Letter 269b

269b. Wilhelm Schlegel to Schleiermacher in Berlin: Gotha, 5 October 1800 [*]

Gotha, 5 October 1800

I did not receive your letter of 20 September, my dear friend, until yesterday upon my arrival here; I only have time for a few fleeting comments concerning the most necessary items.

Although I did not receive Fichte’s letter until I arrived here, [1] I was aware from Schelling of his decision with regard to us, though Schelling, peculiarly enough, communicated to me not Fichte’s letter itself, but only its results. [2] I personally never approved of the step of offering Fichte a co-editorship, though I did believe I could thwart any ill effects and answer for such to the other contributors. I entered into it in order to calm Schelling as much as possible and thereby also to secure his participation all the more surely.

Unfortunately, it had the completely opposite effect, for after receiving the answer Schelling declared to me that Fichte had revealed certain things to him that were now prompting him, Schelling, to withdraw entirely from the project. Just what the nature of these “certain things” were he did not say; Fichte presumably reminded him of earlier promises and then made him suspicious of the attitude of our entire circle toward him. I suspect he was speaking primarily against Friedrich. [3] I have no reason to believe there were any complaints about you and the unkind Bestimmung. [4] He may also have expressed bitter complaints against me and our silence. I fear that gossip on Bernhardi’s part also played a role, though I am only conjecturing.

I gently explained to Schelling how little personal inclinations and disinclinations, mutual judgments, etc. should come into play in such a collective, public undertaking. But since he remained with his decision and had presumably already written a corresponding letter to Fichte and Cotta when he announced it to me, I did not push him any further on it, nor did I want to have a falling out with him over his formal promise, which he is now so unjustly retracting. Perhaps he will later rejoin us.

His departure is a real loss, one for which the enthusiasm and work of the other contributors can and must compensate. My greatest worry is that Cotta will jump ship and back out. Although I wrote him a long letter from Bamberg and informed of the entire course of things, I did not express even the slightest doubt concerning the continuation of our enterprise, and instead tried to get an even firmer commitment from him by mentioning the in part already successful invitations to Röschlaub, Ritter, Steffens, and Eschenmayer. I would have liked to send him the public announcement of the launch of the journal, but I could find neither the time nor the peace and quiet to do so, since I had to labor till the very last minute to get Shakespeare finished. [5] As soon as I hear from Cotta again, I will let you know. [6]

Hence not for a moment can I delay, even given this present uncertainty, urgently engaging your powers and time. You have completely misunderstood me if you think I meant that Schelling or Fichte should and could exclusively manage the area of speculative philosophy. [7] Schelling doubtless also did not imagine such, and if he said he wanted to cede this subject matter wholly to Fichte should the latter join us, he meant only that he himself would then concentrate on works in the natural sciences. —

Had Fichte joined us, I was quite worried he would insist on contributing a great deal in the way of the philosophy of religion, and I was determined to assert your views in that subject alongside his, cost what it may. . . .

I will be back in Jena in three weeks at the latest and will then work day and night on behalf of the journal [8] . . .

Forgive this hasty scribbling. If you answer immediately, address your letter to Braunschweig in care of Professor Wiedemann. In the meantime stay well. Will you be coming to Jena? that would be wonderful.

What is the status of my query to Schadow? I long for a response. I do hope you have not forgotten it. This matter is extraordinarily important to me personally. [9]

[*] Sources: Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:233–35; KGA V/4 282–87.

Not only does this letter date Wilhelm and Caroline’s arrival in Gotha from Bamberg to 4 October 1800 (concerning the route, see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 18 September 1800 [letter 268], note 1), it arguably also dates the moment of dissolution of the Jena Romantic circle, the immediate background to which is their unsuccessful attempt to launch a collective critical journal to replace the forums they lost with the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung and final issue of Athenaeum.

Unfortunately, these attempts quickly split into two competing projects, concerning which see Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Wilhelm on 30 September 1800 (letter 269a), note 1, and, for a more detailed summary, Rudolf Haym’s essay on the Romantics’ Jahrbücher project.

In this present letter, Wilhelm acknowledges Fichte’s departure from the project and, worse yet, Schelling’s as well. The anticipated publisher of the project, Johann Friedrich Cotta in Tübingen, would also withdraw once the two philosophical celebrities had left, leaving Wilhelm and Schleiermacher with a critical journal that never made it even into the first issue. The anticipated contributors eventually each went his own way, and though Friedrich and Wilhelm did publish a collection of their own previous critical pieces later (see Haym’s essay above), never again would the circle exhibit a public profile as a school or self-enclosed group. Back.

[1] Friedrich had forwarded Fichte’s letter to Wilhelm in Gotha by way of the maidservant Rose; see his letter to Wilhelm on 30 September 1800 (letter 269a). Back.

[2] For Fichte’s enraged letter to Schelling from Berlin on 13 September 1800 (he asked that Schelling burn the letter after reading it), see Fuhrmans 2:251–54. A translation of the letter has been published in The Philosophical Rupture between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Texts and Correspondence (1800–1802), trans. and ed. Michael G. Vater and David W. Wood (Albany, N.Y. 2012), 28–31. Schelling could not possibly show the letter to Wilhelm. Back.

[3] In a letter to Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Fichte had similarly complained about Wilhelm’s “arrogant shallowness”; see Rudolf Haym’s essay on the Romantics’ Jahrbücher project. Back.

[4] Schleiermacher’s review of Fichte’s Bestimmung des Menschen, Athenaeum (1800) 281–95 (Eng. trans. The Vocation of Man, trans. William Smith [London 1848]). Back.

[5] Volume 7 of the edition of Shakespeare; see also Wilhelm’s letter to Schleiermacher on 8 September 1800 (letter 267d), note 2. Back.

[6] Cotta responded to Wilhelm from Tübingen on 10 October 1800 (Josef Körner, [1930], 117–18, here 117):

Although Schelling had already alerted me to his withdrawal and about Fichte’s refusal to join the Jahrbücher, you, kind Sir, were the first to acquaint me with the details.

After receiving Schelling’s letter, I immediately wrote to Fichte, and Schelling no doubt did the same; so I am still hoping that neither of these two men will be lost to our project. For even though you have prudently found ways to substitute for them, the absence of these two contributors would nonetheless be a dangerous development, especially since Woltmann is not to be underestimated as a rival [Woltmann and Johann Friedrich Unger, had already initiated a similar project in Berlin; see Rudolf Haym’s essay on the Romantics’ Jahrbücher project].

Regardless of how one may assess the real disposition of his knowledge and talents, he enjoys considerable credit with the public at present, and you yourself know too well what an immature child the latter is — whom we unfortunately must take into consideration in our planning. Hence we must be certain that his journal does not commence, to which purpose Fichte’s and Schelling’s participation in our journal will contribute more than their non-participation in his. . . .

Wilhelm cited the first part of Cotta’s response (up to “be a dangerous development”) in his own letter to Schleiermacher on 21 November 1800 (Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:243), adding, “as you can see, I cannot force Cotta, since Schelling was indeed among the contributors I had promised to secure for him.” Neither Schelling nor Fichte returned to the project. Back.

[7] Friedrich had mentioned Schleiermacher’s apprehension concerning this point in the letter to Wilhelm on 30 September 1800 (letter 269a). Back.

[8] Wilhelm did not return to Jena until August 1801, nor did Schleiermacher make his anticipated trip to Jena. Back.

[9] The reference is to work on a memorial for Auguste. See Wilhelm’s letter to Schleiermacher on 21 August 1800 (letter 265m) and the supplementary appendix on the memorial for Auguste. Schleiermacher in his turn responded from Berlin on 14 October 1800 (Josefa Elstner, “Briefe Friedrich Schleiermachers an August Wilhelm Schlegel,” ed. Josefa Elstner and Erich Klingner, Euphorion 21 [1914], 758–60; KGA V/4 289–92):

No, I did not forget Schadow at all. He took the project under consideration, sends his kind regards to you, and promised to have a drawing for me quite soon, something about which I will remind him tomorrow. He has tentatively estimated the cost at around 600 rth [Schleiermacher’s footnote: though this is for an urn; a sarcophagus would probably exceed your price limit], but he would like to include a more precise estimate with the drawing.

In this same letter, Schleiermacher speaks at length about Schelling’s decision not to participate in the friends’ plans for a new journal. Friedrich Schlegel as well was anxious for Wilhelm to return to Jena; he writes on 17 October 1800 (Walzel, 444; KFSA 25:193):

I cannot emphasize enough how I am looking forward to your return [to Jena]. Then we shall talk at length about everything — including about the strange incident you mention in your last letter. — I cannot tell you how sorry I am that right here at the beginning of this so admirable enterprise you are encountering such irksome obstacles.

The “irksome obstacles” include Schelling’s decision not to participate; the “strange incident” is uncertain. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott