Michael Bernays 1871

Michael Bernays
Caroline (1871, December) [*]

|285| If it is true that the printed word is all the more attractive the more powerfully it breathes the immediacy of real life, then this present work, whose title is but a simple girl’s name, [1] cannot but be reckoned among the most attractive books that has ever come before the eye of a receptive reader. Here a woman is introduced to our cultural and literary history whose mere appearance could not but immediately prompt the interest of myriad observers. And it was indeed here that she first truly came onstage, for hitherto we knew only her name. Her experiences had come down to us only through incomplete, often confused tidings. Nor was it possible to acquire a complete picture of the unique, exceptional character of her intellect, whose influence was perceived most profoundly precisely by the most significant persons within her ever varying surroundings. And not even the most discerning eye could penetrate the fog with which disgraceful rumors perpetrated by both male and female contemporaries as well as the erroneous information of later writers had cloaked this figure.

That fog has now been lifted, and what we find before us is a being richly adorned with the most handsome elements of both intellectual and physical grace. We behold the reflection of a life of the spirit whose stirrings, though such may change ever so erratically, we cannot resist following with interest whose tension never abates. A personality reveals itself to us full of |286| captivating emotional power to which she herself succumbs and which is itself yet replete with the demonic energy with which she transfixes all those who sympathetically come to know her more closely — a personality in which, however, such overwhelming passion neither subverts the clarity of perception nor obscures the articulate contours of knowledge — and a personality, finally, that plunges headlong into actions with the clear risk of leading one astray and yet emerges afterward, if not untainted, then at least with undiminished powers of both intellect and emotion. That said, one must at the same time remain mindful not to allow the clarity of one’s moral judgment to be clouded by an encounter with such traits and talents as are rarely found in a single individual.

And yet she herself provides the conscientious observer with the moral standard for her assessment, since her own letters constitute an ongoing self-confession in which she not only openly articulates what she thinks and does, but also offers us a look at what motivates her behavior and at the reasons prompting her actions. Regardless of the direction into which her passionate volition and desires drive her, she consistently strives to fulfill her need for clarity concerning herself. Her letters sometimes resemble stirring monologues in which her soul speaks solely with itself, then at other times startlingly frank and intimate communications or animated conversational utterances in which she addresses empathetic acquaintances or such as she would like to draw into the sphere of her own moods and perceptions. In both instances, we hear the truth from her, for she scorns any notion of deceiving others, nor can her astute understanding tolerate that she in any way remain a mystery to herself. Passion never seduces her into self-deception. As long as the agitated or anxious condition lasts into which she has been thrust by her own culpability or by strange twists of fate, she is wholly captivated by the emotions and feelings |287| invariably accompanying such a condition. As soon as the coercion of such a condition has been lifted and she herself is returned to her natural sense of freedom, however, she pronounces judgment on herself, which we, similarly summoned to judgment after so long an interim, only rarely must render more severely than she already has. Admittedly only rarely does she pronounce such judgment in a tone of penitential remorse; she is able to perceive and articulate the condition she has just escaped with utter clarity precisely because, as her own sense of self prompts her to believe, she has genuinely elevated herself above it through her own intellectual power and now has a clear overview from the elevated vantage point she herself has attained. Unable to avoid the tempting labyrinth, having once extracted herself from it she can at the very least enjoy the advantage of discerning how she got into the situation in the first place, and her keen eye can then disentangle the tangled paths down which she was so anxiously driven.

The majority of these letters doubtless constitute a kind of release for Caroline, such, moreover, as she owes to herself. That is, it is not some lawyer speaking here who with all the engaging devices of subtle perspicacity and rhetorical sophistication is seeking to pull us over to her side. It is she herself who explains herself to us here, whereby she also explains her actions. We are able to follow the unfolding of her being with the eyes of unaffected, impartial examination, notwithstanding one’s moral judgment concerning this or that individual deed must remain unshakable. At this point, however, there is no reason to sunder individual elements from the overall context of her life that has now come to light and to subject them to isolated observation. For it is precisely from this larger context that we come to comprehend those individual elements, which our intellectual eye now perceives organized according to the unique laws governing the entire development and being of this so extraordinarily and fatefully gifted individual. In the case of such an individual, much indeed is gained if we but discern and acknowledge the laws of inner necessity ineluctably guiding and shaping that person, who then generally enjoys a more just evaluation from later, better informed observers, who |288| with the aid of documents otherwise inaccessible to contemporaries are able to see more clearly into interior relationships and circumstances and the often strange interplay between deed, destiny, and character. By contrast, the majority of contemporaries, who perceive only external elements that appear on the surface and in isolation, can view such a being only distorted and obscured, prompting them to feel justified in engaging in ruthless accusations, hurtful revilement, and both public and private attacks, and we can easily comprehend how Caroline could hardly escape such.

Numerous voices have objected that the laudable editor of the present work excluded from publication those particular letters and passages containing unpleasant or embarrassing testimony concerning the most dubious period in Caroline’s life. [2] Although we cannot determine the extent to which he subjected to more or less strict sorting the rich material he acquired through zealous, lengthy scholarly activity, we in any case must respect the motivation guiding his actions. The most striking gaps in our knowledge of persons and circumstances resulting from the editor’s abstinence in this respect have in any case fortunately been filled by the comprehensive portrayal of the course of Caroline’s life and fate that Rudolf Haym has provided us in the November issue of the Preussische Jahrbücher 1871. [3] The man who first laid a broad and secure foundation for a historical assessment and treatment of the Romantic school in a revealing study permeated by the noble seriousness of genuine historiography — this man was best suited to instruct us concerning the value and content of this epistolary collection, one transporting us directly into the setting occupied by the founders and leaders of early Romanticism. Through his intimate acquaintance with a hitherto incompletely assessed collection of manuscripts, [4] he had acquired a clear |289| picture of those particular circumstances concerning which this present edition has left only uncertain allusions remaining in Caroline’s letters. Nor was his communication of the real state of affairs restricted by other considerations. [5] That said, he has made things considerably for difficult for those who after him would speak publicly about Caroline, for he has hardly left anything unsaid; at the same time, he has also protected them from the kind of blunders in assessing persons and circumstances that earlier could hardly be avoided. Haym has effectively removed the risk of misleading readers through deceptive suspicions.

Haym has not, however, been able to fill one particular gap — one literary historians cannot but feel most keenly of all in surveying this correspondence — |290| namely, the absence of any and all correspondence between Wilhelm Schlegel and Caroline during the period prior to their marriage. We must forego the entertaining spectacle these two fundamentally different personalities could not but have provided in what was their largely unsuccessful attempts to come to a more intimate understanding. And — an even more regrettable loss — we thereby also forego significant elucidating documentation concerning the course of Schlegel’s education; for as pliable, animated, and receptive as he was, this superior woman, who exposed him to the entire breadth of her domineering power, doubtless stimulated him in an extraordinarily vivifying fashion, indeed, she must have exerted a driving influence on his artistic development. As it is, only occasional utterances allow us to discern at least the faint contours of this exchange between the two.

What for now must remain inaccessible, however, is quickly forgotten when we once discern the wealth that emerges from these two volumes, and when we surrender ourselves to the rich tableau of the life and age that so clearly and with such incisively characteristic features captivates our attention here.

Caroline Michaelis grew up in Göttingen during the 1770s amid circumstances immensely favoring the swift and multifaceted cultivation of her marvelous intellectual talents. She belonged to a family accorded a preeminent position within the university sphere. Her father, a renowned and deservedly respected member of the Georgia Augusta University, strove through linguistic, cultural-historical, ethnographic studies, and a rational understanding of the Bible to promote a clearer understanding of the entirety of the ancient Near East. He was unable, it seems, to guide the intellectual development of this daughter or to generate any closer relationship with her; [6] |291| just as little did she feel attracted to her mother by any particular heartfelt need, for whom throughout her life she did, however, did retain a certain childlike affection. But for everything she lacked from her parents, she received rich compensation in part from the intellectually animated life of this university town that surrounded her on all sides, and in part from her intimate association with her girlfriends, among whom she felt like mistress and queen — a status challenged perhaps only by Therese Heyne, daughter of the famous philologist and later wife of Georg Forster. Therese stood alongside Caroline like some enigmatic being Caroline was unable to fathom or understand, a being from whom she sometimes turned away in bitter anger and yet to whom she was attracted as if by some mysterious, magical power. With the constantly changing impressions she received from this equally hated and beloved girlfriend, so also did Caroline’s judgment of Therese’s personality shift, a personality so strangely admixed from such varied elements. Although Caroline is intent on not underestimating what is both noble and distinguished in her, she nonetheless severely reproaches her falseness, and is unable to attribute even a modicum of good-heartedness to her. In later years, Therese similarly remarks straightforwardly that Caroline possessed merely a vague “feeling for art,” and that she, Therese, quite doubted the very existence of Caroline’s heart. Perhaps these two personalities were |292| separated by precisely that which, all their many differences as regards talent and cultivation notwithstanding, they did indeed share; Therese doubtless came upon the most accurate description of their relationship when she candidly declared that they were rivals from their earliest childhood.

As a kind of compensation for this wretchedly vacillating relationship, one that weighed on Caroline like heavy misfortune, an extraordinarily stable, steadfast relationship was granted her in her friendship with Luise Gotter. In this woman, one gifted with all the more gentle feminine virtues, Caroline found sincere devotion, certainly also acknowledgement and admiration of her intellectual superiority, and a constant loyalty that remained unalterable through all the vicissitudes of fate. It is to Luise that Caroline is already confiding even in her early years, and it is from her letters to Luise that we learn how Caroline felt as a young girl, and how she — if not thought, then at least believed she was thinking. It is clear that Caroline thoroughly enjoyed the uninhibited exchange of her views and emotions with Luise. And it is worth noting that these views are always moderate, and that these emotions never lose themselves in rapturous enthusiasm. Her thoughts suggest a resolute maturity of understanding and yet are never misled into cheeky flights. Every word testifies to the animated nature of her intellect. She joyously and enthusiastically followed the powerfully emergent course of literature at the time, feels utter contentment upon reading Wieland’s Oberon, [7] makes quite cogent remarks about Friederike Münter’s diary, [8] and her hometown’s “almanac of the muses” represents an important annual event for her. [9] It is a testimony to the inborn purity of her sensibility for art that even in this early period, she positions Goethe, who in her judgment “can write such wonderful, breathtakingly beautiful things,” [10] before all his literary contemporaries. The life that unfolded in his creations seemed familiar and natural to her. When he himself appeared in Göttingen (September 1783), she was content merely with having glimpsed him, lamenting only having been unable to enjoy his company longer. [11] |294| Inspired by his mere proximity, she could not resist “indulging in a bit of rapturous fervor,” though such rapturous enthusiasm was, of course, “nothing really tragic.” At least with her feelings she distinguished quite well between poesy that quite on its own blossoms from the truth of life, and that which with anxious labor one forces onto daily life. She similarly reproaches Friederike Münter for having “managed to lift herself into a wonderfully lilting, poetic disposition,” Caroline herself apparently feeling disinclined to lift herself along with her. [12]

Although Caroline drew the most varied stimulation, or even her indispensable nourishment, from literature, she sensed no urge to enter the field of literary activity herself. The poetic renown enjoyed by Philippine Gatterer or the glory of erudition crowing the head of Dorothea Schlözer aroused not Caroline’s envy, but rather her animated mockery. Given the testimony of all her utterances in this regard, [13] one is prompted to believe that this individual will doubtless lead a modestly happy existence that will proceed in a calm, even fashion. The clarity of a stable understanding seems to illuminate even the more obscure realms of passion. Although the deeper needs of the heart, when such do make themselves known, are not really repressed, neither are they intentionally nourished.

|294| Of course, all sorts of matters of the heart invariably also come to expression in such intimate and confidential confessions. The “comedian” whom Caroline later jestingly mentions as her first love in a letter to her daughter Auguste can no longer be identified. [14] All the more familiar is the name of another man who dedicated his tender homage to the fifteen-year-old girl, and she had every right to be proud of having such an admirer, namely, Blumenbach. In September 1778 she painfully recalls her birthday the previous year, on which he demonstrated his affectionate attentions with a bouquet, and it is with melancholy that she cites the stanza that accompanied this bouquet. [15] This pain and melancholy, however, seem to have been quickly dispelled. We find Caroline dealing with a tender relationship, one that will occupy her for a considerable period, without any sentimentality and indeed even with a certain coolness of disposition. Her intention is to remain at a remove from any and all romantic inclinations. [16] In fact, some of her utterances seem sooner to come from the text of some venerable moral instructor than from the excitable heart of a young girl. She expends little effort in dismissing as mere fantasy and deception everything she previously held to be “true feeling.” It is now in friendship that she believes true contentment is to be found, and is certain she will never really fall in love.

Hence it is quite understandable that the twenty-one-year-old was prepared to give her hand to a man who deserved and indeed received her complete respect but who never possessed her heart |295| and to whom her intellectual life remained alien. On 15 June 1784 she married the mining physician Franz Wilhelm Böhmer. The young wife herself composes a description of the festivities that accompanied her important day; her animated portrayal transports us completely into the poetically embellished family life of the sort that had developed in Germany beginning in the mid-eighteenth century among the more highly educated circles of the bourgeoisie and administrative officials.

Caroline gazed into a future that seemed to promise her modest happiness, and it was with a feeling of serene surrender that she followed her husband to Clausthal, where she spent four years in domestically restricted circumstances and externally calm and predictable marital life. Though one could not really call this life happy, neither was it unhappy. Though initially a feeling of painful renunciation predominated in Caroline, she soon tried to elevate herself to a freer view of her circumstances and situation, for she did not want to be considered pitiable. Separated from her earlier connections and relationships, when she looked around her she perceived nothing that might cordially concur, as it were, with her inner life. To enliven the intellectual wasteland into which she had been exiled, she indulged in an extravagant program of reading that roamed restively in every possible direction. Göttingen, with its wealth of books, was enlisted to dispatch its treasures to Clausthal, among whose snowdrifts Caroline often felt walled off from every more cheerful existence. Jacobi’s Spinoza, Herder’s Gott, [17] writings by Garve and Moritz, foreign and German novels — she voraciously demanded, seized, and devoured it all. As a distraction during stormily gloomy winter evenings, she requests a “a big, thick history book.” [18] While she thus fills her intellect to overflowing with the most varied nourishment, as it were, the overall powers of her personality quietly mature, the noble as well as the baleful. Even though she never really emerged from a dull disposition of semi-unconsciousness during her marriage, she did sense |296| that only now had her personality acquired its solid, enduring cast and her interior life come to full development.

Such also came to sufficiently clear expression as soon as she had again become independent. Böhmer died on 4 February 1788. [19] Although her grief at the death of this man comes to moving expression , a man toward whom, as it seems, she never uttered a single complaint and for whom she could not deny a kind of tender friendship, an elated sense of reacquired freedom overshadowed all other emotions.

Together with her two daughters, neither of whom was to outlive her, she returned to her parental home in Göttingen. She departed her hometown once more, however, already in June 1791, [20] without regret, moreover, and for the next two years resided in Marburg, where her eldest brother, Fritz, was a professor of medicine [21] and where she was hoping for a more favorable setting in which to raise her children. Soon, however, she was grieving the painful loss of her youngest daughter, and now Auguste, who was blossoming into a charming young girl, was the sole object of her ever growing maternal affection.

But she was unable to establish any real home in Marburg, for life together with her brother, whom she had once greeted with such enthusiastic love on his return from America, became extremely unpleasant, and she felt oppressed by all sorts of repugnancy. Her letters offer no elucidation of the details of these events, and only the general impression Caroline experienced emerges clearly from her bitter words. Only now did she feel capable of speaking about experiences. And what must she have experienced, seen, and endured when she tells her younger brother Philipp |297| that no one could be surrounded by more misery than she!

Amid precisely these externally oppressive cares and worries, however, her own intellect and spirit seemed to attain an enhanced resiliency and elasticity; the multifaceted development of her personality was accelerated.

Freer and more resolute in her thinking, bolder and more passionate in her volition: thus did she reenter the world from out of her imposed solitude. The pressure that once weighed her down, pressure whose full weight she likely never sensed as long as it was actually present, had now been removed. And now, just as a prisoner recalls the dungeon he has escaped, so also did she recall the joyless narrowness that had surrounded her life.

The future now lay before her like a surging sea toward which she likely gazed with anxious reticence but into which she was determined, with eager daring, to venture. She longed for the spectacle of more ardent passions than could be provided by our moderate environs, and seemed but to await the opportunity to put on such a spectacle herself, one in which she herself would also be accorded one of the main roles.

Those who were around her at this time were struck and captivated by the radiance and charm of her appearance. She seemed to revel in the power she had over others; perhaps it was only now that she became wholly aware of this power, and she had few reservations about exercising it without restriction. Just as little reservation, however, did she have about exposing herself to the dangerous risks that such a game with passions might cause others. The early, precocious wisdom coming to such confident expression in the letters of Caroline as a young girl has been quite forgotten. Along with passion, or rather along with the yearning for passion, a defiant sense of self also emerged that had hitherto only slightly betrayed its presence in various indefinite utterances. Her spirit was elevated whenever she considered that she herself might coerce fate, over against which she seemed to stand quite alone and exposed. The |298| weapon, however, with which she intended to conduct this ultimately victorious battle against fate was — as she herself expressed it — her own heart, her ardent, overflowing heart, which reveled in both grief and joy. She had no inkling, refused to believe, however, how easily this weapon could falter precisely in the hour of the most pressing danger. She put her hopes and confidence in herself, not in miracles, for she herself felt capable of performing miracles.

Her relationships with the men whom she met or sought to attract now became more varied. Whereas earlier we found a reflection of her inner disposition in her communications to Luise Gotter and her sister, for the next several years the primary source of the story of her mind and heart comes to light in her letters to a man whom she very much wanted to cultivate into a brother figure. Anyone acquainted with Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer in his role as the biographer the great Friedrich Ludwig Schröder will be mightily perplexed to learn that the author of this book — a book rich and undeniably significant in the history of the German theater, and yet so disorganized that it is difficult for even a zealous student of stage history to cope with — that this laborious author was once appointed by Caroline to the honorable status of a “brother in spirit.” To even modestly understand of how this astute woman managed to pick up on the concealed trace of such an affinity, we must recall that Meyer’s contemporaries viewed him quite differently than do we. At the time, his engaging and impressive appearance was quite advantageously distinguished by an element of refinement and natural dignity; an inborn inclination to eccentricity, one he likely also quite deliberately brought to bear, amplified the impression made by his personality — especially in the eyes of women — by adding an attractive element of the mysterious. And even though he tended to splinter his energy amid poetic play and all-too-busy literary activity, his character and cultivation were so distinctive and finely developed that he did seem quite worthy of the friendship and goodwill of the most distinguished people of the time. |299| And indeed, in letters published from his literary estate we find him in handsome, honorable exchange with distinguished men and noble women. In her own turn, Caroline confided in him with unqualified candor, and at least as far as their intellectual content is concerned, her letters to him are to be reckoned among the most precious pieces in the present collection. Perhaps it is because the man with whom Caroline speaks so freely here leaves us with such a sense of indifference that we read these letters with less interest than we do those to Wilhelm Schlegel or Schelling. By selecting him out as her “brother,” she proved that she at any rate was judging herself quite correctly when, in addition to astute keen-sightedness, she also attributed to herself “the most innocent narrowness.” [22] How could she possibly overlook the chasm that separated her from this man, a man who despite all inclination to eccentricity was yet so cautious, and whose spirit and intellect, despite its considerable refinement, remained so feeble? When we read the epistles in which she reveals her innermost life, we are involuntarily tempted to imagine the uneasy countenance with which this alleged “brother” doubtless often enough received these powerful revelations of the mind and heart.

Apart from this “brother” who cautiously kept his distance, we are also introduced to a lover to whom Caroline devoted the entire seriousness and power of her passion. The forgotten name of this man, Tatter, was only recalled to later generations by several letters published from Meyer’s literary estate. What little we do know about Tatter paints a quite favorable picture. Although he worked in royal service as the tutor and traveling companion of princes, he never as a result became a courtier himself, instead maintaining a noble element of independence in both his lifestyle and his views and disposition. Caroline was prepared to subordinate herself to him, finding in him an element of mature, settled, dignified, and self-aware masculinity. And yet he seems to have striven to respond to her urgent passion, which he did |300| reciprocate, only with measured comportment, thereby also solidifying his power over the emotions of a woman who could love only a man whose dominion she could not but unconditionally acknowledge.

A younger friend would have to make do with a less enviable position alongside this “brother” and this lover, a friend who similarly made Caroline’s acquaintance at the time. For it was at just this time that Wilhelm Schlegel, as a student of philology under Heyne and a poetic apprentice under Bürger in Göttingen, was laying the foundation of his own scholarly and artistic cultivation. He, too, was unable to resist Caroline’s intellectual power. He, too, felt captivated by the magic of those blue eyes, which even she occasionally mentions, albeit not without an element of waggish pleasure. His feelings were genuine, and came to the most animated poetic expression. She may well have responded to these poetic exaltations with the same smiling, composed graciousness with which experienced women in such situations are wont to sometimes draw such youthful admirers in and then sometimes keep them at a distance. She went along with being viewed as his lady and likely also with playing the lady toward him. She seems not to have thought very highly of his original talents, and doubted that despite all effort and striving he would ever reach any genuinely lofty goals. Although she not infrequently spoke rather harshly to him, she was also deft at drawing him back in with assuaging flattery. At the same time, however, she obdurately rejected any more serious claims he might have made on her, persuaded that nothing would ever come of their relationship. And whenever half-joking, half-serious allusions to a possible alliance between them ever arose in the circle of her family or friends, she rejected them with a decidedly ironic, resolute dismissal of even the possibility of such. [23]

And yet it was precisely this scorned suitor who in the hour of greatest distress and challenge would unequivocally prove to be her only steadfast, loyal friend.

|301| For the time was approaching when Caroline was to learn the extent to which her heart was an enduring weapon of defense against the powers of fate that she herself had challenged to battle. In August 1791 she extracted herself from what had become intolerable circumstances in Marburg and for several months grudgingly returned to her parental home in Göttingen. Uncertain about choosing a new place of residence, she also turned to her most loyal friend, Luise Gotter, in Gotha, where once again the prospect of a secure future and a serene, calm life presented itself up to her. A high-standing, respected theologian, General Superintendent Löffler, a man of intellect and cultivation, sought her hand. Caroline’s friends in Gotha could not but support this courtship, and Caroline in her own turn does not seem to have exhibited any immediate resolute disinclination. She weighed the pros and cons, and according to her own testimony Tatter would have granted his consent had she decided to accept the proposal. And yet it was likely primarily her feelings for this friend that prompted a no from her. She sensed that she was standing at a crossroad, and she chose what to her seemed to be freedom. In March of 1792, she took the most fateful step of her entire life: she moved to Mainz.

She had already visited Therese Forster there the previous year, spending an enjoyable month with her in more intimate social contact, and her old, half-averse inclination for Therese had been renewed. Her assessment of her childhood friend, as always, vacillated, and Therese once more drew Caroline to herself with the same power as earlier. Caroline’s assessment, however, now sounded considerably more favorable than before. Full of sympathetic interest and even admiration, she observed Therese’s salutary activity at the side of a man whose weakness of character she yet ruthlessly condemned. Now, however, during this stay in Mainz, she entered into a kind of family collective with the Forster household, and her assessment quickly changed. |302| To wit, Forster now appeared in what to her seemed a more favorable light. Although she could not avoid observing daily how weak and unstable he was, and how he suffered under his own weakness and in turn caused his family to suffer as well, she also became aware of the more noble aspects of this personality in whom such contradictory traits were constantly struggling with one another. She viewed him with decidedly ambiguous emotions, with equally extraordinary love and low opinion. It was during this period, however, that he made the strongest claims on her sympathy, since it was precisely now that the precarious foundation on which his marital relationship was based utterly collapsed. Therese disavowed this man to whom neither her mind nor her heart had ever belonged, and during the first half of December 1792 she left him. Caroline, however, remained at Forster’s side, her nearness providing him with comfort and consolation. Indeed, her concern for him seemed to occupy her completely. She zealously entered into his political activities and plans, dreaming together with him the beautiful, bad dream in whose realization he so firmly believed with his feeble idealism.

The French controlled Mainz, and Caroline’s situation became increasingly anxious. Notwithstanding she was certainly aware of fulfilling a noble service at Forster’s side, she could not avoid wanting to escape the pressure and stress of the regnant circumstances. She turned to Tatter with a plea for liberation, whose presence had given her such pleasure but a few months earlier. But the beloved man was unwilling to act, and could respond with nothing but words of regret to Caroline’s pleas, who would have obeyed any command he had given. Henceforth she felt forever separated from her relationship with the man who in this hour of trial had performed so miserably, and felt released from the fetters of an inclination to which she had surrendered with the entirety of her ardor and passion. Without suspecting what dangers might arise from her lingering longer in Mainz, she remained behind as Forster’s moral caregiver, |303| repeatedly allowing his more attractive qualities to reconcile her with his pitiable weakness, and persevering “in an utterly voluntary, utterly selfless fashion.” [24] At the same time, however — and these are her own words — she sought distraction, and found it in surrender to a Frenchman, a man apparently not tied to her through any bond of intellectual affinity. So, that was where her cheeky trust in her own heart had finally led her! Just as before, however, that trust remained unshaken, and perhaps we might hope that when in later years Caroline happened to recall the repugnant image of these circumstances in Mainz, she resisted the urge to justify herself with her usual sophistry. Sin does not reside in actions.

Though the transgression was grievous, the imposed atonement was no less so. On 24 March 1793, Forster left for Paris, and Caroline finally had to find a way out of the walls of the ill-starred town. She left Mainz in the company of a lady friend whose reputation could certainly not help Caroline’s own. In Frankfurt, however, the women were stopped, and orders from German headquarters sentenced them to harsh imprisonment in the fortress Königstein, where she had to spend eight terrible weeks of suffering before securing at least eased conditions of house arrest in Kronberg. Even though she had kept her distance from the revolutionaries’ foolish extravagances in Mainz, and indeed since January had completely turned away all things political, as Forster’s lady friend she was nonetheless suspected of having actively participated in democratic activities in the town, an accusation, however, lacking any legally acceptable proof. The emphatic intervention of her younger brother Philipp finally brought about her release in July.

Now more than ever, however, she needed the loyal, enduring care and attention of a devoted, willing friend. And Wilhelm Schlegel proved to be just such a friend, |304| the disregarded, rejected suitor from earlier. And just as earlier he had dedicated his pristine verses to the celebrated lady of his heart, so also did he now devote the entirety of his youthful energy to this hard-pressed woman who now was suffering and atoning so grievously from the consequences of her actions. The beloved Tatter had dismissed himself from Caroline’s side, and Meyer did only pathetic justice to the “brotherly” duties expected of him, and indeed increasingly receded into the background until disappearing entirely in the distance. Schlegel, however, wholly accepted the notion of reestablishing the lost honor of this woman who was now reviled, defamed, and attacked from all sides. Half with regret, and half with admiration, we watch how with such sacrificial willingness he plunges into this questionable adventure. More confidently and resolutely than ever before, he now offers her his hand once more, and this time she who owes so much, indeed, everything to him, can no longer refuse.

It was now Schlegel’s duty to assume responsibility for their shared future. Several years of uncertainty followed during which he considered various plans before finally striking out on the path toward which his precocious and precociously manifested talents as well as his natural inclinations inevitably drove him: in the spring of 1796, he went to Jena, where by means of ongoing, multifarious, continually expanding and yet singularly focused activity he established his position in the literature of his age.

Immediately after scoping out the situation in Jena with his own eyes and finding them quite favorable, he entered into his marital alliance with Caroline on 1 July 1796. Following him to Jena, she finally found a place once more where she might feel at home and where she might enjoy an honorable presence in society.

Thus did she come to reside within the circle of incipient Romanticism, where, as if such happened quite on its own initiative, she again came to occupy a central, regnant position. She seemed to become wholly, completely absorbed and engrossed in animated, passionate |305| participation in the intellectual movement that, with Jena and Weimar as its center, came to inspire the entire cultural disposition of our nation at the time. In the literary atmosphere into which she was here placed, at the side of a man who found the very center of his being in vigorous literary production, she, too, was stirred to such activity. Although equipped with all the
gifts that might have assured her one of or even the premiere position among female authors of her age, she did not at all sense the urge or drive to become an author herself, remaining thus true to the principles of her early youth. And now as well, such activity only occasionally came to expression, prompted and shaped by the moment. Whenever the need arose or she felt so inclined, Caroline assisted in her husband’s literary critical work, and indeed, her reviews as well as her contributions to Athenaeum testify eloquently to her capacity for criticism and a more lofty assessment of art. It was especially Schlegel’s work on Shakespeare to which she devoted her most assiduous attention, assistance, and encouragement. In the essay on Romeo and Juliet, in which for the first time an attempt was made to understand a Shakespearean play as an organic whole and to examine the necessary interrelation and nexus of the various parts even in their smallest details — in this essay, which inaugurated higher criticism of Shakespeare after Goethe had earlier hinted at the correct path in Wilhelm Meister, we now learn that the most trenchant ideas and most empathetic utterances came from Caroline’s hand. She participated in a different fashion in Schlegel’s work on the translation of Shakespeare. As soon as a drama was finished in Schlegel’s own handwriting, she had the task of creating a clean copy for the printer, a copy Schlegel then proofed once more. Such a copy of Romeo and Juliet has been preserved and testifies to Caroline’s modest but zealous contribution to the most magnificent and successful accomplishment we have in the art of German translation |306| during the highest florescence of our classical literature. Caroline’s hand is similarly not infrequently discernible in other extant drafts of Schlegel’s translation of this particular play, and we are quite singularly touched when, while perusing these manuscripts, we see the light and yet powerful handwriting of the husband suddenly break off, and the scene in which the lovers separate forever — “Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day” [25] — appears before us in the soft handwriting of the wife.

As Schlegel’s wife, however, Caroline did not participate merely in his works. She felt herself closely associated with all the interests and projects of the Romantic school, heartily and wittily participating and playing along in her audacious companions’ serious disputes and merry quarrels. After Schiller wrote the imperious letter in which he forever exiled Schlegel from his presence, Caroline, too, tried to get in a assuaging word of appeasement; she received such a crude and hurtful rejection, however, that one cannot really hold it against her when thenceforth she pursued the poet with an element of hatred that not infrequently drifted off into the comical, a poet whose spirit and disposition had always remained distant and alien to her own. Her influence in this regard undeniably contributed to unnecessarily aggravating the natural opposition or even antagonism between Schiller and the Romantics. She supported in a similarly bellicose fashion the “war of annihilation” the school had resolved to wage against Wieland, [26] and let one but read how she vehemently flies at poor Huber, who had transgressed against the Romantics, and how resolutely she defends the Schlegels and emphatically extols the significant merit due them.

Notwithstanding the way she energetically stood up for her friends and was viewed (and indeed wanted to be viewed) as their fellow combatant, she nonetheless did manage to avoid certain mistakes the others invariably committed. Her judgment, though occasionally blinded by passion, had lost none of its refined clarity and keenness. |307| She disapproved of the publication of Lucinde, and what she says about Tieck’s writing style can still not be said better even today. And not even during the period when she viewed Friedrich Schlegel as a hardened, hostile adversary did she fail to recognize his true and unique talents; and when she paid excessive, perhaps not always entirely sincere approval to various of her husband’s pieces, and especially when she esteemed his satirical pieces quite according to their merit, she always remained quite clear concerning the area in which he was called to his loftiest accomplishment, and thus repeatedly urged him to continue his translation of Shakespeare. Probably no one during these years sensed and lamented more accurately and more profoundly than she the loss our literature was to suffer from the premature interruption of this project.

Hence she seemed wholly to belong to this circle in which, as she occasionally expressed it, she was doing “exceptionally well.” [27] But had this heart finally found its enduring, full sense of peace and satisfaction? She had never loved Schlegel, and he was doubtless the last man whom a woman like Caroline could love even though she never lost sight of his grand traits and talent because of this or that petty weakness. We know under what circumstances their alliance had been established. The power of disastrous circumstances had led Caroline to him, and she could not deny his self-sacrificing magnanimity its desired reward. But no truly stable, firm alliance could be established on such an unstable foundation, and just how wobbly it was became clear as soon as the man appeared whom Caroline recognized as the one both God and nature had destined to be her master.

The young Schelling had joined the circle of friends in Jena in late 1798. Of all the members of this circle, it was Caroline who first recognized the full power of his personality. Indeed, she was completely taken by that personality. And he — how was he to resist if she was intent on winning him? The radiance of beauty still surrounded her, |308| and she still moved with the charm of confident grace. Her flattering voice still resounded as seductively as ever, and Goethe’s magical words still came from her lips as sweetly and enchantingly as earlier, when with verses from Iphigenie she managed to delight and win over even resistant listeners. [28] And when his own heart opened up to her, Schelling discovered as well that her intellectual power was unbroken, the ardor of her passion undiminished, burning instead even more purely and brightly than before. He felt that she understood him in his innermost being and volition, and felt elevated, moreover, by precisely his own consciousness of this understanding, which in its own turn turned into mutual understanding and concurrence. Caroline had no secret, inward emotional struggle to overcome that might have prevented her from turning to him completely. Her relationship with Schlegel had inwardly crumbled even before it was externally dissolved. Indeed, she moved all the closer to Schelling emotionally and he to her with all the more intimacy and trust the more their other friends became separated from one another as the result of unpleasant conflicts.

And yet it still took a painful catastrophe to bring about that final external dissolution. In July 1800, Caroline lost her only daughter, Auguste, who had already become a kind of charming, cherished idol for the Romantic circle and was now poetically celebrated as a prematurely elevated saint. The mother’s passionate grief, which incessantly expressed her yearning for the deceased in the most touching, moving tones, simultaneously brought to expression her increasing, passionate devotion to Schelling. For a time, however, she tried to deceive herself concerning the real nature of the emotions with which she now embraced this so intensely beloved man. But the truth broke through. It was precisely |309| in those bitter days of grief and heartache that Caroline’s heart had turned away from Schlegel in complete alienation. Their alliance, which had become intolerable for each of them, could not be allowed to restrict either further. The old, habitual circumstances continued on for some time before the final resolution came, one that came, moreover, with neither rancor nor resentment; for Caroline always acknowledged Schlegel as the most sincere, upright, and purest among this entire host of friends. After the divorce was made official (17 May 1803), Caroline became Schelling’s wife (26 June 1803).

And now this wondrously stirring, turbulent life was concluded and crowned by six years of blissful calm. In her union with Schelling, Caroline sensed that her life’s destiny was fulfilled. On the breast of this strong individual, her stormy heart had finally found its consecrated place of rest. To him alone did her being belong. The proud, self-aware woman who once intended to make do with nothing less than unconditional freedom — this woman now viewed the pinnacle of bliss in her inward surrender to the man to whom she willingly ceded control. All the previous, bustling literary activity was put aside; [29] even the mere act of composing a letter constituted an event. She had discerned the regnant poetic element in Schelling’s philosophy early on. Now he is her prophet, given to her as her companion to interpret the mysteries of being with inspired words; his intellect and spirit and mind is the inexhaustible source from which all that is splendid and comforting flows to her. What Schelling in his own turn had found and possessed in her came to expression in the full power of the grief-stricken, penetrating words he spoke after a gentle death had taken her from him on 7 September 1809.

A feeling similar to that which filled her loved ones after her passing inevitably creeps up on us as well when we come to the final letter in this collection. The merely fleeting survey of her life I have been able to present for readers here can perhaps hardly evoke even an intimation of the wondrously |310| unique element characterizing the phenomenon of Caroline’s personality and life, a full perception of which can be acquired solely from the letters themselves, which speak to us with the most stirring music of the soul, the true voice of natural feeling, and the most powerful articulations of the intellect and mind. Regardless of how often one might return to these letters, connoisseurs of human nature and the human heart will find themselves stimulated ever afresh to observe and fathom and reflect on the eternal riddles that are presented ever anew each new generation.

As significant as the human element surely is that comes to expression in these letters, however, the purely historical value we must ascribe to them is certainly no less impressive, and this collection did indeed deserve to be presented to the connoisseurs of literature by one of the premier masters of German historiography. Only gradually will |311| scholars be able thoroughly and appropriately to survey and assess the enormous amount of material to be found here. Perhaps it is literary historians alone, who often must reconstruct their picture of an age and its circumstances from paltry allusions and widely dispersed information — perhaps they alone can sufficiently appreciate the multifarious treasures to be found amid the tremendous wealth of what now lies so conveniently before us. Here we are privy to the innermost workings of Romanticism; here we see how its leaders were carried along by the stirring powers of their age and how they rose up against contemporary sensibility, hoping to do battle and ultimately to achieve victory over it. One might even say that it is the age itself that speaks directly to us here, and perhaps only now are we in a position to hear its voice with composed attentiveness and, free from both passion-driven prejudice and one-sided preference, objectively assess one of the most splendid epochs in the history of German culture.


[*] Original article: “Caroline,” in Allgemeine Zeitung (1871) nos. 349 (Friday, 15 December 1871), 6201–2; 350 (Saturday, 16 December 1871), 6226–28; 351 (Sunday, 17 December 1871), 6247–48; 352 (Monday, 18 December 1871), 6259–60; reprint: “Caroline (1871, December),” in Schriften zur Kritik und Litteraturgeschichte, vol. 2 (Leipzig 1898), 283–311. All notes are my own (i.e., the editor’s) unless otherwise noted. Pagination according to reprint. Back.

[1] Georg Waitz, Caroline. Briefe an ihre Geschwister, ihre Tochter Auguste, die Familie Gotter, F. L. W. Meyer, A. W. und Fr. Schlegel, J. Schelling u. a., ed. Georg Waitz (Leipzig 1871). Back.

[2] See Erich Schmidt’s introduction to Lucka and the gallery on Caroline in Lucka. Back.

[3] Rudolf Haym’s 1871 biographical essay and review of Waitz’s 1871 Edition. Back.

[4] Not least the correspondence between Friedrich Schlegel and Wilhelm Schlegel. Back.

[5] [Bernay’s footnote:] Haym’s essay must be viewed in every sense as a revealing complement to Die romantische Schule. On p. 29 (of the special printing of his essay) the author kindly acknowledges several corrective remarks I communicated to him. Since they concern Wilhelm Schlegel’s literary activity specifically from that earlier period, perhaps they might be mentioned here as well. [ . . . ] [Editor’s note: for these corrections, see Haym’s essay, note 16.] Back.

[6] [Bernays’s note:] An acquaintance with his autobiography makes it more comprehensible why the daughter was unable to develop a closer relationship with him |291| (Lebensbeschreibung [Rinteln, Leipzig 1793]). Eichhorn’s “Bemerkungen über J. D. Michaelis’ literarischen Charakter,” which is included as an appendix to the autobiography, reliably relates what Michaelis as a scholar meant to the most distinguished of his contemporaries. In vain, however, does one search for even the slightest mention of Caroline in this autobiography, in which the aged gentleman summarily mentions his three surviving daughters, and only his son Gottfried Philipp by name, who in earlier years was the recipient of a variety of rather serious words of salutary admonition from Caroline, and who repaid this sisterly concern by standing by her side as a powerful and efficacious assistant during the most distressful situation of her life. Back.

[7] See Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 15 May 1780 (letter 15). Back.

[8] See Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 6 February 1783 (letter 35). Back.

[9] Göttinger Musenalmanach, 35 vols. (1770–1804). Back.

[10] See Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter in late October 1781 (letter 27). Back.

[11] [Bernays’s own note:] Goethe must have made a quite cordial impression in Göttingen at the time. He had planned, as he writes to Frau von Stein, to visit all the professors; Caroline then also recounts that “all our straight-laced professors have come to view the author of Werther as an upright man worthy of the highest respect” [Editor’s note: (Caroline to Luise Gotter on 30 September 1783 [letter 38]). Following quotes also from this letter.] Back.

[12] Caroline to Luise Gotter on 6 February 1783 (letter 35). Back.

[13] Bernays mentions “one particularly noteworthy utterance” (Caroline to Luise Gotter in late October 1781 [letter 27]):

It is true enough that Dortchen has infinite talent and intelligence, but precisely that is her misfortune, for she can expect neither true happiness nor respect with these character traits and with her father’s bizarre projects, which will only goad her into the worst sort of vanity. A more refined woman is appreciated only for what she is as precisely such a woman.

Bernays remarks that “Caroline should have recalled this last sentence as an admonition to herself in various situations later in life.” Back.

[14] Caroline to Auguste after 21 (27?) October 1799 (letter 251). Back.

[15] Goethe rather than Blumenbach composed the verses; see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 4 September 1778 (letter 1). Back.

[16] Concerning “romantic” in this context (Germ. romanhaft rather than romantisch), see Caroline’s letter to Luise Stieler on 16 June 1780 (letter 16) with note 1. Back.

[17] Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich. Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn (Breslau 1785); Johann Gottfried Herder, Gott! Einige Gespräche (Gotha 1787). Back.

[18] Caroline to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer in 1786 (letter 66). Back.

[19] Concerning the date of Böhmer’s death, see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter in February 1788 (letter 85), note 2. Back.

[20] Editor’s note: correct: spring 1789. Back.

[21] J. D. Michaelis mentions him in his autobiography as the only son from his first marriage. He was nine years older than Caroline. Back.

[22] Caroline to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 14 January 1791 (letter 100). Back.

[23] Caroline to Lotte Michaelis in 1789 (letter 94). Back.

[24] Caroline to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 15 June 1793 (letter 129). Back.

[25] Act 3, scene 5. Back.

[26] See Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Caroline on 2 August 1796 (letter 168), note 11; concerning Wilhelm’s proposed “annihilation” of Christoph Martin Wieland, see in general the supplementary appendix on the the break with Wieland and specifically the section on Wieland’s annihilation. Back.

[27] Caroline to Luise Gotter on 5 October 1799 (letter 246). Back.

[28] See Friedrich Schlegel’s utterances on 29 September 1793 (letter 135.2) and 27 February 1794 (141a) with Wilhelm’s words in his observations on meter (Sämmtliche Werke 7:296): ” But do tell me seriously, has Goethe’s Iphigenie, when read aloud by, say, Caroline, ever seemed monotonous? Well, then may God and St. Klopstock help you!” (see Friedrich’s letter to Wilhelm on 27 February 1794 [letter 141a], note 3). Back.

[29] Caroline did continue to publish literary reviews. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott