Letter 400e

400e. Lorenz Oken to Schelling in Würzburg: Göttingen, 1 February 1806 [*]

Göttingen, 1 February 1806

An unexpected stroke has indeed befallen you in the fact of Würzburg and Salzburg shaking hands with each other. [1] I should, had I dreamt of such an incident, have regarded it as something very strange. Meanwhile, this stupid peace vexes me more than anything else — for what, pray, is to come of it? I had thought that Germany had been once for all burnt up and again rebuilt; but there stand the Jack Pudding barracks just as they did before. [2] What has Bavaria really got but its name: “Regulus“? [3] and this it might have had without having a war. What has the regulusian “innkeeper on the hill” gained through his awkward and rash conduct; [4] and what, too, my beloved Baden?

I had already pictured to my mind Swabian and Swiss kings, Grecian emperors, and Chinese Napoleons — but now we are all stuck again in the same old boot — in short, a bellum tantum inauditum, [5] and with what miserable results! — The Germans are now worse off than before, for they now have feeble, proud, petty kings instead of strong and modest prince electors — and now I cannot even send letters pre-paid through the imperial postal service! Oh, you wretch of a Napoleon!

As for yourself, it is all truly odious, unless you would not prefer spending your salary in peace and quiet. For what is to become this thing in Augsburg? An old trading town with the mercantile perversity of character — that is not the place for you [6] — go to Rome, have your pension paid out there, and live for art alone — thus can something again come about in the world; but what could you do in Augsburg, where only tradespeople live upon cutting each others’ throats? The houses are dark and gloomy, the snails inside them have neither ears nor eyes, and only stretch out their long feelers, nor is it at all in their nature to feel words. . . .


[*] Sources: Alexander Ecker, Lorenz Oken. Eine biographische Skizze. Durch erläuternde Zusätze und Mittheilungen aus Oken’s Briefwechsel vermehrt (Stuttgart 1880), 192–93; idem, Lorenz Oken. A biographical Sketch. With explanatory notes, selections from Oken’s correspondence, and a portrait of the professor, trans. Alfred Tulk (London 1883), 104–5; also Fuhrmans 1:343–44 (fragment) and 3:300–02 (complete, albeit with different readings than in vol. 1), here 3:300–01, 1:343–44. — Translation adapted from Lorenz Oken. A biographical Sketch. Back.

[1] As a result of the Treaty of Pressburg; Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, to whom Würzburg passed, was previously the prince elector of Salzburg. Back.

[2] See Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, rev. ed. (Philadelphia 1898), 671, s.v. “Jack Pudding”:

A buffoon who performs pudding tricks, such as swallowing a certain number of yards of black-pudding. S. Bishop observes that each country names its stage buffoon from its favourite viands: The Dutchman calls him Pickel-herringë; the Germans, Hans Wurst (John Sausage); the Frenchman, Jean Potage; the Italian, Macaro’ni; and the English, Jack Pudding.

Oken’s despairing and critical reference — he uses the German term Hanswurst — is to the pettiness and even foolishness of the states despite their new status. Back.

[3] Latin, “petty king” (though see also Wilhelm Schlege’sl letter to Sophie Bernhardi on 14 August 1801 [letter 327a], note 1). The south German states acquired absolute sovereignty through the Treaty of Pressburg, with Bavaria and Württemberg being elevated to the status of kingdoms and Baden to that of a grand duchy. They all remained allied with Napoleon until late 1813 or early 1814 as part of the Confederation of the Rhine, also fighting on Napoleon’s side from 1806 on (Central Europe Wars of the Third Coalition 1805–7, map 92 in the Cambridge Modern History Atlas [1912], Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas Libraries):



[4] “Regulusian innkeeper on the hill,” a sarcastic play on words: Regulus: see above; Germ. Wirt, “innkeeper” + am Berg, “on the hill” = Wirt-am-berg, Württemberg, which had “rashly” allied itself with Napoleon on 2 October 1805, before both Bavaria (5 October) and Baden (10 October). Back.

[5] Latin, Alfred Tulk, Lorenz Oken. A biographical Sketch, 105, translates as “the war has been like nothing heard of before.” Back.

[6] Schelling had apparently related to Oken plans for a possible move to Augsburg (map: “South West Germany and North Italy: The War of the Second Coalition 1798–1801,” The Cambridge Modern History Atlas, ed. A. W. Ward, G. W. Prothero, Stanley Leathes, and E. A. Ben [London 1912], map 88; [University of Texas, Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection]; illustration: Georg Conrad Bodenehr, Ansicht von Augsburg [ca. 1700]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur GCBodenehr AB 3.39):



He had also queried friends about a return to Jena or a new position in Heidelberg (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):


See Schelling’s letter to Goethe from Würzburg on 27 September 1805 (letter 396c), also note 5 there concerning his query to Karl Daub in Heidelberg. He apparently also mentioned to Oken the possibility of going to Rome (and Paris), something he discusses in his letter to Georg Friedrich von Zentner on 19 January 1806 (letter 400d). None of these alternatives materialized. Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott