Letter 259d

259d. Dorothea Veit to Rahel Levin in Berlin: Jena, 10 April 1800 [*]

Jena, 10 April 1800

Although you have not responded, dear Levin, I do want to go ahead and write you again, for you shall not be allowed to forget me just like that. [1] You would not believe all the things I imagined may have happened to you! You are away on a journey, at a spa; are not healthy enough, or are too healthy! Count Finck is in Berlin; [2] you are aggravated, merry — sometimes perhaps even: you are studying! you are getting married! — It must be one of these things, and I am wracking my brains trying to guess what is occupying you, what is distracting you. — Oh, dear Rahel, what a charming springtime! and how often can I not but think with regret that you must squander it there in Berlin! What does anyone in Berlin know about springtime? If I understood more about descriptive poetry, [3] I could fill multiple printers sheets for you about the beauty of the surrounding area here and all the ways one can enjoy it, but I must be content with crying out to you: If only you were here! — Whenever I am away from you for a lengthier period, it always becomes clear to me that we two actually should be together, for it is hardly likely that two women were ever better suited to each other than we two! That is my feeling. Do I err in intimating the same in you? It cannot be, for it would be impossible for me to love you as I do if you did not also love me. — I implore you, regardless of what you may be doing, tear yourself away for an hour and write me — about yourself, about what you are doing and what you are thinking about doing. — An evil demon has disrupted our wonderful life here! Madam Schlegel has been ill and bedridden for 6 weeks now, first seriously, then boringly so. This wretched situation is frustrating everything good, even my work, for I must attend her a great deal, and now even my own room is not being properly respected amid it all. You can well imagine how anxious especially this latter circumstance makes me, since my whole existence does, after all, depend on it; if I cannot work, I will surely lose my will to live! — This morning I have tried to get back into my normal routine; Madam Schlegel is no longer in danger, and she simply must try to endure the boredom tant bien que mal! [4] I am using my first bit of free time now to write you, hoping that in so doing I can, as it were, rededicate myself for work! — Do you already have Athenaeum? [5] How do you like the critique of Schmidt, Matthisson, and Voss? and the antiphonal piece in which these kindred spirits unite? [6] Is it not as thorough as it is entertaining? and as dignified as witty? Papa Goethe was crazy with delight over it. Schlegel had to read it aloud to him three times de suite. [7] Do say something nice to Friedrich about his stanzas “An Heliodora,” they are his first verses. [8] Though since then he has done several more, all of which will be published in their own good time. Schlegel’s poems will be appearing at the book fair. [9] You will find wonderfully beautiful things there, especially among the later pieces, where the sonnets particularly distinguish themselves as a form he himself is the first to develop to such perfection among the Germans. The poem in stanzas “Der Bund der Kirche mit den Künsten” is also sublimely beautiful, [10] just as the elegy to his deceased brother will doubtless also greatly please you. [11] I find the poems from the earlier period of his art a bit weak, especially those that speak of love, a theme that seems to be more his weakness than his strength. [12] Charlotte Ernst wanted to come here for a visit at just this time, and God knows how much I was looking forward to making her personal acquaintance, since everything I have heard about her has thoroughly enchanted me; but Caroline’s illness poses a hindrance, and one simply had to cancel the visit, only imagine! So now it is highly unlikely she will be coming here after all, since as soon as Madam Schlegel has recovered sufficiently, she intends travel to a mineral-springs spa in Franconia; [13] in a word, the whole thing is about as stupid as it possibly could be! I do indeed need to get to Dresden yet again. — I will probably not return before the Feast of John the Baptist, [14] since I first want to drink Pyrmont spring water here and take the waters, and then I will come again; where will I then meet you? surely not really in Berlin? Do bring me up to date concerning your plans for the summer. — I recently read an announcement of a translation of the new novel by Genlis by Madam Bernard; [15] please do tell me something about this novel, and also about the translation. Stay well and remember me. — The Schlegels send you their regards, and please give my regards to all our good acquaintances, especially my warm and cordial regards to Grappengiesser and Scholtz! . . .

Please do not forget your good friend. . . .


[*] Sources: Dorothea Schlegel und deren Söhne 1:[10–12]; KFSA 25:88–90. Back.

[1] Presumably a reference to Dorothea’s letter to Rahel on 23 January 1800 (letter 258j). Back.

[2] Concerning Karl Graf Finck von Finckenstein and Rahel Levin, see Dorothea’s letter to Rahel on 23 January 1800 (letter 258j), note 5; Dorothea apparently was unaware Rahel had broken off her relationship with him (KFSA 25:438fn2). Back.

[3] In English in original. Back.

[4] Fr., “as best one can.” Back.

[5] The first issue of Athenaeum (1800) — the penultimate issue overall — had just appeared; the second and final issue of 1800 would appear in August. Back.

[6] Wilhelm Schlegel’s critical examination of poetic elements and stylistic considerations in Friedrich von Matthisson, Friedrich Wilhelm August Schmidt (known as Schmidt von Werneuchen), and Johann Heinrich Voss, Athenaeum (1800) 139–61, and his “competition” parody, “Wettgesang,” between those three poets, 161–64; concerning the latter, see Caroline’s letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 27 December 1799 (letter 258), note 19. Back.

[7] Presumably on 26 March 1800, when Goethe’s diary records a visit from Wilhelm (Weimarer Ausgabe 3:2:286). — De suite, Fr., “consecutively, one after the other.” Back.

[8] Athenaeum (1800) 1–3 (approximate prose rendering for content):

To Heliodora

From the depths of the heart did love yearn to rise,
In the blossom of youth rose courage high
To reach the stars through energy bright.
But amid its own ardor did the spirit burn out,
And in derision turn from all things,
Delivered over to its own rapacious yearning,
When sounded dark virtue's rigid words:
Deliver yourself , O suitor, through sacred murder!

By this beam's power was I returned to myself anew,
Death's love heals life's wound,
From destruction does the highest life flash forth.
Grand cultivation grew on solid ground;
In strong alliance, what is and will be magnificent is united,
Together, by the striving of the love of art and heroic pride.
The spirit of scholarship in an image did appear
Beauteous and mild to the magical summons.

You were my morning sun, Heliodora!
From your light did I draw new ardor.
You are my source of life, Heliodora!
Through whose power my old pain does now rest.
Do but blossom, you wondrous flower, Heliodora!
Through your breath provide eternal courage for eternal poesy!
No longer will I wrangle with fate,
Will instead weave a beauteous garland from beauteous branches.

And yet let us stride forward with reason,
Let understanding discern what fancy has begun.
Cleverness makes even the best stumble,
Confused deception dissipates all too quickly;
Into distant expanses do they run astray quite on their own
Attaining nothing but their own exhaustion.
When wisdom shows itself in foolish garb,
The foolish quickly, easily lose their way.

The fecund future flutters with mighty wings,
I open the gates of my life's path;
Peer into the deepest mirror of clear spirit! —
There, in battle, do I conquer works without wavering,
Seize the seal of each and every science,
Proclaim sacred thoughts to friends
And establish a temple to each and every art,
I myself a new example of their alliance.

But should fate decide to slay me early,
Then shall we sink in a single flood of death.
Easily can I renounce colorful earth,
For art alone does my ardor burn.
On the sun, too, let us inquire after her!
By steel let our blood yet here be wed,
The spirit is content, for posthumous fame,
With love's crown in the earthly sanctuary. Back.

[9] Wilhelm Schlegel’s Gedichte (Tübingen 1800). The Leipzig book fair commenced on the third Sunday after Easter (Jubilate); with Easter falling on 13 April in 1800, the fair would have begun on 4 May 1800. Back.

[10] Ibid., 143–56. See Caroline’s letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 27 December 1799 (letter 258), note 24. Back.

[11] The brother was Karl August Schlegel, who died on 9 September 1789 in Madras, India, while with a Hannoverian regiment in the service of an English company. A eulogy to him in English appeared in the Madras Courier on 21 October 1789 (cited in Körner, (1930), 1:8–9):

Shade of my Friend, if haply thou canst see
The tear, that falls in memory of thee,
Accept the tribute to thy virtues due,
To candor, worth, and all that friendship knew,
Had thy frail frame been as thy spirit strong,
'How blest thy ripen'd age! thy life how long!
Firm to the last amidst a baleful strife,
That robb'd thy breast of happiness and life,
Thine was the triumph, envy's the defeat,
And the still grave the happy calm retreat. —
Unkindly pow'r of malice's tainted breath,
Whose looks are poison, and whose words are death!

Wilhelm’s own poem was “Neoptolemus an Diokles,” Gedichte, 238–55 (Sämmtliche Werke 2:13–20, where the English poem is also reproduced), and begins from the perspective of the brother:

Brother, do you still remember me? the stranger? whom first his drive,
Then distant lands, the sea, and, finally, death did remove from you?
India shelters my grave: where on a lonely plain
Bamboo, protectively, shelters him from scorching ray.

But neither land nor sea prevents the disembodied shadow
From visiting, oft, the home of early wishes,
And in the hearts of friends, with faint whisper of spirit,
Amid longing melancholy, stir affectionate shudders. 

Behold, you live and flourish in the fullness of manly years;
Me, the unwilling, did hostilely fate tear away.
For I strived for deeds and fame: and deeds and fame
Escaped me, I walked in the night of forgetfulness.

Vain glory! Boastful herald of happiness, fortune,
Passes by the silent deed, in one's breast.
Brother, why do I boast to you? You, though yet a boy,
Did see the youth, courageous and nobly enflamed.

To be a warrior did I strive, like Roman heroes,
When the teacher did chide me to pay attention to books etc. Back.

[12] Among precisely those poems, some were addressed to Caroline. See supplementary appendix 101a.1. Back.

[13] To Bocklet. See Dorothea’s letter to Schleiermacher on 4 April 1800 (letter 259c), note 8. Back.

[14] 24 June. Back.

[15] Félicité Ducrest de Saint-Aubin, Madame de Genlis, Les mères rivales ou La calomnie, 3 vols. (Berlin 1800); translated as Die beiden Mütter oder die Verläumdung, trans. Esther Bernard (1770–1814), 3 vols. (Berlin 1800–2). Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott