Letter 417j

417j. Schelling to Heinrich Karl Abraham Eichstädt in Jena: Munich, 16 November 1806 [*]

[Munich,] 16 November 1806

We may count both you and most of our friends as fortunate insofar as the terrible crush of events did not leave behind even deeper and sadder scars. [1] Given our acquaintance with the French armies here in the South, we can hardly imagine how a locale as small as Jena was able to escape utter destruction amid the abrupt advance of such huge masses. And yet, what you did indeed suffer certainly remains harsh enough; [2] it is also, however, an elevating notion to consider that one has experienced and observed such a grand scene.

The fate of those in Halle seems to be far more severe than your own; from what we have heard, there is no prospect that they even will be reinstated. [3] Their university will remain unharmed as such; that much has already emerged from the initial assurances. How ardently do I hope that your own previous circumstances will be completely restored! Should Jena, through such changes in circumstances, cease being a place for liberal activity and free intellectual expression, another asylum will surely be found. . . .

Should you ever find yourself in a situation in which being transplanted to the South might seem attractive, please do have enough trust in me to let me know; I will at the very least be able to suggest ways and means for you to do so, and would consider myself fortunate were I indeed able to be of any assistance to you. . . .

We are scratching our heads wondering what the narrow, small plateau d’Jena is referring to in the French reports and which the Prussians allegedly left unoccupied, allowing the French to move artillery there during the night. Please be so kind as to include a note in this regard in your next letter. [4] . . .

Be assured of our continued and sincere concern for whatever may yet befall you and Jena, as well as of the most sincere and respectful friendship.

Your completely devoted,

P.S. I just received some pieces of news concerning the most recent obsucrantist measures taken by the administration in Würzburg; [5] I believe they qualify for inclusion in the Intelligenzblatt. In any event, I will be sending them along to you very soon and ask that in the meantime you not publish any other report should such perhaps be sent along to you.


[*] Sources: Plitt 2:106–8; Fuhrmans 3:376–77. — Schelling inadvertently wrote “Jena,” but the postmark is “Munich.” Back.

[1] The expression “crush of events” is referring primarily to the battles of Jena and Auerstedt; here illustrations from contemporaneous battles in the Wars of Coalition (Revolutions-Almanach von 1801; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):




[2] The events associated with the Battle of Jena profoundly affected both the town of Jena and its residents; here the fire in the Johannesgasse (Das alte Jena und seine Universität: eine Jubiläumsgabe zur Universitätsfeier [Jena 1908], 227):


Concerning the experiences of Franz Joseph Schelver following the battle of Jena, see Goethe’s letter to Schelling on 31 October 1806 (letter 417h), note 3.

Concerning the family of Friedrich Frommann and Caroline’s other acquaintances in Jena, see the lengthy account in Caroline’s letter to Luise Wiedemann on 30 November 1806 (letter 419) and the supplementary appendix on the Frommanns’ experiences. Back.

[3] On 17 October 1806, the French Dupont division under Marshal Bernadotte beseiged the town of Halle and then defeated the Prussian reserves. A few days later, Napoleon himself visited the city and ordered the dissolution of the university.

See Henrik Steffens’s account of the battle at Halle and Napoleon’s subsequent closing of the university in supplementary appendix 417j.1. Back.

[4] Although it is difficult to know exactly which French newspapers were being distributed regularly in Munich during this period, see the following missive from the former French department of Escaut, in what is today Belgium and the Netherlands, “Cinquième Bulletin de lad Grande-Armée: Jena, le 15 octobre 1806,” Journal du commerce. De politique et de literature du department de l’escaut (1806) 711 (Wednesday, 29 October 1806), 1–4, here 2:

On 13 October, at 2:00 p.m., the emperor arrived at Jena, and on a small plateau occupied by our avant-guard, he could observe the disposition of the enemy, who seemed to be maneuvering into position to attack on the following day and force various debouchments from the Saale River. The enemy was defending in force, and from an impregnable position, the road leading from Jena to Weimar, and seemed to think that the French would not be able to debouche onto the plain without forcing such passage.

(Karte des deutschen Reichs, ed. C. Vogel (Gotha 1907), no. 19):


It did not in fact appear possible to have artillery set up on the plateau, which otherwise was so small that four battalions could barely able to deploy there. By working throughout the night on a path in the rock, they were able to move the artillery upon onto the heights.

Schelling’s query may derive from a conflation of accounts of the battle of Jena, whose major encounter took place on the plateau west of Jena.

This particular French account seems to be referring to the “small plateau” on the Landgrafenberg west of Jena, where Napoleon set up his observation position; as seen below, this scene has enjoyed several portrayals over the years (Sir Archibald Alison and Alexander Keith Johnston, Atlas to Alison’s History of Europe [Edinburgh, London 1875], 40):


See John Stevens Cabot Abbott, The History of Napoleon Bonaparte, 4 vols. (New York 1883), 2:506–8 (illustration ibid. unless otherwise noted):

In two days, Napoleon, accompanying the advance guard of his army, met the mighty host of the Prussians strongly fortified upon the fields of Jena and Auerstadt. It was the evening of the thirteenth of October. A cloudless sun, filling the western sky with splendor, dazzled the eye with brilliance as its rays were reflected from the armor of one hundred thousand men. Eighteen thousand superb cavalry, with their burnished helmets and proud caparisons, were drawn up upon the plain. Three hundred pieces of heavy artillery were concentrated in a battery, whose destructive power imagination can hardly conceive.

The advanced posts of the Prussians were stationed upon the Landgrafenberg, a high and steep hill, whose summit was deemed inaccessible to artillery. Napoleon immediately drove them from the hill and took possession. From its brow the whole lines of the Prussian army could be descried, extending for many leagues.

The plain of Auerstadt, twelve miles distant, was however lost from the view. Napoleon was not aware that a strong division of the Prussian army occupied that position. The shades of night came on. The blaze from the Prussian fires, dispersed over a space of eighteen miles, threw a brilliant glow over the whole heavens.

Couriers were immediately dispatched to hasten on with all possible speed the battalions of the French army for the decisive battle which the morning sun was to usher in. Napoleon was his own engineer in surmounting the difficulties of dragging the cannon to the summit of the Landgrafenberg. To encourage the men to herculean toil, Napoleon, by the light of the lantern, worked with his own hands in blasting the rock and smoothing the way.

[Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, 9 vols., rev. ed. (London 1870–79[?]), 6:307:]


With incredible enthusiasm, the successive divisions of the French as they arrived engaged in overcoming those obstacles which to the Prussians had appeared absolutely insurmountable. Napoleon, having prepared the way, and aided in dragging one gun to the summit, left his troops to do the rest. Through the long night they toiled unceasingly, and before the morning dawned a formidable battery was bristling from the heights.


[Antoine Charles Horace Vernet and Jacques François Swebach, Bataille d’Jena, livrée le 14 Octobre 1806 (1860)]:


As battalion after battalion arrived in the darkness, they took the positions designated by their experienced chieftain, and threw themselves upon the ground for sleep. Soult and Ney received orders to march all night, to be prepared to arrest the retreat of the Prussians. Napoleon, having thus made all his arrangements for the terrific conflict of the ensuing day, retired to his tent about midnight.

The overall disposition of the battlefield allows for extended interpretations of Schelling’s query that may or may not have been the intent of the French accounts. General Hohenlohe seems to have begun moving his infantry toward the village of Vierzehnheiligen on the plateau to the west of Jena early in the morning of 14 October 1806, but then had them halt because of the fog and to give the French time to advance further into the plateau, where he thought they would be more vulnerable. In any case, this delay allowed the French to take the village later that morning and set up artillery, which by some accounts is what caused the high Prussian casualties in this skirmish rather than infantry musket fire (see below).

See The Cambridge Modern History , ed. A. W. Ward, G. W. Prothero, and Stanley Leathes, vol. 9: Napoleon (Cambridge 1906), 276:

The Saale [River] was fordable at several points near Jena; but the high and steep banks made it a difficult river to force. Open and level ground, however, was best suited to Prussian tactics; and Hohenlohe, instead of attempting to defend the town, drew back his left ([Bogislav Friedrich Emanuel von] Tauenzien’s [1760–1824] division) to the highest part of the plateau north of it.

On the afternoon of the 13th Lannes’ corps not only occupied Jena, but established itself on the Landgrafenberg, a corner of the plateau; and Napoleon himself bivouacked there that night with the Guard. Hohenlohe was restrained by his instructions from attacking the French, crowded as they were in a narrow space, with steep slopes behind them. He supposed that Napoleon had gone northward to Naumburg with the greater part of the French army, and did not expect to be seriously attacked himself on the 14th.

Napoleon, on the other hand, believed himself to be in presence of the main strength of the Prussians, and was not aware that Brunswick’s army had retreated. He had 55,000 men available on the morning of the 14th, and 95,000 by midday; and he had sent orders that Davout should march from Naumburg, and Bernadotte from Dornburg, to fall upon the left flank of the Prussians in the course of the afternoon.

(Sir Archibald Alison and Alexander Keith Johnston, Atlas to Alison’s History of Europe [Edinburgh, London 1875], 40):


With such odds against him, the utmost Hohenlohe could do was to hold his ground for a few hours and then follow the main army. For this it was essential that he should have his troops well in hand; but the Prussian divisions, including [Ernst von] Rüchel’s [1754–1823], were scattered over twelve miles of country, and were beaten in succession. A thick mist hampered movements on both sides for some hours, but served Napoleon’s purpose, as it gave time for the troops in the rear to come up.

By 10 A.m., when it cleared off, the French had gained possession of Vierzehnheiligen, the key of the plateau. Hohenlohe tried to recover it, but his tactics were not those of Frederick, who made use of columns for storming a village. Twenty Prussian battalions in two lines advanced en Schelon [en échelon, approximately parallel and at an oblique angle]; but, instead of pushing home their attack, they halted and engaged in musketry fire against the better-sheltered French skirmishers. Their endurance was at length exhausted, and they were falling back in confusion, when Rüchel’s corps tardily arrived from Weimar. In half-an-hour it was also put to flight; and by 6 p.m. Murat was in Weimar.

The preceding account is now complemented with a view to Schelling’s remarks in Francis Loraine Petre, Napoleon’s Conquest of Prussia 1806 (1907), 117–20:

Ruchel (without Blücher, who led the cavalry of the main army) was to wait at Weimar till joined by the Duke of Weimar, who could only reach Ilmenau on the evening of the 13th, and would then still be 28 miles from Weimar. The united forces would then follow the main army. To Hohenlohe the part assigned was the covering of the whole of this movement, by means of his 38,000 men, in the triangle of which Weimar, Jena, and the mouth of the Ilm indicated the angles. He was to play a purely defensive role.

On the rebellious Massenbach the defensive nature of Hohenlohe’s part seems, as Prince Kraft surmises, to have been impressed with such force as, at last, to reduce even him to passive and blind obedience to the letter of his orders. He failed to see that the observance of the strategical defensive by no means excluded a tactical offensive. Thus, when he found Hohenlohe about noon bent on attacking Lannes and driving him into the Saale, as he could so easily have done, Massenbach related his orders, and maintained that the contemplated attack would be a violation of them.

Hohenlohe, whilst vehemently asserting that it would be the right course, as it undoubtedly was, allowed himself to be over persuaded by his quartermaster-general. The movement being abandoned, Hohenlohe’s army quietly returned to camp, in the space between Isserstadt and Capellendorf, leaving Lannes and Napoleon, who reached the Landgrafenberg in person about 4 P.M., to fix themselves firmly in their dangerous position.

The Emperor, whilst rightly accepting Lannes’ estimate of 40,000 or 50,000 as the strength of the army before him, wrongly thought — and he continued so to think till the morning of the 15th — that he had before him the whole of the Prussian army. He was entirely ignorant of the march of the King, with Brunswick and the main army, beyond the Ilm.

The whole of Lannes’ corps, except the artillery, reached the plateau in the afternoon; the Guard infantry arrived in the evening. These were all the troops the Emperor had on the plateau as night fell.

During the afternoon and evening he was busily engaged in reconnoitring the enemy’s position; so far did he go forward that, as he returned in the dark, one of his own sentries, mistaking the party for Prussians, fired upon him. He was restless and anxious; for it cannot be doubted that he realised the danger of his position should he be attacked in great force before his reinforcements could reach him. He must have known that 40,000 or 50,000 men did not represent the whole or even half the strength of the Prussian army; and, for all he knew, the rest might even now be moving east from Weimar towards him. He himself pointed out the positions to be occupied by his troops.

After supping with the generals present on the plateau [Landgrafenberg], he started downhill on foot to see that all was well with the artillery and ammunition on the steep ascent from Jena.

He was furious at discovering that the head of the artillery column had in the dark mistaken a narrow ravine for the road. So narrow was it that the axle-boxes of the leading guns were jammed in the rocks on either side. The whole column was stuck fast, unable either to advance or retire.

Angry as he was at the mistake, and at the absence of the general in command of the artillery, he wasted no time in recriminations. Once more he was the artillery officer. Assembling the weary gunners, he provided them with tools fetched from the park in rear, and with lanterns, and set them to work to hack a way for the guns. Himself holding a lantern, he urged on the work. Tired as they were, the men laboured under the eyes of the Emperor without a murmur, until at last the obstacle was removed, and the long column began to move slowly on.

What a scene for the brush of a Rembrandt! It is easy to picture, as one walks down the steep road from the Landgrafenberg to Jena, how the artillery column might stray into one of the small ravines which here and there run parallel to the road, which is said to be still very much as it was in 1806.

The Emperor slept but little, visiting the outposts more than once in the night. What rest he took was in a rough straw lean-to, put up for him by the grenadiers of the 4oth in their midst. Back.

[5] The reference is largely to material from letters from Georg Michael Klein, which Schelling altered slightly and then sent on to Eichstädt on 6 December 1806; they appeared in the Intelligenzblatt of the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung(1807) 6 (19 January 1807), 41–45 (for text see letter/document 420d). Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott