Supplementary Appendix: August von Kotzebue’s Caricature “The Most Recent Aesthetics”

August von Kotzebue’s
Explanation of the Caricature “The Most Recent Aesthetics” [*]


The caricature is self-explanatory. The new aesthetics rides triumphantly through a gate of honor adorned with canker roses. As might be expected, she is enveloped in fog, with nothing clear or distinct except her bosom and those particular body parts necessary for sitting. [1] The driver of the triumphant carriage is well-nourished poetic poesy, [2] which, infallible as it is, appears crowned with the threefold crown and protecting a small changeling between its legs by the name of Alarcos. Instead of the steeds of Phoebus [Apollo], which formerly pulled the carriage, two Hyperboreans have hitched themselves up and are doing their level best. But because not as much energy dwells in these thousands folds of clothing as one might think, an assemblage of journalistic riffraff have been summoned to assist in -us and -es and in alpha and omega, [3]

Forward th' obedient phantoms push,
Their trackless footsteps rustle near,
In sounds like autumn winds that rush
through withering oak or beech-wood sere. [4] 

They push with all their strength while a gaunt lady with a weathervane on her head lifts her dress’s train and a fat street urchin spews forth swear words. Just behind the triumphal seat of the new aesthetics there sits boredom, offering its services while freezing. [5] The famous miraculous griffon hovers in front of the carriage, whose ears — lacking anything to guard – have now grown a bit. It has stolen a clarion from the night watchman and now blows into it such that the world’s – that is, the elegant world’s – ears ring. [6] High in the heavens hover the four Schlegelian deities: laziness, cheekiness, coarseness, and anger, all of which loudly proclaim to the world that “This is our beloved daughter, with whom we are well pleased. [7] Just why the roguish artist portrayed coarseness as a fattened Bernhardian monk I cannot say; I suppose there must remain some element of mystery.

The triumphal carriage itself drives and rolls over and destroys and crushes and bespatters Wieland, Racine, Euripides, Virgil et caetera, et caetera; [8] our dear Mother Nature similarly comes off quite ill, for the carriage wheels have already severed both of her arms.

The procession passes by an open grave out of which Jakob Böhme reverently watches with considerable delight. — In the meantime, a couple of quite famous men of the arts have already taken their places beneath the gate of honor, [9] where they cordially place laurel wreaths on each other’s heads, tenderly embraced by a cat, in boots, of course. Just behind them, Euripides stands scratching his head, for one of the laurel wreaths has been appropriated from his head. [10]

Behind him one sees men standing beneath an aesthetic roof gutter that empties into a bucket in which one of the men especially, with a falcon’s eye, looks for the wit that a few years ago he lost in daylight fog.

But here, too, the old proverb proves to the true, namely, that no worldly fortune can ever be enjoyed in a truly unsullied fashion, for right next to the triumphant carriage itself there runs a messenger of ill fortune with arms outspread toward heaven and an “Oh, my God!” expression on his face, for he is announcing the death of the Erlanger Litteratur-Zeitung.

And yet the innkeeper in the — N.B. – aesthetic Restaurateur nonetheless promises to provide the most excellent service, and students, with and without eyeglasses, applaud till their hands are raw.

At another inn across the way, quite ordinary persons drink old Rhine wine while watching their entire scene with smiling faces.


[*] The “neuere Ästhetik” caricatured here refers, of course, to the aesthetics of Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel. Kotzebue himself is the author of this “Erklärung der Karikatur,” Der Freimüthige oder Berlinische Zeitung für gebildete, unbefangene Leser (1803) 115 (Thursday, 21 July 1803), 61–64; the caricature appeared in the same issue. The lengthy title of what was known as Wilhelm’s satirical Kotzebuade to which Kotzebue alludes in this caricature translates approximately as “Gate of Honor and Triumphal Arch for the Theater President von Kotzebue Upon His Anticipated Return to the Fatherland.”

It may be pointed out that in July 1803, when this piece was published, Caroline was in Murrhardt, recently divorced from Wilhelm Schlegel and now married to Schelling. Back.

[1] Roger Paulin, The Life of August Wilhelm Schlegel: Cosmopolitan of Art and Poetry (Open Book Publishers 2016), 191, identifies this figure as Lucinde. Back.

[2] Roger Paulin, The Life of August Wilhelm Schlegel, 191, identifies the driver as Friedrich Schlegel, while Rainer Schmitz, ed. Die ästhetische Prügeley: Streitschriften der antiromantischen Bewegung (Göttingen 1992), 447, identifies him as Goethe, which, given the friction between Kotzebue and Goethe, is not entirely improbable, especially since it was indeed Goethe who provided protection for Friedrich’s play Alarcos by producing it in Weimar (albeit but once). Back.

[3] I.e., presumably to help in Greek grammar. Back.

[4] From Gottfried August Bürger’s poem “Lenore,” a poem and lines that essentially every reader of Der Freimüthige would have instantly recognized, here translated by W. R. Spencer, cited in Oliver Farrar Emerson, “The Earliest English Translation of Bürger’s Lenore,” Western Reserve University Bulletins 18:3 (May 1915), Literary Section Supplement, Western Reserve Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 96. Back.

[5] Roger Paulin, The Life of August Wilhelm Schlegel, 191, identifies this figure as Caroline. Back.

[6] Zeitung für die elegante Welt. Back.

[7] Matthew 3:17 (NRSV). Allusion to Friedrich’s Lucinde, here Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis 1971), 62:

I write and enthuse, as you see, not without unction; but, then, that doesn’t happen without having been called, called, in fact, by the gods. What may he not venture to whom Wit himself has spoken with a voice coming down from the open heavens: “You are my beloved son in whom I find favor.” And why shouldn’t I say of myself out of my own absolute power and choosing: “I am Wit’s beloved son . . . “

The preceding four terms also allude to concepts from Lucinde; concerning “laziness” or “idleness,” see Friedrich’s letter to Auguste on 28 April 1797 (letter 181d), with note 3. Back.

[8] Also: Klopstock, Karl August Böttiger, Karl Wilhelm Ramler, Lessing, and John Milton. Back.

[9] Wilhelm and Ludwig Tieck. Back.

[10] Allusion to Wilhelm’s Ion as an allegedly failed appropriation of Euripides’s original play. Back.

Translation © 2020 Doug Stott