Letter 450b

450b. Johann Martin Wagner, autobiographical notes: 1809 [*]

Shortly before my departure [from Würzburg], I received a letter from General Secretary von Schelling in which he informed me of the death of his much-beloved wife and asked that I come to him in Munich as soon as possible. [1]

I departed on 31 October [illegible word] [2] after a stay in Würzburg of more than 9 months. I traveled by way of Nürnberg, where I spent 4 days, and arrived safely in Munich on 7 November. [3]

Schelling, who was utterly despondent over the death of his spouse [in margin: and was suffering in an extremely grievous condition], took me in to stay in his residence. [4] Schelling’s health became more questionable by the day. He was close to death. I had to summon a cleric for him and write down his last will and testament. [5] I further had to promise him that after his death I would burn a box of written materials he showed me, [in margin: I was also to do my utmost to delay the interring of his corpse as long as possible. Finally, however, I was to cut off his head, a task that truly would have been extraordinarily unpleasant for me if after his death I had had to fulfill that particular request]. [6]

Fortunately, Schelling gradually recovered, thus relieving me of my sad obligation. I resided with him until my departure; we shared household responsibilities and led a veritable student’s life. [7]


[*] Sources: Johann Martin von Wagner, “Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen von den Kinderjahren bis zum Todesjahr,” unpublished manuscript, München Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cgm 6238 (1#Mikroform), section 14, leaf 4–section 15, leaf 1 (facsimiles 70–71). Transcribed in Schelling im Spiegel seiner Zeitgenossen. Ergänzungsband, ed. Xavier Tilliette (Torino 1981), 81, who, however, cites the manuscript slightly differently, presumably according to an older system, as “J. M. Wagner, Zur Selbstbiographie, S. 15 (34).” Back.

[1] Schelling’s letter to Wagner on 5 October 1809 (letter 450a); strictly speaking, the request was for Wagner to accompany Schelling from Stuttgart to Munich, which, as becomes clear in these notes, did not happen.

Concerning Schelling’s status as a director, see letter to Johann Friedrich Cotta on 15 May 1808 (letter 432c), note 1, and Caroline’s letter to Pauline Gotter on 16 September 1808 (letter 435), note 29. Back.

[2] The word is in any case not part of the date (Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1835: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[3] Taschenbuch für Frauenzimmer von Bildung auf das Jahr 1799; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:


On 10 October 1809, Schelling visited Caroline’s gravesite in Maulbronn. He then had to return to Stuttgart on his way back to Munich (Johann Sebastian Gerster, Julius Iwan Kettler, and F. Rösler, Schauenburg’s neue Wand-karte von Baden, Württemberg und Hohenzollern [Lahr 1883]; Bibliothèque nationale de France; département Cartes et plans); Neue und vollstaendige Post-Carte Durch ganz Deutschland [1804]; Bibliothèque nationale de France):



For whatever reason, Wagner did not first journey from Würzburg to Stuttgart to accompany Schelling back to Munich, traveling instead by way of Nürnberg (South West Germany and North Italy: The War of the Second Coalition 1798–1801, map 88 in the Cambridge Modern History Atlas, ed. Ward et al. [London 1912]):



[4] Penelope Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1813 der Häuslichkeit und Eintracht; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[5] Genealogischer Calender auf das Jahr 1785 (Berlin); Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[6] An interesting enough marginal note perhaps to warrant a manuscript facsimile (“auch sollte ich mein möglichstes thun, die Beerdigung seines Leichnams so lange zu verzögern, als nur immer möglich. Zuletzt aber ihm den Kopf abschneiden. Ein Auftrag, der mir wahrlich sehr unangenehm geworden ware, wenn ich nach dessen Absterben solche Bitte vollziehen müße”; “Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen,” section 14, leaf 4 [facsimile 70]):


Schelling was already sufficiently familiar with standard medical practices at the time and was acquainted with numerous physicians both inside and outside university settings. Although the practice of severing the head of the deceased to prevent any chance of being buried alive is not otherwise noted in this correspondence, the practice of severing such heads in connection with Johann Wilhelm Ritter’s interest in galvanism and the connection between galvanism and the life processes even after death was no doubt quite familiar to Schelling, not least from Ritter’s publications and letters.

See in any case the following illustrations of such galvanic experiments from Jean Aldini, Essai théorique et expérimental sur le galvanisme: avec une série d’expériences faites en présence des commissaires de l’Institut National de France, et en divers amphitéatres anatomiques de Londres (Paris 1804), plates 3 and 4 following p. 398; note the galvanic pile at the head of each cadaver:




[7] [5a] Goettinger Taschen Calender für das Jahr 1791; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:


Wagner departed Munich on 16 January 1810 (“Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen,” section 16, leaf 1 [facsimile 75]). Schelling, apparently unable or unwilling to remain alone in his and Caroline’s former residence, returned to Stuttgart four days later, on 20 January 1810, after falling ill again, where he remained until October 1810 (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Titelkupfer und Titelblatt zu Yorick’s empfindsamer Reise [1798]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [4-250]):



Translation © 2018 Doug Stott