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Friedrich Hölderlin:

Letters to G.W.F. Hegel and Friedrich Schelling

[Including Selections from the Correspondence between Hegel and Schelling on Hölderlin]

[Translated from the German with introduction and notes by Scott J. Thompson.]



Hölderlin to Hegel


July 10, 1794

I am certain that you have occasionally thought of me since we parted from one another with the watchword -- Reich Gottes! [Kingdom of God] I believe that we would recognize each other throughout every metamorphosis with this watchword. I am certain that whatever you become, time will not efface this trait in you. I think that this will also be the case with me. Every trait that we love one another for is exquisite. And thus can we be sure of everlasting friendship. Otherwise, I often wish that you were nearby. You were so often my genius. I thank you very much. Only since our separation have I felt this so completely. There is still a good deal that I would like to learn from you, and I would also like to occasionally impart something of my own.

Writing letters, of course, is only makeshift, though it is something. Therefore, we should not neglect it altogether. Occasionally we must remind ourselves of how greatly entitled to one another we are.


Hölderlin to Hegel


January 26, 1795

Your letter was a light-hearted welcome to me my second time entering Jena. At the end of December I departed for Weimar,without any suspicion of a quick return, accompanied by Major von Kalb's wife and my pupil, with whom I spent two months alone here. The plethora of miseries in educational matters I was forced to endure, due to . . . my pupil's special circumstances, my weakened health, and the necessity of living by myself at least a short time (which has only become greater during my present length of stay), made me determined before departing Jena to announce to the Major's wife my wish to quit the position. I had allowed her and Schiller to persuade me to make yet one more attempt, but I couldn't stand the antics any longer than 14 days, for among other things it cost me almost all my nightly rest; and now I've returned to Jena with full peace of mind and an independence which I'm savoring now for really the first time in my life. My productive activity is now almost exclusively directed upon the reorganization of the material of my novel. The fragment in the Thalia is part of this material. I think that I will be finished around Easter. Allow me to keep silent about it in the meantime. I have reworked "The Genius of Audacity" ["Der Genius der Kuhnheit"], which you may perhaps remember, and I've given it to the Thalia along with a few other poems. Schiller has taken a great interest in me and has encouraged me to contribute to his new journal die Horen and also to his future Musenalmanach.

I have spoken to Goethe, Brother! It is one of life's greatest pleasures to find so much humanity with so much greatness. He conversed with me so gently and with such friendliness that my heart actually laughed, and still laughs whenever I think back on it. Herder was also lordly, he clasped my hand, but showed himself to be more a man of the world; he often spoke entirely in allegory, as you, too, are aware; I will no doubt come to see him yet many more times. Major and Frau von Kalb will probably stay in Weimar (and that's why the lad no longer requires my services, so my departure can be expedited), and the friendship between us, especially with the Major's wife, makes frequent visits to this house still possible.

Fichte's speculative papers---Foundations of the Complete Science of Knowledge [Grundlage der gesamten Wissenschaftlehre] ---also his printed lectures on the Vocation of the Scholar [Bestimmung des Gelehrten] will interest you very much. At first I suspected him of dogmatism. He seems, if I may surmise, to be standing ---or yet to stand---at the crossroads. As many of his comments demonstrate, he wants to go beyond the factum of consciousness in theory, and that is just as certain and strikingly transcendent as the metaphysicians hitherto, who have desired to go beyond the existence [Dasein] of the world. His Absolute Self [Ich, I] (= Spinoza's Substance) encompasses all of reality; it is everything and there is nothing outside of it; there is therefore no object for this Absolute Self, otherwise all of reality would not be contained in it; a consciousness without an object, however, is not conceivable, and if I myself am this object, I am as such necessarily limited; and if it is in time, it is therefore not absolute. Therefore, in the Absolute Self, no consciousness is conceivable. As Absolute Self, I have no consciousness, and insofar as I have no consciousness, I am for myself nothing, therefore the Absolute Self is nothing for me.

Such were the thoughts I jotted down while still in Waltershausen after I read his first writings following a reading of Spinoza. Fichte confirms to me, [lacuna]

. . . .His exposition of the inter determination [Wechselbestimmung] of Self and Not-Self (according to his language) is certainly striking, as is the idea of striving [Streben] --- I have to stop here, and I must beg you to disregard all this as if it had not been written. That you are involved in religious concepts is certainly good and important in many respects. The way in which you handle the concept of providence is entirely parallel to Kant's teleology, the manner in which he united the mechanism of nature (and thus fate as well) with its expediency seems to me to actually contain the entire spirit of his system; it is obviously the same by which he settles all antinomies. With respect to the antinomies, Fichte has a striking thought which I would prefer to write about to you another time. For some time I have been contemplating the ideal of popular education [Volkserziehung], and since you are presently occupied with an aspect of this, namely religion, perhaps I should choose your image and your friendship as conductor of my thoughts to the external world of the senses, and write what I might later have written in letters to you, for you to judge and rectify.

Hegel to Schelling

[End of January 1795]

. . . From Jena Hölderlin occasionally writes to me that I will reproach him on account of you; he has been listening to Fichte and speaks enthusiastically of him as a Titan who is struggling for humanity, and whose sphere of influence will certainly not be contained inside the walls of the auditorium. Though he has not written to you, you are not to insinuate that there is any coldness creeping into the friendship, since this has in no way diminished to him, and it seems that his interest in ideas of world citizenship is continually growing. The Kingdom of God is coming and we are not to sit idling with our hands in our laps!

Hölderlin to Hegel


November 25, 1795

Hölderlin to Hegel


October 24, 1796

Dearest Hegel!

Finally it's possible [to write] yet once more.

You'll recall that I wrote about an extremely favorable position at the beginning of the summer, and that it had been my wish for your sake and mine that you come here to the worthy people of whom I had written.

The war's unrest was certainly the main reason why I received no reply for such a long time. I was in Kassel and Westphalia the whole summer, so I was not in any position to give you more news on this score.

Day before yesterday Herr Gogel came to us quite unexpectedly and said to me that, should you still be available and have the desire, it would be agreeable to him. First of all, you would have two good lads 9 - 10 years old to educate. You would, without exception, live at ease in his house, you would have your own room, which is not unimportant, next to the boys' room, you would be quite satisfied with the economic conditions; as for him and his family I shall not write too much about money, because eager expectations are always poorly satisfied, but if you want to come, his house is always open to you.

Now the commentary! You shouldn't make less than 400 fl. The journey here will be paid for, as mine was, and you can well count on 10 Karoline [110 fl.]. At all the [trade] fairs, you will receive a very substantial gift. And you will have everything for free, excepting haircuts, shave, and other such trifles. You will drink very good Rhine wine or French wine at the table. You will be living in one of the most beautiful houses in Frankfurt, which is located in one of Frankfurt's most beautiful districts.

You will find Herr and Frau Gogel to be unpretentious, unaffected, reasonable people who, despite their joviality and wealth which disposes them to social life, nonetheless live by themselves for the most part, because they, especially the wife, do not want to be occupied with Frankfurt socialites and their rigidity and poverty of spirit and heart, nor do they desire to contaminate or corrupt their domestic joy.

Believe me, this latter [virtue] says it all! Finally, dear fellow, allow me to speak to you from the heart. ---A man who under fairly motley transformations of his situation and character has nonetheless remained true to you in heart and memory and spirit will be your friend more thoroughly and warmer than ever before. And he will eagerly and joyfully share every interest of your being and every concern of life with you. This man, for whom there is nothing lacking in his beautiful situation except you, will not be living far from you at all if you come here.

Really, dear fellow, I require your company, and I believe that you, too, will find that I can be of use to you.

If we're ever on the brink of having to chop wood or trade boot-wax and hair oil, then let us ask ourselves whether it might be better to enroll as remedial students in Tübingen. The stipend reeks throughout Württemberg and the Palatinate like a grave in which every kind of worm is already wiggling. In earnest, dear fellow, you must not put your spirit to such an insufferable test so blindly.

That you can depend upon what I've said regarding the economic considerations is proven by the fact that all the merchants here almost certainly observe the same in this respect. You can be completely certain of the main sum. I know that from a reliable authority. I told Herr Gogel that I would ask you to express your thoughts on this in a letter to me, along with whatever wishes you may think necessary to express, and that I would then give it to him to read. You can therefore settle everything in this manner or, if you'd prefer, you can come here without further ado. but let us see to it that this matter proceeds as swiftly as possible. At any rate, Herr Gogel told me that, if necessary, he could still wait a few months. I would still have a lot to say to you, but your arrival here must be the preface to a long, long interesting, [ungelehrten] book from you and me.

Hölderlin to Hegel


November 20, 1796

The whole matter has been settled. You will receive 400 fl., as I had expected, free linen and servants in the house, and Herr Gogel will reimburse you for the traveling expenses if you come here, or should you find it necessary, he will send the fare to Berne. I am writing down his own words, which he has just now told me.

Should you want the fare sent to Berne in order to avoid further possible inconvenience, then write to me immediately and I will see that it is properly taken care of without exposing you to any kind of criticism.

Herr Gogel can more patiently endure the fact than I can, that you won't be arriving until the middle of January. I had wanted us to spend New Year's Eve together. Herr Gogel read your letter and it pleased him very much, as I could well imagine it would. If you are still the same old chap, you will find his character and his manner of expressing himself to be similar to your own.

Naturally, the matter and form of the instruction will be left up to your own discretion. Herr Gogel considers your versatility in French to be a rare and meaningful gift.

His boys, two in number, are supposedly good boys, he says, though one of his two girls, whom you will only have to teach on occasion, is somewhat headstrong. But you cannot be put off by that too much. That Germany is situated in Europe is something which anyone can retain. Who would not be glad to converse with such a nice young thing for a quarter of an hour?

However much of an impression a first instruction makes, you will nevertheless prefer to be occupied with the boys more than with the state and church, considering their present predicament. As for instruction in calligraphy, computation, drawing, dancing, fencing and what have you, which are not expected of us directly, it will be customary to bring in masters to whom the child can be entrusted, so that you will be able to take sufficient breaks.

We will share toil and joy fraternally, old [bosom buddy]. It is very good that the infernal spirits which I brought with me from Franconia and the sylphs [Luftgeister] with metaphysical wings who guided me out of Jena have abandoned me since I've been in Frankfurt. I am therefore of even more use to you. I see that your situation, too, has somewhat deprived you of that familiar, ever-cheerful sensibility. Just wait and see! You will be the old boy next spring. What you said about directors and leaders, dear fellow, only brought me sorrow. You have been my mentor so many times when my temperament made me a dumb kid, and you will still have to be my mentor many times yet to come.

You will find friends here who cannot be found just anywhere.

The week before last, I visited Sinclair in Homburg. He too is delighted that you are coming. I tell you, dear fellow!, you need nothing more than your house and mine to have truly happy days. The day of our reunion will be quite rejuvenating. If it can be arranged, I will meet you in Darmstadt so that I can satiate my longing to see you, and then I'll bring you to good Gogel's.

I dreamt of you the day before yesterday. You were making all kinds of excursions in Switzerland and I was nearly worried to death. I was sincerely delighted with this dream afterwards.

Be well, dear Hegel! Write to me again soon. If only you were of Berne.



Hölderlin to Schelling


July 1799

I have taken too faithful and serious an interest in your renown not to let myself remind you once more of my existence.

For some time, I have been silent towards you. It was for the most part because you have meant so much to me, and continue to mean so much to me, and I had hoped to meet you sometime in a more significant relation, which might recall our friendship in a way more becoming to you.

A request now urges me to write to you sooner, and you will, no doubt, recognize me in this form. I have made use of the solitude in which I've been living since last year to accomplish with undistracted, collected, and independent energies something more mature than my accomplishment hitherto, and though I have lived in poetry to the greatest extent, necessity and inclination nonetheless did not permit me to distance myself so far from science that I would not have tried to develop my convictions into something definite and integral, or would not have tried to apply them as much as possible to the world past and present. My contemplation and studies were confined to the pursuit of poetry to the extent that it is a living art and springs from genius and experience and reflection, and insofar as it is ideal and systematic and individual. This led me to contemplate the formation of character [Bildung] and the impulse for improvement in general, its grounds and its definition, insofar as it is ideal, insofar as it is active formation, and is conscious of its ground and its own essence in the ideal, and insofar as it functions instinctively, yet in accordance with its material as art and the impulse for improvement. At the end of my investigation, I believed that I had placed the viewpoint of so-called humanity on a more extensive and firmer footing (to the extent that more is to be seen in the unifying and collective elements in human nature than in the discriminating [differentiating] element, which obviously cannot be overlooked either) than had been known to me before. These materials inspired me to draft a humanistic journal which would contain poetry, but which would also be historically and philosophically informative about poetry, and which would finally be informative in a general historical and philosophical manner from the viewpoint of humanity.

Forgive me for this cumbersome preamble, dear friend! but my respect for you did not permit me to announce my project to you so ex abrupto, and it seemed as if I were accountable to you, to a certain extent, concerning my pursuits; especially because my products hitherto made it easy for me to fear that I no longer possessed the confidence which you seemed to place in my philosophical and poetic prowess before; especially now that I ought to be giving you a sample copy [of the journal].

To you, who penetrate and comprehend the nature of man and his elements with this rare integrity and adroitness, it will be easy to place yourself in my limited point of view and to sanction a venture with your name and participation which shall encourage people to come together without imprudence and syncretism, in the sense that it treats the individual powers, orientations, and relations of their nature with less severity, but attempts to make intelligible and perceptible how every one of these powers, orientations and relations is intimately and necessarily connected, and how every individual one of these may only be observed in its excellence and purity to perceive that it no less than contradicts another one, if it too is pure, rather that each one contains in itself the free claim to reciprocal efficacy and harmonic variation, and that the soul in an organic composition, which is common to all the members and peculiar to each, permits no individual member to be alone; that the soul cannot exist without the organ and the organ cannot exist without the soul, and that when they are separated and exist inorganically [aorgisch], they must strive to organize themselves and to assume the formative impulse within themselves. I am permitted to say this as a metaphor. It means nothing more than that the genius without substance cannot exist without experience, and that this soulless experience cannot exist without genius. They have in themselves the necessity to develop and organize themselves through judgment and art, to order themselves together in an animated, harmonically varying totality, and finally that the organizing art and the formative impulse, out of which art proceeds, cannot exist and are not even conceivable without their inner element, the natural aptitude, the genius, and their outer element, experience and historical learning.

I wanted only to roughly touch upon the most general characteristics of the journal with you, which might be called its spirit. I will try to be as generally comprehensible in the delivery and the tone as possible.

I did not consider it quite appropriate to be more specific about the draft of the plan or about the materials which I have prepared, though I was tempted, on the other hand, to convince you that my project is not unfounded and imprudent, and that it is perhaps destined to be more fortunate than my products hitherto. As much as I know, and have some idea of, your spirit and sensibility, I will at least not have transgressed against you in my intentions.

I will wait for your answer and your views on the subject, which I look forward to with anticipation, before I express myself in greater detail on the spirit and the arrangement of the journal, to the extent that I have drafted an outline of it, and about the possible and available materials for it, should you request this of me.

In any case, friend of my youth!, you will forgive me for having appealed to you with old confidences, and for having expressed the wish that your participation and fellowship in this matter might help me to maintain my courage, which has suffered a variety of blows in the meantime because of my position and other circumstances, as I may well confess to you. Through the greatest possible maturity of my own contributions and the gracious participation of the deserving authors with whom I flatter myself, I will do everything I can to give the journal the worth it requires, were you to be able to justify yourself to your conscience and your public that you might give at least your name; and if you are incapable or unwilling to give more, then perhaps just a few contributions a year.

The antiquarian Steinkopf in Stuttgart has expressed himself sensibly and obligingly towards me regarding this matter. Perhaps because he is a beginner, he is all the more constant and true in his conduct. He promises every contributor certain payment, and I have stipulated that he send each contributor at least one Karolin [11 florins] for the printers' sheets. When I think of myself living almost entirely from and for this work, I nevertheless believe that I have no right to demand any more for my own person, since I am still fairly without luck as an author and my confined lifestyle requires no great income. But I have left it up to his own appreciation and resourcefulness to make an exception, to the degree he chooses, regarding the contributors. Forgive me, too, for speaking about this. But since it does belong to the subject, it does carry the obligation that without such a pendant, it cannot come into being.

My dear fellow, be so kind as to give me some sort of reply soon, at least, and believe me when I tell you that I have continually respected you, and will continue to do so.



p.s. My publisher is enclosing his own invitation along with mine. My address: residing with the glazier Wagner in Homburg by Frankfurt.


Schelling to Hegel


July 11, 1803

. . . The saddest sight I've seen during my stay here was that of Hölderlin. Since his journey to France, where he traveled on Professor Ströhlin's recommendation with a completely false conception of what the duties of his position were to be, and whence he immediately returned again, since it appears that demands were made of him which he was incapable of fulfilling, and which were not compatible with his sensitivity --- since this unfortunate journey, his spirit has become completely disturbed, and although he has proved capable of a few works, such as the translations from the Greek, he is otherwise thoroughly absent of spirit. The sight of him was unsettling to me: he neglects his appearance to the point of repugnance, and though his speech is less suggestive of madness, he has taken on the outward mannerism of those in such a condition. There is no hope of being able to restore him to health here. I thought of asking you whether you would take care of him, were he to come to Jena, which he would like to do. He needs peaceful surroundings, and with attendant care would probably be set right. Whoever is willing to take care of him must thoroughly take charge, and must build him up again from the foundation. Were one victorious over his outward appearance, he would no longer be a burden, for he is quiet and withdrawn in himself.


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For Further Reading

Adolf Beck, Hölderlin:Chronik seines Lebens, Frankfurt a.M., Insel Verlag, 1975, S. 36.

Robert F. Brown, The Later Philosophy of Schelling: The Influence of Boehme on the Works of 1809 - 1815, Cranbury, N.J., Associated University Presses, 1977, pp. 119 - 124; 145a; 152-153; 186-190; 195; 270.

Ernst Cassirer, "Hölderlin und der deutsche Idealismus," in Hölderlin: Beiträge zu seinem Verständnis in unserem Jahrhundert, hrsg. Kelletat, Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1961, S. 82 - 83.

Wilhelm Dilthey, Das Erlebnis und Die Dichtung: Lessing, Goethe, Novalis, Hölderlin, Leipzig, B.G. Teubner, 1907, S. 141 - 150; 340 - 341.

H.S. Harris, Hegel's Development: Toward the Sunlight 1770 -1801 , Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1972, pp. 100 - 103.

G.W. F. Hegel, Glauben und Wissen, hrsg. G. Lasson, Hamburg, Verlag v. Felix Meiner, 1962, S. 40 - 91.

G.W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy , Vol. III, trans. E.S. Haldane & Frances H. Simson (1892-1896), Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1995, pp. 252-290; 325-348; 410- 423.

G.W. F. Hegel, Werke [Theorie Werkausgabe in 20 Bde.], hrsg. v. Eva Moldenhauer u. Karl Markus Michel, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp Verlag, 1971/1986. Bd. 20: Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie III, S. 157 - 197; 233 - 255, 315 - 329.

Wilhelm Michel, Das Leben Friedrich Hölderlins, Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1963, S. 64 - 65.

Richard Unger, Hölderlin's Major Poetry: The Dialectics of Unity, Bloomington & London, Indiana University Press, 1975, pp. 10 - 12.


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