Letter 271b

271b. Henrik Steffens to Schelling in Jena: Freiberg, 18 October 1800 [*]

Freiberg, 18 October 1800

Because I had to wait in Dresden for a money exchange, I got away later than I really wanted. Hence your letter was already rather old when I received it in Freiberg. But even at the time, I was merely passing through Freiberg to check about letters, and then continued on to the Bohemian and part of the Silesian Mountains. [1] I postponed answering because I thought I would be back in Freiberg in a week and because I did not stay there for even a single night. I only wrote a couple of hasty lines to your brother to be sure I would find the second issue on my return. [2]

I have not even been back for a week, for my week-long trip turned into one almost a month long, one, moreover, that was certainly adventurous enough at times because of my lack of money. But I had to make this trip to satisfy the government, [3] though the trip, and in general all my frequent geognostic summer excursions, was also not without profit for science.

When I returned, Gries wrote me that you intended to return to Jena in his company. [4] — Uncertain where my letters would finally reach you, I put off answering and wrote — unfortunately! — to A. W. Schlegel, of all people. — So let me hasten now to answer you.

Are you sick? — But certainly not seriously? Surely not the old chest illness? — I do in any case hope to hear about your recovery soon, and after what you yourself wrote me in your last two letters, I am certainly not without some serious concerns.

I did admittedly already write to A. W. Schlegel, offering him an essay on your treatise and on the present status of geology; [5] in the meantime, it goes without saying that I will withdraw. You already know that I have long had little sympathy with the Schlegels — their lack of real science was always repugnant to me. And though Friedrich Schlegel’s philosophizing poesy, which lacks any living form, and his poeticizing philosophy, which lacks any real depth, is indeed a product permeated by the lofty tendency of the age, it is also one in which that tendency has in reality neutralized itself.

I long foresaw that you would soon separate yourself from these people. [6] I myself will take the side of true science, [7] which is more than this recurring bizarreness that must constantly be redecorated anew. [8] I will contribute whatever I can, and will expect to receive more specific information as soon as possible; for unfortunately I cannot get away from here anytime soon — for several reasons.

Your reproach to me — notwithstanding I do sense it is not without foundation — derives in fact from my restive lifestyle. I had to take these journeys, and over the entire summer was hardly at home for two weeks at a time. What of significance could have been produced under such circumstances? . . .

Please make do for now with this disorganized letter; I had to violently interrupt my work in order to write it. More anon. Stay well, dear teacher and friend.



[*] Sources: Plitt 1:315–17; Fuhrmans 2:270–72. — Dating according to Fuhrmans, who draws attention to Plitt’s incorrect date.

In this letter, Steffens is apparently responding to Schelling’s invitation to contribute to his own, i.e., Schelling’s, anticipated journal; Steffens, of course, had just agreed to contribute to Wilhelm Schlegel’s. See Steffens’s letter to Wilhelm at about this same time (letter 271a), which is referenced again below. Back.

[1] Concerning these locales, see Steffens’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on about the same date (letter 271a), note 1. Here the Bohemian Forest and the Silesian Riesengebirge in 1803 ([1] Gustav Jungbauer, Böhmerwald-Sagen [Jena 1924], plate following p. 16; [2] frontispiece to J. K. E. Hoser, Das Riesengebirge in einer topographischen und pittoresken Übersicht [Vienna 1803]):




[2] Schelling’s Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik (1800) I, 2. Back.

[3] I.e., the government in Denmark, which was supporting Steffens financially and had suggested he might be spending too much time with theory (i.e., his studies in Jena, including with Schelling) and too little on the practical aspects of mineralogy. Back.

[4] Johann Diederich Gries had traveled back to Jena from Bamberg with Schelling (part of the way also with Wilhelm Schlegel and Caroline), leaving Bamberg on 1 October 1800 and arriving in Jena on 3 October; concerning these travel plans, see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 18 September 1800 (letter 268), note 1. Back.

[5] See Steffens letter to Wilhelm on about this same date (letter 271a), with note 3; the essay in question is probably (see also Fuhrmans 2:271n5) Schelling’s “Allgemeine Deduction des dynamischen Processes” in the Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik (1800) I, 2, 3–87; Wilhelm’s projected journal never got off the ground; see Rudolf Haym’s discussion of the Romantics’ Jahrbücher project. Back.

[6] Schelling seems to have told Steffens that the dispute concerning the anticipated Jahrbücher-project had ended with a split with Wilhelm and Friedrich. Back.

[7] I.e., of Schelling’s anticipated (and competing) project with Fichte contra Wilhelm’s. See Schelling’s letter to Fichte in mid-October 1800 (letter 271c) and Fichte’s to Schelling on 21 October 1800 (letter 271d). That project, too, failed to materialize. Back.

[8] A not insignificant remark that reveals more of the true nature of the intellectual, scholarly, and personal relationships among the members of the Jena group.

Steffens clearly has not made these remarks as a snap judgment (“I have long had little sympathy with the Schlegels”; “I long foresaw that you would soon separate yourself from these people”). Schelling himself, in his letter to Fichte on 31 October 1800 (letter 273c), after he had returned to Jena from Bamberg not least to stifle plans Friedrich Schlegel had to lecture on his, Schelling’s, turf of transcendental philosophy, explains in a similarly revealing and harsh statement that

I could not possibly stand by and watch the well-laid foundation destroyed in this way, and instead of the true scientific spirit, of which at least the groundwork has remained here, watch poetic and philosophical dilettantism move from the circle of the Schlegels out among the students as well.

That is, Schelling has obviously already been disinclined toward both the poetic and philosophical “dilettantism” of what he refers to as “the circle of the Schlegels,” a circle to which he clearly does not associate himself.

Later, in a letter to Wilhelm on 29 November 1802 (letter 373a), Schelling not surprisingly remarks on the occasion of Friedrich von Hardenberg’s posthumous writings that “I can hardly endure this frivolity toward objects, this sniffing around at everything without really penetrating into even a single one.”

Nor are these examples the only unequivocal documentation of the chronic internal disunion in the group. See also esp. Ludwig Tieck’s letter to Sophie and August Ferdinand Bernhardi on 6 December 1799 (letter 257c), i.e., scarcely two months after Tieck’s arrival in Jena. Even Friedrich could not resist sniping at his housemate Schleiermacher, who, Friedrich quips as early as 19 February 1799 (letter 221), “slinks around like a badger trying to sniff out the universe in every possible subject.”

Concerning the later fraying of relationships especially after Auguste’s death and the increasing intimacy between Caroline and Schelling, on the one hand, and the increasing animosity between Caroline and Friedrich and Dorothea, on the other, see espcially Rudolf Haym’s section on the personal strife among the Jena Romantics.

Concerning the further dissolution of the group (“the ‘Jena circle’ was utterly at odds with itself”) and problems in the relationship between Schelling and Fichte, see the editorial note to Schelling’s letter to Fichte in mid-October 1800 (letter 271c).

Concerning ill feelings among the group even later, see Schleiermacher’s letter to Count von Dohna in 1804 concerning his, Schleiermacher’s prospects for a position in Würzburg, cited in Dorothea and Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Karoline Paulus on 19 June 1804 (letter 383j), note 5.

Clearly, this group was not at all as unified as neologisms such as “symphilosophize” or “sympoeticize” are frequently taken to mean. One might note as well that neither Schelling nor Tieck nor Steffens himself ever published in Athenaeum, and that ultimately their united front came to public view almost exclusively in opposition to external adversaries.

Although for Friedrich Schlegel that oppositional undertaking may well have been part of the broader (“5 to 10 years”) plan that he and Wilhelm “become literary-critical dictators in Germany” (to Wilhelm on 31 October 1797 [letter 188c]), nonetheless after barely three weeks in Jena even Dorothea Veit recognized it as a pointless and inappropriate waste of energy: “They [scholarly opponents] bend way over when passing through the tiny door, and all of you want to enter standing upright; no wonder you hit your heads . . . it pains me that he [Wilhelm] must squander so much wit and energy on these wretched creatures” (see her letter to Schleiermacher on 28 October 1799 [letter 252a]).

And yet in precisely that opposition, the Jena group, or “clique,” as they were also called, did indeed exhibit for their opponents a sometimes frustrating degree of solidarity. See in this context especially the earlier remarks by Rudolf Haym concerning the solidarity of the Jena Romantics in the face of external opposition despite the increasingly frayed personal relationships among the group. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott