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[96]

To Edward T. Channing.

Gottingen, June 16, 1816.
. . . . In one of your last letters, dear Edward, you told me that your brother William1 would like to hear something about the kind of metaphysics taught in the schools here. I forgot at the moment to answer this inquiry, and should perhaps have forgotten it still longer, if I had not last week read his third pamphlet in the controversy with Worcester; and the natural desire which this excited, of recalling myself to the memory of one who had just given me so much pleasure, reminded me of his wish, and I determined to take the first leisure hour I should find to fulfil it.

In the first place, it is necessary to take a few dates, to see how rapidly the metaphysical systems have followed each other. From 1790 to 1800 Kant ruled unquestioned through all Germany. For three or four years succeeding, Fichte was the lord of the ascendant, till Schelling pushed him from his stool, and kept it a few years. But before 1809 had closed, a rebellion of common-sense through the land had dispossessed them all, and since that no one has succeeded to their influence. Of their systems it is not necessary to speak. It is only necessary to know that Fichte and Schelling divided the system of Kant, and that the one, by pushing his idealism too far, in the German phrase, made Nature independent of God, or undeified Nature; while the other, being a man of poetical feeling, went into the other extreme, and almost identified God and Nature,—so that before the defeat of Kant's system as a whole, and then in both parts separately, his school came to a total bankruptcy. In this state you must now consider German metaphysics, taken as a system, or a collection of systems, and in this state they must remain till some man of high talents comes forward, like Kant, at once to destroy and to build up.

But you will ask whether these systems and revolutions left no traces behind them which are still visible. Certainly, very many and very important ones. First, you may observe an extreme excitement in the minds of the Germans upon all metaphysical subjects, produced by such rapid and important revolutions. These three great metaphysicians were men of very rare endowments, of uncommon weight and force of talents, and to the sort of uproar and tumult in which they kept the country for twenty years, is undoubtedly to be traced no inconsiderable portion of that general metaphysical


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