Letter 253b

253b. Wilhelm Schlegel to Goethe in Weimar: Jena, 5 November 1799 [*]

Jena, 5 November [17]99

. . . I have reliable reports from Berlin that Herr Merkel is trying to spread a rumor there, one also circulating here, concerning a reprimand and prohibition I allegedly received with respect to Athenaeum, with Merkel maintaining that you yourself prompted a circular to be distributed among scholars both here and in Weimar expressing your disapproval of the “Notizen.” [1]

You have perhaps already heard that on the occasion of a theatrical performance in his house, Hofrath Schütz, in a prologue he himself composed, allowed himself all sorts of liberties against my brother and me, concerning which I exchanged a couple of rather lively billets with him. [2] The Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung is thus coming quite close to forming an alliance against us with August von Kotzebue. [3]

Quite naturally, it is taking up the cause, out of sympathy, of the oppressed and the literary invalids and is now the self-declared adversary of criticism of the sort in which we engage. They have even gone so far, while deliberately and cautiously remaining utterly silent regarding Athenaeum, as to review and laud with the loftiest of praise a book directed specifically against Athenaeum, namely, Adelheids Briefe by Nicolai, [4] moreover, with the most insulting sidelong glances in our direction. [5]

That I might avoid waiting for more such avanies [6] from that journal, I found it necessary to postpone no longer the break I have in any case already long been considering, and you will soon read a declaration concerning my departure from the A.L.Z. in that paper’s Intelligenzblatt. [7] Let me also alert you to a declaration by Schelling and his response. [8] Their intention of not allowing us to ascend has become all too clear.

Stay well and do not forget us.

AW Schlegel


[*] Source: Körner-Wieneke 89–90.

The quarrels between the Jena Romantics and their adversaries — including but certainly not limited to the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, Garlieb Merkel, August von Kotzebue, and Jenisch, to mention only those in these most recent letters — are documented in countless letters, responses, missives, articles, reviews, and even plays. Space precludes including them all; what appear in this present edition are some of the landmarks, as it were, marking out the course of some but not all of these sometimes virulent, vitriolic, and also tedious quarrels. Probably the most complete compilation of the entirety of these exchanges is volume 4 of Fambach.

That said, Rudolf Haym’s remarks help snap into focus the solidarity the Romantics exhibited in connection with these countless feuds despite their own — the Romantics’ — disparate personalities, goals, and despite their own personal conflicts, some of which, like the relationship between Caroline and Schelling and the nascent conflict between Dorothea and Caroline and between Caroline and Friedrich, would eventually put an end to the conviviality about which Dorothea initially speaks (Die romantische Schule, 717–18):

And yet precisely that was the point, namely, that, despite all the domestic discord, a feeling of necessity predominated among more or less all the members of this literary family, a feeling that they should appear to outsiders as a self-enclosed, unified party.

In political as well as literary affairs, the strongest adhesive for holding together disparate elements that tend to drift apart has always been the necessity of defending oneself against common foes. Parties as well as schools can be formed as easily by hostility as by friendship, and the unifying power of positive principles becomes genuinely palpable in the face of shared dangers, threats, and attacks.

Schleiermacher wrote about precisely this point, albeit with a bit of exaggeration, yet essentially accurately, to his friend Brinckmann in 1800 [correct: 1803]. The reason the so-called new poetic school constituted a sect, he maintains, resides more outside it than within it. He continues [Schleiermacher to Brinckmann from Stolp on 26 November 1803 (Schleiermacher als Mensch: Sein Werden. Familien- und Freundesbriefe 1783 bis 1804 [Gotha 1922], 322; KGA V, 7:121–22)]:

Once one sees how utterly different Friedrich Schlegel, Tieck, and A. W. Schlegel are with respect to their products and principles, the manner in which each as arrived at this point, and in the way they themselves view such, one cannot help seeing that there is really no inclination at all here to form a sect offensively, but rather at most only defensively; they could not possibly exist as such if the others, that is, those who view themselves as constituting the old school, did not take the offensive.

I believe Goethe’s protection has similarly been forced solely from this perspective; and those three believe as little in the concurrence of his poetic principles with their own as he himself believes in it; but they have been forced, coerced together — they use him only the way at the beginning of the previous century philosophers used Chinese morality against Orthodoxy.

These remarks are referring first of all only to the Romantics as a poetic school and were written during a period when the primary representatives of the school had already drifted apart at least externally. That notwithstanding, with only modest alteration they can be applied to the entire Romantic disposition as well as to the time when this disposition, favored by the proximity of members in one locale, was at its highest florescence. . . .

But just as in France the political revolution acquired abiding traction only through the war against external enemies, so also was it polemical criticism, the resolute and defiant battle against attackers, that similarly gave substantive support to the literary revolution of the Romantics and completed the shaping of the school’s character. Back.

[1] The initial source in Berlin was Fichte; see his letter to Schelling on 22 October 1799 (letter 250a). Back.

[2] See the exchange of letters between Wilhelm and Christian Gottfried Schütz on 20–21 October 1799 (letters 249b, 249c, 249d). Back.

[3] In his initial missive to Schütz on 20 October 1799 (letter 249b), Wilhelm alluded to Kotzebue’s Der hyperboreische Esel oder die heutige Bildung. Ein drastisches Drama, und philosophisches Lustspiel für Jünglinge in einem Akt (Leipzig 1799), an anti-Schlegelian play that was performed during the Leipzig book fair. For discussion and excerpts, see Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 21 October 1799 (letter 250) and esp. supplementary appendix 250.1. Back.

[4] See the supplementary appendix on Friedrich Nicolai’s anti-Romantic epistolary novel Vertraute Briefe von Adelheid B** an ihre Freundin Julie S*** (Berlin, Stettin 1799). Friedrich similarly mentions the novel and its review in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung in his letter to Fichte on 3 November 1799 (letter 252g). Back.

[5] The reviewer was Ludwig Ferdinand Huber. Back.

[6] Fr., “insults, affronts; snubs.” Back.

[7] In the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, Wednesday, 13 November 1799, though dated 30 October 1799 (letter/document 255a). Back.

[8] In the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, Saturday, 2 November 1799, though dated 6 October 1799 (letter 252d), with the editorial response from the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung; Schelling, albeit significantly later, published a lengthy response to their response in his Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik (1800) 1, 49–99 (see letter/document 252d, note 4), in which he similarly mentions Wilhelm’s farewell missive and the editorial response it in its own turn prompted. Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott