Letter 283a

283a. Friedrich Schlegel to Schleiermacher in Berlin: Jena, 23 January 1801 [*]

Jena, 23 January 1801

What am I to make of all this talk about annoying bourgeois circumstances? [1] Of all the things I can imagine, those have the least place in your life. I am quite anxious about this and almost angry you have not provided any details.

Sad, very sad, that our hope of seeing you here among us is now being postponed so far into the future. [2] Believe me, you do not feel this gap more keenly than do I. Moreover, I would still very much like for you to make Ritter’s acquaintance, and can see more clearly and specifically than ever before what our vocation is as far as our collective service to philosophy is concerned. . . .

You say you would like to hear about my lectures? [3] – Things are going so-so. I myself am learning a great deal in the process, not only that I have almost arrived at a point of some clarity with respect to Plato, Spinoza, and Fichte, but also concerning just how I should be speaking. I am using an almost completely free delivery; I simply cannot do it any other way. I often have considerable difficulty precisely because I am still so immersed in the material that I can find nothing on which really to build things. Truly lecturing will become possible for me only when I can read on the compendium. [4]

I have about 60 students, though 10 or more are not paying, hence in this respect, as well, things are only tolerable. It is sometimes difficult for them to follow precisely because of the lack of the compendium, and then they also often take offense at my paradoxes. That was particularly the case at the beginning.

In the meantime, however, I am far enough along that when I chance to catch fire regarding one of the topics close to the hearts of these young people, the next day my auditorium will be completely full again, even though I had previously almost emptied it with my hairsplitting and polemic.

But these are merely experiments. The best thing about it all is the grand clarity one achieves for oneself, and then, of course, it is always instructive to have stupidity before oneself in such large masses, stupidity that always comes across better when paired with such youthful enthusiasm and freshness, and to be able to see future nullity ahead of time in such a specific form; and then learning to delight in the occasional genuine sparks here and there. . . .


[*] Sources: Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:255–57; KGA V/5 34–36; KFSA 25:222–23. Back.

[1] See Dorothea Veit’s letter to Schleiermacher on 17 January 1801 (letter 282b), in which Schleiermacher’s own letter is cited in note 1:

It just seems like such a long time since we heard anything at all from each other, so long in fact that I simply cannot refrain from writing even though I am just now caught up in nothing but confused entanglements from the midst of which there is not much that can be said. Confusion with my health, confusion with my purse, in my bourgeois circumstances, and God knows where else. Back.

[2] Plans for Schleiermacher to visit Jena extend back into the summer of 1800. More recently, Wilhelm Schlegel had suggested he and Schleiermacher plan their visits to Jena to coincide around the beginning of January 1801; see Wilhelm’s letter to Schleiermacher on 1 December 1800 (letter 276b), note 1. As it turned out, neither made the trip. Back.

[3] Friedrich had been lecturing at the university in Jena since 27 October 1800 and had written similarly earlier about the number and “stupidity” of his students; see, e.g., his letter to Wilhelm on 10 November 1800 (letter 274a). He lectured, however, only for the winter semester 1800–1801. Concerning his competition with Schelling, see the latter’s letter to Fichte on 31 October 1800 (letter 273c), where Schelling does, however, exaggerate Friedrich’s lack of success at the lectern. Back.

[4] In the autumn of 1800, when Friedrich started lecturing at the university, he arranged with the Jena publisher Christian Ernst Gabler, against an advance of 150 Reichsthaler (see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 12 June 1801 [letter 320]), to publish his compendium, the traditional synopsis or outline of a lecture course, whereupon Gabler accordingly announced such at the autumn Leipzig book fair: “Schlegel, Friedrich, über den transcendentalen Idealismus. 8 gr., Jena, Gabler.”

As Caroline reveals in her letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 6 March 1801 (letter 296), Friedrich would never deliver the manuscript to Gabler despite the advance. By June 1801, Gabler was initiating steps to sue Friedrich, who had returned only 50 Reichsthaler of that advance (see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 7 June 1801 [letter 320]); by 22 June 1801, Gabler had genuinely filed a lawsuit against Friedrich (see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 22 June 1801 [letter 322]). Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott