Letter 390c

390c. Carl Joseph Windischmann to Schelling in Würzburg: Aschaffenburg, 2 March 1805

Aschaffenburg, 2 March 1805

It seems, my friend, that you have quite forgotten the content and tone of the letter that prompted me to pen the response you now have in your hands. [1] Instead of cordially pointing out to me what actually constitutes the weaknesses of my book, you instead expressed your indignation in the most appalling fashion, one denigrating my entire being, something you might well have done without affronting me had you but first accommodated at least to some extent that initial, certainly not at all unjust or excessive request.

I initially intended to remain completely silent on the matter, and such would have been the better choice, since then you would not have had the opportunity to misunderstand my position and disposition to an even greater extent, something all the more hurtful to me the more indignant the initial expression of that misunderstanding was. Rather than continuing a futile quarrel and rather than my expressing my feelings concerning the humiliating remarks toward me in your missive of 26 February, please listen instead to my own straightforward and, I believe, reasonable opinion.

Although you insist on respect from me and have reason to do so, I do not believe I have ever neglected to demonstrate precisely such respect; I even explicitly pointed out in my letter how greatly I admire your merits and accomplishments. Believe me, had I even remotely suspected that the remark I made in my book might be taken as a sign of lesser respect, I would certainly never have written it; and much less, as you unfortunately believe me capable, that I might have seized on some minor detail as the occasion for a generalized broadside against you.

Indeed, I would be ashamed to court the favor of the public by denigrating a friend, and as one can read on p. 202 of my book, I have never concealed that I acknowledge your own principles as the true ones, and as your own, unique principles, to which I then seek to append my own presentation merely as one, specialized implementation. [2] Here it would indeed have been quite in order for you to criticize passages that, contrary to my own design, might have displeased you, but also for you not to overlook those passages in the book that clearly enough demonstrate my admiration for you.

My remark regarding never having stood in the relationship of a “pupil” with you intended to say nothing more and nothing less than that I was surprised at the corrections you chose to level at me, corrections which you really had absolutely no right to raise in the particular fashion you did, and which are appropriate only for a teacher of youth, and even then not in such a tone.

I might add as an aside that I have never viewed the status of a pupil to be something “ignominious,” and I myself have learned something from everyone, but for precisely that reason not everything from one person. I also am fully aware of how far I have progressed with such learning, as well as how far removed I yet am from true mastery; I am aware of the inadequacies of my book, e.g., better than anyone else. But I also know that no one’s initial attempts constitute masterpieces, and that considerable strength and practice are required to become a true master in the serious scientific disciplines.

That said, however, I do also believe that I in no way merit being reckoned wholly among the rejected. Even should you never choose to view me as mature enough according to your own standards, I am certainly willing to bear such belittlement; what does hurt me, however, is that a man of your intellect and heart is capable of so wholly failing to recognize such serious striving toward that which is both higher and better in me, and at least of bestowing such low estimation on it while simultaneously and not infrequently giving such high estimation and praise to what in others is merely a seemingly scientific but ultimately superficial whitewash.

I do continue to entertain the hope that I will one day enjoy a more just assessment from you, for you claim to distinguish the person from his remarks. In that case, you will then also seek to consider all a person’s remarks and to bring such into harmony with that person.

I tell you all these things not to quarrel or argue, but because it pains me to be so wholly misunderstood by a man whom I truly respect. I can gladly relinquish the vain trifle of being or meaning something important if I can but know that no decent and worthy man has found anything objectionable in my essential character. It is for precisely that reason that it cannot but be most painful to me for you to say in your last missive that “alongside the appearance of cordial understanding you were nonetheless driven to present your contribution to this age against me.” —

My friend! (as I still take the liberty of calling you) — how was it possible to humiliate to that extent and to fling me from your shoes like excrement? – . . .

My eyes are doing very well now, though I must be careful with them at night. I still have Wagner’s Natur der Dinge; what should I do with it? [3]

Windischmann [4]


[*] Sources: Plitt 2:53–56; Fuhrmans 190–92. — Response to Schelling’s letter of 26 February 1805 (letter 390b). Back.

[1] Schelling’s letter of 7 December 1804 (letter 388b), to which Windischmann had responded on 12 December 1805 (letter 388d). As noted, Windischmann is here responding to Schelling’s response on 26 February 1805 to the latter letter. Concerning the entire exchange, see Schelling’s initial letter to Windischmann on 7 December 1804 (letter 388b), note 9. Back.

[2] The reference is to Karl Joseph Windischmann, Ideen zur Physik, vol. 1 (Würzburg, Bamberg 1805), 201–3:

|201| Ever since Newton, one of the primary tasks of astronomers has been to determine more precisely the planetary orbits and to establish the connections between those orbits and the respective density of the planets themselves. As mentioned above, we have secured here a foundation for penetrating further into the various relationships obtaining within the solar system, with regard to which physics seems to hold much promise.

Schelling has shown in a larger sense how the highest laws of nature can be illustrated within the planetary system, and how by discerning a higher meaning in the merely mechanical concepts of the laws of attraction one can quickly gain a perspective from which our understanding of the world can progress with nothing less than giant steps.

I am confident in maintaining that if a higher calculation is applied here, |202| as already by Laplace (albeit only for the mechanical properties of the heavens), and given a truly physical reference (which does indeed presuppose inner power and development of life), then the general structure of the sun and of every planet should be capable of being determined wholly a priori, to which end telescopic observations do indeed provide considerable assistance, though by far not with the exactitude and certainty deriving from mathesis.

As excellent as the fundamental principles are that Schelling has provided in this regard, the need persists to demonstrate the laws in their particularity as well, and to provide the coloring for the basic drawing, since the human spirit attains both the satisfaction and pleasure of the most magnificent life only when perception proves wholly commensurate with the concept; for this alone is the path along which one can guide human beings to the world of ideas, which they customarily view merely as the abode of chimeras until on the basis of universally accepted truths one unfolds for them the entire array of phenomena and demonstrates how the latter then flow back in their entirety into those universal truths.

Hence let us allow space here for more specific observations that can append quite nicely to the fundamental outlines already provided by Schelling in the second issue of the Neue Zeitschrift für die [spekulative] Physik for discerning the |203| inner relationships obtaining within the planetary system. Back.

[3] Johann Jakob Wagner, Von der Natur der Dinge (Leipzig 1803); Windischmann is querying concerning a possible review for Schelling’s Jahrbücher der Medicin als Wissenschaft, about which Schelling had queried Windischmann back on 16 September 1804 (letter 387c); such did not become necessary, since the book was reviewed in the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. Back.

[4] See Schelling’s response on 6 May 1805 (letter 393c). Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott