Letter 339a

339a. Schelling to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin: Jena, 4 January 1802 [*]

[Jena] 4 January 1802

You have probably already received, my dear friend, the most complete account about the performance of Ion from Caroline’s hand, and should even the slightest bit of information have escaped her in that regard while she was writing, either she or I will certainly provide it later. [1] All that remains for me is to attest for my own part how successful a performance it indeed was, and the extent to which the inner excellence of the piece was able to emerge precisely through that performance.

Like the work itself, so also was the performance as if from a single spirit, something one both saw and sensed so completely that I myself cannot recall ever having enjoyed as harmonious an experience in any theater anywhere previously. It truly delighted and pleased me to my very core.

Please accept this demonstration of my own complete admiration for the talent capable of providing not only such inner perfection in one’s first dramatic work, but also such an excellent external effect. It seemed I was watching the gates of a new path open up not only for you yourself, but for the entirety of the dramatic arts. It is the first time I have begun to believe more confidently that antiquity might genuinely cease being such in this particular artistic genre and become ours instead. After seeing this, I now also believe in the possibility of the most sublime in this genre, and in your spirit I discern as a secure presence that which otherwise always seemed removed at an uncertain distance. [2]

Caroline has probably already written you about the very few changes in wording Goethe made, and similarly about the quite special sort of attentiveness this time, about the true — one can say — universality, if not of acknowledgement, then at least of approval, which indeed extended so far that even the most sincere rage dared emerge and show itself, even in Böttiger, only in the pedant. [3]

Caroline has doubtless similarly described the extremely precise, detailed considerations and measures taken with the performance itself. Everything about it attested an element of intent, reflective consideration, and concurrence. The entire drama, construed anew through the performance, was, as it were, genetically rendered. Goethe expended an enormous amount of effort on it and deserves your gratitude. Rarely, moreover, if ever have I seen him as pleased at a theatrical success, nor in as good spirits as those into which the success of this piece transported him.

The only thing we regret is that you yourself were not here to witness the performance and see in person, with your own eyes, the fulfillment perhaps of your own wishes and intentions that I discerned only in the overall effect.


Enclosed you will find the first issue of my and Hegel’s Kritisches Journal, which I ask that you accept as a gift from both of us. [4] I am counting on you reading it from cover to cover and hope you will find enjoyment in certain passages and then pass along to me any remarks you may have.

Let me ask that you give the second copy to Fichte as coming specifically from me along with the accompanying letter. [5] I certainly comprehend that Fichte, who is not entirely disinclined to believe gossip, was expecting my declaration contra him. That you, who are familiar with the circumstances and my own disposition in the matter, found it credible, I can explain only as a result of an absolutely categorical insistence of such from Fichte himself.

The only possibility I can find of even moderately comprehending this gossip is that word of my resolve to publish a statement about the circumstances of Fichte’s dismissal came out through some indiscretion or other and that someone thought it in his own interest to identify this statement, which would in fact have been in support of Fichte, as one contra him. [6] All the more must I thus ask that you in your own turn do everything you can to find out, if possible, who the author of such gossip is, and further to let him know that I had already asked you at your departure [7] to ask Fichte in my name for his consent and opinion concerning such a statement, all as proof that this statement in support of him was in no way to come about behind his back. [8]

What Schleiermacher says concerning Jacobi does make sense, since every critique must go far beyond its object in focusing on principles not inhering in that object. [9]

With the warmest greetings,


[*] Sources: Plitt 1:353–55; Fuhrmans 2:367–69. Back.

[1] The premiere of Ion took place in the Weimar theater on 2 January 1802. Caroline wrote to Wilhelm on this same day, 4 January 1802 (letter 339), as did Julie Gotter to Cäcilie Gotter (letter 339b). See esp. also the supplementary appendix on reactions to Wilhelm’s Ion. Back.

[2] Concerning the contemporary debate on the differences between antiquity and modernity, see the discussion of Friedrich Schlegel’s treatise “Ueber das Studium der griechischen Poesie” from the autumn of 1795 in the supplementary appendix on the break with Schiller. Back.

[3] Caroline discusses these and the other points in this paragraph in her letter to Wilhelm of the same day, 4 January 1802 (letter 339). Concerning the scandal with Böttiger, see the pertinent section in the supplementary appendix on Ion. Back.

[4] Kritisches Journal für Philosophie, ed. Fr. Wilh. Joseph Schelling and Ge. Wilhelm Fr. Hegel, I, 1 (1802); published by Johann Friedrich Cotta in Tübingen. The first issue probably appeared at the end of December 1801 or at the beginning of January 1802. Back.

[5] The accompanying letter in not extant. Back.

[6] See Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 4 January 1802 (letter 339), in which she responds apparently to Wilhelm’s own remarks concerning Schelling allegedly having published something in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung critical of Fichte after the latter’s dismissal from his university position in Jena in 1799. Although Caroline suspects H. E. G. Paulus, Schelling himself thought Hegel might have been the original source, since Hegel was seeing a great deal of Paulus at the time; see Caroline’s remarks in her letter to Wilhelm on 14 January 1802 (letter 340). Back.

[7] From Jena in early November 1801. Back.

[8] Concerning the “gossip” resulting from a rather involved misunderstanding, see Fichte’s lengthy letter to Schelling on 15 January 1802 (Fichtes und Schellings philosophischer Briefwechsel [1856], 113–26; Fuhrmans 2:370–80).

Schelling responded on 25 January 1802 (Fichtes und Schellings philosophischer Briefwechsel [1856], 126–29; Fuhrmans 2:383–85). Both letters are translated in 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), 68–75. Schelling’s letter to Fichte on 25 January 1802 — his final letter to Fichte — is also translated in Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 18 January 1802 (letter 341).

Concerning the increasingly strained relationship between Fichte and Schelling over the past year, see esp. Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 11 May 1801 (letter 315) with note 22 and the additional cross references there.

Horst Fuhrmans, Fuhrmans 2:368–69, points out in this context:

The friendship with Fichte was moving irretrievably toward its end. Not only were the substantive philosophical differences between the two men not inconsiderable and their relationship strained, gossip now pushed the entire situation toward its conclusion.

Fichte had already decided not to send a lengthy letter to Schelling back in mid-October, and now dangerous gossip surfaced. Wilhelm Schlegel had written Caroline [Caroline alludes to this letter in her letter to Wilhelm on 4 January 1802 (letter 339)] and related that Fichte had told him someone had mentioned that Schelling had published a declaration concerning the atheism dispute of 1799 in a newspaper and made certain unfavorable statements about Fichte. [Caroline suspected H. E. G. Paulus.] Schelling in his own turn suspected that Hegel had betrayed him.

Schelling, who had related to Hegel his intention to publish something concerning the atheism dispute and his own behavior at the time with respect to it, suspected that Hegel had said something about it to Paulus (whom Hegel had been seeing quite often socially, whereas Schelling had long since distanced himself from Paulus).

Caroline returns to the issue in her letters to Wilhelm on 14 January 1802 (letter 340) and on 18 January 1802 (letter 341). Back.

[9] Schelling had wanted Schleiermacher to review an otherwise unidentified essay by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi for the Kritisches Journal der Philosophie and had asked Wilhelm to mediate. See Schelling’s letter to Wilhelm on 10 December 1801 (letter 335a), with note 5. Caroline similarly mentions this issue in her letter to Wilhelm 10 December 1801 (letter 335). Schleiermacher declined. Back.

Translation © 2016 Doug Stott