Friday, 5 February 2016

A Meeting with Hegel in 1826

Unter den Linden, Berlin, 1826, by Johann Wilhelm Brücke.

The following is an extract from the diary of a future Scottish church minister David Aitken in 1826, during a visit to Germany in which he visited Hegel in Berlin.


David Aitken's Visit to Hegel

The following private diary entry was published in "Germany in 1826: Extracts from a Diary of the late Rev. David Aitken", Scottish Review, vol. 24 (1894), pp. 106-107. There are also accounts of Schleiermacher and other German academic and literary figures. According to the editor, David Ritchie, Aitken's stories of his visit grew over the years, but this is his contemporary account. Aitken visited Hegel on 17 April 1826, and wrote in his diary: 

"My last call this day was to Dr Hegel, Professor of Philosophy - a free and communicative man with whom I had a long, but not very philosophical conversation, although upon philosophy. Better lodged and garbed than Neander. Spoke of Scotch metaphysics, the leading principles of which he knew, but apparently not from the originals and not very profoundly. I endeavoured to impress him with some idea of Dr Thomas Brown. An intimate friend of [?Anstie] of whose talents and knowledge of German philosophy he spoke highly. In answer to a question of mine repeatedly said that there was no book or books which he would recommend as giving a correct idea of German philosophy. That the Germans wrote for themselves, and not only that, but also only for men of profession, and did not possess the talent of writing for the public. Tennemann and Tiedemann's histories both bad, the Abridgement by Reichardt [?] of Leipzig, which I have, better. Expected a work from Krause of Göttingen, which would be 'gediegener' [more solid]. Kant's philosophy not only no longer in vogue, but to be a Kantist something like a term of reproach - that, nevertheless, Kant's philosophy explained in his and other lectures as forming an era, and being the foundation of modern German metaphysics. Kant's best works - Kritik der reinen Vernunft, der praktischen Vernunft, and a third, [Urtheils]Kraft. The work upon religion never made a great public impression, yet internally very interesting. Hegel ascribed the connotations of modern theology to the circumstance that philosophy or reason was excluded from theological enquiry. For, if it be adopted as a principle that reason can judge or decide nothing, then there must be another source from which our notions and views are derived. This exists - the Bible. But the Bible is subjected to exegetical interpretation, and thereby every sect and every party bring out of it just what is desired. No one of Schelling's writings (the last person who has formed a system) gives a good idea of his principles. They rise and are concatenated - has expressed them most condensedly and decidedly in some numbers of a Zeitschrift. Thought little possibility of German philosophy being known out of the country. Said that, whatever differences there might be in the development, the radical principles of the French and British philosophy were the same, viewed in contradistinction to the German. The starting point of Kant Hume's scepticism. An [word missing] person, though perhaps a little commonplace sometimes, and not possessed of much cleverness of utterance.
Read Morning Chronicle and [?Edinburgh?] Review. - (pp. 110-11).
Thomas Brown (1778-1820) was professor of moral philosophy in Edinburgh University. Philosophical opinion in Scotland at the time was divided between empiricism and the common sense school. There is an article in Hegel-Studien on Hegel and the Morning Chronicle, which was a British Whig newspaper. Hegel was reportedly one of very few German subscribers to the Edinburgh Review, then a leading Whig journal. Aitken met Hegel again on the 22 April: 

"Revisited Hegel, talked of English politics and newspapers, of which Hegel was a constant reader." (p. 117).

This report is not included in Nicolin's Hegel in Berichten seiner Zeitgenossen (1970). It's interesting that Hegel doesn't think German philosophy well known outside Germany, but as far as the UK was concerned, this was the impression he would have got from the Edinburgh Review before 1827, when Carlyle's essay on The State of German Literature appeared. Apparently Carlyle and Aitken knew each other. British opinion on Germany during the Restoration was influenced by the works of Professor Robison (1798), Mme de Stael and Coleridge.

Hegel's opinions on France would have been influenced by Victor Cousin, to whom Hegel had written earlier that month (Briefe, III). There is some reference to British thought in Hegel's subsequent lectures on subjective mind and the history of philosophy. He wished to write further on psychology and related subjects (see Philosophy of Right, para 4A), but his final thoughts on them appeared only in the later editions of the Encyclopaedia.

[This was accessed from thoemmes.com and checked against the reproduction of the original on googlebooks.]