Letter 392b

392b. Friedrich Schlegel to Karoline Paulus in Würzburg: Cologne, 27 March 1805 [*]

Cologne, 27 March 1805

. . . But you are quite wrong in believing I now think like a Frenchman. I have never been as obstinately and torpidly German as now, and in fact must suffer daily reproaches from my wife on that very point. But with the distinction: I love the old Germans, such as the Alemanni, Vandals, Cheruscans, Goths, Teutons, and that sort more than anything, indeed can think of nothing better, and am living wholly in their sphere now. [1] But as far as our Germans today are concerned, since, in addition the old disunion among them, Brentanism in all its forms has now taken up residence among scholars, in Schillern, Schellen, Richtern, and other children’s diseases, [2] and since Goethe has become stupid to the point of something like Eugenie, [3] and Fichte can stay in Berlin, and since, finally, the princes are now even competing with the French themselves in vileness and toadying flattery toward the grand Brentano of all the World, [4] and the great kings perpetually feed their hundreds of thousands of little toy men without ever intending to mobilize them, —

I cannot see what particular interest I might have in these Germans, who, were they but a hundredth part as German as I, would act quite differently indeed. . . .

Your philosophical Brentano, we hear, intends to come here; but it cannot be more than that he intends to do so, or does he really think that he needs to make his caca here as well? [5]

That said, I must tell you that this uncontrollable monstrosity [6] is not raging everywhere the same as in Würzburg. I have visited many a good German town where not a single person is yet suffering from this influenza; in Paris, too, people speak far more about a certain Fichtian who has applied the “I am” and “I posit myself” to politics in a quite original fashion than about that crafty literary highwayman and Schinderhannes or Rinaldo Rinaldini and his oh-so-respectable Caroline. [7] . . .

Because you already know how much we would like to live with and near you, I have no need to ask you to be alert should any opportunity arise for you to be helpful to me in that respect. [8] — Though it is admittedly peculiar enough, considering that people seem to have been sent out onto the highways and hedges to invite professors and academicians to Würzburg and Munich almost like at the wedding in the gospel, — that amid all this no one has ever thought of me. [9]

Perhaps after the Indic studies on which I am currently working have been published someone will come upon the idea that I might in fact possess all sorts of useful knowledge about language, and then appoint me to your university not so much that I myself might speak as that I might enable others to do so.

I am tempted to ask that you do something to help in an anticipatory fashion to trumpet news of my Indic work, and were it merely to annoy Madam Schwerdtlein. [10] But really, this is the one thing in the world among all the other jesting about which I am absolutely serious. —

One could perhaps announce in a newspaper that I am “currently working on a presentation for the German public of materials I have been collecting during my studies in Paris for the past several years on Indic language and literature.” Apart from the grammar and two dictionaries, I have brought along from Paris seven manuscripts I copied out in their original characters, for which I have also provided Latin commentary. I will publish metrical translations of several poems and provide information about the Indic language that is yet wholly new and unknown on the continent; moreover, my work will immediately also cover especially Indic philosophy. . . . [11]


[*] Source: Briefe von Dorothea und Friedrich Schlegel an die Familie Paulus, 49–51.

A letter documenting the remarkable shift in Friedrich’s scholarly interests since the halcyon days of Athenaeum but a few years earlier, though also his ongoing difficulties in finding a permanent academic position. Back.

[1] Friedrich had been engaged in, among other things, a study of older German art, literature, and history in connection with his lecturing and literary activity, a study that had also been instrumental in his decision to move to Cologne. Back.

[2] Brentanism: cipher for Friedrich’s altered opinion of Clemens Brentano and, in an extended sense, for a certain type of overheated artistic dilettantism and presumptuous disposition fueled by an excessive, extravagant imagination.

Friedrich also applies such to Schelling, especially to the latter’s Bruno; oder, Über das göttliche und natürliche Princip der Dinge. Ein Gespräch (Berlin 1802). See his remarks to Schleiermacher on 15 September 1802 (letter 371c), note 32.

Friedrich coins the terms “Schillern, Schellen, and Richtern,” after Schiller, Schelling, and Jean Paul (Friedrich Richter), analogous to common childhood diseases, e.g., Germ. Masern (measles), Frieseln (miliary fever), Röteln (rubella). Back.

[3] Concerning Goethe’s play Die natürliche Tochter (Jena 1803), a play sometimes referred by the name of the primary character, Eugenie, see Dorothea Schlegel’s letter to Karoline Paulus on 8 December 1804 (letter 388c), note 4. Neither Friedrich nor Dorothea was fond of the piece. Back.

[4] Such behavior was common among the higher circles in Germany on the occasion of the secularization of ecclesiastical territories to compensate those German princes who had sustained losses by the French annexation of their territories on the left bank of the Rhine; the Principal Conclusion of the Extraordinary Imperial Delegation of Regensburg of 1803 (Reichsdeputationshauptschluss) essentially remade the map of Germany in indemnifying the princes of Prussia, Württemberg, Bavaria, Baden, Hesse, and Nassau (William R. Shepherd, “Germany and Italy in 1803,” Historical Atlas [New York 1923]; Würzburg at center):



[5] Friedrich wrote “preach” over “make,” but did not cross out the latter (Briefe von Dorothea und Friedrich Schlegel an die Familie Paulus, 149.

Concerning the rumors of such a trip, which Schelling did not take in any case, see Dorothea’s letter to Karoline Paulus on 24 March 1805 (letter 392a) (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern, ed. T. Molls [Vienna 1805]):



[6] Viz., Schelling’s philosophy. Back.

[7] “Schinderhannes”: see The New American Cyclopaedia: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge, ed. George Ripley and Charles A. Dana, vol. 5: Chartreuse–cougar (New York 1864), 20–21, s.v. Chauffeurs:

Chauffeurs, or Garrotteurs, the name of brigands during the reign of terror in France. Their head-quarters were first in the forest of Orgères, near the city of Chartres, and afterward they infested other parts of the country in bands, organized under the leadership of Johann Bückler, surnamed Schinderhannes, until 1803, when the measures adopted under the consulate put a stop to their depredations. They garroted their victims, tortured and burned (chauffer) their feet to make them disgorge their treasures. While engaged in burglaries they put a black veil over their face, or painted it with soot.

For a more detailed account of these brigands and of Schinderhannes particularly, see supplementary appendix 392b.1.

Rinaldo Rinaldini, der Räuber-Hauptmann: Eine romantische Geschichte unsers Jahrhunderts in 3 Theilen oder 9 Büchern (Leipzig 1799–1800) (trans. The History of Rinaldo Rinaldini: Captain of Banditti, trans. I. Hinkley, 2 vols. [Boston 1824]) an extremely popular novel about a noble brigand by Goethe’s brother-in-law, Christian August Vulpius.

See “Retrospect of German Literature,” The Monthly Magazine: Part II. for 1799: from July to December inclusive, vol. 8 [1800] 1084:

“Rinaldo Rinaldini,” &c. &c. 1799. Rinaldo Rinaldini, the Captain of a Gang of Robbers; a romantic Tale, founded upon Facts. 3 vols. with Plates. “All Italy (says the author, in his preface) speaks of Rinaldini; the Apen nines, and the vallies of Siciliy, re-echo his name. His name lives in the canzonettes of the Florentinians, and in the romances of the Siciians. The adventures which are related of him are regularly arranged; and, if my account of them affords to my readers only half the pleasure with which the inhabitants of Sicily and Calabria listen to the reaction of them, they will not regret having read my book.” We have only to add, that this novel, at present, is a great favourite with the readers of romances on the continent.

The novel went into several editions with copious illustrations and was quickly adapted by playwrights. Here are the frontispieces and interior illustrations from Christian August Vulpius, Rinaldo Rinaldini der Räuber Hauptmann. Eine romantische Geschichte unsers Jahrhunderts in Drei Th. oder neun Büchern, vols. 2 and 3, 2nd ed. (Leipzig 1800):



And here the illustrations from Hinkley’s edition of 1848:



[8] Friedrich is here thinking esp. of faculty openings or opportunities in Würzburg itself. Back.

[9] Matt. 22:1–14 (parable of the wedding banquet), see vss. 9–10 (NRSV): “‘Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Unfortunately, one guest arrived without wearing a wedding robe, whereupon the king ordered his servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Christoph Weigel, Biblia Ectypa: Bildnussen auß Heiliger Schrifft dess Alt- und Neuen Testaments, in welchen Alle Geschichte und Erscheinungen deutlich und schrifftmäßig zu Gottes Ehre und Andächtiger Seelen erbaulicher beschauung vorgestellet werden [Augsburg 1695]):


Friedrich is thinking specifically of the exodus of faculty members from Jena to Würzburg over the past two years (see the account of H. E. G. Paulus in supplementary appendix 377c.1 and Dorothea and Friedrich’s letter to Karoline Paulus on 19 Jun 1804 [letter 383j], note 5) as well as the ongoing active recruitment of new faculty members in Würzburg and Munich from other universities, an undertaking that was then largely undone after the Treaty of Pressburg in December 1805. Back.

[10] I.e., Caroline; see Dorothea’s letter to Karoline Paulus on 13 January 1805 (letter 389a), note 10. Back.

[11] In Paris Friedrich had developed a new understanding of history that found its focus less on the world of classical antiquity than on that of the east, in this case specifically India, where, in contrast to the cultural dichotomy he perceived in Europe (deriving from both climatic north-south factors and historical circumstances), he found a greater degree of organic unity.

The true revolution, he suggested, would come not from the political (as in France) or philosophical sphere (as in Germany), but from the East, the Orient. His own focus thus also turned to learning the requisite languages (Sanskrit and Persian) and to becoming familiar with the attendant philosophy. His sources were the manuscripts he found in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris and mentioned in this letter. The initial result of these studies was his Ueber die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier: Ein Beitrag zur Begründung der Alterthumskunde (Heidelberg 1808) (KFSA 8:105–433);



Translation © 2017 Doug Stott