Letter 273c

273c. Schelling to Fichte in Berlin: Jena, 31 October 1800 [*]

Jena, 31 October 1800

. . . I am prompted to spend the winter here not only by the impossibility of traveling further, but also by the fact that Friedrich Schlegel intended to take over the abandoned discipline of transcendental philosophy. 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.

Prior to my return, and before anyone knew anything about it, Friedrich Schlegel collected a considerable subscription of students. But the mere four hours of lectures I held sufficed to slay him, and he has already been buried. [1] In part also through his own fault, since here, too, he was unable to work his way out of his crust and moreover displayed genuine obstinacy. The assertion that you alone among all contemporary philosophers possess the synthetic method, turned into the assertion that the synthetic method had in fact hitherto hardly been attempted, and that he would be the first to completely explicate it — in the same context, however, he declared the desire to construct a system to be nonsense. . . .


[*] Sources: Fichtes und Schellings philosophischer Briefwechsel (1856), 49–51; Fichte Briefwechsel (1930) 2:284; Fuhrmans 2:283–84.

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). In this present edition, see also the editorial note to Schelling’s letter to Fichte in mid-October 1800 (letter 271c).

The background to this present letter is Friedrich Schlegel’s attempt to establish himself as a private lecturer in Jena; see esp. Dorothea Veit’s letters to Wilhelm Schlegel and Schleiermacher on 28 and 31 October 1800 (letter 273a, 273b), though earlier also her letter to Schleiermacher on 28 July 1800 (letter 265i) and Friedrich’s own letter to Wilhelm on 6 August 1800 (letter 265j).

In the first part of the letter, Schelling makes remarks concerning Johann Friedrich Cotta’s allegedly positive reaction to Fichte’s suggestion that he and Schelling implement their own journal; such never, however, came about, though Cotta had indeed seemed to be withdrawing from Wilhelm Schlegel’s plan; see Dorothea’s letter to Schleiermacher on this same day (31 October 1800; letter 273b) and Rudolf Haym’s essay on the Romantics’ Jahrbücher project.

Otherwise this letter documents, perhaps startlingly, how little Schelling esteemed the “poetic and philosophical dilettantism” within the “circle of the Schlegels,” to which he obviously does not reckon himself. Back.

[1] A much-quoted line, though some scholars (e.g., Josef Körner, Friedrich von Schlegel. Neue philosophische Schriften [Frankfurt 1935]) argue that such was not entirely the case.

In any event, things nonetheless did not go well for Friedrich in these lectures (Hegel attended them for a time), and he announced no lectures for the summer semester 1801. Fichte responded to Schelling’s remarks on 15 November 1800 (Fichtes und Schellings philosophischer Briefwechsel [1856], 53; Fichte Briefwechsel (1930) 2:292; Fuhrmans 2:290):

I have already been informed by other sources as well about Friedrich Schlegel’s promises at the lectern. —

This fellow is everywhere damaging the reputation of the good cause with his exaggeration. I think it probably would not hurt if one might occasionally ridicule his constant exclamations concerning the grand things that are happening now, while he himself has contributed nothing to any of them. —

Tiek has related to me some remarkable examples of how things also really stand with respect to his being an art connoisseur, and how he listens very carefully to the judgment of others concerning books he himself has not even read, and then exaggerates those judgments to the point of distortion. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott