Teaching Hegel to Lecture

I’ve been reading the two-volume correspondence between Schiller and Goethe and realize that questions about what constitutes successful pedagogy are eternal and the possible answers infinite. Schiller himself had trouble attracting students after they learned he wasn’t going to lecture on his radical play “The Robbers” but on the history of the Netherlands — and that in Swabian-inflected German. Goethe was in charge of Jena University, along with the theater, road building, and celebratory events — not to mention writing his own plays, poetry, novels, and conducting scientific research on plants, comparative anatomy, clouds, and color. And here they are thinking about Hegel.


[Hegel portrait by Schlesinger 1831]

To Goethe: 9 November 1803

Because I haven’t seen or heard from you, I’m left to wonder why. From several Jena friends visiting here I have learned that you are not seen much there, which is a good sign that you are working well. I am working here as well, letting myself be distracted by nothing, not even going to the theater. If I can keep up this momentum I can finish by March. . . .

I am hearing good things about Jena University, where some of the auditoriums are overflowing. Our Dr. Hegel has, evidently, attracted many auditors who are not dissatisfied by his lectures. . . .


To Schiller: 27 November 1803

. . . I have spent pleasant hours with Schelver, Hegel, and Fenow. Schelver’s botanical work is so good that I hardly trust my ears and eyes. . . . In Hegel’s case, this idea has occurred to me: couldn’t one help him with technical advice on rhetoric? He is an excellent man; but there is so much working against his expression.


To Goethe: 30 November 1803

. . . Lacking distractions and by determined diligence, my work is at least not stagnant, although my whole constitution suffers under the seasonal atmospheric pressure.

Your letter reveals that you are cheerful, and I am pleased to see that you have become better acquainted with Hegel. What he lacks can hardly be given him, but the inability to express himself well is in general a national shortcoming and compensates for itself, at least for a German auditor, through the German virtues of thoroughness and of honest seriousness.

. . . Frau v. Stael is really in Frankfurt, and we can expect her here soon. If she only knows German, I have no doubt that we can deal with her, but to explain our religion in French phrases and then face her French volubility is too hard a task. We wouldn’t escape the way Schelling did with the Frenchman Camille Jordan, who came primed with Locke—Je méprise Locke, Schelling said, and his interlocutor fell silent. All the best to you.

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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