Sunday, 4 January 2015

Hotho's Sketch of Professor Hegel

I here reproduce, with permission, Canadian scholar Jim Devin's complete annotated translation of the portrait of Hegel by Heinrich Hotho (1802-73), his former student, friend and editor of Hegel's Lectures on Aesthetics. Above is the cover of a recent biography of Hotho by Elisabeth Ziemer covering his life as an art historian, critic and philosopher.

Hotho’s Penned Portrait of  Professor Hegel at Berlin.

from Heinrich Gustav Hotho (1802-1873),Vorstudien für Leben und Kunst [Preliminary Studies for Life and Art ], Stuttgart und Tübingen, 1835, 388-399. A contribution to the completion of Edward Caird’s translation. 1.

[1] It was at the beginning of my student-life that one morning I ventured to present myself, shyly, yet full of trust, in Hegel’s room. He sat before a broad writing-table, and was impatiently turning over the books and papers that lay heaped in some disorder upon it. His figure was bent in premature age, and yet had a look of native toughness and force; a yellow-grey dressing hung from his shoulders, covering his person down to the ground. There was nothing very noticeable in his general external appearance—no imposing height or charm of manner; rather an impression of a certain honest downrightness, as of some citizen of the olden time, was conveyed in his whole bearing. The first impression of his face, however, I shall not easily forget. Pale and relaxed, his features hung down as if lifeless; no destructive passion was mirrored in them, but only a long history of patient thought. The agony of doubt, the ferment of unappeasable mental disturbance, seemed never to have tortured, never at least to have overpowered him, in all his forty years of brooding, seeking and finding; only the restless impulse to develop the early germ of happily discovered truth with ever greater depth and riches—with ever greater strictness of inevitable logic—had furrowed the brow, the cheeks, the mouth. When his mind was slumbering, the features appeared old and withered; when it awoke, they expressed all the earnestness and strength of a thought, which, through the persistent effort of years, had been developed to completeness. What dignity lay in the whole head, in the finely formed nose, the high but somewhat retreating brow, the peaceful chin! The nobleness of good faith and thorough rectitude in great and little, the clear consciousness of having sought satisfaction in truth alone, was, in the most individual way, imprinted on every feature. I had expected a testing and inspiring discourse about philosophy, and was mightily surprised to hear nothing of the kind. Just returned from a tour in the Netherlands,2. this exceptional man would talk of nothing but the cleanliness of the cities, the charm and artificial fertility of the country, the green far-stretching meadows, the ponds, canals, tower-like mills, and well-made roads, the art treasures, and the formal but comfortable manner of living of the citizens; so that after half an hour I felt myself as much at home in Holland as with himself. 

[2] When, after a few days, I saw him again, in the professorial chair, I could not at first accommodate myself either to the manner of his outward address or the inward sequence of his thoughts. There he sat, with relaxed, half-sullen air, and, as he spoke, kept turning backwards and forwards the leaves of his long folio manuscript; a constant hacking and coughing disturbed the even flow of speech; every proposition stood isolated by itself, and seemed to force its way out all broken and twisted; every word, every syllable was, as it were, reluctantly let go, receiving from the metallic ring of the broad Swabian dialect a strange emphasis, as if it were the most important thing to be said. Yet the whole appearance compelled such deep respect, such a feeling of reverence, and attracted by such a naïve expression of overpowering earnestness, that, with all my discomfort, and though I may have understood little enough of what was said, I felt myself irresistibly bound to him. And no sooner, by zeal and patience, had I accustomed myself to these outward defects of his address, than they and its inward merits seemed to unite themselves into an organic whole, which claimed to be judged by itself alone.   

[3] An easy-flowing eloquence presupposes that one has made up one’s final accounts with the matter in hand, and therefore an ability of a merely formal kind is able to chatter away with cheap attractiveness, without rising above the region of the commonplace. His work, on the other hand, was to call up the most powerful thoughts out of the deepest ground of things, and to bring them as living forces to bear upon his audience; and for this it was necessary that,—often as they had been mediated and recast through past years,—at every new expression they should be reproduced afresh in himself. A more vivid and plastic representation of this hard conflict and birth-labour of thought than his manner of address could not be conceived. As the oldest prophets, the more vehemently they struggle with language, utter with the more concentrated force that thought which they half conquer, and which half conquers them, so did he struggle and overcome by the unwieldy verve of his expression. Entirely lost in his subject, he seemed to develop it out of itself for its own sake, and scarcely at all for the sake of the bearer; and an almost paternal anxiety for clearness softened the rigid earnestness which otherwise might have repelled one from the reception of such hard-won thoughts. Stammering already at the beginning, he forced his way on, made a new beginning, again stopped short, spoke and meditated: the exact word seemed ever to be in request, and just then it came with infallible certainty;3. it seemed ordinary and yet was inimitably appropriate, uncommon and yet only right; the essential thing appeared always to be unsaid, and yet unnoticed it had been expressed already as completely as possible. Now one felt one had grasped a proposition, and expected a further advance to be made. In vain. The thought, instead of advancing, kept turning with similar words again and again round the same point. Yet if the wearied attention was allowed to stray for a moment, one found, on returning, that one had lost the thread of the discourse. For slowly and carefully, by apparently insignificant intermediate steps, a thought had been made to limit itself so as to show its one-sidedness, had been broken up into differences and entangled in contradictions, the solution of which suddenly brought what seemed most opposed to a higher reunion. And thus, ever carefully resuming again what had been gone over before, and deepening and transforming it by new divisions and richer reconciliations, the wonderful stream of thought flowed on, twisting and struggling with itself, now isolating and now uniting, now delaying and now springing forward with a leap, but always steadily moving to its goal. Even one who could follow with full insight and intelligence, without looking to the right or to the left, saw himself thrown into the most strange tension and agony of mind. To such depths was thought carried down, to such infinite oppositions was it turn asunder, that all that had been won seemed ever again to be lost, and after the highest effort the intelligence seemed to be forced to stand in silence at the bounds of its faculty. But it was just in these depths of the apparently undecipherable that that powerful spirit lived and moved with the greatest certainty and calm. Then first his voice rose, his eye glanced sharply over the audience, and lighted up with the calmly glowing flame of conviction, while in words that now flowed without hesitation, he measured the heights and depths of the soul. What he uttered in such moments was so clear and exhaustive, of such simple self-evidencing power, that every one who could grasp it felt as if he had found and thought it for himself; and so completely did all previous ways of thinking vanish, that scarce a remembrance remained of the days of dreaming, in which such thoughts had not yet been awakened. 

[4] Only in the most comprehensible parts did he become ponderous and wearisome. He twisted and turned, showed ill humour in all dispositions with which he dealt with these things, and yet, when he brought the tedious business to an end, all was again so clear and complete before one’s eyes, that also in this connection one had to admire the livelier strangeness. On the other hand he moved with like mastery among non-sensible abstractions as among the lively wealth of phenomena. To a hitherto unequalled degree he would project himself into every individual standpoint and to present the same in its full entirety. As if it was his own world he seemed to be so attached with it, and only after the full picture had been filled in, he pointed out the defects, the contradictions through which it collapsed or led to other stages and shapes. In this way he succeeded in portraying epochs, nations, occurrences, and individuals completely; for his profound penetrating eye allowed him always to recognize the decisive, and the energy of his original conception even in age lost none of its youthful power and freshness. In such descriptions his large vocabulary became effervescent; he could never limit apt depictive adjectives, and yet each was necessary, new, unexpected, and so substantial in itself that the whole that combined all the motley features forced itself on the memory never again to vanish. Such a picture could not be altered independently; into such definite forms it had been cast for all. And one’s own peculiarities and depths of mind, that seemed futile to seize in words, were not able to withdraw themselves from this gift of representation.  He was avid in praised acknowledgement of commendable ability and greatness, yet also he showed equal authority in the pungency and bitterness of stinging polemic. How kindly, comparatively sounded the gentle and tender in graceful tones; strong points roared along forcibly, without order came the confused, the baroque and ridiculous revolted and delighted, the hateful frightened in the same degree as the virtuous and good uplifted and refreshed; the beautiful shone in mild brilliance, profundity deepened his speech, and as the exalted surpassed all limits, the holy commanded the eternal awe of reverence. And yet left with all this completion it was hard to determine, whether he mastered more the thing, or the thing more him. Then here too the ring was not escaped, and the pliant and established did not deny all the painful trouble despite the inspiration of genius. 

[5.] After only a few years, I was fortunate to be attached to the immediate circle of his younger acquaintances and friends. What makes him indispensible above all for me even today was his thoroughly consistent character. His disposition was altogether consistent with his philosophy; his innermost nature stayed with his thought, his most intimate will inseparably entwined with what his scientific conviction prescribed to him as moral and right; and if, he was the first ever of all those who subjected themselves to the discipline of coherent thought to be given to recognize in every sphere of the past the reason of a divinely-mirrored and realized course, so a like peace bound him with the world around him, for this world stood there before him as the vibrant counterpart of his innermost thought, woven through all things. That  he had a right, even a duty, to admit to himself. Nonetheless, though I searched far and wide, I could not find his equal for unpretentious modesty. No objection would faze him; the customary censure of the weak he dismissed with a laugh; and only the arrogance of incomprehension, the presumption of incomplete understanding, would  from time to time exercise him, and because he was conscious of having with difficulty achieved victory for himself after the most noble exertion, he would feel slighted and bruised by the pompously intentional neglect of recognized authorities. For it was a fundamental trait of his character to combine inextricably the most unshakeable independence with the highest degree of reverence. In religious matters he fought with powerful weapons for the enlightened freedom of thoughtful conviction, while he was nevertheless foremost to almost all in the clear conception of the most orthodox doctrines; in politics, his moderate constitutional attitude inclined him toward the basic tenets of the English constitution; a corporate foundation he held essential also for more general affairs; the rights of primogeniture for peers and princes he defended in every consideration; indeed, he showed an involuntary ceremonial respect even for the accidental superiorities of social rank, class, and wealth; and because in the main he had the view that ministers and civil servants would be of more understanding, he allowed the freedom to criticize and to know better to representatives and the press, without really being disposed to claim it as an inalienable civil right. Above all, however, all demagogical agitating was detested by him; and when it challenged with unclear feelings and unfounded thoughts more sensible competency, like that chaotic German political heart-mongering, it found in him then its bitterest adversary. For the fortuitousness of one’s own feelings, of subjective opinion, arbitrariness and passion should be broken by youth onwards was his continual demand and to exchange them for the solid principle toward everything in life that is firm, lawful and substantial; when he also instead of that combative morality with always only partial successes professed so profoundly by nobody except Goethe that genuine ethics which is able to unite feeling, senses, drives, wishes and will with what is necessary and rational in a complete accord of uninterrupted habit and custom. It was on the basis of a fully realized unity of the true and intrinsically richly developed universal with the subjective and particular that his thought and action proceeded in every connection. Since however this direction in him developed at a time, that had cultivated contrariwise in a one-sided way the most subjective freedom of conscience, the way of acting and conviction, he, more by his sentiment than by his thought, pushed back more certainly the incontestable rights of modern personality. Thus he was the affectionate, most faithful husband, the tender, most concerned, even though strict father; yet he demanded that marriage should be entered upon for marriage and not for the most intimate love of souls; fondness, respect and loyalty would be found by themselves, and knot the most indissoluble bonds. With this upright disposition the insight into the manifold fluctuations, contradictions and eccentricities of today's mind was not lacking to it; and as he understood how to describe these discords and abysses, and he knew, if only some deeply shocking substantial needs moved throughout them, to preserve a constant participation and consideration. For everything that worked only in the human-heart’s depths, and might break it never remained foreign to his rich nature. As always his love of art even in the last years of his life could continue to increase. Here, too, he was entirely at home, and with his universal perspective he was able to penetrate all its fields, epochs, and works. Poetry indeed proved most amenable to him, but he also queried architecture about its secrets not in vain, sculpture still less evaded his discovery; an eye for painting was inborn in him, and in music the masterpieces of every type were appreciated always by his ear and mind. He was the first to give oriental art its fitting position, and the more he immerseded himself in later years in the Chinese, Indian, Arabic and Persian mental-outlooks, all the more trenchantly was he able to assess it. Greek sculpture, architecture, and poetry were for him the acme of all art that he admired as the achieved most beautiful realized ideal; with the Middle Ages on the other hand, apart from the architecture, so long as one felt no necessity to model after Antiquity he was unable to get used to it, at no time completely. The external confusion and in the detached mind, which unconcerned leaves the outer form to the barbarism of chance, the diabolical and ugly, the graphical adverse hardships and torments, the entire not deepened by an undivided inner religious contradiction, a worldly untrained heart and its visible appearance always remained for him a bone of contention. He was similarly at ease in circumstances of amusement and frivolity; still the full depth of a joke would elude him sometimes; and the most recent strain of irony was so inimical to his own tendencies that you might say he lacked the organ that would have allowed him to recognize what was authentic, much less take pleasure, therein.4.  

[6] Convinced of this he ran up the edifice of his scientific worldview in silence and seclusion over a period of many years; the rigidity of its form, one look at which was sufficient to deter, militated against the entry, not to mention the applause of the masses. This too he could not fail to notice. In fact he received hospitably anyone who approached him with trust. How many of these comers was he forced to observe leave empty-handed after a short stay! With all the more affection did he attach himself to those who spared no effort to follow faithfully the route of his project; and if they in fact arrived at the goal, they would remain forever beneficiaries of his unwavering devotion.

[7] From his earliest youth Hegel had given himself with unwearied rectitude of purpose to every kind of scientific study; in later years he had lived for a time, like Schiller, estranged from the world, almost as in a cloister, while the impulse towards active life was fermenting within him. When he emerged from retirement, life subjected him to a hard school, outward embarrassments hemmed him in on all sides; and clearly as he saw the necessity of a complete remoulding of science, yet at that time he was far from feeling in himself the power to achieve such a reform by his own efforts. For he was one of those strong natures which only after a long process of growth, in the full maturity of manhood, reveal all their depth, but which then bring to the riper completion what has been so long developed in silence. When I first knew him his main works were published, his fame stood high, and also in all externals his position was fortunate. This comfort and peace lent to his whole bearing—except when his temper was fretted or blunted by bodily suffering—the most thorough kindliness. How gladly I met him on his daily walks; though he seemed to move forward with effort and without spring, he was really more robust and forcible than we younger men. He was ready for every pleasure-party,—nay, complete relaxation seemed, with advancing years, to have become more and more necessary to him. Who would then have recognized in him the deepest spirit of his time? Ever ready for talk, he rather sought to avoid, than to encourage, scientific subjects: the day’s gossip, the on dits of the city, were welcome to him; political views, the art of the moment, came in for a share of his attention; and as his aim was amusement and recreation, he often approved at such moments what at other times he would have blamed, defended what he had before rejected, and found no end of chaffing me for my judicial strictness and straitness. What life there was in him at such times! Yet if one walked beside him, there was no getting on; for at every other moment he stood still, spoke, gesticulated, or sent forth a hearty ringing laugh; and whatever he might say, even when it was untenable and spoken to provoke contradiction, one was tempted to agree with him, so clearly and vigorously was it expressed. An equally agreeable companion he was at concerts and theatres—lively, inclined to applaud, ever ready for talk and jest, and content even, when it came to that, with the commonplaces of good society. Especially was he easy to please with his favourite singers, actresses, and poets. In business, on the other hand, his sharp understanding made him so painfully exact in weighing every pro and con, so scrupulous and obstinate, that men of quick decisive ways were often driven to despair by him; yet, if he had once resolved, his firmness was immovable. For in practical matters he had no want of insight; only the execution was difficult for him, and the smaller the matter the more helpless he was. Repellent personalities, who were opposed to the whole direction of his efforts, he could not abide, especially when their want of a fixed way of thinking had pained him in regard to that which he revered most: only in his most happy moods could one induce him to have any relations with such people. But when friends gathered around him, what an attractive loving camaraderie distinguished him from all others! The minute nuance of manners was not in his way; but a certain somewhat ceremonious bourgeois frankness united itself so happily, with jest where jest was in place, with earnest where the occasion required earnestness, and always with an equable good-humour, that all those surrounding him were instinctively drawn into the same tone. He was fond of the society of ladies; and where he knew them well, the fairest were always sure of a supportive devotion, which, in the pleasant security of approaching age, had maintained the freshness of youth. The greater the retirement in which his earlier laborious years had passed away, the greater was his pleasure in later days to live in society; and as if his own depth needed to find a compensation in the triviality or commonplace of others, at times he took pleasure in people of the commonest stamp, and even seemed to cherish for them a kind of good-humoured preference. With what natural dignity, on the other hand, and with what unaffected earnestness, did he appear when some public occasion made it necessary for him to come forward! And how many long hours of advice, of testing, of confirmation, was he ready to devote to those who sought his aid and guidance! If Plato5. celebrates how Socrates at the banquet preserved complete sobriety and measure even in the full tide of enjoyment, and when all the others were sleeping about, continued with Aristophanes and Agathon to drink and philosophise, till he left them overcome at cock-crow, and went out to the Lyceum to spend the day as usual, and only at the second evening cared to lay himself down to rest—I may surely say that Hegel alone, of all men whom I have seen, brought before my eyes this image of joyous, untiring energy, with a vivid force of realisation that can never be forgot.                                                         

1. This is believed to be the first complete English rendering of Hotho’s German text. The text consists of seven paragraphs of varying length. The number before each translated paragraph is not in the original German text; they are included here to help identify the source of the translation. The English version here is framed by the translation of Edward Caird from his still very helpful book Hegel (1883), pp. 97-102 who provided a translation of the complete first, second and final [or seventh] paragraph and all but part of one sentence of the third paragraph. No attempt has been made to copy Caird’s style in the portions not rendered by him. Without the kind assistance of my friend Donald Smith (Toronto) this complete rendering would not have been possible. My friend George di Giovanni (Montreal) also contributed to its realization. Special appreciation must be paid to the other partial English translations of the text known to me:

Frederic Ludlow Luqueer (1896) in his Hegel as Educator, pp. 94 - 100 – Paragraphs one and two and parts of paragraphs three, four, five and seven.  

Carl J. Friedrich (1954) in the introduction to his The Philosophy of Hegel, lvi – Part of paragraph three.

Walter Kaufmann (1965) in his Hegel: Reinterpretation, Texts, and Commentary, pp. 350- 354. –  Paragraph two and parts of paragraphs one, three, five and seven.   

Joachim Neugroschel (1968) in his translation of Franz Wiedmann’s Hegel: An Illustrated Biography, New York, pp. 97-100 – Paragraphs one and parts of paragraphs three and four.  

E. B. Garside (1975) in his translation of Robert Heiss’s Hegel Kierkegaard Marx, New York, pp. 126-127 – Parts of paragraphs two and three. 

Ulla Johnson ( 1983) in Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain, No. 8, pp. 50 –53 – Paragraphs one to four.
2. Hegel made a journey in 1822 both to Brussels and the Netherlands from mid-September to mid- October.

3. Caird did not provide a translation from this point to the end of the sentence. But Caird’s translation resumes after this sentence to the end of paragraph three. 

4. Hotho is probably alluding here to Hegel’s discussion in places such as the Philosophy of Right  (1821) § 149 (f) where Hegel distinguishes the use of irony by Plato’s Socrates who was ironical towards people and the use by the German Romantics that is directed at ideas and values. 

5. Hotho is alluding to the closing of Plato’s Symposium 223b-d.