Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 September 2009
Music performs on the clavichord within us which is our own inmost being.– J. G. Herder
In March of 1830, the year before his death, G. W. F. Hegel, by then the rector of the University of Berlin and a celebrated philosopher, met Princess Marianne of Hesse-Homburg, the wife of the crown prince of Prussia. The princess was the daughter of the Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg, for whom Hölderlin had written “Patmos.” In her diary, Princess Marianne records that she asked Hegel about Isaac von Sinclair, a friend to both Hegel and Hölderlin from their Tübingen days, and received a curious response: “At that point, he [Hegel] began to speak of Hölderlin, whom the world has forgotten…. A whole lost past went through me.” The Tübinger Freunde had long dispersed and Hegel had essentially given up on Hölderlin as hopelessly mad in 1803 when Schelling wrote to him about their friend's worsening condition. Suddenly, the mention of a friend's name brought Hölderlin to Hegel's mind, along with the plans they had made long ago in Jena, Frankfurt, and Homburg. The “lost past” mentioned by Princess Marianne refers to the time immediately after the French Revolution that had raised fleeting hopes for reform before Napoleon ravaged Europe and released the forces that would control European politics for the rest of the nineteenth century. It also refers to the period in Hegel's life when a project like the one described in the Systemprogramm fragment seemed worth considering and even possible.