Letter 252d

252d. Schelling’s Declaration in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, Saturday, 2 November 1799, and the Editorial Response [*]

Request to the Editors of the A.L.Z.

In issues 316 and 317 of this newspaper, the editors of the A.L.Z. published two reviews of my Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur (Leipzig 1797) by different authors, one of whom, as one can see, neither understands nor is capable of understanding even the initial concepts of philosophy, but who is, we are assured, a famous mathematician and physicist, whereas the other, while indeed exhibiting an admittedly extremely paltry acquaintance with the natural sciences, nonetheless can allegedly claim some accomplishments within the realm of Kantian philosophy! [1]

Since the editors have at least had the good will to proceed as far as the antithesis, nothing is now lacking except (and such is precisely what I am requesting) the synthesis, or the third review, whose author is neither solely a physicist nor solely a speculative philosopher, but both at once and with the same force — a review that, were it to appear, doubtless could generate its own praise and also quite justifiably do without the appearance of praise in editorial footnotes.

Indeed, I will go a step further and offer to do this review myself, since, after all, a scholarly work can be completely and adequately assessed not through a couple of pathetic annotations from obtuse minds who judge solely from their own perspective, minds having not even an inkling of the ideas of the whole, but rather solely by an assessment that enters together with the author into his initial perspective and then moves toward the idea of the whole; nor, likely, can any more rigorous judge of this piece be found than I myself, whose later works present the most complete criticism of that first one.

Someone genuinely interested in the subject matter itself, by the way, I would sooner expect not in the earliest attempt, an attempt promising merely scattered ideas, but in the first draft of a real system of speculative physics that has in the meantime appeared and that is the first to make higher scholarly and scientific claims, something such schoolboy reviewers will on their own initiative acknowledge they are not capable of evaluating.

What can otherwise be said with regard to this and other matters will be reserved for the first issue of the Zeitschrift für speculative Physik to be published yet this year. [2]

Jena, 6 October 1799


Editors’ Response

Out of respect for Herr Prof. Schelling’s talent and his efforts to unite the speculative and empirical natural sciences, the editors assigned the task of reviewing his Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur to two scholars in whose competence to assess this work we could and had to have confidence; and precisely this respect was one of the reasons prompting us to make a rare exception to the rule in accepting two reviews of this book.

It never occurred to us to recommend either the one or the other review by indicating the disciplines in which their authors had already published; such came about merely to indicate that our readers might assume that one of the reviewers would be assessing Herr Schelling’s book more from the perspective of a mathematical physicist, the other more from that of a speculative philosopher.

Hence we cannot at all understand the assertion that we intended an antithesis here. Associating these two reviews together might sooner be called a prosthesis. That the first reviewer does not understand even the initial concepts of philosophy is something Herr Prof. Schelling would yet need to prove; and that a man who has already published acknowledged masterpieces in the most lofty areas of mathematics is allegedly not even capable of understanding even the initial concepts of philosophy is a self-contradictory assertion in any case.

Admittedly, if every philosopher were to acknowledge solely his own system as philosophy, then those statements would forfeit a not inconsiderable measure of their harshness; the first would then read: this man does not understand me; and the second: he cannot understand me. In the latter case, one would then need to determine who was at fault, the author or the reviewer.

The overall disposition of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung does not permit a third review of this book, all the less so considering that since this particular work was published, Herr Prof. Schelling has already, as he himself acknowledges, revised much of it in his subsequent works, and the readers of the A.L.Z. would doubtless certainly prefer to await a review of his more recent writings, including his Entwurf of a system of speculative physics. [3]

As is well known, the A.L.Z. never publishes self-reviews; if Herr Prof. Schelling wishes to publish such a review in the Intelligenzblatt, we will be glad to accommodate him to the extent it accords with the public guidelines of this journal.

As far as reviews of Herr Prof. Schelling’s more recent writings are concerned, we would be happy if he would propose some men who are both physicists and speculative philosophers with the same force, from among whom we might then choose a reviewer for those writings; though from such it admittedly still might not follow that their reviews, at least in Herr Schelling’s eyes, would doubtless generate their own praise, as little as one might conclude that their reviews might necessarily, even from the mere appearance of such, warrant our praise on the basis of an indication of the reviewers’ literary proficiency.

We prefer, as is our wont, to allow the reviewers themselves be responsible for such, just as we similarly leave it to their own discretion whether to reply in these pages or elsewhere should Herr Prof. Schelling present an anticritique supported by sound reasoning, something with regard to which he has indeed provided some hope.

The Editors of the ALZ [4]


[*] Source: Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 142 (Saturday, 2 November 1799) 1150–52.

Schelling wrote this letter on 6 October 1799, two days after the second review of his work was published in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, though his letter was not published until 2 November 1799. The editors of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung were Christian Gottfried Schütz and Gottlieb Hufeland. Back.

[1] The reviews had been published in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 316 (Thursday, 3 October 1799) 25–30; and 317 (Friday, 4 October 1799) 33–38.

There were indeed two different reviewers. The editors of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung provide the following footnote to the first review (Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung [1799] 316, fn on front page):

We found ourselves prompted to accept two assessments of this work, of which the present [in no. 316] has as its author one of our most famous mathematicians and physicists, and the following [in no. 317] someone both intimately acquainted with Kantian philosophy and familiar with several empirical disciplines. Back.

[2] Schelling began publishing this short-lived journal as an alternative to the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung: Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik (vol. 1, nos. 1 and 2: spekulative; vol. 2/1: speculative, vol. 2/2: spekulative), ed. F. W. J. Schelling (Leipzig), vols. 1–2 (1800–1801); it would be followed by the even shorter-lived (and in part differently spelled) Neue Zeitschrift für speculative Physik, vol. 1, nos. 1–3 (1802).

The first issue did indeed contain not only Schelling’s thoughts on “this and other matters” (see below), but also reviews of three of Schelling’s recent books by Henrik Steffens: Von der Weltseele: Eine Hypothese der höhern Physik zur Erklärung des allgemeinen Organismus (Hamburg 1798); Erster Entwurf eines Systems der naturphilosophie. Zum Behuf der Vorlesungen (Jena, Leipzig 1799); and (Steffens alters the title slightly) Einleitung zum Entwurf eines Systems der Naturphilosophie oder über den Begriff der speculativen Physik und die innere Organisation eines Systems dieser Wissenschaft (Jena, Leipzig 1799). Back.

[3] Entwurf, “draft, outline”; Erster Entwurf eines Systems der Naturphilosophie: Zum Behuf seiner Vorlesungen (Jena 1799). Back.

[4] Instead of continuing the quarrel in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, Schelling instead wrote a postscript to Steffens’s reviews of his works in the Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik (1800) 1, 49–99 (also Fambach 352–70), a lengthy tirade against the editors of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung , about which Rudolf Haym, Die romantische Schule, 734–35, justifiably wonders whether “through the tenor of his polemic Schelling harmed the grand cause more than he helped it,” and whether his arrogance and haughtiness in it sooner did not particularly commend this new thinking.

Schelling’s assertion that the journal was to be viewed as extraordinarily antiquated and rotten, as the “refuge of all base and vile tendencies and passions,” and as an “abyss, seething with rabble, of baseness and inferiority,” — whether his piece did not instead beg the obvious question of how Schelling — and the Romantics, since Schelling takes Wilhelm Schlegel’s side against the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung in this article; Wilhelm’s farewell to the journal will appear in the Intelligenzblatt on 13 November 1799 (letter/document 255a) — how they could have kept the journal’s company so long in any case. Schelling’s postscript was even published separately as Ueber die Jenaische Allgemeine Literaturzeitung. Erläuterungen, vom Professor Schelling zu Jena. (Aus dem ersten Heft der Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik besonders abgedruckt) (Jena, Leipzig 1800), and will be mentioned in coming letters.

In April and May 1800, however, Schütz responded quite coarsely to this private publication; Schütz’s response in April and May 1800, “Vertheidigung gegen Herrn Professor Schellings sehr unlautere Erläuterungen über die Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung” (Intelligenzblatt 57, 62), also adduced his exchange of letters with Wilhelm Schlegel. Those who entered the fray included Gottlieb Hufeland (Intelligenzblatt 77) and Henrik Steffens (Intelligenzblatt 164), Schelling’s publisher Christian Ernst Gabler, Christian Gottfried Schütz, even the university attorney Ferdinand Asverus because of Schütz’s threatened lawsuit (Intelligenzblatt 104, 117). Both parties ended up having to pay slight fines.

These quarrels were, of course, quite public, and even Schiller kept abreast of the events; see especially Schelling to Schiller on 25 April 1800 (letters 259h); Schiller to Schelling on 1 May 1800 (letter 259n); and Schiller to Goethe on 5 May 1800 (letter 259q).

The Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung later (1802) seizes the opportunity to wound Schelling severely with insinuations that he was involved in Auguste’s death in July 1800, beginning a whole new round of vitriolic exchanges. Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott