Letter 255c

255c. Friedrich Schlegel to Schleiermacher in Berlin: Jena, ca. 15 November 1799 [*]

[Jena, ca. 15 November 1799]

It is good that Dorothea has also made a modest contribution to our missives to you. Ultimately it did have to happen, and here everything is going along quite colorfully and raucously topsy-turvy — religion and Holberg, [1] Galvanism [2] and poesy. You can easily imagine what sort of things two people like Hardenberg and Tieck get into spewing all their fire and water together. You (that is, the you of the Reden) have made an enormous impression on the former. He read us an essay on Christianity and submitted it for Athenaeum. [3] You will be receiving a copy soon yourself, so I will not say anything more about it; I think you will then find yourself occasionally quite wondering about his own wondering admiration.

He also read us some Christian hymns aloud, and they are the most divine thing he has yet done. [4] The poesy in them resembles absolutely nothing besides the most intimate and profound among Goethe’s earlier smaller poems. I will have them copied out for you and sent along (in return I am very much hoping for the letter from Hülsen [5]). The irony is that Tieck, who could never compose such a hymn even were he to turn a million internal somersaults, now also wants to do such hymns; then they will add some sermons, have it published, and Hardenberg is thinking about dedicating the whole thing to you. [6]

With all these people pursuing such things with such grim intent, Schelling has now suffered a new attack of his old enthusiasm for irreligion, in which I myself have also encouraged him with all my powers. Moreover he has drafted an “epicurean confession of faith” in the manner of Hans-Sachs-Goethe, which you will also receive the next time. Our collective φιλirony is quite in favor of including it in Athenaeum, providing your own irony has no objections. But, then, we must probably consider it more thoroughly. I am very pleased with some of its more serious passages, quite apart from the witty ones. [7]

Yesterday evening Tieck read us the first half of his Genovefa. [8] It exhibits not only the greatest wealth of poesy and a completely new variation of his own style, but also more emphasis and seriousness than in any of his other works. He is in a wonderful period and does indeed possess enormous talent.

Wilhelm has also produced some quite respectable works of art and is also considering Lancelot. [9] Even Dorothea is working quite properly on Arthur. [10] For me alone are things just becoming inordinately difficult. But it must and will succeed.

Fichte writes that you are already familiar with Diogenes Laterne. [11] Fichte believes I should file a lawsuit against the publisher and force him to divulge the author’s name. [12] But since it is only in commission, he can simply say that he does not know the author, and evade the charge that way; I also do not believe I will find much in the way of consolation from Saxon courts. And if Jenisch were eventually legally enjoined, he could pretend he received the volume from someone else etc. the same way he did in the business with Reinhard. [13]

Had he not already been publicly exposed through that, it would be worth the trouble to pursue things now; as it is, however, one would not really be accomplishing anything new. —

Tieck has read the thing with considerable care and believes one could prove from the material itself that Jenisch is the author, and — in a word, he had a very good idea about how he might attack it, but I cannot relate it just now. The best thing would be for me to send it to you next time if possible. —

If you see Fichte during the next few days, share my doubts with him, and thank him profusely for his cordial letter. I simply do not have the time to write him today. . . .

On the occasion of Hardenberg’s admittedly somewhat lax personality, Schelling had a severe attack of respect for the energy in your Reden, and from this perspective he also quickly placed you quite far above Jacobi. But he has not progressed any further yet studying the piece, nor will he be able to get to it this winter, as overwhelmed by his own projects as he is. [14]

It must remain a secret that he is the author of Wiederborst [addendum from Caroline: “I underlined it because this is a serious matter”]. We did not tell Tieck either, who became extremely irritated with all sorts of peculiar opinions.


[*] Sources: Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:133–36; KGA V/3 240–44; KFSA 25:23–25. — Dating according to KFSA 25:389; this letter was likely sent with Dorothea’s letter of the same date (letter 255b), the “modest contribution” Friedrich mentions in the first sentence. Back.

[1] Ludwig Tieck was quite talented at reading aloud; concerning Holberg specifically, see Caroline’s letters to Auguste on 21 October and 4 November 1799 (letters 250, 253). Back.

[2] Johann Wilhelm Ritter was esp. interested in recent experiments in the 1780s and 1790s investigating the effect of electricity on dissected animals (animal magnetism); the term galvanism derives from the name of the Italian scientist Luigi Galvani.

Ritter was conducting his own experiments (see Caroline’s mention of frogs in her letter to Friedrich von Hardenberg on 4 February 1799 [letter 219], with illustrations in note 6). The doctrine played an important role in the philosophy of nature, and was later also used to describe the bringing to life of organisms using electricity (as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus [London 1818]).

Here a voltaic pile (on the left) — contemporary with Caroline’s letters — being used in an experiment to connect the heads of cadavers; from Jean Aldini, Essai théorique et expérimental sur le galvanisme: avec une série d’expériences faites en présence des commissaires de l’Institut National de France, et en divers amphitéatres anatomiques de Londres (Paris 1804), plate 4, figure 6 following p. 398:



[3] “Die Christenheit oder Europa: Ein Fragment,” which Hardenberg composed in October and early November 1799; it was not accepted into Athenaeum, and was published only posthumously. Hardenberg’s reading the Schleiermacher’s Reden is generally viewed as the primary impetus to the piece (KFSA 25:389fn4). Concerning Hardenberg’s essay, its title, and its history of publication, see the supplementary appendix on “Heinz Widerporst’s Epicurean Confession of Faith,” note 1. Back.

[4] Seven of Hardenberg’s “Geistliche Lieder” appeared posthumously in Wilhelm Schlegel’s and Tieck’s Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802, 79–86, and the entire collection in the same year in Novalis Schriften, ed. Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel, 2 vols. (Berlin 1802), 2:123–58. Back.

[5] Friedrich had inaugurated the correspondence between Hülsen and Schleiermacher by having the latter answer a letter from Hülsen to Friedrich. Back.

[6] This plan never materialized. Back.

[7] Schelling’s “Epikurisch Glaubensbekenntniss Heinz Widerporstens.” Wilhelm opposed publishing the piece in Athenaeum and thus solicited Goethe’s opinion, who opposed including it as well, possibly because of the apprehension that, like Fichte just a few months before, Schelling might draw the reproach of atheism (Goethe also opposed including Hardenberg’s “Die Christenheit oder Europa”).

Schelling published parts of it anonymously in his own Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik 1 (1800) no. 2, 152–55, with the title “Yet something else concerning the relationship between the philosophy of nature and idealism.”

See also Friedrich’s letter to Caroline on 19 February 1799 (letter 221), with note 7. For the translated text and other notes, see the supplementary appendix Heinz Widerporst’s Epicurean Confession of Faith. Back.

[8] Das Leben und Tod der heiligen Genoveva, published in volume 2 of Tieck’s Romantische Dichtungen, 2 vols. (Jena 1799–1800), 2:1–330. See the review of the collection of illustrations by the Riepenhausen brothers (with information about the original legend, Tieck’s version, and cross reference to the gallery). Back.

[9] First canto of what would later be called “Tristan,” an ultimately unfinished piece in the style of the Italian Renaissance (in Wilhelm’s Sämmtliche Werke 1:100–26). See esp. Friedrich’s letter to Auguste in early November 1797 (letter 190), with note 2. Back.

[10] What eventually became Dorothea’s novel, Florentin. Ein Roman herausgegeben von Friedrich Schlegel, vol. 1 (Lübeck 1801) (vol. 2 never appeared). Back.

[11] Anonymous (Daniel Jenisch), Diogenes Laterne (Leipzig 1799); see Friedrich’s letter to Fichte on 3 November 1799 (letter 252g) and esp. supplementary appendix 252g.1. Back.

[12] The publisher was Wilhelm Rein in Leipzig. Back.

[13] Allusion to a scandal involving the periodical Berlinisches Archiv der Zeit und ihres Geschmacks in December 1795, which published a letter from Karl Reinhard to Daniel Jenisch that Reinhard declared to be in part a forgery. Jenisch managed to avoid legal consequences. Back.

[14] Friedrich had written Schleiermacher from Jena back on 16 September 1799 (Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:120–21; KGA V/3 181–82; KFSA 25:4–5):

Schelling is just now seriously engaged in reading your Reden. But one cannot hope for much. You are just at such an enormous remove from him, and yet also quite close to philosophy and, at least to that extent, to him as well. He must first be rescued from philosophy through poesy before he can make his way to mysticism. And he is indeed quite serious about poesy, and I will faithfully try to help him in that regard.

And on 20 September 1799 to Schleiermacher (Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:121; KGA V/3 183; KFSA 25:5):

Caroline has only just now gotten around to reading your Reden, since until now the house has not exactly been empty of guests and she is so conscientious with her role as host. —

But she did read them all the way through in a single sitting, and with considerable interest, and thinks it a powerful book indeed. She is quite pleased with religion and the universe, probably also the notion of mediation; but she will hear nothing of any communication of religion, and from that point on she assumes a retrograde position. Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott