Letter 308c

308c. Friedrich Schlegel to Schleiermacher in Berlin: Jena, 17 April 1801 [*]

[Jena, 17 April 1801]

Beloved friend,

Although you are perhaps expecting excuses or apologies, [1] I am more inclined to begin with accusations of my own. Why have you not sent me your first sonnet? [2] — Or your sermons, which to my considerable astonishment I now find in the book fair catalog? [3]

Wilhelm will relate to you how your initiative and plans with Hardenberg’s literary estate have riled my indignation. I absolutely cannot comprehend any of this from you, and I find the mere thought sinful and unpardonable. [4] . . .

At least for this coming summer, I have no desire to continue the dranschandequal fühlloseviehische lectures. [5] One is just paid too ill for them, and then only individually and with considerable trouble. Nor am I interested in lecturing again without a compendium, and yet cannot force such just now. [6] I have acquired some control over the process of lecturing itself, which is no small gain.

Although the party of students on my side is sooner small than large, those who do support me do so with body and soul, and I even found some to whom I might have been inclined to respond in kind. It is just that the mass, even those who are tolerable, is too spoiled by the old pabulum of subject and object, and that unfortunately also holds back the better ones. [7] . . .

I am quite pleased that you are so occupied and pleased with Afterdingen. Alas, could I but tell you more about it, and speak with you again, and live and be with you. I feel that need so often now. —

Ritter is doing so poorly now that it is becoming disruptive. [8] It is sad to have harmed oneself through what little one could do, and yet still not be able to help. —

As far as the interior side of our external existence is concerned, Hardenberg’s death has left a considerable hole, one that can perhaps never be filled again. How painful, at such a beautiful event, having to think of oneself and one’s life with such dissatisfaction. But you would find it pardonable! —

I really wish Ritter could enjoy your friendship. He is still very much preoccupied with himself, indeed almost too much. You would be good for him, and would at the very least guide him to a clear perception of an objective, universal sensibility. [9] . . .


[*] Sources: Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:268–70 (frag.); KGA V/5 99–103; KFSA 25:258–60.

In this lengthy letter, Friedrich also discusses various issues (not included here) concerning his and Schleiermacher’s projected translation of Plato; Schleiermacher, who had already begun to fray because of Friedrich’s handling of the project, responds testily to those issues on 27 April 1801 (letter 312b). Back.

[1] For not writing. Back.

[2] An allusion to Schleiermacher’s attempts to contribute to the group’s artistic endeavors. This specific sonnet, however, is not otherwise identified or extant (KFSA 25:593fn1). Back.

[3] Schleiermacher’s Predigten (Berlin 1801), announced in the Leipzig book-fair catalog at Easter 1801. Back.

[4] Friedrich von Hardenberg had died 25 March 1801 (see supplementary appendix 303a.1), leaving behind a considerable literary estate. The present reference is to the plan to “finish” Hardenberg’s fragmentary novel, Heinrich von Ofterdingen (initially: Afterdingen).

Wilhelm and Schleiermacher seem to have raised the possibility that Ludwig Tieck might be engaged to finish the novel’s fragmentary second part. See Friedrich’s response to Wilhelm on this same day, 17 April 1801 (308b), and Tieck’s response to Friedrich on 23 April 1801 (letter 310b). Back.

[5] A tongue-in-cheek orthographical parody of “tran-scenden-tal” (Germ. dran-schande-qual, “thereon-abominable-torment”) “philoso-phical” (Germ. fühllose-viehische, “feelingless-bestial”) lectures.

Friedrich had been lecturing in Jena on transcendental philosophy since October 1800 and seems also to have offered an unpaid course on the “nature of the scholar.” He is here apparently imitating the Thuringian-Saxon pronunciation of the expression “transcendental philosophy” (KFSA 25:594fn8). Back.

[6] Concerning Friedrich’s premature announcement of such a compendium during the winter semester 1800–1801, see Dorothea Veit’s letter to Wilhelm on 27 October 1801 (letter 273a) and, concerning the legal troubles this incident caused, his letter to Schleiermacher on 23 January 1801 (letter 283a), note 4. Back.

[7] KGA V/5 100n21f. points out that in Friedrich’s lectures on transcendental philosophy (which are, however, extant only in student notes), the conceptual pair subject-object does not play a particularly prominent role, or at most only as one dualistic pair among others. The reference to “pabulum,” moreover, is possibly a snipe at Schelling’s System des transscendentalen Idealismus (Tübingen 1800), according to which all knowledge is based on the concurrence of the subjective and objective.

In general, the dichotomy and relationship between subject and object was of pivotal importance to Kant and those who followed in German Idealism. By contrast, Hermann Patsch, KFSA 25:594nn12, 13, points out that Friedrich actually added the adjective “old” afterward, above the line, which might thus militate against his reference being specifically to Schelling. One might also point out that the subject-object dynamic similarly plays a role in Fichte’s system. Back.

[8] Johann Wilhelm Ritter was in financial difficulties at the time, and the death of Friedrich von Hardenberg had depressed him (KGA V/5 102n51f) and made the circle in Jena less attractive to him. At this time, however, he was away on journeys in any case (see Dorothea’s letter to Schleiermacher on the previous day, 16 April 1801 [letter 308a], note 2).

In the winter semester of 1803/04, Ritter lectured in Jena on galvanism without the approval of the university, and in June 1804 entered into a marriage with his housekeeper, Johann Dorothea Münchgesang, that his acquaintances in Jena largely viewed as a misalliance.

This increasing alienation from his Jena surroundings — one more element in the dissolution of the circle — made it considerably easier for him to accept an appointment to the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1805, which his friend Franz von Baader had initiated on his behalf (see Heinrich Schipperges’s afterword to Johann Wilhelm Ritter, Fragmente aus dem Nachlasse eines jungen Physikers, Faksimiledruck nach der Ausgabe von 1810 [Heidelberg 1969], 5).

As such, he became Schelling’s colleague once more and reappears later in these letters in that context. Back.

[9] Ritter’s manner of thinking and expression were at times decidedly unorthodox. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott