Franz Muncker, ADB 1890

Franz Muncker
“Dorothea Caroline Schelling”
Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie 31 (1890) 3–6

Dorothea Caroline Albertine Schelling, daughter of the renowned scholar of Middle Eastern studies Johann David Michaelis, was born on 2 September 1763 in Göttingen. Uncommonly gifted, intelligent, and with a lively imagination and warm emotional sensibility, she acquired a well-rounded education that was anything but superficial, and became accustomed at an early age to socializing in her father’s house with men who were distinguished scholars of the most varied sort. On 15 June 1784 she married a friend of her youth, the mining medicus Dr. Johann Franz Wilhelm Böhmer of Clausthal in the Harz Mountains, son of the Göttingen professor and Geheimer Justizrat G. L. Böhmer. After a happy but brief marriage, her spouse died on 4 February 1788. Two of her children followed him in death shortly thereafter, leaving only a single daughter with her, Auguste, born on 28 April 1785, to her. Caroline returned to her parents’ home in Göttingen from Clausthal in the autumn of 1788, where she maintained cordial relationships with, among others, Gottfried August Bürger and his protegé, August Wilhelm Schlegel.

From the summer of 1789 till the autumn of 1791 she lived in Marburg with her brother Fritz, a professor of medicine. It was only after the death of her father (22 August 1791) that she again sought out Göttingen for the winter months. There she diligently cultivated her relationship again with Bürger, whose personal fate and artistic endeavors enjoyed her full attention and concern. She also carried on a lively correspondence with Schlegel, exercising thereby — notwithstanding their more intimate relationship was disrupted on several occasions or indeed temporarily severely impaired — an enduring, not insignificant influence on both his intellect and his character. By contrast, she resolutely — albeit without being abruptly hurtful — withdrew from the amorous attentions of another friend, later General Superintendent Löffler in Gotha.

In early March 1792 she went to Mainz, where her childhood friend Therese Heyne, who had been married to Georg Forster since 1785, cordially took her in. She initially lived a wholly withdrawn life there until the fall of the town to General Custine (October 1792) enflamed her own republican enthusiasm as well. Together with Forster, she joined the clubbists, who were promoting the principles of the French Revolution in Mainz. Without really engaging anything as overt as inciting the people or becoming a political proselytizer, she did nonetheless variously speak and behave in an imprudent fashion during the critical period there. It was also during these turbulent days that her relationship with the Hannoverian princes’ tutor Georg Tatter, whom she had loved intensely, came to an end, he now withdrawing from her in an unmanly, fearful fashion. Betrayed of this hope, she threw herself into the arms of a galant Frenchman. This fleeting alliance issued in a young son, who did, however, live to be but a few years old. While yet in Mainz, she was particularly attentive in a sisterly way to Forster after his spouse left him in December 1792. This and the fact that her brother-in-law, the earlier Worms professor Georg Böhmer — with whom, it might be pointed out, she wanted little to do — was serving as Custine’s secretary, cast considerable suspicion on her.

Thus it happened that when she left Mainz at the end of March 1793, after Forster himself had already left, and tried to make her way to Gotha and her friends Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter and his wife, her best friend, she was taken prisoner by German troops besieging Mainz. Thereafter she spent several weeks in strict incarceration in Königstein im Taunus and then under milder conditions in the nearby town of Kronberg. Finally, in July 1793, after futile attempts from all sides by relatives and friends, her youngest brother, Philipp (the later Harburg physician) secured her release from Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. Wilhelm Schlegel also hastened to her side from Amsterdam to accompany this severely maligned woman — a woman under intense suspicion — to Leipzig, where she found refuge first with the bookseller Georg Joachim Göschen, then in a nearby village, and also acquired an enthusiastic friend in Schlegel’s younger brother, Friedrich. The following February, she accepted Gotter’s invitation to move to Gotha, though here, too, she found herself shunned by almost everyone, even by those who had earlier been among her closest friends. She paid a visit to her parent’s home in Göttingen that summer but was quickly expelled from the town by a decree issued by the university trustees on 16 August 1794. In Dresden, too, where she was considering settling that autumn, she was denied a residence permit. She soon began seriously considering moving to Holland or even emigrating to America with August Wilhelm Schlegel; in any event, both were now firmly resolved to marry as soon as possible.

For the time being, however, in April 1795 Caroline moved from Gotha to Braunschweig, where her mother had now settled. That summer, Wilhelm Schlegel returned there from Amsterdam, and there, too, after finally overcoming the prejudices of his mother and siblings against Caroline, he celebrated his engagement to her. The wedding took place on 1 July 1796, after which the two immediately left for Jena, which Schlegel, attracted especially by the proximity of both Schiller and Goethe, had chosen as their place of residence. The next few years passed in intimate contact with these friends, who were quickly joined by others as well, and in enthusiastic literary work, in which respect Caroline herself successfuly assisted her spouse. Shorter excursions often took Caroline to Weimar, then also, in the spring of 1797 and summer of 1798, to Leipzig and Dresden, and finally in May 1800 to Bamberg. In June 1800 she traveled from Bamberg to Bocklet for the sake of her health, which had been weakened by a lengthy case of nervous fever. In Bocklet itself, however, her unusually gifted and intellectually precocious daughter, Auguste — by Caroline’s own admission the most precious thing on earth to her — died of dysentery on 12 August [editor: July] 1800.

This unexpected loss severely depressed Caroline. Physical ailments emerged as well, from which she only slowly recovered during the following autumn and winter in Bamberg, then Braunschweig (from October till March), and finally in Harburg (in April). Auguste’s death did, however, intimately secure Caroline’s friendship with Schelling, for whom a passionate attraction had already long emerged in Caroline’s own heart. Whereas the deceased girl had originally been intended as his bride, now her mother accepted him in her heart as the brother of her child. And after her return to Jena (23 April 1801), Schelling in his own turn stood by her with the most loyal, loving care as her confidant, adviser, mediator, and assistant in all matters concerning her and her spouse.

For Wilhelm Schlegel himself, who had been appointed professor in Jena in August 1798, had since the winter of 1800–1 bid farewell to his lecturn there and had been spending his time largely far from Caroline, namely, in Berlin, lecturing publicly on literature and art. Caroline, however, had in the meantime fallen out so completely with his brother Friedrich, who was still living in Jena, and especially with Friedrich’s partner and later spouse, Dorothea Veit, that they now had only as little contact as possible and were on extraordinarily cool footing. Her relationship with Schiller — not without some culpability on Friedrich’s part — had also long become clouded. Only the earlier relationship with Goethe remained intact. Wilhelm Schlegel’s lengthy absence, however, also increasingly alienated the spouses from each other. Schlegel’s letters became increasingly cool, more business-like, and his entire behavior less considerate; that Caroline’s love for him gradually extinguished was essentially his own fault. In the spring of 1802 she visited him in Berlin, at which time they resolved to divorce. External circumstances delayed the final resolution a full year, and it was not until 17 May 1803 that the divorce was legalized.

Although Caroline did separate from Schlegel with an enduring feeling of grateful friendship and sincere respect, consciousness of her regained freedom finally prompted her, after so many trials, disruptions, and grief, to feel at peace and “almost happy.” Several days later she and Schelling traveled by way of Bamberg and Würzburg to Murrhardt in Württemberg, where Schelling’s father wed them on 26 June 1803. Several weeks later they continued their journey by way of Stuttgart, Tübingen, Ulm, and Augsburg, finally arriving in Munich, where in September the Bavarian administration appointed Schelling professor at the newly acquired university in Würzburg. A trip to Italy they had already planned was postponed temporarily, and instead the couple traveled by way of Regensburg, Nürnberg, and Bamberg to their new home. Neither, however, did they stay long in Würzburg. When as a result of the Peace of Pressburg at Christmas 1805 Bavaria ceded Würzburg to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Schelling resigned his position there and in April 1806 moved to Munich, where he became a member of the Academy of Sciences and Humanities and in 1808 general secretary of the Academy of Fine Arts. Caroline followed him at the end of May 1806.

In August 1809 she and Schelling took a journey to visit his parents in Maulbronn, where she contracted an epidemic nervous fever associated with dysentery and died on 7 September 1809.

In a letter to her youngest brother several months after her death, Schelling referred to her as a tour-de-force of spirit, “a rare woman with such masculine greatness of soul, with the most incisive spirit, united with the softness of the most feminine, most delicate, loving heart.” “She was a unique, singular being; one had to love her entirely or not at all. To the very end, she maintained this power to address the heart at its very core.” Various other, distinguished contemporaries expressed similar words of admiring respect. In 1828, however, Wilhelm Schlegel additionally attested that she was “an intelligent woman who possessed all the talents to shine as an author but whose ambition was not pointed in that direction.”

Generally she made do with helping behind the scenes with Schlegel’s own essays and reviews, with reading unfamiliar books for him, drafting individual sections of his essays for him and here and there also executing them in her own words, words needing neither alteration nor improvement from her spouse. To wit, she contributed substantially to the essay on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1797), in the assessement of several plays and novels by August von Iffland, Johannes Schulz [Friedrich Schulz], Lafontaine (1798), and in the dialogue “Die Gemählde” (1798). Above all, however, she constantly spurred Schlegel on to translate Shakespeare’s plays. Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth-Night; or What You Will, as well as all the other translations of Shakespeare that were done during the initial years of their marriage first went through her hands before being sent on to the printer. She also independently authored several reviews of belletristic works that were published in the Allgemeine [and Jenaische] Literatur-Zeitung, Athenaeum, in Wilhelm Gottlieb Becker’s Erholungen, and similar periodicals of the day. She also contributed a single “fragment” to Athenaeum. According to a letter her husband, Schlegel, wrote to Schiller, she had also written a narrative of some sort around 1796, though alongside a few literary jests and other lesser pieces all that has been preserved is the fragmentary draft of a novel intended to portray the inner development of a woman who in certain points resembles Caroline herself. In 1801 she did a free translation of a French singspiel, Philippe et Georgette, and later translated several sonnets by Petrarch. Yet almost nothing of all these things was ever published. No evidence has been found supporting the suspicion that the novel Nachtwachen von Bonaventura, usually ascribed to Schelling, was in fact her work. The novel Die Höhle des Todes, translated from the French by Friederike Caroline Schlegel (Leipzig: Wilhelm Rein, 1800), attributed to her by Meusel [Das gelehrte Teutschland oder Lexikon der jetzt lebenden teutschen Schriftsteller, 5th ed., 23 vols. (Lemgo 1796–1834)], Goedeke, and others, apparently similarly did not come from her hand, a tasteless, quite ordinary tale of knights and spooks with whose content and manner of expression the spouse of Wilhelm Schlegel (whose name, moreover, was not Friederike) could hardly have had anything to do.

Instead, her literary talent came to expression primarily in gracefully chatty letters, letters permeated, on the one hand, by understanding, imagination, genuine artistic sensibility, and poetic spirit, and spiced, on the other, with raillery and refined malice — the most beautiful letters from the hand of a woman from the golden age of our contemporary literature.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott