Letter 309a

309a. Schelling to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin: Jena, 20 April 1801 [*]

Jena, 20 April 1801

Your letter was indeed a pleasure for me, both in and of itself as well as through its news of your activities and new projects. [1] Whenever I hear that you have produced something new, I consider first myself, then the world quite fortunate, which finally, it seems, can hope for the opportunity to appreciate poesy as an enduring treasure.

I would like to relate more to you concerning certain poetic attempts I have made than I in truth am really able at the moment. I have composed a whole series of elegies, albeit nothing that qualifies as ready for publication, though I may yet select the one or other if such improves sufficiently. [2]

But this just for your ears. I have undertaken something on a grander scale — though I still lack almost all the requisite elements to genuinely execute it [3] — in a word, there is not yet anything really worth relating to you at the moment. On countless occasions I have wished I could solicit your advice and instruction, especially concerning the mystery of true hexameters, which I have tried to fathom by every possible means. [4]

If you consider the insignificant “Lied” (whose inscription refers less to the piece itself than to the time in which it was conceived) worthy of publication, then please feel free to change it however you think best. [5] I would very much like to solicit your helping and ameliorative hand for several passages in the “Pastor.” If you might be willing to offer a few further improvements to this poem — one for which you have from the outset shown a bit of interest — especially at the beginning, e.g., in the passage —

No speech to paint, a Man of giant limb
And frame, and features dark as middle night

among others, then I will give my approval beforehand and agree to them. [6] I myself have neither a copy nor the leisure to work on the piece yet again. —

You ask for at least a fictitious name. — Call me Venturus, for that I am indeed, and would prefer to conceal my own name behind this modest cipher rather than reveal it outright in so immodest a fashion among names as impressive as those that will be adorning this collection. [7] . . .

Give Fichte my regards, along with my apologies for having remained silent for so long. [8] Precisely because his letter to me was so interesting, I have put off answering it. Scholarly projects and almost constant ill health this past winter left me little time for letters whose composition required more extensive reflection. During this coming book fair, the first part of a presentation of my system of philosophy will be appearing in the latest issue of my Zeitschrift. [9] It is written from the perspective about which I spoke to you several times last summer, and I would herewith like to request that you read it.

I am very much looking forward to Tieck’s presence here. I am hoping to see him quite frequently and have much to relate to him concerning which I would like to hear his opinion. [10]

Caroline is hoping to be here in a few days, specifically the 24th. [11] You yourself can imagine how much I am looking forward finally to seeing her again. [12]

Please do remember me fondly. In any event, I hope to see you soon this summer, [13] and in the meantime remain

Sincerely yours,
Schelling [14]


[*] Sources: Otto Braun, “Neue Schellingiana,” Euphorion 24 (1922) 386–87; Fuhrmans 1:245–47. Back.

[1] Wilhelm’s letter is not extant. Back.

[2] These elegies are otherwise unknown; see Caroline to Wilhelm on 5 May 1801 (letter 313). Back.

[3] Probably the poem on “nature”; see Caroline’s letter to Schelling on 18 November 1800 (letter 274d), esp. note 9. Back.

[4] The classical, dactylic metrical form of hexameters, though used less frequently in English, was popular in Germany after Klopstock introduced it in the mid-eighteenth century. Questions concerning this metrical form recur in later letters. Back.

[5] This Lied would indeed be published in the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802, 241; for the translated text to this piece, see Caroline’s letter to Schelling on 13 February 1801 (letter 286), note 13. Back.

[6] Wilhelm did not change anything at least in the line Schelling cites here (“Schwarz wie die Nacht und ihre dunkeln Mächte”). See his reasoning in his letter to Schelling on 26 May 1801 (letter 318a). Back.

[7] Wilhelm used the name “Bonaventura” instead, giving rise to the erroneous assumption that Schelling (rather than Ernst August Klingemann) was also the author of the “Nachtwachen des Bonventura” (1804). Fuhrmans 1:246n36 insists Schelling was indeed not the author of that piece. Back.

[8] Fichte returned the greeting to Schelling on 29 April 1801.

After initial coolness resulting from the problems associated with the attempts to get a journalistic project off the ground with Schelling and Wilhelm, Fichte actually became quite fond of Wilhelm during the latter’s stay in Berlin, seeing him frequently; see Fichte to Schelling from Berlin on 7 August 1801 (Fichtes und Schellings philosophischer Briefwechsel (1856) 92–93):

I am sending you this letter through [Wilhelm] Schlegel [who was about to go to Jena after an absence of over a year], with whom I have become better acquainted than ever during his stay here and of whom I have thereby also grown increasingly fond — because of his uprightness and his indefatigable diligence. Back.

[9] Schelling’s “Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie,” Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik 2 (1801) no. 2, 1–127. See Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 18 May 1801(letter 317):

Schelling asks that you have Fichte give you the new issue of his Journal if you have even a little time you might devote to it. Although Fichte will perhaps not read it at all, if you are in a position anytime soon to relate what he does think about it, it would be interesting to hear.

In fact, this piece ultimately led to the final break between Fichte and Schelling. See also Wilhelm’s letter to Schelling on 26 May 1801 (letter 318a), in which he recalls seeing Schelling’s journal while visiting Fichte. Back.

[10] Although Ludwig Tieck, who left Jena with his family in June 1800, had intended to come to Jena for a visit in the spring of 1801, the trip never materialized.

Tension had emerged between Caroline and Friedrich Schlegel concerning where Tieck would reside were the trip indeed to come about. See Friedrich’s letter to Wilhelm on 6 April 1801 (letter 304a), esp. with note 2, and Caroline to Schelling on 16 April 1801 (letter 308).

Wilhelm passed along to Tieck Schelling’s words here in a letter to Tieck on 28 April 1801 (letter 312d). Schelling possibly wanted to discuss with Tieck the grand poem on nature mentioned above (thus the conjecture of Fuhrmans 1:247). Back.

[11] Caroline arrived in Jena on 23 April 1801 with Luise and Emma Wiedemann (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Schnell und ungleich ist die Fahrt, die uns durch das Leben träget [1778]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.252):



[12] Schelling and Wilhelm continued an amicable relationship on both a professional and a personal level. Back.

[13] Wilhelm finally arrived back in Jena on 11 August 1801 but returned to Berlin in early November. Back.

[14] Wilhelm responded to this letter on 26 May 1801 (see letter 318a). Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott