'Dagboek van mijn verblijf in Duitsland' by Jan Ackersdijck

Berlijn, 1831: Ackersdijck meets Hegel

Jan Ackersdijck (bron: wikimedia commons)

Jan Ackersdijck (1790-1861) (1790-1861) studied at the University of Utrecht, and became a lawyer, just as his father Willem Cornelis Ackersdijck (1760-1843). In 1825 he was appointed professor in Economics at the University of Liège. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the territory that now consists of Belgium and Luxemburg had been united with the Netherlands into one kingdom under the Dutch king William I. Ackersdijck was an avid traveller, and of each journey he kept a diary. Taken together, they form one of the most extensive collections of travel diaries from the nineteenth century.

Over fifty travel diaries

The majority of Ackersdijck’s travel diaries has been collected in Utrecht, University Library, Ms. 1316. It consists of 34 travel diaries in 45 volumes over the period from 1809 to 1859 (Tiele 1887, 312-313). Five additional diaries are now in Ms. 21 A 11-12 (see e.g. Randeraad 2008), which were taken out of Ms. 1152, a collection of papers that still contains some minor travel documents. Of a few of his travels he published an account during his lifetime (Ackersdijck 1828-1833; 1840). Ackersdijck travelled to many countries in Europe, including Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Scandinavia, Italy, France and Spain. Some of his contemporaries also wrote down their accounts for private or public purposes (Geurts 2013a, 2013b), but few so extensively as Ackersdijck.

The Berlin diary

Vermelding van de plekken waar Hegel wordt genoemd in het reisdagboek van Ackersdijck

In one of his diaries, No. 9 of Ms. 1316 (shelfmark 0 C 7), Ackersdijck records his travels and studies in Germany from 29 August 1830 to 7 July 1831. This diary is of special interest, for in it he records his stay in Berlin, where he followed lectures at the University of Berlin. Among them were those of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), and actually Ackersdijck attended one of the last lecture series Hegel would give before the famous philosopher died in a cholera epidemic in November 1831 (cf. Rameil 2001).

Portret van Georg Hegel door Jakob Schlesinger uit 1831 (bron: wikimedia)
Portret of Georg Hegel by Jakob Schlesinger from 1831

What follows is a narrative around the parts in which Ackersdijck writes about Hegel, which are translated or summarized. He attends Hegel’s lectures, meets him a couple of times, and comments on Hegel’s philosophy. He writes in a factual way – not surprisingly, for a statistician – in the Dutch of the nineteenth century, which with regard to spelling, punctuation and use of certain words and phrases, is different from modern Dutch (Dutch words between brackets are given in their modern form). He usually gives a person’s surname only, the first names have been added between square brackets. In certain cases it is not quite clear what he means, and further study in necessary to gain a clearer picture.

Against mysticism (and romanticism)

Ackersdijck begins his travel diary when he sets out from Liège in Belgium. This coincides with the beginning of the revolt that would lead to Belgian independence, and throughout his diary Ackersdijck writes that he wants to know what is going on. After staying some time in the Netherlands, he travels east, and arrives in Jena on 13 December 1830, where he attends several lectures at the university. But after a few days he is on the road again. On Saturday 18 December he travels from Leipzig to Berlin by coach, and he writes in his diary (p. 138) the following observation:

Recently, Mysticism has done much evil in the political sciences.[Karl Ludwig] von Haller, Adam Müller, [Johann] Görres and others have tried to work unfavourably, especially in Bavaria. Theological bigotry has connected itself to this; the Jesuits have partly worked underneath this. In Berlin the philosophy of Hegel and the support it enjoys from the government, works unfavourably. The current political events shall probably steer (political) science away from that course, but perhaps delay the thorough study of it.

Life in Berlin

That evening, he arrives in snow-covered Berlin. He finds a room at Unter den Linden 26, in the heart of the city. He immediately starts meeting people, and his diary is populated by an impressive cast of scholars, politicians, diplomats and officers, as well as persons from the world of art, the theatre and other walks of life.

Johann Gottfried Hoffmann, Lithografie van Franz Krüger (1797–1857)
J. G. Hoffmann

Ackersdijck seems to move easily in various circles and is able to converse with all and sundry, no doubt helped by his wide interests and knowledge.

On 26 December he meets the mathematician Prof. Enno Heeren Dirksen, whom knew from a visit to Brussels a few years earlier. ‘He is an East-Frisian and gives his opinion eagerly and candidly’. Dirksen would take him to the Schachklub (chess club), a good way to meet other people. He becomes good friends with Johann Gottfried Hoffmann, Professor in Statistics.

Attending lectures

Karl Ludwig Michelet (bron: wikimedia)

On 6 January 1831 Ackersdijck begins to attend lectures, two by Hoffmann (Finance and Statistics) and two by Friedrich von Raumer (History of the Constitution and Administration, and Modern History). On 8 January he also attends the lecture of Karl Ludwig Michelet on History of the New Philosophy. At 15.00 Hoffmann takes him to a meeting of the Gesetzlose Gesellschaft, where there are about thirty guests. We know that Hegel was also member of the Gesetzlose Gesellschaft (see e.g. Arndt & Wolfgang Virmoud 1985). There are more of such societies, Ackersdijck notes, which meet every eight or fourteen days, to have a meal together. These are male societies, and women do normally not accompany their husbands, it is considered too expensive. Hoffmann introduces Ackersdijck to his subordinate, Geheimrath Friedrich Bernhardt Engelhardt, who on his turn takes him to a meeting of the Geographische Gesellschaft, presided by professor Carl Ritter. Here he meets other people, with whom he discusses the situation in Poland (the November uprising). In this way, Ackersdijck quickly establishes himself among his peers.

On Monday 10 January he writes:

I have attended the lectures by Hoffmann and Raumer again, and this afternoon those of [Theodor] Schmalz and Hegel. It takes up a good part of the day, and then I have much to do with noting at home some of the thing I have heard. This is very important to me, and I acquire many skills, which may come in handy.

This is the first time he notes that he goes to Hegel’s lectures. The next day, Tuesday 11 January, Ackersdijck notes that he attended the same lectures as yesterday. That night he is invited by Prof. von Raumer, where he meets Major Karl Wilhelm von Willisen, an admirer of Napoleon, the freedom of speech and so on. Ackersdijck thinks that in reality ‘freedom’ is ‘a romantic novel’, yet many are of the opinion it should be adopted. At times, Ackersdijck thus expresses his political and philosophical views.

Visiting the theatre

On Wednesday 12 January Ackersdijck writes:

Today I attended the lecture of Michelet about the History of the New Philosophy, and the one of Hegel about the Philosophy of History. Except those, I listened to [Ernst] Helwing, private lecturer, about Roman History

He likes this better than the lecture of extraordinary Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Valentin Schmidt about Dante, which was unclear and unpleasant; perhaps this explains that there were only two students. Franz Bopp, another young scholar, ‘full of zeal for his subject’, has eight students, who witness Bopp tackling three lines of Sanskrit in an hour.

Schauspielhaus in Berlijn rond 1825
Schauspielhaus in Berlin around 1825 (source : wikimedia)

Thursday 13 January he attends the lectures by Hoffmann and von Raumer, and of Friedrich Carl de Savigny about the Roman legal Pandects ‘which I found excellently good’: clear, simple and thorough. Eduard Gans gives a lively and well attended lecture on law under Louis XIV of France. And finally: ‘I also heard Hegel and then went to the theater, where Emilia Galotti was played’. It is remarkable that Ackersdijck gives more information about the lectures he occasionally attends than those of Hoffmann, von Raumer and Hegel, which he attends frequently. But he writes even more about the plays and opera’s he goes to, usually once or twice a week. For example on Tuesday 18 January he writes:

I’ve attended the lectures of Hoffmann, Raumer, Schmalz and Hegel; and went this evening to the Royal City Theater, where The Girl from the Fairy World, or the Peasant as Millionair was played. This is a ludicrous farce, which was only mildly entertaining because of the actor [Josef] Spitzeder. He has much talent for low comedy.


On Wednesday he returns to the university:

Attended Michelet’s lecture; at home I noted a few things about this and other lectures … At 5 I went to Hegel’s lecture. … Thursday 20 January. As usual, I attended the lessons by Hoffmann, Raumer and Hegel, also that by Gans about Louis XIV, which was very crowded. … Friday 21 January. I attended the same lectures as yesterday; subsequently copied my notes of Hegel, and at 3 went to the Café National to eat. At 5 I attended Hegel’s lesson again.

This shows that Ackersdijck made notes during the lectures, which he copied in a new notebook. On 26 January he confirms that this is the case (see also further below):

This evening I spent again reading and writing. The recording of that what I hear in the lectures on philosophy, where it is too full (crowded) and also because the content hinders me to write it down at once in a lasting (organised) way, takes me a lot of time, but to me it is also a study and exercise of these subjects.

Visit to Hegel

On Sunday 23 January he visits Hegel, and gives an interesting observation about him:

I dined at the Hotel de Brandenbourg; after the meal I visited Prof. Hegel, with whom I also spoke about Belgium, Prussia and the philosophers of our time. He is a polite man, who looks like he has been weakened by his studies. It seems that he is between 50 and 60 years old.

The latter figure is correct: Hegel was 60 years old when Ackersdijck met him. The next day he returns to the university:

I attended the lessons by Hoffmann, Raumer, Hegel, as usual, which I intend to follow regularly and about which I thus don’t have to speak anymore – and that by [Friedrich] Wilken about the History of the Middle Ages, and by [Peter Feddersen] Stuhr about the History of the Wars from 1813 to 1815. … Wednesday 26 January. Today I only attended the lectures by Michelet and Hegel.

Health problems

From this time on Ackersdijck becomes more succinct when he notes his attendance at the usual lectures. On 31 January, 2 and 3 February he still notes the lectures he has been to, including those of Hegel ‘as usual’, but on Friday the 4th he simply writes ‘The lectures I still follow as usual’. This becomes the normal way to note his attendance. Although he only mentions Hegel by name on 19 February and 9 and 19 March, we can be sure he went to all his lectures. Very rarely he skips class. On 26 January he admits he got up late and only went to von Raumer’s lecture, and three days later he has a headache, feels listless and only goes to Michelet’s lecture.

Charlotte von Hagn
Charlotte von Hagn, painted by Joseph Karl Stieler (source: wikimedia)

His mood brightens when he meets a beautiful girl who for a week stays in the same hostel as his. It is the young and upcoming actress Charlotte von Hagn (1809-91). Ackersdijk appears to be quite smitten with her, and visits many if not all of her performances. When she leaves on the 12th he ruefully notes: ‘a great pity’. But even during this time he notes on 10 February that the prospect of war and being bereft from news from Holland has made him depressive; ‘I have not much desire to study. I cannot imagine my destiny’. The next day he complains about pains in his head and stomach, worried as he is about the events in Belgium. Nevertheless, he continues attending lectures, and to learn more about Hegel’s classes.


On Wednesday 9 February he notes:

I have borrowed the beginning of Hegel’s course on the Philosophy of History, and this morning I brought it to a copyist. The shabby dwelling of this man, who was recommended to me as one of the best writers, has proven to me that there is little to earn here with one’s pen.

This copy is still extant as Ms. 1380. All 493 pages are written by the same person in a fine script. Ackersdijck own manuscript with lecture notes of the second part of Hegel’s course (Ms. 1381) counts merely 47 pages.

Beginning of Ms. 1380, Philosophie der Geschichte

NB: Since about 2006, prof. Yoshihiro Niji (Hannan University, Osaka, Japan) is doing research on these two manuscripts (Ms. 1380 and 1381). Both manuscripts are not easy to transcribe, especially not the letters in Ms. 1381. Prof. Niji visited the University Library of Utrecht six times to transcribe, analyse and check Ackersdijck's original manuscript. His work is based on this method. His transcript with a reproduction of the original manuscript will be published in October 2020.

Hs. 1381, Ackersdijck's own manuscript with the lecture notes

As we have seen, Ms. 1381 is a clean version of the notes he took during classes. There is a transcript by Otto Pöggeler of Ackersdijck’s lecture notes as well as those of others (Vieweg 2005, 25; Hespe 1991, 178 n. 4) of Hegel’s course. We know that Ackersdijck also ordered a copy of the first part of Michelet’s course on the History of Philosophy from Kant onwards, which is now Ms. 1387-1. It is written by a different copyist. It also supplements Ackersdijck’s own notes on the second part of the same course (Ms. 1387-2). There are two manuscripts with Ackersdijck’s notes on the courses of Hoffmann, one on Finance (Finanzwissenschaft), the other on State Law (Staatsrecht) (Ms. 1384 and Ms. 1385). The lecture notes on Economics (Staatswirtschaft) is a copy (Ms. 1383). Interestingly, this copy was written by two persons, the same two copyists who had written the other two copies independently. The second copyist of Ms. 1383, who also copied Michelet’s course, ends with: ‘Geschlossen, Berlin den 2tem September 1830’ and the signature ‘Kremce’ (?). It seems that both men cooperated in copying lecture notes.

Together with Ackersdijck’s notations on von Raumer’s course on State Law (Ms. 1386), this gives a good overview of the main courses Ackersdijck attended and their first parts, although in all cases it appears that Ackersdijck notes are less detailed than those available to the copyists. Finally, there is a copy of the notes on Arnold Hermann Ludwig Heeren’s course about Statistics (Ms. 1382). Heeren was professor in Göttingen, and the notes are from the winter semester 1826/7, as the title page shows. It was written by G. A. Schultze for Professor Dupont. It also has the name in pencil ‘Charles Amory, Boston’.

It is probably the resulting copy of notes of Hegel’s first part of his course about which Ackersdijck writes on 18 February: ‘I have started to read, and to study as much as I can, Hegel’s Philosophy of History’. He continues this study afterwards, as on 1 March he writes:

I spent a large part of the evening reading a section of Hegel’s Philosophy of History, of which I have ordered a copy. As I attend most of the lectures, it is important that I also know the beginning [of the course]. It is during this half year the only course Hegel gives.

A meeting of professors

On Monday 7 March Ackersdijck meets Hegel outside the lecture hall:

I have written much today; and studied the course of Hegel, of which I have ordered a copy … I spent this evening with a company that Prof. Gans invited in the Café Royal. Most of them were professors: Hegel, [August] Boeck[h], Von Raumer, Bop[p], [Leopold von] Henning, [Carl Gustav] Homayer, [Philipp Konrad] Marheinecke, [Heinrich Gustav] Hotho; - the author [Karl August] Varnhagen von Ense, an important functionary at the Ministry of Education, the Geheim-OberRegierungsrath [Johannes] Schulze. It was important to me to make new acquaintances, and to observe these Berlin professors in their social manners. They were equitable, merry and relaxed; the conversations were usually interesting, mostly scientific, yet often also not. We stayed together until twelve.

It is perhaps about Hegel when he writes on 17 March: ‘These days I study quite a lot on the New Philosophy, which I would like to understand’. On Friday 18 March he adds to his notes in the margin: ‘After Hegel’s class (at six) I had a long conversation with Professor [August] Zeune and also with Hegel himself’. The academic semester is drawing to a close. On 19 March he describes the last lecture of Michelet:

Today Prof. Michelet ended the course on the History of the New Philosophy, with a recommendation of the absolute idealismus of Hegel’s system, of which he, Michelet, is regarded as one of the best students. He is still very young, not 30 years old, he speaks quite clearly, but not in a nice way, and it seems to me that he is not quite free of presumptuousness and quackery. His field is philology; he deliberately gives a course on Aristotle too, at which subject philology and philosophy meet.

Hoffmann ends both his classes on 25 March, and Hegel on Saturday 26 March:

This whole week Hegel doubled his class, today he read from four to six today as well, and did this to end of his course.

Thoughts about the ‘New Philosophy’

This did not end Ackersdijck’s contact with Hegel, nor of his interest in his philosophy. Although he had been notified of his appointment as a professor at the University of Utrecht on 18 March, Ackersdijck stayed in Berlin, and continued to follow lectures, but Hegel was not teaching this spring. On Friday 1 April Ackersdijck returns to the subject of Hegel’s philosophy, and writes an unusually long entry about his conversation with prof. Dirksen, whom he had met when he had just arrived in Berlin. Although Ackersdijck at first summarizes Dirksen’s views on the matter, the boundaries between the opinion of Dirksen and of himself seem to be blurred

Prof. Dirksen confirmed the good (stories) that I heard about him. Now we speak extensively about Hegel and his philosophy. Mister Dirksen knows him very well and has also studied his philosophy. We agreed that Hegel is a man with much spirit and extensive knowledge; but he knows no mathesis and very little natural history. Dirksen regards his philosophy as dreamscapes. The laws of nature, even the highest, those of gravity, discovered by Newton, are really just hypotheses; Newton never presented them as anything else. It has probability, which arises from the fact that it resolves the current perception; but every other hypothesis, which equally resolves existing observations, can also be true.

However, the natural philosophy of Hegel and others presumes to designate rules and laws that don’t need any experience and which actually can’t be refuted by any perceptions. Moreover, there is in that philosophy an obscurity, which for a part originates from Hegel’s total incapability to express himself with words as used in their normal sense. He uses them with a meaning which they don’t have in ordinary language, and he himself does not always use them in the same sense.

But that obscurity also originates from the fact that Hegel and especially his followers do not have any clear terms. Their disparaging of normal common sense and assuming a higher sort of truths, which may be in conflict with it, has much contributed to this. Until now there are among the outspoken students of Hegel not men of great name or merit. Here there are Henning, Michelet, Hotho. Gans was one of them, but he kept deviating from it. Great superficiality, and the presumption that they can handle all fields characterise the Hegelians.

Somewhat in the spirit of Hegel is also Marheineke. For the thorough study of the natural sciences the so-called natural philosophy is very disadvantageous, because she neglects the essential instrument of the precise observation of nature. Mister [Eilhard] Mitscherlich has recently complained to me about this. The other professors and teachers of philosophy do not have an outstanding reputation.

The government promotes Hegel’s philosophy intensively. She prefers to appoint his followers, also at other academies, where, however, they do not proliferate themselves. This is mostly because Mister Schulze, who is factotum at the Ministry of Education, is a student and friend of Hegel – political grounds are actually not for that.

In my own experience there is a great bitterness between the school of Hegel and the so-called historical school of Savigny, [Barthold Georg] Niebühr, etc. From both side they make reasonable objections, and both also have their mistakes, namely superficiality and an attachment to dry matter, with interest in often futile particularities, while the spirit is overlooked.

Dinner at the Hegels

The outspoken critique on Hegel’s philosophy and its followers did not prevent Ackersdijck to visit Hegel himself four days later, the 5th of April:

This afternoon I had dinner at prof. Hegel’s. Apart from me there was an officer’s wife, whose man is in Luxemburg with her father, and a painter named [Johann Gottlob Samuel] Rösel. The family of the sage consists of his wife, who is from Nuremberg, a daughter of a distinguished merchant, and two sons between 14 and 16 years old. They were very merry and talkative, especially Mr. Rösel, a small hunchbacked fellow, full of fire, who related among others how on his journey in Italy (1816) he had been near La Cava in the company of highway men, who treated him very well. Prof. Hegel is totally not rigid, and joins in every conversation: the arts, the theatre, politics, etc.

New encounters

On Thursday 7 April Ackersdijck meets a young student, who must be Eduard Gottlob Zeller (who came from Württemberg, not Switzerland), and who at that time was just seventeen years old:

I met a Swiss theology student, named Zeller, with whom I talked for a long time about the New Philosophy. He related to me among others about the zeal of [Johann August Wilhelm] Neander against the Hegelians. He lent me the Heft (cahier with notes) of the lectures of Michelet.

It is remarkable that Ackersdijck picks out this bit about Hegel’s opponent, while Zeller was to become something of a Hegelian himself during the first part of his career. When two days later Ackersdijck meets another Hegelian, the further unknown Gädeke, he again expresses his doubts about the tenets of the ‘New Philosophy’:

Mister Gädeke visited me … We talked about Hegel’s philosophy, which he strongly favoured. He argued that Plato had already had much of the same notions. He said among others that the ‘nothing’ out of which, according to the Old Testament, the world was shaped, the same ‘nothing’ is of which Hegel speaks, and that it the same as ‘being’ … All these opinions were out of my league, I can’t possibly judge what of that may be (right).

Hegel keeps him occupied. He even notes in his diary on Thursday 14 April ‘I read at home a few things: a satire on Hegel and his followers …’. This is probably the play Die Winde oder ganz absolute Konstruktion der neuern Weltgeschichte durch Oberons Horn gedichtet von Absolutus von Hegelingen (Leipzig, 1831), anonymously published by Otto Friedrich Gruppe. Six days later Ackersdijck confesses:

These days I studied a lot on the history of the New Philosophy. So far, I can’t comprehend much about Hegel’s system, and what I do understand, has not the high value to me as it has to his followers.

On Monday 16 May he makes his last remark about Hegel, which once again underlines that Ackersdijck had difficulties in coming to terms with Hegel’s philosophy. He meets private lecturer Melzer, a man with Polish connections, and who can be identified as Ernst Friedrich Melzer who was to become professor in Breslau (p. 426):

Dr. Melzer intends to write a work about the philosophy of law; he told me that, according to his opinion, Hegel has certainly shone new light on this matter, mainly by showing that one has to set and must set ethical obligations (zedeplichten) belonging to the family apart from binding obligations (verbintenisplichten) which belong to the state; that one should choose other terms for this than Sittlichkeit and Moral, while these actually mean the same. His system is incomplete, he said, because the history of the world is regarded as a part of this system – to supplement what is missing, so to speak – which is not consistent with the principle that rejects the unendlichen Progress, because history only becomes a whole, when it is at its end. Time was too short, and I was not sufficiently initiated in Hegel’s philosophy to develop these notions. I jot them down, so that I can return to them during my future studies.


Jan Ackersdijck started his tenure as assistant professor in Law in Utrecht on 23 August 1831, and was full professor in Law and Economics from 1840 to 1860. While he published relatively little, his influence as a teacher and expert was considerable. His diaries testify of an inquisitive spirit, who prefers facts to theory. In his Berlin diary this is brought out in what he writes about Hegel, his philosophy and followers. But apart from this, his diary also gives an interesting and at times vivid account of both academic and ordinary life in Berlin in 1830 and 1831, with accounts of travel, lectures, plays, visits (museums, institutes such as those for the blind or for the deaf-mute, factories) and above all the people whom he meets. This makes his Berlin diary all the more interesting.

Author: Bart Jaski, February 2020