Letter 278

• 278. Caroline to Schelling in Jena: Braunschweig, 27 December 1800 [*]

[Braunschweig, 27 December 1800]

|21| My dear friend, my Schelling, you kept our agreement, and I did not. On the very evening of the day I last wrote you, I received your gift.

Ah, but you are a liar, your ring is strong, indeed stronger than chains, it is the ring to which the chain is attached that holds my life fast. I immediately looked for the name Joseph and found it through the tears that blurred my eyes. [1]

You did not forget anything. Nor should you think that I have forgotten anything, not even should I never give you the ring that belongs to this one, just as I have indeed not yet done.

How easily would you have received it in the very same hour, for I often thought about just that. You did not receive it, and that |22| is our destiny. You must not call it my fault. Indeed, this is the first, the only true wedding ring for me, and it will always remain singular. It breaks with the future and binds us only to a brief past. Oh, you dear, faithful heart, it is purely, soundly made from your own pain, all of which I myself recognize and all of which I can exchange with you.

But some of it I am holding back, since some must always remain mine alone. You will, after all, never be able to assimilate the mother’s grief completely. But be not aggrieved when you sense how that which prompts your lady friend to erupt in such words must of necessity also tear her apart — yes, just now tear her apart. All this must somehow, at some time turn to joy for me once more, do you not also believe that? —

My soul is being reduced more and more to just this grief, and yet I am comforted and strong. Do keep this thought in mind if I am unable to keep from weeping at your breast. New life is welling up from these moments, indeed they themselves represent a sublime symbol of life; my grief is not mere dejection, nor despondency, nor despair, and only if I need not conceal any of this from my friend can I have complete trust in him.

Allow me at least to touch upon it; I have no intention of making you linger over it. I myself do not linger over it. Though the clouds of my own misery may also shroud my head for a time, it will soon free itself again, and the pure blue of heaven above me, which encompasses my child just as it does me, will again shine its light on it. Omnipresence: that is what the deity is — and do you yourself not believe we must one day become omnipresent ourselves, all of us, one in the other, yet without for that reason being One? For we must not become One, that much you well know, since then precisely our striving to become One would itself cease.

|23| My dear friend, I just copied out some of the sonnets for you about which I recently spoke. The middle one especially is of extraordinarily great poetic beauty. [2] You probably recall that the “Der König in Thule” was her last song. [3] With this child, truth often turned into a charming poem quite of itself.

I hope I am not too harshly interrupting you during these good days you are having now. No, it is also good if your memories pass, as it were, through a ray of sun in which the darker colors, too, appear bright.

It was not until Saturday that I received your letter of Monday. The weather and roads are so horribly bad now that one can no longer count on things being delivered on a certain day. They are also keeping Schlegel back here, who actually was intending to depart next Saturday. [4]


[*] Schmidt, (1913), 2:21, dates the letter to “the end of December”; concerning the present dating, see note 4 below. Back.

[1] Schelling was called Fritz in his family; Caroline occasionally used Joseph as his first name. (Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling). Back.

[2] Along with this letter, Caroline enclosed the sonnets from Wilhelm’s Offerings for the Deceased for Auguste and Friedrich von Hardenberg, here: “Beloved Traces,” “Swan Song,” and “The Heavenly Mother”; Caroline is referring to “Swan Song.” Back.

[3] Caroline is presumably referring to Auguste having performed the song on some occasion in Bamberg or Bocklet before her final illness, either with an accompanist or while accompanying herself on the piano forte ([1] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Der Gesang [1780]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Uh 4° 47 [157]; [2] “Laura at the Pianoforte” (Schillers Werke, ed. J. G. Fischer, vol. 1 (Stuttgart, Leipzig 1877], 9):



Auguste probably sang Goethe’s “Der König in Thule” (written in 1774, published 1782; sung by Gretchen in Goethe’s Faust, part 1) in the version composed by Karl Siegmund von Seckendorf in 1782. For the text and music, see the supplementary appendix on Wilhelm’s “Offerings for the Deceased,” note 1.

Dorothea Veit, who was otherwise disinclined toward Wilhelm’s poetry, found two of the pieces “magnificent” — i.e., the two that were composed first (see Wilhelm to Ludwig Tieck on 14 September 1800 [letter 267e]) — and also praises the musical quality in the poems (see her letter to Wilhelm on 25 August 1800 (letter 266b).

In a letter to Schiller on 11 May 1802, Wilhelm von Humboldt criticizes the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802, then remarks (Schiller und die Romantiker: Briefe und Dokumente, ed. Hans Heinrich Borcherdt [Tübingen 1948], 534): “And yet in a couple of the `Offerings for the Deceased,’ Wilhelm Schlegel does elevate himself above his customary horizon.” And Goethe remarks in his diary on 9 December 1807 (not 8 December as in Erich Schmidt, [1913], 2:601), during a period when he himself was composing sonnets (Weimarer Ausgabe 3:3:305): “Read sonnets by Schlegel; those written on the occasion of his stepdaughter’s death are excellent.” Back.

[4] Because Caroline’s previous extant letter was written on Saturday, 20 December 1800 (letter 277), and considering that she refers here to having not received Schelling’s “letter of Monday” until Saturday — possibly 27 December 1800 (a lost letter from Schelling would then be dated to 22 December 1800) — she seems to be writing on or after Saturday, 27 December.

Neither has any mention been made yet of New Year’s Eve 1800; coming letters discuss both what Caroline and Wilhelm and what Schelling did on that evening.

If such be the case, Wilhelm was possibly planning to leave for Jena on the first Saturday in January 1801 (“next Saturday” in Caroline’s letter), which was 3 January and which would accord with his plans as discussed earlier in the final paragraph of his letter to Schleiermacher on 1 December 1800 (letter 276b). With reference to Caroline and Wilhelm’s marital relationship, it is important to note, as seen in that earlier letter, that the couple had already definitively resolved to separate. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott