Letter 372b

372b. Schelling to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin: Jena, 21 October 1802 [*]

Jena, 21 October 1802

. . . In your lectures on the doctrine of art, [1] I have admired especially the pure and objective features with which you have articulated so many ideas, as it were, in a universally valid form, and for reflection as well. [2] A particularly lofty perspective is discernible in everything you say about architecture. [3]

Since I have always had a special interest in this subject, and have considered it at length on my own as well, I was enormously pleased to have found common ground with you at least from afar. I wholly share your opinion with respect to the derivation of the Greek forms from an analogy with construction with tree limbs to the extent that I do not believe this derivation is to taken as empirically as has hitherto been the case. That said, however, this analogy does seem to me to obtain with a more lofty and universal necessity, since I myself greet architecture, if I may put it this way, as the landscape of the plastic arts. —

Gothic architecture presents raw nature in an as yet still unworked form, the tree that has not yet been robbed of its branches and leaves, whence the disproportion between the base and the crown, the infinitely manifold furcations, the tangled growth in cloister passageways, arched and vaulted ceilings, etc. [4] The first Doric column, by presenting to me the hewn trunk, elevates me to the sphere of the human and, in a certain sense, of art. I understand the following stages from the perspective of this view, moreover, as I believe, in a simple and simultaneously self-evident fashion. [5]

To be frank, I am least pleased with what you say about poesy. [6] Here I am convinced anew of my notion concerning the unconscious element in poesy. [7] You cannot understand or construe any of your own works with these principles. I do see quite well that you were not able to complete your theory, but I did search in vain for the central idea of poesy. You were probably influenced in this regard by the composition of your audience. [8] — Several things seem to me sooner to belong to rhetoric than poetics.


As far as the other matters are concerned, everyone I have spoken with (though I speak with very few people) has been most advantageously impressed by your small brochure. [9]

Nothing yet from Schütz to my knowledge. [10] I am glad to hear that you will not be responding in the least to any of his outbursts. —

To say that I reserved for you the use of the correction, considering that I am not entirely familiar with the valor of this particular term, [11] may very well have been an awkward turn of phrase. [12] I merely wanted to say that, since you yourself were unable to do so, I was thereby taking possession of it, in your name, as a piece of evidence.

My remarks about not accepting the letter was naturally meant in the sense that you would not accept it right at the beginning, or if it had been accepted in your absence, that you would send it back unbroken, for which action you certainly had sufficient reason insofar as Schütz had been referred to me to make his response. [13] . . .

Stay well; I send my warmest regards.


[ . . .]


[*] Sources: Plitt 1:425–29; Fuhrmans 2:463–66. Back.

[1] Part 1 of Wilhelm’s Berlin lectures, whose manuscript Wilhelm had earlier sent to Schelling at the latter’s request; see the pertinent discussion in Schelling’s letter to Wilhelm on 3 September 1802 (letter 369d). Back.

[2] With respect to his own philosophy of art, Schelling was interested precisely more in universal concepts of art as such and even of artistic genres as such than in an examination of more concrete iterations. In his letter to Wilhelm on 3 September 1802 (letter 369d), Schelling remarks:

I am from the very outset wholly forgoing any attempt to present a theory of art, which must more or less be subordinated to philosophy and — viewed from the speculative standpoint — must necessarily be empirical at least from one side. Just as there are real or empirical things, so also is there real or empirical art — and such art is the concern of theory; — just as there are intellectual things, things in and of themselves, however, so also is there art in and of itself, of which empirical art is merely this appearance in the phenomenal world, and it is this that establishes a relationship between philosophy and art. Back.

[3] Vorlesungen über schöne Literatur und Kunst, 1:160–82. Back.

[4] See Schelling’s remarks concerning Gothic architecture in the Philosophy of Art, 170–71:

Regarding its main characteristics, namely, the narrow base relative to circumference and height, we can imagine a Gothic building, for example, a tower such as that of the cathedral in Strasbourg, among others, as an enormous tree that from a relatively narrow trunk spreads out into an immeasurable crown that stretches it boughs and branches in all directions into the air.

Since Schelling had never seen the Strasbourg cathedral, it is difficult to determine his source, which, as seems likely, was an illustration rather than merely a description.

One possible source was Joseph Schweighäuser and Georg Heinrich Behr, Straßburger Münster- und Thurn-Büchlein; oder Kurzer Begrif Der merkwürdigsten Sachen, so im Münster und dasigem Thurn zu finden. Mit beygefügten Kupferen. Auf das neue vermehrt und verbessert Kurzer Begrif Der merkwürdigsten Sachen, so im Münster und dasigem Thurn zu finden (Strassburg 1773), plate following p. 24:



[5] The Doric column is generally viewed as the simplest form of the Greek columnar structure; here illustrated in (1) Johann Georg Sulzer, Allgemeine Theorie der Schönen Künste in einzelnen, nach alphabetischer Ordnung der Kunstwörter auf einander folgenden, Artikeln abgehandelt (Leipzig 1792), vol. 1, 703, an author Schelling cites in the Philosophy of Art; and (2) Joachim von Sandrart and Johann Jacob Volkmann, Teutsche Academie der Bau- Bildhauer- und Maler-Kunst, worinn die Regeln und Lehrsätze dieser Künste gegeben, nicht weniger zu mehrerer Erläuterung die besten Exempel der alten und neuen Künstler in Kupfer beygefüget worden, wie solche in Rom auf das genaueste abgezeichnet sind, vol. 1:1 (Nürnberg 1768), plate 5:



In the Philosophy of Art, 172, Schelling remarks:

Gothic architecture is completely naturalistic and crude, a mere direct imitation of nature in which nothing recalls intentional, free art. The first, still rather crude Doric column depicting a hewed tree trunk already elevates one into the realm of art by imitating the mechanical treatment through free art, thus presenting the latter as being elevated above need and necessity and directed toward only that which is beautiful and significant in itself.

The form itself expresses the suggested origin of the Doric column and the reversal of that taste that imitated crude nature. Gothic sensibility, because it portrays the tree yet unformed, must make the base narrow and expand the upper parts. The Doric column, like the hewed trunk, is broader toward the bottom and tapers toward the top. Here the plant is made into an allegory of the animal realm precisely because the crude mold of nature in it is suspended, thereby suggesting that the plant is not there for its own sake, but rather in order to signify something else. Back.

[6] Vorlesungen 1:260–370, esp. Wilhelm’s introductory remarks 1:260–69, and his discussion beginning on 1:284.

Here a depiction of “poesy” from the period Jean Baptiste Grease, La Poesie [ca. 1768–90]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur FAMoitte AB 3.4):



[7] Schelling discusses this issue in section 64 of the Philosophy of Art:

The real side of genius, or that unity that constitutes the informing of the infinite into the finite, can be called poesy in the narrower sense; the ideal side, or that unity that constitutes the informing of the finite into the infinite, can be called the art within art.

The overarching notion is that the genius proceeds of necessity, art by design, a notion similar to that in Schelling’s System of transcendental Idealism (1800), trans. Peter Lauchlan Heath (Charlottesville 1978), section 6, with respect to poesy being the unconscious, art the conscious, poesy a necessary, art a free activity. Back.

[8] Wilhelm was lecturing in Berlin not to a strictly academic audience, but rather to the public at large, albeit the, broadly speaking, educated public and the nobility. Back.

[9] Wilhelm’s To the Public. Rebuke of a Defamation of Honor Perpetrated in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (letter/document 371b), which has been one of the foremost subjects of late in Schelling and Wilhelm’s correspondence. Back.

[10] I.e., nothing yet in response to Wilhelm’s To the Public. Rebuke of a Defamation of Honor Perpetrated in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (letter/document 371b).

Such would come in January 1803, when Schütz published his Species facti nebst Actenstücken zum Beweise dass Hr. Rath August Wilh. Schlegel der Zeit in Berlin mit seiner Rüge, worinnen er der Allgem. Lit. Zeitung eine begangne Ehrenschändung fälschlich aufbürdet, niemanden als sich selbst beschimpft habe / von C. G. Schuetz. Nebst einem Anhange über das Benehmen des Schellingischen Obscurantismus (“Species facti [the particular character or peculiar circumstances of the thing done; the particular criminal act charged against a person] along with documents proving that Herr Rath Schlegel, currently residing in Berlin, has rebuked no one but himself with his Rebuke, in which he falsely accuses the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung of having committed a defamation of honor / by C. G. Schuetz. With an addendum concerning the comportment of Schellingian obscurantism”) (Jena, Leipzig 1803).

Schelling, who did not read the piece, did relate to Wilhelm what he knew about it after its appearance in his letter to Wilhelm on 31 January 1803 (letter 374e). Back.

[11] Italian, for valore, here: “value, price, worth”; here in the sense of “import.” The German term Schelling used in Wilhelm’s piece was vorbehalten, “to reserve.” Back.

[12] See Schelling’s remarks in section C of Wilhelm’s To the Public. Rebuke of a Defamation of Honor Perpetrated in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (letter/document 371b). Back.

[13] See Schelling’s and Wilhelm’s exchanges on this subject in their exchange of letters on 11 and ca. 13 October 1802 (letters 371f, 371g).

Schütz’s letter to Wilhelm on 24 September 1802 (letter 369k), which Wilhelm had instructed Schütz to deliver to Schelling, had been sent instead to Johann Friedrich Unger in Berlin, who had it delivered to the Bernhardi residence, where Wilhelm was residing. Sophie Bernhardi seems to have signed for the letter when it arrived, since Wilhelm was not there at the time. Back.

Translation © 2016 Doug Stott