Letter 340a

340a. Anselm Feuerbach to His Father in Frankfurt: Jena, 18 January 1802 [*]

Jena, 18 January 1802

. . . The question you raised at the end of your letter genuinely astonishes me. Schlegel and my father? [1] I will obey as well as I can.

Your question is a bit indefinite. Two Schlegels lived here: [2] two brothers, both poets, or at least one claims to be what the other really is.

But you are probably referring to August Wilhelm Schlegel (his brother’s name is Friedrich), famous solely as a writer and poet, that is, the August Wilhelm who is otherwise also called the “Sonnet Schlegel” and whom Bürger once compared to an eagle that would fly toward the sun, [3] but about whom Nicolai recently said had become a raven that was currently flying about looking for cadavers, [4] who has acquired immortality through his magnificent translation of Shakespeare and recently also erected a pillar of shame for himself with his Triumphbogen, a satire, or, as others call it, a pasquinade on Kotzebue, and who now praises among all writers only Goethe, Hans Sachs, and himself, and who with the sword of fanaticism is preaching a new type of taste and sensibility along with the rebirth of true poesy.

Because I have not yet been in his company, I cannot really judge his character. I have not heard anything positively and resolutely bad about him, but also nothing positively good. One thing is certain, however, namely, that vanity and self-conceit prompt him to act and express himself in ways a genuinely moral person would not permit himself. He is pleasant and convivial in society.

His domestic circumstances are peculiar and yet not peculiar, depending on how one understands the relationship. His wife, an extremely cultured and erudite lady, is living here; he himself is usually in Berlin, where he is currently holding lectures on aesthetics for the refined ladies and gentlemen there. He occasionally pays his wife a visit here.

The term “wife,” however, refers to nothing more than a female person whose hand a cleric placed into Schlegel’s own, and who bears his name. As is generally known here, it is Professor Schelling, the idealist, who possesses and exercises the real marital rights.

Schlegel as a writer and transcendental philosopher, however, is not at all interested in this particular point from the perspective of either legal considerations or those of reason, since, after all, he knows that everything is merely the self-created product of his self, and that Schelling is actually present only in him and through him and as part of his own ego-ness. [5] He has no real wealth; his wife, widow of the deceased Böhmer, allegedly has something, though without really being rich herself. He is about 30 years of age. [6]

As you can see, my portrait is but merely a sketch. Nor can it be anything more, since I neither know, presume, nor suspect its purpose. If what little I have said is insufficient, then please do describe in greater detail the questions and perspective I need to keep in mind. [7]


[*] Source: Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach’s Leben und Wirken. Aus seinen ungedruckten Briefen und Tagebüchern, Vorträgen und Denkschriften, ed. Ludwig Feuerbach, 2 vols. (Leipzig 1852), 1:69–70.

An interesting assessment by a largely disinterested party of Wilhelm Schlegel, of his current relationship with Caroline, and of the role Schelling was playing in that relationship.

Caroline mentions Feuerbach in her letter to Wilhelm on 11–14 January 1802 (letter 340), though only to point out that he would soon be leaving Jena to accept a position in Kiel (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Besetztere und illuminierte Landkarte von Deutschland Elementarwerk, from the Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate xlv):



[1] It is uncertain where the elder Feuerbach might have known one of the Schlegels. One possibility would be Wilhelm’s visit to Frankfurt during the summer of 1793, when he picked up Caroline and Auguste on 13 July 1793 and accompanied them to Leipzig. The elder Feuerbach was an attorney in Frankfurt at the time. Back.

[2] Wilhelm had left Jena on 21 July 1800 for Bamberg and Bocklet and not returned until 11 August 1801 (a visit Feuerbach mentions later in the letter). After departing again for Berlin on 3 November 1801, he never returned (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):


Friedrich had left Jena on ca. 29 November 1801 with Friedrich Tieck for Berlin and returned to the Weimar/Jena area only for the performance of his play Alarcos (Berlin 1802) on 29 May 1802, then departed for Paris the next day.

When Feuerbach is writing, neither of the Schlegel brothers had been in Jena for some time. Back.

[3] Gottfried August Bürger, Gedichte, 2 vols. (Göttingen 1789), 1:262, “An August Wilhelm Schlegel: Sonnett”; stanza 2 reads:

Thou young eagle! Thy royal flight
Will surely overcome the heavy clouds
And discover the path to the temple of the sun,
Or Phoebus's word in me is surely a lie.

See Caroline’s letter to to Luise Gotter on 8 March 1789 (letter 91), note 4. Back.

[4] Uncertain allusion. Back.

[5] Feuerbach wholly confuses Wilhelm with Friedrich (or even with Fichte); Friedrich had indeed lectured on transcendental philosophy earlier in Jena. Wilhelm, however, had little affinity for the philosophy of Fichte, which Feuerbach is here sketching, or even with that of Schelling, for that matter. Back.

[6] Wilhelm would turn 35 in September 1802, Friedrich had turned 30 in March 1802. Back.

[7] During the summer of 1829, Feuerbach, on a return visit from Holland, visited Wilhelm in Bonn, where the latter was then teaching. In a letter to a certain Herr van Assen in Leiden in 1830, Feuerbach referred to Wilhelm as “an old fop and affected dandy” (Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach’s Leben und Wirken. Aus seinen ungedruckten Briefen und Tagebüchern, Vorträgen und Denkschriften, 309) (John Dixon, The Old Beau in an Extasy [London 1773]):



Translation © 2016 Doug Stott