Letter 255a

255a. Wilhelm Schlegel’s Farewell in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, Wednesday, 13 November 1799, and the Editorial Response [*]

to the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung

I herewith announce to the readers of the A.L.Z. that I will no longer be contributing to same; I feel obliged to make this announcement because since approximately mid-1796 until very recently, almost all the reviews of any significance regarding belles-lettres have been my own. I am prompted to take this step in part by the increasing proliferation of empty reviews whose company has already often enough made me ashamed and among which of late especially some clearly betray a desire to set criticism back thirty years.

Even more, however, I find the guidelines and goals now unmistakably guiding the editors to be incompatible with my own principles, and after acquiring a thorough acquaintance with the spirit of this journal through observation from close proximity, the utterly straightforward openness to which I adhere as a writer no longer allows me to participate in this enterprise.

Jena, 30 October 1799

August Wilhelm Schlegel


concerning the preceding farewell

After the preceding, it indeed cannot but be unpleasant for us to lose a contributor whose talents, knowledge, and artistry we have always sincerely respected and who for a time participated with obvious goodwill in the A.L.Z.

In the meantime, it is indeed the fate of periodicals to have scholars who devoted such considerable effort to them during a certain period of time to be prompted by various circumstances to withdraw from such participation either gradually or suddenly; our own journal, too, has already experienced this universal fate at the hands of contributors who were at the same time acknowledged as extremely reputable scholars, scholars who had often covered this or that area almost exclusively for what was sometimes a considerable period of time.

Most, however, withdrew with unmistakable gestures of goodwill toward the journal and editors, and indeed often enough also continued to exhibit such subsequently. A few were prompted to withdraw by dissatisfaction, something a journal of this scope, one involved in such complicated relationships, and amid the enormous variety of sometimes rather wondrous views of things, especially among scholars, cannot avoid even with the best of intentions.

Never before, however, has anyone announced his departure from the A.L.Z. publicly and while simultaneously intentionally attacking not, e.g., individual contributions, but rather the entire journal, its editors, and their character. Herr Professor Schlegel is the first to provide such a spectacle for our readers, even though both editors would have expected such least of all from him given their previous literary and personal relationships.

Enough, he considers his participation in the A.L.Z. and his separation from it so important that this separation must necessarily be announced to the public, though in so doing he is admittedly ascribing value and influence to himself of the sort not a single earlier contributor has presumed on departure, contributors who doubtless include some of the premier writers in Germany.

Although he is certainly permitted to view these things however he wishes, at the same time he has in every line of his declaration tried to accuse and disparage both directly and through allusion the A.L.Z. as a whole as well as its editors, forcing us to take the admittedly unpleasant step of publicizing a self-defense.

That self-defense, however, is to be as cold as possible. We will offer solely facts and contextual explications. May our readers judge between him and us!

(1) It is quite true that since the beginning of 1796 Herr Schlegel has provided most of the reviews in the area of language arts (certainly more than any other contributor in this area). Given his talents, insight, and understanding, we quite welcomed him. He was in his own turn quite disposed to this work, was in close proximity to us, and we found ourselves, given his goodwill, quite supported by his many contributions, which from the hand of others could not but be increasingly long-winded esp. insofar as several of our older reviewers in this area withdrew somewhat in part because of their health, in part because of other works.

That said, Herr Schlegel now maintains

(2) that he allegedly contributed almost all the reviews of any significance in this area, adding to this assertion his lament concerning the plethora of empty reviews by others whose proximity could not but make him feel ashamed etc. —

We are somewhat perplexed concerning how we are to respond to this accusation. It is not for us as editors to decide concerning the value of the contributions we receive and publish, or to elevate the one over the other or, as it were, play the referee among our reviewers. The most obvious response would thus be a complete enumeration of Herr Schlegel’s contributions, that the public might then compare these with others and come to its own decision whether the contributions of others might not also have had some significance.

We doubtless have the right to do so, for what contributor can expect us to maintain our pledge of reviewer anonymity (Herr Schlegel knows from his own experience how seriously we take that pledge) who uses trust in our discretion in order to make accusations against us that we can answer only by breaching that trust, thereby coercing us into a defensive position? We do, moreover, owe it to our other contributors not to expose them defenselessly in this blanket fashion to be disparaged before the public. —

And yet we prefer to forego this aspect of our rights lest we present something to Herr Schlegel that might be unpleasant for him, and explicitly to reserve such in case he might present new assertions that could be answered solely by precisely such an enumeration. [1]

For now let us make do with a couple of general remarks concerning these points.

If the significance of a review depends on its length, then Herr Schlegel has indeed alone delivered quite significant ones, for although contributions that extend into a second issue do indeed stand alongside his own, none is of greater length. During this period, Herr Schlegel alone has contributed longer reviews in this area that extend even into a sixth issue.

We hardly believe, however, that Herr Schlegel views such as constituting the significance of a review. He himself knows too well that often the merit of literary works depends precisely on not being long-winded. —

Now, as already stated, it is not for us to decide whether any essays of some significance in this better sense stand alongside those of Herr Schlegel in the A.L.Z., and the previously mentioned reasons prevent us from enumerating Herr Schlegel’s own works, which would be the only way of demonstrating such, since the enumeration of several others would already implicitly contain a condemnation for those not named, something we are certainly not in a position to do.

Herr Schlegel was not even content to specify which reviews he was ashamed of. He mentioned such to us only with respect to the review of the Vertraute Briefe von Adelheid B** an ihre Freundin Julie S** (a piece written primarily against him and his brother and positively viewed by the reviewer; A.L.Z. November 1799, no. 343), which we must point out because this particular assessment is in fact the primary reason prompting the preceding farewell declaration, something readers would perhaps otherwise futilely seek.

One might also point out as an aside that some scholars do not ascribe as much significance to certain reviews, especially if they themselves are referenced in them or if the reviews otherwise stir certain passions in them, as to others, especially those they themselves have authored, something Herr Schlegel can witness, among other places, in the new piece by Herr Bouterwek (Literärische Blätter. Erstes Heft zur Erläuterung des literärischen Jacobinismus und der Jenaischen Literatur-Zeitung [Göttingen 1800], on which perhaps more at another time).

But perhaps the main point in all these considerations is that Herr Schlegel’s declaration likely contains the particular assertions we have reproached solely to seduce readers into believing that because Herr Schlegel himself, who allegedly contributed almost all the reviews of any significance under the rubric of belles lettres, is now withdrawing from participation in the A.L.Z., the entire rubric will essentially be done for. —

We hope our readers will in the meantime not join in such a conclusion. They doubtless recall that even prior to the period stipulated by Herr Schlegel for his own activity, the A.L.Z. contained several contributions which they themselves rather universally acknowledged as having been quite excellent and intelligent. So there must doubtless be several scholars besides him living of whom the rubric of criticism has no reason to be ashamed. And several of these very same persons have in fact not withdrawn their support for us, and some have even reassured us of such.

We similarly hope that our readers will, without our prompting, also recall the real circumstances underlying this dispute. We have already acknowledged that, given Herr Schlegel’s diligence and other talents, and the relief his presence provided in this respect, we were happy to offer and assign to him whatever he wanted to accept. We similarly were disinclined to deny him many other, even some of the most noteworthy publications in our literature when they were not already assigned him but to which he himself offered his services, as long as the reasons were not too severe prompting him not to review them according to our normal principles and guidelines.

How natural then (if we are to grant his assertion validity) that he who reviewed all works of any significance also alone was able to deliver reviews of any significance; does it then necessarily follow that if others had been assigned these works, they would have delivered insignificant reviews, or will deliver such in the future should such be the case? —

Not even Herr Schlegel himself will assert such unless he simultaneously asserts that apart from him absolutely no one else in Germany is capable of authoring reviews of any significance under this rubric.


(3) the preceding declaration contains other statements as well that openly attack the character of the editors. We are accused of being guided by guidelines and goals allegedly incompatible with his own principles; the spirit of this journal, moreover, with which he has become more closely acquainted through observation from close proximity, no longer allows him to participate in this enterprise. —

We do not understand what he means here, and in good conscience we can thus overlook these as well as other similar accusations. —

In the meantime, let us use this occasion to repeat yet again several of our own principles, principles we have long made public and to which we ourselves have long adhered.

“In no area do the editors intend to impose any system on their reviewers; every contributor may follow his own convictions in this regard.” They have too high an opinion of the A.L.Z. to allow it to be used as an instrument for or against any party. They consider it in the best interest of science and scholarship not to have the A.L.Z. become involved immediately in every incipient quarrel that happens to arise, or certainly to choose sides in such quarrels.

To the contrary, they believe that the more vehemence attaching to a quarrel, all the most circumspect must a critic proceed, waiting instead for a later time when he can be heard at least to a certain extent in a more peaceful atmosphere. Our readers have recently seen how long we waited with any assessment of publications concerning the Brunonian method, and they can themselves decide whether this delay caused any loss. —

The A.L.Z. has on the basis of precisely these principles hitherto remained silent concerning various publications in belles lettres; and it is precisely these principles that have prompted it to remain utterly silent concerning the heated dispute that has arisen between the Schlegel brothers and many of their adversaries, preferring to wait for a later time to do so.

Hence the aforementioned Vertraute Briefe should admittedly also not yet have been reviewed. But the only, older editor present in Jena at the time when this review arrived and was printed can assure readers on his duty and honor that he was unaware of the content of this anonymous publication, which he has to this very moment still not yet seen, and was unaware that it was one of the counter-publications contra the Schlegels. Any reader can see that such cannot be surmised from the review itself.

If these same maxims happen to contain the guidelines and goals that are incompatible with Herr Schlegel’s own principles, then we must admittedly count ourselves lucky on his departure, since by acting according to his different principles, he could perhaps have thwarted or otherwise compromised, even without our knowing it, our own, with which, by the way, he has long been familiar. To recognize these maxims, however, requires no considerable proximity, since like many other things they have long been public knowledge, in part in our own declarations and in part in our overall journalistic behavior.

It is true that close rather than more distant observation could have informed him better how often what may be quite unavoidable consequences or circumstances and chance are in fact viewed as intention on the part of or even as the “spirit” of the journal. For example, it cannot but be our own serious and most zealous wish to provide a review of every excellent publication as quickly as possible without compromising the thoroughness and the internal value of such reviews. That notwithstanding, we are admittedly in arrears concerning several noteworthy publications, including under the rubric of belles lettres.

Herr Schlegel, however, knows from more than one example how innocent we are in this respect. He knows that he himself has long taken on the responsibility for significant publications and yet not yet delivered the reviews. Should we thus withdraw these assignments from him, even though he may well have already thought about what he intends to say in them, and expose ourselves to a similar, perhaps even lengthier delay by assigning them to someone else?

To be specific, it cannot but be quite unpleasant for us not to have published an assessment of Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. But a man whom Herr Schlegel himself would not deny can be viewed as one of our best critics gave us hope for a quite long time that he would indeed deliver such; then, however, Herr Schlegel took over that responsibility himself, albeit without delivering such either (we intend no reproach on this account, but merely to clarify our own actions). The responsibility for the review was then withdrawn from him with his agreement and assigned to a man from whom we might yet anticipate something extraordinary. — —

But enough for now. We thought it best to say these things to our readers on the occasion of this unusual declaration that we might all the more confidently remain silent in the future, as we much prefer to do. For even though we must now fear being formally added to the rather large number of Schlegelian adversaries, whose number, as is well known, is still being arbitrarily increased, we will nonetheless not break our silence again unless we are forced to adduce facts for the public in the case of this or that potential accusation, facts without which our own justified or unjustified position cannot otherwise be properly judged.

Jena, 6 November 1799

The Editors of the A.L.Z.


[*] Source: Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 145 (Wednesday, 13 November 1799) 1179; Sämmtliche Werke 11:427. Response from the editors in columns 1179–84 of the same issue, i.e., immediately following Wilhelm’s statement. The editors of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung were Christian Gottfried Schütz and Gottlieb Hufeland. Back.

[1] Wilhelm himself published a list of his (and, by extension and with double anonymity, Caroline’s, indicated in blue below) reviews in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung in an unpaginated insert following Athenaeum (1800) 164 (“Nro.” indicates issue number under the listed year):






Translation © 2013 Doug Stott