Supplementary Appendix 303a.1

The death of Friedrich von Hardenberg in Weissenfels on 25 March 1801 [*]

Friedrich Schlegel wrote from Jena to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin on 6 March 1801: [1]

I spoke at length recently with Stark about Hardenberg’s health. He last saw him 3 weeks ago but has had no news for 2 weeks now. He sees absolutely no hope for him. Yet for precisely that reason one must continue to hope, since he quickly gave up on Goethe as well. [2] And even in the larger sense, he is actually quite like the surgeon from Wilhelm Meister, whose assessment is always exactly the opposite of what is really the case. [3] Petzold treated Hardenberg in Dresden with quinine, but it had such a severely purgative effect that he had to cease with it.

Ludwig Tieck wrote similarly from Berlin to Friedrich in mid-March 1801: [4]

I am quite depressed about Hardenberg; I am concealing from myself what I really fear and how grievously I am worrying, it truly has ruined this winter for me. The good people die, while the scoundrels continue living despite both God and the devil.

Friedrich then writes from Weissenfels to Wilhelm in Berlin on 24 March 1801; below the Hardenberg house there: [5]


Beloved friend, I was about to write you a detailed letter explaining the lapse caused by the considerable annoyance and trouble of the disputation, which I did, however, successfully get behind me, when news of Hardenberg’s health prompted me to come here immediately. I have arranged things with Frommann such that the printing of the Charakteristiken und Kritiken will not suffer because of it, and I will be back in Jena at the end of this week in any case.

All the physicians have given up on Hardenberg. He himself seems not to be aware of the acute danger.

The last physician consulted was Kapp from Leipzig. [6] Petzold seems to have treated him quite skillfully, but he, too, had already utterly given up on him. . . .

Hardenberg’s own mood is quite cordial and amiable, he is just extremely weak. Because his feet and face are swollen, he is a bit distorted looking. I have not yet been able to see him alone.

Karl von Hardenberg wrote in his diary on 25 March 1801: [7]

I woke up fairly peacefully this morning, 25 March. Fritz [Friedrich von Hardenberg] had slept passably well, was just extremely weak. The physician came at 8:00 a.m. and emphasized that today could be his last day; just now, at 10:30 a.m., he is sleeping soundly, breathing stertorously, and his breathing is sometimes interrupted for entire breaths; he wakes up only for a few moments and speaks rather incoherently; only sometimes is he really cognizant, but then quite peaceful and apparently without any pain at all. —

The day I have been facing for seven months now, and with certainty for the last 2–3 months, is now here: and God, you know it still frightens me; but you have given me strength enough to be more peaceful and resigned than ever, as I can be now in the final hours of the most beloved of my heart. Please help me keep my courage up, and continue to grant me your blessing so that I am able to help poor Julie, whom you alone will be able to comfort. — He died at 12:30 gently and without any movement.

See the following concerning Friedrich’s visit: [8]

The closer he got to the end, all the more confidently did he hope for a quick recovery, since his coughing had become less severe, and, apart from general weakness, he did not really have a sense of being sick. This hope and yearning for life similarly seemed to generate new talent and revived strength in him; with renewed love he reflected on all his anticipated projects, resolved to completely rewrite his Heinrich von Ofterdingen, and just before his death once said, “Only now have I really experienced what poesy is, and now countless, completely different Lieder and poems than any I have hitherto written have arisen inside me.”

Beginning on 19 March, the date his Sophie died, [9] he became noticeably weaker. Many of his friends visited him, and he was extraordinarily glad when his loyal and oldest friend, Friedrich Schlegel, came to visit him from Jena. He conversed extensively with the latter, primarily concerning their respective projects. During these days he was quite animated, his nights calm, and he was enjoying fairly sound sleep.


Early on the 25th, at 6:00, he had his brother bring him some books that he might look something up, then requested his breakfast, and spoke quite spiritedly until 8:00; toward 9:00 he had his brother play him something on the piano, during which he fell asleep. Friedrich Schlegel entered the room soon thereafter and found him sleeping peacefully; this sleep lasted until after 12:00, whereupon he departed, without the slightest movement, maintaining in death, unaltered, his usual, cordial countenance, as if he were still living.

Friedrich and Dorothea Veit wrote Schleiermacher, probably on 27 March 1801: [10]

Wilhelm will relate to you the sad event [Dorothea: namely, the death of our unforgettable Hardenberg] that interrupted my work anew for several days. You, too, lose him, indeed more even than we, since you had him even less. [11] I am too upset to write more about it.

(Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Ich hatte ein grosses Verlangen, zu sehn, wo sie ihn hingelegt hätten [1783]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Uh 4° 47 [223]):



[*] For an account of Hardenberg’s illness during an earlier stage in Dresden, see Charlotte Ernst’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel in late January 1801 (letter 284a). Back.

[1] Walzel, 468; KFSA 25:242–43. Back.

[2] Concerning Goethe’s illness, see Caroline’s undated letter to Schelling in January 1801 (letter 281), note 1. See also Goethe’s letter to Schelling on 1 February 1801 (letter 285b), with note 1. Back.

[3] Although surgeons appear in several passages in Wilhelm Meister, the allusion is perhaps the “young surgeon” in book 7, chap. 2 (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, trans. R. Dillon Boylan [London 1855], 400–401):

“He is dead,” she cried, “they are carrying him in.” “He is descending from the carriage,” replied the Abbe, “you perceive he lives.” “He is wounded,” she added wildly, ” otherwise he would have returned on horseback! They are carrying him in, the wound is dangerous.”

She ran to the door, and down the stairs. The Abbe hastened after her, and Wilhelm joined in the pursuit. He saw the lady meet her lover as he entered the house.

Lothario leaned upon his companion, in whom Wilhelm now recognized his old friend Jarno. He then addressed the afflicted maiden in kind and consoling terms, and placing his hand upon her shoulder, he slowly ascended the stairs, and saluting Wilhelm, he was conducted to his own apartment.

Jarno returned in a few minutes, and going up to Wilhelm, said, “It seems that you are destined to meet with a theatre and actors every where. We are, at this very moment,engaged in a drama, which is not of the pleasantest description.”

“I am glad to meet with you,” answered Wilhelm, “at this strange moment; I am astonished and terrified, and your presence restores my peace and composure — I am already tranquil. But tell me, is there any real danger? Is the Baron severely wounded?”

“I believe not,” replied Jarno.

In a short time a young surgeon came from Lothario’s apartment.

“Well, what is your report?” inquired Jarno.

“It is a serious business,” answered the other, as he replaced several surgical instruments in his leathern case.

Wilhelm was struck by the appearance of the ribbon which was attached to the surgical case, he thought he had seen it before. The colours were bright, and formed a lively contrast, and the gold and silver threads, in which certain figures were embroidered, rendered it easy to distinguish this ribbon from any other. Wilhelm felt certain that it was the surgical case of the professional man who had attended him in the wood, and the hope of once more finding some trace of his lovely Amazon, struck like a flame into his inmost soul.

“Where does that surgical case come from” he inquired, “who was its previous owner, I implore of you to tell me?” “I purchased it at an auction,” answered the stranger, “and it did not concern me to inquire about its previous owner.” So saying, he went away, whereupon Jarno added, “the surgeon has not spoken one word of truth.” “Then he did not purchase that case,” said Wilhelm. “Not at all,” replied Jarno, “neither should we be apprehensive about Lothario.” Back.

[4] Lohner 56; KFSA 25:247. Concerning the initial meeting between Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich von Hardenberg, see supplementary appendix 242a.1. Back.

[5] Walzel, 469–70; KFSA 25:249. Early photograph of Hardenberg’s house reprod. in Novalis Schriften vol. 4, following p. 680. Back.

[6] Unidentified. Back.

[7] Novalis Schriften 4:679–80. Back.

[8] Novalis Schriften, ed. Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel, 2 vols., 5th ed. (Berlin 1837), 1:xxvi–xxvii. Illustration: Heinrich Schmidt, Trauernde an einem Sterbebett (ca. 1753–99); Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. A: 141. Back.

[9] Sophie von Kühn had died on 19 March 1797. Back.

[10] Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:266; KGA V/5, 71; KFSA 25:252. Back.

[11] Schleiermacher had never made Hardenberg’s personal acquaintance, and Hardenberg had apparently never visited Berlin. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott