Letter 271d

271d. Fichte to Schelling in Jena: Berlin, 21 October 1800 [*]

Berlin, [21 October 1800]

Your last letter, my dear, good friend, wounds me far more than the previous. [1] In the latter I found a beloved friend weak, gullible, and precipitate, but basically still honest; namely: you yourself. That matter could be successfully addressed, and indeed has been. In your recent letter, however, I find people whom I was quite inclined to increasingly love and respect but who are now behaving as liars and black-hearted traitors; namely, the Schlegels. Now I must resolve instead to despise, and to hate.

ad 1. It is absolutely untrue that I ever spoke ill of you. — Hence where in the world can those who would advise and warn you have gotten such an idea? Did perhaps Friedrich Schlegel bring it along from Berlin at Michaelmas 1799? [2] There our last business was the clarification concerning Kant. Neither you nor Schlegel found my behavior at the time to be uncordial in the least toward you. —

Or did such emerge only after my arrival in Jena last winter? [3] I almost never spoke to the Schlegels except when you yourself were also present, and even in general never much more often than I spoke with you. Then it is quite understandable that I would sooner have divulged my displeasure concerning you, had such even existed, to anyone but them, since — I thought they were your sincere friends.

I never had the slightest inkling that Friedrich Schlegel was your enemy. [4] It was only through your last letter that I first heard of such a thing. [Fichte writes in the margin: “How Wilhelm Schlegel can get the idea that you learned something of his brother’s attitude toward you through me is absolutely incomprehensible to me, since until yesterday evening (when I received your letter), I firmly believed he was your friend and admirer. — Does not the final issue of Athenaeum contain a sonnet by him in your honor?”] He has never said anything to me against you; — I will leave it to you yourself to draw your own conclusions from this important fact.

I have always spoken with Friedrich Schlegel more about things than about people. I have since recalled quite precisely that only once (it was during a walk, and I still precisely recall the place, namely, on the Elbe Bridge in Dresden) [3a] did our discussion move to the synthetic method and thence to you yourself, and that I then stated what in my previous letter I presented as possible. –

In the meantime, it is certainly a clever enough move to tell one friend: “Why do you not try to come to a better understanding with the other person; he does not really like you.” What necessarily emerges is a relationship of coldness and reserve. Were the Schlegels afraid that we might use our meetings in Jena to unite ever more firmly? Was this so repugnant to them that they tried to thwart it ahead of time through this particular pretense?

No, my friend, neither you nor anyone else in whom I have ever taken an ardent interest will learn first through someone else that I have something against him. I will address myself to him first. As long as I myself have not directly revealed such to you, no one will be able to say truthfully that I said anything ill of you in his presence or even that I have not defended you.

Thus, e.g., this Friedrich Schlegel. [Fichte writes in the margin: “I will, to be sure, query Wilhelm Schlegel when he arrives.”] [5] — I am admittedly not particularly fond of this one; the matter is too boring for a letter, but were I to meet him, I would certainly call him to account. Till then, strangers will learn nothing about the change in this relationship.

ad 2. The one time you learned I had been at your place was through your brother, who was also generally not at home. But during that initial period, I was at your house not just once, but quite often, and at every time of day, searching it out all the way to the attic trying to find someone to tell you I had been by; but no one was there. — Nor was your maidservant ever at home — Niethammer to whom I once lamented this situation in asking him whether he had perhaps seen you for some time, can attest this. Later I did admittedly refrain from this perpetually futile search.

So — one has made you aware of this particular circumstance as well.

ad 3., you are still assuming things that simply are not so. (a) the question mark did not mean: have you done it, but rather merely could you have done it? (b) the remark that I have “never shown Wilhelm Schlegel any respect” was not meant to reproach you, but rather to, really, defend myself — against the objection of disingenuousness — which you seemed to be making toward me on this occasion, and to be making with reference to you yourself. — What you say for yourself in this respect is clear. (c) had I spoken to the Schlegels about you the way I have spoken to you about them, then admittedly etc. But such has not been the case.

By the way, my dear friend, be completely and utterly assured that your present trust completely replaces your previous mistrust. . . .

We are taking opposing views as our points of departure with respect to whether I was right in drafting that plan for Unger; [6] in your own turn, you are indeed attributing too much authority to me, and thereby also an element of pretension I simply did not have. I explained this sufficiently in my own eyes in my previous letter. I simply did not want to obligate you to anything, preferring to leave completely to your own volition any decision to join. —

But this discussion is too involved for a letter. Let us allow it simply to lie until we see each other in person again.

Wilhelm Schlegel did indeed impose the condition on his invitees in Berlin to keep the plan secret from me. [7] I learned of this through one of the invitees [8] (but Wilhelm Schlegel must not hear of this, otherwise he will surely guess who it was, the person admittedly having no right to tell me) before I sent him my invitation. I did not really think his assertion was even possible, and thought things would eventually be clarified one way or the other.

Things stand quite differently with you. It seems you were invited only as an emergency measure as well, i.e., after it turned out you were already in a relationship with Cotta with respect to a similar enterprise. The Schleiermachers etc. seem to have known about the enterprise much earlier than you. [9] . . .

I spoke quite plainly with Cotta about the Schlegels. I also told him you and I were standing together on this, and that he would be hearing more from us soon.

So, let things now be the same between us as earlier! Let any intervening errors be eradicated from our lives!

Yours very truly,

Will you be spending the winter in Jena? I will take care of your request regarding Tieck. [10] It is necessary for these false people to be unmasked.


[*] Sources: Partial publication in Fichtes und Schellings philosophischer Briefwechsel (1856), 46; full publication in Fichte Briefwechsel (1930), 2:279–83; Fuhrmans 2:275–80. — Dating according to Fuhrmans 2:275n1, which cites a letter from Fichte to Cotta on 20 October mentioning that a letter from Schelling had arrived the same day, and then refers to Fichte’s own statement in this letter, namely, “yesterday evening (when I received your letter).”

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).

This letter is Fichte’s response to the lost letter Schelling had written, excerpts of which constitute letter 271c above. Concerning the unsuccessful and indeed ill-fated plans for establishing a new scholarly journal, see esp. Rudolf Haym’s discussion of the Romantics’ Jahrbücher project. Back.

[1] From Bamberg, but not extant. Back.

[2] Friedrich Schlegel had arrived in Jena from Berlin during the initial days of September 1799, Dorothea Veit on 6 October 1799. Back.

[3] When Fichte came to Jena in December 1799 to tie up loose ends and close up his household; he and his family left in March for Berlin (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



[3a] Emended reading: “Elbe Bridge in Dresden” for “Elbe Bridge in Jena”:

Fichte, for whatever reason, mistakenly wrote the latter. Jena, however, on the Saale River, has no “bridge over the Elbe,” whereas Dresden certainly does, the Augustusbrücke across the Elbe River, known as the Elbbrücke (map: Jakob Gottlieb Isaak Boetticher, A Geographical, historical, and political Description of the Empire of Germany, Holland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Prussia, Italy, Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia, trans. from the German [London 1800], map preceding p. 177; illustration: Bernardo Bellotto, called Canaletto, Dresden from the right bank of the Elbe below the Augustus Bridge, inventory 1754:1 543; Gal. no. 606, from The Splendor of Dresden: Five Centuries of Art Collecting [New York 1978], 66):


Dresden in 1748 with the Augustus Bridge over the Elbe River:


Hans Schulz, Fichte Briefwechsel (1930), 2:280, accordingly adds “[sic]” after this designation, while Fuhrmans, 2:276, passes over it silently.

It may be recalled that Friedrich, Schelling, and Fichte were all present in Dresden during the summer of 1798 during the important meeting of the incipient group of Jena Romantics; see Dora Stock’s letter to Charlotte Schiller in Jena from Dresden on 24 October 1798 (letter 206a), esp. the second paragraph.

That the conversation did indeed take place in Dresden is essentially confirmed by Fichte’s next question, namely, whether “the Schlegels [were] afraid that we might use our meetings in Jena to unite ever more firmly?” Such a question does indeed make sense if Fichte is referring to Friedrich (and Wilhelm’s, the “Schlegels'”) reaction in Dresden, where Fichte and Schelling first became acquainted.

In any event, Fichte, obviously upset in this letter to Schelling, seems to conflate a conversation with Friedrich on the bridge in Dresden with one on one of the bridges in Jena, or simply mistakenly wrote “Jena” for “Dresden.” That is, the sentence should doubtless read “the Elbe Bridge in Dresden.” And as such, of course, it suggests that seeds of mistrust and apprehension were present among members of the Jena group even at its alleged inception in Dresden during that summer of 1798. Back.

[4] Schelling himself had obviously revealed as much to Fichte in his previous letter. Back.

[5] Wilhelm had already earlier made intimations about moving to Berlin; he would do so (from Braunschweig) in late February 1801, returning to Jena only for just over three months in the autumn of 1801. Back.

[6] Fichte had approached Unger about publishing the rival journal; see Haym’s essay. Back.

[7] I.e., the plan for a critical journal. Fichte had not known that Wilhelm Schlegel was simultaneously negotiating with Cotta with respect to the anticipated journal in which he, Fichte, was also to be a part. Wilhelm had intentionally kept Fichte in the dark, fearing and indeed trying to circumvent Fichte’s dictatorial plans with regard to that journal. Back.

[8] Probably August Ferdinand Bernhardi. Back.

[9] Unlikely, since Wilhelm sent his own draft to Schleiermacher on 7 July, mentioning in his letter that he had also already written to Schelling. Moreover, Schelling already knew through Cotta himself about Wilhelm’s plans. Back.

[10] Schelling had made this request in his preceding letter to Fichte (letter 271c). Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott