Letter 388b

388b. Schelling to Carl Joseph Windischmann in Aschaffenburg: Würzburg, 7 December 1804 [*]

Würzburg, 7 December 1804

I greatly regretted hearing that you are having problems with your eyes and are having to interrupt your work because of it.

Many thanks for the books you sent. [1] Would it be at all possible for me to keep them another two weeks? I am so busy that I have not yet had even a single moment to look through them. — My wife has perhaps already written that I would like for you to accept the first two parts of Jean Paul’s Aesthetik as a small memento from me. [2]

If I may speak with the freedom of expression obtaining between us, I must say I am not satisfied with your Ideen zur Physik, which I have now read. [3] You failed to meet my expectations especially with respect to form. [4] I would very much like to speak with you in person and explain to you quite clearly where, in my modest opinion, this work falls short. Notions concerning which we have already had differing opinions, such as especially your understanding of the beauty of presentation, would have to be discussed. —

My opinion of your work here is quite independent of that which involves me personally in it, and of which I as a wholly disinterested reader cannot but disapprove, indeed, of which perhaps you yourself now disapprove. For example, you doubtless formulated the passage on p. 263 in deference to Herr Professor Paulus, and perhaps in an hour when you were particularly moved by his conclamatum est! over me. [5]

Do not misunderstand me; I am not reproaching you for reproaching my playful comparison, as you call it, but for seizing on this one detail in order to present a generalized broadside against me of the sort that is exactly what the great masses want to hear, and yet to which neither this particular passage nor any single work nor, much less, this particular section, whose primary ideas so clearly recall my presentations, without which the section itself would likely have been formulated quite differently. —

In a word: the attack in this passage is — undignified; and yet I do prefer it to the barren encomium and defense you deliver for me at the end and of which I have no need. [6] That said, however, my dear Windischmann, I still prefer that you comported yourself thus rather than differently. One of my weaknesses is that I cannot express a negative opinion of a friend without some embarrassment; public opinion is wont to share this feeling, since not everything that is just is also comely, hence I prefer to remain silent in such cases, though the truth be not at all diminished thereby.

In your case, you yourself free me from such embarrassment, for regardless of how severely I might emphasize the weaknesses of your work, no one would find it indelicate or unkind. Although I myself will in fact refrain from such, do not be surprised if you read an assessment by someone in the Jahrbücher that is quite ruthless and commensurate solely with the truth. [7]

In general I now consider the cause [8] to be far too good to let just anyone, as has hitherto been the case, simply use it however he chooses, use it, that is, to the extent it is expedient in lending to the book a more respectable patina, and then is casually cast aside to the extent necessary lest it meet with disapproval on the part of the public through that initial use. Such half-measures do not deserve to be spared, even assuming they manage to smuggle out among the public things that otherwise would have been summarily returned, under protest, had they shown their true colors.

Nor will any of this change anything on my side with respect to our previous relationship; I will continue to be glad to be of service to you or to have you be such to me, though particularly so if I discern that you treat with a bit more seriousness a matter that is not merely a passing phenomenon. [9]

My wife and I send our kind regards to both you and your wife.

Stay very well.



[*] Sources: Plitt 2:38–39; Fuhrmans 3:141–45.

Although, as has been seen, the philosophy of nature did not want for critics in Germany and certainly in Bavaria at the time, Schelling’s arrogance, as has similarly been seen, did not help his cause (see Karl Friedrich von Thürheim’s official rebuke in his letter to Schelling on 7 November 1804 [letter 387k]).

As demonstrated by this present letter, Schelling could be similarly insufferably tactless even with friends (Calender für das Jahr 1796; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[1] In his letter to Windischmann on 24 October 1804 (letter 387g), Schelling had requested “the volumes of the Munich Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung from 1803 and 1804″ as part of his preparation for responding to critics. Back.

[2] See Caroline’s letter to Anna Maria Windischmann on 2 December 1804 (letter 388a), note 4. Back.

[3] The book in question is Windischmann’s Ideen zur Physik, vol. 1 (Würzburg, Bamberg 1805). Back.

[4] Fuhrmans 3:142n2 suggests, doubtless correctly, that it was clearly less the notion of form that prompted Schelling’s merciless criticism than Windischmann’s own, not inconsiderable criticism of Schelling himself in the book, criticism which, incidentally, even Goethe thought justified and restrained. Schelling in any case gives himself away in the following sentence beginning “My opinion of your work here.” Back.

[5] See Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Philadelphia 1898), 283:

The sense of hearing is generally the last to fail in the hour of death, hence the Romans were accustomed to call on the deceased three times by name, and if no indication of hearing was shown death was considered certain. “Conclamatum est, he has been called and shows no sign.”

The larger context to which Schelling refers actually begins on p. 261 in Windischmann’s Ideen zur Physik. In connection with speculation surrounding the discovery of the asteroids Ceres (1 January 1801), Pallas (28 March 1802), Juno (1 September 1804), and Vesta (29 March 1807), Windischmann, viewed especially Pallas as being of a different, more significant nature, whereas Schelling (“Fernere Darstellung aus dem System der Philosophie,” VIII., “Betrachtungen über die besondere Bildung und die inneren Verhältnisse unsers Planetensystems,” Neue Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik I [1802], 2:100; Sämmtliche Werke 4: 1800–1802 [Stuttgart, Augsburg 1859], 456–57) associated the asteroids more with the “less precious” [Germ. (un)edel, lit. “(non, less) noble”] phenomena in the universe, remarking:

Just as nature, on earth, produced the heaviest metals, such as platina and gold etc., most rarely, and in the smallest masses, such extravagance in the long run being incompatible with the initial proportion of the earth, and just as, by contrast, it distributed the base [Germ. unedel, here: “ignoble,” as contrasted with edel, or “noble” in the sense of “precious, rare” metals ] and specifically lighter ones such as iron etc. in the greatest quantities, so also in the solar system as a whole, that more noble part, which the planetary world constitutes, disappears over against the less noble part, the world of comets, to almost nothing with respect to mass, though in individual instances mass does also start to increase only as specific gravity decreases, and the most recent discoveries demonstrate that even the densest masses in the heavens, like platina within the earth, break up into mere grains.

Windischmann now alludes to this comparison in his Ideen zur Physik, 261–63:

We have seen that the inclination of a planet’s path toward the equator of the sun discloses a measure of its interior struggle between opposing tendencies; has not this struggle reached a maximum in Pallas, and |262| can it come as any surprise if this diminutive celestial body distances itself from the level of the sun’s equator with such enormous elasticity? as a symbol, as it were, of the feeling of increasing strength within the world of the planets, which here admittedly yet constitutes futile expenditure of effort but which will soon appear in a higher and clearly more refined organ as a kind of calm independence.

I am certain that, notwithstanding the disdain with which this planet, like Ceres as well, is still viewed by some astronomers [viz., Schelling], both will eventually serve as guides in the world of planets, thereby also illuminating much that is currently obscure. And is such not already the case, since it is precisely through this discovery that we find, if not a confirmation of the (in the present form incomplete) law of the arithmetic sequence of distances, at least the possibility of discerning more fully the harmony of the solar system, for which the need, though admittedly contained only obscurely in that arithmetic law, was nonetheless always present?

I am surprised that Schelling was able so wholly to deny this law any significance at all, and even more, that with respect to the nature of the stars completing this harmony of the solar system he came up with the unfortunate comparison of this entire planetary conjunction with the platina grains of the earth, one to which none of the previously developed arguments could possibly have reasonably |263| suggested to him; such merely playful comparisons of the sort one encounters in several instances in his work are merely will-o’-the-wisps that many, however, view as torches of truth.

Though the character of these planets be hardness and elasticity, it is not therefore primarily denseness that characterizes them as it does platina, and hence it is clear that one merely confuses concepts by including in such scientific presentation a game that is not remotely suggested even by the actual nature of the objects being presented but then in its scientific form is nonetheless taken as the primary point. Back.

[6] Windischmann’s effusive compliments to Schelling in the final section, indeed the final pages of his book, do also, however, contain gentle criticism. Windischmann’s “encomium” emerges in expressions such as “immortal service,” his “defense” in expressions such as “nor need you be further surprised that Schelling . . . ” (Ideen zur Physik, 519–22):

Schelling has provided immortal service in this regard [in developing a presentation of experience based on its innermost cohesion and connections in discerning its causes]. He was the first to comprehend in its totality both formative and formed nature, and to have developed the fundamental laws of physics [in the sense of an overall philosophy of nature].

After having developed in the most thorough fashion the doctrine of the I [i.e., of the ego, self], he turned to the theory of the universe. Here he initially seemed intent on simply leaving it at the level of concepts, and many thought everything was moving again toward a new formulation; soon, however, the vigorous creative spirit of this inspired man began stirring in those new forms, filling them everywhere with life. Perception and concept were permeated by ideas; the infinite was to be intimately connected with the finite in order to bestow the commensurate organic form on science.

The more purely he discerned those ideas, however, the closer did he move toward the universal resolution of the clear source from which all ideas are formed; he immersed himself in the eternal, whose revelation in the laws of the universe he had already previously presented in their basic forms.

Those who have hitherto attentively followed me will discern how all individual details, all fragmentary attempts, even the beginnings of scientific and artistic cultivation had to perish in the infinite chemism of the spirit (if I may draw on this metaphor) in order to reemerge transfigured. This is the unity of all things that you have previously seen recur in such various guises, this is the purely Absolute that many of you so loathe in this appellation; you need but become accustomed to this perception and you will recognize the source of all things, the resolution of all contradictions, the disappearance even of mathesis and logic etc.; nor need you be further surprised that Schelling immersed himself so deeply in this ocean of infinity and of undisturbed calm and bliss that he now seems to pay less attention to worldly things and their relationship to the eternal.

Those who are truly acquainted with nature in her innermost being will never forget that even in its most confusing movements the spirit that is mindful of the eternal will never lose sight of the relationship to the order of the world; they will constantly remain mindful that every individual thing stands in a certain stage of formation, not because of any fault, but rather through the order of the universe itself. And so also does Schelling summon forth again the sacred forms of science and art from within that immersion.

For who will take offense at the outer covering that he has cast around this rejuvenation of both the ancient and newer worlds for the sake of the self-active formation of the human being? That he has, to wit, construed the formation of the temporal universe as a falling away and distancing from God, as he puts it, commensurate with the Platonic ideas and the spirit of antiquity; but that is something one finds not in the more mature works of Plato, but rather only in the earlier ones, those permeated by the opposition between the physical and the intellectual, and by a contempt for the former, nor is it something that, though traces be discernible, one may not take as being more important than it is, since such one-sided personification which Spinoza was so keen on countering in developing a more universal view, is in fact merely the error inherent in the particular educational mode of antiquity itself.

Hence boldly cast off the covering that is spread over the piece Philosophie und Religion [Tübingen 1804], concealing its true spirit, and you will recognize once more the eternal commensurately expressed in all things; you will then also no longer have to pay attention to the mysterious essence that seems ought to be spread ever anew over the pure form of nature; the inclination of the world is for free self-efficaciousness and activity, with no more serious possibility of any sundering of what in each individual is one in and of itself and should be comprehended and developed as such; for freedom and self-limitation will thwart the penetration of such sundering. —

Only by comprehending the sacred and sublime through the measure of the inherent strength of each (which is the only thing Schelling can mean with his references to the ex- and esoteric) and by transforming it into the inner self, will the infinite love for the universe as permeated by God’s spirit, and the immutable faith in the divine power of the pure I be crowned by the tender hope that things will perpetually become better for mortals.

Significantly, Windischmann sent his book to Goethe, who after reading it remarked in a letter to Heinrich Karl Abraham Eichstädt on 12 December 1804 in a general discussion of issues relating to reviews in the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (Weimarer Ausgabe 4:17:226):

What self-conceit and presumption must the man have who sees nothing in Schelling but self-conceit and presumption! And how nicely, by contrast, does Windischmann, in his Ideen [zur Physik], rather than dismissing Schelling’s most recent errors, instead with profound insight set them aright and with a gentle hand adjust them. Back.

[7] No such review appeared in Schelling’s periodical. A quite negative one did, however, appear in the Neue Leipziger Literaturzeitung (1805) nos. 87 (5 July 1805), 1377–92; 88 (8 July 1805), 1393–1408; 89 (10 July 1805), 1409–14, mercilessly flaying not only Windischmann’s book, but also Schelling himself by extension. See Schelling’s letter to Windischmann on 23 August 1805 (letter 395b).

Windischmann’s book was, however, given a generally favorable review by Nees von Esenbeck in the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung 2 (1805) 96 (23 April 1805), 153–160; 97 (24 April 1805), 161–66.

In any event, the peculiar situation that emerges here is that, on the one hand, Schelling is childishly threatening Windischmann with this future review despite, on the other hand, having just invited Windischmann himself to contribute to the Jahrbücher. See Schelling’s letter to him on 16 September 1804 (letter 387c), and Caroline’s letter to him on 1 December [1804] (letter 388), note 2. Back.

[8] I.e., of the philosophy of nature. Back.

[9] See Windischmann’s restrained response to Schelling’s comportment here in his letter to Schelling on 12 December 1804 (letter 388d).

The subsequent exchange between Windischmann and Schelling was as follows:

  • Windischmann’s response to this present letter: 12 December 1805 (letter 388d);
  • Schelling: 26 February 1805 (letter 390b);
  • Windischmann: 2 March 1805 (letter 390c);
  • Schelling: 6 May 1805 (letter 393c).

In this exchange, Schelling was never able, as it were, simply to relax and accept Windischmann’s explanations. The exchange illuminates a difficult and largely unpleasant, even insufferable side of Schelling’s personality and neurotic self-estimation. Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott