Supplementary Appendix 327d.2

Sophie Bernhardi’s Marital Situation ca. 1801 [*]

Another topic that seriously and considerably concerned us was Bernhardi’s situation. The impressive circle in which he had spent his best years had gradually dispersed, with Friedrich Schlegel moving to Paris [1802], Wilhelm Schlegel to Switzerland [1804], Ludwig Tieck to Munich [1805]; but even worse than these external separations was the inner discord that had destroyed the seemingly deep bonds of his marital relationship.

Bernhardi was married to Tieck’s sister, and word had it that he had let himself be badgered into that marriage by Tieck himself, who after having been long tormented by his sister’s romantic inclinations and awkward clinginess had managed to get rid of her in this socially acceptable way. She in her own turn had given her consent only reluctantly and was not at all happy in the marriage, instead finding her corpulent spouse too materialistic, and even though he did everything to accommodate her ethereal disposition, he received little gratitude in return.

Wilhelm Schlegel, who was residing with the Bernhardis and taking meals with them, pleased her more, and a considerable intimacy emerged that, in this circle, where it was almost an unspoken rule mutually to allow everyone everything, could hardly seem conspicuous, all the less so insofar as Bernhardi himself had for a time been on good, indeed quite good terms with Schlegel’s own wife, the later Madam Schelling.

But as the animated and witty social life gradually dissipated, Madam Bernhardi’s discontent and restlessness grew, she became sickly, and was to travel to Weimar for distraction, taking along her two boys with the father’s permission; a certain Livonian noble, von Knorring, however, whom she had, miraculously, managed to capture with her meager charms and select as her savior, secretly followed after her, thereafter taking her from Weimar to Italy.

Bernhardi learned of all these things through others and, though finding his wife’s behavior certainly outrageous, was nonetheless determined never to tolerate the stealing of his own children. The letters in which he demanded their return went unanswered, and finally Ludwig Tieck wrote him unceremoniously that his sister was unable to bear it any longer with as abominable a man as Bernhardi, was quite right in leaving him, nor would the children ever return to him.

One after another, Friedrich Tieck and Wilhelm Schlegel also broke with him, and all their clans and followers similarly became extremely hostile toward him, and suddenly the deceived man found himself utterly, terribly alone, betrayed by his best friends and also burdened with the bitterest hatred of all their adversaries, which he had taken upon himself for their sake.

Everywhere at a disadvantage as the less gifted and weaker party, he also found that through this dispute, which now made its way to the courts, he was additionally threatened even in his civil position insofar as things were coming to light that were inappropriate for an educator such as himself, things that if left unaddressed could easily lead to his dismissal. In this considerable distress, however, the man pulled himself together all the more courageously, wrote to Knorring challenging him to a duel with pistols, declared him a dishonorable scoundrel if he did not accept, let both Tieck and Wilhelm Schlegel know what he thought of them, and pursued the matter in the courts with clever zeal.

By openly illuminating all the attendant relationships, he had convinced Fichte of the integrity of his position, similarly also Fouqé and Wilhelm von Schütz, notwithstanding the extent to the which the latter two were otherwise closely acquainted with the opposing parties. . . .

Ludwig Tieck now engaged all his powers as a writer for the sake of ruining Bernhardi and in the meantime also became emphatically engaged in the trial. He had delivered to the court a thorough portrayal of his brother-in-law, one which even the latter confessed was a masterpiece of deft description, though also of satanic malice insofar as Tieck wove into it, using his considerable artistic powers, what was earlier confidential information that could not but alienate Bernhardi from his father and otherwise give rise to the most painful misinterpretations, albeit information otherwise utterly without any relationship to the actual case.

By contrast, Bernhardi for his own part also had weapons that were sharper than his adversaries suspected. His wife’s maidservants had made a game of noting with chalk marks the number of kisses they heard smacking in the adjoining chamber whenever Madam Bernhardi was there alone with Knorring until her concerned husband returned from the apothecary, whither he was wont to hasten to fetch the prescribed medications used to treat his spouse’s attacks of cramps. [1]

The venerable Fichte testified at the behest of the court that once, upon unexpectedly entering Madam Bernhardi’s sleeping chamber, he came upon the elder Schlegel [i.e., Wilhelm] and Madam Bernhardi in the most peculiar situation, and similar vexing things. [2] With respect to a love dalliance Bernhardi himself was accused of having with one of Tieck’s relatives, he adduced that Tieck himself had in fact preceded him in the affair and had then found it convenient to pass the woman, who had become burdensome to him, on to Bernhardi. [3]


[*] Karl August Varnhagen von Ense, Ausgewählte Schriften, vol. 2, 3rd ed. (Leipzig 1871), 33–36; Varnhagen is writing ca. 1807. Back.

[1] One of the those servants seems to have been Mine (Wilhelmine) Wichmann (Krisenjahre 1:286). The sudden and awkward interruption of amorous couples — by a husband as in the first illustration, or, surprisingly not so awkward, with the maidservant present, as in the second — was not an uncommon theme at the time (Gottliebe Böttger d.Ä., Ertapptes Liebespaar [1802]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 239; Jakob Gottlieb Thelott, Liebespaar mit Dienerin [ca. 1728–60]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur JGThelott WB 3.3):



Another version, preserved among Bernhardi’s own papers in the Varnhagen Sammlung, reads as follows:

When his wife wanted to get rid of him [Bernhardi] for the evening and be alone with her lover Knorring, she suddenly had an attack of cramps, whereupon Bernhardi rushed forth to the physician in the apothecary. The servants in the kitchen, however, then heard the laughter in her chamber, eavesdropped on the tender caresses, and with great amusement made a chalk mark for every kiss they heard!

(Bergoldt, Ein Liebespaar in einem Zimmer [ca. 1797–1836]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. A: 395.6):



[2] Representative illustration (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Peter Marks und seine Frau nach der Hochzeitsnacht [1779]; Herzog August Bibliothek Museumsnr. / Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [2-121]):



[3] Editor’s note: After casting her lot with Knorring and after Wilhelm Schlegel had followed Madam de Staël back to Coppet in Switzerland in 1804, Sophie Bernhardi exchanged endless letters with Wilhelm enlisting his aid in her attempt to avoid Bernhardi’s legal maneuverings and to secure the divorce without having to surrender her children.

That correspondence, which Josef Körner published and annotated in his Krisenjahre collection, constitutes a story that, by extending over a considerable part of Europe and over many years, passes beyond the framework of the present edition. Sophie’s letters here, however, do cast considerable light on her personality and on the beginnings of her eventual break with Bernhardi. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott