Letter 369c

369c. Wilhelm Schlegel to Schelling in Jena: Berlin, 28 August 1802 [*]

Berlin, 28 August 1802

A letter from Spazier just now brought to mind the modest feud concerning Ion, which amid the more serious dispute I had wholly forgotten. [1] I hope the entire matter will seem like merely a jest to you as well after you read my letter.

I know not how it has happened that all at once I have become involved in a whole cluster of disputes. It seems that someone here is intentionally spreading the rumor that I am the author of a derisive poem contra Iffland with the title Der Bärentanz that appeared shortly after my departure in one of the political journals here and which is allegedly a genuine pasquinade, albeit only in spirit rather than according to the legal letter. [2] I have not yet had the opportunity to read it. —

It seems Genelli’s essay has also prompted heated discussion. [3]

And finally the terrible local actor Schwadke issued a defiant complaint to the editor of the Elegante Zeitung because of a theater critique, demanding that my identity be revealed. I was glad to oblige with a crude dismissal, which will similarly be appearing in the same journal. [4]

Nicolai recently behaved so crudely in the Allgemeine Bibliothek against me and various of my friends — including in a loutish review of the Musen-Almanach, presumably by Göckingk (it was signed “Gk.”) that I now find myself prompted, to everyone’s considerable terror, to join the battle by implementing a grand judgment of wit against these sinners. [5]

That said, I will likely never again have such a wonderful opportunity to do so as I had with Kotzebue’s Siberian exile, so I really do not know how soon I will get to all this. [6]

Since you asked me to read your article “on the Comportment of Obscurantism etc.” in connection with the dispute with Schütz, please also allow me to tell you quite openly that several turns of phrase and expressions in it do not entirely concur with my own polemical principles. —

I would, for example, have preferred to see the statements concerning Ritter put a bit differently. [7]

Please do not misunderstand me; this is merely my own personal feeling about such things, one I would never presume to impose on anyone else. Nor can there be even the remotest possibility for me to accept that the severity of what was merely a literary attack might in any way excuse Schütz’s unutterable vileness. [8]

But it is nonetheless always a disadvantage when indignation at the former, namely, at such severity, risks obscuring for otherwise favorably disposed people one’s pure judgment on the latter, namely, the vileness.

It was with great interest that I read the first essay in the journal, and I admire especially its clarity. [9] I do, however, wish that Fichte would read it, and that even in the larger sense he would address the relationship between his and your systems. [10]

Please deliver the enclosed missive and write again soon to give me news.

And let me not forget to express my gratitude for the handsome copy of Bruno and the journal. [11]


[*] Sources: Plitt 1:388–90; Fuhrmans 2:427–28; Briefe 1:459—60. Back.

[1] Wilhelm is referring to his final contribution to the Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1802) nos. 100 and 101 (23, 24 August 1802) as part of the exchanges (part 1 and part 2) concerning the play Ion between Caroline, Schelling, and Wilhelm himself in the Zeitung für die elegante Welt. Back.

[2] Uncertain allusion. Wilhelm had left Berlin on 19 May 1802 with Schelling and Caroline, accompanying them as far as Leipzig and eventually returning to Berlin in mid-June (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):



[3] Hans Christian Genelli reviewed the Berlin performances of Wilhelm’s Ion (on 15/16 May 1802) in his lengthy “Ueber die Darstellung des Jon auf dem Berliner Theater,” Zeitung für die elegante Welt 81 (Thursday, 8 July 1802), 645–50; 82 (Saturday, 10 July 1802), 653–57; 83 (Tuesday, 13 July 1802), 661–64. See in general the supplementary appendix on reactions and issues concerning Ion (Genelli’s review not translated). Back.

[4] On 19 July and 3 August 1802, the actor Carl Wilhelm Schwadke had written to Karl Spazier complaining about a theater review in the Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1802) 78 and 79 that had opined that neither he nor Heinrich Eduard Bethmann had enough talent ever to amount to anything as actors. Schwadke was demanding the anonymous reviewer be disclosed who had so “soiled” the journal (the second letter complained about Spazier having neglected to answer the first).

Spazier finally relented and gave Wilhelm a chance to respond. Wilhelm did so in a lengthy, crude dismissal in the Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1802) 106 (4 September 1802) 846–51, and 107 (7 September 1802) 856–858, to which he did sign his name. His litany of harsh remarks included many as direct as the following (no. 107, here 857):

Herr Schwadke adds that he intends to defend his existence as well as he is able. But since not a single word has been said about his bourgeois existence, he must be referring to his artistic existence, in which case I would but remind him that such must be present in the first place if it is to be defended.

Wilhelm’s closing paragraph reads:

I herewith conclude my discussion, which some readers may well find too long but which nonetheless did not dissuade me insofar as such did indeed finally bring the ill to expression from which our actors suffer, who with a more modest opinion of themselves, more serious diligence, and better guidance would perhaps develop the disposition to accomplish more.

Their outcries and complaints should not deter in the slightest one’s rigorous public assessment of the theater, and if many of the correspondents of the Zeitung für die elegante Welt are similarly disposed as I in this regard, perhaps this journal can become a veritable scourge for bad actors, of which — our lament to heaven — there is a plethora in the Holy Roman Empire. Back.

[5] Wilhelm’s and Ludwig Tieck’s Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802 was reviewed in Friedrich Nicolai’s Neue allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek 69 (1802) 1, 345–53, a largely overtly sneering and condescending review. Back.

[6] Wilhelm is referring to what was colloquially known as his Kotzebuade. Back.

[7] The Schlegels were on better terms with Johann Wilhelm Ritter at this time than was Schelling. Back.

[8] The reference is to Christian Gottfried Schütz’s decision to cite a passage, in his review of Franz Berg’s satire Encomium for the Most Recent Philosophy, p. 29, implying that Schelling’s treatment of Auguste played some role in her death; Schütz is in fact citing Berg:

Except may heaven forbid that he suffer the misfortune of killing in reality those whom he heals in ideality, a misfortune that befell Schelling, the One and Only, in Boklet in Franconia in the case of M. B.*, as malicious people maintain. Back.

[9] Schelling’s “Fernere Darstellungen aus dem System der Philosophie,” Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik 1 (1802) 1, 1–76; Eng. “Further Presentations from the System of Philosophy” (extract) in The Philosophical Rupture between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Texts and Correspondence (1800–1802), ed. and trans. Michael G. Vater and David W. Wood (Albany 2012), 141ff. Back.

[10] Concerning the increasingly strained relationship between the Fichte and Schelling earlier in 1802, see Schelling’s letter to Wilhelm on 4 January 1802 (letter 339a), esp. notes 6–8. Schelling seems not to have communicated with Fichte since his own final letter to Fichte on 25 January 1802. For the text to that letter, see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 18 January 1802 (letter 341), note 26. Back.

[11] In her letter to Wilhelm on 5 July 1802 (letter 368), Caroline asked whether he had received a vellum copy of Schelling’s Bruno; oder, Über das göttliche und natürliche Princip der Dinge: Ein Gespräch (Berlin 1802). Schelling then enclosed a copy in his letter of 19 August 1802 (letter 369a). The journal is presumably Schelling’s Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik 1 (1802) 1. Back.

Translation © 2016 Doug Stott