Letter 425e

425e. Schelling to Wilhelm Schlegel in Coppet: Munich 7 November 1807 [*]

Munich, 7 November 1807

. . . Almost everywhere in Germany, public opinion has moved in a resolutely different direction since the most recent events. [1] The instructress of fools, namely, experience, has demonstrated the nullity of everything on which the presumptions of Enlightenment, grand culture, and superior conditions were based. Those who can no longer be weaned from these concepts are admittedly now whimpering at the demise of so much and such grand wisdom, while others are now finally beginning to take a deep breath and acknowledge that there simply was not much to the famous high culture of the North after all. [2]

When our own southern governments gradually return from the concepts they fetched from there, [3] as can hardly be doubted now, something genuinely alive and, given the greater power of the people itself, enduring may finally come about here. And then perhaps you, too, will once again feel inclined to turn back to the fatherland from which you have already withheld yourself for so long. [4] I myself am anticipating a great change and am living in the secure hope (after having entertained doubts with respect to all that is good in Germany for some time) that science and scholarship and art will again flourish on a green branch. [5]

If doing so would not invariably make this letter too long, I could relate to you many interesting things from here, especially concerning experiments that have been performed here for a year now, initially by Ritter, regarding the characteristics of metal and water dowsers. [6] Perhaps you will have access to the Bibliothèque britannique, in which one can read a bit about these things. [7] The most astonishing, remarkable results are emerging for physics, physiology, and medicine; indeed, it seems the mystery of the divining rod has also provided the key to the entirety of magic of prehistoric times. . . .

I have been living here for a year-and-a-half now, and much more happily than in Würzburg, as a member of an Academy of Sciences and Humanities of which you might gain an approximate understanding were you to become acquainted with its overall composition and with the fact that Jacobi is its president; that said, it does indeed accord me at least external peace and quiet. The most pleasant aspect of all for me is that Franz Baader, who appears even more splendid through personal acquaintance than through his publications, is my colleague in the philosophical section. [8]

We send you our kindest regards. I would be pleased to receive a response from you soon and that you might remain favorably disposed to

ardently devoted


[*] Sources: Krisenjahre 1:467; Fuhrmans 1:392. Back.

[1] Namely, the defeat of Prussia. See the supplementary appendices on the battles of Jena and Auerstedt and on the flight of Generals Blücher and Hohenlohe, autumn 1806, but especially the remarks on the Treaty of Tilsit after Prussia’s final defeat on the eastern front. Back.

[2] The capital of Prussia was Berlin, in northern Germany, which had long been a bastion of Enlightenment thinking, including of the sort that had quickly taken sides against Schelling as soon as he arrived in Würzburg. See esp. the earlier supplementary appendix on Kuno Fischer’s discussion of Catholic opposition to Schelling in Bavaria. See also Dorothea Schlegel’s earlier remarks about “Enlightenment,” from a different perspective, in her letter to Karoline Paulus on 23 February 1806 (letter 400h): “I hate our age’s Enlightenment from the bottom of my soul”; Dorothea would soon convert to Catholicism.

For his part, Schelling arguably began moving in a quite different direction philosophically after he moved to Munich; Fuhrmans 1:356 remarks that “these initial years in Munich ultimately constituted the grand turn in Schelling’s thinking.” Here he began incorporating theosophical considerations into his thinking, not least under the influence, as he mentions in this letter, of Franz von Baader, whom in a letter to Luise Wiedemann on 31 January 1807 (letter 421) Caroline herself had called “a divinatory physicist whom we have here and who is one of the most magnificent persons and intellects not just in Bavaria but in all of Germany.”

Rather than abandoning his earlier philosophies of nature and of identity, however, Schelling instead began viewing and interpreting them from the different perspective of the Christian doctrines of original sin and redemption, theosophically viewing both human beings and nature as intimately involved in those processes. Life’s deeper, darker, irrational roots and mysteries — including with respect to nature — had been earlier intimated by thinkers such as Jakob Böhme, who increasingly occupies him. See esp. the discussion (in German) in Fuhrmans 1:356–62.

Here illustrations from Boehme’s Der Weg zu Christo: Verfasset in neun Büchlein . . Gestellet Aus Göttlichem Erkänntnüß (n.p. [“Nach dem Amsterdamer Exemplar”] 1732), frontispiece and plates following pp. 162, 124, 224 (Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Universität Greifswald):




[3] Concepts that, however, had originally prompted Schelling himself to be appointed to a position in Würzburg and that prompted so much opposition to his teachings once it was became clear that he did not represent such concepts in the way the Bavarian government had anticipated. Back.

[4] Wilhelm, who had left Germany in May 1804, would not return until after the death of Madame de Staël in 1817. Back.

[5] This change in scholarship and the sciences at large in Germany did not come about as Schelling anticipated, though he arguably stayed his new course till the end of his life. Back.

[6] Concerning the episode involving the alleged dowser Francesco Campetti, see the supplementary appendix on Caroline and Schelling’s interest in Francesco Campetti and the accompanying correspondence from that period. Back.

[7] A monthly journal of the sciences and the arts published in Geneva; Madame de Staël’s estate at Coppet was just north of Geneva on Lake Geneva. Back.

[8] I.e., in the philosophical section of the Bavarian Academy. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott