Letter 417h

417h. Goethe to Schelling in Munich: Weimar, 31 October 1806 [*]

Weimar, 31 October 1806

Upon receiving your so touchingly cordial letter, I reproached myself for having failed to send several letters that have been lying on my table since the 16th, one of which was also to go to Munich. Although what happened was unfortunately rather easy to foresee, we certainly never entertained the proud fear of gaining a name in world history at such a price.

But now let me hasten, along with my most ardent gratitude for your own loyal concern, to send you good news concerning me, my surroundings, and what is otherwise indirectly connected with me.

Ominous days presaged the horribly oppressive events. [1] We can without exaggeration reckon at seventy-two the number of hours of danger and jeopardy. One can easily enough get over the enormous expenditure of emotional and physical energy, and of money and supplies, because one has nonetheless salvaged so much, including that which is most valuable. My health hardly faltered, and since my return fron Karlsbad I have felt as consistently good as I could ever hope. [2]

Jena suffered more than Weimar, and our good Schelver a great deal, [3] whereas the Frommanns and other friends made it through with better luck. [4] The scientific and artistic institutions directly under my care in Jena and Weimar suffered little.

Everyone is now trying to get back on his feet. Lectures begin again on 3 November, [5] and if this enormous torrent of war does not visit us a second time, you should soon hear that life and activity among us here have indeed not yet been extinguished. Cordial regards to the Jacobis, to your own wife, and to all who are thinking of me.



[*] Sources: Plitt 2:103; Fuhrmans 2:372–73. — Response to Schelling’s letter to Goethe on 21 October 1806 (letter 417g). Back.

[1] Concerning the experiences of the residents of Weimar, Charlotte Schiller, and Goethe himself during the aftermath of the battles of Jena and Auerstedt, see supplementary appendix 417g.1. Back.

[2] Goethe had been in Karlsbad to take the mineral-springs cure between 2 July and 4 August 1806 (Weimarer Ausgabe 3:3:134–152. Back.

[3] Goethe had sent the following circular to Jena on 18 October 1806 soliciting information about a list of friends and acquaintances in Jena (Richard and Robert Keil, chap. 7, “Der 18. Oktober 1806,” Goethe, Weimar und Jena im Jahre 1806: nach Goethes Privatacten: am fünfzigjährigen Todestage Goethes herausgegeben [Leipzig 1882], 57–58):

We are grievously worried about our friends in Jena insofar as we have as yet heard absolutely nothing from them. Hence let me kindly request that the following persons write us even a few words on this same paper that might assuage our worries.

As far as I myself am concerned, we made it through considerable anxiety and distress as well as possible. Nothing was damaged in my house, and nothing lost. The duchess is well and comported herself in a way that evokes the loftiest admiration. I dined yesterday evening with Wieland at the house of the town commandant. The elderly gentleman also made it through in good shape. The castle is undamaged, something we owe solely to our duchess. I am not in a position to add anything further.

The twelve persons listed on the circular include not only Johann Jakob Griesbach, Friedrich Ernst Frommann, Johann Friedrich Fuchs, Heinrich Karl Abraham Eichstädt, Johann Christian Stark, Thomas Johann Seebeck, Karl Ludwig von Knebel, and Hegel, but also Franz Joseph Schelver, who, as Caroline learned from Johann Diederich Gries and had already related to Schelling on 9–10 May 1806 (Letter 409), was already “living in a single room with his wife and otherwise with no one else.” Schelver wrote the following to Goethe in a separate letter (ibid., 62–63):

We were all the more pleased to receive news of Your Excellency’s well being insofar as the rumors circulating concerning you had caused us considerable worry.

The botanical garden got off rather mildly compared to the other devastation and needs only a few repairs such as barns, glass doors, and such.

[The botanical garden in Jena was located outside the town walls on the northwest side of town (excerpt from frontispiece map to Carl Schreiber and Alexander Fäber, Jena von seinem Ursprunge bis zur neuesten Zeit, nach Adrain Beier et al. [Jena 1850]; illustrations: [1] hothouses in the garden during the first half of the nineteenth century, Archiv Universität Jena; [2] plundering soldiers ca. 1810: anonymous, Der Krieg [ca. 1810]; [3] plundering from an earlier century, Jacques Callot, La maraude [1633]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur JCallot V 3.866.4):



My own apartment was completely ransacked and pillaged, and until yesterday served as the wild residence of all sorts of riffraff. The unfortunate occasion was the two hay barns next door; after the hussars turned them into horse stalls, my apartment was broken into, plundered, and turned into night quarters.


After considerable incidents involving personal danger, I and my wife had to flee the town with nothing but a single piece of luggage, but otherwise had to surrender literally everything we own. This one piece of luggage is about the only thing of any value that I was able to save. The botanical museum is strewn onto the floor throughout the entire house, the herbarium was completely destroyed and is lying about on the floor amid water and filth, since the cabinet in which it was housed was needed as a clothes wardrobe.

The wild search for money left nothing untouched. The Cotta collection is gone, and its little chest is being used as a potato bin. My books were used as kindling for fires. The day a public notice was posted summoning residents back to their houses, I, too, dared to enter mine, but my clothes were torn off me and with them the very last of my money stolen, money I had just fetched from beneath a beam support when I was alone again in the house.


I ordered the gardener to do his best to save the plants, and since I not only will be of no use to the university this coming winter, but also do not even know who will provide me with my next meal, I have accepted the offer of a wounded French colonel to accompany him as his personal physician along with my wife as far as Frankfurt. We will be departing tomorrow morning, trusting that I may take the liberty of assuming I will have Your Excellency’s permission [Goethe was in charge of various university administrative matters], and on the advice of your friend Herr Major von Knebel.

I am considering spending the winter with relatives in Wetzlar, and to return as soon as my own and the university’s circumstances allow.

I received an offer dated 27 September from Ackermann in Heidelberg for an appointment as professor of therapeutics there with a salary of 1500 fl., but since postal service has been interrupted and even in general this appointment yet needs clarification, not seeming to be applicable for this coming winter in any case, I will not accept it or go to Heidelberg until I have written to Your Excellency about it.

The general situation here makes it extremely desirable that a sensible man be sent over from Weimar, since the magistrate here has utterly lost his head, and the commandant and commissar, though people of good intentions, naturally know absolutely nothing about the territory here. A removal of the dead from the area is especially desirable if we are to avoid an epidemic.

I commend myself most respectfully to Your Excellency and will send more news of my circumstances as soon as things have calmed down for me.

Schelver Back.

[4] Concerning the Frommanns and Caroline’s other acquaintances in Jena, as well as her acquaintances elsewhere, see the lengthy account and cross references in Caroline’s letter to Luise Wiedemann on 30 November 1806 (letter 419) and the supplementary appendix on those experiences. Back.

[5] I.e., at the university in Jena. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott