Rudolf Gottschall 1871

Rudolf Gottschall
“A Professor’s Daughter in Germany” [*]


|597| The university town of Jena, from time immemorial renowned as the seat of German philosophy and the poetic arts, romantically situated in the valley of the Saale River, whose high and steep hills along its shoreline take on what are almost hard-cut Italian profiles here, — this town can in many respect be viewed as a kind of “Pompeii of literature.” For it is not merely the Church of St. Michael and the Burgkeller, this venerable seat of German fraternities that years ago the entirety of the diplomatic world viewed with fear and trembling, that draws the attention of visitors, nor merely the Saale Bridge and the Hausberg — the mount “with thy glittering purple-dyed summit!” that Schiller celebrates in his poem “Der Spaziergang” [1] — Of even greater interest are the inscriptions that, often affixed to the most inconspicuous of houses, contain those grand names from the history of poetry and erudition that occasionally beckon to us from the most obscure corners of town.

Grand names and modest houses! How such lofty ideas must have bumped their heads on those low ceilings! In what modest day-laborer quarters did the masters of such epochal florescence of literature settle! Solely the author of The Poor Poet himself, namely, Kotzebue, lived in a grand house, while his adversaries, the Romantics, genuinely were quartered like poor poets. [2]

Among several inscriptions, one otherwise quite inconspicuous house draws our attention that seems to be hiding behind a thick, round tower in the town wall. Here we read the name of the famous philosopher Hegel, who composed the grand philosophical work of his youth in this old hut, in rooms in which a man of barely larger-than-average stature could hardly stand upright. And we read the names of the two Schlegel brothers, the elder of whom had set up his journalistic workshop and translation atelier here during his stay of several years. In this same house, one of the most remarkable women of that age also spent several of the most eventful years of her life, namely, the wife of August Wilhelm Schlegel and later wife of Schelling, that particular “Karoline” whose most intimate |598| thoughts and ideas are now accessible in the memorial to her recently edited by Professor Waitz. [3]

In neither her life nor her letters does Karoline in any way come across as the commendable ideal of a German housewife; or at least it is in no way this particular personality trait that elicits any interest on the part of posterity. Nor is it merely the reflective and eager participation in the intellectual goals of her spouse of the sort characteristic of the wives of many other German scholars and writers that made her such a welcome life partner of such distinguished men. No, indeed, she herself was a stimulating, creative nature full of ingenious, inspired revelations, and yet at the same time full of restless dissatisfaction, with her striving to draw the ultimate enjoyment from life and with her agile and variable sensibility and emotions. In this sense, she was a kind of female Faust, one of those “Faustesses” who, blessed with rare intellectual gifts and an equally rare intellectual education, nonetheless are essentially demonic personalities who quickly strive to move on past life goals even as such are attained. Her sympathetic traits can escalate to ardent devotion and passion, her antipathetic traits to acerbic or even annihilating criticism. Not surprisingly, such women themselves are subject to the most varied judgments, from delight in their captivating charm to condemnation for their malicious intrigues. Karoline’s contemporaries, too, viewed her from such contradictory perspectives during her own life, and even we who judge her later find it difficult to find an appropriately balanced perspective for such equally brilliant talents and virtues, on the one hand, and faults, on the other. This difficulty is complicated by the fact that for a lengthy period, rather unusual and often grievous life experiences at the hands of fate prevented the original spirit and personality of this woman — externally as well — from reaching an equilibrium. There was a time when as an outlawed adventuress she was excluded from many circles in society until as the wife of a renowned aesthetician and critic and, later, of a famous philosopher she regained her full status in society.

Karoline was born in Göttingen on 2 September 1763 as the daughter of the famous professor of theology Johann David Michaelis, who among other things also published a multivolume work on “morality.” [4] Although we know not whether Caroline engaged in any study of this “morality” in her youth, it is certain that she in no way oriented her later life according to the precepts of this work. The daughters of German professors often received a scholarly education, and many were allegedly proficient in both Latin and Greek. At the very least, echoes from their fathers’ reception salons and studies supplied them with all sorts of technical scholarly terms that to a certain extent allowed them to feel at home amid the activities of scholars and intellectuals. This rule does admittedly allow for rather striking exceptions. One of Karoline’s friends was Therese, daughter of the famous scholar of antiquities Heyne in Göttingen. Therese was initially married to Forster, the Mainz clubbist, and then to Huber. When the vagaries of life later forced her to turn to writing to support herself, she found herself on precarious footing indeed as far as the grammar and orthography of the German language were concerned, and only lengthier study and the helping and corrective hand of her spouse [Huber] were able to guide Therese Huber into the circle of German authoresses.

Karoline’s education spared her any such conflict with the German language, of which even her earliest letters exhibit complete mastery notwithstanding minor orthographical license. In the young girl’s early letters, the religious spirit of her patriarchal house is unmistakable, coming to expression with soothing tenderness alongside a serenely mischievous element. A concomitant feeling of intellectual superiority additionally came to expression for years afterward in an inclination to “mother,” e.g., in letters to her sister. Karoline’s charms and amiability won the heart of the mining physician Böhmer in Clausthal; indeed, the dithyrambic effusions in which the happy bridegroom expressed his amorous — and at least for a practicing physician rather rapturous — intoxications have been preserved. And soon enough, on 15 June 1784, he found himself at the altar with his beloved, who followed him to the mountainous idyll of Clausthal in the Harz mountains, which she herself later portrays with Heinsean coloring.

But it was rather isolated there: no students, no professors, no literati, and no chevaliers of the intellect and spirit. The busy physician’s activities did not really leave him time to rest up at home in front of his own hearth, and in the midst of the intimate domestic happiness enhanced and stabilized by the birth of several children, we already sense a faint breeze of discontent, in part through Karoline’s lonely lament, and in part through the satirical portrayal of her surroundings.

Amid the solitary winter mood of monotonous and barren Clausthal, Karoline consoles herself with her daughter [9 November 1785 (letter 62)]:

It is with sadness, however, that I now see the snow, the partition between me and the world; it is exactly the same feeling as last winter; the trees lost their leaves in the same way, the fir trees darkened in the same way, and the wind howled outside my lonely room, the clouds above swirled past in a thousand shapes — I lived not in the present, but in the hope of spring and of what it would bring — that was the only difference. Now I have my child, now I am actually enjoying the gift for which I waited, and what a child! My Auguste is a delightful, charming creature.

She found similar consolation in her receptive sensibility for the small activities and joys of daily life, about which she speaks with sensitive reflection [late 1786 (letter 72a)]:

[W]e would be miserable indeed — if our happiness did not in fact consist of small things whose sum is indeed vain but that individually are nonetheless capable of occupying us completely. For it is from that particular disposition in which the soul seemed ready to withdraw into itself and to be intent on fathoming its own depths and our very nature — that the smallest trifle can so easily call us back, a voice, a fleeting glance that draws our attention to a ribbon, to some small something — and, like a bolt of lightning, brings us back to the present, to the comfort and varied distractions of life, reviving our inclination and joy for it all once more. It is thus — but I know nothing more about it. Yesterday I played the dinner hostess, and the roast was more important to me than heaven and earth.

Despite the wealth of her interior world, she was nonetheless unable to shake the feeling consistently left in her soul by the isolation and barrenness of Clausthal. She was, however, quickly released from this joyless Clausthal existence by a sad and unfortunate event, for Böhmer died on 4 [5] February 1788, followed soon by the son born after his death. Finding herself now without a fixed home, Karoline initially returned to Göttingen, then moved to Marburg to live with her brother, who was a professor at the university there. Here she lost her younger daughter, Therese. During the spring of 1792, she made the fateful decision to move to Mainz, where her acquaintance and fellow professor’s daughter from Göttingen, Therese Heyne, was living as the wife of the world traveller Forster.

Forster was a person of sanguine nature; his enthusiasm for the ideals of humanity turned him into a partisan of the French republicans, and Karoline, who soon had wholly integrated herself as a housemate into this family, surrendered herself to the same sentiments with similar enthusiasm. [5] This spiritual connection bonded her with Forster, whose weakness she knew all too well and whose mood swings demanded the enduring patience of her sisterly understanding. Although her letters do not reveal whether amid the ardent storm and stress of these shared sympathies she ever passed beyond feelings of mere friendship — there can be no doubt that her presence had a watershed effect on Forster’s marriage with Therese. Even if for wholly other reasons Therese may well have felt ill at ease amid her domestic circumstances after the Mainz republicans, citizens, and peasants intruded and contemporary developments disrupted and scattered the intellectually based circle of her earlier social contacts, and even if her affection for Huber was merely waiting for an external occasion to disclose itself to all the world as the more powerful, and, finally, even if the precarious situation of the town of Mainz itself seemed almost imperiously to urge a separation of wife and child from Forster — it nonetheless remains questionable whether the hasty and resolute separation of these two spouses would have taken place at all without the presence of this intelligent and charming woman, namely, Karoline herself, whose personality could not but exert an increasingly irresistible influence on a personality as irresolute as was Forster’s. The fact remains that Therese separated from Forster while Karoline abided with him despite the increasingly precarious situation, conscientiously caring for her severely ill friend until he departed for Paris, where not long thereafter this man, who was so intellectually distinguished but of a rather un-German disposition, succumbed to his sufferings. Although Karoline was under no illusions concerning the morally and politically dubious nature of this Samaritanism, she nonetheless did not think it necessary to concern herself with the opinion of the world.

After the leader of the Mainz Clubbists, namely, Forster himself, had left Mainz for |599| Paris, Karoline, too, left the town — now imminently threatened by German armies — and headed for Gotha, where she hoped to find refuge with the family of Gotter, the delicate, French-influenced author of well-known singspiele. Because she was unable to get past Mannheim because of the presence of Prussian soldiers, however, she headed for Frankfurt after entrusting herself to the protection of a man whom she considered upright enough but who was in fact of an anxiously loyal nature. Here, after she was stopped for interrogation because of her name, [6] this very same man handed her over to the Prussian authorities. Initially held under arrest in the town itself, she was later transferred to the more secure prison at the fortress of Königstein amid the mountainous forests of the Taunus region outside Frankfurt.

The conditions of her incarceration there were terrible. Karoline confesses that she spent days in Königstein every single one of which brought sufficient terror, anxiety, fear, and hardship to drive even the most cheerful disposition to madness. All the more did she engage in composing memoranda and petitions to find a way out of this unbearable imprisonment. The efforts of her brother and even more so the influence of Wilhelm von Humboldt, succeeded in bringing about her release, which King Friedrich Wilhelm II himself decreed in a cabinet missive. [7]

These developments notwithstanding, this harshly tested freedom enthusiast would quickly be subject to other bitter experiences.

Karoline had in the meantime found a gallant chevalier to accompany her from imprisonment to Leipzig — August Wilhelm Schlegel, a young, philologically highly gifted literatus whose acquaintance she had already made earlier in Göttingen and with whom she had already corresponded for some time. In any event, Schlegel’s affection for this bright and intelligent woman was deep and unwavering. Since various circumstances, chief of which were political, made it desirable for his friend’s location initially to remain a secret, Schlegel left her behind in the territory of Altenburg under the protection of his brother Friedrich. [8] At the time, Friedrich Schlegel was in the midst of his own youthful storm-and-stress period and was one of those impertinent literary street urchins who have always been present in Germany in one form or another, perennially ill-behaved without, however, having yet become a darling of the muses. The protection of a woman who had already delivered undeniable evidence of passionate free-thinking put his loyalty as a brother and friend to a severe test indeed. For he made no secret of the fact that Karoline had made an extraordinary impression on him and that he basically envied his brother for possessing her love. He admired her profound understanding of poesy, shared her enthusiasm for contemporary revolutionary developments, and eventually owed to the company of this rare woman a complete turn in his life, writing to her later [2 August 1796 (letter 168]:

Imagine that I am standing before you now and silently thanking you for everything you have done for me and for my development. — What I am and will be, I owe to myself; the fact that I am thus, I owe in part to you.

And in his notorious novel Lucinde, Friedrich Schlegel’s not particularly fertile imagination, inclined as it was to draw its models directly from life, sketched the image of a woman the possession of whom would have constituted the protagonist’s greatest happiness; as it was, however, he ineluctably had to renounce precisely such happiness because she had already made her choice, and because her friend was his as well. This image is doubtless a portrait of Karoline, executed, moreover, in the flattering colors of passionate affection: [9]

In one and the same hour she could mimic some comic nonsense with all the playfulness and subtlety of a trained actress, and could read a sublime poem with the ravishing nobility of an artless song. At one moment she would want to flirt and shine in society, at another she would be completely inspired, and at still another she would be helpful both in word and deed, as serious, modest, and friendly as a tender mother. She could transform some trivial event into a beautiful story by her charming way of telling it. She enveloped everything in tenderness and wit; she had a feeling for everything, and everything emerged transfigured out of her shaping hand or her sweetly speaking lips. Nothing good and great was too sacred or too common for her to take a passionate interest in. She understood every allusion and answered those questions, too, which had not been asked. It wasn’t possible to lecture to her; by themselves those lectures turned into conversations and, as they became more and more interesting, a continually renewed music and spirited looks and lovable expressions played upon her face. When one read her letters — which she conceived as if she were carrying on a conversation — one could almost see those changes of expression, so clearly and soulfully did she write. Whoever knew only this side of her might have thought that she was merely a pleasant person, that she would have been a superb actress, and that her sayings lacked only meter and rhyme to be changed into tender poetry. And yet, this same woman showed amazing courage and strength on every important occasion, and that, too, was the lofty perspective from which she formulated her judgment of men.

This radiantly stylized portrait, one to which the painter himself later added an array of ironic commentary, was far removed from the reception Karoline actually experienced in societal circles at the time. Although she had moved in with her earlier acquaintances the Gotters in Gotha, she soon had to acknowledge that it in fact would have been better for her not to have sought out the company of people again in the first place. Her letters from this period (1794) are full of lament [20 February 1794 (letter 140)]:

Political judgment, which is as cutting here as it is anywhere, is taken as the explicit pretext to turn away from me. Even for my friends themselves, so much still remains obscure that they may well soon lose the courage to argue further on my behalf. The transgressions of my former friends, the mistakes into which I myself was swept up, indeed, even my virtues have now conspired against me — wondrous chance is now oppressing me to the same degree as are the natural consequences of my actions — nor can I really ask that it be any different. Who knows me the way I really am — who can know me?! People consider me to be a depraved, rejected creature, and think it commendable that I be completely driven into the ground.

The resolute aversion that this lady friend of Georg Forster had elicited by virtue of her experiences in Mainz went so far as to prompt the prince-electoral Hannoverian university board of trustees to direct her to leave Göttingen after she had arrived for a visit [letter/document 146].

It was August Wilhelm Schlegel who finally redeemed her from this unbearable situation by giving her his hand in marriage on 1 July 1796 in Braunschweig, doing so with an element of disregard quite appropriate for the young Romantic and representative of a school of societal recklessness and derring-do. Together with Schlegel, who as a ducal Rath was lecturing at the university in Jena, she moved to this colony of scholars on the Saale river, where at the time both Fichte and Schiller were residing and to which eventually both Schelling and Hegel would find their way along with the rest of the younger generation of highflying and idealistic Romantics. Here at the epicenter of literary life, Karoline, too, became a literary dame, a literata who supported her spouse by helping with his reviews for the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, developed an active and animated interest in every new publication from the authors of the literary epoch of German Classicism, and endeavored to spread the word of their intellectual significance at every opportunity. Johann Diederich Gries referred to her at the time as “the brightest, most intelligent woman he had ever known.”And Wilhelm von Humboldt similarly acknowledged the “lofty spirit and intellect” that came to expression in her letters. [10]

And indeed, Karoline’s recently published correspondence is a monument to an extraordinary gift of the sort evident in very few German women. But alongside the most profound oracles reminiscent of the revelations of Rahel, who is also mentioned often in these letters, and alongside passionately moving effusions of the heart and the most nobly articulated conceptual pearls, one also encounters considerable one-sidedness and spitefulness, antipathies equally pitiless and unjust that come to expression with cutting severity and bitter lethality. In that sense, we encounter a personality who is both prophet and intrigant, who is admiring and transfiguring here, harassing and agitating there, and who, moreover, never denies the spirit of an epoch that valued feeling and passions more highly than moral law — to wit, Karoline in no way leaves the impression of any feminine ideal worthy of the admiration of German women. That said, she nonetheless remains an extremely interesting and even piquant object of study even where darker shadows fall upon her features; indeed, it is precisely with her faults and errancies that she remains more instructive still than many a purer feminine model might through more customary, irreproachable personality traits.

Her hostile disposition directed itself especially against our [German] national writer Schiller, who in fact had originally prompted A. W. Schlegel to move to Jena to become a contributor to his periodical Die Horen. Friedrich Schlegel, however, hitherto a great admirer of Schiller, in his youthful presumption published a rather sharp critique of Schiller’s Musenalmanach, while Schiller in his own turn found one of Friedrich’s essays unsuitable for publication in Die Horen. What now took place was what unfortunately seems to take place ever anew in Germany, namely, that for external reasons an admirer, who earlier had viewed the “great writer” as an extraordinary human being, now becomes the latter’s greatest adversary, viewing previously admired merits as now worthy of the severest criticism. A. W. Schlegel, meanwhile, given his overall disposition and orientation, had never had particularly deep admiration and sympathy for Schiller in any case, and what now emerged among the Schlegels was a hostile encampment in immediate proximity to Schiller, the “Até of this lamentable war,” moreover, being none other than Karoline herself. [11]

Today one can but gape in astonishment, especially considering the calm glory |600| in which Schiller’s name abides today, at how these youthful zealots, ostensibly called to be the instructors and masters of all that was beautiful, judged this writer. Friedrich Schlegel, for example, writes concerning the prologue in Wallenstein, which he views as an imitation of Goethe, and on “The Fight With the Dragon”: [12]

As far as Schiller is concerned, alongside the heroic self-renunciation in the Goethesque prologue, which seems to me like a hollowed-out fruit rind, I admire nothing as much as I do his patience. For to cut out such long dragons in paper, in words and rhymes, certainly requires a considerable element of impertinent patience. By the way, his fortune reminds me of his misfortune, namely, that his Aesthetic Letters did not really emerge purely for him, and were disrupted. But now they are in his blood, and the whole business with dignigrace has spread over the inner parts. Rarely, moreover, does much time pass before he once again vents in various poems that are more aesthetic than poetic.

Karoline herself passes the harshest judgments on Wallenstein [to Luise Gotter on 24 April 1799 (letter 235)]: “Simply put, it is a work of art alone, void of instinct.” Similarly also concerning Maria Stuart and Die Jungfrau von Orleans. The non plus ultra of such antipathetic criticism, however, is likely found in the following lines concerning Schiller’s most overtly folksy poem, “The Lay of the Bell” [to Auguste on 21 October 1799 (letter 250)]:

But yesterday we almost fell off our chairs laughing at a poem by Schiller himself, the “Lied von der Glocke”; it is quite à la Voss, à la Tiek, à la devil, or at least enough so to end up with the devil.

The fame and merits of the luminaries of Germany’s classical literary period were anything but fixed or uncontested during their own lifetimes, and not merely by uneducated or uncultivated obtuseness, but rather precisely by the most erudite and sophisticated among those who had made poesy and literature their own life’s work.

The relationship between Karoline and her brother-in-law Friedrich Schlegel was also about to take a disturbing turn. Friedrich, who had begun with enamored admiration for his charming sister-in-law, later began a regular correspondence with her winsome daughter, Auguste Böhmer, weaving all sorts of remarks into these scintillating bonbon missives that were in fact not meant for Auguste at all, but rather for her mother. In these letters, Friedrich’s “little monkey Auguste” received all sorts of salutary instruction for her education and, moreover, concerning things about which she as yet had no conception. The lengths to which the author of Lucinde went is revealed in the following request he gives to this twelve-year-old girl [on 28 April 1797 (letter 181d)]:

If your mother perhaps also would like to know what kind of nature she has, just tell her: political-erotic, though the erotic probably predominates. I can already tell from looking at you that now you, too, want to know your nature. You, however, do not yet have any, my dear child. A person only develops one later.

Friedrich Schlegel had in the meantime made a conquest in Berlin. The daughter of the venerable Moses Mendelssohn, Dorothea, married to the banker Simon Veit, secured a divorce and initially followed the Romantic to Jena. Karoline developed an insuperable antipathy toward this intelligent Berlin Jewess, and whenever she speaks about her, her words seem to transform into claws with which she intends to scratch her eyes out. Not surprisingly, the relationship between the two brothers was severely and inconveniently disrupted by the zeal and vehemence with which the daughters of the Christian and Jewish moral philosophers feuded with each other.

Karoline’s life novel, however, was soon to be enhanced by several of its most interesting chapters. The external occasion was provided by little, harmless Auguste, who not only served as the carrier pigeon for Friedrich Schlegel’s ardent effusions to her mother, but had also, as the amiable child of nature that she was, attracted the attention of the young philosopher of nature Schelling.

Schelling’s “granitic” nature, who in the meantime had moved to Jena, exerted an enormous attraction on Karoline, who commensurately set about finding a “granitess” for him, for a time believing for a time that she had found one in Rahel. She soon discovered, however, that there was no need to search about in distant places, since her own Auguste had already favorably impressed the adamantine thinker. What soon developed was a relationship that seemed destined for the duration. This delicate child, who, moreover, already understood how to compose “impertinently funny” letters, referred to Schelling as her “dear Müllchen,” surrounding him at the same time with so much touchingly childlike innocence that the young, somewhat brusque scholar must have felt rather peculiar in this playground of feeling and emotion. The only shadow that darkened this comely relationship was that the intelligent mother laid claim to a compulsory portion of the love that was in fact being directed toward her daughter — doubtless often enough causing Schelling’s own feelings to waver. He found himself in the situation described by the Roman poet Horace in the latter’s reference to the “fair mother, daughter fairer still,” and which similarly inspired Heine to compose his familiar, pithy verses, which, however, we need not adduce further here. [13]

The mother made marginal comments to her daughter’s letters, occasionally variously corrected them, and was generally omnipresent in this childlike, amorous relationship. Even when the daughter appeared to be following her own heart, she was merely echoing her mother’s emotions, something amply demonstrated by the following, characteristic passage in one of Auguste’s letters to Schelling [4/5 June 1800 (letter 261)]:

Thank you so much for the trick you gave me for amusing Mother; it works so splendidly. Whenever nothing seems to help regardless of how much I fool around trying to entertain her, I simply tell her “how very much he loves you,” and she immediately gets all kittenish. But the first time I told her, she also wanted to know how much you loved her, and all my wisdom was suddenly at a dead end; but I quickly got out of it by saying: more than anything; she was satisfied, and I hope you will be too.

Poor Auguste, unfortunate daughter of a mother of consequence — did you never sense that your own address was often used merely for the sake of the enclosures? Fate, however, spared her greater struggles and battles, for on 12 July 1800 she died in Bad Bocklet, tenderly and touchingly mourned by her mother and shared friend. This grief itself, however, soon transformed into a new bond between the two. “You will, after all,” Karoline writes to Schelling in December 1800 [letter 278],

never be able to assimilate the mother’s grief completely. But be not aggrieved when you sense how that which prompts your lady friend to erupt in such words must of necessity also tear her apart — yes, just now tear her apart. All this must somehow, sometime turn to joy for me once more, do you not also believe that? — My soul is being reduced more and more to just this grief, and yet I am comforted and strong. Do keep this thought in mind if I am unable to keep from weeping at your breast. New life is welling up from these moments, indeed they themselves represent a sublime symbol of life; my grief is not mere dejection, nor despondency, nor despair, and only if I need not conceal any of this from my friend can I have complete trust in him. Allow me at least to touch upon it; I have no intention of making you linger over it. I myself do not linger over it. Though the clouds of my own misery may also shroud my head for a time, it will soon free itself again, and the pure blue of heaven above me, which encompasses my child just as it does me, will again shine its light on it. Omnipresence: that is what the deity is — and do you yourself not believe we must one day become omnipresent ourselves, all of us, one in the other, yet without for that reason being One?

The affectionate tone of loving surrender that Karoline engages here already betrays the imminent turn in her life. She became enthusiastic about Schelling’s scholarly work, immersed herself in his philosophical writings, studied the natural sciences, for example, the history of the earth, and began to develop a profound reverence for such knowledge, at the same time beginning, by contrast, to think less of A. W. Schlegel’s projects; for, after all, she did not have to learn poesy herself. As an expression of the emotions Schelling elicited in her, on one occasion a genuine English topcoat made its way to the philosopher as a gift that, despite its darker side, namely, its inclination to shed a great many hairs, was nonetheless to be recommended for its light side, namely, that it left one’s arms sufficient freedom to embrace a lady friend [20 December 1800 (letter 277)]. She was, however, not merely a worshipful lady friend, but rather also creative in her own right, and Schelling himself could hardly have exalted more trenchantly the summit of his own conceptual world at the time, namely, art, than did Karoline in the magnificent remarks she composed in a letter to A. W. Schlegel [12 March 1801 (letter 293)]:

Oh, my friend, remind yourself incessantly how short life is, and how nothing exists as genuinely as does a work of art — criticism perishes, physical races are extinguished, systems change, but when the world itself one day incinerates like a scrap of paper, works of art will be the last living sparks to enter into the house of God — only then will there be complete darkness.

Although we may well forget while reading this account that Karoline was in fact still Schlegel’s wife, the participants themselves did not fare much differently. A. W. Schlegel was living primarily in Berlin, where he delivered lectures and, much to Karoline’s unconcealed |601| vexation, courted young actresses. All sorts of ill-humored discussions of finances also filled the correspondence between the spouses at this time, who after finally making some mutual concessions in their relationship nonetheless found that the latter were ultimately inadequate. Hence the two together, in a missive fairly dripping with asseverations of mutual respect [letter/document 371], petitioned the Duke of Weimar for a divorce, which was granted on 17 May 1803. Karoline and Schelling traveled together to Swabia, where Schelling’s father married them on 26 June. Karoline had finally sailed into a safe, sheltered harbor; the daughter of the full professor had become the wife of a full professor. She followed her spouse to Würzburg and then to Munich, where he had been appointed a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The content of her letters, which henceforth evidence little of any more intimate interest in literature, is in part of a domestic, in part of a political nature. Only occasionally does she mention this or that earlier friend. University gossip plays the most important role in these letters. Karoline died in Maulbronn on 7 September 1809 during a journey to Swabia.

Karoline’s adventurous and exciting life comes to expression in her letters, which as such are noteworthy documents of the age in which free-thinking morality was considered good form in literary circles. The present is justified in condemning the orientation of those men and women while simultaneously acknowledging their lofty intellectual significance and merits. But even if the rare intellect and captivating charm of a highly gifted woman be prevented from swaying this assessment, we must nonetheless find “extenuating circumstances” in the shared, rapturous enthusiasm of a storm-and-stress epoch that sought new foundations for the moral world as well.


[*] Rudolf Gottschall, “Eine deutsche Professorstochter,” Die Gartenlaube. Illustrirtes Familienblatt (1871), 597–601; portrait: frontispiece to original article. Footnotes and bracketed material in the text are those of the translator. — Gottschall published a second assessment of Caroline in September 1871. Back.

[1] Initial lines of Schiller’s “Der Spaziergang,” trans. as “The Walk” in The Works of Frederick Schiller: Poems (New York 1895), 213–22, here 213. Back.

[2] August von Kotzebue, Der arme Poet. Schauspiel in einem Aufzuge, first published in the Almanach dramatischer Spiele zur geselligen Unterhaltung auf dem Lande 11, no. 190 (Riga 1813). Back.

[3] Caroline. Briefe an ihre Geschwister, ihre Tochter Auguste, die Familie Gotter, F. L. W. Meyer, A. W. und Fr. Schlegel, J. Schelling u. a., 2 vols., ed. G. Waitz (Leipzig: Verlag von S. Hirzel, 1871).

The reference is neither to the house at Leutragasse 5, where Caroline and Wilhelm Schlegel along with Friedrich Schlegel and Dorothea Veit would live together, nor even to the Fichte house, but rather to what was known as the Rößler House just behind the former tower constituting a corner of the town wall. During the first decade of the twentieth century, the tower was dismantled and turned into the residential tower now known as the Red Tower in Jena, and much of the area razed, including the Rößler House, and redesigned by town planners. The plaques on the Rößler House, which had been affixed in connection with the university’s third centennial celebration in 1858, were moved to the nearby Fichte House, which had been spared and which thereafter became known (misleadingly) as the “Romantikerhaus on the Löbder Moat next to the Red Tower.” Gottschall, writing in 1871, was still under the impression, because of the plaques, that the Romantics had indeed lived in the Rößler House. But Caroline, Wilhelm, Friedrich, and Dorothea never lived in either house, but rather at Leutragasse 5. This confusing history was first unraveled by Peer Kösling, Die Frühromantiker in Jena, esp. 18–19 (based on Kösling’s initial article in 1998).

On the following map of Jena from 1858, the solid blue circle at the top is the original tower on the town wall. The first blue house below it is the original Rößler House, the house below it, the Fichte house, today still the Romantikerhaus and location of the Romantiker Museum in Jena. The house in blue at bottom right is that at Leutragasse 5 (H. Botz, Jena Stadtplan [1858]; Stadtarchiv Jena):



[4] Johann David Michaelis Moral, ed. Carl Fridrich Stäudlin (Göttingen 1792–93) (i.e., posthumously). Back.

[5] Caroline did not actually reside with the Forsters; see her letter to Luise Gotter on 20 April 1792 (letter 112), note 6. Back.

[6] Caroline had been mistaken for the wife of her brother-in-law, Georg Wilhelm Böhmer, who had played a not insignificant role among the pro-French faction in Mainz. Back.

[7] Not quite correct; in fact, Humboldt begged off in a rather self-serving fashion. See his letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 27 May 1793 (letter 127a). Back.

[8] The reason for this secrecy was personal rather than political, namely, Caroline’s pregnancy. Back.

[9] See supplementary appendix 132a.1. Back.

[10] See Wilhelm Schlegel’s letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 16 March 1800 (letter 258r), note 11, and Wilhelm von Humboldt’s letter to Wilhelm on 16 November 1793 (letter 136.3). Back.

[11] Até, “daughter of Eris [so Hesiod] or Zeus (Jupiter [so Homer]), was an ancient Greek divinity, who led both gods and men into rash and inconsiderate actions” (William Smith, A Smaller Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology, and Geography, 11th ed. [London 1868], 64 s.v.). Back.

[12] See entire passage and notes in Friedrich’s letter to Caroline on 29 October 1798 (letter 207). “Der Kampf mit dem Drachen,” one of Schiller’s lengthy ballads. Back.

[13] The first reference is to Horace’s “Ode xvi: Palinodia (O mater pulchrâ),” here translated by Philip Francis, Horace, vol. 1 (London 1831), 26–27. The ode is addressed to the daughter Tyndaris. The translator provides the following explanation: “Horace had written, when he was young, some severe verses on Gratidia, but being now in love with her daughter, he gives them to her resentment with a submission, which has perhaps more poetry than sincerity. It is formed in very loose, superficial terms, with a common-place on the effects of anger, which seems to be raised with an affected pomp of style.”

Daughter, whose loveliness the bosom warms
More than thy lovely mother's riper charms,
Give to my bold lampoons what fate you please,
To wasting flames condemn'd, or angry seas.

But yet remember, nor the god of wine,
Nor Pythian Phœbus, from his inmost shrine,
Nor Dindymene, nor her priests possess'd,
Can with their sounding cymbals shake the breast,

Like furious anger in its gloomy vein,
Which neither temper'd sword, nor raging main,
Nor fire wide-wasting, nor tremendous Jove,
Rushing in baleful thunders from above,

Can tame to fear. Thus sings the poet's lay —
Prometheus to inform his nobler clay
Their various passions chose from every beast,
And with the lion's rage inspired the human breast.

From anger all the tragic horrors rose,
That crush'd Thyestes with a weight of woes;
From hence proud cities date their utter falls,
When, insolent in ruin, o'er their walls

The wrathful soldier drags the hostile plough,
That haughty mark of total overthrow.
Me too in youth the heat of anger fired,
And with the rapid rage of rhyme inspired;

But now repentant, shall the muse again
To softer numbers tune her melting strain,
So thou recall thy threats, thy wrath control,
Resume thy love, and give me back my soul.

See the translation of the first and final two stanzas by G. J. Whyte Melville in Horace: Odes, Epodes, and Carmen Sæculare, (London 1850), 13–14 (“indite,” here: “compose, write”):

Of a fair mother, daughter fairer still,
My bitter verses treat; as thou shalt please,
Committed to the flames at thy sweet will,
Or scattered on the Adriatic's breeze. . . .

Curb thou thine ire; in hasty youth my spite
Drove me, as now I shame not to avow,
Those venomous Iambics too indite.

But fain would I recant each bitter line,
Exchange that measure for a sweeter strain;
And making friends at last with thee and thine,
My long-lost peace of mind would I regain.

The second reference is to Heinrich Heine’s poem “Yolanda and Marie,” here translated by Louis Untermeyer, Poems of Heinrich Heine (New York 1917), 229:

Which of them shall I fall in love with?
Both of them make my senses swirl.
The mother's still a lovely woman;
The daughter's an enchanting girl.

In those white arms and virgin beauties
My trembling heart is almost caught!
But thrilling too are genial glances
That understand each casual thought.

My heart resembles our gray brother,
Who stands, a jackass self-confessed,
Between two bundles of his fodder,
Deciding which may taste the best. Back.

Translation © 2019 Doug Stott