Letter 416c

416c. Lorenz Oken to Caroline in Würzburg (Munich): Göttingen, 1 June 1806 [*]

Göttingen, 1 June 1806

My dearest Madam Professor! [1]

Perhaps Schelling is still away, [2] so I must relate to you yourself how I am living, or rather vegetating. Please do not imagine there is any variation in my days; unlike the philistine, I do not even have Sundays. [3]

But I nonetheless sit here quite contentedly, indeed, almost as if in heaven, and occasionally have a look at the drawings of St. Geneviève — copied by Riepenhausen after Tiek. Most of the plates touch me exceedingly, especially as I am Catholic in such a childlike fashion and daily become even more so through outward influences the more I swim around, or am immersed, in the insipid waters of Protestantism. The text to it is by the physician Schlosser from Frankfurt, who was here earlier, soon to be in Berlin as a Dr., whither Schnurrer has already departed. [4]

I, too, am about to take a journey, indeed, one you would scarcely credit me with having courage enough to undertake, namely, across the sea. Admittedly no farther than Helgoland, but then what innocence is safe from the privateers, especially if it lets itself be so readily privateered! [5] What a fine thing it would be were some Englishman to take me with him to London and set me up there in the British Museum as an object to be looked at. For, privateered or captured in this way, I myself should then become the privateer, though I admittedly do not belong to the category of those whom Christ instructed to be fishers of men. [6]

There, I have now related one matter. The other concerns Karlsruhe, and is easily dismissed, for there I am neither privateered nor privateer. After I had registered myself as a subject, [7] they asked whether I wanted to be appointed to the university or to some post in the country. I very courteously declared my preference for the former, but since then they have paid me no compliment in return, since they are constantly dropping a curtsey like the marionette Bajazzo before St. Stephania Schönharnisch in Paris. [8] They will soon be exhausted, so I will wait till that fatigue sets in.

Stay very well, and may you soon be in Munich.

Your Oken


[*] Sources: Georg Waitz, (1882), 99 (fragment); Alexander Ecker, Lorenz Oken. Eine biographische Skizze. Durch erläuternde Zusätze und Mittheilungen aus Oken’s Briefwechsel vermehrt (Stuttgart 1880), 197–98; 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), 108–9. Translation here adapted from Alfred Tulk.

Oken thinks that Caroline is still in Würzburg; see below. Back.

[1] In certain contexts, wives were addressed by the female grammatical form of the husband’s title, something Oken is doing here; in Munich, however, Schelling was no longer a professor, and the form of address for Caroline herself changes accordingly. See her letter to Pauline Gotter on 24 August 1807 (letter 425). Back.

[2] Both Schelling and Caroline were already in Munich. Oken seems, like Carl Joseph Windischmann, to have expected Schelling back in Würzburg before he and Caroline finally departed for Munich. Instead, Schelling, who had departed for Munich back on 18 April 1806, had remained there, and Caroline then followed on 20 May 1806. See Caroline’s letter to Windischmann on 14 May 1806 (letter 412) (map: Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]; illustration: Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1835: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):




[3] Oken, who had been in Göttingen since May 1805 and had been lecturing privately rather than as a professor with a regular salary, was busy with two lecture courses at the university as well as with obligations to do reviews for the Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen. Back.

[4] The reference is presumably to Christian rather than Friedrich Schnurrer, since Oken would have known the former in Göttingen. See H. E. G. Paulus’s letter to Christian Friedrich Schnurrer on 15 January 1804 (letter 382a), note 3. Back.

[5] Helgoland in the North Sea, ca. 70 km from the mouth of the Elbe River; from 30 October 1806 till April 1807, Oken worked not on Helgoland, but on the island of Wangerooge, the easternmost of the Frisian Islands just off the coast of Germany at the mouths of the Weser and Jade Rivers, both islands here in relation to Hamburg to the southeast on the Elbe River (Map of the Empire of Germany including all the states comprehended under that name with the Kingdom of Prussia, &c. [London 1782]):



[6] Matt. 4:19 (KJV): “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Maarten de Vos, [ Christus ruft Petrus zu sich] [ca. 1585–86]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur ACollaert AB 3.60):



[7] I.e., registered as a subject of Baden, whose grand dukes from 1806 resided in Karlsruhe. Through the Treaty of Pressburg, part of the Austrian territory that included Freiburg passed to Baden, where Oken had studied medicine and gotten his degree (here both towns also in relation to Stuttgart (William R. Shepherd, “Germany and Italy in 1803,” Historical Atlas [New York 1923]; Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):




[8] Bajazzo, from Italian Pagliaccio, a version of the recurring figure Pierrot, a clown figure in Italian comedies similar to Hanswurst (Maurice Sand, A. Manceau, George Sand, Masques et Bouffons: Comédie italienne, texte et dessins [Paris 1860), vol. 1, plate following p. 236):


Stephania Schönharnisch, a German play on the name of Stéphanie Beauharnais, Fr. Beau–harnais, Germ. Schön–harnisch, Eng. “beautiful harness.” It may be recalled that Oken was a subject of the state of Baden.

Stéphanie de Beauharnais, a cousin of Empress Josephine, had married Karl Ludwig Friedrich von Baden (later Grand Duke) on 8 April 1806 in Paris, a consequence of Napoleon’s effort to secure an alliance with the Prince-elector of Baden. Karl Ludwig Friedrich von Baden was originally to have married Augusta of Bavaria. Concerning the background to these events, see Caroline’s letter to Beate Gross in January 1806 (letter 400a) and supplementary appendix 400a.1. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott