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Between Reinhold and Fichte

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Ezequiel L. Posesorski

Appendix B

Hülsen’s Life

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1August Ludwig Hülsen was born on March 3, 1765 in Aken an der Elbe, a small village in Saxony-Anhalt. Hülsen was the eighth son of the preacher Paul Gottfried Hülsen and Johanna Dorothea Stutz. Not much about Hülsen’s childhood and youth is known, except that he lived in Premnitz, a small village in Brandenburg where his father preached.

  • 1 For a short account of the Bund’s history see: Rek 1983, 577-83 and Raabe 1959, 337-344

2On the summer semester of 1785, Hülsen enrolled at the University of Halle to study theology. Instead, he studied classical philology. Friedrich August Wolf (1759-1824) was Hülsen’s most important academic teacher. Wolf introduced Hülsen in the interpretation of Homer. Hülsen completed his studies in 1789. This same year he became the private tutor of the Baron Friedrich de la Motte Fouque (1777-1843), subsequently a romantic writer and poet, and the author of the prologue of Hülsen’s posthumously published fragments. Hülsen’s pedagogic activity ended in the spring of N794, when Fouque became a solider. A strong interest in critical philosophy encouraged Hülsen’s enrolment for the 1794 summer semester at the University of Kiel where Reinhold was prominent. Hülsen’s purpose was to deepen his knowledge of Kant’s and Reinhold’s philosophy. Very soon, however, Hülsen found that Reinhold had changed his philosophical position radically. Hülsen’s disillusionment with Reinhold motivated his shift to Jena in Easter 1795, where for some months, Fichte was teaching his Wissenschaftslehre. In Jena, Hülsen joined the Bund der freien Männer, a group of young students that committed itself to the republican implications of Fichte's philosophy.1 Hülsen’s stay at Jena prompted his Preisschrift and his first collaboration with Fichte’s Philosophisches Journal: the Philosophische Briefe an Hrn. v. Briest in Nennhausen. Erster Brief. Ueber Popularität in der Philosophie.

  • 2 For Hülsen’s correspondence with August W. Schlegel (1798-1803), see: Flitner 1913, 97-121, and (...)

3From the spring of i796 and until the autumn of 1797, Hülsen joined some Bund members in a journey to Switzerland, where he met the Swiss pedagogue Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827). Hülsen’s return to Jena in 1797 prompted his second article in Fichte’s journal: Ueber den Bildungstrieb, which appeared in print a year later. Fichte’s satisfaction with Hülsen’s achievements persuaded him to offer Hülsen in 1798 a chair of philosophy at the University of Jena. Hülsen, who saw himself as an independent thinker, rejected Fichte’s offer and opened in 1799 an educational institute for boys in Lentzke bei Fehrbellin, a small village near Berlin. Hülsen conceived his institute as a “Socratic school”. Hülsen’s purpose was to promote introspective self-knowledge through active philosophical debate; his success was short-lived. Although Dorothea Veit planned to send her son Philip to Lentzke, Hülsen’s institute closed after one year. On July 1798, Hülsen established his first contacts with the early German romantics; he began corresponding with August W. Schlegel.2

  • 3 For Hülsen’s correspondence with Schleiermacher (1799-1802), see: Hülsen 1913, 1-40

4In March 1799, Hülsen married Christiane Posern and resumed his literary projects. Friedrich Schlegel invited him to collaborate with the Athenäum. This same year Hülsen’s Ueber die natürliche Gleichheit der Menschen appeared in print. Hülsen’s achievement attracted Schleiermacher’s interest. Both thinkers began corresponding on October 1799.3 Hülsen’s second Athenäum essay, the Natur-Betrachtungen auf einer Reise durch die Schweiz, followed in 1800. Notwithstanding the interest and the respect Hülsen’s thought received from the early romantics, the Natur-Betrachtungen ended Hülsen’s collaboration with the Athenäum. Hülsen claimed that the Athenäum had a scholarly elitist profile, which prevented the promotion of a “popularized” spiritual culture: one of Hülsen’s major interests.

5Hülsen’s wife died in October 1800. Hülsen moved to Seekamp to the estate of his Bund friend the Danish philosopher Johann Erich von Berger (1772-1833). Together with other ex-Bund members, Hülsen founded the Mnemosyne, a “popular” alternative to the scholarly Athenäum. The journal appeared just once. No contributions by Hülsen who planned to take part of the project were included in this only issue. This ended Hülsen’s short philosophical career. Notwithstanding Friedrich Schlegel’s recurrent collaboration offers, Hülsen remained reluctant to publish.

  • 4 See Hülsen’s letter to August W. Schlegel from December 18, 1803 in Körner 1937, 55-64. Hülsen’s c (...)

6In 1802, Hülsen failed into a deep emotional crisis, as his relationship with Friederike von Luck, ended badly. His financial situation also became extremely difficult. August W. Schlegel’s efforts to intercede on Hülsen’s behalf with the Count von Kalkelreuth, formerly Salomon Maimon’s benefactor, were unsuccessful. For some months, Hülsen vacillated between Holstein and Berlin. Some years after, Hülsen referred to this period of his life as an epoch of disorientation and existential confusion. Hülsen’s situation changed dramatically in the autumn of 1803 after von Berger and some other ex-Bund friends invited him to join an agricultural commune they founded in Holstein. This same year Hülsen begun working as a farmer and ended his correspondence with the early romantics. A strong supporter of freedom, Hülsen rejected and criticised severely Friedrich and August W. Schlegel’s increasing sympathy to the medieval past, which he considered reactionary.4

  • 5 See: Tilitzki 1983, 125

7In the spring of 1804, Hülsen’s friends bought him a farm in the village of Wagersrott. The Norwegian philosopher Henrik Steffens (1773-1845), in 1807 a visitor of Hülsen, reported that Hülsen and von Berger became deeply interested in the speculative grounding of the new natural sciences; they both conducted several physical experiments.5 The philosophical fragments that Schelling published after Hülsen’s death were written apparently during this time.

  • 6 See: Krämer 2001, 138. — For an exhaustive biography of Hülsen see Ulrich Kramer’s ... meine Philo (...)

8In June 1806, Hülsen married Sophie Christine Friederica von Wibel. The marriage did not last long, as Hülsen’s wife died in March 1808 after giving birth to a son, who also died a short time after. On March 31, 1809, Hülsen married Maria Elisabeth Wilhelmine Thormälen, his third wife. The couple moved to Stechow bei Rathenow, where Hülsen’s brother held office as a pastor; a daughter was born on July 1809. A few months after, on September 24, 1809, Hülsen died. After Hülsen’s death, Fichte, von Berger, and La Motte Fouque, supported Hülsen’s widow financially. Fichte even offered the widow to take care of her daughter.6

Notes

1 For a short account of the Bund’s history see: Rek 1983, 577-83 and Raabe 1959, 337-344

2 For Hülsen’s correspondence with August W. Schlegel (1798-1803), see: Flitner 1913, 97-121, and Körner 1937, 1 53-64

3 For Hülsen’s correspondence with Schleiermacher (1799-1802), see: Hülsen 1913, 1-40

4 See Hülsen’s letter to August W. Schlegel from December 18, 1803 in Körner 1937, 55-64. Hülsen’s criticism of the Schlegel brothers attracted Walter Benjamin’s attention. In his 1938 review of Josef Körner’s Krisenjahre der Frühromantik, contained in Der Stratege im Literaturkampf, Benjamin (1974, 541) rated Hülsen’s letter as one of the “[…] seltenen Dokumenten, in denen das Grundmotiv der Aufklärung mit jenem unvergleichlichen Klange vibriert, den es über dem Resonanzboden der Romantik annimmt. Er denunziert die Unmündigkeit des deutschen Bürgertums, die in diesen Krisenjahren zum Verhängnis der Frühromantik geworden ist.

5 See: Tilitzki 1983, 125

6 See: Krämer 2001, 138. — For an exhaustive biography of Hülsen see Ulrich Kramer’s ... meine Philosophie ist kein Buch. August Ludwig Hülsen (1765-1809): Leben und Schreiben eines Selbstdenkers und Symphilosophen zur Zeit der Frühromantik. Parts of my short account of Hülsen’s life were taken from Matthias Wolfes’ internet entry in the Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexicon. See: Wolfes 2000

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