Letter 393b

393b. Schelling “To the Public”: Würzburg, 6 May 1805 [*]

To the Public
by F. W. J. Schelling
Würzburg, late March 1805

|417| Ever since I began my activities as a teacher here, indeed, ever since the mere possibility of such emerged, a fanatical, recently unprecedented persecutory rage, in the same state to which I myself now belong, has endeavored to battle against what it calls my doctrines, albeit with lies and libelous, insinuating, offensive personal attacks rather than with reasons.

The act of distorting a given doctrine, of defacing an artistically conceived drawing with a coarse brush dipped in filthy imagination and monkish wit, and then to try to pass off such filthy scrawl as the true picture: this act alone already touches on what one might well call a misrepresentation or falsification of scholarly and scientific material; yet it might similarly be explained as a result of faulty organization, a polluted intellectual orientation, or wholly deficient cultivation and education.

But to conclude categorically from one and the same view that it leads sometimes to — Catholicism, and at other times to — atheism, to decry it this week as — mystical enthusiasm and rapture, and next week as — materialism, as another système de la nature — such inconsistency is the identifying feature of intentional liars, or of people of such dull and obtuse intellectual capacity of the sort one cannot possibly attribute to such thoroughly educated inquisitors. All these mutually exclusive accusations have been leveled against me one after the other in Munich itself, indeed by the very same people. The documentation of such can be found in the Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung. [1]

From Würzburg, fictionalized news concerning me, my activities, and my circumstances is being brazenly disseminated that, without knowing the context and sources on site, one cannot possibly comprehend. In one instance, I am alleged to have initiated a scene in which a teacher here |418| was hissed out of the lecture hall by students after having cast sidelong glances at me. [2]

In another, I allegedly have, for all practical purposes, no students attending my lectures. In yet another, my appointment here was allegedly merely an — experiment, a trial, which the wise Electoral Palatinate Bavarian administration wanted to conduct with me, and for the purpose of which I myself was prepared to come here. [3] And similarly absurd nonsense

Were the stamp of falsehood not as clearly discernible on the face of such news even for the reading public in other locales as such is obvious to local readers, I might be permitted to consider myself personally above such lies, and especially above lies whose initiators’ animosity does not even allow enough reflection not to assert mutually contradictory things in one and the same narrative, e.g., that an academic teacher allegedly rounds up attendees (presumably after the analogy of compelle intrare?) [4] and yet still demands from them an illegally large honorarium.

Given the nature of these assassination attempts, it might be singularly interesting to discern just who are the instigators and pilots of this weave, one whose specific intent is otherwise sufficiently transparent. Such cannot be difficult for those who have but followed the signs of the age. —

A few characterizing features and you will clearly recognize the initiators, and quite without any other help from me. If you consider their other, more occasional remarks, you will note that the content is always Enlightenment, tolerance, progress toward improvement.

But if you consider the form of their presentations, their refutations, their declamations, you will discern a complete absence of all good taste, a Jesuitical dialectic that struggles with consistency, to wit, you will discern the rhetoric of former Capuchin discourses. [5] Similarly, if you consider the means they endeavor to apply in trying to secure their Enlightenment empire, you will wholly recognize precisely those that were engaged during barbaric epochs to suppress the Enlightenment itself, namely, to coerce youth to the highest possible degree in its dealing with the scholarly and scientific disciplines, to impose blind adherence to prescribed norms and formulae, and |419| to persecute — not any single individual or individuals, but anyone departing from such norms through either the spoken or the written word.

Their question is never whether something is true, but whether it fits into their educational goals and plans. Theirs is the cause κατ´ εξοχην, [6] the good, the universal, the Catholic cause, about which only a few sectarians can entertain doubts. Since nowadays nothing is more ignominious than intolerance, they accuse anyone not belonging to them of precisely such intolerance, and if nothing more can be accomplished in the light of the present age through poison or daggers, they will strike you even more surely with pasquinades. No means is too precious or dear to them if it but helps them attain their goals. For the sake of mounting at least would-be opposition to the philosophy that stands in their way, they would prefer to see their own schools, both higher and lower educational institutions, ruined.

Yet it is not that they believe philosophy, as a blossom of cultivation and refinement, to be too lofty for immature, uncultivated youth, viz., something they might want to withhold from youth for now (which would actually be a good thing); instead, their goal is to deposit all the more securely their own philosophy and sour-sweet Enlightenment as the sole content into the empty heads of youth. Far more than the pernicious doctrine they impute to you, it is the position you occupy, the small perquisites of your external situation that irritate them; and yet your greatest transgression is precisely that which is certainly otherwise meritoriously credited to a teacher, namely, to enjoy confidence and repute among the younger friends of scholarship.

And finally their personal attacks show that every sense for propriety and for the more refined subtleties of life has been so stifled in them that one cannot but conclude the influences of a quite specific course of training and lifestyle, viz., the character of a specific caste in them. If you but examine all these features together, you will indeed find the key to the puzzle.

If you are still in doubt, simply recall the two persons who have provided the rudiments and crudest threads to the aforementioned weave under their own names, of whom the one allegedly once successfully opposed the obscurantists and has since considered himself Bavaria’s representative, and the other, behind hypocritical moral mongering can barely conceal his inner pasquinian dishonorableness. Both belong to that particular class that in all ages has traditionally nurtured denunciators and persecutors.

Take note also of those whom they in their own turn tend to extol as meritorious men: [7] and if in the same pages and in the same style in which news about the status of philosophy in Würzburg is presented you happen to find a man extolled who believes he has not yet been recognized in a fashion worthy of his merits, it is no doubt someone akin to the aforementioned in both spirit and class.

He to whom these obscurantist Enlightenmentists have imputed doctrines allegedly leading to |420| Catholicism will be more readily excused and permitted to invoke the invaluable Protestant privilege to speak about them in the same, frank fashion as they use in speaking against obscurantists that is both permitted and customary among his fellows in faith. His opinion of the by far greater and better part of their estate, that is, the part that itself disapproves and abhors their persecutory craze, transcends the scope of the present discussion; the evil spirit dwelling in them, the Enlightenmentists, is any case quite clear.

Just as little, however, am I asserting that they are my only adversaries, or that some of the hostilities mentioned above might not also be being perpetrated against me from other quarters. Anyone who touches on principles whose consequences affect so many areas can certainly anticipate offending not a few people; there are, moreover, many different kinds of conceited clerics. Every limited mind capable of dealing solely with artificial forms becomes a persecutor if he but disposes even seemingly over the requisite justification and means. The erstwhile Joachim Lange [8] was such a priestish cleric who in his own time understood about as much about Wolffian philosophy as many, who resemble him not merely in this way, today understand about my own. —

This more extensive disinclination notwithstanding, still amid all the brazen public lies against me the most brazen and impudent act of all is that they disseminate their fictions publicly in the form of rumors circulating here concerning a certain opinion allegedly obtaining here. But no, all the cultivated residents of Würzburg who go to the trouble to concern themselves with this know that those fictions do not even exist as rumors other than under the quills of their contributors.

Among the many upright and noble men who constitute the very adornment of our university, there is quite to the contrary but a single voice of indignation concerning this as well as concerning the demagoguery and contentious instigations of individuals. Those who believe they have even the slightest reason to be ill-disposed toward my views, especially if they find no other tools with which to abuse, will either step forward themselves where I am expecting them, or withdraw into themselves, and bring to bear toward me the intolerance I exercise toward them, since, after all, not all minds can be equal, and since I do happen to suffer from the weakness of not being able, as are they along with these and others as well, of psychologically comprehending the miracles of nature and the universe, which may well constitute the primary feature in my entire intellectual disposition, a stumbling block to the Greeks and foolishness to the Jews. [9]

To these as well as to the previous obscurantist Enlightenmentists, allow me yet to say just this concerning their circumstances and my own, and let me say it publicly: Know that my situation is such that not a single hair on my head can |421| be tousled without open and obvious — and before all of Germany, which still nurtures more friends and legitimate critics and reviewers than the number of libels you can produce — without open and obvious injustice. But I do not fear injustice, nor do I have to fear it, as you yourselves are (unfortunately!) convinced.

Know that I value my inner vocation as a teacher more highly and more worthily than any external one, and be it ever so honorable, and that I will maintain this sphere of activity — to which I must doubtless attend with more honor than you, who seem to have so much time for so many machinations, can likely attend to your own — as long as I enjoy the trust of the most noble of governments, a government which through all your slander (if indeed the baseness of its origin permitted it to rise even that high) has nonetheless not yet been prompted to restrict my freedom of teaching and writings even the slightest, and which indeed appointed me, in a not inglorious manner, at a time when in Munich I found a whole number of similar diatribes against me, indeed even a collection of such initiated by you, [10] and when the Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung almost daily put forth every effort in opposing me.

The seed of a new creation that the eternally laudable government of Bavaria has cast into southern Germany will blossom and bear fruit a thousand-fold despite your opposition. [11] It will also receive not unkindly this open, free declaration, one emerging from the purest of |422| intentions and most sincere homage toward the grand spirit of their works, nor view as polemical zealousness the fact that he who has remained silent for so long has now done what was necessary to rescue his honor.

Some of the public, printed defamation is of the sort that impugns my official position. Such defamations involve not merely me, they simultaneously and especially involve the university and the respectable corps of teachers and administrators to which I have the honor of belonging. Indeed, the lofty university trusteeship itself, under whose eyes this cultivation of the scholarly disciplines is blooming so successfully, will certainly not indifferently overlook accusations of abominations (such as the use of academic student orders by a public teacher and member of the academic administration).

I consider it beneath the dignity of my public position here to say anything about this in my own name. Honor leaves me but a single avenue open against it: to lodge a humble legal complaint against said denigrations with my government, which has on every occasion protected the honor of its state servants and whose foremost, perpetually inviolable principle is justice, and which has never yet failed to provide reasonable satisfaction, nor will fail to do so especially to him who solely in faith in the tranquility and protection assured him has set out on this path so strewn with thorns. [12]


[*] Sources: Intelligenzblatt of the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung 48 (6 May 1805), 417–22; Fuhrmans 3:193–200; partial in Fuhrmans 1:324–26.

Schelling published this declaration, which he had written in late March, in other newspapers as well, e.g., in the Intelligenzblatt of the Leipziger Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1805) 23, and in the Intelligenzblatt of Johann Friedrich Cotta’s Allgemeine Zeitung. The piece was to be followed over the next few months by rejoinders from some of the individuals Schelling mentions here.

Concerning the overall situation, see Joseph von Görres’s remarks from Coblenz to Baron von Aretin on 3 February 1805 (Joseph von Görres, Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Marie Görres, Zweite Abtheilung: Gesammelte Briefe, vol. 2: Freundesbriefe von 1802–1821 [Munich 1874], 13–14):

I hear from Würzburg that Schelling may well fall victim to intrigue and general hatred. But that is abominable, even though he himself, and even more: his wife, may have contributed not inconsiderably to it. His character has always put me off to the same extent that his mind and power have attracted me, and I can easily understand how those not able to appreciate the one might well hate him from the bottom of their hearts on account of the other. Every rebirth, moreover, demands a human sacrifice.

And yet despite all that I still cannot quite comprehend how one can surrender him, and I would very much like to request, should you yourself know anything in the matter, that you pass along some elucidation to me. I would be quite sorry for the sake of the good cause, and Würzburg would doubtless feel his loss keenly, and neither Wagner nor any other would be able to replace him.

Despite these intrigues and tensions, however, I would very much prefer, were I to leave my present position, to go to Würzburg than Landshut. The latter is rife with intrigues as well, and the intellectual atmosphere in Würzburg seems to be more animated. The question is whether you and your friends want to bring me there such as you already know me, and whether you feel, should I indeed go, that you could protect me against such intrigues. I can defend myself against the hatred, and do indeed possess whatever other qualities are necessary to fill the position.

For Horst Fuhrmans’s discussion of the background to this piece, see supplementary appendix 393b.1. Back.

[1] See Schelling’s letter to Carl Joseph Windischmann on 4 March 1804 (letter 382d), note 1. Back.

[2] See Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer’s letter to Hegel on 19 December 1804 (letter 388e). Back.

[3] See the letter to the editor “Auszug eines Briefes aus Würzburg (19 February 1805),” Der Freimüthige (1805) 46 (5 March 1805), 184; see supplementary appendix 393b.1. Back.

[4] Latin, “compel to enter”; from the Vulgate version of Luke 14:23, the parable of the great dinner (here NRSV): “Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled,'” a passage later variously adduced to justify coerced conversion (Christoph Weigel, Historia von Iesu Christi unsers Heylandes Geburt, Lebenswandel, Wunderwercken, Gleichnußreden, Leiden, Sterben, Auferstehen und Himmelfahrt: Zur Einpflanßung von Jugend auf, und state Unterhaltung Gottseelige betrachtungen auß denen heyligen Evangelisten Mattheo, Marco, Luca, und Johanne, vorgebildet [Augsburg 1695]):



[5] “Capuchin discourse,” a severe, haranguing sermon, often with comic touches; see the biogram of Abraham a Santa Clara. Although Schelling was certainly familiar with the Capuchin discourse in Schiller’s play Wallenstein’s Lager (1798) (first part of Wallenstein), scene 8, which is delivered by the “Capuchin” in both German and Latin, the term was current earlier as well, e.g., in Alain-René Lesage’s romance, Gil Blas de Santillane, 4 vols. (1715–35), book 7, chap. 4, and in Tobias George Smollet’s translation of Lesage’s piece, Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane (1761). See the Nouveau Dictionnaire National (Paris 1887): “Capuchin discourse: full and trivial moral and religious instruction of the sort the Capuchins were accustomed to delivering to the public.” Back.

[6] Gk., “par excellence.” Back.

[7] H. E. G. Paulus, Friedrich Wilhelm von Hoven. Back.

[8] Joachim Lange (1670–1744), a Pietist-leaning professor of theology in Halle. Back.

[9] 1 Cor. 1:23 (NRSV): “but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Back.

[10] E.g., anonymous (Jakob Salat), Ueber den neuesten Idealismus der Herren Schelling und Hegel. Kritiken nebst Auszügen aus Briefen etc. über die eigentliche Tendenz dieser Philosophie. Herausgegeben von einem Freunde der Philosophie (Munich, Leipzig 1803). Back.

[11] Concerning this excessively effusive language and the rest of the declaration in general, see Kuno Fischer, Schellings Leben, Werke und Lehre, 3rd ed., Geschichte der neuern Philosophie 7 (Heidelberg 1902), 116:

The rebuke [Friedrich Karl von Thürheim to Schelling on 7 November 1804 (letter 387k)], as one can see, had worked. Intimidated, Schelling sought to retreat over against the government. But after having used such resolute and threatening language toward it six months earlier [Schelling to Friedrich Karl von Thürheim on 26 September 1804 (letter 387e)], and having accused it — not without justification — of wrongdoing in having taken sides against him, he probably should have been a bit less extravagant in his praise now.

Nor was it quite cricket for him to act as if he were only now lodging complaints against his adversaries for the first time, since he had already tried the same thing earlier without success. The matter with the rebuke recalls Fichte, an obvious comparison that does not show Schelling in a particularly favorable light. For one must grant that Fichte, in a similarly and indeed even more difficult situation, acted in a far more manly and open, if not entirely correct and irreproachable, fashion.

Schelling’s declaration “To the Public” was also imprudent because it assumed that no news could reach the outside world concerning what had already transpired between him and the government. This assumption was false. People already knew what had transpired, and Schelling’s adversaries were now able to strike him more painfully than ever.

Toward the end of 1805, Der Freimüthige published news from Würzburg that related to the public the sort of missive Schelling had written to the government and the kind of answer he had received, and how “after this thunderbolt, Schelling crawled out of sight for a while,” and that his most recent declaration, to the extent it concerned the government, was nothing more than “anxiety-driven toadying.”

For the text of the article “From Würzburg,” Der Freimüthige (1805) 245 (9 December 1805), see letter/document 399c. Back.

[12] See the responses to this letter by Kajetan Weiller on 23 May 1805 (letter 393d) and Jakob Salat on 4 June 1805 (letter 393f). Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott