The ›world soul‹ in Jena

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death. The General and Emperor of the French left his mark all over Europe—even in Jena. After being revered by philosopher Friedrich Hegel in the autumn of 1806, dissident voices soon arose at the university during French rule. We take a look back at that era​.
The university archives contain this decree, issued on 12 February 1809 by Imperial Domain Inspector Louis Alexandre Gentil, stating that the ›Lindenstück‹ was to be donated to the university by Napoleon and outlining the finer details of the transaction. The university archives contain this decree, issued on 12 February 1809 by Imperial Domain Inspector Louis Alexandre Gentil, stating that the ›Lindenstück‹ was to be donated to the university by Napoleon and outlining the finer details of the transaction. Image: Uniarchiv/Uni Jena

By Stefan Laudien

Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte, rode through Jena on horseback on 13 October 1806. The next day, it was time for the weapons to do the talking during the Battle of Jena and the Battle of Auerstedt. However, the scholars at the ›Salana‹ university hardly took any notice of the infamous man. There is a simple reason for this: It was a mid-term break and most of the students were out of town.

However, one of their professors met the emperor and was seriously impressed. The philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel saw Napoleon on Johannisstraße: »I saw the emperor—this world soul—ride out through the city to reconnoitre; it truly is a wonderful sensation to see such an individual who is concentrating here on one point as he sits astride his horse, encompassing and dominating the world.« While the emperor was inflicting a serious defeat on the larger armies of Prussia and Saxony the next morning, heralding the end of old Prussia, Hegel was focusing on his manuscript. He had just revised the final pages of ›The Phenomenology of Spirit‹ and sent the book to Bamberg. Woe betide if the pages didn’t arrive—there was no duplicate.

The university in Jena was largely spared from the warfare in the autumn of 1806; looting and fire resulted in 4,005 thalers of lost assets—plus 8,722 thalers in private assets. However, teaching could start again on 3 November by virtue of an imperial letter of protection. As compensation for the lost assets, the university was given a plot of land: the ›Lindenstück‹ in Blankenhain. An honorary doctorate was also awarded to five Frenchmen: medics who had been involved in the war.

Teaching at the university was affected by French rule. From the winter semester of 1808 onwards, for example, the curriculum included lectures on the ›Napoleonic Code‹. There were two objectives behind this: On the one hand, the university had to remain appealing to students whose homeland was now part of France; on the other hand, the law graduates in Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach had to be familiar with the legal framework in case it ever entered into force in the local territory. After the French Revolution, a bourgeois interpretation of the law had even caught on amongst Jena’s legal scholars.

However, resistance was also starting to emerge against the foreign rulers in Jena, including the historian Heinrich Luden. His lecture entitled ›On the History of the Fatherland‹ put the focus on the Nation, and his anonymous work entitled ›Views of the Confederation of the Rhine‹ was an anti-Napoleonic manifesto. However, the road to the German nation could ill afford to return the people to the old feudal state.

As for Napoleon, he basked in a long string of victories from his stronghold in Jena before his Grande Armée finally suffered a bitter loss at the hands of the Russian Army in 1812. The Germans, Swedes, Austrians and Russians inflicted another defeat on the emperor at the ›Battle of the Nations‹ near Leipzig in 1813. The Corsican was banished; when he made his return, he was definitively beaten at Waterloo in 1815. Napoleon Bonaparte died on the island of St. Helena on 5 May 1821, 200 years ago.

 

Share this page
Friedrich Schiller University on social media:
Studying amid excellence:
Top of the page