Supplementary Appendix 252.1

Garlieb Merkel and the Schlegels

Wilhelm Schlegel, rather than responding directly to Garlieb Merkel with respect to the latter’s allegations concerning Karl August’s reprimand of the impropriety of the “Notizen” in Athenaeum (1799) 285–327, [1] instead sent forty copies of the following sonnet printed on calling cards [2] to Schleiermacher to distribute in Berlin, a sonnet Wilhelm himself called a sonnetto à la burchiellesca. [3] Dorothea Veit had already alerted Schleiermacher concerning the “fruits of a magnificent hour”; [4] Ludwig Tieck’s contribution was allegedly to remain a secret.


A slave yourself, so also have you written for slaves;
A Samoyed for Samoyeds.
Wishing to speak reason and freedom,
Your own spirit yet remained enslaved.

Expelled from countries, driven about in towns,
Quousque tandem [5]  will you display such effrontery?
How much longer perpetrate your undignified merkelous oddities [6] 
In pubs, clubs, Merkurs? [7] 

To you, freedom means gossiping openly and frankly;
To you, Charité [8]  means merkeling that very virtue out of existence;
To you, genius means lying down with Hennings's Genius. [9] 

Did you journey from the distant Latvians [10]  solely
To splash about in human filth?
Return to the fatherland, there to wallow! [11] 

O ye journals, fear Merkel!
Who does remerkelbly exhibit a diminuating nature;
For already, the Merkur has through him become but a merkel book. [12] 

It is because of the final triplet that Caroline refers to this sonnett as “betailed” in a letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 27 December 1799 (letter 258). [13] In any event, Tieck was planning an even greater assault, and there were extended squabblings and wranglings in the matter. [14]

Merkel wrote to Karl August Böttiger on 19 November 1799: [15]

The Schlegels have harvested universal contempt for themselves through this pasquinade, and even now the police are occupied with lecturing the preacher Schleiermacher and subrector Bernhardi to the effect that it is highly inappropriate for them to be circulating pasquinades.

Berlin publisher Johann Daniel Sander similarly refers to this situation in a letter to Böttiger on 22 February 1800: [16]

W. Schlegel had sent his hackwork to Schleiermacher; he and Bernhardi distributed it. The police caught wind of it and issued a coarse reprimand to the latter (who as a schooltecher is subordinated to the magistrate).

The reference to August Ferdinand Bernhardi has the following background: Merkel had disgracefully reproached Ludwig Tieck and then, with his Briefe an ein Frauenzimmer über die neuesten Produkte der schönen Literatur in Deutschland, 4 vols. (Berlin 1800–3), which also touched on Lucinde, vehemently criticized Tieck’s Das Leben und Tod der heiligen Genoveva. [17]

It was in Merkel’s article “Romantische Dichtungen von Ludwig Tieck. Zweiter Theil,” in Briefe an ein Frauenzimmer über die neuesten Produkte der schönen Litteratur in Teutschland (1800) 1:17–33, here 30, that Merkel had written about Tieck’s Genoveva:

As you know, Shakespeare writes the lofty scene in iambics: — here Herr Tiek thought he could surpass him, and genuinely did go beyond him — and also beyond all human understanding. His dialogue is sometimes prose, sometimes rhymed, sometimes unrhymed iambics, sometimes triolet, ottava rima, sometimes even a sonnet.

Merkel’s misunderstanding of these poetic forms prompted an initial reproach from Bernhardi in a review of Merkel’s Briefe an ein Frauenzimmer in the Berlinisches Archiv der Zeit und ihres Geschmacks (1800) 2, July–November (November) 376–78:

Public newspapers adduce Herr Merkel — who, as is well known, wrote a book for the Latvians [Die Letten (Leipzig 1796)] — as the author of this publication, one which, given its despicable character, we will characterize with only a few remarks. To wit, one can see that virtually every — line, I would say, seems to demonstrate that, not love of his subject matter, but rather some — God knows which private relationship has provoked a kind of rage in the author against Athenaeum, the Romantische Dichtungen, and also against the present author’s reviews, and that he thus allows himself to be provoked into using expressions that, assuming they did not simply “emerge” from him on their own initiative and that he is thus quite in control of the language and his own style (if thus not be the case, then he should not be writing anything publicly in the first place), to put it mildly, do not at all flatter him. Let me adduce merely a single example of such, one that is admittedly quite trenchant.

They — the Schlegels, that is, for it is to them that p. 118 refers — use their participation in the aforementioned journal to publish arrogant, bitter remarks about the preeminent writers of Germany, otherwise humbly worshiping only a single writer, one who is at once also a minister.

Let me ask every person who understands what a healthy interpretation is whether the words who is at once also a minister can in this context mean anything other than that clearly selfish intentions were at work here in the reference to the pure veneration of Goethe, which the Schlegel’s quite justifiably have —If the author were to admit that this explanation is correct, then I would very much like for this scribbler to present proof of this assertion, real proof, for without such it constitutes outright defamation.

If he does not admit as much — well, then let him first learn how to express himself clearly before daring to pick up his quill, step before the public, and claim to be such a spokesman.

Fichte, whose primary trait in his scholarship is a love of the truth, and in his character nobility to the point of self-sacrifice, is called a fanatical sophist on p. 58 because he allegedly published a piece in the manner of a proverb in characterizing the stubbornness of the Jews, with which on the one hand they demand the rights of citizenship while on the other refusing the obligations of such: I see no other way to grant the Jews citizenship than to cut off their heads during the night and replace them with different heads containing not a single Jewish idea. A passage some wretched gossip already previously took literally.

This piece contains similarly tendentious elements, but an inner feeling of disgust prevents me from dealing with any of them further.

As criticism, the criticism presented here is in fact below criticism. Ignorant statements of the crudest sort can be found. One reads, for example, on p. 30 that the dialogue in Genoveva is sometimes prose, sometimes rhymed, sometimes unrhymed iambics, sometimes triolet, ottava rima, sometimes even a sonnet. —

Well, one could probably easily enough explain why he has a disinclination toward sonnets [allusion to Wilhelm’s sonnet above]. — But where in the entirety of Genoveva does one find even a single triolet? I publicly challenge this ignoramus to produce even a single one! —

Might, as I quite fear is the case, he be confusing a triolet with terza rima? Should I now pursue this shallowness into its details? Should I demonstrate how he misunderstands everything and turns everything upside down? Should I adduce and examine individual examples of foolishness, e.g. [p. 63], that Herder and Diderot, — Goethe in Werther [17a] and Rousseau, — Engel and Cicero and Fenelon and Buffon are all related in the manner of their eloquence, and that sort of thing?

Ought I make reasonable readers laugh when they hear that Tasso and Iphigenie [18] are allegedly works of Goethe exhibiting fewer errors — whereas he himself often falls into dullness, incorrectness, baseness, lowness, and that even his manner is that of neglect and error — that the ancients were immoral etc. etc.

No, I will let it be and instead recommend that the author familiarize himself at least with Gustav Schilling, Falk, and Kotzebue, whose baseness will surely greatly please him.

Merkel’s mistaken reference to the piece’s terza rima as triolets prompted Wilhelm — ever the stickler on poetics — to compose the following burlesque triolet against Merkel, which Wilhelm had printed on calling cards and in which he alludes to the earlier sonnet: [19]

To Garlieb Merkel Triolet

With a little triolet
Would I, little Merkel, serve you.
Do you confuse powerful terza rima
With the diminutive triolet?
Aye, aye, and with such countenance of connoisseur!
The sonnet did I indeed once show you;
With a little triolet
Would I, little Merkel, now also serve you.

Merkel, far from shrinking from the challenge of Wilhelm’s sonnet and triolet, instead published both in his own periodical Briefe an ein Frauenzimmer über die wichtigsten Produkte der schönen Litertur 2 (January–April 1801) no. 5, 298–300, with the following commentary:

In my second letter to you [the fictional lady recipient of the Briefe — letters — that constitute the periodical], I somewhere wrote “triolet” instead of “terza rima.” This typographical error seemed so obvious and insignificant to me that I let it go without comment [in errata]; in the meantime, four months sufficed to enable the clique [in Jena] to hatch out the following: [reprint of the triolet]

The sonnet to which you allude is that with which you are familiar as a pasquinade against me put into circulation a year-and-a-half ago [October 1799], and whose dissemination as a rumor prompted a local teacher [Bernhardi] to be reprimanded by the police and which I myself had published in several newspapers. It is my pleasure to reprint it for you here. [reprint of the sonnet]

— If in the future these gentlemen prepare anything similar, I would very much like for them to be so cordial as to pass a manuscript of such along to me as soon as possible. Not only would I carefully correct the language errors in such, I would also reprint each and every one in these very Briefe, assuming, of course, the products were not too base.

Indeed, I would even agree to pay an appropriate honorarium, perhaps according to the following fee structure: two Groschen for each platitude in the form of a triolet; four Groschen for a pasquinade in the form of a sonnet; and double that if the pieces are directed against me.

Merkel, resolute and confident as he was, had no trouble provoking responses. In 1806, the anonymous author of Testimonia Auctorum de Merkelio, das ist: Paradiesgärtlein für Garlieb Merkel (Cologne 1806), a collection of in part biting satirical pieces contra Merkel, used the following caricature as his frontispiece:



[1] Fichte mentions the allegation in his letter to Schelling on 22 October 1799 (letter 250a). Friedrich Schlegel writes to Schleiermacher from Jena regarding the rumor that Duke Karl August issued the brothers a reprimand (ca. 10 October 1799) (Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:126; KFSA 25:11):

You may roundly contradict the fairy tale concerning the duke. Whatever it was that he may or may not have said about the matter, we neither know nor does it really concern us; in any event, he did not have anyone say anything to us about it, and if there was anything to it in the first place, Goethe would certainly not have made such favorable remarks about the deviltry [in the Athenaeum “Notizen”] as he in fact did. Back.

[2] Repr. Sämmtliche Werke 2:201. Back.

[3] See his letter to Schleiermacher on 1 November 1799 (letter 252b). Back.

[4] To Schleiermacher on 28 October 1799 (letter 252a); see Dorothea’s letter to Rahel Levin on 23 January 1800 (letter 258j) for Dorothea’s own explication of the sonnet. Back.

[5] Latin, “how much longer.” Back.

[6] Germ., Merkelwürdigkeiten, a play on Merkwürdigkeiten. Back.

[7] Merkur, an allusion to the periodical Der Neue Teutsche Merkur, edited by Christoph Martin Wieland. Back.

[8] Allusion to Berlin’s Charité hospital, where Schleiermacher worked, and to French charité, “charity; benevolence.” Back.

[9] Der Genius der Zeit, ed. August von Hennings (1793–1802), an Enlightenment periodical. Back.

[10] Allusion to Merkel’s book Die Letten (Leipzig 1796; 1797; 2nd ed. 1800); Merkel was from the Baltic region, then known broadly as Livonia (frontispieces from the editions 1797 and 1800):



[11] “Wallow,” play on Germ. ferkeln, from Ferkel, “piglet; porker,” and rhyming with “Merkel.” Back.

[12] In essence: a “jotbook.” Back.

[13] Caroline will use the German participial adjective geschwänzt, on which see Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. schwänzen, 2.d., “mit einem Schwanz versehen,” “supply with a tail.” On this issue, see also KFSA 25:382fn26. Back.

[14] See also Karl August Ludwig Philipp Varnhagen von Ense, Testimonia Auctorum de Merkelio, das ist: Paradiesgärtlein für Garlieb Merkel (Cologne 1806). Back.

[15] Die Briefe Garlieb Merkels an Carl August Böttiger, ed. Bernd Maurach (Bern, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Paris 1987), 72. Back.

[16] Die Briefe Johann Daniel Sanders an Carl August Böttiger, 4 vols., ed. Bernd Maurach (Bern 1990–93), 3:75. Back.

[17] In Tieck’s Romantische Dichtungen, 2 vols. [Jena 1799–1800], here 2:1–330. Back.

[17a] Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Leipzig 1774). Back.

[18] Torquato Tasso, in Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 6 (Leipzig 1790), 1–222; Iphigenie auf Tauris, verse version in Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 3 (Leipzig 1787), 1–136. Back.

[19] Repr. Sämmtliche Werke 2:200. See Wilhelm’s letter to Schleieremacher on 22 December 1800 (letter 277b). Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott