Letter 312b

312b. Schleiermacher to Friedrich Schlegel in Jena: Berlin, 27 April 1801 [*]

Berlin, 27 April 1801

Although you did indeed finally write me, my dear friend, [1] I cannot really say that I was particularly edified by your letter as regards our and your literary projects.

To be quite honest, I must confess that in the way you are treating Plato and my part in it, you are doing virtually everything possible to spoil the whole thing for me. [2] I was eager to offer my hand in this project not because I believed it would be better for having had me as part of it, but because I was so personally delighted to be able to anticipate producing something together with you, and also because I hoped your consideration of precisely this collective effort might prompt you to be a bit more orderly and constant with the entire undertaking.

As I now see, neither the one nor the other has been the case. Instead, you are engaging in your usual alternation between hasty plans and lengthy delays, confident promises to publishers and empty excuses, and are doing so as unperturbed as if such involved you alone. [3]

Nor is there much in the way of collective effort or fellowship. You take absolutely no account of my activities, not a single line responding to all the issues I have already raised to you, not a shadow of an opinion concerning everything I have done that you have had for more than a month, so much so that I do not even know at this point whether you have even read any of it. There is no excuse for this, for how can I continue to work without knowing whether I am perhaps, at least in your opinion, on a completely wrong path? Neither Boccaccio [4] nor the proofs [5] nor any tribute to spring can justify this. [6]

And I hear absolutely nothing about your own activities. Not a word concerning whether you have already worked on Parmenides, whether you intend to use the treatise on the Studium as a preface, [7] as I have repeatedly requested. Indeed, you do not even relate to me that which is already finished — I am referring to the dissertation, [8] which must, after all, contain some sort of ideas — which, if I did not have such high ideas concerning your neglectfulness, I would be inclined to consider intentional, not least because you just sent a package to Wilhelm. [9]

You can easily enough understand, knowing me as you do, that when I consider how things might be if they continue thus for another four or five years, my hair absolutely stands on end. Moreover, up to this very moment I still do not know how you intend to view and describe my participation in this project to the literary world at large. You can easily enough see that if I have absolutely no knowledge of your work (and I cannot conceive how, given these delays, you can possibly send me anything beforehand), nor of any of the changes you have made to my own work, I cannot possibly accept any public responsibility, making it quite useless to mention my name. [10]

I must also protest yet again against making any use of the annotations to Phaedrus as they now stand. Heindorf’s piece will not be appearing all that soon, so everything referring to him will have to be rearranged, and since he is now once more healthy enough to participate in a discussion of serious things, it is certainly in order to have some sort of consultation with him on these matters. [11]

And now, my dear friend, be so considerate of me out of love not to react to any of this any more bitterly than I have said it. These are simply complaints I cannot refrain from voicing but which are not otherwise detrimental to our friendship. [12] . . .


[*] Sources: Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:270–72; KGA V/5 108–11; KFSA 25:267–68. This letter documents the continued deterioration of the relationship between Schleiermacher and Friedrich Schlegel. Back.

[1] Friedrich’s letter of 17 April 1801 (letter 308c). Back.

[2] Friedrich and Schleiermacher were supposed to be working together on a translation of Plato; on 14 March 1801, Schleiermacher had sent his translation of Phaedrus to Friedrich along with annotations. Back.

[3] See, e.g., Friedrich’s letter to Schleiermacher on 23 January 1801 (letter 283a), note 4, and to Wilhelm Schlegel on 27 april 1801 (letter 312), note 1. Back.

[4] Friedrich’s “Nachricht von den poetischen Werken des Johannes Boccaccio,” in Wilhelm Schlegel and Friedrich Schlegel, Charakteristiken und Kritiken, 2:360–400. Back.

[5] For the Charakteristiken und Kritiken and for Fichte’s piece, edited by Wilhelm Schlegel, Friedrich Nicolai’s Leben und sonderbare Meinungen, which Friedrich had sent to Wilhelm. Back.

[6] On 17 April 1801 (Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:168; KGA V/5 100; KFSA 25:258), Friedrich remarked that “springtime has also demanded its tribute in several poems.” Back.

[7] An introduction to the study of Plato, “Einleitung in das Studium des Plato.” Back.

[8] KFSA 25:601n4 points out that Friedrich never mentions such a dissertation in extant letters, though such would indeed have been part of his Habilitation at the university in Jena; he only had a title page to such printed, namely, De Platone. Dissertatio critica cui adiectas theses (see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 26 March 1801 [letter 303], note 17). KGA 108n29 points out that

despite intensive research, Josef Körner (Friedrich Schlegel, Neue philosophische Schriften [1935], 38n2), was unable to confirm this publication, which is why he considered the possibility that Erich Schmidt, the editor of Caroline’s letters, invented this publication. Schmidt does, however, reprint the Habilitation-theses along with an interpretive parody from Caroline [see above reference to letter 303].

Hence Schmidt did in any case have access to a copy of the “theses” that Caroline herself had used and which Schelling had sent to her. What remains unclear is whether those constituted part of the actual publication or were merely a supplement provided on a separate sheet. It was probably within the context of Schelling’s literary estate that Schmidt had access to the dissertation. Back.

[9] Proofs of the Charakteristiken und Kritiken and of Fichte’s piece on Nicolai mentioned above. Back.

[10] Indeed, Friedrich had not even mentioned Schleiermacher’s name in his public announcement of the translation in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1800) 43 (Saturday, 29 March 1800) 349–50:

I have decided to publish a precise and complete translation of the collected works of Plato, the first volume of which will be appearing at the Easter book fair 1801 with the publisher Herr Frommann.

In a special treatise prefacing the work, I will explicate why, both in a general sense and specifically at this time, after the presentation of [Fichte’s] Wissenschaftslehre, I consider it useful and indeed necessary to promote the more widespread study of this great author, with whom the study of philosophy begins in the most appropriate and concludes in the most dignified fashion. The deed itself can best demonstrate that it is indeed possible to carry out this difficult task in the art of translation at the present developmental stage currently being approached by the German language.

Hence I must not say more at this time than that through an explanation of the conceptual process and context I hope to do justice not only to the demands of the philologist and the expectations of the philosopher, but through accompanying annotations also to the needs of the lay reader.

Allow me to use this occasion to point out to friends of the literature and poesy of antiquity that the second part of the first volume of my Geschichte der Poesie der Griechen und Römer will be appearing at the Michaelmas book fair this year, and that it will be accompanied by a general introduction to the whole in which in a brief overview I will be presenting both the purpose and the basis of this work, which is to accomplish the same thing for the art of poesy that Winkelmann tried to accomplish for the fine arts, namely, to ground the theory of that art through the course of history.

Jena, 21 March 1800

Friedrich Schlegel

Similarly also in the Staats- und Gelehrte Zeitung des Hamburgischen unpartheyischen Correspondenten (1800) 77 (Wednesday, 14 May 1801) (text 689 [Beilage 1]), i.e., even after having received Schleiermacher’s protest in this letter (KFSA 25:601); and in Ludwig Tieck’s Poetisches Journal 1 (1800) no. 2 (following p. 492). Back.

[11] Schleiermacher had been reading and studying Plato together with Ludwig Friedrich Heindorf in preparation for his own translation. Heindorf, who was also working on an edition of Plato, Platonis Dialogi selecti. Dialogi quatuor. Lysis Charmides Hippias maior Phaedrus (Berlin 1802), had in the meantime taken ill. Back.

[12] Schleiermacher ended up doing this translation project essentially by himself after Friedrich withdrew from the project in May 1803. The edition then appeared in six volumes between 1804 and 1809.

Concerning the history of this ill-fated collaboration, see Schleiermacher, Über die Philosophie Platons: Geschichte der Philosophie, Vorlesungen über Sokrates und Platon (zwischen 1819 und 1823), die Einleitungen zur Übersetzung des Platon (1804–1828), Philosophische Bibliothek, ed. Peter M. Steiner, Andreas Arndt, Jörg Jantzen (Hamburg 2013), xi–xviii. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott