Letter 203

• 203. Friedrich von Hardenberg to Caroline in Dresden: Freiberg, 9 or 16 September 1798 [*]

Freyberg, Sunday morning
[9 or 16 September 1798]

|453| I was able neither to come nor to send. But those who have nature and a world to construct can truly not digress. On my journey of discovery, or my hunt, I came upon some very promising coastlines since I saw you last, coastlines perhaps constituting the boundaries of a new continent of science. This ocean is teeming with new islands. [1]

The letter on the antiquities is being recast. [2] In its stead, you will be receiving a romantic fragment — The Antiquities Visit — along with an archaeological enclosure. I am almost certain it will interest you. I believe that, at the very least, a dearth of novelties will not prove to be one of the shortcomings of this work.

My symphysics with Fridrich involves primarily my most recent mass of universal philosophical-physiological experiments. [3] Under present circumstances, I cannot yet really think about the form. Please write and tell him that. He should be receiving his papers very soon — just when he will be receiving mine, however — revised, expanded, and reorganized? — I cannot yet say for certain. Any tardiness will not be attributable to any lack of diligence on my part — but sooner to the nonculture of the subject matter itself — and its unfathomable diversity — which for precisely that reason is also quite simple — but then so difficult to comprehend, maintain, and reiterate as such. The more deeply I penetrate into the bottomless depths of Schelling’s Weltseele [4] — the more interesting do I find his mind — which seems to intimate the ultimate |454| and to lack only the pure gift of rendering —which makes Göthe the most remarkable physicist of our age. Schelling comprehends well — but maintains considerably worse, and understands least of all how to reiterate.

Please write and tell me how much longer you will be staying in Dresden — that I might arrange my own trip accordingly. I also do not yet know exactly when I will be sending you something. Please commend me to Funk, whom you will surely be seeing.

Your husband could do me a favor by paying the enclosed invoice for me and getting a receipt. I will thank him in person and repay his expenditure.

Please also extend my warm regards to the excellent Madam Ernst and to William. Tell me about everyone and about what you yourself are doing — especially. May the Madonna keep you healthy and safeguard our friendship.


Your husband could do me a great favor. I am in great need of Helmont’s and Fludd’s works. Might not William be able to secure them on loan for himself from Dasdorf for two weeks — and in this case send them along to me immediately? Please consider that the Cosmogenius is interested — and that is, after all, no small thing. [5]

Schelling will be astonished and pleased with my discoveries. I am certain of Fridrich’s approval — and sympraxis. Fridrich’s petulant mind has set in motion some wondrous admixtures and demixtures within the chaos of physicality. His papers are consistently inspired — full of inspired hits and misses. Write and tell him — that my letter will be completely new — with only a few things from the earlier papers. I am hoping that our correspondence |455| will encompass a wealth of veritable fermenta cognitionis and will ignite more than one Lavoisierean revolution. I have the sense of already sitting in the comité du salut public universel. [6]


[*] Additional sources: Novalis Briefwechsel mit Friedrich und August Wilhelm, Charlotte und Caroline Schlegel, ed. J. M. Raich (Mainz 1880), 65–68.; Novalis Schriften 4:260–62. I have followed Novalis Schriften 4 in including the various em-dashes omitted by Erich Schmidt. — I have also retained Hardenberg’s spelling of Wilhelm Schlegel as “William” and Friedrich Schlegel as “Fridrich.”

Concerning dating, see Novalis Schriften 4:841n261 (present editor’s remarks in brackets):

Raich, p. 65, and Schmidt, (1913) [letter 203], date this letter to “June or July 1798,” but such is not possible, since [according to Hardenberg’s comments in the letter] only A. W. Schlegel is in Dresden, whereas Friedrich left for Berlin at the beginning of September with Rahel Levin [letter 202g in present edition, though he arrived in Berlin on 31 August; see his and Dorothea Veit’s letter to Schleiermacher on 4 September 1798 (“Briefe von Dorothea Schlegel an Friedrich Schleiermacher,” Mitteilungen aus dem Litteraturarchiv in Berlin N.S. 7 [1913] 1; KFSA 24:170)].

That the letter is referring to the end of the Schlegel family’s stay in Dresden emerges from, among other things, the recollection of the visit to the Dresden gallery and the Dresden Antiquities Collection (Novalis’s first mention of the Madonna). . . . One cannot ascertain exactly when the Schlegels returned to Jena [concerning Caroline’s return to Jena from Dresden, see Caroline’s letter to an unidentified recipient in Leipzig (letter 203a)], where Wilhelm had been appointed professor of philosophy. Friedrich writes to his brother in Jena for the first time on 29 September 1798 (Walzel, 391 [KFSA 24:173–75; letter 204 of present edition]).

In any event, this letter is to be dated to September 1798, among whose Sundays 2, 9, and 16 are possibilities, though either 9 or 16 September is more likely.

As Erich Schmidt points out ([1913], 1:724–25), Hardenberg never developed a lasting or particularly warm relationship with Caroline, on whom after Auguste’s death he was inclined to pass rather harsh moral judgment and whom he did not consider capable of anything more than “idly perusing” his novel, Heinrich von Ofterdingen. See his letter to Friedrich Schlegel on 5 April 1800 (Novalis Briefwechsel mit Friedrich und August Wilhelm, Charlotte und Caroline Schlegel, 138; KFSA 25:85; Novalis Schriften 4:330): “Your sister-in-law doubtless made do with merely idly perusing it. One cannot really expect much more from her than cozy criticism.”

On the other hand, Johann Diederich Gries, with whom Caroline and Auguste had traveled to Dresden, visited Hardenberg in Freiberg from Dresden, enjoying his company so much that he returned to Dresden with him; see Aus dem Leben J. D. Gries, 26:

He [Gries] had already made the acquaintance of this charming man [Hardenberg] two years earlier, when the latter’s fiancée, Fräulein von Kühn, one of Madam von Mandelsloh’s sisters, was spending time with the latter in Jena for health reasons. A quite beautiful young girl, she died in the blossom of youth soon after leaving Jena. Afterward Hardenberg often came over to visit the Schlegels [in Jena], where Gries saw him and developed a lively interest in him. . . .

[While visiting Hardenberg and August Herder (1776–1838, son of Johann Gottfried Herder) in Freiberg on an excursion from Dresden, whither he had accompanied Caroline and Auguste] Gries enjoyed it here so much that he sent his companions back to Dresden without him, then returned to Dresden himself several days later accompanied by Hardenberg.

(Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



[1] None of Hardenberg’s voluminous studies and notes were published during his lifetime or, in many cases, even put into publishable form. Concerning most of the anticipated pieces mentioned in this letter, see esp. the annotations in Novalis Schriften 4:841–42. Back.

[2] Hardenberg had visited the Dresden Antiquities Collection with the Schlegels during the summer. Back.

[3] The Greek prefix sym- (“with,” here in the sense of “together, collectively”) became a constituent part of the more conspicuous signature neologisms of the Jena Romantics (e.g., symphilosophize, sympoeticize). — Friedrich Schlegel had been back in Berlin since 31 August 1798 (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):



[4] Von der Weltseele. Eine Hypothese der höhern Physik zur Erklärung des allgemeinen Organismus (Hamburg 1798). — Concerning the relationship between Schelling and Hardenberg, see the latter’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 25 December 1797 (Novalis Schriften 4:240):

I have become good friends with Schelling [the two met in Leipzig on 1 December, where Schelling lived between 1796 and 1798]. We symphilosophized together for several delightful hours. More about that in my letter to your brother. He is indeed an extraordinarily promising fellow — omnireceptive. He told me something quite interesting about Goethe — He views the Odyssey as Goethe’s matrix — the commentary to him — his poetics will doubtless turn out to be something quite remarkable — the second part of his Ideen [Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur, 2 vols. in 1 (Leipzig 1797)] quite new, and far beyond the first, whose weaknesses he himself keenly feels.

And Hardenberg to Friedrich Schlegel on 26 December 1797 (Novalis Schriften 4:242; KFSA 24:70):

I made Schelling’s acquaintance. I explained our displeasure with his Ideen quite frankly and openly — he was quite in agreement and believes he has commenced a more lofty flight in the second part. We quickly became friends. He invited me to begin corresponding with him [ed. note: no letters between the two are known to be extant]. I will write to him over the next few days. I was really pleased with him — he has a genuine inclination toward universality — genuine radiant power — from a single point out into infinity. He seems to have considerable poetic sensibility. He is currently studying the ancients — He finds Goethe’s home soil in the Odyssey. I mentioned the [the periodical] Lyceum to him.

Despite these initial attempts at developing a closer relationship and despite some common ground, Schelling rejected Hardenberg’s “magical idealism,” considering Hardenberg himself to be little more than a dilettante in the discipline of the philosophy of nature. See Rudolf Haym, Die romantische Schule, 610, who speaks of Schelling’s disinclination toward not only Schleiermacher’s Über die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern (Berlin 1799), but also toward the emergent Christianizing inclinations evident in both Ludwig Tieck and Hardenberg:

Schelling’s entire relationship with Novalis can be comprehended from this perspective. Nothing can be more off the mark than the suggestion that Schelling merely developed more systematically Novalis’s own ideas concerning nature. Fichte quite unjustifiably spoke shortly thereafter about Schelling’s “Novalism”; one might sooner adduce Steffens’s assertion that Novalis’s entire turn of mind tended toward a kind of “Schlegelianism of the natural sciences.”

For the author of Heinrich von Ofterdingen, nature is ultimately merely a symbol for human interiority. A poet in every fiber, he also changes his perspective at every new moment, instinctively resisting the one-sidedness and precision of any systematic explanation of nature.

The entire difference between him and Schelling is summarized in Novalis’s charge that Schelling’s philosophy of nature “presupposes a restricted concept of both nature and philosophy”; that difference becomes even clearer when Novalis responds to Schelling’s notion of “primal duplicity” with his own notion of a “primal infinitude of nature” (Steffens to Schelling in September 1799; Aus Schellings Leben 1:277; Fuhrmans 2:197 [Steffens continues in that passage: “that is how little he understands the real thrust of the philosophy of nature. — To me, his entire manner of thinking seems to lead to the sort of fragmentary disposition that, as it were, tries to catch nature unawares in witty ideas and then to pile them all up into a religious heap — in short, it seems to lead to a kind of Schlegelianism of the natural sciences”]).

It was merely quite in the order of things that Schelling looked down on this bright but dilettantish intellect with a considerable consciousness of scholarly superiority, and was at least pardonable when on the occasion of the appearance of Novalis’s works he referred harshly to his own inability “to endure this frivolous attitude toward objects, this inclination to sniff around everything without ever genuinely penetrating through to a single object.” Back.

[5] Schmidt, (1913), 1:454, reads Kosmogonie, whereas Novalis Schriften 4:260, reads Kosmogenie. See the text-critical annotation to this passage in Novalis Schriften 4:841, according to which Hardenberg originally wrote Geogenie, “Geogenius,” then crossed out Geo and replaced it with Kosmo above the line, yielding Kosmogenie, “Cosmogenius,” both neologisms being typical of his (and in part also Friedrich Schlegel’s) terminology at the time. Elsewhere (3:254), the editors of Novalis Schriften doubt that Hardenberg ever received the works of Helmont and Fludd from Wilhelm Schlegel. Back.

[6] The comité de salut public (Committee of Public Safety) was “an emergency executive body constituted in April 1793 by decree of the Convention nationale to frame and administer internal and external political and defence measures” (unfortunately, it was also largely responsible for the Terror) (Oxford Companion to French Literature, ed. Paul Harvey and J. E. Heseltine [Oxford 1969], s.v.; illustration: anonymous, Le Comité de salut public, an II [ca. 1793–94]):


By adding the qualifier universel and applying the expression metaphorically to the Romantics themselves, Hardenberg apparently intends to expand the institution “universally.” In any event, Friedrich confirms Hardenberg’s concluding words in a letter to him on 20 October 1798: “Truly, you are a member of the comité du salut public universel and have, as a citizen of the new century, in my opinion earned a full citizen’s garland. . . . ” (Oskar Walzel, Zeitschrift für österreichische Gymnasien [1891], 106; KFSA 24:183). Back.

Translation © 2012 Doug Stott