Caroline in Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde. Ein Roman (Berlin 1799)
From the chapter “Apprenticeship for Manhood”
(Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments,
trans. Peter Firchow [Minneapolis 1971], 90–94) [*]
Julius fell more and more into a state distinguishable from madness only by the fact that to a greater or lesser degree he could control when and to what extent he would give himself over to its power. His outward behavior conformed to all the bourgeois social norms; and precisely at a time when a confusion of pains was tearing his inner being apart, and when the disease of the spirit gnawed ever more deeply and furtively at his heart, did people begin to call him sensible. It was more an emotional disturbance than a mental insanity, but the malady was all the more dangerous because he seemed outwardly happy and cheerful. This had become his habitual disposition and people actually found him agreeable company. Only when he had drunk more wine than usual did he become extremely depressed and inclined to tears and lamentations. But even then, when others were present he bubbled over with bitter witticisms and would mock at everything; or else he made sport of eccentric and stupid people. Their company he now loved more than anything, and he knew how to put them in the best of moods so that they spoke to him from their hearts and uncovered their real natures to him. He was attracted and amused by this vulgarity not because of any kindhearted condescension on his part, but because he thought them foolish and mad.
He didn’t think about himself. Only now and then did the distinct feeling that he would suddenly be destroyed overcome him. Proudly he repressed his remorse: thoughts and visions of suicide had been such familiar companions to him since his earliest youthful moods of depression that they had lost all the charm of novelty for him. He would have been quite capable of carrying out a decision of this kind if he had been at all capable of arriving at any decision. It seemed to him scarcely worth the trouble since he really didn’t hope to escape the boredom of existence and his revulsion against fate in this way. He despised the world and everything in it — and he was proud of it.
This malady, like all the others before it, was cured the moment he caught sight of a woman, a unique woman who moved him to the very depths of his heart for the first time. His previous passions had been merely superficial, or had been passing things without any relevance to the rest of his life. Now he was seized by a new and unknown feeling that this woman was the only right one and that this impression of his would be eternal. The first glance decided it, and with the second he already knew and told himself that now it had come, that what he had waited for unconsciously for so long had really come. He was amazed and horrified, for though he believed it would be the greatest possible happiness to be loved by her and to possess her eternally, he felt at the same time that he would never be able to fulfill this wish, his greatest and only one. She had chosen and had given herself: her choice was his friend, too, and was deserving of her love. Julius was their confidant, and so he knew the source of his unhappiness intimately, passed strict sentence on his own unworthiness, and turned the whole force of his passion against it. He renounced all expectation of happiness, but resolved to be worthy of it and become master of himself. He abhorred nothing more than the thought of revealing his true feelings by some careless word or surreptitious sigh. And certainly any kind of declaration would have been absurd. Since he was so impulsive and she so refined, and the relationship so delicate, a single hint of the sort that seems to be involuntary but really wants to be observed would have inevitably complicated matters further and put everything into confusion. For this reason, he forced all of his love back into himself and let his passion rage, burn, and consume him from within. But his external appearance was completely transformed; he assumed a mask of childlike candor and inexperience, and a kind of brotherly harshness, which he put on so that he shouldn’t lapse from flattery into lovemaking. He succeeded so well in this disguise that she never suspected him in the least. She was cheerful and easy in her happiness, had no misgivings and therefore shrank from nothing, but gave free rein to her wit and her temperament whenever she found him in a bad mood. She possessed, indeed, every sublime and delicate quality characteristic of women, as well as all their divineness and mischief; but everything was refined, well-bred, and feminine. Every single characteristic was freely and strongly developed and expressed, as if it existed for him alone; and yet this rich, daring mixture of such disparate elements formed a whole that was not chaotic because it was animated by a single spirit, a living breath of harmony and love. In one and the same hour she could mimic some comic nonsense with all the playfulness and subtlety of a trained actress, and could read a sublime poem with the ravishing nobility of an artless song. At one moment she would want to flirt and shine in society, at another she would be completely inspired, and at still another she would be helpful both in word and deed, as serious, modest, and friendly as a tender mother. She could transform some trivial event into a beautiful story by her charming way of telling it. She enveloped everything in tenderness and wit; she had a feeling for everything, and everything emerged transfigured out of her shaping hand or her sweetly speaking lips. Nothing good and great was too sacred or too common for her to take a passionate interest in. She understood every allusion and answered those questions, too, which had not been asked. It wasn’t possible to lecture to her; by themselves those lectures turned into conversations and, as they became more and more interesting, a continually renewed music and spirited looks and lovable expressions played upon her face. When one read her letters — which she conceived as if she were carrying on a conversation — one could almost see those changes of expression, so clearly and soulfully did she write. Whoever knew only this side of her might have thought that she was merely a pleasant person, that she would have been a superb actress, and that her sayings lacked only meter and rhyme to be changed into tender poetry. And yet, this same woman showed amazing courage and strength on every important occasion, and that, too, was the lofty perspective from which she formulated her judgment of men.
This greatness of soul was the side of her nature that so captivated Julius at the beginning of his passion because this was the side that fitted in best with his own seriousness. His whole being had, as it were, drawn back from the surface into his inner self. He became quite reserved and avoided the society of men. His favorite companions were the rough, rocky crags; he would muse at the shore of the solitary sea and consult his own thoughts there; and when the noise of the wind roared in the lofty pines, he thought the mighty waves far below wanted to draw near him out of compassion and sympathy; and he would follow mournfully with his eyes the distant ships and the sinking sun. This was his favorite place; in his memory it became for him the sacred home of all his sorrows and resolutions.
The worship of his sublime friend became for him the spiritual foundation and fixed center of a new world. Here all his doubts disappeared; in this genuine possession he felt the value of life and intuited the omnipotence of the will. Truly he stood on the fresh green ground of a mighty maternal earth, and a new sky shaped itself in an infinite vault above him in the blue ether. He recognized in himself a high calling to divine art, berated his laziness for having put him so far behind in his development and for making him too weak to meet any great challenge. He didn’t let himself sink into idle despair, but followed the heralding call of this sacred duty. Now he exerted all those powers which his dissipations had still left him. He broke all his former ties and with one stroke made himself completely independent. He dedicated his strength and his youth to sublime artistic inspiration and achievement. He forgot his own times and modeled himself on the heroes of those former ages whose ruins he loved to adoration. And for himself the present didn’t exist either, since he lived only in the future and in the hope of someday completing an immortal work as a monument to his virtue and honor.
[*] For Isaac-Julien Rouge’s commentary on Caroline, Charlotte Ernst, and Auguste Ernst in Lucinde, see supplementary appendix 209.1. — Rudolf Haym was the first to recognize Caroline in this piece. See Die romantische Schule, 877–79; Haym is discussing Friedrich Schlegel’s transition from unwillingly studying law to pursuing his passion of studying literature and art:
For Fritz [Friedrich], the prospect of freely pursuing his inclinations in scholarship and the arts was joined by the prospect of living together with his beloved brother. In July 1793 he enjoyed spending time with him in their parental home in Hannover, though he admittedly found his brother less solicitous than anticipated. Other concerns were weighing on Wilhelm; as we know from our previous section [in Haym’s study], he had returned to Germany from Holland to fulfill a chivalrous duty. At his behest, Caroline Böhmer came to Leipzig under circumstances requiring double secrecy, remaining then in a location near Leipzig itself, in the small village of Lucka in the Altenburg jurisdiction, entrusted to Friedrich’s care. Here Friedrich visits her as frequently as possible, exchanges letters with her, takes care of his brother’s request regarding her needs, and reports back to Wilhelm regularly concerning her condition. One can clearly discern the salutary influence this responsibility for the affairs of others has on him as well as the influence this remarkable, if also — to put it mildly — all-too-intelligent woman has on him. Let us open Lucinde once more, where Julius [the protagonist] is healed from his affliction of surfeit with the world and weariness of life by the presence of a woman whose possession, as he himself senses, would constitute his ultimate happiness but whom he must also inevitably renounce. For she had already chosen another, and her friend was also his own. Because Julius is her “confidant,” he forces himself to betray nothing of his own feelings, to conceal them instead beneath the semblance of “childlike candor and inexperience, and a kind of brotherly harshness.” Then he provides a picture of this unique woman in the most radiant colors. Suspecting nothing, she gives free rein to her own wit and moods when finding Julius himself less charming. “In one and the same hour she could mimic some comic nonsense with all the playfulness and subtlety of a trained actress. . . . She enveloped everything in tenderness and wit; she had a feeling for everything, and everything emerged transfigured out of her shaping hand or her sweetly speaking lips. Nothing good and great was too sacred or too common for her to take part in passionately.” When she spoke, her face reflected “a continually renewed music and spirited looks and lovable expressions,” and it was precisely this one could almost see when reading her transparent and expressive letters. “Whoever knew only this side of her might have thought that she was merely a pleasant person, that she would have been a superb actress, and that her sayings lacked only meter and rhyme to be changed into tender poetry. And yet, this same woman showed amazing courage and strength on every important occasion, and that, too, was the lofty perspective from which she formulated her judgment of men.” It was from this side that she initially made the greatest impression on Julius, who became closed off and fled the company of people. In the larger sense as well, however, this idolization of his lady friend became a fixed center of his spirit. He sundered all earlier bonds; in one fell swoop, he became independent; reproaching his own previous lethargy, he seized control of himself and devoted all his efforts to the vocation of art that had now emerged for him.
This, too, with some additions and a bit of enhancement, is a piece from Friedrich’s own life story. From everything we otherwise know about Caroline, given the impression her letters make, given the judgment of those who admired her at various times, the picture of the unknown woman sketched here, extraordinarily flattering though it be, is nonetheless accurate. Moreover, Friedrich’s letters to his brother leave no doubt concerning this interpretation of the pertinent passages in the novel. After seeing Caroline for the first time, he confesses to his brother that she has made the most extraordinary impression on him, and an element of renunciation is clearly discernible in his admiration for her. This admiration focuses on her profound understanding of poesy; “she penetrates deeply into its interior, and one can hear that in her reading; she reads [Goethe’s] Iphigenie [Iphigenie auf Tauris, unpublished, second prose version 1783, verse version in Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 3 (Leipzig 1787)] magnificently. She is fond of the Greeks, and I am sending her one after the other.” This admiration also focuses on her enthusiasm for contemporary events. Although Friedrich does not share her faith in the Mainz Republic and would have been sorely disappointed had she succeeded in drawing his brother into the maelstrom of the Mainz revolution, he can forgive her for precisely the sake of that enthusiasm. . . . And he explicitly acknowledges how he himself has improved through contact with Caroline. And three years later, in a letter of 2 August 1796, he confesses it to her herself [see Friedrich’s letter to Caroline on 2 August 1796 (letter no. 168)]. Back.
Translation © 2012 Doug Stott