Letter 387e

387e. Schelling to Count Friedrich Karl von Thürheim in Würzburg: Bamberg, 26 September 1804 [*]

Bamberg, 26 September 1804

When I entered Bavarian service, I was informed of the administration’s wish that I refrain from polemic as much as possible. [1]

That wish coincided with my own inclinations at the time.

On the one hand, my earlier adversaries had already been judged by both time and public opinion; on the other, the foundation had been laid in my writings that anticipated with certainty the same fate for other adversaries.

To be honest, I could not consider sufficiently important the adversaries that I either already had or of necessity had to expect within the electoral Bavarian states themselves, given the class to which they belonged and the level of scholarly culture to which my own works are directed, to fear that I would ever find myself in a position to depart from this resolution of refraining from polemic because of them.

It was, moreover, my intent to take advantage of the tranquility of which I had been assured for the sake of working on independent, self-enclosed works.

No one can adduce evidence indicating I ever transgressed against that initial resolution, since, quite to the contrary, I genuinely have refrained from all polemic since my arrival.

What seems to be the case, however, is that people have taken my silence in this regard to mean something quite different, ultimately concluding instead — incorrectly — that my intent was to exercise infinite patience.

From the very moment I began teaching in Würzburg, the Munich Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung seemed to make a concerted effort to increase the frequency of its customary invectives against me and even to coarsen them whenever possible; — but this newspaper and its initiators are both too despised and too contemptible for me not simply to disregard them and indeed to continue to do so. What has developed with each passing day, however, is an obvious intent from above to take sides in the matter, and to do so against me. [2]

The arrival of Your Excellency in Würzburg — if I may say so, for I must speak plainly about the matter if I am to inform you with the appropriate clarity — provided the signal for personal affronts and insults against me: even public teachers in Würzburg itself, on whom Your Excellency had previously enjoined a calm demeanor toward me, accompanied by the threat of their removal from the university, or had earlier at least given the assurance of intending to issue orders for them to comport themselves thus — men of acknowledged undignified character — came forward against me with such insolence that it was easy to see I was considered a man against whom anything was permissible. [3]

A systematic effort had visibly emerged both to parade the signs of disfavor and ill-will toward me and my friends, quite without considering earlier circumstances, and to suppress the philosophy of nature at the university by whatever means were at one’s disposal.

Utterances from Your Excellency yourself, [4] though perhaps not so intended, were used indiscreetly to promote this opinion, prompting not only residents, but even those from elsewhere who were no less astonished at encountering such remarks and attitudes after the pomp with which the philosophy of nature had been transplanted here, to take as credible the suggestion that Your Excellency was also participating in such.

The directorate for general school and university matters, in the most recently published instructional guidelines for all secondary schools in electoral Bavaria, [5] has now condescended, in section 45, nos. 1—8, to enter into the general and customary tone directed against my system, to incorporate allusions directed against that system, and to degrade an instructional plan approved by the prince-electoral authorities into the echo of the utterances issued by Weiller and others against my system, indeed, to prescribe explicitly and legally the latter’s so-called “guide” to a free examination of philosophy as the textbook for this scholarly discipline in all secondary schools. [6]

Insofar as I now clearly discern that the intent is to establish within the earliest education and training of youth a foundation disposed against the spirit of philosophy that I consider to be the true one, indeed to engage such measures using the available means to such an extraordinary degree that in the future virtually any schoolboy will consider himself both capable and justified in coming out against me, and insofar as, further, these measures represent a public declaration against me authorized by representatives of the administration itself, I consider myself obligated to both the cause itself, my new fatherland, and my literary honor — honor I have acquired through acknowledged efforts not for the purpose of having it violated by Bavarian scribes lacking both name and true merit, moreover, through the medium of official rescripts — to remain silent no longer.

I intend to proceed more openly in this matter than others have proceeded against me, and not to suspend my previous behavior without first publishing an announcement of such.

Hence I am informing Your Excellency herewith that from this moment forward the condition of calm I have hitherto observed is suspended, and that I will make use of my God-given powers to secure justice for my cause and to annihilate these formally organized plans of attack against it.

Although I will never lose sight of the respect due a government, the content of any utterance intervening in scholarly affairs, even when published by a committee, is subject to the same mode of assessment customary in that discipline, where, as is well known, intellectual superiority alone, not external power, is the deciding factor. Hence I will portray utterly unadorned and with utter clarity both the individuals who contributed the idea of the aforementioned passus [7] as well as these ideas themselves to the extent they involve my work.

I will demonstrate the derivation, from its earliest beginnings, of the overall current situation of intellectual culture in Bavaria to the extent it is represented by those writers who are currently setting the overall tone, and trace back to its initial, universally acknowledged foundations the unmistakable, systematic attempt to guide the affairs of the human mind as well, as it were in the place of providence itself. [8]

This undertaking will provide the occasion to ascertain whether that well-assembled construction of reversed Jesuitism preached by these Bavarian writers, and the extolled spirit of tolerance that tolerates only that which in earlier times was not tolerated, and which does not tolerate that against which even unenlightened governments have demonstrated tolerance, namely, philosophy, can stand up to the power of a single man who with both seriousness and courage takes up that cause.

I fear not that the government will restrict the most sacred right of the writer and thinker in me, and I for my part trust that the individuals whose entire conceptual system I will be attacking are as confident of their own cause as I am of my own, to wit, that they will be capable of asserting themselves solely through their own powers, without resorting to political means.

I demand only that I may securely exercise precisely those rights that others have already transgressed against me, and since I must be able to count on that security, I request that Your Excellency view this present missive as an official notice, one to which, should such become necessary in what follows, I will be referring.

I remain otherwise etc. [9]


[*] Sources: Plitt 2:30–35; Fuhrmans 3:118–23. Extant only as a draft; the section “and trace back to its initial” was struck through in the draft to the end of the paragraph as indicated.

Schelling and Caroline had departed for Bamberg on 4 September 1804 and returned to Würzburg in late October (“South West Germany and North Italy: The War of the Second Coalition 1798–1801,” The Cambridge Modern History Atlas, ed. A. W. Ward, G. W. Prothero, Stanley Leathes, and E. A. Ben [London 1912], map 88; [University of Texas, Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection]):


Concerning this letter, see Kuno Fischer, Schellings Leben, Werke und Lehre, 3rd ed., Geschichte der neuern Philosophie 7 (Heidelberg 1902), 114:

Because the government itself had clearly become involved in the dispute [concerning Schelling’s excessively “speculative” philosophy], one could hardly blame Schelling for breaking his silence, requesting a clarification from the government that he might know what his real status was, and, feeling obligated to defend himself, claiming the right to engage in polemic. But he overstepped his bounds in directing a missive to the trustees of the university [under Count von Thürheim] on 26 September 1804 in which he essentially declared war on the government in unequivocal and threatening terms, just as one state declares war on another. Back.

[1] See Georg Friedrich von Zentner’s letter to Schelling on 22 November 1803 (letter 381e). Back.

[2] “Intent from above,” i.e., from the Bavarian administration. Back.

[3] E.g., Johann Jakob Wagner in the introduction to his System der Idealphilosophie (Leipzig 1804); see Schelling’s letter to Carl Joseph Windischmann on 16 September 1804 (letter 387c), note 3 (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, “Die Philosophen” [The philosophers], Illustrationen zu Erasmus’ Lob der Narrheit in sechs Abteilungen [1780]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki WB 3.31):



[4] Viz., to Karl Joseph von Kolborn, Windischmann’s uncle; see Schelling’s letter to Windischmann on 16 September 1804 (letter 387c). Back.

[5] Viz., the curriculum mentioned in the final footnote below, which had provoked controversy elsewhere in Germany as well, not just in Bavaria or Würzburg. Concerning the extremely critical assessment of Johann Heinrich Voss in the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung in April 1805, see Dorothea and Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Karoline Paulus on 20 September 1804 (letter 387d), note 10. Back.

[6] Not only was Schelling’s adversary Kajetan Weiller’s book Anleitung zur freyen Ansicht der Philosophie (Munich 1804) stipulated as the required textbook for philosophy in secondary schools, the following stipulations were also transparently directed against Schelling (cited in Fuhrmans 3:121n3):

(1) Above all, teachers should perpetually maintain their focus on the otherwise easily forgotten purpose of all philosophy — namely, to teach not for school, but for life. Without this goal constantly lighting the way, the extremely complex intellectual activity called philosophy leads all too easily to confusion, amid whose tumult the powers of mere reasoning, powers generally employed first, i.e., the merely ruminating powers of understanding, become predominant, much to the disadvantage of the others. Philosophy then becomes largely an empty play of schools, whereas it should instead become the comeliest, fullest fruit of life itself.

(2) Nowhere more than in teaching philosophy does a teacher have more reason to focus primarily on the increasingly expansive intellect rather than on a merely self-enclosed system. Let him thus make every effort to be mindful lest perhaps precisely such elevation over every mere system in its own turn be taken as a kind of system itself. Let him inculcate the conviction that the philosophical spirit, if it but find fertile ground in a noble heart, can live and flourish amid all systems, just as the human being can live and flourish in all zones, albeit more easily and fully in one than another. Back.

[7] Latin, “step.” Back.

[8] Presumably an allusion to the Illuminati. Back.

[9] See the annotations in Fuhrmans 3:118–23, on which part of the following summary is based.

Schelling had initially believed Count von Thürheim, the highest administrative official in Bavaria at the time, and perhaps the government in Munich as well was favorably disposed toward him, notwithstanding that such was never the case with the prince elector himself (see Adalbert Friedrich Marcus’s letter to Schelling on 13 August 1803 [letter 380c]). After the publication of the curriculum for all Electoral Bavarian middle Schools, Gymnasien, and Lycées issued by the Directorate for Prince Electoral Schools and Universities on 27 August 1804 — the Lehr-plan für alle kurpfalzbayrischen Mittel-Schulen, oder für die sogenannten Real-Klassen (Prinzipien), Gymnasien, und Lycées: Vom Kurf. General-Schulen- und Studien-Directorium entworfen und von Sr. Kurf. Durchlaucht gnädigst bestätigt, 27 Aug. 1804 (Munich 1804) — he could no longer be under any illusion that the government itself had resolved officially to oppose both him and his philosophy.

See in this regard Kuno Fischer’s discussion of this plan in the supplementary appendix on Bavarian Catholic opposition to Schelling.

Considering that Schelling could hardly have written this letter at a more unfavorable time, namely, at the culmination of the scandal in which Adalbert Friedrich Marcus had been involved for the past several months, one can easily imagine the impression this letter made on Count von Thürheim. Indeed, Marcus soon found it necessary to go to Munich personally to salvage his position as a result of the investigative disclosures in connection with that scandal.

For von Thürheim’s peremptory and patronizing response, see his missive to Schelling on 7 November 1804 (letter 387k).

In any event, the increasingly precarious nature of Schelling’s position in Würzburg and his increasing status as persona non grata was already being discussed elsewhere in Germany as well, though it was especially reports such as the following from Der neue deutsche Merkur that could leave no doubt that even the government was now allied with Schelling’s adversaries (for other excerpts from this article, see Adalbert Friedrich Marcus’s letter to Schelling on 8 January 1804 [letter 382b], note 3): anonymous (presumably Jakob Salat, who was well-connected with the Bavarian administration in Munich), “Briefe über Baierns neueste Kultur und literarische Aufklärung,” Der neue deutsche Merkur (1804) 8 (August 1804), 247–81, here, 273–75:

A bit more news about our scholarly prospects! A few days ago, I received, from Würzburg, Sextus oder über Schellings absolute Erkenntniss. Ein Gespräch, by Franz Berg [Würzburg 1804], an excellent counter to Schelling’s Bruno [Bruno; oder, Über das göttliche und natürliche Princip der Dinge: Ein Gespräch (Berlin 1802)], excellent with regard to both content and form! That something of this sort could come from Würzburg, where Schelling himself teaches, quite accords with our government’s plan, which intends for no one system to predominate.

And even if recent events especially in Würzburg might seem to favor the preeminence of one particular system, or to disprove what I just said above, well, that was merely deceptive appearance occasioned by external circumstances. It is especially the principle of Herr von Zehntner [sic] that there must be free intellectual competition at all universities, producing beneficial literary friction.

Postscript. I just received word from Würzburg that cannot but be welcome news to you as well [Salat’s article is cast in the form of letters]. “Oberthür has again become a professor, and will be commencing his lectures on the 28 [May].”

[Ed. note: Franz Oberthür, a long-time member of the Würzburg faculty and a thinker clearly inspired by the Enlightenment, was oddly dismissed after Würzburg was ceded to Bavaria back in 1803; odd insofar as the Bavarian reorganization of the university was driven largely by Enlightenment thinking, less odd considering the rumor that Schelling, who initially did wield a certain amount of influence in such things, considered Oberthür too mediocre a scholar to retain.]

That is how appropriately and openly our government rights a wrong occasioned (or should I say: caused) by those same external circumstances. And certainly the meritorious services of Herr Hofrath and President Count von Thürheim (who will never fail to recognize an upright Franconian) in a new light.

[Ed. note: Oberthür had also written to von Zentner and even published a book, Die Baiern in Franken und die Franken in Baiern (Nürnberg 1804), successfully pleading his case; see supplementary appendix 383f.1, note 3.]

I have it from a reliable source that he [Thürheim] has taken note with considerable displeasure of the “unfruitfulness of that alleged philosophy” [i.e., Schelling’s], and of the “abuse in which that particular party has engaged on the basis of the status he has enjoyed.” He, too, wants pure, public examination of all sides, and the “fruitfulness” that comes to expression not in the rapturous or even crazy products of overheated youthful minds, but rather in thorough understanding and clear presentations. Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott