Letter 401e

401e. Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Coppet: Cologne, 15 April 1806 [*]

Cologne, 15 April 1806

. . . He [Schelling] certainly has the letter of Spinoza utterly in his power, but only the letter. There is not a trace of the spirit of Spinoza, namely, of love and beauty, of that which in Spinoza is far better than his system. Although Schelling doubtless possesses excellent talents, he is one of those people who burn out early and flicker out, those among whom the fire of youth is the best they have to offer; [1] and although I have acknowledged his talents amid all circumstances, I have never found their application to be anything special, least of all since he has been under the worst imaginable guardianship. [2]

As little as I hold it against you for indulging your humor in squabbling with me through all the chapters of history and literature, both old and new, it did indeed put me off not a little when I read the passage in your letter about my personal relationship with Schelling. How in God’s name is it possible for that depraved woman’s web of lies still to keep you ensnared, and for her phantasmagoria still to hold sway before your eyes? [3]

Surely you have not entirely forgotten that I had only cordial dealings with Schelling until those abominations became clear to me; when you solemnly charged me with choosing between him and you, such had already long taken place, and there was no real need for any such choice. But you soon became reasonable and externally good again, while I remained exposed, alone, to the incivility of this vindictive woman and her sometimes rather brutal lover. [4]

How can you now just turn everything upside down, since your memory cannot possibly have completely abandoned you. It was easy enough to understand how at the time, and in all the confusion, you allowed yourself to be so horrifically deceived. [5] My friendship remained unshakable, though not a few steps you were induced into taking did indeed greatly test me in a way probably only very few people would have withstood.

All the more certain was my belief later, when you again turned to me in so brotherly a fashion, during my stay in Paris, [6] that along with that wretched relationship all the errors and mistakes had also disappeared from this source. That is why during our recent time together I did not at all consider it necessary to speak with you about it and thereby renew all the extremely unpleasant memories.

Now, however, I unfortunately see that I was probably mistaken, and that I must ask that you sooner believe the person who is, after all, your oldest friend, your brother, more loyal than which you will surely find no other person, than the woman who loaded every possible vileness against both you and herself, and who feels at home only in her web of lies and in quarreling. —

Thanks be to the fate that freed you from her and led you into purer circumstances.


[*] Source: Krisenjahre 1:319–24.

Prior to the beginning of this excerpt, Friedrich speaks at length about Spinoza before transitioning to a critique of Schelling’s understanding of the Spinoza.

Friedrich had visited Wilhelm in Coppet on Lake Geneva the previous year; see his and Dorothea Schlegel’s letter to Karoline Paulus in on 20 September 1804 (letter 387d) (W. R. Shepherd, Historical Map of Central Europe about 1786 [1926]):



[1] A surprisingly insightful observation and comment. Schelling’s frenetic publication activity fell off precipitately following Caroline’s death, and many of his pieces were first published only posthumously. Back.

[2] Caroline. Back.

[3] That is, Friedrich had imagined Wilhelm having been duped by Caroline even in Jena (Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate 52):


Friedrich uses the same expression, “web of lies,” in a letter to Wilhelm on 24 July 1806 (Krisenjahre 1:351–52):

The university in Würzburg will likely be maintained in some form, though Schelling has departed after not taking the oath to the new administration. He is currently in Munich, probably intending to seek a position with the Academy [Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities]. . . .

I do not for a moment deny that during the winter of 1800–1801 I got rather hot under the collar on several occasion. That would not surprise you, however, if you knew a bit about all the things Karoline did to get me that far. But consideration of you would surely have vanquished any more passionate outbursts had you but shown me your trust at the time and communicated your intentions and wishes more explicitly. I have absolutely no idea what sort of “suspicion” you are referring to from earlier times; I confess that I have often suspected that Karoline’s web of lies between us are as old as my acquaintance with her.

It may be recalled that Friedrich made Caroline’s acquaintance back on 2 August 1793 in Leipzig, and that he had functioned as her confidante and intermediary between her and Wilhelm during her pregnancy in Lucka. Back.

[4] Caroline and Schelling (Almanac de Göttingue our l’année 1795):



[5] Struck through in manuscript: “and ultimately even allow yourself to be taken in against me by Karoline’s web of lies.” Back.

[6] As mentioned above, in the autumn of 1804 Friedrich had visited Wilhelm in Coppet (“our recent time together” later in this paragraph), then returned during early 1805 by way of Paris. See Dorothea Schlegel’s letter to Karoline Paulus on 20 September 1804 (letter 387d), where she mentions Friedrich’s departure; also note 1 there. Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott