Letter 388e

388e. Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer to Hegel in Jena: Würzburg, 19 December 1804 [*]

Würzburg, 19 December 1804

. . . What you write me about Schelling is not known here, though I find it not at all improbable, since, on the one hand, even though Abicht’s departure did not free up any major position, everyone in Erlangen is to be positioned higher, and, on the other, as I have already written you, Schelling is dissatisfied here, about which a great deal might be said. [1]

His approval among the students, however, is so unanimous that the whole business with Wagner and his outbursts has been concluded amid considerable fright. To wit, the latter was unable to get one lecture course off the ground at all, and the other hardly at all with only 20 students, whereas Schelling has filled his auditorium with almost 250 students. [2]

A different attempt at antagonism came to an even more inglorious end, an attempt undertaken by an extraordinarily shallow mind and base partisan, the so-called Spanish Fischer — a man like a Spanish folding screen that can be positioned around any chamber pot — out of a sense of devotion to the higher authorities (specifically: Count von Thürheim), [3] albeit without having been prompted by the latter at all, but rather solely, as word has it, because he had heard that Schelling had angered the good count through a strongly-worded letter. [4]

Because he proceeded to rail against Schelling’s philosophy with rather crude invectives (N.B. in aesthetics cobbled together from Sulzer), Brother Studio [5] — who either did not see or did not want to see the perforated Spanish screen that the Spaniard had intentionally positioned so negligently around his real intentions that, should the need arise, he might conceal himself, and yet such that it left his seat on the chamber pot quite visible enough — Brother Studio deemed it necessary to rescue the honor of his idol and shut this Pharisee up once and for all. So whole mobs ganged up together in the Spanish auditorium, and when that notwithstanding the histrio [6] again took the liberty of launching several coarse invectives during his lecture, there arose such a shuffling and whistling and din that he genuinely did have to cease and leave the lecture hall.

The trustees admittedly afterward found it necessary (something of which I myself approved) to punish this ill-mannered, impudent misbehavior of Brother Studio most severely, to wit, chastising the foreigners among the instigators with the consilium, [7] but placing the native (who had already been expelled beforehand) under the artillery, who then — to make this entire tragicomedy complete — threw himself off the wall of the fortress the next day, albeit attaining not death but rather merely a few serious injuries. —

One cannot deny, however, how regrettable it is that this severe punishment had to be engaged precisely in a case where a transgression had indeed occurred in forma, but not in materia. [8] As mentioned, however, the Spaniard was so deft in concealing himself behind his Spanish screen that Brother Studio unfortunately was also proved wrong in materia, the assertion being that “the references were merely to Jakob Böhm, Berkeley, etc.”

What I have related to you here because I believe it to be of some interest to you for the sake of our friend Schelling must, I beg you, be treated with the highest possible caution — it could easily bring me into an extremely embarrassing position, since — Paulus has taken this subject [9] under his protection to such an extreme that he, along with his wife and his entire family attended [10] — and, I believe, continue to attend — these disgraceful lectures in person, quite publicly, even sitting among the students in the auditorium! Given my natural antagonism against all vileness, I have already virtually said too much about these lectures, and I must be cautious not to get involved any further. [11]

That would be all the more vexing insofar as I have hitherto managed so well in observing strict armed neutrality. The crazy thing is that Schelling himself seems to reckon me among the resolute adversarial party against him: he has not yet entered my house, indeed we have not even seen each other yet, not even from afar. [12] — Thus do things stand here! . . .


[*] Source: Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Werke, vol. 19: Briefe von und an Hegel (Leipzig 1887), 1:48–50.

Hegel and the Niethammers had known each other in Jena; the Niethammers had been in Würzburg since the early autumn of 1804 (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



[1] Johann Heinrich Abicht, professor of philosophy in Erlangen, transferred to the newly established university in Vilnius in 1804; Hegel had apparently reported rumors to the effect that Schelling might be angling for a position in Erlangen. Back.

[2] See Schelling’s letter to Hegel on 3 March 1804 (letter 382c), note 4, and to Carl Joseph Windischmann on 16 September 1804 (letter 387c), note 3. Back.

[3] Karl Friedrich von Thürheim had appointed Fischer professor in Würzburg in 1804, where he lectured on cultural history, world history, and international affairs. Back.

[4] Such had indeed been the case; see Schelling’s letter to Karl Friedrich von Thürheim on 26 September 1804 (letter 387e) and Thürheim’s response on 7 November 1804 (letter 387k). Back.

[5] “Brother student,” here and following intended in the plural. Back.

[6] Latin, “actor, performer.” Back.

[7] Latin, “council, assembly.” Back.

[8] Italian, transgressions occurring in the form or content of an argument; error in forma, e.g., false syllogizing or logic; error in materia, e.g., the assumption of a false premise (Teodolinda Barolini, “Dante Squares the Circle: Textual and Philosophical Affinities of Monarchia and Paradiso, in Dante as Political Theorist: Reading Monarchia, ed. Maria Luisa Ardizzone [Cambridge 2018], 33–81, here 43). Back.

[9] Subject in English in original; the reference, of course, is to Fischer. Back.

[10] Presumably Karl Paulus but not Sophie Paulus. Back.

[11] See the following account of the same incident a few weeks later in a letter from Ewald Karl von Sacken to Henry Crabb Robinson on 7 January 1805 (Hertha Marquardt, Henry Crabb Robinson und seine deutschen Freunde, vol. 1 [Göttingen 1964], 269–71; repr. Schelling im Spiegel seiner Zeitgenossen, ed. Xavier Tilliette [Torino 1974], 167–68):

Nor is it true that Slevogt and Hugenberger [students in Würzburg] have been suspended, and esp. because of the aftermath of the Fischer incident, since they were not even present. The whole thing with the shuffling and whistling went as follows: Prof. Fischer, who wrote the book on the paintings in Valencia, is reading aesthetics publicly, since he presumably would not otherwise have any students, and, moreover, because he is constantly launching utterly flat attacks on contemporary writers and philosophers.

Once when several students from Jena were attending, he began with several passages from the Schlegels talking about the barbaric language of the philosophers, especially emphasizing Schellingian expressions, about which, however, because he had no idea what to say, he instead merely joked and declared as nonsensical; indeed, he even declared Jakob Böhme to be a worthless rapturous enthusiast. Well, the Jena students basically went wild, left the hall, and made plans the next day to attend again and to whistle till he could not continue etc.

Unfortunately, on that day the Jena students were so dispersed round about that they could not be assembled hastily, though some 20 Würzburg students declared their willingness to stamp and whistle along. As soon as they entered the lecture, Fischer, as usual, began joking and launching truly base attacks especially against Schelling. The Jena students, only 6 of them, since no more were there, began shuffling and stamping and whistling, but the Würzburg students, not only the 20 who had declared their willingness, but also the rest of them, about 100 students, were seized by a genuine “Spanish” fear, and just sat there petrified and uttlerly pale. . . .

The Jena students continued to stamp and shuffle and whistle, but it was not enough for the large, filled auditorium. Of the 6 Jena students, 4 were from us, then 1 Swiss student, and 1 from the Rhineland.

There is no doubt that Paulus, Fischer, etc. are resolute adversaries of Schelling and are doing everything they can, and be it ever so base, to vex him. There is a proper conspiracy now against him. Schelling, however, is playing the role of the lion hounded by dogs who do not, however, ever dare to bite him. Schelling is in ill favor with the president of Würzburg and Bamberg, Count von Thürheim, because, unlike the others, he does not stoop down or bow, and instead stands up to him.

(Berlinischer Damen Kalender auf das Iahr 1799; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[12] Curious discrepancy arises on this point. On 2 September 1804 (letter 387), Caroline writes to Beate Gross, née Schelling that

the Niethammers really have arrived here and have their logis [house, dwelling, etc.] in the Neubaugasse cheek by jowl with the Hartlebens. They immediately paid us a visit, and for the rest we will simply remain on the same terms with them as earlier.

See also Schelling’s letter to Hegel on 14 July 1804 (letter 383m), note 2. Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott