Letter 431a

431a. Johann Wilhelm Ritter to Schelling in Munich: Munich, 21 March 1808 [*]

[Munich] 21 March 1808

Although I wanted to pay you a visit today at approximately 12:00, I met not you, but only “her.” “Ah, how my husband works!” “My husband always works until deep into the night!” I conversed with “her” for quite a while, and was to a certain extent actually quite interestingly entertained, especially by the fact that during our entire conversation, the Herr Husband did not deem us worthy of even a single glance. Today, if I am not mistaken, it was a green silken matin that “she” was wearing, and as such thus still a matin also full of hope, which went splendidly with the personality that was apparently so empty of any inclination to fulfill wishes. [1] But however God wishes! For now I know all the particulars about you ! — ! —

This whole preface, however, is intended solely to serve me, — initially, that is —, to render the real content of this letter inconspicuous. Please draw on human nature in excusing me for having been at your place for no other reason than: — — to ask whether you — (funny) — might spare 1–2 Carolin for 5 days! [2]

The mice have recently eaten your friend out of house and home to the point that the bacon genuinely has run out to an unprecedented degree, and he must now seek refuge in extraordinary measures, pondering a way through which they might nonetheless appear to be running along the wholly customary track. [3] He leaves half of this business to you, simultaneously assuring you that this time the distress is quite severe, and believing that “the Husband,” who is in any case accustomed to comparisons beyond the field of anatomy, will also understand that such are to be engaged here as well, and supporting all this with an argument that he absolutely and completely will reserve until such can be presented in person.

Enclosed here also you will find Der Siderismus, with regard to which you recently came a day early . . .

Might I also ask whether you still have Senebier’s Physiologie der Pflanzen? [4] If the article “Pyrophore” appears in the contents, [5] then I would like to request the book; – otherwise not.

From “her” I heard that “gentlemen” are coming to visit you this afternoon, which allegedly also explains why your room was so cleared and straightened up. Now, since these are grand gentlemen (the names testify as much), I did not want to presume possibly to construe a collision, and that is why I am writing this. [6]

The courier can take any answer.

I close with the classic words:

Honny soit qui mal y pense. [7]

Your dependable,
— — — — Ritter [8]


[*] Source: Fuhrmans 3:489–90. — A bizarre letter attesting what for Caroline was doubtless a similarly bizarre midday encounter during which, as was obvious even to Ritter, her job was to shield Schelling from Ritter’s company and requests (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Der Grus [1778]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Uh 4° 47 [187]):



[1] Goettinger Taschen Kalender vom Jahr 1790; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:


Otherwise a matin was also known as a negligé or “morning dress,” though with certain qualifications. See Sabine Schierhoff’s explanation (with illustrations) in Caroline’s letter to Julie Gotter on 15 June 1802 (letter 363). Back.

[2] See Fuhrmans 3:473n3:

Ritter was known as a genius in inveigling loans from people, even in Jena, where he was always asking this or that person for money. Nothing changed in that regard in Munich, notwithstanding as an academician in Munich he was drawing a salary of 1600 fl. It may be that his experiments devoured much of his money. Ritter had also asked Johann Friedrich Cotta to publish his new periodical, Der Siderismus [ed. by J. W. Ritter, vol. 1, no. 1 (Tübingen 1808)] — and Cotta had committed. But his company published only the first issue, then apparently declined to publish more.

On the subject of Ritter’s financial problems, see also Schelling to Cotta the previous autumn, on 25 November 1807 (Schelling und Cotta Briefwechsel 1803–1849, ed. Horst Fuhrmans and Liselotte Lohrer [Stuttgart 1965], 23):

Since you asked me about Ritter, I must say that he is more precise in experiments with metal than in actually using metal in ordinary life. It is in any case always advisable not to get involved with any advances with him. I am telling you this as a friend, and after hard experience! (I know not how it stands with others, but I am to be paid back by the end of September.)

Closer to the date of this present letter, see Cotta to Schelling on 17 February 1808 (ibid., 25–26):

I am now clear with Ritter — in his response to my cancelation [of publication of Der Siderismus] he revealed himself in a way I would never have imagined. Not to mention all the untruths, with at least one of which you yourself are familiar; but the assertion that he “had been warned not to accept advances” from me I would have expected from neither his head nor his heart: not from the former, because it makes no sense, since I offered him the advance unsolicited (having noticed his considerable financial embarrassment); and not from the latter, since such an advance could easily hurt someone, whereas I can declare before God that I paid advances to everyone solely out of a sense of genuine compassion, and with no other intentions, and that doing so is in fact no trifling thing, since I lose 2000 fl. in interest annually by doing so — not to mention that I have already lost 15,000 fl. cash in this way. I am telling you this as one friend to another.

If I really wanted to hurt Ritter, I would need only make his correspondence public.

This cancellation of his periodical may have prompted Ritter to turn to Schelling. In any event, Cotta wrote Schelling on 11 April 1808, less than a month after this present letter (ibid., 29):

As far as Ritter is concerned — I would prefer to say nothing more; I am glad no longer to have anything to do with him, for my disposition is not made to endure such abuse. Back.

[3] Taschen-Kalender auf das Jahr 1811 mit sechs Fabeln von Lafontaine, deutsch und französisch, und 12 dazu gehörigen Kupfern; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung



[4] Jean Senebier, Physiologie végétale, contenant une description des organes des plantes, et une esposition des phénomènes produits par leur organisation, 5 vols. (Geneva 1800). Back.

[5] A powder of flour and alum that spontaneously combusts. Back.

[6] Göttinger Taschen Calender Für das Iahr 1795; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[7] Fr., honi soit qui mal y pense , “shame on him who thinks evil of it.” Back.

[8] Ritter’s financial stress notwithstanding, he was also not doing well personally, had allegedly begun drinking more, and his health may have begun suffering from the uncontrolled nature of many of the Galvanic experiments that he had performed in part on himself and which were not as uncommon as one might think (here such experiments using a galvanic pile on human subjects: [1] Frauenzimmer Almanach zum Nutzen u. Vergnügen für das Jahr 1803, Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann; [2] Adam Friedrich Koch, Neue Bilder-Schule: Enthält das Merkwürdigste aus der Moral, Natur- und Weltgeschichte [Stuttgart 1805], table 19, figure 49):



Ritter died less than two years later, on 23 January 1810. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott