Supplementary Appendix: Wilhelm Schlegel’s Berlin Lectures

Rudolf Haym’s introduction to
Wilhelm Schlegel’s Berlin lectures 1801–4 [*]

Like his other friends, Wilhelm Schlegel, too, managed to find various replacements for the lack of his own literary party organ [after falling out with the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung and the demise of Athenaeum]. No member of the group, however, was driven by as strong a propagandistic-polemical urge as was he. There was one way, albeit only one, to satisfy that urge completely and to continue the most effective proclamation of the new literary spirit even without a proprietary periodical. To wit, Athenaeum had to be continued viva voce. [1] Public lectures, at the very seat of the philistines themselves and of all the hatred toward the new party, delivered before the Berlin public itself, a public eager to hear and learn — that was the plan that now seized the enterprising party head and which he brought to fruition with equal measures of skill and success.

The business of giving lectures was nothing new for him. From the moment he was appointed extraordinarius professor in the philosophical faculty in Jena on the basis of his translation of Shakespeare, in August 1798 and thus approximately contemporaneous with Schelling, he made every effort to do justice to his new title. Friedrich justifiably admired his brother’s “professorial energy and expansiveness.” [2]

During his very first winter semester, Wilhelm announced courses in aesthetics, a two-hour history of German poesy, and practical instruction in German style. For the following semesters, he delivered a lecture course on methodological considerations of the study of antiquity, a course on Greek and Roman literary history, but most often the repetition of the aesthetics and interpretative lectures on Horace. But even in aesthetics, which obviously was his primary course, he never really managed to make headway against Christian Gottfried Schütz and his adherents. [3]

This situation alone might easily have suggested to him to transfer the setting of his own lecturing activity elsewhere and to seek among the culturally hungry residents of the capital a more grateful and mature public than he had found among the Jena national student groups. [4] Hence at the end of the summer semester 1800 he turned his back on the lectern in Jena once and for all. From Bamberg, where he had spent the summer recess with Schelling, [5] he went to Braunschweig for the winter, then from there, in February 1801, to Berlin. And the longer he lingered in Berlin, the more difficult it became for him to leave.

Hence it was then and there that he prepared his lecturing enterprise that was simultaneously to provide the means for him to settle permanently in the royal residence. He returned to Jena for but two months in the autumn, [6] and only in order to break camp there for good. At the beginning of November he is again living with his friend Bernhardi in Berlin, and at the beginning of September had already sent out a public announcement of his lectures to Berlin. His intention in these lectures, as he writes to Schleiermacher, was to present all that was reasonable and moderate that he might then, for relaxation, chatter on about all sorts of crazy and immoderate things with his friends.

His announcement spoke about lectures on “belle-lettres and fine arts.” [7] And indeed, Schlegel’s lectures during the first winter contained a course on aesthetics that concluded with a discussion of the nature, elements, and genres of poesy, the most perfect of the arts. The lectures for the following winter, 1802–3, were to pick up this same thread where he had cut it off the previous winter, and Schlegel specifically announced it as a continuation of the previous year’s lectures. The new lectures were devoted exclusively to poesy, more specifically to a history of poesy, of which, however, he managed to cover only the first half, namely, the history of classical poesy and its imitators. Hence once again, in the following winter of 1803–4, he carried forward what he had been begun the previous winter, now also presenting a history and characterization of the poesy peculiar and specific to the primary nations of modern Europe, that is, of “Romantic” poesy.

Yet even these public aesthetic-literary lectures do not yet exhaust the full scope of Schlegel’s Berlin activities. During the summer of 1803 he entered upon a course of private lectures as well whose theme was nothing less than an encyclopedia of all scholarly disciplines, so that the full circle of these Schlegelian lectures genuinely carry out and execute what Friedrich Schlegel, in so and so many writings, fragments, and essays, had merely begun or only sketched, or at most only planned, promised, or demanded.

The more unfamiliar and unknown these lectures are, all the more worthwhile will it be to have a closer look at them. Through them, Wilhelm Schlegel, in this final stage of the history of the emergence of the Romantic school, now strides decisively and unequivocally into the foreground before all the other members of the group. In a fashion quite different from Schelling’s system or even from Friedrich Schlegel’s “Dialogue on Poesy,” [8] these lectures provide a complete and full overview of both the content and the scope of the strivings of the new school.

Here for the first time, from the Apostle of Romanticism, we have Romanticism whole and unabridged. As pointed out earlier, Wilhelm Schlegel steps forward primarily as the executor and interpreter of his brother’s ideas, though at the same time as the most skillful organizer and systematician; for it is by drawing quite openly from Schelling’s philosophy that in the most important points he comes to engage in such systematic organization in the first place. What he himself adds in the way of content is meager indeed. He is his own master perhaps only in the metrical side of poetics. What is uniquely his, of course, is erudition, an acquaintance with the mass of empirical details, the only exception being that in linguistic issues he draws support from Bernhardi, and in issues concerning early German literature from Tieck.

We would lack nothing were not the profound ethical and religious ideas that Schleiermacher contributed to Romanticism not entirely absent — be it because this particular mind resisted them, or because the ideas as such were too difficult to extract and import. Instead — and here Schlegel needed no external teacher — criticism and polemic are the heart and soul of this entire body of material. Occasionally such polemical allusions assemble in concentrated masses, though more often they appear as self-enclosed entities. For although this clever lecturer is clearly intent on provoking the strongest possible reaction, his primary goal is to convince, persuade, and win over. He explicitly states that he hopes to dispel the outcry against paradox prompted primarily by his and his friends’ inclination to fling out in short, disjointed utterances what in fact was the result of lengthy reflection and voluminous studies — and to do so precisely by guiding his listeners into the original context and inner connections of his thoughts and ideas.

And indeed, it is in part this context, and in part the sober, cogent understanding of the man himself that have a calming, corrective effect on the whimsical and unabashedly mystical parts of Romantic doctrine. Only occasionally, when the polemical tic gets the best of him, does he jerk such parts into the foreground with unexpected abruptness, and only in a few points is he unfortunately incorrigibly — and yet with utter sincerity — caught in the prejudices of his entire circle.

One of these prejudices was the inadequate assessment of Lessing. After Friedrich’s inspired essay earlier, [9] that assessment became increasingly fixed in insisting that Lessing was neither an art critic nor a poet, but rather merely an undaunted innovator and merciless literary warrior. It is in this sense that, e.g., Bernhardi consistently adduces him whenever he is looking to cover the coarseness and bite of his own criticism with a powerful dictum or adage, but then with equal consistency plucks at him whenever Lessing’s words or example do not quite fit the arbitrary, inchoate nature of the Romantic ideal. And it is similarly in this sense that Tieck, in his Herkules am Scheidewege, has Lessing fall through the roof as a vehement blusterer and explain, in a quarrel with the elderly Nicolai, how although he had intended to proclaim Gracious Poesy, he himself had never really managed to recognize her. [10]

Similarly also Wilhelm Schlegel in his lectures. While repeatedly referring to Winckelmann, Moritz and Hemsterhuis, he mentions Lessing essentially only to put him on trial. Lessing’s own grand critical authority was Aristotle, and Schlegel, too, like his brother, is wholly prejudiced against Aristotle. He similarly treats Kant only a bit more gently than Lessing. It seems these two had to do penance together for the entire old school precisely because they stood closest to the new one. And finally, although Wilhelm Schlegel does occasionally adduce this or that inspired line from Schiller — whenever possible he deliberately ignores Schiller the playwright.

So, in November 1801 Schlegel commenced his lectures in Berlin — and they were lectures in the true sense of the word, for this elegant gentleman read aloud material he had already completely worked out. This written delivery, free of all rhetoric, was distinguished by tasteful lightness and clarity. The very first lecture, however, could not but make the broader position of the lecturer perfectly clear to his audience. His intention was apparently to spoil for his Berlin audience all previous “theory of the fine arts and sciences” in the style of Sulzer, Eberhard, and Eschenburg, and to displace it entirely with a higher and more worthy, to wit, philosophical theory of art, for which he, discarding older designations, even the word “aesthetics,” proposes the name “doctrine of art” or “poetics.” [11]

So, his intention is to present a philosophical theory, whereby he discards straightaway any degradation of art through notions of “usefulness” and instead declares its autonomy. This philosophical theory, however, is absolutely to be tied to a history and criticism of art — first to history, on the basis of that particular perspective with which we are already long familiar from Hülsen and Friedrich Schlegel. Just as philosophy, he informs his audience, is a “history of the inner human being, so also is history a philosophy of the entire human race.”

Table of contents
Vol. 1
The doctrine of art

  Burke on the sublime and beautiful
  Kant’s critique of aesthetic judgment
Overview and organization of the fine arts
  Garden art
  On language
  On meter
  On mythology
  On genres
    On the epic

Vol. 2
History of classical literature

Anticipatory reminder
General overview of the contemporary status of German literature

Greek poesy

Anticipatory reminder
Greek language
Homeric epic
Homeride hymns
Hesiodic epic
Middle epic
Virgil’s Aeneid
Epic of the Romans after Virgil and of more recent authors
The jesting heroic poem
Lyrical poesy of the antiquity
  Iambics and elegies
  Melic poetry
  Choric poetry
Modern imitations of classical lyric poetry
History of the elegy
On didactic poetry
On the dramatic poesy of the Greeks
Literature of Greek tragedy
    The Choephoroe of Aeschylus
    Electra of Sophocles
    Electra of Euripides
Ancient comedy


Newer comedy

Vol. 3
History of Romantic literature

Brief overview of the history of the German language and poesy
On the Middle Ages
Mythology of the Middle Ages
  I. German courtly mythology
    1. the Lied of the Nibelungen
    2. The Heldenbuch
  II. and III. English and northern French courtly mythology
  (IV.) Spanish courtly novels
Fabliaux [medieval short stories in Old French]
Romances and other folk songs
On the Provencales
Italian poesy
    From the Decameron
Spanish poesy
German poesy


[*] Rudolf Haym, Die romantische Schule, 764–69. Haym’s entire discussion of Wilhelm’s lectures is found ibid., 764–835.

Concerning the publication of this lecture series, see Roger Paulin, The Life of August Wilhelm Schlegel: Cosmopolitan of Art and Poetry (Cambridge 2016), 202fn486. Concerning the lectures themselves, see Paulin’s in dispensable chapter beginning on that same page, “2.3 The Berlin Lectures.” Back.

[1] Latin, “with living voice,” here: “orally” (rather than in publications). Back.

[2] Friedrich to Caroline on ca. 20 November 1798 (letter 209). Back.

[3] Haym’s footnote: Even in the summer of 1802, that is, after his initial lecture successes in Berlin, Wilhelm Schlegel was still considering returning to Jena once more to lecture on aesthetics [see Schelling’s letter to Wilhelm of 10 December 1801 (letter 335a) and Caroline’s to him on 18 January 1802 (letter 341)], Caroline nonetheless wrote that she doubted he would have the desired success. Back.

[4] I.e., students who tended to be identified according to nationality, e.g., Livonians and . Courlanders. Back.

[5] I.e., after Auguste’s death. Back.

[6] 11 August to 3 November 1801. Back.

[7] See Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie Bernhardi on 21 August 1801 (letter 327f), note 18. Back.

[8] Friedrich’s “Gespräch über die Poesie,” Athenaeum (1800) 58–128; 169–187. Back.

[9] “Ueber Lessing.” Lyceum der schönen Künste 1, no. 2 (Berlin 1797) 76–128. Back.

[10] “Der neue Herkules am Scheidewege,” Poetisches Journal (1800), 81–164, the scene with Lessing on 119–25, here 124:

O, had you sinners but remained silent,
And left them [Lessing's plays] to be forgotten,
Thus do you know of me,
Everything else remaining hidden from you.
Though I always had a secret desire
To love the beautiful lady of poesy,
She chose not to grant me her enjoyment,
Hence was I never allowed to recognize that Gracious One. Back.

[11] Schelling not surprisingly is likely alluding to these same earlier writers on aesthetics in his Philosophy of Art, perhaps not least because he borrowed Wilhelm’s lecture manuscript as part of his own preparatory studies. See his Philosophy of Art, 11 with footnote 8. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott