Supplementary Appendix: Minna van Nuys

Caroline’s Rival
by Josef Körner [*]

|27| Only rarely can German counterparts be juxtaposed with the grand amoureuses, those intellectually and emotionally powerful women with whom France’s political and literary history fairly teems over the course of centuries, though particularly the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One such German woman, however, can indeed be adduced in this context, albeit one whose memory has been enduringly preserved not by any formal artistic work, but rather by the indelible radiance of her grand feminine personality, namely, Caroline, the egeria of German Romanticism.

Caroline was much loved and also much hated, and not just by her contemporaries during her own lifetime, for there still emanates from her closed eyes an ardor that stirs the heart of every historian who turns his attention to this woman and disconcerts his sober, cool judgment. One historian casts the concealing cloak of casuistic psychology over the severe transgressions of her thoughtless carelessness, while the other raises the threatening finger of admonition during his unctuous sermon on the questionable text of this woman’s turbulent existence. [1]

And yet no one has done her full justice, no one correctly apportioned both reproach and justification. Even as enthusiastic an advocate of Caroline as Wilhelm Scherer, who admired in her what amounted to an ideal type of German woman, delivers the unfaithful spouse of A.W. Schlegel over to judgment. Scherer defends Caroline solely by adducing the mitigating circumstance that she was, after all, to be reckoned among those particular women in need of male guidance, that is, in need of a genuine, strong, superior man standing alongside them; lacking such support and left to themselves, such women are through their own weakness and excessively agitated imagination capable of virtually everything, even the most wrongheaded deeds. And A. W. Schlegel was no man. [2]

August Wilhelm Schlegel neither easily nor quickly won Caroline’s ardently desired hand. |28| The young — albeit four years older — widow laughingly declined the yearning Göttingen student, and was quite correct in doing so, since even though in her honor he rode Pegasus into the ground, [3] it was much less the enflamed heart of a passionate youth that proffered itself to her in love than the vain heart of a young, ambitious highflyer anticipating the radiance emanating from the possession of this much-courted woman. [4] Caroline, however, was about to enter an extraordinarily difficult period in her life, one that would extinguish all laughter. Entangled in guilt and shame, she reached out in vain to all her old friends, but none came to her aid. Deliverance came instead from Schlegel’s “boundlessly noble goodness.” “Just as,” we read in one of her letters,

deserted by everyone, unable even to secure the possibility of putting an end to my own existence, I confided in a man whose attentions I had rejected, whom I had sacrificed and wounded, to whom precisely on account of the nature of my confidence I could offer no species of compensation after having made it — and he did not deceive me.” [5]

Schlegel offered the fallen, ostracized, isolated woman his own honorable name, accompanying her courageously and chivalrously out of her previous ruinous circumstances and back into a respectable life.

The bonds of this marriage, however, were only very loosely tied. The new Romantic ideas about free love and free marriage, zealously propagated by the Schlegel brothers and their associates, also colored the praxis of their own lives; they allied themselves quite unexpectedly with the frivolous views of the upper social classes at the time — the marriage between August Wilhelm and Caroline did not exhibit “much evidence of the sacrament,” [6] being sooner a voluntary alliance of good friends, a marriage in which one could give notice at any time, as it were.

Because Schlegel’s pedantry and almost female love of order also was ill-suited to Caroline’s occasionally all-too-casual nonchalance, there was no lack of sometimes more, sometimes less severe quarrels. [7] As Caroline herself acknowledged to Schlegel and others, she never felt true love for him; [8] her heart remained empty at his side, nor were there any children who might have secured the otherwise loose marriage bonds, as is often enough the case in similarly loose marriages — and yet the rescued woman’s sense of gratitude remained so strong that despite all these considerations, she did not consider herself unhappy, and generally let her husband do as he liked.

That said, whereas he publicly played the despot over her, so did she do so over him in private. The partner who took the marital obligations least seriously, however, was not Caroline, but Wilhelm. In vain did the wiser, emotionally more adroit brother Friedrich warn |29| his as yet unmarried brother to beware of an “excess of bonnes fortunes,” [9] enumerating for him all the dangers threatening such a male personality when vanity plays an even greater role in flirtations than does sensuality. Vanity, however, was stronger in Wilhelm than his — doubtless sincere and profound — affection for his spouse; indeed, it was too great for him to have denied himself the easy successes he enjoyed among the accommodating wives of his Jena colleagues. [10] His marriage to Caroline was not even a year old when he came on to the pretty wife of Professor Paulus. [11]

A year later, during the summer of 1798 in Berlin, he made the acquaintance of Friederike Unzelmann, the premier actress of her time — and Caroline had to suffer the humiliation of having Madam Iffland deem it necessary to console her by letter her over her husband’s escapades. [12] Although such spousal frivolities may not have aroused Caroline’s jealousy, they doubtless displeased her, all the more so because all these ladies were younger than she. That notwithstanding, she could likely be confident that her own charm and amiability would extinguish the charms of the other women. What if, however, one day a serious rival emerged? A woman who not only brought more youth and beauty into the contest, but who also yielded nothing to Caroline in terms of radiance and wealth of intellect?

If one examines Caroline’s letters for evidence of jealousy, one comes across a previously rather obscure name. Whereas Caroline consistently grants the diminutive Madam Unzelmann little more than bemused goodwill, she heaps malicious derision, foul aspersions, indeed genuine hatred onto the head of an acquaintance from late summer of 1799: Frau von Nuys. [13]

|30| Her name first appears in a brief billet A. W. Schlegel wrote to Goethe on 1 September 1799. [14] Schlegel himself had made her acquaintance only the previous day, then saw her again a week later — and yet this brief acquaintance alone sufficed to shake his heart’s entire peace and calm. It is from a beautiful and revealing letter he immediate wrote to this woman after her departure that we see the profound and enduring impression the intelligent, beautiful stranger had made on him — and how accurately Caroline sensed the concomitant danger. [15] [ . . . ]

|35| When Elisa van Nuys first met Schlegel, she was already a divorced woman. Born on 29 September 1770 (or 1769) in Bremen, [16] the fourteen-year-old Wilhelmine Elisabeth Traub [17] had because of her exemplary beauty been desired as a wife by the rich, forty-six-year-old commerce Rath Rudolf van Nuys, a wish the father granted to him without even asking the young girl. After moving to her husband’s country estate, Julianenberg near Aurich, in Lower Saxony, on 9 July 1785 she bore him a daughter, Elise; [18] of the three following children, only the second daughter, Henriette, survived. Although the young woman initially lived quite contentedly with this man whom she revered like a father, a visit to Bremen in 1786 proved fateful for them both.

The social amusements and flatteries of the town intoxicated the young, lonely woman, whereupon she convinced her husband to acquire a house in Bremen, where they afterward spent most of the year, spending only a few weeks in Julianenberg. In Bremen, Frau Elisa kept a grand house, plunged into a turbulent social life; balls, assemblies, and all sorts of festivals and other celebrations filled her days, and everywhere her radiant beauty celebrated unchallenged triumphs — also in England, where she spent almost the entirety of 1796 with her husband and children — and then even more so in Berlin, where her |36| social contacts extended into the highest circles of the court. [19] Her aging husband was admittedly not all that pleased with this life.

Since, however, the dreadful domestic scenes that ensued did little to help, he agreed to a divorce after their return from Berlin. He now moved his own place of residence to East Friesland, [20] while Elisa moved to Braunschweig, where in her customary fashion she kept a socially open house, now preferring the company of writers, among whom the literary historian Eschenburg became her close friend. It may have been Eschenburg, long a close friend of A. W. Schlegel and his family, who prompted her to include Jena in her journey to Weimar during the summer of 1799 and to make Schlegel’s acquaintance. On her return journey, she visited and thoroughly charmed old father Gleim in Halberstadt, who adulated the beautiful woman long afterward in verse and letters.

Schlegel did manage to retain what for him was an extremely valuable remembrance of this lady friend who had departed so hastily. The artistically quite gifted Caroline Tischbein (subsequent spouse of the historian Wilken), had done an extremely successful likeness of Madam van Nuys, which August Wilhelm “quickly appropriated.” [21]

* * *

On 5 October 1798, Friedrich Schelling, twenty-three years old, arrived in Jena as a newly appointed extraordinarius professor of philosophy: a youth in years but a whole, genuine man in terms of strength of will and character and of self-awareness. Although there can be no question that his appearance immediately and profoundly moved Caroline’s heart, no evidence suggests the presence of incipient love or growing intimacy prior to the autumn of 1799. Caroline safeguarded her heart, mindful as well of her marital obligations. But then Schlegel’s dalliance with Madam van Nuys happened, reminding her for the umpteenth time and more strongly than ever before of the freedom the couple had mutually conceded one to the other upon entering into marriage. Now, however, this same freedom provided revenge for all the slights her flighty spouse had delivered, for beginning in October 1799, she granted her entire love to the admired Schelling. [22]

It was at precisely this time that Dorothea Veit arrived in Jena. The inquisitive and sharp female eye, strengthened by jealousy |37| (for Dorothea knew that her beloved, Friedrich Schlegel, was once consumed by unbridled rapturous enthusiasm for her [future] sister-in-law), immediately noticed that the marriage was crumbling, and that husband and wife were not behaving in a particularly dignified manner.

Friedrich tried to reestablish this element of dignity by opening his brother’s eyes, as he believed, to Caroline’s behavior and urging him to seek a divorce. Under the circumstances, however, Wilhelm could not but perceive such interference as being rather onerous and irksome, and the unnecessary consequence was an initial break between the otherwise so closely allied brothers, a break that in truth never completely healed. From this point onward, however, Caroline in her own turn viewed her nosy and intrusive [future] sister-in-law with murderous hatred.

In the (uncompleted) second part of her novel, Florentin, Dorothea Veit provides a cloaked but transparent and accurate portrayal of the history and momentary status of the Schlegels’ marriage. [23] She writes:

Delicacy, sacrifice, magnanimity! Wonderful traits for an amiable personality — for social conviviality; what, however, can they mean for marriage, when, rather than being so convivial and social, two must instead be one, and when a person is two, and yet alone? I myself experienced it; two persons, greatly admired in their time for their cultivation and intellect.

he woman threw herself into the man’s arms just when he had been abandoned by all his friends, denied, and when his well-being, indeed his life and honor were at stake, and did so with a rare measure of self-sacrifice that elevated even further the admiration accorded her rare soul. The man allied himself with her because she had thrown himself into his arms publicly, and had sacrificed herself for him, without real love, but with the loftiest magnanimity. As long as they were young and carefree, and their relationship still attracting attention, and they themselves thought themselves of consequence in such, — as long as all this was the case, vanity and a certain sense of self-importance held them aloft.

But as soon as the more serious scenes of corporeal life approached more closely, and they demanded other obligations from each other than those that had hitherto served them instead of all the other, more usual ones, they experienced the terrible realization that they were lacking the one primary ground of motivation — all-beneficent, omnipotent, all-creative, all-encompassing — namely, love.

And once there was no more talk of self-sacrifice or magnanimity, but of deprivation and shared activity, once they had nothing more to conceal from each other, instead having to mutually bear and excuse not only the most secret folds of their souls, but also every momentary mood, every thought, folly, and accommodation — they |38| tormented each other with hatred, not finding peace and calm again until after their separation. [24]

The separation, however, did not come about quite this quickly, since it was more convenient for both parties to continue their sham marriage. A trying experience during the summer of 1800, however, provided new impetus for more serious reflection. Auguste Böhmer, Caroline’s charming daughter — a daughter also dear to her spouse — died after a brief illness, fifteen years old, in Bocklet, whither her mother, accompanied by Schelling, had journeyed to reestablish her own weakened health.

The spouses came together for a final time in their grief over this premature death, only to go their separate ways quickly and once and for all. Caroline, who after such a loss could not bear to return to Jena, journeyed instead to her relatives in Braunschweig on 1 October 1800, accompanied by Wilhelm. Braunschweig, however, was also the current residence of Frau van Nuys, and reluctantly Caroline had to suffer regular social contact with this — for her — so unsympathetic lady throughout the winter of 1800/01, at least as long as her spouse was present. Hardly, however, had he left Braunschweig for Berlin at the end of February 1801 than she immediately and brusquely cut her rival off and ceased all visits. [25]

As little as she may now have cared about Schlegel — in the meantime, she was exchanging countless passionate love letters with Schelling, who was himself far removed in Jena — she was not willing to cede him to her rival, and now, to the extent she still enjoyed a measure of influence over her husband, she set about to inflict a vexing indignation on the other woman. To wit, notwithstanding that Frau van Nuys had given her departing friend a newly done portrait as a remembrance, Caroline immediately adjured him not to have a portrait of himself done for Frau van Nuys in return. [26]

In Berlin, Schlegel’s new acquaintances — alongside his earlier love, Friederike Unzelmann, now also Sophie Bernhardi, the bright, sensual sister of his friend Ludwig Tieck, attracted his attention — seem to have prompted him to neglect not only his spouse, but also his Braunschweig lady friend. In her “desperazion,” [27] Frau van Nuys, despite the considerable rejection she had already experienced from this side, under flimsy pretenses penned a letter to Caroline, who in the meantime had returned to Jena. Through this roundabout way, Frau van Nuys hoped to admonish her admirer in Berlin, who had now become rather lazy as a letter writer. She could not have written to a more hostile address. Caroline was prepared to tolerate almost any behavior on the part of her spouse |39| if he would but abandon this hated woman; he is not to write, indeed is not permitted to write to her.

These efforts, however, were all the less successful as the Schlegel marriage itself became increasingly untenable and the divorce finally legally granted on 17 March [correct: May] 1803 after lengthy and tedious negotiations. To the same extent Caroline withdrew from him, Schlegel in his own turn seems to have grown closer once more to Frau van Nuys. For we read that several years after his divorce, he asked for her hand, which she, however, declined, notwithstanding the two did remain friends afterward. [28]

At that time, Frau van Nuys had long since no longer lived in Braunschweig, having left the town at approximately the same time as Caroline in 1801, moving to Hamburg, where she socialized with the writers Klopstock and Matthias Claudius, though also with J. H. Voss, who was teaching in nearby Eutin, and with the painter Wilhelm Tischbein (the “Neapolitan”), with whom she was particularly close.

She then moved once and for all to Oldenburg, where, again, she socialized with literary circles — with Gerhard Anton von Halem, Gerhard Anton Gramberg, G. I. F. Nöldecke, though especially with the Ossian-translator Christian Wilhelm Ahlwardt — though also in court society. During the summer of 1804, she traveled to Hamburg and Kiel with her daughter Elise — who was now a grown woman — and the latter’s fiancé, Christian Schleiden, |40| to visit the latter’s relatives, and then on further to Copenhagen, where she made the acquaintance of the writer Friederike Brun, and Sweden. Elise married in January 1806, and the young couple moved to Bremen. Frau van Nuys, however, suddenly surfaces in late 1807 in Vienna. [29]

Had A. W. Schlegel summoned her there? He himself had similarly arrived in mid-January 1808 in the entourage of Madame de Staël, staying six months, during which he celebrated a grand triumph, namely, his public lectures on the dramatic arts and literature. [30] Or was this unexpected encounter purely serendipitous? In any event, Schlegel immediately introduced his lady friend to Madame de Staël, while Frau van Nuys introduced him to the leading Viennese families to which she had already acquired entry herself.

One of her first and most intimate acquaintances seems to have been Caroline Pichler [1769–1843], who was extremely respected both as a writer and for her social contacts, and who also speaks in her own memoirs in the most charming fashion about the interesting stranger, calling her an “intelligent, refined woman who was called merely beautiful Grandmama because she already had a grandson from her daughter and because she still possessed not merely beaux restes [beautiful remnants], but genuine beauty. [31] . . . In the genteel salon of Frau von Flies, who was also acquainted with Goethe, Frau van Nuys was similarly a frequent and welcome guest, and the historian Josef von Hormayr, in his own late memoirs, remembers her alongside Madame de Staël, the Schlegel siblings, and Tieck as one of the most respectable visitors in Vienna at the time. [32]

What an utterly different tone, by contrast, resonates in a letter in which the irreconcilable Caroline writes about her earlier adversary. [33] Ludwig Tieck and his sister, Sophie, who spent the summer of 1808 in the imperial city and then traveled to Munich, had brought her news of Frau van Nuys’s stay in Vienna. Ill tidings. Understandably, the now ugly, tooth-, eyebrow-, and hairless Frau Bernhardi |41| could not possibly speak well about the exquisitely beautiful woman from Bremen — Sophie Bernhardi herself having once been Schlegel’s lover and the preferred rival, and Caroline in her own turn likely went to very little trouble indeed to mitigate this backbiting. She without hesitation assigns Frau van Nuys to the horizontal profession, disparages her as the “familiar adventuress,” and feels sorry for poor Schlegel, whose sentimental good-nature is yet intent on acknowledging her as something special, “even while everyone else there was acknowledging her for basically what she really is, namely, someone without either character or decency.” Indeed, Caroline is even in a position to report — something by all appearances justifying her malicious assessment — that Frau van Nuys had now even attracted the attention of the police.

