Supplementary Appendix 258r.1

Wilhelm Schlegel’s Italian Sonnet to Napoleon 1800 [*]

In a rich, substantive book on A. W. Schlegel and politics, the historian Otto Brandt portrayed Schlegel as the earliest and most vehement opponent of the French Revolution among the German Romantics; and indeed, his bitter hostility toward Napoleon, who brought the French upheaval to its conclusion, is sufficiently well known. I myself [Josef Körner] recently was able to publish Schlegel’s grim versified derision of the Corsican. [1]

In the meantime, however, between this early rejection of the revolution, on the one hand, and Schlegel’s later hatred of Napoleon — stoked by Madame de Staël — on the other, lies an episode that has received little attention, one during which A. W. Schlegel took a very different position indeed.

His beloved Caroline, who had stood close to the Mainz Clubists in both friendship and disposition, had over time become increasingly adept at converting him to her own political views. Even as early as Braunschweig, where her betrothed joined her during the summer of 1795, she managed to divest him of a considerable measure of his “aristocraticism,” and he acquired “a slightly different opinion now about my friends, the Republicans”; and he was to learn to do so even better in the future. [2]

And thus did it indeed happen. His letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 10 May 1799, [3] reveals how A. W. Schlegel was thinking in this respect at the time. On 28 April 1800, at the Rastatt Congress, two French emissaries had just been murdered in a mysterious fashion, an event that also upset Goethe [4] and Schiller. [5]

And Schlegel’s own letter recounts that this event “is the topic of conversation, and is something that has violently shaken us — that is, those who are well meaning! — and filled us with indignation, rage, and a desire for revenge. But those are nothing but impotent words. If you have a copy of Hamlet at hand, look on p. 302, where you will find our real opinion on the matter toward the bottom in the discourse of Laertes.” [5a]

All the hopes the Romantic compatriots may have attached to the French Revolution seemed to come to fulfillment when Bonaparte’s star rose in the political heavens of Europe. Athenaeum fragment 422 already refers to his name with reverence. The Egyptian campaign was like the commencement of the fulfillment of all the dreams of Romantic yearning for the East. The veneration of heroes characterizing all Romantics similarly prompted admiration of this unique man, and the intentional emphasis with which Napoleon profiled himself as a friend and promoter of the arts and sciences generated hope in him as a patron of one’s own activities. Friedrich Schlegel, who moved to Paris during the summer of 1802, similarly put considerable hope in the person of the First Consul. [6]

The Schlegel brothers’ admiration seemed to peak when Napoleon genuinely acquired this distinction through the coup of 9 November 1799. At the time, they even tried to acquire a bust of Bonaparte that went on sale in Berlin, [7] and August Wilhelm’s enthusiasm prompted him to become the poet who would commensurately celebrate France’s grand hero.

A letter written by the sculptor Friedrich Tieck earlier divulged the existence of a sonnet of homage directed to Napoleon, [8] for it was to this friend, living in Paris at the time, that A. W. Schlegel had passed along the poem at the beginning of 1800, [9] and a member of the legislative body at the time had in his own turn passed the poem along to Napoleon himself. But the anticipated response from the latter never materialized. Napoleon gave perfunctory thanks and paid no further attention to the distant poet.

One can quite comprehend this cool reception once one has read the poem itself. This poem, previously thought to have been lost, was preserved in a copy the poet sent to his friend Gries, who at the time was studying in Göttingen. “I am enclosing,” he writes in a letter on 16 March 1800, [10] “an Italian sonnet to Bonaparte I wrote some time ago but which I do not think I have sent along to you.”

An Italian sonnet! And yet Napoleon was jealously interested in nothing more than in covering up his Italian origins, and in portraying himself as an authentic Frenchman. The unsuspecting poet, however, doubtless thought he would please the powerful man even more by speaking to him in the tones of his mother tongue.

And now the poem itself [and an approximate English rendering]:

In lode di Buonaparte

Grazia, potenze reggitrici, a voi,
Che riscuoteste nell' Erculea cuna.
La libertà dormiente, acciochè alcuna
Dente aspra e velenosa non la noi.

Pur voi quel specchio degl' antichi Eroi,
Le cui glorie poggian sopra la luna,
Che ferma tien la ruota alla fortuna,
Guidaste ai liti Esperj dagli Eoi.

Già corso in passi fuor dell uman' arte
Dello stato il naviglio, rotto e stanco,
S'è volto al fin di mala in buona parte.

Cesare e Bruto insieme, è Buonaparte
Consule degno del gran popol Franco,
E trasmutossi in Giove il fiero Marte.

Encomium to Buonaparte

Gratitude to you, O powers that reign!
Freedom, as in Hercules's cradle deep,
By poisonous bite threatened, did too long sleep,
You now awaken it, its life to preserve.

The reflection of the heroic ancients,
Him, whose renown did already reach unto the moon,
Your gesture summoned from the East to the western shore;
Him, who makes fortune's fleeting wheel itself come to a standstill.

At the abyss, where he awaited the end,
Human art, the state was lost.
He finally took it in, in beneficent shelter.

Who is Caesar and Brutus: Buonaparte,
The grand French people's worthy counsel;
Into Zeus has the harsh one, Mars, transformed himself.


[*] Josef Körner, “Neues von August Wilhelm und Caroline Schlegel,” Zeitschrift für Bücherfreunde, new series, 17 (1925), 143–44. Footnotes adjusted to reflect this present edition. Back.

[1] Die Literatur, 26, 713ff. Back.

[2] Caroline to Friedrich Schlegel in August 1795 (letter 353). Back.

[3] Letter 236c. Back.

[4] See his letter to Heinrich Meyer on 9 May 1800. Back.

[5] See his letter o Goethe on 7 June 1800. Back.

[5a] Editor’s note: see letter 236c for an explanation of this allusion. Back.

[6] R. Volpers, F. Schlegel als politischer Denker und deutscher Patriot (Berlin 1917), 87f. Back.

[7] Briefe an Ludwig Tieck, 3:138. Back.

[8] Otto Brandt, A. W. Schlegel (Stuttgart, Berlin 1919), 84. Back.

[9] Friedrich Tieck’s letter on 20 July 1800 (originally copied out for Josef Körner by Elsbeth Bünzburger) is the response to a letter from Schlegel to him received “more than six months ago.” Back.

[10] Letter 258r. Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott