Hegel to Niethammer
April 29, 1814

Source: Hegel: The Letters, translated by Clark Butler and Christine Seiler with commentary by Clark Butler, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, © Purdue Research Foundation.
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden for Marxists.org, 2005.

Nuremberg, April 29, 1814

You will not be surprised, dear friend, that your kind report of the threatening danger has not left me unaffected, and that my wife has, on the contrary, been struck with actual horror. It would be difficult for us to do without the 300 florins for which we are indebted to you. As a compensatory supplement to my income it is of such great benefit, just as the greatest value is attached to the keystone of an arch, not because it is any more indispensable than the other stones, but because it is the one by which the others are first formed into a whole.

Since I am so deeply plunged in actual and temporal matters of my immediate present, my fantasy has not been free for dreaming. But my wife’s fantasy has, by contrast, been all the livelier. She dreamt she found herself in a large encampment near Paris full of wild soldiers, Cossacks and Prussians, all mixed together. She was completely taken with fright. However, you rode through the tumult and made way on all sides. My wife approached you on foot; and as she was about to be thronged, you kindly extended your hand down from your steed and gave sign that she was under your protection. She thus escaped safe and sound, full of joyous gratitude. She then found herself with you in a temple where all was joy and contentment. I was not indifferent during this account to the fact that I did not enter into the story even once. My wife wanted to excuse the fact by saying that I was enveloped in her. I am quite willing to be protected by you, through her, against all Bashkirs and Tschuwaschens, and to be brought into the haven of peace.

God knows what is to be made of all these Tschuwaschens! I have already noticed that the public hopes that Imperial freedoms will be won back again, and the rabble is convinced. They hope to have back the good old days. It will then once more be permitted, as one man puts it, to give a box on the ears for sixteen pennies – for that is what it cost under the Old Regime – while a second man thinks he will be free again to have his ears boxed. The chief of police is too great an eminence to occupy himself with school affairs, but the police commissioner replied a few days ago to Wolf and Buchner – who, when pressed by me, pressed them – that in three weeks we in any case will no longer be Bavarian. And there the authorities wish to let the matter lie. In fact the reports of the local school commission, which were assigned in December, have not yet come in. And I had hoped the schools for the poor could be opened in March! If – which I of course am hardly able to suppose – there possibly were something to those rumors, I would then call out from the depths of my soul: Draw me unto Thee, draw me unto Thee! People would indeed still need a gymnasium rector and professor, but would reduce us to perhaps half salary, and for the rest point to lunch and the six pennies placed in the palm of the hand. If by means of obsequiousness and friendliness we should earn three times our salary like the clerics, people would grant us such revenue more readily than a more paltry but independent income earned without obsequiousness. Not to speak at all of a rectorship. Trahe me post te, I would again and again call out.

Great events have transpired about us. It is a frightful spectacle to see a great genius [Fichte] destroy himself. There is nothing more tragic [in Greek]. The entire mass of mediocrity, with its irresistible leaden weight of gravity, presses on like lead, without rest or reconciliation, until it has succeeded in bringing down what is high to the same level as itself or even below. The turning point of the whole, the reason why this mass has power and – like the chorus – survives and remains on top, is that the great individual must himself give that mass the right to do what it does, thus precipitating his own fall.

I may pride myself, moreover, on having predicted this entire upheaval. In my book [Phenomenology of Spirit], which I completed the night before the battle of Jena, I said on page 547: “Absolute freedom – which I had previously described as the purely abstract formal freedom of the French Republic, originating, as I showed, in the Enlightenment – passes out of its own self-destructive actuality over into another land – I had in mind here a specific land – of self-conscious spirit, in which, in this inactual form, it passes for truth itself, and in which it takes refreshment in the thought of this spirit, inasmuch as such spirit is and remains thought and knows this being contained in self-consciousness to be the perfect and complete essence. The new form of moral spirit is at hand.”

From the streams of blessings necessarily flowing from these great events, just as showers must follow lightning, that brown rivulet of coffee already flows from the pot for the likes of us, and indeed does so with more taste and perk than ever. For we have now been liberated from substitute drink, and from our supplementary income as Councillors we can now procure real Java coffee. May God and kind friends preserve it for us. ...

... May the alleviation of my every headache over all current events big and small be attainable in connection with Erlangen.

Yours, Hegel


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