Letter 257d

257d. Wilhelm Schlegel to Schleiermacher in Berlin: Jena, 16 December 1799 [*]

Jena, 16 December 1799

Dearest Schleiermacher, our friends are indeed having a hard time of it now amid the frequent assaults leveled against us.

Fichte has provided us with a vivid description of these Berlin debates, [1] and since you yourself are actually one of us as well, and are positioned within the same condemnation as are we ourselves (moreover, having contributed your fair share toward bringing it down on us in the first place, since a certain party’s assessment of the Anthropologie, [2] I must boast, declares it to be one of the most atrocious inclusions in Athenaeum), your silence might perhaps be read as a concession of victory; and avoiding the philistines entirely is probably not expedient in a high residence of such types as is represented by Berlin.

Let me try to address your desire for a more specific account of the break with the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung by passing along to you two letters from Hufeland and myself prior to the appearance of the declaration itself. [3] You are authorized to show it wherever and to whomever you choose — I think I may consider the letter from Hufeland as part of the active files; — only please do not turn loose of it.

You will yourself notice and also draw attention to the fact how readily the editors would have thwarted my decision, that they would have been glad to sacrifice the reviewer of the Briefe von Adelheid B**, [4] and that I had absolutely no qualms about enumerating my own reviews, something their counter declaration tries to insinuate was in fact the case.

Then you might also point out — correcting their assertion — that I never formally accepted the review of Wilhelm Meister. The first reviewer is Schiller; the one from whom they now anticipate “not uncommon things” — a statement that made Goethe quite laugh — is Huber. [5] One can certainly grant them this self-exposure.

I have deliberated with Goethe at length regarding this matter, the result being that no response to the editors’ counter declaration is to be issued. The only thing that might be considered, and something I yet intend to reflect on, is to issue a complete enumeration of my reviews in Athenaeum. [6] Tell me whether you in Berlin have gotten wind of this side of the matter, something I have heard from other quarters, viz., that I ought to remain silent because I might have something to fear from a public enumeration of my reviews. —

I have already publicly aired my contempt for the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung in critical regard. They had no response, since regardless of how they may twist and turn, they did indeed have to own that for several years now it was indeed I myself who provided the primary material in this area. I also insinuated bad intentions to them, which is actually only a moral conviction allowing for no strict proof. Not only did they not know how to justify themselves on this point, they did not even have the courage to challenge me to provide such proof, and instead merely shrugged their shoulders wistfully and withdrew. —

Hence I really have nothing more to say to justify my action — I would have to become quite aggressive were I to do so, and since the honorable public is now so embittered toward us, this is probably not the best time to seek such a hearing. I do intend, however, God willing, to harass and torment them quite admirably at another occasion.

Although Huber’s letter to me would doubtless greatly amuse you, copying it out would be too extensive a task, and I would prefer not to send you the letter itself because I may perhaps yet get around to answering it. [7] That there is nothing to say publicly goes without saying.

Please do let us know what people think of the review [of Athenaeum]. They are doubtless quite pleased, without exception — since it really has been written as if from the very soul of the rabble; but anyone who is even remotely a relative beginner would inevitably, it seems to me, perceive the paltriness of his judgments. I wrote a letter to Frölich to comfort him, moreover, because of these sufferings and because he has appropriately paid my assignation, and also spoke quite cordially with him this time. Be so kind as to forward it to him.

Friedrich has probably already informed you that Hardenberg’s essay and “Widerporst” will not be included. [8] Although I was already of this opinion earlier, I was overruled and appealed to Goethe, who took great pains to familiarize himself with the matter, ultimately — and with detailed and sound arguments — coming out against their incorporation and in my favor. I wish you could have heard the wonderful discourses he delivered to me in these and other matters; you would have been delighted.

In the larger sense, Goethe has comported himself so cordially and in such a truly fatherly manner in this entire matter that his advice merits total consideration, not least because he has such extensive experience in such matters, having spent — as he himself puts it — praise God! — almost thirty years in the ranks of the opposition.

We have also resolved not to publish any deviltries this time. Certainly, they are worthless unless they are quite exquis[ite], and the sujets are so pover [9] that one too soon runs aground. By contrast, however: sound, solid “notices.” In this respect, your essay on Garve is invaluable. [10] If you could but provide us with even more things of this sort.

I have no objections to your reasons contra Reinhold and Jacobi. [11] But could you not write something about Fichte’s morality and his most recent Bestimmung? [12] You have also prompted my brother to hope for something from you that is written not as a “notice” but from the heart. This prospect as well as the more distant one for something on Spinoza will be quite welcome in the next or the sixth issue, and then perhaps you may finally want to sign your name to your articles? [13]

Please also be so good as to spur Bernhardi to do something on Herder and, if necessary, to help him along with the more difficult issues. [14] He is, by the way, completely free to engage witticisms as long as the foundation is a solid refutation. With precisely this “notice,” we can, I think, demonstrate that it is not forbidden, nor will we allow ourselves to be forbidden, from offering frank assessments of Weimar scholars. . . .

For the rest, I do confess that not even this gargantuan outcry and prattle against Athenaeum has awakened me from my apathy with respect to the latter. People are just basically too stupid for it; all they can do is read the same old pieces again, still not understand them, and get annoyed ever anew, without one even having to write new pieces for them. . . .


[*] Source: Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:141–44 (abridged); KGA V/3 295–305; Fambach 4:484 (excerpt).

This letter reflects how literary feuds consumed increasingly more of the Romantics’ time during this period and required an increasing expenditure of effort, becoming, if not an obsession (the Romantics were certainly not alone in engaging in such feuds), then at least a considerable distraction, something about which Dorothea Veit complained; nor were the feuds soon to end.

Such letters also illustrate well Rudolf Haym’s assertion, cited earlier (letter 253b), concerning the solidarity of the Jena Romantics in the face of external opposition despite the increasingly frayed personal relationships among the group. Caroline, of course, was immediately privy to all these developments. Back.

[1] Fichte, who had been in Berlin since early July 1799, had returned to Jena to close up his household and move his family to Berlin in March 1800 (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



[2] Schleiermacher was the anonymous reviewer of Kant’s Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (Königsberg 1798) in Athenaeum (1799) 300–6. Back.

[3] Gottlieb Hufeland to Wilhelm on 3 November 1799 (letter 252e); Wilhelm’s response to Hufeland on 3 or 4 November 1799 (letter 252f). The “declaration” (and editorial response) appeared in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 145 (Wednesday, 13 November 1799) 1179–84 (letter/document 255a).

In general see Wilhelm Dilthey’s remarks on the break between the Romantics and the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung and Garlieb Merkel’s similar discussion of Christian Gottfried Schütz, the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, and Wilhelm Schlegel. Back.

[4] The reviewer of Friedrich Nicolai’s Vertraute Briefe von Adelheid B** an ihre Freundin Julie S*** (Berlin, Stettin 1799), was Ludwig Ferdinand Huber; see the supplementary appendix on Nicolai’s Vertraute Briefe von Adelheid B**; also Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Fichte on 3 November 1799 (letter 252g); Wilhelm’s letter to Goethe on 5 November 1799 (letter 253b); and Caroline’s letter to Huber on 22 November 1799 (letter 256). Back.

[5] See the penultimate paragraph of the editorial response to Wilhelm’s declaration in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (letter 255a). Back.

[6] Wilhelm did publish this enumeration; see his declaration in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung on 13 November 1799 (letter/document 255a) with note 1. — Dorothea remarks to Schleiermacher on 14 February 1800 (letter 258m) concerning this enumeration:

What do you think about the small army of reviews by Wilhelm that have come to light in this connection? That will be causing yet another nice stir! To me it seems like someone about to be tried in court now declares that he has indeed committed countless murders and crimes but has managed to escape undetected in every one. Back.

[7] Huber’s letter, though no longer extant, can be approximately reconstructed on the basis of Caroline’s responses on 22 and 24/27 November 1799 (letters 256, 257), of her letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 27 December 1799 (letter 258), and of Wilhelm Schlegel’s letter to Huber on 28 December 1799 (letter 258a). Back.

[8] Concerning the exclusion of these two pieces from Athenaeum, see the supplementary appendix on Schelling’s “Heinz Widerporst” with the editorial note and esp. note 1. Back.

[9] For Fr. pauvre, “paltry, meager, poor.” Back.

[10] “Garve’s letzte noch von ihm selbst herausgegebene Schriften,” Athenaeum (1800) 129–39. Back.

[11] See Wilhelm’s letter to Schleiermacher on 1 November 1799 (letter 252b), in which these potential contributions are discussed. Back.

[12] Fichte’s Die Bestimmung des Menschen (Berlin 1800); Eng. trans. William Smith, The Vocation of Man (London 1848). See Athenaeum (1800) 283–97. Back.

[13] Schleiermacher did not contribute anything on Spinoza to Athenaeum. Back.

[14] Bernhardi contributed the review of Herder’s Verstand un Erfahrung. Eine Metakritik zur Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 2 vols. (Leipzig 1799), Athenaeum (1800) 268–83. Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott