Edward Caird's Hegel



HEGEL was rudely awakened from the philosophical ecstasy, as we might call it, that breathes through the last chapter of the 'Phenomenology,' by the "thunders of Jena." Ever since her first effort to quell the infant giant of the Revolution in the French war of 1794-95, Prussia, in spite of her great military force, had withdrawn from the conflict, and secured her own tranquillity amid the disasters of Germany by a somewhat narrow policy of reserve. She had held aloof from all the struggles of Austria, and had even condescended to receive rewards of territory from Napoleon for her steady subservience. She had fallen, as one of her statesmen said, into "that lowest of degradations, to steal at another man's bidding." Meanwhile under her wing the little state of Weimar had escaped the disasters of war, and its university of Jena, with its apostolical succession of Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, had been the center of the philosophic movement, as "Weimar itself, with Goethe and Schiller, was the literary center of Germany. At last, in 1806, Prussia began to see that she was destined by the conqueror to receive the reward of the Cyclops to Ulysses-to be "eaten last;" and she gathered herself together for a struggle with Napoleon, only to find her army broken to pieces and her kingdom dismembered in a campaign of a few days.

Just before the decisive battle of Jena, the French soldiers broke into the town and began to plunder. Several of them entered Hegel's lodging, and it is recorded that he met their threats by an appeal to one of their number on whose breast he noticed the ribbon of the Legion of Honor, saying that from a man with such a badge, he had a right to expect honorable treatment for a simple man of letters. As things got worse, and fire spread among the houses, Hegel put the last pages of the ' Phenomenology' in his pocket, left the rest of his property to its fate, and took refuge in the house of the Pro-rector Gabler, which was protected by the presence of a French officer of high rank. After the battle Napoleon had the fires stopped, and Hegel returned to his lodging, in which he found everything in confusion. A few days before, he had written to his friend Niethammer, " I saw the Emperor, that world-soul, riding through the city to reconnoitre. It is in truth a strange feeling to see such an -individual before one, who here, from one point, as he rides on his horse, is reaching over the world, and remolding it.' For the Prussians one could not prognosticate anything better; but in the space between Thursday and Monday, such advances have been made as are possible only for this extraordinary man. . . . As I let you know before, all now wish good fortune to the French army, which cannot fail in the immense difference between its leaders and soldiers, and those of its enemies."


A word of commentary seems necessary to explain this last utterance. Hegel was not, like Goethe, devoid of German patriotism. He had already written two pamphlets-which the rapid progress of events had prevented him from publishing-in which he endeavored to trace the causes of the political and military weakness of Germany, and also to point out how the empire, and the minor States included in it, might be regenerated. But as a Southern, he looked to Austria, the inheritor of the imperial tradition, as the center of resistance, rather than to Prussia, which at this time he regarded as a lifeless machine of bureaucracy. No more than any one else could he anticipate how in a few years the reforms of Stein and Schamhorst and Hardenberg were to renew the energies of the kingdom of Frederic the Great, and to make it the protagonist of Germany in the war of liberation. Hence he seems to have had no other feeling about the immediate contest than contempt for Prussia and admiration for Napoleon, who, as he said at a later time, "put the greatest genius into military victory only to show how little, after all, mere victory counts for."

But that he did not, even at this time, despair of the ultimate result for Germany, is shown by a letter of his addressed to an old pupil called Zeilmann, who had written to him in a despairing way about the future. In this letter he tells Zeilmann to look beyond the immediate failure to its causes, and to see in them the promise of recovery. "Science," he declares, "is the only theodicy; it alone can keep us from taking events with the stupid astonishment of an animal, or, with short-sighted, cleverness, ascribing them to the accidents of the moment or of the talents of an individual, and supposing that the fate of empires depends on a hill being or not being occupied by soldiery, as well as from lamenting over them, as at the victory of injustice and the defeat of justice. The French nation, by the bath of its revolution, has been freed from many institutions which the spirit of man has left behind like its baby shoes, and which therefore weighed upon it, as they still weigh upon others, as lifeless fetters. What, however, is more, the individuals of that nation have, in the shock of revolution, cast off the fear of death and the life of custom, which in the change of scene has now ceased to have any meaning in itself. It is this that gives them the prevailing force which they are showing against other nations. Hence especially comes their preponderance over the cloudy and undeveloped spirit of the Germans, who, however, if they are once forced to cast off their inertia, will rouse themselves to action, and. preserving in their contact with outward things the intensity of their inner life, will perchance surpass their teachers."(Hegel)


In the meantime, while he was expressing this lofty confidence in the justice of destiny, Hegel's own fortunes were reduced to the lowest ebb. The war, which destroyed the university life of Jena, had left him so absolutely destitute, that we find Goethe commissioning his friend Knebel to lend him a few dollars for his immediate necessities. In these circumstances, he was glad to accept the work, which his friend Niethammer procured for him, of editing a newspaper at Bamberg. A German newspaper in those times could only be a bare record of events, without any comment or criticism whatever. So independent leading articles were permitted under the rule of Napoleon. And Hegel, while he is said to have done his editorial work, such as it was, in an efficient and workmanlike manner, seems to have regarded it merely as a temporary means of keeping the wolf from the door. In a letter to Knebel, he takes a somewhat humorous view of his own position; tells him that the smallest contributions of news from his part of the country will be thankfully received; and adds, "I have made my guiding-star the Biblical saying, the truth of which I have learnt by experience, -'Seek ye first food and clothing, and the kingdom of heaven shall be added unto you."


After a year of this work, Niethammer, who had become what we may call the head of the educational department for the Protestant part of Bavaria, got Hegel recommended to the somewhat more congenial occupation of Rector in the Gymnasium at Nuremberg. Bavaria was one of the smaller States of Germany which Napoleon treated with special favor, and which he aggrandized by accessions of territory, in order to make use of them as checks and rivals of the greater German powers of Austria and Prussia. What they lost by this anti-patriotic position was, however, partly compensated by their contact with the reforming spirit of France, which enabled them more rapidly to rid themselves of the semi-feudal relics of the old imperial system. In Bavaria especially, the new ideas of organization and enlightenment inspired the policy of the Government, which about this time had drawn into its employment not only Hegel and Niethammer, but also Schelling, Paulus, Schubert, and others of the best talents of Germany. Niethammer, Hegel's patron, was zealous for the reform of the old system of education, which he sought to revive mainly by the aid of a less mechanical study of classical antiquity, but also by the introduction into the teaching of the schools of at least the elements of the new philosophy.

Hegel willingly, and with his whole heart, made himself the instrument of this movement, so far at least as the first part of the scheme was concerned; for to him the classics were for general culture-what Spinoza was for philosophy-the "spiritual bath" through which the mind was to be freed from the narrowness of its merely natural sympathies, and prepared for a wider and freer culture. - In this spirit he spoke in one of his addresses to his school at the end of the academic year. "For some centuries," he declares, "this is the ground upon which all culture has stood, out of which it has sprung, with which it has been in constant connection. As the natural organisms - plants and animals -withdraw themselves from the immediate influence of gravity, but yet cannot leave behind them this element of their being, so all art and science has developed from this basis, and though it has become independent in itself, yet has it not freed itself from the memory of that more ancient culture. As Antaeus renewed his forces by touching his mother earth, so science and culture, in every revival of their energy, have raised themselves to light out of a return to antiquity.

Hegel then goes on to condemn the old system of teaching Latin to the exclusion of all other things, and especially of the mother tongue, "for a nation cannot be regarded as cultured which does not possess the treasures of science in its own speech." Nevertheless, while the ancient tongues must be kept in their proper place, they remain the essential basis of everything,- "the spiritual bath, the profane baptism which gives to the soul the first indelible tone and tincture for truth and science." "If the first paradise was the paradise of human nature, this is the second, the higher paradise of the human spirit, which, in its fair naturalness, freedom, depth, and brightness, here comes forth like a bride out of her chamber. The first wild majesty of the rise of spiritual life in the East is in classical literature circumscribed by the dignity of form, and softened into beauty; its depth shows itself no longer in confusion, obscurity, and inflation, but lies open before us in simple clearness; its brightness is not a childish play, but covers a sadness that knows the hardness of fate, yet is not by it driven out of freedom and measure. I do not think I am asserting too much when I say, that he who has not known the works of the ancients, has lived without knowing beauty." (Hegel)

The introduction of philosophy into the schools Hegel did not much approve; but he conformed to the direction of his superiors, and even drew up a kind of Propaedeutic to Philosophy, which has since been published, and which, with all the rector's explanation, must have greatly puzzled the clever boys of Nuremberg. He encouraged his pupils to question and even to interrupt him, and often spent the whole hour of instruction in meeting the difficulties which they suggested. It requires, as some one has said, a great mastery over a science to teach its rudiments well; and Hegel afterwards recognized that the effort to express himself with the necessary simplicity and definiteness, to free his ideas from all obscurities of subjective association, and so to bring them into relation with untrained minds, was of great service to himself, both in increasing his effectiveness as a speaker, and in enabling him to give a more strictly scientific expression to his system than it had already received in the 'Phenomenology.'

As a schoolmaster, he seems to have been thoroughly successful- showing in the general management of the affairs of the school the same practical talent which he had proved in the editorship of his newspaper, and at the same time gaining the respect and confidence of his pupils by the impression of moral and intellectual weight which he carried with him. He was a strict disciplinarian, and altogether opposed to the Pestalozzian ideas of education then in vogue, according to which the teaching must accommodate itself to the individuality of the pupil, and as little as possible exercise any pressure upon his natural tendencies. The basis of sound education was, for Hegel, obedience and self-surrender-the submission of the mind to an external lesson, which must be learnt by every one, and even learnt by rote, with utter disregard of individual tastes and desires; only out of this self-abnegation) and submission to be guided and taught, could any originality spring that was worth preserving. Yet, in insisting upon strict order and method, Hegel seems to have avoided the extreme of petty interference, and to have tolerated the frolic and license of his schoolboys, even beyond the point which is now considered desirable.

One of his Nuremberg pupils gives the following somewhat characteristic anecdote: "I remember that in 1812 a dancing-master came to Nuremberg, and, with Hegel's permission, opened a course of lessons at the gymnasium, for which the members were requested to put down their names. Naturally almost every one subscribed. After a time, however, some of us became discontented. The dancing-master, skilful enough in his art, was, as is not unusual, a coxcomb; the wearisome exercises in mannerly deportment, the standing in stocks to turn the toes outwards, &c., were not liked. ... In short, some of the scholars planned how to withdraw from their engagement. But that was impossible without Hegel's consent, and I and another were sent to lay our grievances before him. But what a reception we got! I scarcely know how we got down the stairs. He would not see the dancing-master lose the fees guaranteed to him; and, in short, we were obliged to dance, stand in stocks, and make our salutations till the end of the summer."


On September 16, 1811, Hegel was married to Marie von Tucher, a lady of an old Nuremberg family. She was, we are told, a woman of gentle, aristocratic manners, of fine feminine impulsiveness and feminine belief in impulse; a friend of Jean Paul, and strongly interested in the fine arts, as we may gather from the contents of her husband's letters to her. In many ways she was the "opposite counterpart" of the reserved strength, the deep-searching systematic reflection, and the bourgeois simplicity and even plainness of her husband, who never entirely lost a tinge of provincialism in his manners and speech. During the courtship Hegel addressed to her some verses, which are rather better than those he usually wrote, but which have too much philosophic analysis of love to be quite good poetic expressions of it. The German open-heartedness in these matters allows us to see something of the slight jars which were naturally produced at first between people of such opposite characters and tendencies as they came to know each other more intimately after the engagement.

Hegel has to explain his ruthless masculine way of denouncing certain tendencies and views with which his Marie feels some sympathy. "In respect to myself, and the way in which I express my views, I confess that when I have to condemn principles, I too easily lose sight of the way and manner in which they are present in a particular individual-in this case, in you-and that I am apt to take them too earnestly because I see them in their universal bearing and consequence, which you do not think of, which, indeed, for you, are not in them at all. Yet you know well, that although character and principles of judgment are not the same thing, yet that it is not indifferent to character what principles of judgment are adopted: and I, on my side, know equally well that principles of judgment, when they contradict the character, are even of less import with your sex than with ours. . . . There are men who torment their wives in order to gain, from their bearing under provocation, a new consciousness of their love and patience. I do not think that I am so perverse; but I can hardly repent that I have pained you, so much has the strength and inwardness of my love been confirmed by the deeper insight into your nature which I have gained."

The marriage was in all ways a happy one, and Hegel could now face the world with a heart at rest. " When a man has got work which suits him, and a wife whom he loves," he writes to his friend Niethammer, "he may be said to have made up his accounts with life." Two sons were bom of this marriage, Karl and Immanuel- the former of whom is now a Professor of History at Erlangen. Hegel never had a large income, even at the height of his fame, and his household was arranged with orderly frugality: except in emergencies, he never had more than one maid-servant. But he found money to make his household life tasteful, and to provide for domestic indulgences and surprises. His favorite recreation was in making short excursions with his family. During the Nuremberg period, he had also the happiness of having with him for a time his sister Christiane, to whom he was much attached.


During the quiet years at Nuremberg which followed his marriage, 1812-16, Hegel produced what is his greatest work in a purely scientific point of view, the 'Logic,' - with all its defects, the one work which the modem world has to put beside the 'Metaphysics' of Aristotle. In it the fundamental idea of his system - that the unity to which all things must be referred is a spiritual or self-conscious principle-is fully developed, and proved in the only way in which such proof is possible, - by showing that every other category or principle which might explain the world, is ultimately resolvable, or rather by its own dialectical movement resolves itself, into this. Thus "Being," "Measure," "Essence," "Force," "Law," "Substance," "Cause," - whatever names have been given to the identity that underlies all differences,-are shown to be expressions of a thought which, when it is made explicit, is found to mean or involve the principle of self-consciousness. When this is proved, therefore, the further work of philosophy must be simply to apply this key to the concrete forms of nature and history, and to show how, by its means, they are to be made intelligible. This, however, will be more fully explained in the sequel.

Hegel, however, had not in the gymnasium quite the work that suited him, and frequently during those eight years he had been making inquiries as to different university appointments, in which he would be freed from the practical cares of a school, and find a fit audience for the best of his thoughts. Meanwhile his fame was gradually rising, and bringing him into relations with many philosophical writers and students, who were reaching with undefined aims beyond the philosophies of Fichte and Schelling, and who welcomed the new light of the ' Phenomenology' and the 'Logic.' All at once, in July 1816, when he was just on the point of issuing the last volume of the 'Logic,' he received three offers of chairs of philosophy from Erlangen, Heidelberg, and Berlin-though in the invitation from Berlin a certain doubt was expressed whether his long cessation from university work had not deprived him of the power of effective speech necessary in a university. Hegel accepted the invitation to Heidelberg, and at last, in his forty-seventh year, attained that position of freedom from other cares, and of direct influence over the university teaching of philosophy, which he had so long desired.