These and all of Caroline’s other objective remarks in the letter correspond quite accurately to the truth — though what unfavorable light is now cast on these facts! Because given the system of Austrian government at the time, every foreigner who arrived in Vienna attracted the attention of the police, how much more so an unaccompanied beautiful woman, who, moreover, seemed to possess the interest of the French ambassador! For what Caroline says about Frau van Nuys’s relationship with Count Antoine François Andréossy [1761–1828] is quite accurate, even if it remains obscure just how and when such was established.

An undercover police informer was quickly inclined to view such contact as politically or morally offensive. The authorities acted. On 1 April 1809, the vice president of the royal police administration decreed that the foreign woman be summoned because of the appearance “that she by no means seems to possess financial resources commensurate with the lifestyle she has been leading here, relying instead on speculation by means of physical attributes and a subtle patina of cultivation.”

Interrogated concerning the reason and purpose of her stay in Vienna, Frau van Nuys provided the following information according to police records: Her son-in-law was intending to journey to Spain together with his spouse, where he had a considerable fortune; she herself — Frau van Nuys — was, however, so accustomed to being around her daughter at home that any stay in her own home without her would be unbearable, which is why she herself decided to travel to southern Germany; she had been on her journey since November 1807, had no plans for any particular business matters, and intended solely to distract herself, in which respect she yet intended to linger another four or five months in Vienna. She proved that she did indeed have access to sufficient funds for her support by presenting a declaration from the |42| Schoeps wholesale warehouse. And finally she did not miss the opportunity to drop the names of her genteel acquaintances, who besides the French ambassador include Madame de Staël and Count Ferdinand von Trautmannsdorff, Madame de Staël having invited her to come to Coppet during the summer, an invitation she, however, would not be accepting. [34]

The high police administration under whose auspices this interrogation took place, however, was not satisfied. Although they “covertly” discovered that Frau van Nuys did indeed have an annual support from her husband of 1800 Thaler rheinisch as well as her own wealth — this lady remained under suspicion to the upright imperial officials:

Women of this sort, who, separated from their husbands, travel around alone in the world and socialize with acquaintances who do not really belong to their sphere, are always ambiguous, and one can, without doing them injustice, suspect them of adventurism.

Hence on 6 May, and “notwithstanding the lofty acquaintances about whom she boasts,” she was ordered to leave Vienna within six weeks.

In the meantime, actually carrying out this order turned into a rather lengthy process. In August, we find Frau Nuys in Baden near Vienna, where she was taking the cure (Caroline also mentions “a formidable case of gout” in her letter to Luise Wiedemann [letter 438]) — and was under the constant surveillance of a police official. Although he keeps track of her every activity — taking note especially of her visitors — he can report nothing more than that “Madame de Nuys is leading a quite normal and orderly life such that she might be charged with nothing concerning her stay here thus far.”

It appears (the files are no longer complete) that contrary to the earlier expulsion order, she was granted an extension for health reasons that she might continue to use the mineral springs spa. She was, however, still under surveillance, and as soon as the police president learned that she was undertaking lesser as well as more extensive excursions from Baden to Vienna and elsewhere, he considered her health good enough to undertake her final departure without any danger, whereupon Frau Nuys presented a physician’s statement to the effect that she had by no means fully recovered and still needed to use the spa. The relentless Baron von Hager, however, now wanted to have the police physician examine her. In such dire straits, the poor woman now wrote the following private letter directly to the police vice-president:

|43| Illustrious and Esteemed Baron!

I obediently beseech Your Illustrious and Esteemed Sir to examine the enclosed documentary attestation of Frau von Chevkin [35] that my situation has changed insofar as I have chosen comforting dependence over ill and persecuted independence. This, my present situation, makes any departure dependent on that of the same Frau von Chevkin, and I hope from the justness and fairness of Your Illustrious and Esteemed Baron that you will not permit an alliance that mutual respect for a foreign country has established to be further disrupted by violent and, I might add, profoundly painful measures.

I am not unaware that in the house in which I previously resided interrogations concerning me have been conducted capable of destroying a less firmly grounded reputation than my own. The district police did not consider it beneath their dignity to interrogate even the lowest domestics in the house concerning me, my means, my social contacts, and the visits paid me by the French ambassador. Even my chambermaid was asked such questions.

I have incurred debt to no one here. I have lived here completely from my own income, which the enclosed attestation also proves. [36] My acquaintances were all chosen only after careful examination of their reputation and public esteem. The few visits the French ambassador paid me I was happy to receive, since during those visits he showed himself to be a man of considerable intellect and a noble heart, and because I had absolutely no idea such visits were being frowned upon and could even lead to police interrogations were he to be seen, and since, moreover, I made his acquaintance in other houses frequented by top state officials here.

I cannot but assume that equally false and malicious defamation has robbed me of Your Illustrious and Esteemed Sir’s respect and trust; I would like to see these slanders and have the opportunity to justify myself over against them; Your Illustrious and Esteemed Sir would, were you to deign to grant me such opportunity, surely accord me, through this proof of your justness, the same renewed obligations of great respect with which I have the honor to be

Your Illustrious and Esteemed Sir’s
wholly devoted
E. W. v. Nuys

Vienna, 28 September [1808]

|44| The letter was successful. Hager not only immediately withdrew the order for the official medical examination, he also stifled the execution of the earlier expulsion order, and, even more, severely reproached the district administration in Leopoldstadt for the overt and obtuse manner in which police officials there spied out the social contacts and circumstances of Frau van Nuys in querying the majordomo and chambermaid.

That notwithstanding, the lady continued to be under surveillance, albeit by members of higher social circles rather than by undercover officials; it was not at all unusual at this time for such people to offer their services as spies. The copy of a confidential report (the author, as always in such cases, remained anonymous) is still part of the police files; it was composed in French, doubtless by a feminine hand, and offers initially a rather unflattering portrait of the wife of General Chevkin:

She exhibits completely the airs, tone, pretensions, and conceit of a grande dame de province, is caviling, shrewish, and cunning; her countenance informs against her from the very outset . . . She is a good mother, perhaps still through self-love, for she has quite handsome children, including a demoiselle who is rather pretty and is already promised. Perhaps it is for the sake of cultivating the intellect and spirit of this daughter that she wishes to come to an agreement with Madame de Nuis. [37]

And now all sorts of interesting things about the latter:

She is a conceited and affected woman who must have been a courtesan in the past. Even at the age of 40, she still has remnants of beauty. [38] She has a great deal of education for a woman, and specifically of the sort necessary for salon socializing. She speaks French, English, and German very well, and also understands Italian. Gifted with an excellent memory, she has a good intellect and is full of anecdotes that she repeats a bit too slowly, and not always opportunely. |45| Although she must also be a bit of an intriguer, to me she seems more preoccupied with the desire to boast than with anything else. Despite her means, it seems to me that she has not been particularly successful.

Her stay in Vienna, the informant goes on, doubtless had a specific goal, perhaps even as a messenger from the Freemasons. And her material circumstances? “Sometimes one would say she is given to an economic situation recommended by mediocrity of means, and at others she seems to make her way effortlessly.” Her primary social contacts were to be found in the houses of wealthy Jews, and she was a frequent guest at the home of Baroness Arnstein, and even more so at that of Frau von Eskeles. The spy does prophesy, however, that her alliance with the wife of General Chevkin would not be of long duration, at most perhaps two months, “since each of the two ladies is intent on standing out and sparkling more than the other, and hence the alliance will not continue long.”

Frau van Nuys doubtless did not take this alliance seriously. She made no secret of the fact that she entered into it solely as a means of protection against police chicanery that she might gain time for an undisturbed stay in Vienna; she seems to have been engaged in a legal dispute over finances at the time with her divorced spouse whose successful outcome she wanted to await here. Nor did her calculations betray her, since Hager allowed this “domestic companion” of the wife of the Russian general to enjoy without further complications her uninterrupted residence permit.

The prediction made in the previously cited confidential report, however, also quickly came true, since the cordial understanding between Frau van Nuys and the wife of General Chevkin came to an end around the turn of the year 1808/09, and Frau van Nuys, disinclined to be treated as a domestic, was forced to come up with a new strategy for countering her threatened expulsion. Since things had not worked out with the wife, she now sought and found — a husband.

The name of the merchant François Diederich Bertheau has already been mentioned earlier; he had come to Vienna in late August 1808 on business and visited his old acquaintance Frau van Nuys in Baden. From a respected and even today still vibrant Hamburg Huguenot family, he was seventy-four years old at the time and a widower. And doubtless a wealthy man. We may let stand in abeyance whether he fell in love with this beautiful woman from his homeland, or whether he simply intended to shield his distressed lady friend from her persecutors by means of a sham marriage; what is certain is that he married Frau van Nuys in late January 1809, and that the latter, as his spouse, initially enjoyed the same good treatment from the police in charge of aliens as did he himself.

|46| But she was to have no peace in Vienna. Preparations for war were already fully underway through which Austria, in that memorable year 1809, was strengthening itself for the decisive military campaign against the Corsican world conqueror. Under such circumstances, the lady friend of the French ambassador, whose protection she had adduced not long before over against the police, could not but become highly suspicious to the authorities yet again, [39] all the more so after she incautiously remarked publicly that at the approach of the victorious French, she would find the opportunity to have a letter delivered to General Andréossy and then be treated with distinction by his nation’s leaders in Vienna.

The police now made short work of her case, having Secretary Schmidt deport her to Brünn early in the morning of 10 May 1809, at the first advance of the enemy. It was not until July, as a result of the Znaimer Treaty, which subjected the entire district around Brünn to enemy occupation, that the pitiful lady was finally freed from the rather ungallant hands of the Austrian police. She returned to Vienna, which was now occupied by Napoleon, and did indeed enjoy there the advantages of her good connections with France.

* * *

Although Frau Elisa did not hide her marriage to Bertheau from her old friend Wilhelm Schlegel, he knew and suspected nothing about her grievous adventures during 1809, believing instead that his lady friend had long returned to Hamburg, even charging his publisher with sending her a copy of the recently published (late July 1809) first volume of his Viennese lectures; no wonder Frau Bertheau could not be located there.

I am not able to say exactly when she finally returned to Hamburg, although Schlegel’s letter to her dated 17 February 1811 is apparently addressed to her there, [40] and it seems that, apart from numerous trips, she remained in this town for the rest of her life. If one can trust a handwritten note from the hand of Varnhagen, she not only entered the ranks of published writers herself earlier with modest, light essays, but later also composed all sorts of things exhibiting “affected Germanness” in connection with the uprisings of 1813. [41]

|47| When during the winter of 1813/14 Schlegel, now secretary to the Swedish crown prince [Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte (1763–1844)], was stationed in the latter’s headquarters in Kiel, he frequented the house of Frau Bertheau’s daughter there, Elise Schleiden, doubtless also seeing his old lady friend in her house as well. [42] Although he was able to entertain the guests there quite famously with his brilliant conversation and fine declamations, Frau Schleiden confides to her diary that “as receptive as his heart surely is, I nonetheless consider him to be a feelingless person who basically loves only himself.” [43] Her mother may well have declined the offer of his hand earlier because she, too, had made the same assessment.

Nothing more has come down to us attesting any further personal or epistolary contact between Wilhelm Schlegel and Frau Nuys-Bertheau. Only Elise Schleiden crossed paths with him again when in 1827 she accompanied her son Emil to Bonn as a student, where Schlegel had already been a professor for several years. She had the same, painful impression of the old dandy as earlier, and the same one everyone else had who encountered him during his half-crazy old age. [44]

Very little evidence documenting the life and activities of Frau Bertheau in Hamburg has come down to us. [45] Here, too, she was as always attracted by writers’ circles. Rosa Maria Varnhagen (1783–1840), sister of the familiar literary figure and diplomat, who worked in Hamburg as a governess, was close to her, and two letter to her have been preserved. [ . . . ] [46]

|51| During the summer of 1818, she again spent time in Berlin; in both instances, the primary purpose was to conduct negotiations with Minister von Schuckmann, through whose mediation she hoped to sell her wonderful collection of paintings to the the king of Prussia.

Frau Bertheau’s efforts to auction off her precious paintings suggests that her economic circumstances had worsened. Such was doubtless the case with her son-in-law, whom the material downturn in agriculture associated with the political circumstances in Schleswig-Holstein ruined to the point that he could no longer maintain his estate, Ascheberg, which he sold in July 1825, departing then |52| for Mexico to work for a German-American mining company in order to secure a new career for himself and a stable future for his family. He had already moved his wife and children to Bremen. Six months later, on 3 June 1826, Herr Bertheau died at the age of ninety-two.

His widow grieved — quite properly — for an entire year before marrying for the third time. This time the chosen one was the fifty-three-year-old captain and senior auditor of the Hamburg garrison Dr. Johannes Mumssen. [47] How amusing does the wedding register at St. Michael’s Church, in which the ceremony took place on 12 June 1827, record the bride’s age: “48 years old,” that is, the bride reported herself to be exactly a decade younger than she really was.

But let us not hold that against her too severely, recalling instead how the genius of truth also hid his countenance on that 9 March 1796 when Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine Beauharnais presented their forged baptism certificates to the official in the second arrondissement, documents making the groom a year and a half older, the bride eight years younger.

This new marriage, however, lasted but three years, with Dr. Mumssen dying on 21 April 1830. The widow, who had already been married multiple times, probably did not find a fourth husband, though it must be said that nothing certain is known in this regard. The final documentation attesting her life comes from the year 1835. [48] We do not know where or when she died.

We may, however, surmise that her old age was rather drab and sad, and also a bit comical. This lady who had maintained her beauty for so long doubtless never imagined that she, too, would one day have to pay harsh tribute to age. Varnhagen, who admittedly was somewhat of a backbiter, chides her as an “old, made-up coquette, rather disreputable, and extremely disagreeable.” [49]


[*] “Carolinens Rivalin,” Preussische Jahrbücher 198 (1924), 27–52. — Josef Körner is not always consistent with her first name; here he uses Elisa, whereas in his Krisenjahre he (and she herself in her correspondence) consistently uses Minna. Wilhelm Schlegel refers to her in Jena (and Braunschweig?) as Elisa, in Vienna as Minna. —

Because, as Josef Körner points out, Elisa (Minna) van Nuys seems to be the only woman to have prompted Caroline’s jealousy such that it came to expression even in her letters — a not insignificant consideration given Wilhelm Schlegel’s inclination to engage in extra-marital activities — it seems reasonable to provide as much information as possible about this otherwise elusive figure.

This present article is translated in full except for two letters toward the end of the article that concern Minna van Nuys’s life at a considerably later period and mention people or activities extraneous to Caroline’s and Wilhelm’s lives. Nor is every source text for Körner’s own information noted in footnotes; such can be secured from the original article, though it may be pointed out that most of his biographical information derives from Minna van Nuys’s grandson’s memoirs (see below). — Bracketed pagination from original; footnotes from the present editor and translator drawing on Josef Körner’s originals. Back.

[1] The allusion is esp. to Caroline’s pregnancy following her period in Mainz, which came to light publicly only after the publication of Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to his brother Wilhelm (Walzel). The “unctuous sermon” is delivered by Rudolf Haym toward the conclusion of his 1871 biographical essay. Back.

[2] See Wilhelm Scherer’s 1871/74 biographical essay. Back.

[3] I.e., poetic inspiration. Back.

[4] See Friedrich’s letter to Wilhelm on 13 April 1792 (letter 111c). Back.

[5] Caroline to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 30 July 1793 (letter 132). Back.

[6] Dorothea Veit to Schleiermacher on 11 October 1799 (letter 247c). Back.

[7] See in general CarolineWilken, née Tischbein’s memoirs of the Schlegels in Jena; also, among several during the same period, Dorothea’s letter to Schleiermacher on 14 February 1800 (letter 258m). Back.

[8] See the initial paragraph of Caroline’s Wilken’s previously mentioned memoirs (note 7 above). Back.

[9] Friedrich to Wilhelm on 16 June 1795 (letter 150). Back.

[10] As Körner points out in a footnote, Wilhelm had an attractive external appearance, and especially in his younger years was counted as being almost handsome. Later, perhaps as a result of overwork, his refined facial features did allegedly acquire a haggard or distressed look, though he still managed to retain an interesting physical appearance and was always an amiable sight with his bright brown eyes and consistently tasteful clothes. That said, the older he became, the more fully did he lose himself in this respect. Indeed, Madame de Staël criticizes him for being small and ugly. Back.

[11] See Friedrich’s allusion to Wilhelm’s “Paulusean flirtation” in his letter to Auguste on 15 July 1797 (letter 184a), with note 6. Back.

[12] Luise Iffland to Caroline on 8 September 1798 (letter 202i). Back.

[13] Because Erich Schmidt, (1913), 1:742, was unable to say anything more specific about the “somewhat suspicious personality” of Frau van Nuys, Caroline’s “aspersion fell on fertile soil” with him (so Josef Körner, 29n10). Nor was E. K. Blümmi, the knowledgeable editor of the memoirs of Karoline Pichler (Caroline Pichler Geborene von Greiner: Denkwürdigkeiten aus meinem Leben, Denkwürdigkeiten aus Alt-Oesterreich 5–6 [Munich 1914], lxxxiii, note 3 and p. 582) was unable to find out anything more specific about this lady. Before publishing this present article, Körner himself was able to find out a bit more, which he published in “August Wilhelm Schlegel: Brief an eine Dame,” in Das literarische Echo 20 (October 1917–October 1918), 578–83. This present article is the most complete piece on Minna van Nuys. Back.

[14] Letter 243d. Back.

[15] The original manuscript is housed in the Marbach Schiller Museum. A few lines of the letter were published earlier in the only book containing (admittedly insufficient) details about Frau van Nuys, namely, by her grandson, Rudolf Schleiden (1815–95), Jugenderinnerungen eines Schleweig-Holsteiners, vol. 1 (Wiesbaden 1886). — Regarding the ellipses here: For the text of Wilhelm’s letter on 13 September 1799, see letter 243e. Back.

[16] Schleiden, Jugenderinnerungen, 8ff. (not 9ff. as in Körner), 103, 197f. Schleiden’s mother, Elise, née van Nuys, gives ambiguous information concerning her mother’s birth, saying only that at fourteen she was married to Rudolf van Nuys, the couple moving to his estate, Julianenberg, in 1784, where she herself was born a year later. Back.

[17] Her parents were Johannes Andreas Traub and Johanna Wilhelmine, née Biskamp (according to documents in the Hamburg State Archives). Back.

[18] Here in the heliogravure frontispiece of her son’s memoirs (Schleiden, Jugenderinnerungen):



[19] It was from this time that her acquaintance with Dorothea Veit dates, whose personal acquaintance with Madam van Nuys Caroline herself asserts (Caroline to Auguste on 14 October 1799 (letter 248). Back.

[20] He died on 15 March 1821 at the age of eighty-three. Back.

[21] In her own memoirs, edited by Adolf Stoll, Caroline Wilken strikingly mentions neither this particular portrait nor even the name of Frau van Nuys (Adolf Stoll, Der Geschichtschreiber Friedrich Wilken [Cassel 1896], 254–338; it was then incorporated into a biography of the Tischbein family in Adolf Stoll, Der Maler Joh. Friedrich August Tischbein und seine Familie [Stuttgart 1923]). — This portrait unfortunately seems to have been lost. Back.

[22] See Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 14 October 1799 (letter 248) and to Julie Gotter on 18 February 1803 (letter 375). See esp. Dorothea Veit’s letter to Sophie Bernhardi on 7 October 1799 (letter 247b), in which she tells the latter to assure her sister-in-law, Amalie Tieck, who was about to depart Berlin for Jena as well, not to worry about Caroline making advances toward Ludwig Tieck, since Caroline was allegedly “mightily occupied with Schelling, and there is absolutely no chance she will have time for any other project.” Back.

[23] Florentin. Ein Roman herausgegeben von Friedrich Schlegel, vol. 1 (Leipzig 1801) (vol. 2 never appeared). — The roles of husband and wife have been reversed. Back.

[24] Heinrich Finke, Ueber Friedrich und Dorothea Schlegel (Cologne 1918), 82–83. Back.

[25] See Caroline’s letters to Schelling in October 1800 (letter 273), and to Wilhelm on 26 March 1801 (letter 303) and 18 May 1801 (letter 317). Back.

[26] Caroline to Wilhelm on 24 February 1801 (letter 290). In this essay (38n44), Josef Körner recounts how he was unfortunately unsuccessful in own efforts to find a portrait of Madam van Nuys in Hamburg, her last place of residence; he does, however, add that “perhaps someone reading this essay can help my research along in this respect.” In any event, no portrait or likeness of Madam van Nuys seems to be extant. Back.

[27] Caroline to Wilhelm on 18 May 1801 (letter 317); see also Caroline to Wilhelm on 22 June 1801 (letter 322). Back.

[28] Schleiden, Jugenderinnerungen, foonote on 13–14, who also recounts that “a whole array of extant letters” yet attest to the cordial friendship of the two. But where, Josef Körner asks in this essay (39n46), are they now? As it turns out, Körner himself found a considerable number in the stash of correspondence from Wilhelm’s literary estate he discovered in Coppet Castle (Krisenjahre). Such do not account, though, for those in the possession of Schleiden and the descendants of Frau van Nuys. Back.

[29] Körner drew this and the following information from the archives of the Viennese police (Archives of the Ministry of the Interior). Back.

[30] Ueber dramatische Kunst und Litteratur: Vorlesungen, 3 vols. (Heidelberg 1809–11). Back.

[31] Blümmi, Denkwürdigkeiten aus Alt-Oesterreich, 314. Back.

[32] Karl Holtei, Briefe an Ludwig Tieck, 2:16. Back.

[33] Caroline to Luise Wiedemann in February 1809 (letter 438). Back.

[34] Caroline, too, is aware of this invitation; see her letter to Luise Wiedemann in February 1809 (letter 438). Back.

[35] On the enclosed certificate in French, dated 24 September 1808, Marie Chevkin, wife of General Chevkin, confirms that Frau Nuys has entered her service as a companion. Back.

[36] In which the Hamburger merchant F. D. Bertheau and the Vienesse wholesale merchant F. L. Schoeps confirm that “Frau von (!) Nuys, wife of the commerce merchant, disposes over an adequately secured existence.” Back.

[37] It was for her other four children that Frau Chevkin wanted to engage Frau Nuys as a governess, not for the eldest daughter, who would be married the following summer in Baden with Prince Gagarin. Back.

[38] Körner remarks in a footnote to this statement:

An ill-intentioned member of the same sex is doubtless capable of slandering the beauty of another woman. That the thirty-eight-year-old Madam van Nuys still possessed not just “beaux restes, but real beauty, is explicitly attested by Caroline Pichler (see above); and Elise Schleiden recounts a delightful anecdote according to which

when mother wanted to attend a church service in Vienna in 1809 in order to see Napoleon and was turned back at the door, a French officer turned to her with the words, “Go ahead and enter, Madame,” then saying to the man who had turned her away, “She is too beautiful!” —

The authoress concludes this note from September 1816 with the words: “The seven years that have since passed have left virtually no trace on her” (Schleiden, Jugenderinnerungen, 95). Back.

[39] See Caroline’s accurate remark in her letter to Luise Wiedemann in mid-March 1809 (letter 441). Back.

[40] The original has no address, and it was Josef Körner who first determined the addressee of this and the letter cited above (letter 243d). Back.

[41] Körner could find no trace of her publications in Berlin or Hamburg. Back.

[42] He did indeed; see below, note 43. Back.

[43] Schleiden, Jugenderinnerungen, 74f. See Luise Wiedemann’s recollection of the same evenings in her own Erinnerungen, p. 49, with note 84. Christian Rudolf Wilhelm Wiedemann seems to have composed a poem at the baptism of Minna van Nuys’s granddaughter Angelica; see ibid., note 75. And Wilhelm Schlegel himself, on leaving Kiel in January 1814, composed a note of farewell to, among others, Minna van Nuys and her daughter, Elise; see ibid., note 86. Back.

[44] Ibid., 133:

He does remain interesting despite his rouge and peruke, and he also lives in a quite comfortable house. But he preens himself excessively with respect to his paper hangings of atlases printed in China and all the other decorations of his surroundings, something that doubly disturbs me in a man who can point to so many other, better things, and possesses such considerable intellectual merits.

Here Wilhelm Schlegel in later years (by Christian Hoffmeister [1841]):



[45] The Lexikion der hamburgischen Schriftsteller bis zur Gegenwart, ed. Hans Schröder and C. R. W. Klose, vol. 5: Maack–Pauli (Hamburg 1870), 459 (not 449f. as in Körner), refers to her (s.v. Johannes Mummsen) as “a woman distinguished during her own lifetime by intellect and beauty. The marriage [with Mummsen] remained childless.” Back.

[46] The letters date to 1815 and 1816. I am also omitting part of Kröner’s account of her time in Berlin and Doberan during the summer of 1816. Back.

[47] According to the Lexikion der hamburgischen Schriftsteller bis zur Gegenwart, 458–59 (note 449f. as in Körner), he was also active as a theater critic. Back.

[48] Tharand (Tharandt), 20 km southwest of Dresden, in the late eighteenth century also a popular and romantically situated spa with a sanitorium; Goethe — after 1813 — and Schiller visited (Generalkarte von Europa, ed. Joseph Scheda [Vienna 1845–47]; first two illustrations: Göttingischer Taschen-Kalender für das Jahr 1807 and Taschenbuch für Freunde des Schönen und Nützlichen besonders für edle Mädchen, Gattinnen und Mütter und solche die es werden wollen, auf 1807; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):




Rudolf Schleiden, Jugenderinnerungen, 197–98 (her grandson is writing about concluding his studies in Kiel and beginning further study in Berlin):

My mother and my youngest sister were already staying with my grandmother in Tharand, where I myself was also supposed to meet my brother Woldemar, who was about to join Emil in Mexico with his young wife to work for the German-American mining concern. . . .

Here the castle ruins in Tharand from an 1804 tourist’s guidebook (Friedrich Schlenkert, Tharand: ein historisch-romantisches Gemählde nach der Natur, Urkunden und Sagen [Dresden 1804], plate following p. 44):


Here two similar views of the Castle Pond in Tharand from an 1834 tourist’s guidebook, i.e., at just the time Minna van Nuys was visiting (B. C., Tharand und seine Umgebungen [Dresden, Leipzig 1834], frontispiece); from ca. 1840 (A. Tromlitz, Romantische Wanderung durch die Sächsische Schweiz, Das malerische und romantische Deutschland: In zehn Sektionen 1, Die sächsische Schweiz [Leipzig n.d. (ca. 1840], plate following p. 222); and from 1802 (Taschenbuch zum geselligen Vergnügen [1802]) and 1807 (final two illustrations: Taschenbuch für Freunde des Schönen und Nützlichen besonders für edle Mädchen, Gattinnen und Mütter und solche die es werden wollen, auf 1807; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):






On the evening of 29 September [1835, i.e., his grandmother’s sixty-fifth or sixty-sixth birthday], I arrived in Tharand, where I found most of the spa guests assembled to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday. Although that momentarily quite thwarted my joy at seeing my family again, it did give me an opportunity for closer acquaintance with the circles in which they were living, and also the opportunity to behold a performance of “living paintings” nicely arranged by a young Dresden artist. The Sistine Madonna portrayed by my sister Angelika was unforgettable, since her figure, eyes, and even expression seemed utterly made for precisely this painting. Back.

[49] Unpublished note in the Berlin Varnhagen collection. Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott