Schelling’s Review of Kotzebue’s Kleine Romane, Erzählungen, Anekdoten und Miscellen

(7) Schelling’s review of August von Kotzebue,
Kleine Romane, Erzählungen, Anekdoten und Miscellen, vol. 1 (Leipzig 1805) [*]

(7) N + d (Schelling), Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1806) 82 (Monday, 7 April 1806), 41–48.

Schelling’s review is an unrelentingly negative assessment cloaked in the kind of backhanded compliments often found in reviews at the time that are intended more as volleys in personal feuds than as real reviews. In the review, Schelling draws on a few individual elements from what is essentially a 450-page book more as a vehicle for deriding Kotzebue than for assessing the book. Before moving on to specifics, he begins the review as follows:

Herr von Kotzebue’s adroitness enables him to engage every form or even non-form in entertaining the public; here we are presented with a splendid vademecum [1] from him to whose aforementioned purpose the present review can contribute by way of a brief presentation of the content.

To that end, however, there can be little talk of criticism. This author has long ceased to offer a target for such, except perhaps the pointed top itself, of which this present collection, in which he presents various sides of his personality, similarly constitutes a direct and indirect demonstration. We even find a passage where he threatens with a “Freymüthiger.” [2]

It is, however, by no means a sign of fear when at this appropriate occasion we acknowledge in general that Herr von Kotzebue genuinely has for all practical purposes attained personal perfection. With respect to many characteristics, he has admittedly perhaps long been perfect; in others he has demonstrated an equally malleable and indefatigable perfectibility.

Hence, for example, it is striking to behold, since his acceptance into an academy of science and humanities, [3] the extent to which he has tried to make progress as a scholar and to expand his sphere of learning. Indeed, the sheer quantity of such now hardly has sufficient space to express itself in its varied effusions, and he is forced to seek out ever new modes of expression. In earlier years, he seemed to a certain extent to have neglected such a foundation, and to wager all his success, as it were, on luck in cards.

Now, however, he is apparently intent on catching up with that foundation and to play a solid game, albeit all the while maintaining the wholly light and easy nature of an affable daredevil. We think we have discerned the path his studies have taken. On the one hand, it is the same that others, too, have not deigned to travel in order to enhance the inventory from which they can draw for their witty combinations and associations, namely, to read everything they can get their hands on, including especially charteques. [4]

For the latter, too, can sometimes contain a fact, a bit of craziness, a stimulus from which, e.g., someone like Jean Paul can draw — e.g., electrical charges — as efficiently as does a physicist from pitch and rabbit pelts. Herr von Kotzebue, however, more often manages to extract and use the truly select, the truly exquisite elements onto which he stumbles more as mere charteques, which, of course, yields the reverse result.

On the whole, we will take the liberty of viewing his overall manner of study as a — albeit highly noble — sort of rag picking, whereby the yield, without really being sorted out in any way, is worked into a single mass and the paper then quickly printed and published. Occasionally he even undertakes personal journeys to this end. Who could fail to admire the variety of both Christian and pagan elements along with the views on art he gathered on his last journey? [5]

One might also remark that ever since some — in our opinion quite unskilled, to the extent they were intent on repressing the fame of Herr von Kotzebue, the latter merely thereby rising all the more gloriously out of the ashes he himself once sprinkled on his own head in penitence — that is, ever since a few came on the idea of making wit of him, [6] he in his own turn has made what can only be described as extraordinary strides in wit, indeed, even developing it into several different directions, quite apart from also infusing it with even more life and waggishness.

As is certainly well known, he has never lacked for boldness in treating his object in any case; he could, however, gain by attaining the proper lilt and verve in execution, something he has indeed done to such an extraordinary extent that one must concede that at present he is often witty to the point of despair. The forms he has most assiduously cultivated are those of the narrative and fragment. —

Finally we must also laud the consistency he has acquired. For though ever so completely healthy powers of judgment might sometimes vacillate, or be detoured by various preferences, disinclinations, or moods, Herr von Kotzebue, despite the multifarious powers of imagination one can justifiably presume he has at his disposal, has remained absolutely immoveable and incorruptible concerning certain things.

To wit, his aversion is absolutely unshakeable whenever it comes to the so-called truly great and good, the sacred, the profound, which he doggedly pursues from the highest to the lowest to the very last trace, and to the very weakest and faintest attempts, doing so, moreover, such that apparently it is more the attempts themselves than the weakness that stimulate him. Although we can allude to such here only in a few examples, one need only page through this rich inventory to find more.

Schelling now adduces various examples demonstrating, for example, Kotzebue’s use of allusions to well-known contemporary figures:

Before the man from the royal residency makes the acquaintance of the pastor’s daughter, he is supposed to marry an insufferable cousin, and is invited to a journey out into the countryside by her and her mother. They have to spend the night along the way, and the man is supposed to wake the ladies the next morning by knocking, but without opening the door, whereby he promises, as a certain way to dispel any sinful thoughts, to “think of Fichte’s blustering about solving the riddle of the world.” The ladies, however, are unfortunately sleeping “as soundly as someone to whom one is reading aloud Goethe’s ‘Confessions of a Beautiful Soul.'” [7]

The man stumbles into the room despite the barriers the women have placed in front of the door, and Schelling goes on to adduce the other allusions in the same scene Kotzebue engages to describe what happens: a basin is turned over “that was not as empty as the marble fountain in Nürnberg,” spilling its contents “as proudly as do the fountains in St. Peter’s Square” all over the face of the cousin in bed, who represses her cries, after which Kotzebue describes her as “Aurora — awakened by her own dew for having been late with the dawn.” Schelling remarks:

We can hardly avoid asking our readers to pardon us for having presented a scene that could certainly affect more than one sense; one might bear in mind, however, that the author [Kotzebue] is a man who moves in the most cultivated circles and thus must know what presumptions he may make of them, and hence not trust their own senses lest this diligently depicted scene take on the appearance of the most repugnant filth.

Instead, let them pleasantly consider how the author has managed to draw into the circle of his jest, in a continual intensification, first the marble fountain in Nürnberg, then the fountains of St. Peter’s Square, and finally the countenance of the pure goddess Aurora, making all of them his own by virtue of the spilled liquid, just as Circe, through drink, once tuned Ulysses’s companions into filthy animals, which she then locked into her stalls. [8]

Schelling then compares Kotzebue’s use of such allusions with that of the latter’s uncle Johann Karl Musäus:

But this [Musäus’s use of such allusions] always took place with an undeniable purity of imagination and with an element of modesty from which one could discern that in his innermost heart, the man perceived what is beautiful and proper as beautiful and proper, and respected that which science and scholarship offers as well. By contrast, when his nephew [Kotzebue] uses this particular method, as it were, as an inherited device, one senses from the very first word that the things mean nothing to him to which he, in mocking and deriding them, also does not wish to appear to be placing any value on them.

After adducing other examples whose propriety seems questionable, Schelling moves on to Kotzebue’s satire, adducing this time an example aimed at the Romantic school itself:

Though the author may well have missed the mark here and there with his capricious ideas, his satirical assaults are all the more on target. And here he employs consistently powerful weaponry. The insufferable cousin must, for example, sit through a session in which a sonnet by Tieck is declaimed, then a chapter from Jakob Böhme read aloud, then Calderon’s “Devotion of the Cross,” “through whose translation Schlegel has performed an immortal service to German Christians,” [9] and finally several poems by Novalis.

Schelling also points out other less-than-tasteful passages:

Let us pass by [although, obviously, Schelling has no intention of doing so] other imaginative if not entirely new devices, e.g., how the lover manages to decipher completely the young girl’s figure, which is only partly visible to him, by means of delicate conclusions, including: “the two ends of the green bow (binding her hat) did not simply hang down straight, maintaining instead a position approximately between horizontal and perpendicular, whence one could conclude that the girl had a handsomely curved bosom.

Schelling returns later in the review to examples of Kotzebue’s satires against his, Schelling’s, associates in both literature and medicine:

Under the title “There is Nothing New Under the Sun,” a great deal happens that is, indeed, more or less old. Here Herr von Kotzebue endeavors to present his natural antipathy and attendant ire in his familiar, unaffected fashion; he speaks about Schelling, Schlegel, Röschlaub and consorts,” and about “Schlegel and company,” comparing them with the Scaligers [13th-century Veronese family] and [Claudius] Salmasius [1588–1653] and other ignorant and obscure people. Since these modest attempts certainly hurt no one, and yet probably give Herr von Kotzebue considerable pleasure, one might remark merely that if he were to proceed with even less affectation, he would no doubt also choose even more tasteful expressions. [10]

Schelling concludes with a more general reproach:

In the section “Table of Warning: Lacrymas,” Herr von Kotzebue uses the word “insolent” in reference to Herr Schlegel because of a sonnet the latter wrote to accompany an edition of Lacrymas, [11] albeit a sonnet whose intent was not to pass an artistic judgment . . . What, however, is to be said about the fact that Herr von Kotzebue everywhere uses the words “impudent, brazen, insolent”? —

This is not the place, nor even less does the present reviewer really have the inclination, to examine the phenomenon more seriously, namely, why it is precisely this Herr von Kotzebue who wishes to redirect the “evil practices in literature which dishonor that literature,” and declare himself the public accuser, since it is exclusively this same Herr von Kotzebue himself who has erected such dishonorable signs in that literature.

And why it is precisely this same Herr von Kotzebue who, as happens in his Miscellen here, takes up the cause of, as he puts it, the diminished merits of “Virgil, Wieland, Voltaire, and others,” when it is precisely he himself who, incapable of diminishing anyone’s merit, has instead consistently tried to disparage and abuse so many.


[*] Erich Frank, “Caroline, Schelling, and the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung,” 47, introduces this review as follows:

Goethe’s remarks concerning this review in a letter to Heinrich Karl Abraham Eichstädt on 19 April 1806 are so on the mark that they deserve to be repeated here: “In the review of the Kotzebuiana, one is surprised solely that an intellect as excellent as that of the reviewer is able to deal at such length with such vile material and yet never lose his good humor; . . . All the more should the reviewer be praised for having demonstrated his own superiority in serenity” (Weimarer Ausgabe IV, no. 5191, 19 April 1806). Nothing is known of a rejoinder from Kotzebue’s side, and Caroline searched in vain in the Freimüthige for an “agitated or indignant response” from him (letter to Schelling on 30 April 1806 [letter 405]).

Translator’s note: I have summarized various sections of this review and excerpted others. Back.

[1] Latin: “go with me,” here: a handbook or guide small enough to carry around for quick reference. Back.

[2] That is, with an article in the Berlin journal Der Freimüthige oder Ernst und Scherz, which Kotzebue himself founded in 1803 and for a time edited till passing the editorship along to Garlieb Merkel; the journal was from the beginning inclined contra Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, Fichte, and Goethe. Back.

[3] Kotzebue had recently been named a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Back.

[4] From Middle Low German scarte, scarteke, “old book, document,” presumably from French charte, “document,” from Latin “charta, “leaf of paper, writing,” at the time commonly also: Germ. Scharteke, “a sorry, pitiful, scurvy Pamphlet; a little scurvy Book (Grubstreet Production)” (Johann Christoph Adelung The New and Complete Dictionary of the German and English Languages, composed chiefly after the German Dictionaries of Mr. Adelung and of Mr. Schwan, 3 vols. [Leipzig 1796–99], s.v.). Back.

[5] Kotzebue’s Erinnerungen von einer Reise aus Liefland nach Rom und Neapel (Berlin 1805). Back.

[6] E.g., Wilhelm Schlegel in his Kotzebuade. Back.

[7] In Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Back.

[8] See William Smith, A Smaller Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology, and Geography, 11th ed. (London 1868), 116:

Circe, daughter of Helios (the Sun) by Perse, and sister of Aeëtes, distinguished for her magic arts. She dwelt in the island of Aeaea, upon which Ulysses was cast [in the Odyssey]. His companions, whom he sent to explore the land, tasted of the magic cup which Circe offered them, and were forthwith changed into swine, with the exception of Eurylochus, who brought the sad news to Ulysses. The latter, having received from Hermes (Mercury) the root moly, which fortified him against enchantment, drank the magic cup without injury, and then compelled Circe to restore his companions to their former shape. Back.

[9] Calderon, Die Andacht zum Kreuze, trans. A. W. Schlegel (Berlin 1803). Back.

[10] [Erich Frank:] Here, too, Kotzebue must be cited at length:

That some people find the arrogance of those like Schelling, Schlegel, Röschlaub, and consorts to be so extraordinary demonstrates only that they have no familiarity with earlier literature. Things were not a farthing better then than now; there have always, in all ages, been wasps who view themselves as bees, and bark beetles who think themselves butterflies” (p. 336), and “the enormous vanity of the two Scaliger is well known. Joseph (the son) was a virtuoso in scolding, despite Röschlaub. He referred rather delicately to his enemies as stercus diabolic [the devil’s excrement], lutum stercore maceratum [slimy, filthy dung], expressions with whose translation one is inclined simply to dispense. For they are just a bit stronger than Schelling’s “dead dogs” (p. 338; ed. note: see Kajetan Weiller’s letter to the Intelligenzblatt of the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung on 30 August 1805 [letter/document 393h, note 3). Back.

[11] Wilhelm von Schütz, Lacrymas, ein Schauspiel, ed. A. W. Schlegel (Berlin 1803), which Schelling had mildly criticized in a letter to Wilhelm on 1 November 1802 (Plitt 2:429). Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott