Letter 294

• 294. Caroline to Schelling in Jena: Braunschweig, Sunday afternoon, 1 March 1801 [*]

[Braunschweig] Sunday afternoon, 1 March [1801]

|56| Your friend is completely alone now, and comes to you.

She would rather not contemplate that you might perhaps be painfully occupied at just this moment with writing to her, nor what you are probably saying to her in that response; but she seeks no other refuge from such thinking about you than you yourself, nor any other heart on which to lay her poor head than precisely the one she herself has so |57| torn asunder.

And you will take her in.

Let us speak, my sweet friend, about grand things — pleasant discussion heals bitter woe. I can already count the hours until I will hear your voice again and look into your eyes. [1]

I just read Fichte’s Announcement. [2] I cannot deny that the passage is of the most subtle ambiguity; I turned it in every possible direction and cannot get at it. Had Goethe not noticed it before you spoke with him about it? [3]

He as the great, powerful person, and I as the small woman — we always counsel only peace. Although we shall indeed certainly see in the end which turn things take, such can nonetheless come about so late that you end up having a great deal of trouble from it. If you are to come to an understanding with him, you cannot simply wait for his work, which he is so resolutely determined to put forward. If he does not intend to examine it here, then where does he intend to do so?

I wish you had already written to him commensurate with your intentions. That he does not mention what he says in the letter can certainly be excused; to me at least, it seems that belongs less in this Announcement than in the work itself. [4] For now you must not do anything public; how can you two be thinking of working together on something? [5]

As far as I understand the matter, I would suspect that he would like to direct you along with the philosophy of nature back into something like a secondary discipline, and then keep the” knowledge of knowing” for himself alone [6] — and treat your theory of the universe, for example, as an opinion.

To tell the truth, I am merely groping around in the dark here, nor do I really need to point that out to you, since you will doubtless notice it. —

What you are considering explicating in the Journal now as a presentation of your new view, will that also be comprehensive enough to present as a counter to him [7] |58| — that is, only insofar as from it someone might indeed completely deduce the position of your idealism? I must almost conclude as much from the remarks on Eschenmayer’s essay. [8]

It is gradually becoming increasingly necessary for you, too, to create something eternal in this sense, and to do so without being similarly defiant about it. —

Something you probably do not want to hear from me, my dearest of friends, even though you almost intimated as much — is how far Fichte’s spirit really extends. It has always seemed to me, despite all his incomparable conceptual power, tightly fitted deductive method, clarity, precision, immediate intuition of the I, and enthusiasm as a discoverer — that he is nonetheless limited.

I merely thought the reason was that he lacked divine inspiration, and that if you have broken through a certain circle out of which he himself is as yet unable to break, I would believe you did so not so much as a philosopher — if this appellation perhaps be incorrectly applied here, there is no need to scold me about it — but rather insofar as you have poesy, and he none. It is poesy that has guided you directly to the position of production just as it was the clarity of his perception that guided him to consciousness. He has light in its most radiant brightness, whereas you also have its warmth. The former can only illuminate, whereas the latter produces. —

Well, have I not come up with a clever view of all this? Just like looking through a keyhole at a boundless landscape. —

In my understanding, Spinosa must have had far more poesy than Fichte — if one’s thinking is not colored at least a bit by poesy, is there not then something lifeless about it? The element of mystery is lacking — Look, I can surmise quite well that anyone capable of comprehending geometry will also be able to understand the Wissenschaftslehre, but precisely the fact that it comes out even when divided is what constitutes its limitation. [9]

|59| I have long yearned for a competent, proper translation of Plato. But do you think Schleiermacher will be able to do as good a job as Friedrich if Friedrich were but able to work? [10]


I looked at Tancred a bit with an eye on what you wrote about it. [11] I did already suspect it would lend itself to a more theatrical performance than Mahometh; Voltaire does invariably come across quite feebly in performance. [12] You should have reserved one of Amenaide’s discourses solely for me, namely, when she is so indignant after her beloved fails to recognize her:

Ce Coeur est aussi sûr que le sien invincible;
Ce Coeur était en tout aussi grand que le sien,
Moins soupconneux sans doute, peutêtre plus sensible — [13] 

I can imagine exactly, precisely how Mademoiselle Jagemann performed the part. [14] On the whole she possesses more understanding and energy than talent, and that suffices for this role, as also for Thekla! [15]


[*] An excerpt from this letter was translated by Lisa C. Roetzel in Theory as Practice: A Critical Anthology of Early German Romantic Writings, ed. Jochen Schulte-Sasse (Minneapolis 1997), 447–48.

Erich Schmidt, (1913), 2:606, remarks on this letter:

At the time, Caroline was much more touchy toward Fichte than was Schelling, who was writing him cordial letters and delighted in the feuds with Karl Leonhard Reinhold and Christoph Gottlieb Bardili; but she is overly inclined to focus on antitheses.

Concerning the dispute with Reinhold and Bardili, see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 1–2 March 1801 (letter 293), note 24. Back.

[1] Caroline arrived back in Jena on 23 April 1801. Back.

[2] Concerning this announcement of a new version of the Wissenschaftslehre in Johann Friedrich Cotta’s Allgemeine Zeitung (1801) no. 24 (24 January 1801) Beilage no. 1, 1–4, see Goethe’s letter to Schelling on 1 February 1801 (letter 285b), esp. with note 5 there; also Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 24 February 1801 (letter 200); to Schelling in February 1801 (letter 291); and to Wilhelm Schlegel on 1 March 1801 (letter 293). Back.

[3] Caroline is referring to the middle paragraph in the following three-paragraph context (trans. from The Philosophical Rupture Between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Texts and Correspondence (1800–1802), ed. Michael G. Vater and David W. Wood, Suny Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy [Albany 2012], 85–86):

As far as I can tell, the Foundations of the Wissenschaftslehre (which appeared six years ago as a handout for my listeners), has scarcely been understood and has not been used by anyone except my immediate listeners. It seems to require oral explanations to make it accessible. I believe I have been more successful with my Natural Right and System of Ethics, and have more clearly presented my ideas on philosophy as a whole. After hearing all the diverse opinions about and since the publication of these books, it appears that the public has not advanced very far in understanding their main points. Perhaps this is because people have customarily skipped the introductions and first sections of these works, or perhaps it is not really possible to furnish self-evidence for the remote conclusions of my system without their initial premises (for which one can quite easily provide premises). Only the two introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, and the first chapter of a new presentation of this system that were published in the Philosophisches Journal, seem to have been better understood, and aroused more favourable expectations about the Wissenschaftslehre in a number of open-minded people. Nevertheless, these essays can only give at most a provisional idea of my undertaking, for this undertaking is not actually implemented and carried out in these texts.

I will not discuss here the extent to which my talented collaborator, Professor Schelling, has been more successful at paving the way for the transcendental standpoint in his natural scientific writings and in his recently published System of Transcendental Idealism.

In another context, I once declared that I would hold myself responsible for this almost universal past misunderstanding, if it would encourage the public to undertake a reappraisal of this issue. After long practice with the most diverse individuals, the author of this science now believes he has finally acquired the skill to communicate it to others in the form of a completely new system, one that has not been found by elaborating any previously existing version of this science, but one discovered in an entirely different manner.

In the next paragraph, Fichte makes the remarks Caroline cites from memory in her letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 1 March 1801 (letter 293); see esp. note 23 there.

Concerning the larger implication of Caroline’s focus on Fichte’s reference to Schelling in this context, see The Philosophical Rupture Between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Texts and Correspondence (1800–1802), 77:

On the personal level, the Announcement is notorious in the dispute between Fichte and Schelling on account of Fichte’s casual remark at the beginning of the text that he could not say whether his “talented collaborator, Professor Schelling, has been more successful at paving the way for the transcendental standpoint” than he himself had been able to secure. Schelling’s later displeasure at this passage was perhaps a result of Caroline Schlegel’s initial influence, as she was not entirely convinced of the innocence of Fichte’s remark and even pressed Schelling to seek Goethe’s opinion. In time, Schelling too appears to have interpreted the remark as a sly aside signifying his lack of independence in philosophical matters. Fichte rejected any ill intention and attributed Schelling’s overreaction to his “hyper-sensitive” personality. Thus, this seemingly innocuous remark proved to be one of the catalysts for the eventual rupture between the two philosophers.

Schelling had seen Goethe in Weimar on 21 and 22 February 1801 (Weimarer Ausgabe 3:3:7). Back.

[4] Concerning the correspondence between Schelling and Fichte during this critical period in their relationship, see The Philosophical Rupture Between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Texts and Correspondence (1800–1802) cited above.

These issues were not resolved immediately, and Schelling continued to seek a middle ground with Fichte into the spring of 1801, including with respect to Fichte’s quarrel with Karl Leonhard Reinhold; see, e.g., Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 25 May 1801 (letter 318). Back.

[5] I.e., on a collectively undertaken journal (separate from that which Wilhelm was considering). See Rudolf Haym’s discussion of the Romantics’ Jahrbücher project. Back.

[6] “Knowledge of knowing,” an allusion to one of the themes of Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre. Back.

[7] Presumably in Schelling’s own Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik (1801). Back.

[8] See Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 27 February 1801 (letter 292), note 12. Back.

[9] Concerning this allusion to mathematics, see The Philosophical Rupture Between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Texts and Correspondence (1800–1802), 77:

On the philosophical level, Fichte’s Announcement is significant for at least two reasons. First, it provides an analysis of the relationship between the Wissenschaftslehre and mathematics that is unique in Fichte’s oeuvre. Back.

[10] Caroline also mentions this project in her letter to Wilhelm on 1–2 March 1801 (letter 293); precisely Friedrich’s inability to move forward with his part of the project eventually generated ill feeling between him and Schleiermacher. Back.

[11] Caroline mentions Schelling’s letter (not extant) in her letter to Wilhelm on 1–2 March 1801 (letter 293); see esp. note 15 and 16 there.

Caroline is referring to Voltaire’s original version, Tancrede, tragédie (1761), not to Goethe’s translation, which was the performance Schelling had attended on 21 February 1801 but which was not published until 1802. Back.

[12] Concerning Voltaire in performance, see Wilhelm Schlegel’s remarks on Voltaire’s play in his A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, trans. John Black, rev. A. J. W. Morrison (London 1846), 303:

Since the Cid, no French tragedy had appeared of which the plot was founded on such pure motives of honour and love without any ignoble intermixtures, and so completely consecrated to the exhibition of chivalrous sentiments, as Tancred.

Amenaide, though honour and life are at stake, disdains to exculpate herself by a declaration which would endanger her lover; and Tancred, though justified in esteeming her faithless, defends her in single combat, and, in despair, is about to seek a hero’s death, when the unfortunate mistake is cleared up. So far the piece is irreproachable, and deserving of the greatest praise.

But it is weakened by other imperfections. It is of great detriment to its perspicuity, that we are not at the very first allowed to hear the letter without superscription which occasions all the embarrassment, and that it is not sent off before our eyes. The political disquisitions in the first act are extremely tedious; Tancred does not appear till the third act, though his presence is impatiently looked for, to give animation to the scene. The furious imprecations of Amenaide, at the conclusion, are not in harmony with the deep but soft emotion with which we are overpowered by the reconciliation of the two lovers, whose hearts, after so long a mutual misunderstanding, are reunited in the moment of separation by death. Back.

[13] Voltaire, Tancrede, tragédie (1761), act 4, scene 5, Aménaïde’s final lines in the scene. Caroline alters the three lines slightly; the original reads:

Ce Coeur est aussi fier que son bras invincible;
Ce Coeur était en tout aussi grand que le sien,
Moins soupçonneux sans doute, & surtout plus sensible.

Here two engravings of scenes from the play by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (Émile Dacier, L’oeuvrre grave de Gabriel de Saint-Aubin [Paris 1914], plate following p. 78]):


Aménaïde, betrothed to a leader in Syracuse to settle strife among the nobles in the face of a threat by the Moors, is, however, already secretly pledged to Tancred. A letter she tries to get to him after his return from exile to help her escape the marriage is intercepted and seems to be intended for the leader of the Moors. Although she is condemned to death, Tancred learns of her fate, and though disappointed by what he thinks is her infidelity, he comes forward to save her by defeating her accuser. Aménaïde learns of the failure of his faith in her, and speaks with her lady’s-maid:

Fanie. Forgive your beloved for being deceived.

Aménaïde. (Gathering her courage and strength.) Nothing can excuse him — And even were the entire world unified in accusing me of transgression, nonetheless a great man ought to be firm and secure in his judgment and in countering the entire, deceived world with his respect. So it was merely sympathy that moved him to fight on my behalf? What shame! Never will I forget his charitable deed, never will it disappear from my wounded soul. But if he was able to consider me unworthy of his heart, then he himself is eternally unworthy of me.

Fanie. But did he know —

Aménaïde. He should know me; he should be completely confident that I could not possibly violate a precious alliance.

This heart is as proud as his arm is invincible;
[Caroline: This heart is as proud as his own is invincible;]
This heart was in every respect as grand as his own,
Doubtless less suspicious, and above all far more tender
[Caroline: Doubtless less suspicious, and perhaps far more tender].

— I renounce Tancred and the whole lot of mortals. They are false or malicious, weak or cruel, either deceived or deceivers! My profound pain will teach me to forget him, and with him the entire world. Back.

[14] Viz., the part of Aménaïde in the performance at the Weimar theater, who speaks these lines in the play. Back.

[15] Caroline Jagemann had performed the role of Thekla in the premiere of Schiller’s Die Piccolomini on 30 January 1799, which Caroline did not attend, and then again on Saturday, 2 February 1799, a performance she, Wilhelm, and Auguste did attend (Johann Heinrich Ramberg, Wallensteins Tod — Thekla in der Gruft des St. Katharinen Stifts [1811]; British Museum; original publication: Minerva für das Jahr 1811; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


See Auguste’s letter to Cäcilie Gotter on 18 February 1799 (letter 220), esp. note 6 there. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott