sufficient self-awareness to guard their own independence jealously. The previous life of Madam Schelling, moreover, was by no means unknown to them, whereas they, preening with their own good consciences, suffered no such reproach.

Madam Paulus, although not an impressive woman, was nonetheless a capable one and at least in her earlier days characterized by an element of grace that had prompted even Goethe’s approval. [9] Madam von Hoven lived wholly within her admiration for her husband, viewing with mistrust anything that might threaten his love for her in even the smallest way. At the same time, however, she was a passionate personality, as attested by the letters, since available in published form, that she wrote from Würzburg to her friend Madam Charlotte von Schiller. [10] Without a doubt, she bears part of the responsibility for the embitterment that soon engulfed these housemates.

During their initial weeks in Würzburg, these housemates observed good manners in their unavoidable encounters. It did not take long, however, before war broke out. Madam von Hoven had already become acquainted with Madam Schelling during the latter’s visit in Ludwigsburg, and the unpleasant impression she received, as she once wrote, had made her “not a little uneasy” at the prospect of encountering her in Würzburg. [11]

Caroline, doubtless without meaning any real harm but certainly also in her unique, clearly coquettish fashion, had already engaged her riveting charm toward Herr von Hoven in Ludwigsburg. [12] Madam von Hoven, however, misunderstood this behavior and ever since had nurtured an overwhelming antipathy toward Madam Schelling. Although her husband advised maintaining a condition of peace and tried to assuage his wife by pointing out that one can “get along quite well with the devil if one knows him,” [13] this consolation, for weal or woe, was not particularly long-lived.

Whereas initially the four women, Madams Schelling, Paulus, von Hoven, and Hufeland, had forced themselves to be civil and had even formed a “nice quadrille,” [14] that quadrille quickly dissolved, and war was declared, a war concentrated primarily in the antithesis between Madam Schelling and Madam von Hoven. What emerged was a struggle between pert, self-assured brilliance, on the one hand, and irritable self-sufficiency, on the other. Madam von Hoven convinced herself that Madam Schelling was trying to play the schoolmistress to her, demanding that she follow Madam Schelling’s own example with respect to assuming a grander style in clothes and appearance, apartment furnishings, sociability, and so on.

Madam von Hoven, however, resisting such presumption, was reproached, as she recounts to Madam von Schiller, for being “lethargic and miserly,” [15] indeed even receiving the title of “Swabian kitchen maid” from her annoyed adversary. But there was more. Whenever he was in Würzburg, the trustee and general state commissar, Count von Thürheim, became intimate with Professor von Hoven by virtue of their childhood friendship, and was a daily guest in his house, a circumstance of which Madam Schelling took malicious note; she would infinitely have preferred to have this influential cavalier as her own guest and was simply unable to repress her annoyance.

The result was that Madam von Hoven now completely withdrew from her company, and that Madam Paulus, impressionable as she was, and certainly not reined in by her husband in this particular case, followed her example. The wrath was great. Madam Paulus smugly recalls in a letter to Madam von Schiller that even in Jena the author of “The Bell” had bestowed the mocking name “the malady” on Madam Schlegel at the time. [16] Yet another nickname given to Madam Schelling was “Dame Lucifer.” Although we cannot really determine the exact origin of this name, her lady adversaries use it frequently and with unmistakable bliss.

Thus did the mutual relationships between the three families, whom circumstance had initially made dependent on one another, increasingly deteriorate. Even Schelling himself started to succumb to an embittered disposition. In any event, there was already no shortage of adversaries in his immediate surroundings. The professor of theology Franz Berg, who had already come out publicly against Schelling earlier, [17] now continued his attacks against Schelling’s philosophy. Paulus covertly joined him and tried to establish a counterweight to the philosophy of nature by effecting the appointment of another philosopher to the university.

It was in this way that Johann Jakob Wagner, whose name has not completely disappeared from the memory of the older generation even today, came to Würzburg. Although Schelling did not oppose his appointment, neither did it contribute toward ameliorating his mood, especially since it was a public secret that his, Schelling’s, original patron, Count von Thürheim, no longer had the same high regard for his philosophy as earlier and had given in to the whispering influence of Schelling’s opponents.

Enough, dark clouds now obscured the sky, and discord had spread within the circle of newly appointed faculty members. As far as the wives were concerned, the rather peculiar observation can be made that there was by no means any general understanding even among the opponents of Madam Schelling, who truly were of one mind solely in their shared disinclination toward the latter. When during the year 1804 the well-known translator of Tasso and Ariosto, namely, Johann Diederich Gries, who had similarly been one of Caroline’s admirers in Jena, came for a visit in Würzburg, he by no means failed to discern, to his rather great surprise, the awkward uneasiness of this situation and especially the disappointment under which Schelling was suffering.

Johann Heinrich Voss made a similar observation when in the autumn of the same year he arrived in Würzburg for discussions. To wit, influential circles in Munich had come up with a plan to draw Voss to Bavaria or Würzburg, to appoint him head of a yet to be established philological faculty, or possibly even to grant him control of the entire higher system of education in the country.

It was, in any event, high time for the former plan; although the organizational plan of 1803 had emphasized precisely the promotion of general studies, little had happened in the meantime except in the discipline of philosophy. The most urgent need was without a doubt to elevate and enhance classical studies, and in many respects Voss would certainly have been the right choice, assuming a decision genuinely could be made to grant him this authority.

But when at just this time the new educational plan for the schools his opponents had been working out in Munich was authorized and made public, his own inclination to accept the appointment disappeared completely, an inclination that had never been particularly strong in any case, whereupon he not only resolutely declined, but at the same time loudly expressed his disapproval of that plan. Hence this project, too, collapsed, nor was any alternative immediately found for this former candidate.

By contrast, in the summer of 1804 Niethammer, a fellow Swabian of both Schelling and Paulus, had finally arrived; he had been appointed senior pastor of the small Protestant congregation that had formed and also a member of the consistory and of the theological section at the university. This development notwithstanding, however, no closer relationship developed between the Schelling family and the new arrivals. Madam Niethammer (in her first marriage the mother of the Erlangen philologist and pedagogue Ludwig Döderlein, who is still fondly remembered), a cultured and upright lady, apparently never sought any more intimate social contact with Madam Schelling.

As mentioned, during his visit in Würzburg Voss noticed Schelling’s indisposition and isolation, attributing it to the fact that Schelling’s desire to acquire a kind of dominion over the university had been realized only temporarily. And indeed, Schelling was occasionally capable of being quite bitter about this turn of events, and he repaid the city itself for what in this particular case had entirely different causes. “This wine-laden lowland,” he once wrote to Windischmann, “is a despicable nest.”

As a result, he began, here and there, yearningly directing his attention elsewhere. One of the most important connections he maintained from earlier was that with Goethe. The “prince of poets” had received the youthful philosopher with warm sympathy when the latter arrived in Jena, and that sympathy had remained unchanged. A notorious affinity of general perspective between the two men had certainly contributed to this relationship.

One connecting link in their mutual contact during these years was the young Martin Wagner, a native Würzburger and a promising artistic talent just coming into his own. Goethe had awarded him the competition prize in Weimar and now appealed, not without results, to Schelling’s patronage for him. An enduring and cordial relationship developed between Schelling and Wagner as a result of Goethe’s initiative. [18]

Madam Schelling was to the same degree a declared admirer of Goethe, just as she maintained a posture of rejection toward Schiller. There is, however, no reliable evidence of any closer personal relationship between her and Goethe. If one is to believe her adversary Madam Paulus, in Würzburg Caroline had made it clear that the poet was one of her admirers as well. “Tell Goethe on occasion,” Madam Paulus writes to Charlotte von Schiller, “that Madam Lucifer is doing him the honor of letting people know, in a modest way, that he is to be reckoned among the number of her quiet admirers. He will no doubt be not a little delighted with this distinction.”

Be that as it may, Goethe did, as is well known, entertain unequivocal sympathy for one of Caroline’s younger friends, namely, Pauline Gotter, Schelling’s later, second wife, and in the correspondence between the two women Caroline mentions Goethe repeatedly and with the most ardent expressions. Madam Schelling does not mention anything in her letters about a visit Wilhelm Schlegel, her former spouse, made in Würzburg; [20] although he spent time especially with Paulus, he did not pass Schelling’s door without stopping.

One can only imagine the malicious glosses Caroline’s lady friends exchanged on this occasion. A considerable number from one side has indeed been published. [21] One is tempted to conjecture how Caroline would have reacted had Schiller, toward whom she did not have a particularly good conscience, had appeared in Würzburg. Such a visit to the Franconian city had indeed been a possibility. The writer’s childhood friends, Count von Thürheim and Professor von Hoven, had issued him an ardent invitation and had already announced his visit for the year 1805. Instead, of course, they received the sad news of his death, and the city of Würzburg was one proud memory poorer.

In the meantime, however, Voss’s allusion to Schelling’s isolation should not be misunderstood, and should instead be assessed solely from the perspective of the disappointed anticipation of enjoying a dominant position within the university corporation and all the attendant advantages. Otherwise the Schellings had no lack of friends on that account who came and went on a fairly regular basis.

Such included Georg Michael Klein, rector of the Würzburg Gymnasium and a loyal and not incapable adherent of Schelling’s philosophy of identity; Theodor Konrad Hartleben, the professor of political science, who had come from Salzburg; Martin Köhler, professor of medicine; Sturz, an administrative councilor, etc. Marcus came over to Würzburg regularly from Bamberg and was Schelling’s consistent guest. There was also a number of younger men whom Schelling’s reputation had drawn to Würzburg, including the young Lorenz Oken, who advocated the philosophy of nature the longest and certainly not without success.

Caroline knew exactly how to make her guests feel comfortable in her home. Occasionally, e.g., on her husband’s birthday, she gave parties that left nothing to be desired either with respect to the considerable number of guests or the stimulating hospitality. Nor was there any hesitation in taking advantage of the other amenities and distractions the town had to offer. Such included, for example, the theater under the direction of a certain Count von Soden, whose artistic accomplishments admittedly left something to be desired for attendees who had already had the opportunity to experience something better, such as the theater in Weimar.

Loyal members of the Schelling household similarly took excursions together to neighboring locales. Madam Schelling describes with flair, for example, how they lodged with the local mayor in Dürrbach and then returned to the city by moonlight, in part on foot, in part by horse. It was sweet consolation for Caroline and a genuine stroke of redemption when as a result of a new distribution of university space the Paulus and von Hoven families were assigned and moved into apartments in the so-called Borgias Building. Although the Schellings were also scheduled to be part of this exchange, they managed to arrange things so they might remain in their older, comfortable apartment. “Here we are alone and can have some peace and quiet, which was possible only with considerable artifice among those hostile and deceitful housemates, against whom one would constantly have had to defend oneself, which, of course, already constitutes war.” [22]

For the sake of fairness, it must, by the way, be explicitly emphasized that in her own, numerous letters from this period, Caroline never assumes as hostile a tone toward her adversaries as they toward her, especially Madam von Hoven. Only when she speaks about Paulus does she become bitter, whereas otherwise she usually prefers to make do with a jesting reference. Her honorific names include the ” sneaky apostle,” “Shylock,” and “vile Paulus,” and the like. [23] She admittedly did later transfer her disinclination toward Madam von Hoven to her husband as well. After he, though a Protestant, had become senior physician at the Julius Hospital, Caroline never missed an opportunity to make fun of the self-satisfaction he exhibited. [24]

It must be said in this context that von Hoven did indeed occasionally expose himself in a way prompting derision without, however, being aware of it. He socialized with the young medical students in an extremely cordial fashion, which was no doubt laudable in and of itself, though one cannot avoid the impression that in so doing he sometimes performed a bit too much good.

Amid the circumstances in Würzburg described above, a welcome interruption, one prompted by the geopolitical events of the time, was in the making, albeit an interruption as unexpected as it was also of fundamental significance. In the autumn of 1805, the War of the Third Coalition broke out, in which Austria, in an alliance with Russia, now drew its sword against the new Caesar, and the prince elector Maximilian of Bavaria deemed it in the interest of his own self-preservation to take the side of Napoleon in the imminent battle. And when the Austrians then crossed the Inn River and spread out in Bavaria itself, the prince elector fled with his court to Würzburg.

One can imagine how profoundly this visit affected every aspect of life in the town. To accommodate the enormous entourage of the prince elector, the professors who had previously moved into new apartments in the Borgias Building the year before had to vacate those same apartments and, to the extent they were able, find accommodations in private houses. The Schellings alone had been able to maintain their earlier apartment, where they now also remained undisturbed. Count Montgelas, the directing minister of Bavarian policy who had accompanied his sovereign to Würzburg, had stopped to call on Count Thürheim in the presidential headquarters.

The court’s temporary presence provided some quite welcome and in part distinguished visits to the Schelling household, visits that greatly pleased Caroline and which she also did not neglect to describe in her letters. It was, by the way, the first time the Prince Elector of Bavaria had visited his newly acquired Franconian provinces. His initial reception in Würzburg was admittedly rather cool and reserved. The residents were predisposed toward the Austrians, and the enlightened Bavarian system had hitherto attracted but few adherents. When the new territorial sovereign drove up to the magnificent residence castle, the grand, broad square was almost empty, and Würzburg officials were the only ones who had gathered in the castle for the reception. The prince, however, was not particularly bothered.

The very next day, just as he was wont to do in Munich, he wandered unaccompanied through the streets, cordially exchanging pleasantries with passersby, stopping in shops, etc., and behold, before long the ice melted and the amiable prince was on his way to becoming a popular personage here as well. He directed his attention particularly to the public institutions, and among those especially the Julius Hospital, something not only Count Montgelas also undertook, but also the women of the court, foremost the princess and her daughters. As a zealous Protestant, she also attended the Protestant worship service and freely bestowed her generosity on the church assigned to the young congregation as well.

Unfortunately, one soon found that the annexation of Bavaria to France was accompanied by various inconveniences and burdens for the city and territory. Even during the prince’s presence, Würzburg had to provide quarters for French troops, nor were the professors spared these unsolicited guests. The Julius Hospital was soon filled with sick French soldiers and risked being transformed into a French military hospital. That notwithstanding, von Hoven, as senior physician, managed to resist any prolongation of this situation in his hospital such that ultimately the pitiable, involuntary intruders were accommodated elsewhere.

The prince-electoral court, which was soon to acquire the status of a “royal” court by becoming a kingdom, stayed in Würzburg for nearly five weeks. After the Austrian army’s catastrophe under Major General Karl Mack von Leiberich at Ulm on 20 October 1805, however, the danger was displaced toward the East, and the prince returned to Munich. The Würzburg residents in their own turn, now left to themselves again, picked up and continued their earlier lives and obligations.

After the displacement of the Paulus and von Hoven families to private apartments, our lady friends had become even more alienated, observing one another now only from afar. The hostile disposition between them, however, had remained the same, and even had fate allowed them to abide in the same circumstances, their embitterment was so profound that it is highly unlikely the estrangement would ever have been ameliorated.

But things had been decided differently in any case. The Austro-Russian campaign, which had experienced such an unfortunate beginning at Ulm, had an even more unfortunate ending at Austerlitz. The Peace of Pressburg, which Napoleon dictated to the emperor Francis, inaugurated the end of the German empire and the ascendancy of the Confederation of the Rhine. Although the prince elector of Bavaria acquired the status of a king and was granted Tirol and Ansbach, he had to pay for such gains by ceding the bishopric Würzburg to Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, a brother of the emperor Francis. In other words, Bavarian dominion in Lower Franconia came to an abrupt end.

The impression the news of this resolution made in Würzburg need hardly be described in detail. The opponents of Bavarian rule — and they were in the majority — rejoiced, since they had always viewed and endured that rule solely as an alien one imposed by force. Now they would receive back their bitterly missed independence and welcome a prince from the beloved house of Austria as their sovereign.

By contrast, the expatriate colony, especially at the university, greeted the news of this imminent change with quite the opposite feelings. They had long ceased deceiving themselves concerning their unpopularity among the home faction, now joined by demonstrations whose unambiguous hostility could leave no doubts. What was now to become of the strangers in view of the unavoidable change in system? They all agreed that they would in any event not be staying much longer; nor, viewed in the harsh light of day, could they particularly wish to stay. At most they could take comfort in the fact that they could not really be expelled overnight, and that the Bavarian administration that had appointed them was also straightforwardly acknowledging its obligation possibly to provide elsewhere for them.

Although the grand ducal ministry declared itself not entirely disinclined to accept the foreign professors along with the territory itself, in the long run it could not really have protected them against the hostility of the natives. Hence the professors themselves, one after the other, resolved not to experiment with trying to stay and instead to leave voluntarily and seek accommodations in Bavaria, something which, indeed, all were accorded.

Schelling was the first to make this decision and indeed thereby entirely avoided any discussions about staying. He journeyed immediately to Munich, where he found a position commensurate with his inclinations and gifts. Caroline initially remained behind until this key question had been resolved and until their Würzburg household had been closed down. As a result, she witnessed the implementation of this political reversal from, as it were, a front row seat, and it is quite entertaining to read her description of the various events and especially of the preparations the old Würzburg residents were making for the celebratory reception of the new territorial sovereign, and then of the latter’s solemn entry into his new capital; indeed, she was as capable of providing graceful descriptions as she was of being malicious.

Würzburg did indeed now experience a complete restoration. The detested enlightened Bavarian system was now dismantled piece by piece, and, to the extent possible, the older, previously interrupted institutions reintroduced, especially as regards church and school.

Our fine lady friends, in the meantime, found themselves separated and strewn to the four winds. It was not, however, that the “ladies’ war” was followed by any “men’s peace,” or any other peace, for that matter; it was the coarse war-prince of the age who had intervened and commanded calm. Hence the estranged women went their separate ways wholly unreconciled, and even from afar, the flame of their former hatred occasionally flickered up in their unassuaged hearts. Caroline, by the way, was already summoned away from the contentment of her third marriage in the year 1809, to be replaced shortly thereafter by her young lady friend and Goethe’s favorite, Pauline Gotter.

The memory of her adversaries, after their own time was up, lived on primarily in their family circles, whereas the memory of “Dame Lucifer” became increasingly familiar in the broader arena and, as mentioned above, has been renewed with particular vigor especially in the last twenty years. As regards both the good and the bad, it now belongs to history. —

The Würzburgers’ gratification at the removal of Bavarian rule and the reacquisition of their sovereignty was quickly enough put to a severe test. This new grand duchy, like more or less all the states in the Confederation of the Rhine, was basically little more than a province of the French empire, and the grand duke an abused instrument, moreover one utterly without a will, of Napoleonic power politics. The real power resided in the hands of the French and, secondarily, Austrian envoys. Under these circumstances, the old Würzburg residents soon could not avoid realizing that they had made a questionable exchange indeed, whereupon the fiery zealousness for this ambiguous rule, which, moreover, was requiring such painful sacrifices, gradually visibly dissipated.

And when finally Napoleon irrevocably fell and the evil Bavarians, whose own Enlightenment zeal had in the meantime also been dampened a bit, returned, the mood especially in the Franconian capital had unmistakably changed. People accommodated themselves to the inevitable not only with composure, but in part even with gratified satisfaction. And indeed, it was not long before the old bishopric energetically took its place within the Bavarian state, which under the protection of its constitution soon embarked on an independent political course, and thereafter, despite an enduring element of disparity among opinions, the bishopric never again forgot that it belongs inseparably not only to itself, but simultaneously to the one, grand fatherland.


[*] Franz Xaver von Wegele (1823–97), “Ein Frauenkrieg an der Universität Würzburg,” Allgemeine Zeitung (1885) supplement nos. 151–52; reprinted in Wegele’s Vorträge und Abhandlungen (Leipzig 1898), 291–309.

Wegele’s presentation provides a background not only to the animosity between the faculty wives in Würzburg, but also to the political background that brought their husbands to Würzburg in the first place and ultimately also prompted their departure; several details of this background are reflected in Caroline’s letters from Würzburg. — Footnotes by the present editor/translator. Back.

[1] The Peace of Cambrai on 3 August 1529. The two women were, moreover, sisters-in-law. Back.

[2] Not Sophie Paulus, her daughter, as in Wegele’s article. Back.

[3] See the supplementary appendix on the Schellings’ residence in Würzburg. Back.

[4] Wegele is referring to the publications prompted both by Rudolf Haym’s study Die romantische Schule as well as by his and the sundry other biographical studies prompted by the first publication of a selection of Caroline’s letters by Georg Waitz in 1871 and 1882. See the section on Caroline’s biography for these studies. Back.

[5] Because of her incarceration in Königstein and esp. her pregnancy and the secretive birth in Lucka of her illegitimate child, Wilhelm Julius Böhmer (Krantz). Back.

[6] Not 1798 as in Wegele’s article. Back.

[7] Not thirteen as in Wegele’s article. Back.

[8] Not 1802 as in Wegele’s article. Back.

[9] Cf., however, the supplementary appendix on Karoline Paulus’s rather interesting reputation. Back.

[10] Charlotte von Schiller und ihre Freunde. Back.

[11] See Caroline’s letter to Luise Wiedemann on 19 June 1803 (letter 380), note 26. Back.

[12] Henriette Hoven will write to Charlotte Schiller from Würzburg on 4 April 1804 (letter 383a) that Caroline

had already begun casting her net toward Hoven in Ludwigsburg. When he arrived here [i.e., Würzburg], she went to enormous trouble to please him, flattering, whispering, acting erudite, sweet, demure, putting on makeup, flitting about around him, wanting to take care of him — in a word: she engaged all her arts and charms. Back.

[13] See Henriette von Hoven’s letter to Charlotte Schiller on 4 April 1804 (letter 383a). Back.

[14] Fr., here: “foursome”; see Rosine Eleonore Niethammer’s to Charlotte Schiller on 25 October 1804 (letter 387h). Back.

[15] See Henriette von Hoven’s letter to Charlotte Schiller on 4 April 1804 (letter 383a). Back.

[16] Karoline Paulus to Charlotte Schiller on 11 March 1804 (letter 382e). Wegele is otherwise alluding to a well-known incident involving Schiller’s poem as recounted in Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 21 October 1799 (letter 250); see esp. note 14 there. Back.

[17] Also as the anonymous author of the Encomium for the Most Recent Philosophy. Back.

[18] See Goethe’s letter to Schelling on 29 November 1803 (letter 381f), note 8. Back.

[19] Karoline Paulus to Charlotte Schiller on 11 March 1804 (letter 382e). Back.

[20] Erich Schmidt, (1913), includes documentation of this visit. Back.

[21] Namely, in Charlotte von Schiller und ihre Freunde. Back.

[22] To Beate Gross on 2 September 1804 (letter 387). Back.

[23] In order: to Carl Joseph Windischmann on 31 October 1805 (letter 398); to Schelling (in Munich) on 9 May 1806 (letter 408); and to Julie Gotter on 12 March 1806 (letter 401.) Back.

[24] To Beate Gross, née Schelling, on 13 April 1805 (letter 393). Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott