Letter 271c

271c. Schelling to Fichte in Berlin: Jena, mid-October 1800 [*]

[Jena, mid-October 1800]

. . . Should the opportunity arise, please ask Tiek in my name whether he noticed anything particular in my behavior over the course of the entire winter, or whether he found me less favorably disposed toward him than when he was there the previous summer. [1] Should he answer this question in the affirmative, then please assure him in my name that he can ascribe this change in me solely to the slandering of Madam Veit and Friedrich Schlegel, with which they tried to denigrate his character to me and Caroline Schl[egel]. [2]

I owe it to myself to reestablish Tiek’s respect for me, just as all the respect and love has returned with which I myself was drawn to him by my first, unsullied impressions.

Nor can I see how I might be obligated to speak less severely in even the slightest fashion regarding the vile manner of behavior whose obvious goal was to sow dissension between two people who might otherwise be attracted one to the other. . . .


[*] Sources: Fichte Briefwechsel (1930), vol. 2, Nachträge, p. 37; Fuhrmans 2:274–75.

Schelling had traveled back to Jena from Bamberg with Johann Diederich Gries (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.

This present letter is extant only as copied out and included by Fichte in his letter to Ludwig Tieck in late October (letter 271e). This is the only extant portion of a letter Schelling wrote Fichte between 10 and 15 October, in answer to Fichte’s letter to him of 3 October, in which Fichte had addressed yet another lost letter from Schelling, apparently including, among other things, Schelling’s reproach that he, Fichte, had made certain statements to Friedrich Schlegel during the summer of 1799, before Friedrich and Dorothea Veit had moved to Jena.

Although the emergent philosophical dispute between Schelling and Fichte during this period is beyond the scope of this edition, the deterioration in their personal relationship is perhaps not, since it, too, contributed to the dissolution of the Jena Romantic circle as a group. Hence several letters have been included demonstrating at the least the incipient problems in that relationship, especially as such concerns attempts to establish a new scholarly journal (letters 271c, 271d, 271e, 273c).

Concerning the correspondence between Fichte and Schelling during this period as well as other pertinent materials, see esp. The Philosophical Rupture between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Texts and Correspondence (1800–1802), ed. and trans. Michael G. Vater and David W. Wood (Albany 2012).

The convoluted correspondence and ill-fated plans to establish that new scholarly journal provide the background here (see esp. Rudolf Haym’s essay on the Romantics’ Jahrbücher project).

The following discussion describes not only the antagonisms that had already developed among the various members of the Jena circle, but also the problems Schelling’s relationship with Caroline had caused between Schelling and Fichte. Because the circle was essentially collapsing at this time, an illumination of the background is of not inconsiderable significance for Caroline’s life.

See Fuhrmans 2:262–63fn1 concerning Schelling’s lost letter and Fichte’s response:

One important letter from Schelling to Fichte is missing. Schelling almost certainly wrote to Fichte from Bamberg at the end of September [1800] — as an answer to Fichte’s letter of 13 September. Its content can only be surmised. Schelling probably told Fichte that he, too, would not be going along with the Schlegels [with a new journal project] if Fichte himself were not prepared to do so as well. But Schelling apparently nonetheless also asked Fichte to reconsider things, whether his disinclination toward the two Schlegels really were strong enough to make it impossible for him to go along with the project etc. . . .

It seems possible that Schelling made further proposals to Fichte, namely, that should he not want to go with the Schlegels, then he should go with him, Schelling. In that case, they would simply allow the entire Jahrbücher project to fall by the wayside and revivify the project that he, Schelling, had negotiated with Cotta in the summer of 1800, namely, a series of issues reviewing the “progress in philosophy and the disciplines dependent on it.” . . .

But Schelling apparently added that for such a shared undertaking indeed to be possible, things would yet have to be clarified between Schelling and Fichte themselves. Schelling seems to have mentioned that Fichte might by no means be entirely in accord with Schelling’s own philosophical path, and that Fichte was by no means so resolutely against the Schlegels and for him (Schelling) as appearance would now have it. In fact, Schelling seems to have indicated that he knew of certain things Fichte had said about him to the Schlegels etc. —

What ultimately happened in Bamberg [when Wilhelm Schlegel and Schelling were trying to work out the Jahrbücher project, largely behind Fichte’s back; see Haym’s essay] one can only surmise. It seems possible that A. W. Schlegel was apparently astonished that Schelling so quickly abandoned him and Friedrich for Fichte after receiving Fichte’s letter. A. W. Schlegel may have suspected that Fichte had written Schelling about the considerable extent to which Friedrich Schlegel was now against Schelling.

Given the circumstances, A. W. Schlegel now perhaps thought it advisable to tell Schelling, in his own turn, that he, Schelling, was deceiving himself by assuming that Fichte was really his “friend,” that Fichte was in accord with the philosophical path he had chosen, and had a different attitude toward him than toward Friedrich Schlegel. Indeed, Schlegel apparently also pointed out that such was not at all the case, and recounted what he himself, A. W. Schlegel, had heard from his brother Friedrich concerning remarks Fichte had made to him (Friedrich). . . .

Nor can one so readily dismiss the possibility that Fichte did perhaps make some remarks about Schelling to Friedrich Schlegel, and not entirely without some bitterness — especially during July and August 1799, when Fichte saw a great deal of Friedrich Schlegel in Berlin. Fichte had just been “driven out” of Jena. One can be certain he was disappointed that no one from Jena had followed him by also leaving the university there: neither Paulus nor Niethammer — nor Schelling. All continued to lecture in Jena etc. . . .

Other questions arose, e.g., whether Fichte was envious of Schelling’s ascendancy at the university. . . But though Fichte may have affirmed Schelling’s “idealism,” Schelling’s philosophy of nature could not but make him suspicious from the very outset that here a quite unique kind of idealism was emerging that threatened to surpass his own conceptual approach. It may well be that in Berlin Fichte occasionally made some skeptical and slightly disapproving remarks about Schelling — things Schelling apparently never suspected. Hence it seems that A. W. Schlegel’s “revelations” [to Schelling in Bamberg] deeply upset Schelling and prompted a vehement letter to Fichte. . . .

Now it became clear to Schelling why their time together during the winter 1799/1800 [when Fichte returned to Jena for several months] had never yielded any closer relationship. . . . There were apparently never any positive conversations, and apparently Fichte himself had intentionally avoided such. [Translator’s note: Fichte seems also rarely to have found Schelling at home, the latter spending, as rumor had it, most of his time with Caroline; see below.] Some very important things subsequently happened as well that seemed to confirm everything.

When leaving Jena in May, Schelling had left orders that Fichte be sent the first issue of his Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik, and especially the piece that Schelling always considered one of his best, the System des transcendentalen Idealismus. Fichte had not reacted to these works with a single word to Schelling. . . . Now all this resentment boiled up in Schelling and came to expression in a letter.

In his response (letter of 3 October 1799), Fichte defends himself against these and apparently other accusations from Schelling, adding, significantly, that one reason he did not see Schelling any more often than he did during the winter 1799–1800 was the following (Fichte Briefwechsel (1930) 271; Fuhrmans 264–65):

During my trip to Jena I was especially looking forward to your company. But I was unable to enjoy such in your own apartment, since I almost never found you there, notwithstanding I sought you there quite often in vain. For good reasons, I could not, nor did I want to, seek you out where you usually were [viz., at the Schlegels’]. Nor given my almost completely dissolved household circumstances could I make extra arrangements for you to come see me. You were at my place only two or three times, and it took not inconsiderable effort to get you to speak about the plan that is now causing such ugly afterpains. — All that hurt me quite enough. But how, if I may ask, am I at fault here?

Fichte wrote similarly in a draft to this same letter (Fuhrmans 2:263):

There was yet another circumstance with you last winter that also genuinely robbed me of your company. I have not spoken about this with any other person (except my wife, and then only in a fashion expressing my affectionate regret on your behalf [see also Fichte’s letter to Johanne Fichte as early as 23 October 1799 (letter 251a)]. Friedrich Schlegel would, of course, have been the last person with whom I would have spoken about it.

The lines in the present letter come from Schelling’s (now lost) response to Fichte’s letter of 3 October just discussed. Fuhrmans (2:274fn1) remarks similarly concerning the letter from which these present lines were taken:

Schelling’s letter was written approximately 10–15 October 1800. Fichte received it perhaps on 20 October . . .

It was that letter that probably contained the above text. What the letter contained as a whole can only be surmised from Fichte’s response [on 21 October 1800 (letter 271d)].

First of all, Schelling’s laments continued concerning Fichte’s alleged remarks to Friedrich Schlegel concerning Schelling himself. Indeed, this letter must have been extraordinarily vehement; Schelling apparently got off his chest everything he had been keeping bottled up against Fichte. And doubtless his bitterness was amplified by the fact that Fichte had said all these things to Friedrich Schlegel — Schelling had written this letter from Jena, after all, wither he had returned a short time before — as he himself put it: not least in order to “go up” against and ultimately push aside Friedrich Schlegel at the university . . .

Upon his return, Schelling had probably seen that Friedrich Schlegel had clearly become his enemy. Having always kept himself at a certain distance from Schelling, apparently since Schelling’s departure from Jena in May 1800 he had taken this posture even further. Nor was there any closer contact between the two after Schelling’s return to Jena. Here all ties had been sundered once and for all, which at once also meant that there could no longer be any thought of collective work on the anticipated Jahrbücher.

The “Jena circle” was utterly at odds with itself; Fichte and Schelling had fallen out with the “Schlegel circle,” and yet the relationship between Fichte and Schelling, too, was replete with problems. The excerpt here, one that also indirectly addresses Ludwig Tieck, merely shows how angry Schelling now was with Friedrich Schlegel. Back.

[1] I.e., the winter 1799–1800, after Tieck had moved to Jena on 16 October 1799; he and his family left Jena in July 1800 and were living in Berlin when Schelling wrote his letter to Fichte. Tieck himself had spent time in Jena during the previous summer of 1799, arriving on 17 July 1799, staying with the Schlegels, and making the acquaintance of Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis). See Wilhelm Schlegel’s letter to Goethe on 19 July 1799 (letter 242a) and Rudolf Haym’s discussion of the initial encounter between Tieck and Hardenberg, supplementary appendix 242a.2. Back.

[2] Tieck himself was not unaware of the tensions in the Jena circle even during that winter of 1799–1800, nor was he uncritical in his own turn of the other members of the circle; see esp. his letter to his sister and brother-in-law, Sophie and August Ferdinand Bernhardi, on 6 December 1799 (letter 257c). Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott