Rudolf Haym 1871

Rudolf Haym
“One Woman’s Life from the Golden Age of German Literature” [*]
Review of Caroline. Briefe an ihre Geschwister, ihre Tochter Auguste,
die Familie Gotter, F. L. W. Meyer, A. W. und Fr. Schlegel, J. Schelling u. a.
nebst Briefen von A. W. und Fr. Schlegel u. a.

Edited by Georg Waitz. 2 vols. Leipzig: Hirzel 1871.

|408| The fewer biographical-literary documents one might expect to emerge now from the golden age of our literature, all the more gratefully will one welcome a new publication that speaks to us — moreover, in unexpected wealth — about the innermost life that pulsed in human hearts during that period. Alongside Schleiermacher’s correspondence, [1] the collection cited above is doubtless the most significant among recent publications.

Nor are we keen on drawing our readers’ attention to that collection merely because it provides an inestimable contribution to the history of the Romantic circle, but rather because an utterly singular, indeed unique being comes to expression there, and because in this hitherto hidden place it is variously the same poetic springs that seem to be opening up here that, after widening into a river, collected in Tasso and Iphigenie. [2]

Let us be rightly understood. Something quite different captures our attention here than in the biographical documents and epistolary communications of our poets and thinkers. Insofar as the latter fixed the most exquisite content of their personalities in enduring works, we now hungrily seek explanations for those works precisely in the developmental history and personal relationships of their authors; only rarely does the remnant of their lives that plays itself out but incompletely in their public role otherwise acquire any additional, independent interest for us.

Given the richly communicative public nature of our intellectual culture and the highly developed literary life of our age, it is almost inconceivable that an extraordinarily gifted personality might be content with keeping the treasures of its thought and feeling solely to itself, or to exhaust such treasures perhaps solely in its relationships with its closest intimates. Such restriction to quiet, invisible intellectual activity is most natural to the sensibility of women. How very few of our genuinely intelligent and poetically stimulated women, however, |409| have been able to maintain such moderation and resist the temptation of publication! And how many mediocre poems and inferior novels have come into the world as a result!

One of the few exceptions is smart Rahel Levin, the avowed enemy of all untrue and affected natures. And yet, in the end she merely desisted from doing what was impossible for her in any case given the lack of harmony in her own personality.

Things are completely different in the case of Caroline Schelling. Inwardly as richly and substantively gifted as any of the belletristic women of her time, she was indeed a woman who possessed — in the assessment of the most competent of judges in such matters — “all the talents to shine as an author but whose ambition was not pointed in that direction.” With completely justified pride, she feels she possesses innate poesy and states quite directly that at least in this particular point she needs no teacher except perhaps for the learnable art of making verses — and yet, in the midst of a collection of personalities who thought of nothing but literary production both day and night, she maintained — despite all the demands and temptation not to do so — an element of genuinely feminine reserve; what little she did produce with her quill is unpretentious, anonymously published work undertaken merely for the sake of modest income and a contribution to the household finances, or is itself merely housework, viz., a feminine service of assistance and love; what she divulges in conversation, in a letter, a chance sketch, is used by friends and publicized only through a second party.

In that sense, her on the whole admirably accurate sense of judgment, her intellect and wit, and especially the music of her being benefited literature only indirectly. She saved the best that she possessed solely for herself and for those whom she loved. And she possessed much and she loved much.

And what a unique, singular view it is, a pleasure incapable of comparison with any other, when the veil that covered this rich existence is drawn back, when now, suddenly, behind the poetic world we already possess as a completely finished and completely formed world in the works of our poets and writers, another world becomes visible, not yet sundered from its stirring disposition, variously permeated by the residue of reality, wholly human in being filled with both good and bad — and yet on the whole a world whose blossoming fragrance now, for the first time, may touch our — posterity’s — senses!

Of course, in a certain sense this, too, is doubtless an elucidating commentary on German literary history. That is to say, here, alongside creative |410| forces, we are eavesdropping on the stirrings of a more internally directed, receptive disposition that sooner responds concealed, behind the scenes. Here we see the spiritual relationships and secret threads that connected the voiced word of the poet with the understanding and feelings of similarly attuned, subtly disposed intellects and spirits — part of that participating public without whose response and affinity the emergence and articulation of the creative power of genius is utterly inconceivable.

And yet such a phenomenon possesses incomparable value even quite independent of all that. What unfolds before us here is the life and history of a heart we cannot help following with as much independent poetic as purely human or, indeed, increasing moral interest. The external and internal story of such individuals who, though significant and noteworthy in and of themselves, do not intervene in any immediate way in the larger life of world history, is precisely what in every sense constitutes the theme of the novel.

During a single moment, Caroline Schelling did indeed consider borrowing material for a novelistic piece from the rich experiences and events of her own life. She apparently abandoned the notion of writing a novel herself, however, as soon as she noticed she could write such only with her own, innermost heart and marrow, and that her imagination involuntarily, inevitably, slipped back onto the memory track of what she herself had experienced.

And, indeed, how unsatisfying would the ending of the novel have been had it been concluded at precisely that time — around 1799! It is in her epistolary correspondence that this novel now lies open before us, the most authentic, genuine novel conceivable, and with a much more satisfying conclusion than is wont to be found in most novels. There are just enough lacunae in the narration of facts to entice the reader into filling out and guessing them, thereby lending to the whole that particular mysterious background otherwise so favorable to generating a poetic or indeed novelistic atmosphere.

The real poesy in this novel, however, resides in the interior experiences so openly presented here, expressed occasionally with wondrously subtle penetration and with the most sublime magic of the language of the soul. What unfolds before us here is a development, contained within the space of a single human soul, that progresses from half unconscious limitations, through harsh trials, mistrials, and errors, through serious, indeed severe clashes with reality, ultimately to serene freedom, peace, and clarity.

Although [Goethe’s] Wilhelm Meister [3] has been called an odyssey of education and development, its moral cultivation is lost within the poeticized social and economic elements of cultivation. |411| A problem that is more lofty yet than “education” and “cultivation” is that of moral purification, wherein the heart comes to terms with its own illusions and with the pain of a life rife with fate and destiny. In the pages of these two volumes, and within the element of a lofty aesthetic and intellectual culture, one that never entirely loses sight of the ideal, nor ever falls away from poesy, we can now read one of the many possible — but in this instance utterly individual — solutions to precisely this problem.

It has long been acknowledged that Caroline was one of the most intelligent women of that age, an age in any event fairly luxuriating in intellect, spirit, and cultivation, and that she was perhaps even the most intelligent and significant. This or that scholar has doubtless also tried to discern the features of her intellect within those few essays of August Wilhelm Schlegel with regard to which he himself, her second spouse, attested her contributions. Everything otherwise to be gleaned concerning her from generally accessible oral and written tradition yielded the picture of a woman who was smarter than she was good and whose ambiguous reputation and sharp tongue sooner made a closer personal acquaintance seem less desirable.

The worst things that could be said of a woman were said about her; and yet even if on this point one was generally inclined to believe little and forgive much, the impression nonetheless persisted that she had a more free understanding of the limits of feminine obligation than was perhaps prudent and that she possessed a bit more than the allotted measure of the shortcomings of conscious feminine charm and of the obsession with effervescing and pleasing, intervening and domineering according to whim.

In no way is this impression now given the lie through any of the disclosures concerning her that now lie before us. In some respects, she emerges more culpable than one wanted to assume, and more consciously involved in various instances of culpability than one had reason to believe. The worst rumor uttered about her was by no means wholly merely defamation. And yet, directly alongside the confirmation or reinforcement of such malicious opinions we also encounter an overwhelming number of traits that cannot but steal the heart of the most severe moral critic and incline him to clemency, and which we, if we but measure what is human by a human standard, cannot help but admire, indeed revere!

The simple truth is that this woman, one subject to so much reproach on both a large and a small scale, was at the same time gifted with extraordinary virtues of the heart and character, and that in the most precarious situations and in the hours of most severe testing exhibited a disposition and bearing |412| that occasionally transforms her image for us into that of a saint. It would be easy enough to glean from her letters a plethora of examples of her inclination for tittle-tattle, malicious instigation, or for disrupting personal relationships of the sort that prompted Schiller’s aversion and garnered for her the nicknames “that Malady” and “Dame Lucifer” in the circle around him.

But it would be equally easy to assemble from these same letters demonstrations of unswerving affection and devotion, of an incorruptible love of truth and justice, and easier still to extract from them a breviary for noble women with whose delicacy and beauty few if any poetic works might be successfully compared.

We would likely not hesitate to reproach with the charge of improbability any novelist who tried to present to us this contradictory and complicated a character without simultaneously possessing the considerable artistic talent required to bring such a character to life and action. When Friedrich Schlegel, who possessed nothing of such art, tried to describe precisely this character in words and in his grotesque fashion in Lucinde, readers doubtless thought that this admixture of “divineness and mischief,” willfulness and enthusiasm, mimic talent and resolute helpfulness, and all of it held together by “a living breath of harmony and love,” [4] existed solely in the overwrought and frankly confused head of the awkward author of the sketch itself.

This characterization, however, was nonetheless not inaccurate; indeed, its prototype was alive, and the awkwardness derived solely from the fact that a human being whom one saw neither becoming nor speaking nor acting was supposed to be exhaustively presented by the hieroglyphics of a language that is appropriate at most solely in the presentation of a writer, a book, or a system. The commentary to this characterization, the solution to the riddle of such peculiarly and contradictorily paired personality traits can be found precisely only through historical observation, viz., through examining the developmental history of this remarkable woman.

With justified mistrust in our own skill and in the objectivity of our own perceptions, we will attempt to tell this wondrous story using the present epistolary collection as our guide while simultaneously occasionally drawing from other sources in filling out lacunae.

Not yet twenty-one years old, Caroline, daughter of the renowned Göttingen scholar of Near Eastern studies Johann David Michaelis, married the mining physician Franz Wilhelm Böhmer in Clausthal. |413| The primary motive, given the large family, was doubtless considerations of having Caroline properly settled and provided for.

In yet another respect as well, it was likely a good idea to get the lively, excitable, intelligent, and emotional girl to safe harbor, namely, insofar as Göttingen itself was not entirely without its dangers. “Young girls here,” writes Heinrich Christian Boie in a letter from the early 1770s, “must live an extremely cautious, withdrawn life because of the large number of young men setting snares for them; these girls know absolutely nothing of the thousand innocent freedoms others might allow themselves.”

But precisely where such was the rule, exceptions would not be lacking, and then woe! to those poor girls once gossip mongering — which blossomed profusely in this small university town — focused on them! The extremely prudent lessons and admonitions Caroline sends to her younger sister Lotte once she herself was secured betray an equal measure of both understanding and experience. “Those ladies,” Mother Schlegel points out to her son Wilhelm from Hannover concerning the Michaelis daughters, “do not enjoy a good reputation at all.”

Although this remark does admittedly derive from a later period, namely, when Caroline herself was already the widow Böhmer, her own letters as a young girl certainly tell us enough in this respect. More than one suitor, including the famous Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, had already withdrawn from her before she became Madam Böhmer. On one such occasion, she tells one of her girlfriends that her good name was at risk and that it was her own imprudence that got her into this troublesome situation. Such imprudence and thoughtlessness, she confesses later, had already led her astray on more than one occasion, and passions had already cast her to and fro to the point that she surely would have fallen had not the hand of providence itself held her up.

But where is such young blood to turn in its restlessness? And this passionate heart, lively imagination, extraordinarily active understanding, this intellect that early was nourished with every possible bit of learning — where, indeed, was she to turn with all her needs? Scholarly fathers are rarely effective educators of their own children, and when faced with gifted daughters are generally utterly at a loss concerning how to proceed. The risk is not inconsiderable that these daughters become bluestockings if they do not find other ways to vent.

One of these daughters of a Göttingen professor, Philippine Gatterer, got it into her head to become a German Sappho. Dorothea Schlözer even gave her father the pleasure of seeing her earn a doctoral degree. Things went differently with Therese Heyne and Caroline Michaelis, |414| both of whom put out feelers from the world of books and scholars into the teeming, animated world on the outside.

Caroline especially wants to hear nothing more of either learned or famous women; with all her knowledge and varied interests and taste, she is interested solely in arranging and fashioning the life in and around herself as richly and substantively as possible. Tied to his writing table and lost in his folios, vexed and outliving himself during his later years, her father has neither the time nor the ability to engage in any sort of free, formative education. Moreover, the young girl thinks herself neglected by her mother in favor or her siblings — not a trace of beneficent maternal influence is discernible in Caroline.

How severely does she occasionally express herself concerning the “depravity” in her own family! How disinclined is she, after the death of her first husband, to return to her parental home! She wholly, utterly lacks any sense of family. She speaks much more tenderly and enthusiastically about her brother than about even her own fiancé, a brother who returns home from America after a lengthy absence just in time for her wedding.

She advises and admonishes her younger brother and one of her younger sisters [Lotte] as lovingly, seriously, and prudently as could otherwise only a father or mother, as intelligently as a book, or rather: much more intelligently — indeed, she continued to cultivate her relationship with her family with affectionate tenderness to the extent she was capable, specifically also that with her aged mother even up till the latter’s death.

But enough. To the extent discernible, that her parental house was not what it should have been was not her fault. She educated and cultivated herself through society, through cordial social contacts with friends, and most of all through extensive reading. Not a few pages from her correspondence with one of the friends of her youth, Luise Stieler, who from 1780 was married to Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter in Gotha, betray how important was another of her early friends from a very early period, namely, Therese Heyne.

Any meeting between these two apparently resulted in sparks of girlish cheekiness and indeed more than girlish wit. Witty billets were passed back and forth between them full of allusions to the books they were reading. “Therese and I, we occasionally have a rendezvous of the spirit, for whenever one of us reads something that is strange or clever or particularly dumb, we immediately send it to the other.” Of course, in between there were the inevitable (and doubtless quite infantile) tensions, with meanness and sulking and tender, tearful reconciliations.

Therese seems to have provided most of the occasions for these tragic intermezzos. Certainly not without some justification, |415| Caroline discovered in her inconstant friend an unfortunate predisposition for dissimulation, and when she is particularly angry with her, she will not grant that Therese is even “in the slightest kindhearted.” Other reproaches involve Therese’s all-too-free personality and her compulsive need to dazzle. Even Caroline’s brother, the young man who had already seen a bit of the world and upon whom young Therese had forced herself with all her radiance and charm, found at first glance — despite his respect for her intellect — “the coquette and libertine in her.”

That notwithstanding, however, Caroline herself looked up not without a measure of admiration and certainly also of shyness to her more radiant, independent, and complete friend. Although she is inclined to follow the play of her spirit, and does so quite facilely, her feelings disapprove of this spirit’s reckless audacity. One advantage she enjoys over Therese is a certain innocence and modesty; over against the dangers of passion and of the evil world she is capable of adhering — in what is yet a genuinely childlike fashion — to good intentions and serious moral principles. Her indignation at the Duke of Württemberg — “who oppresses feminine virtue” — on the occasion of the latter’s visit to Göttingen is quite sincere, nor would she trade places with the Duchess of Hohenheim for any price.

The immediate destiny of these two friends quickly developed commensurate with this fundamental difference in their personalities. “Fate has some extraordinary things in the works for Therese — though the foundation for them resides in Therese herself,” Caroline wrote when the amiable young Forster, he who had sailed around the world, married Christian Gottlob Heyne’s daughter and took her to Vilnius.

Caroline herself was at the time already the mother of a daughter and had been living for a year at the side of an upright, straightforward man amid the shingled roofs and fir-tree forests of Clausthal, where she experienced not a few lonely, melancholy hours at home and considerable boredom among the stiff, dull social gatherings. Concern for little “Auta” and for a second little daughter, who received Therese’s name, likely compensated this young woman with so much joie de vivre for at least some of the privations.

Yet whenever she had paid a visit to Göttingen or herself had received a valued guest from there, her own modest household circle afterward seemed all the more desolate. More than ever, it was books that had to step forward to her succor, of which she never had enough and with the queries for which she continually kept her friends in Göttingen frantically busy.

The latest English and French novels, the most interesting newer publications in German literature, Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Ossian, Johann August Stark and Christian Garve, even Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi’s piece on Spinoza [5] and Johann Gottfried Herder’s Gott!, [6] though also travelogues, memoires, and historical pieces — |416| she intends to miss nothing.

But alas! if only she did not always have to devour these magnificent things alone! At most, all she can do with her husband, whose profession keeps him busy morning till evening, is praise this or that piece and perhaps tell him a bit about another. What she prefers above all else, however, is to sit down at her desk and chat in letters with her sister Lotte or her girlfriend in Gotha. And yet even so, there are still things she does not commit to paper.

For certainly, as little as she conceals the fact that she does wish she could get away from this sad locale with its foolish people, neither should anyone consider her unhappy. The truth is that she did indeed come to terms with her lot; supported by her naturally cheerful disposition, her understanding managed to half persuade itself that she was happy. But she was not such at all if by “happy” one means freely developing one’s powers and then, through the full engagement of those powers, feeling elevated.

She soon admitted as much, doubtless more strongly than she experienced at that earlier time, and exaggerating somewhat through the emotions of memory. “You knew me during a time,” she wrote to a trusted friend a year after the death of her husband, “when, restricted on every side, I sank down under the pressure of my own weight.” “Tenderness,” she writes in another, even stronger passage, was “the last illusion of love” that made her fate bearable for her. “Too delicate, too good, too gentle to cast it away — perhaps also much too hemmed in — I kept it within, and it yet lives on even in my memory, though I think back to that time with fear and trembling and speak about it the way a prisoner speaks about his dungeon with a certain terrible satisfaction.”

The man to whom she expressed herself with such openness, indeed, with considerably more profound and thorough openness than with any of her female confidantes, was a friend of the Heyne and Forster families, and Forster himself, had jealousy been part of his nature, would perhaps have had reason to feel a bit uncomfortable with this man’s relationship with his wife, Therese. That man is to be reckoned among those peculiar people who despite rich gifts and a pronounced, distinct personality, nonetheless ultimately leave behind few traces of their existence.

German literary history preserves his name only just in case, not because he had so little to do with it, but because despite all his bustling activity and literary needs, he never managed to reach a point where his own singularity might have become universally interesting, and thus, unconcerned with posthumous fame, exhausted himself in dilettantish projects and in part in mere curiosities.

The present age recalls Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer |417| primarily only as the biographer of Friedrich Ludwig Schröder, [7] and even as such only very few people are acquainted with him from that awkwardly overladen work he wrote as a monument to his friend; most know him only from the charming book one of his lady friends assembled as a monument to Meyer himself. [8]

This equally stately and rather peculiar man must have exerted an unusual power of attraction on women. When Caroline’s sister Lotte once cast her eyes on him, Caroline referred to him as “a dangerous person” whose “noble soul comes to such fine expression in his countenance and makes one feel so secure.” Therese and Forster call him their “Assad” because, as Therese writes to Herder, one must solicit him as one must Lessing’s Assad [9] to prompt him to have trust, something to which his own openness of character does, after all, incline him. There were other elements in Meyer’s personality as well that irresistibly attracted Caroline.

For in this proud eccentric, this excitable, versatile man who found it impossible to tie himself permanently to any one locale or profession, Caroline saw a likeness of herself. That said, a third party would likely not have found the similarity all that great. But, then, it was always like that for her. Similarities always astonished her; with passionate interest she would then pursue them and involuntarily transform that interest into heartfelt concern and devotion, in the process losing sight of the boundaries and distinctions whose clear discernment alone can lend duration to any such relationship. She posited her entire soul, the entire power of her feelings into whatever touched her that seemed kindred.

And here she then knew no reserve; every tone and nuance with which such might be beautifully and fully and exhaustively expressed stands at her disposal, resulting in communications whose intimate fullness and depth far surpass what passes for friendship among men, and whose seriousness and focus nonetheless are quite different from the confession of love with which a woman throws herself onto a man’s heart without reserve.

“When I first got to know you,” she writes at the beginning of her correspondence with Meyer, “you were interesting to me on the basis of my own taste . . . and on the basis of a peculiar concurrence with that which flatters the most hushed, only half-understood images of my imagination.” No doubt, had she ever managed to execute the draft of her novel Gabriele, the character of Walter, [9a] whose acquaintance Gabriele makes after the death of her husband, would have exhibited some of the personality traits of this inconstant pilgrim whom she was now accompanying in thought on his criss-crossing travels, her letters seeking him out sometimes in London, sometimes in Rome, and whom she was constantly inviting to pay her a visit.

Like his |418| character, so also did his life’s path seem to her to present a strange analogy to her own. She speaks to him about her own “guiding star” that presumably runs “parallel to your own.” Both the direction and the ultimate goal of her friend’s path is a puzzle to her with which she is as inclined to occupy herself as with her own fate. She finds that the elements in which they are indeed different basically derive merely from the differences between men and women as such.

Thus can she speak about her serene acquiescence over against his own “carefree attitude,” the latter nonetheless “accompanied by perhaps a bit too many backward glances.” She also compares herself to him in having as little in the way of property or an enduring home as he. She alerts him beforehand that should they meet again in person, she would be charitable toward him and he in his own turn, even given their differences, would nonetheless recognize “an element of gentle similitude.”

Thus does Caroline hold on to Meyer, offering herself to him as a kind of comrade in destiny and disposition. “Some seem destined to have nothing to hope for from chance and everything to fear — and I have long told you that in that regard I certainly extend my hand to you as a brother.”

This young woman, given the circumstances in which she found herself both externally and internally, did indeed need such a brother, an intimate friend, a man wholly made to receive the confessions of a full heart and to respond with unadorned truth. After Böhmer’s death — February 1788 — she had returned to her parents’ home, arriving just in time to bid a cordial farewell to Meyer, who had hitherto worked in the Göttingen library, at his departure for England. She in her own turn, after the turn of the year and after finally acquiescing to repeated invitations, exchanged her parents’ home for that of her brother, Professor Michaelis, in Marburg.

Considerations involving the rearing of her two small daughters ultimately prompted her decision. After losing a son — born after Böhmer’s death — in Göttingen, she was to experience the pain yet again of losing one of her children in the new locale, this time her favorite, Therese. This incident, however, was not the only thing that spoiled her stay in Marburg. Her relationship with her brother, troubled from the outset, eventually became unbearable. Otherwise she had no genuinely close contact with the rest of Marburg society; indeed every communication — to use her own words — that might give her pleasure or occupy her mind came solely from letters.

Hence in the summer of 1791, after some upsetting incident |419| about which we unfortunately learn nothing more detailed from the variously excised text of her letters, she finally left her “bewitched castle,” for the time being once more finding refuge, albeit an involuntary one, with her mother. She seems to have arrived back either shortly before or shortly after the death of her aged father. She now stood at an important crossroads in her life, one capable of being understood only from the perspective of her own interior; and it is precisely from her confessions to Meyer that we come to know that interior.

During the brief years of her marriage, her own personality and nature, unbeknownst even to herself, had matured into a more clearly articulated form. She had been constrained to view all her passionate wishes and all the radiant images of her imagination with skeptical eyes without, however, really being able to extinguish them. What had become a habit to her, in the midst of all such privations, was to deceive herself into sensing happiness. Now, suddenly, she had acquired her freedom. “Things have gotten so bright around me,” she writes her friend, “as if I were living for the first time, like the sick person who returns to life and recovers one power after the other and breathes in new, pure spring air and revels within a hitherto unfamiliar consciousness.”

But an element of deception also inheres precisely in this feeling the recovering person senses, and at least the maladies of the soul invariably simultaneously leave behind traces that are difficult to eradicate completely. And so also with the heroine of our present story. While throwing herself passionately into the feeling of her new freedom, she was still nonetheless dragging some of the fetters along that her external fate had not entirely been able to cast off. The grand moral idea that a person must resign freely now posed itself to her in the vaguest form of vacillating feelings. In her young, rich, emotionally charged heart, she believed she already possessed that which in fact is acquired only through long, difficult struggle.

Much was still lacking for her to be truly free and clear and truly at ease. Attacks of the most cheeky, prideful feelings of independence are accompanied by self-satisfied illusions of unqualified moderation and resignation. A wondrous admixture appears of what one calls a “beautiful soul” together with the passionate striving to shape one’s life destiny according to one’s own preferences and along a wholly self-chosen path. As already mentioned, one half is the result of her experiences and encounters, the other a reflex of that particular pervasively emotive atmosphere permeating the entire generation of that period with an insistence on the rights of nature and of the sacredly burning heart.

Just as in the literary productions, |420| so also do we find this atmosphere expressed in the most varied tones in the epistolary correspondence of the time, though hardly anywhere more singularly and simultaneously more poetically than in the correspondence of this woman, who at an early age had already nourished her intellect with all that was of significance in contemporary belletristic literature, a woman intimately familiar with Goethe’s early works and who was a personal friend of Gottfried August Bürger and Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter.

People have been wont to distinguish “feminine” pathos, the extravagant sentimentality in which weaker spirits contented themselves, from “masculine” pathos, the revolutionary passion with which stronger spirits vented their inner storm and stress. There is not a trace of such overwrought, indulgent sentimentality in the epistolary confessions of this woman, though she does indeed quite wondrously admix in them an element of titanism and Promethean defiance with feminine acquiescence, moderation, and piety; although these letters do contain passages here and there whose style perhaps recalls other women’s letters from the same period a bit, they contain not a single passage whose form or content might wholly correspond to anything in, e.g., Werther or Tasso, Allwil or Woldemar. [10]

“I fear,” she writes among other things, “that fate and I no longer have any influence over each other — I have no use for its beneficent offerings — and I simply refuse to respect its malicious tricks. Wishes cease to be modest when our ultimate, sweetest happiness come to reside in their fulfillment — those no longer count on miracles who themselves feel capable of performing such and indeed of coercing recalcitrant fate by means of an ardent, overflowing heart that revels in both joy and sorrow.” “In defiance of gods and human beings, I am determined to be happy — hence I have no intention of leaving room for any bitterness that might torment me — what I want instead is merely to feel my own power within it. Should it succeed, then this childish heart will likely be seized with a sweet sensation of gratitude toward the very powers toward which it was defiant.”

Although it is her agonizing circumstances in Marburg that prompt these words from her, certain later remarks as well strike essentially the same tone. It is always the confidence with which a beautiful woman queries her mirror that constitutes the foundation of this account-taking of her interior life that she presents both to herself and to her friend. She has not the least scruple about whether she is “good”; she believes in the goodness of her own nature, in the “gentle disposition of my heart” with absolutely unshakeable sincerity, even speaking about these qualities with excruciatingly self-confident, indeed — let us confess our own weakness on this point — enchanting naiveté.”

Thus I am,” she on one occasion concludes her portrayal of her intellectually supported resignation and serenity; “was I always this way? |421| No; I traveled down many a path of vision and belief and unbelief before returning to this purer form of worship — I say ‘return’ — since it always lay latent in the gentle disposition of my heart — my actions always followed this disposition even though my manner of thinking may have changed — and even if I was not always immediately strong enough to break the fetters of opposing influences, I always managed — once I was left to myself again — to find my way back to the path I will again unerringly take once I regain my freedom. — Various forms of resignation were and continue to be necessary in order to derive enjoyment in this way — so I will not become weak. But sufficiency and contentedness alone cannot satisfy me — that would merely be a situation of restriction, limitation, if the sources were not merely switched from which the better person always seeks to draw sustenance in the most insatiable fashion.”

To enjoy amid privation, to draw joy from suffering, to remain open for every good moment that proffers itself and not to complain about the bad — “not out of humility, but out of pride” — thus the morality concerning which her intellect and experience, on the one hand, and her serene temperament, on the other, have come to an understanding. “I did not,” she says, “invent such morality merely for the sake of being severe; I simply could never come to terms with any other. I have never demanded anything of fate and have never yet become indebted to it except for what it could not fail to provide in any event. But let me speak no more of this.”

This confident and self-contented morality, this simultaneously defiant and soft morality was put to severe tests indeed. After leaving Marburg and while yet vacillating in her choice of where to go next — Gotha, Weimar, and Mainz were on the list — she had an even more important question to resolve.

To wit, a respected and intellectually significant gentleman, General Superintendent Josias Friedrich Christian Löffler in Gotha, himself a widower, had offered her his hand while she was visiting the Gotters in Gotha. Even if the invitation to Gotha as such was not a conspiracy with that goal in mind, the Gotters nonetheless did all they could to bring this union about, and along with the Gotters, Meyer had also entertained the idea of this particular union for his friend Caroline.

Alas, the “coquettish young widow,” as she jestingly refers to herself on this occasion, set her will against that of her friends. Better freedom, even if purchased at the price of care and worry, than leisure and comfort in a fettered life! No appeal could contest this ground, this pure resolution deriving from her innermost feelings. “It is in fact better thus for the good Lord’s state,” she writes, and further, “those who are certain they will never bemoan the |422| consequences may do what seems appropriate to them.”

Yet another motivation, admittedly, was lurking behind that of freedom, for there was another, second man for whom she was experiencing similar, though considerably more ardent feelings than for Meyer. Unfortunately, only a few lines in this correspondence say anything about this “most wondrous” man, as Caroline refers to him. These few lines, directed to Meyer, reveal how taken that man was with Caroline, how permeated by that which she was. None of the letters she received from him, none of her own responses seem to have been preserved.

We must guess at the nature of this relationship from a few meager allusions; this “selfless friend” seems to occupy her heart with something obviously more than merely the concerns of friendship. She loves; and it is him whom she loves. Toward him alone, this proud, strange, formal, and severe man, does she feel the “dependence that the heart imposes” — indeed, feeling it with such power that even before herself she fears it might prompt her to “rebel.” His cool manliness appears as the magic that subdued even this charming lady magician, and a moment would come when it was entirely in his power to become her knight, earning along with her gratitude also her complete surrender and devotion.

Georg Ernst Tatter was the wondrous man’s name — again, one of those whose personality weighs more than the actual role they play in the world. For this role was also the most difficult and thankless, in any event the most inconspicuous any bright person of character can impose upon himself. Tatter, elevated by George III from middle-class circles up into proximity with the court itself, was the tutor of several Hannoverian princes, traveling companion of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, and subsequent confidant of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge.

Within the parameters of this position, one wholly designed to turn people into slaves, he exhausted his powers preserving spiritual flexibility and an element of noble independence amid the restrictive forms of etiquette. His life’s task was ultimately to “fight through the colliding relationships with honor” and at the same time to be resigned in his realization that there were “circumstances external to me and inclinations inside me that exclude me from so-called happiness.” [11]

One can certainly comprehend the attraction and dominion such a character could not but exert on Caroline’s independent and yet simultaneously so soft and supple sensibility. No wonder her considerations of him in the form of the quiet, perhaps merely half-conscious wish that he might yet become more to her than a friend, played a background role in her decisions with respect to the courtship in Gotha.

|423| Caroline had made Tatter’s acquaintance during her initial months in Göttingen after being widowed. At just that same time, however, in her parents’ home she also met the young August Wilhelm Schlegel, who was irresistibly taken by the charm of this woman four years his senior. In those days, this talented young man, but twenty-two years old at the time, yet dreamed in a considerably more ingenuous and confident fashion than later about his poetic destiny.

Already inspired by Gottfried August Bürger’s praise, he found himself elevated higher yet by the subtle, sensitive interest accorded him by this beautiful, gentle young widow. His verses sounded even more melodic coming from her lips, and her flattering glances and kind smiles put him beside himself; in her he viewed his muse, indeed, the very embodiment of poesy itself, from whom he felt compelled to absorb as much as possible and to whom he felt equally compelled to “eternally dedicate homage as to all-prevailing nature” herself.

He was to pay a dear price for these inclinations. For him above all others, this irresistible charm, this gift of attracting without feeling even a trace of serious inclination oneself, to captivate without allowing oneself to become captivated as well — would become fateful. “People love me,” as she herself, yet in Marburg, describes this power she exerts over people, “without my really soliciting such — they would worship me if I were willing to entertain that love.” In yet another reference to such relationships that would push themselves on her without her really being able to enter into them with anything resembling love, she says that they then become targets of her own mockery.

And so also did the love of this young man, notwithstanding her willingness to acknowledge and cultivate and nourish his poetic talents, also became a target of her mockery. At the same time she was responding to Tatter’s manly reserve with longing affection, she rebuffed Schlegel’s importunate advances with an element of severity that could not but appear heartless, but which simultaneously was supposed to address the indiscretion of this vain poet who had begun expressing his hopes and illusions a bit too loudly. The notion that she and Schlegel might become a couple — as was doubtless rumored in Göttingen — seemed almost ludicrous to her.

He wrote to her repeatedly in Marburg, wrote to her with ardor and exuberance we can sense from the poems he simultaneously wrote to the adored woman. She in her own turn roundly declares that she “cannot enter into it”; the content of her letters, as she assures her sister Lotte, “will have the gift of silencing him.” “I have,” she writes on yet another occasion to Lotte, “a laurel shrub I am cultivating for a poet, tell that to Schlegel — and a |424| heavenly small reseda bush — a remembrance — tell that to Tatter.”

It is futile to consider whether it might have been possible for a woman so capable of exerting so many different kinds of attraction, a woman so contented in both enjoying and dominating so many personal relationships — that such a woman, with her active, stirring emotional life, so soft and yet so proud, so sensually needy and so intellectually lively — could ever have become the proper wife of a general superintendent.

And yet ultimately she would also have had the talent for this as well, and the circle in which she would have moved in Gotha, especially the contact with her oldest, most sincere, and most loyal friend from her youth, namely, with the modest and sensible Luise Gotter, would presumably have protected her from herself and gradually accustomed her to a temperate, moderate destiny in life.

But the die had already been cast. A different, more radiant and remarkable star, one from whose magical illumination she had never been able to avert her eyes, now drew her irresistibly into its sphere. As early as the spring of 1790, during Forster’s absence, she had already spent a month with Therese in Mainz, where fate had in the meantime brought the Forsters. There she had experienced anew, her clear-sighted insight into her friend’s weaknesses notwithstanding, the considerable extent to which she was “enchanted with her,” and how little, all rivalry notwithstanding, she could bring herself to refrain from loving her.

In her letters to Meyer, who was now playing the most severe critic of his former lady friend Therese, Caroline now cannot get enough of defending the accused, and precisely in so doing merely of accusing her all the more severely. Concerning no other object is Caroline more voluble, none other brings out her brilliance and wit, and yet — because she cannot help constantly juxtaposing herself, because an element of jealousy continues to affect her judgment — this plethora of descriptions never yields a pure, fixed, objective picture.

Her “exaggerated intellect” — Caroline writes about Therese — her “addiction to unhappiness,” “in which you cannot fail to acknowledge the convulsive movements of a great soul,” her “energy,” making “her intolerant” and “one-sided,” her boldness, her disquiet, her vanity, her egoism, her “vices” — and yet alongside all that a gentle inclination for domestic life, which renders her infinitely amiable and, for those to whom she is devoted, also “inexpressibly charitable” — it is quite difficult to reconcile all these character traits, and, indeed, Caroline is constantly struck anew by these contradictions. For her, Therese is the “most interesting spectacle.” And even more: she is an extraordinary creature whom she, Caroline, would like to worship — and, |425| for precisely that reason, also flee.

Had such a choice but existed! Since her return from Gotha and her rejection of the marriage proposal there, it was a foregone conclusion, all concerns to the contrary notwithstanding, that she would settle in Mainz, ultimately to determine how to assert her own independence alongside Therese’s domineering, forceful personality.

She allegedly never counted on Therese’s friendship; in fact, she doubted whether the latter was even “genuinely, sincerely fond” of her. As “a kind of rival” herself, however, she might have a salutary effect on Therese, hoping, moreover, to be of some use and perform some service for her — doubtless only noble service. And thus did she depart for Mainz courageously confident — “for I confess I do indeed have a slight inclination to engage in projects that have the appearance of a task.”

The task she had set for herself, however, was truly not an easy one, and the noble service she anticipated providing for her friend would require the most delicate touch alongside the most confident moral judgment. Although her touch was indeed sufficiently delicate, the will that would have to guide that touch, a will capable of clearly discerning what was appropriate, could not be replaced by a willful, beautiful heart confident that what it felt so powerfully driven to do was at the same time also good.

Forster’s connection with Therese already bore the seed of ruin within. More is required for a successful domestic situation than for two persons — both of whom are gifted and amiable in his or her own way — to find each other interesting. The longer the relationship continued, the more did the considerable contrasts and antitheses in the personalities and inclinations of the two partners become palpable.

Forster, a highly excitable nature inclined to enthusiasm for all that was good and beautiful, perpetually living within the tension of ideal perceptions and the turbulence of noble sentiment, was at once also the weakest and vainest of persons, a man perpetually enticed by greatness who could yet, like a woman, be swayed by the most petty of considerations. Just as he has confused posterity with precisely these character traits — some praising him to heaven, others taking him as an object of derision and contempt, whereas justice can in fact be done him solely in a feeling of sympathy — so also with those closest to him, who were constantly tempted to love him and yet just as constantly forced to turn away from him.

“He is the most wondrous man,” Caroline writes, “I have never loved and admired anyone so much and yet simultaneously thought so little of him.” She alternates between extolling his amiability and complaining about how insufferable he is. And now imagine, alongside this man, a woman with smart and intelligent and active perceptions and feelings, yet lacking any genuine interest in his ideal striving, and equipped instead with the sharpest of eyes with respect |426| to his weaknesses. It is not she who looks up to him, but rather he to her; he is blind to her faults, while she in her own turn utterly overlooks his own.

At the same time his excitability prompts him to play the moody tyrant, his unmanly love-sickness keeps him hopelessly fettered to her. She in her own turn, without really loving him, indulges his vanity, flatters his weaknesses, and dominates him thus with the most ruthless, ungenerous egoism. Quite apart from the fact that this household lacked any organized economic foundation, this was an unedifying, unpleasant, and for both parties agonizing situation.

The entire wretchedness of this situation, however, could not but become irreparable when Therese, inexcusably abusing Forster’s innocence and excessive credulity, turned her attentions to the wretched Ludwig Ferdinand Huber, who, captivated by this woman’s superior intellect and spirit, quickly became more to her than merely a friend and confidant.

It is certainly conceivable that all these incongruities might have been ameliorated, righted, and saved from a disastrous slide by the intervention of a smart and sincere mediatrix. But despite Caroline’s keen vision for such relationships, despite her subtle psychological sensibility, she lacked the disposition of respect for what was necessary from the perspective of duty.

The documents at our disposal do not provide any support for the charge that she played the role of mediatrix in the relationship between Therese and Huber, and even less do they confirm the rumor that she stole Forster’s heart and loyalty away from Therese. She seems for some time to have turned a blind eye to Therese’s growing distance from her husband, and even later she did not think it her place to “open his eyes in the matter.”

Nonetheless, her mere presence doubtless contributed to things having taken the worst possible turn. Insofar as she lived almost exclusively in and with the Forster family, natural elective affinities emerged between her and Forster, on the one hand, and Therese and Huber, on the other. Although Therese did indeed understand how to occupy and entertain her husband, becoming indispensable to him in that regard, Caroline was her equal in precisely the same regard, doing so, moreover, with even greater gentleness and even more beneficent tenderness.

Above all else, however, she outdid Therese in taking an interest in Forster’s political activities, her own enthusiasm following that of Forster the enthusiast, sharing his opinions, listening attentively to his inspired speeches, and watching not without an element of admiration the course that Forster’s sanguine temperament, his vanity, and his immature idealism prompted him to take.

|427| In every quarter and corner, the untenable nature of the conditions of German life and culture were revealed in the face of the upheavals accompanying the French Revolution. The unhealthy element inhering within these people’s circumstances and in their manner of thinking and feeling was also seized by this grand historical judgment. For Forster and his family, and for Caroline as well, the catastrophe was approaching.

The French had been in Mainz since the end of October. We are already familiar with the role Forster played, how under his own hands his philosophical enthusiasm for freedom, his ardent, pure interest in humanity turned into practical folly, indeed, into criminal activity, how the wheel he deluded himself into thinking he could yet guide, once set in motion, violently swept him along with it, how he initially hesitated, holding himself back, then participated in the hope that he might have a calming effect, and finally swam along with the current simply to keep from drowning — how he became the comrade and instrument of people he detested, how, caught between his own convictions, on the one hand, and the utterly different, impure, ugly, confused course of events themselves, on the other, he was crushed and, dying, managed to save only his faith in the future of the ideas themselves, ideas he himself had been utterly incapable of carrying out.

His wife had already left him early in December. His house was desolate, his heart wounded, his spirit overwhelmed by contradictory feelings and impulses. Caroline alone had remained for him. Therese explicitly charged her with loving and caring for her husband, a task from which she herself, in a flight of inexcusable egoism, had withdrawn. This alone was keeping Caroline in Mainz, indeed, even when as early as January she had wanted to leave this scene of so much confusion after Therese and Huber had come out openly with their intentions and the separation had been declared. Henceforth, to use her own words, she functioned “more as a nurse offering moral support” — no easy task, for we may take her at her word when she says that the sick person’s mood was “so unstable that it took every ounce of unflagging patience and feminine, sisterly friendship to endure him.”

And indeed, all her statements concerning Forster and her feelings for him concur so completely, so precisely, that any suspicion that more was at work than the most selfless friendship must be disregarded. In the first place, her love for Tatter protected her against these feelings straying. All the profound |428| impatience of a young girl who with restlessly beating heart yearns for the beloved can be discerned in the lines in which she speaks about anticipating seeing Tatter and engaging him in discussion again, when in the summer of 1792, in the entourage of Prince Frederick Augustus — she knew not whether by way of Mainz itself or along the route — he would be traveling by. He had distanced himself from her, neglected her, and in her opinion needed to justify himself in this regard. Will he be “so unnatural, inhuman, and wondrous as to deny me the joy he himself could have and which he in his own turn could give”?

“For me,” she writes, “his justification is more precious than any reunion. I have reproached him on several occasions for similar reasons, but he coerced me into honoring his reasoning with the obstinacy and sweet temper that is uniquely his even though such reasoning could never be my own. If I had to battle with a lack of love, the battle would soon be over — but I am struggling against a strange being who attracts me and who brings me to despair because he refuses to acknowledge my normalcy and who for reasons of pride does not pursue his own claims to happiness, a being who would give his life for me and yet leaves my most burning desires unfulfilled — a person, born to be a hermit, who surrendered to love like a child — the most sensitive stoic — whose touchiness over against freedom prompted him to fetter himself with unnecessary chains and who fulfills the most precious of obligations more poorly than the most superfluous.”

And this time, it was indeed love that triumphed over stoicism, for the obstinate man had genuinely come. Just as everyone in Mainz was already anticipating the French invasion, at the end of September, he had spent a few days with her. “And I am happy,” she adds to her account of this event.

Unfortunately, this good fortune was not to last, nor were the accompanying hopes to be fulfilled. When in December Caroline’s situation in Mainz became increasingly awkward, her future increasingly unclear — to whom could she have turned with greater justification than Tatter? Gladly would she have obeyed had he but told her to leave Mainz. What he answered instead was merely that he despaired at not being able to do anything for her.

Whereupon these ties ruptured, the most secure, most serious she had hitherto known. The man whom she had respected so genuinely, whom she had loved so ardently, and about whose love for her she had been so convinced, now seemed not merely peculiar — as had already so often been the case — he also, anxiously fretful about his own position, seemed not even to possess enough manly courage to attend to her. “The only man whose protection I ever desired failed to provide it. . . . |429| He did not want to be happy — and for me the time had also passed in which doing without was a pleasure. . . . My patience began to be exhausted, my heart regained its freedom, and in this position, without an aim in life, it seemed to me I could do no better than to alleviate a friend’s sufferings and — find diversion for my thoughts.”

That friend, as we know, was Forster, but the office of nurse who dispensed moral support — required “diversion.” We have come to a point in our narrative where we must resolve to be less discreet than was the editor [12] of the present epistolary collection. The fact, confirmed beyond doubt by handwritten documents at our disposal, that, after her heart had “become free,” Caroline surrendered her person, that she compensated herself for the failure of her most ardent wishes and for her grueling concern and care for Forster, for all the pain and all the boredom — that she compensated herself in the arms of a Frenchman — this fact is narrated with two simple words, but certainly not so quickly rendered comprehensible.

Were the sinner herself queried on this matter, her answer would inevitably be that she simply wanted to, and that the license of her own heart provides adequate surety for the goodness of her actions. All the danger, all the untenable morality of an arbitrary, willful heart comes to expression here. “Sufficiency and contentedness alone cannot satisfy me” — this open confession that pleasure, egoistic self-pleasure, ultimately also provided the standard according to which she measured the duty of renunciation, virtue, and all value in life would certainly lead us from the very outset to anticipate not inconsiderable stumbling.

She who boasts of not judging the faults of others so severely, will be no more strict with herself. Even her sharp reproach of the pathetic woman who piled shame and grief on the last years of Bürger’s life concludes with a reassuring note of tolerance: “My own cloak of love is as broad as is a person’s heart and sensibility for the beautiful.” In Mainz, she takes an ill-reputed woman — Madam Forkel — as her housemate with the reassurance that she has “absolutely no hatred toward sinners.”

And yet — how was her indiscretion to be reconciled with her maternal love, a sentiment whose obliging power she repeatedly acknowledges and which essentially constitutes the “guiding principle” of her conduct? How could she who was not dissembling when offering the reassurance that she had a “profound disinclination toward all that is base and low” put herself into a situation that could not but debase her? As she herself puts it, glossing it over and in so doing |430| reversing the polarity, she could never believe she did anything bad “in and of itself,” her entire guilt being instead “one careless act” and a “lack of prudence” — but whence this lack of prudence in so prudent, intelligent a woman, who had so wisely formulated her own life’s plan to shape her existence “in as proper and attractive a fashion as possible — the former for the sake of others — the latter for the sake of my own imagination,” and who foundered so wretchedly on precisely this problem?

Apparently the overall circumstances of her own situation, set against the general confusion and relaxation of all domestic, political, and moral ties, confused her understanding and imagination along with her heart. As long it had been a matter solely of privation for her, every occasion for moderate pleasure, serenely seized, served as a means by which she maintained a kind of amiable balance.

Now, however, her most precious hopes had come to nothing, and she found herself in the sort of position that causes melancholy natures to despair. What she needed was a stronger counterbalance, and for her “goodness” and her “thoughtlessness,” for the “willfulness of my own taste” the strongest was just good enough. As if to avenge herself and simultaneously make an unequivocal statement about her own independence, she separated forever from the one man who alone had possessed her love and her respect.

One is tempted to view her with an element of sympathy similar to that with which one views Forster. The two erred in quite different ways and yet for quite similar reasons and under quite similar circumstances. With Caroline, too, admiration for the French notion of freedom, for the “sublime French nation,” and for the “polite, upright guests” [i.e., the French in Mainz] seems also to have played a role. In the face of so many temptations, her judgment, her otherwise so subtle and refined intelligence, did not hold up. Through this deed she demonstrated what she had asserted on a more innocent occasion, namely, that she was capable of “committing étourderies that look like acts of stupidity,” or, on yet another occasion, that one peculiarity of her intellect was to “unite accurate astuteness with the most innocent narrowness.”

What she had said about Therese, namely, that “fate has some extraordinary things in the works,” albeit things determined by her own nature — precisely the same thing could now also be said about her. These two rivals had, each in her own way, performed extraordinarily poorly, and both, by the way, will continue to engage in mutual reproach and condescending criticism and each to exalt herself over the other. Caroline, let it be said, fervently rebuffed the charge of recklessness.

In Mainz, too, she claimed to have always remained “simple Caroline,” who in fact was “destined never to transcend |431| the boundaries of quiet domesticity.” Her fate, however, was the most reckless and adventurous imaginable. She did harsh penance, and the harshest was that ultimately she had to suffer externally for things with regard to which she genuinely was not culpable, whereas the culpability that genuinely did oppress her never allowed any elevating consciousness of martyrdom to emerge.

Her intention to leave Mainz, which in the meantime had come under siege by the German armies, was ultimately thwarted by illness. On 24 March [1793] Forster himself left for Paris, where as one of the deputies of the Rhenish-German assembly he would present to the representatives of the French nation the petition for incorporation into the Frankish Republic. On 30 March Caroline, along with Madam Forkel and the latter’s mother, departed for Mannheim and ultimately for Gotha, where the Gotters, whom she had alerted, had been expecting her for some time.

After being stopped in Frankfurt because of their last names, the women, having already been betrayed to German headquarters, were arrested and transported to the nearby fortress of Königstein, where they were held till mid-June under rather severe, even dreadful conditions before being transferred to milder conditions in Kronenberg. The express intent was that these prisoners were to serve as hostages for a number of Mainz citizens who had been taken to Strasbourg.

It was particularly because of her connection with Forster that Caroline was being held, whom rumor and general opinion along with the French newspaper le Moniteur described as the amie du citoyen Forster. Forster, so the reasoning, was to redeem her. It was not her political opinions, nor any particular political transgressions — she had not entered that deeply into the demagogic activities that took place in Mainz, and just as little had she had any association with her crazy brother-in-law Georg Wilhelm Böhmer — solely her relationship with Forster was reckoned to her as a transgression, and precisely that relationship itself was of the sort that he for his part could not carry out, nor could she ask him to carry out, what was being expected.

But what a predicament for a woman! For weeks subject to unhealthy, repulsive prison conditions, worried about her own fragile health, worries intensified by the mother’s concern for a tenderly beloved daughter who was being forced to share her fate, the prospect of not regaining her freedom until the protracted siege of Mainz came to an end, and especially, what she quite justifiably felt most keenly of all, the prospect that her name would be reviled before the whole world, subject to the most hateful and absurd slander, |432| slander she has trouble persuading even her oldest and closest friends is not true.

There was no dearth of attempts on the part of her most loyal friends to secure her release. What they could not succeed in doing, however, came about through the zeal of her youngest brother, Philipp, who, having hastened back from Italy after receiving news about her situation, appealed to the sense of justice of Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, whereupon she regained her freedom even before the surrender of Mainz itself.

That notwithstanding, though she was indeed no longer a prisoner, she was nonetheless still bound by considerations of a most different sort. Whereas her personal circumstances required secrecy, calm, and sensitive consideration, she was at the same time restricted in her free choice of residence by the political intolerance of the various governments. Perhaps the necessity associated with the latter circumstance could be used to conceal the scandal of the former from public view; enough, she wrote to her friend in Gotha that in response to the urgent advice of those who were in the best position to offer such advice, she would for the time being not be coming to Gotha after all, and would instead be living concealed somewhere in Prussian territory under a false name.

Her initial choice was Berlin, for Meyer was currently living there, from whom she hoped to secure various assistance, secrecy, and an element of human concern and caring. Alas, here she would have virtually the same experience as earlier with Tatter. This friend whom she had felt worthy of her most profound confidence, toward whom she had so often involuntarily used the tender, brotherly familiar form of address [Germ. du], and to whom she occasionally, with words of irresistible flattery and like a small child, had apologized for some petty wrong or other — this friend found Caroline’s political opinions and adventures so distasteful that, so it seems, he responded with evasive dissuasion.

Fortunately, even before this exchange she had recalled a different friend. She had already disclosed her circumstances to A. W. Schlegel frankly and without reserve. Although she does not mention his name to Meyer, she does not deny herself the satisfaction of holding a mirror up to her less accommodating friend. “When,” she writes him, “deserted by everyone, unable even to put an end to my existence, I confided in a man whose addresses I had rejected, whom I had sacrificed and wounded, to whom precisely on account of the nature of my confidence I could offer no species of compensation after having made it, and I was not deceived in him.”

Alongside the missing correspondence with Tatter, the most painful lacuna in this present collection of documents is that of all the letters Schlegel and Caroline exchanged during this early period, |433| not a single one has been preserved. We have already heard above from Caroline herself concerning their earlier comportment toward each other, the way she contemptibly put him in his place. Unfortunately, we can only inadequately surmise from the letters Friedrich Schlegel wrote to his brother how their relationship developed further, while Schlegel was still in Amsterdam and Caroline in Mainz, and since even Friedrich himself complains about the incompleteness of his brother’s confessions, we are probably better advised to read too little rather than too much from these letters.

This much is clear, however, namely, that Caroline made a cruel game out of exercising all the power over the young man to which love entitles a person, while simultaneously denying him that love itself. It titillates her that she means so much to him; she plays the role of his educatress, his instructress, viewing him virtually as her own creation. What she serves up to him is so strong, and yet she mixes so much sweetness and attentive confidences in with her bitter and cruel remarks that the poor bird, though imagining he has become free, nonetheless always returns to her anew.

On one occasion, she tells him he will never become a great writer; on another, she assures him she is no longer anxious about his intellect and spirit. She manages to make herself so important to him that he is on the brink of following her to Mainz, and yet then she rejects his coming after all. Then again she cloaks her domineering inclinations in such flattering expressions that he in his own turn believes justified in reading it as a “prescription” for his happiness, and then immediately thereafter she withdraws his dream, tearing up that prescription “for no other reason than because she feels it resides thus deeply within her,” [13] letting him know that her heart belongs to another [Tatter] while yet continuing to receive and respond to his letters.

It is certainly advice worth considering when Friedrich solicits his brother to counter this female egoism with the male variety: “Your love for her was merely a means to a higher purpose, a purpose the means itself now threatens to destroy. . . .You merely used her, and you are justified in throwing her away now that she is becoming detrimental to you.” But the beguiled man cannot bring himself to implement so serious and complete a break — not even when, quite nearby, another muse had appeared, that certain Sophie, whose soulful song he now celebrates in elegant sonnets and whose name henceforth teases the reader in his letters alongside Caroline’s name in puzzling and half-completed remarks. [14]

But the correspondence between Amsterdam and Mainz did indeed continue, and Wilhelm’s enduring concern for his lady friend came to expression especially in repeated and urgent admonitions to leave this place |434| over which since the attack on Speyer and Worms an increasingly threatening, bellicose revolutionary storm was gathering. Whereas these admonitions had initially been defused by Caroline’s enthusiasm for the “grand cause,” and later by her personal entanglements in Mainz itself, now, after Wilhelm’s fears had been realized in the worst way imaginable, the relationship suddenly took a completely different turn.

Now, “assaulted from every possible quarter from which a woman can suffer,” she sends out a full confession to him accompanied by a cry for help — and his entire self-awareness and sense for his own ego is transformed into a chivalrous sense of duty. He engages all his contacts to secure her release, competing with her brother Philipp in her service, and immediately leaves Amsterdam on receiving news of her imminent release, appearing personally in Frankfurt to accompany her, who now requires protection, to Leipzig, to an asylum she likely owed to references supplied by the Gotters, namely, to the house of the bookseller Georg Joachim Göschen — whereupon Schlegel himself immediately hastens back to Holland.

“You can sense,” Caroline remarks to Friedrich Schlegel concerning this gesture of self-sacrificial gallantry, “what kind of friend Wilhelm was to me. Everything I could ever give him he has now voluntarily, selflessly, unpretentiously requited through more than helpful support and assistance. I became reconciled with myself by being able to call him mine without some blind, irresistible emotion tying me to him. — Even should it be going too far to judge a man according to his behavior toward a woman, nonetheless to me Wilhelm, in what he did and was for me, seems to have encompassed everything one can call manly and at the same time also childlike, unprejudiced, noble, and amiable.”

From Leipzig, where there could be no thought of her staying, considering that her mere appearance had already prompted the most dubious rumors and suspicions, she had moved to a nearby locale in the Altenburg territory, where she enjoyed the solicitude and assistance of Friedrich, who was living in Leipzig at the time and had been charged with the necessary tasks by his brother during a rendezvous in Hannover.

He maintained both personal and written contact with Caroline, providing his brother then with an ongoing account about how she was doing, till finally, on 4 November 1793, he could tell him of his status as a godparent at the baptism of a little citoyen [Wihlem Julius Böhmer (“Krantz” on the birth certificate)]. Friedrich, too, sensed the full power of this irresistible woman and would acknowledge both now and for years to come how infinitely much he owed to her, till he, too, was abandoned and — not without some guilt of his own — stuck by the thorn with which this rose could indeed inflict wounds |435| after having delighted someone with its fragrance.

Friedrich had already assessed Caroline earlier with the keen eye that was uniquely his, back when he was acquainted with her only from his brother’s remarks and from excerpts from her letters. Although the sublimity and fiery nature of her intellect had enraptured him, he had also taken no less notice of her naive egoism and urge to dominate and to receive homage; indeed, in occasionally rather sharp remarks he had rightly alluded to that dangerous side of her nature. “But there were doubtless not a few moments,” he writes on 21 November 1792, “in which she was a suitor, is that not the case? And should she make do with inferior ones when good ones are lacking?”

But now he saw her in person, and now — notwithstanding his initiation into her past — he saw in her only the beautiful, good, extraordinary, and charming woman. Only now does he fully comprehend what she has meant to his brother, now he, too, bows before the superiority of her intellect, now is astonished to find what he was in fact not expecting, namely, simplicity and a “virtually divine sense for truth,” remarking further, doubtless with some justification, that “one cannot know her without loving her, or without being loved by her,” and he himself must summon all his self-control to preserve himself from precisely such a passionate relationship with her.

“She had chosen and had given herself,” we read in [Friedrich’s novel] Lucinde, “her choice was his friend, too, and was deserving of her love. Julius was their confidant . . . For this reason, he forced all of his love back into himself and let his passion rage, burn, and consume him from within. But his external appearance was completely transformed; he assumed a mask of childlike candor and inexperience, and a kind of brotherly harshness, which he put on so that he shouldn’t lapse from flattery into lovemaking. He succeeded so well in this disguise that she never suspected him in the least.” [15] The novel is here stylizing a bit more circumstantially and pompously what the author had already written to Wilhelm six years earlier about his struggles and the sacrifice his abstinence required: “Hence I positioned myself in the simplest, most straightforward relationship with her, with the respect of a son, the openness of a brother, the unaffectedness of a child, the undemanding selflessness of a stranger.”

But we do not intend to revisit the context of the novel Lucinde with respect to the impression Caroline made on Friedrich. This impression culminates in the confession that he “became better through her.” Three years later he wrote her: “What I am and will be, I owe to myself; the fact that I am thus, I owe |436| in part to you,” and she may well have recalled these words when she came to the passage in Lucinde where one reads with respect to Julius that “the worship of his sublime friend became for him the spiritual foundation and fixed center of a new world,” that only now did he acquire the courage for more serious challenges, and only now recognize his inner calling to dedicate himself to divine art.

The influence Caroline otherwise — both now and later — exerted on Friedrich’s views and on his writing are definitely best understood in a more restricted than exaggerated sense. Although he did probably owe to Caroline the initial impetus for his review of Condorcet in the Philosophisches Journal, his other philosophical essays, including that on republicanism, would likely have become just as they are even without her.

The apologetically warm characterization of Forster in Lyceum der schönen Künste can doubtless be traced back to her initiative. In his portrayal of feminine independence in the essay on Diotima [Berlinische Monatsschrift], the image of this lady friend was doubtless hovering before his mind’s eye, a friend he did occasionally address as “independent Diotima,” [15a] whereas his other works on the Greeks owe little or nothing to Caroline, for in this sphere he was the master, whereas Caroline herself did not know the classical languages and only gradually learned a bit about the ancients from translations.

The “woman’s letter” he intended to write to her about the Greeks, during the Athenaeum period, was never written, and she seems never to have delivered the critique he solicited from her on his history of Greek poesy, viz., from her “wholly human perspective.” How could the poesy permeating her entire being not have contributed to enhancing and translating for him his own perceptions of the splendor of both ancient and contemporary art? Alas, the harsh, severe elements in his own manner of perception might thereby at most have been ameliorated, but not relaxed into agreeable harmony.

In a single point, however, he did after lengthy resistance succumb to the united influence of Wilhelm and Caroline. Caroline took a warm interest in Bürger the person and the poet, as little blind as she was to the baser elements in his writing. Gotter’s [singspiel] Die Zauberinsel, about which she had told Bürger after her visit to Gotha in the autumn of 1791, had prompted Bürger to take up his translation of the Midsummer-Night’s Dream anew, which he had begun with Wilhelm Schlegel; “Madam Böhmer and I,” Bürger writes in a letter, “have resolved together to see what this fellow is up to without further ado.”

Hardly any admirer |437| of Schiller will think differently about Bürger than did the author of that notorious review in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, which, to borrow Caroline’s words, “reviewed” poor Bürger “of all human dignity.” Today it is perhaps not that difficult for us to be utterly permeated by Goethe’s status as a poet and yet at the same time do justice also to Schiller’s greatness; at that time, however, when it was only Schiller’s early pieces and philosophical poems that could be juxtaposed with Werther, Tasso, and Wilhelm Meister, it was nearly impossible, as impossible as it was even for the two writers themselves up into the early 1790s to acknowledge and love each other without jealousy.

Caroline was touched, moved in every fiber of her being by the pure tones of nature, the unexaggerated truth, the gentle beauty and clarity, and the inwardness and sweetness of Goethe’s poesy. She found herself again in these poetic pieces. When she read Iphigenie, when she rocked herself to the music of these verses, she was herself Iphigenie. She felt, sensed, loved Goethe with all the power of feminine surrender, with all the exclusivity of feminine passion and partiality. And as powerfully as she was attracted by Goethe’s measured fullness, just as powerfully also did the “gigantic ideas” of the author of Die Räuber repulse her; she had read with some interest the beginnings of Don Carlos, though even there, with her finely tuned ear, taken offense at the “language of Swabia.”

A poem like “Das Ideal und das Leben,” however, seemed to her a “violent production, a production that bursts all earthly covering in two.” She who together with Wilhelm Meister abhorred “weighty ideals” and found it insufferable that it was “the character of the Germans to bear heavily upon every thing, and that every thing should bear heavily upon them.” — how could she possibly have taken a liking to the imagination of the most virtuous and sublime of writers, as it were a heroically disposed imagination that was perpetually wrestling with the highest?

She speaks with disdain about “the rhymed metaphysics and morals, and the versified Humboldtian womanliness” — and before long Friedrich, too, was parroting these judgments after her, judgments with which she had long since — as early as Göttingen — brought Wilhelm over to her side.

It was she who virtually gave birth to the Romantic school’s indisposition toward Schiller, an indisposition that inoculated both Schlegels and through them Schleiermacher, perhaps also Friedrich von Hardenberg, but most resolutely Schelling with her own disinclination and partisan-based injustice toward the great playwright. Friedrich, who was naturally sympathetic toward |438| the Schillerian “striving for the infinite,” managed for some time to stand firm in debates with his brother.

It was only Caroline who succeeded in, as it were, “deriding away” his veneration of Schiller’s greatness and of the enthusiastic, elevating flight of his writings, and immediately it was precisely the imprudence and stupidly cheeky frankness with which Friedrich himself, with even sharper formulations, made Wilhelm and Caroline’s points public that brought about the irreparable break between Schiller and the new Athenaeum-school. [16]

It was only until mid-January 1794 — to pick up our narrative — that Friedrich remained in Caroline’s proximity, at which time implemented his long-envisioned move to Dresden. Caroline, who in the meantime had also received a visit from her friend Meyer in her hiding place and had reconciled with him, risked moving to Gotha in early February, into the Gotters’ home, but quickly learned that she was still an outcast.

She was, moreover, expelled by official decree from her hometown, where in August she journeyed to see her relatives — a decree that was still being upheld six years later! The verdict passed on her by Gotha society, however, was even more painful. She felt like a political and moral outcast and, once more, had to summon all her composure to keep from succumbing under the double burden of guilt and defamation, her own consciousness and the unkindness of others.

Thus, in the softest, most yielding of moods does she write to the only one of her friends whose sympathy and help would have been of more value than anything else. Although we do not know how her contemporaneous letters to Wilhelm Schlegel sound, those to Meyer are characterized by captivating openness and confidentiality |439| behind which lurks an element of unmistakable intentionality. She initiates him completely into the secret of her situation, allows him to peer to the very bottom of her heartache and distress. Everything for her depends on his assessment and his advice concerning her future. Her intention, it seems, is to test just how deeply her friendship for him and his for her extend.

“Though I am not as certain of you as I am of myself,” “I could fear that the plethora of accusations might finally fatigue your good opinion, particularly insofar as they are presented to you from a place toward which your ear is so naturally inclined in any case and where your eye might make you forget the interests of those who are absent. If your good opinion departs, then so also our friendship — you must judge me the same way I do, or I can no longer desire either your sympathetic interest or your advice.”

The uncertainty of her opinion and expectations are reflected, as it were, in her alternation between the more distant formal [Germ. Sie] and intimate [du] forms of address; it is as if she were raising her eyes to him in query — questioning and petitioning, flattering and demanding, first contradicting, then appeasing, first angry, then teasing. But this friend was brittle, claiming not to understand, and wrapping himself “in mystery.” Once again, he advised against Berlin.

It sounds almost like an ultimatum when finally, during the discussion of her projects, she lets him know that should her recently envisioned plans for moving to Dresden come to nothing, she would — go to Holland. Here for the first time she mentions the two Schlegels to him, whom he for his part cannot stand but to whom she cannot refrain from granting a certain influence over her fate. So, to Holland — “ce parti, qui leveroit tout embarras et couperoit touts les noeuds de ma situation embrouillée [this course, which would remove all the embarrassing circumstances and sever all the knots of my confused situation].”

And precisely this solution, though she clearly was submitting to it only reluctantly, was indeed approaching like an unavoidable fate. Intelligent Therese had offered her wise counsel in a letter to the effect that if Caroline were to enter into relationships with men, she ought to give herself out of love, not out of surfeit, tension, or despair; she advised her to get over Tatter and remarked that although Schlegel was able to save her, he would not really be able to lead her.

As wise as this counsel may well have been, nonetheless coming from where it did, from precisely the person who had done her “such infinitely much wrong,” its effect may have been quite the opposite. Caroline could easily get over her jealousy of the Dutch Sophie if Wilhelm was being expected to get over jealousy of another man — that is, if he was to get over something no man of honor should get over. The truth is: |440| he still viewed an alliance with this seductive woman as constituting his ultimate happiness, and brother Fritz did what he could to strengthen that view and urge him to hasten on with his plans.

The plan to move to Holland, however, had in the meantime been rejected. Dresden, moreover, had to be abandoned because the attendant political difficulties proved to be insurmountable. In April 1795 Caroline finally found a new refuge in Braunschweig, where her mother was now living and where Wilhelm now followed her after resigning his position in Amsterdam. He was back in Germany in July, arriving in Braunschweig a few weeks later.

Caroline’s letters now speak about the “ex-friend Meyer.” The alliance with Schlegel is now a foregone conclusion, the only question being whether that alliance ought to be officially sanctioned, and where within the fatherland, or whether beyond the Rhine or perhaps even beyond the sea, their new life together should commence. Everything seemed to be coming together extraordinarily well. Auguste, who was developing into such a charming, graceful little girl, had for a short time now again been her mother’s only child, [17] and in Jena, through Schiller’s mediation, an honorable and lucrative literary and perhaps later even academic career was opening up for Wilhelm.

All these considerations along with the urging of their relatives — though probably most of all Caroline’s own determination and wish “to secure a protector for both me and my child amid my shattered circumstances,” tipped the balance. On 1 July 1796 they were wed in Braunschweig.

For Wilhelm’s part, it was the worst decision of his entire life. Although he had been issued every conceivable warning had he but queried even his own sense of honor, he nonetheless went blindly to his fate, even tightening the knot himself which later he was not even man enough to untie with his own hands. In full consciousness of what she was doing, with ruthless frankness toward her friend that no tenderness, no flattery could gloss over, Caroline took the step. She herself pronounces judgment on herself and Schlegel when six years later she acknowledges that Schlegel should always have remained solely her friend, adding that both parties had entered into the marriage in mutual agreement as “an alliance which the two of us otherwise never viewed as being anything but completely free”!

It is not the intention of this present essay to examine all the literary-historical relationships this epistolary collection evokes. Hence the role Caroline henceforth played as Wilhelm’s spouse within the Jena circle, the way |441| as a participant in her husband’s projects, as a charming hostess, witty conversationalist, adviser, and dispenser of praise and reproach she influenced the entire disposition and activity of the Romantic school — we will not be speaking about these things at any length precisely because such has already been sufficiently addressed elsewhere.

In several points, however, our previous understanding of the literary-historical material has been gratefully expanded by Waitz’s publication. Although it has long been known that Caroline contributed to Schlegel’s wonderful essay on Romeo and Juliet, we can now read the pages she wrote down for Wilhelm as a characterization of the piece and which he then so skillfully incorporated — they were probably composed in March 1796 in Braunschweig, when Wilhelm was visiting his brother in Dresden.

One episode in the Romantic school’s battle with the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung includes the feuding letters exchanged between the Schlegel household and Huber after the latter had stylized himself as the defender of literary propriety and morality over against Athenaeum and Lucinde. No one knew better than Caroline herself how ill-fitting such a role was for Huber — her personal relationship with this former friend and his spouse [Therese] lends a double element of interest to the two letters, published here for the first time, in which she now breaks off her friendship with him.

The epistolary collection Aus Schelling’s Leben [18] already revealed that Caroline was the author of the important review of Johannes Müller’s “Fragmente aus den Briefen eines jungen Gelehrten an seinen Freund,” [19] and now, from a passage in one of Caroline’s letters, we know for sure that two smaller pieces from the “Reichsanzeiger” [20] are attributable to Friedrich Schlegel, thus providing us in both cases with a correction over against Eduard Böcking’s edition of A. W. Schlegel’s works. [21]

In other respects as well, Caroline took an extraordinarily active interest in the Athenaeum project. And in a larger sense, she wholly occupied herself with her husband’s literary projects, assisting him with skilled assessments of novels under the rubric of belles-lettres in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, standing beside him in his translation work in lieu of an amanuensis, composing the better parts of the Athenaeum essay on August Lafontaine [22] and of the descriptions of paintings in the familiar dialogue “Die Gemählde: Ein Gespräch von W.” [23]

She complains in jest to Friedrich that Wilhelm was even coming to her in the middle of the night with literary demands. In this sense, she genuinely did fulfill Friedrich’s request to “to lick and tend the young bear Hercules” (i.e., Athenaeum), albeit without addressing all his wishes in this respect. For had |442| he had his way, she would also have enhanced the collection of fragments in the second issue of Athenaeum with her own contributions. Only a single fragment Wilhelm sent to his brother in Berlin, moreover, one “in which one need not really recognize her” and which thus we, too, will have difficulty discerning, comes from her hand. Friedrich would also gladly have included among his collection of fragments an “esprit de Caroline” — though he himself had to admit that her talent lay more in rhapsodies, letters, and reviews than in fragments.

Although she did agree to fish fragments out of Friedrich’s own letters to her, he ultimately rejected them all as unuseable. He similarly failed at trying to extract from her letters something of the same sort, finding quite justifiably that the material that might indeed be published from those letters was too individual and personal, “much too pure, beautiful, and delicate” to be “shattered into fragments and rendered coquettish merely by its being excerpted in such a way.”

That notwithstanding, certainly many of her occasional remarks made in jest, out of intellectual insight, or as expressions of emotion would nonetheless have been capable of adorning this collection of fragments, as when, e.g., in a later letter she remarks concerning Goethe’s adaptation of Voltaire’s Tancred that Goethe put Voltaire to music the way Mozart did Schikaneder, or when satirizing Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s insistence that one read his new Theory of Science without considering any other philosophical material, past or present, she quips that one should thus read it “the way one should partake of the holy Eucharist only in a fully sober condition.”

Her assessments of Ludwig Tieck’s poetic pieces are also exquisite, for what better characterization of his [novel] Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen [Berlin 1798] is there than as “a fantasy that constantly flutters and flaps its wings and yet never gets off the ground”?

In her ongoing false assessment of Schiller, of course, of whom she is “considerably less fond” since the Xenien affair and whom she doubtless never forgave for his malicious remark [24] that he considered her “too sensible” to get mixed up in the business of literary reviews — here and in several other respects as well, her own sound sensibility and unaffected judgment was increasingly befogged by the prejudices into which the Romantic circle itself, to which she did, after all, belong, became increasingly entangled.

It is indeed remarkable how, despite her keen vision, she was nonetheless utterly blind to the pure and profound relationship between Goethe and Schiller, how she, too, had absolutely no sense for the fundamental respect the two had for each other, or for the unique, complementary aspects of their personalities and manner of literary composition. And admittedly similarly remarkable that she apparently never succeeded in establishing any closer personal relationship with the master [Goethe] whom she so highly revered and of whose |443| poetic value she had such an innate understanding. The derisive comment in one of Karoline Paulus’s later letters to Charlotte Schiller is doubtless not without some foundation. [25]

Far superior in both intellect and genuinely poetic sensibility to all the women with whom Goethe ever came into closer contact, she nonetheless seems not to have made any more profound impression on him, who did understand the feminine nature as did no other. He apparently belonged to the few who were somehow immune to her magic, and similarly on her side as well, her own admiration for “the old gentleman” remained wholly within the boundaries of pure, occasionally shy deference. Whereas she overflows with enchanted praise on making Johann Gottfried Herder’s personal acquaintance in Weimar — the element of Goethean majesty restrains any more intimate approach. Herder, communicative and voluble in personal social situations, offered more surface area, as it were, for her own agile intellect than did the dignified gentleman, who could turn as silent “as a wall” whenever he sensed curiosity. Her aesthetic judgment is least pure with respect to the poetic accomplishments of her spouse.

She curtly maintains with respect to Schiller’s Maria Stuart [Tübingen 1801] that “in the final analysis all the poetic trimmings in this piece do not yet constitute genuine poesy” — whereas she cannot be effusive enough in her praise and admiration for [Wilhelm] Schlegel’s [play] Ion, [26] for the Ehrenpforte contra August von Kotzebue, [27] etc. — where things similarly occasionally stand rather badly with respect to “poetic trimmings” — indeed, even for his failed romance “Fortunatus. A Romance.” [28]

All these judgments contain considerable elements of intentional flattery toward her “most gracious friend,” who, during the period when he composed these works, was no longer all that gracious to her in any case, and whose immoderate vanity perceived even modest criticism as hurtful and who had long ceased to view her as his instructress and educatress. Although it is doubtless not meant completely honestly or without irony when she tries to dissuade him from entertaining any doubt in his own art, assuring him that her own former lack of faith in the power of his poetic gifts had disappeared with her increasing insight and understanding, on the whole she does indeed judge these Alexandrine poetical pieces far more favorably than they deserved.

Her current most intimate friend, Schelling, shared her overestimation of this artificially assembled poesy; amid their mutual support and admiration they had rationalized themselves so intensively into an abstract cult of art that their simple, natural sensibility had suffered. It was ill-advised for Caroline to summon her husband — similar to the way Dorothea Veit did both Friedrich and Schleiermacher — away from literary criticism, where, after all, these men’s real talent was to be found, and back to poesy, |444| in which none of them every managed to elevate himself above mediocrity.

She is, however, undeniably justified, and her profound sensibility for the value of art shines through clearly, when in the larger sense she ascribes preeminence of position to creative over critical activity: “Criticism perishes, physical races are extinguished, systems change, but when the world itself one day incinerates like a scrap of paper, the works of art will be the last living sparks to enter into the house of God — only then will there be complete darkness.”

And finally, as far off the mark as her assessment of the scope of Wilhelm’s poetical talent may have strayed, one piece of advice was definitely on the mark, namely, that he must absolutely and by no means desist from his translation of Shakespeare, since it would be, Caroline maintains, precisely those translations that would ultimately constitute the “torso of your fame.” This admonition is alluding to the interruption that had come about as a result of Wilhelm’s falling out with the bookseller Johann Friedrich Unger. This present collection of letters also offers new and quite complete disclosures concerning this quarrel.

Having alluded to the fact that Caroline praised her husband as a poet most solicitously precisely when the human bond uniting them had already been irreparably loosened, we must now have a closer look at the circumstances that gave her life a new — and indeed final, decisive turn. As she herself remarks, she along with her private affairs were to be entangled for a second time in the storms of revolution, to wit, and she would play a role in the movements of the literary world just as she had earlier in that of the political.

The most varied individuals and personalities and the most varied intellectual goals and strivings within the Jena Romantic circle had been held together by the power of their shared opposition to the waning century, one characterized by excessive sobriety and a lack of poesy. But most of the elements in this poetic world were connected only by the thinnest, most arbitrarily woven threads, and anyone who looked deeper could long have seen that behind these imagined, illusory friendships and elective affinities lurked mistrust and jealousy, disaffection and hatefulness of all sorts, a spirit of factions that sooner or later could not but deliver this empire of beautiful appearance over to anarchy. Not only was Caroline herself also entangled in these differences, indeed, she was one of their main causes.

The young Schelling, who had already become personally acquainted with the Schlegels in Dresden in late summer 1798, began his academic career in Jena that next winter. Caroline quickly developed a lively interest |445| in this young man with the defiant and powerful presence, who was pursuing his scholarly projects with heroic ambition and was working toward a conquest of the entirety of nature through the united power of thought and poetry. “Schelling,” she wrote soon after arriving back in Jena to Friedrich Schlegel, who was still in Berlin, “will allegedly wall himself in from now on, as he puts it, but will doubtless not see it through. He is someone who sooner breaks through walls. Believe me, friend, as a person he is more interesting than you are admitting, a real primal being, viewed as a mineral: genuine granite.”

Measures had indeed been taken to ensure he would not wall himself in too much. During the summer of 1799 he is already a regular guest at meals in the Schlegel house; he already possesses the complete inclination of this intelligent woman whose heart is not filled by her half-love for her husband and whose intellect, ignited by the spark of Schelling’s own genius, is now glowing in the fire of renewed enthusiasm.

With what coolness does she write to her little daughter, who is visiting the Tischbein family in Dessau, about Wilhelm, who “composes a poem each morning,” and with what savor does she then linger in her descriptions of Schelling, the “Giver of Joy” — “for he is gentle and amiable and jocular.” Amid the turbulence of her feelings for this young man twelve years her junior, she calms herself for the time being with a plan that might ease her privation. She imagines her own daughter in her place and plays with this ambiguous relationship by passing along Schelling’s regards to the innocent child — who is but fourteen at the time — and — jealous of her own plan — teases her for being “jealous of your mama.”

Autumn had come again, and Friedrich and his lady friend, Dorothea, were now living in Jena. Italian, with Dante and Petrarch, were now on the agenda, becoming a new bond between Schelling and Caroline. Their “devout, sainted-in-heaven Father Fritz” played the instructor. They all read Dante together, and the enthusiastic philosopher of nature, ruminating about a grand, epic-mystical poem about nature, may well have had the poet’s ideal love to Beatrice in mind as an appropriate metaphor for the profound homage he himself, no longer doubtful that he was loved in return, devoted in the innermost recesses of his soul to the woman now looking down at him with both tenderness and intimacy.

At Christmas he directed to her those solemnly lofty, love-drenched stanzas in which he articulates his confidence that he would indeed succeed with his poetic |446| proclamation of the highest mysteries of the world, since, after all, it was her image that now hovered before him on this bold path:

And should you see his powers fail,
Then let the fiery sign flow down,
Which once did beckon, full of hope,
When hopeless, distant, he did love you.
And should his powers fall yet more,
Then to his heart call out: You loved me!
And should courage's last spark yet fail him,
Then to him do speak: I loved you!
In these words does highest life abide
Which yet can raise its flight to final heights.

Feelings and emotions strung this high, however, have no place in the spheres of poetry, straining instead outward, toward a more human shape; the stimulation of proximity and of close personal contact awakens and intensifies desires that in the long run cannot be satisfied by mystery and symbolism, but only in pleasure and possession. To all Caroline’s enthusiasm for Schelling’s world of ideas she now added a feeling for him that was fuller, more tender, more passionate than her insatiable heart — one repressed, moreover, by long privation — had ever felt for any man before. She lies down at his breast with irresistible flattery, appearing to him half like a goddess, half like a beguiling woman.

In May 1800 mother and daughter travel in Schelling’s company to Bamberg, where the former intend to travel on to nearby Bocklet to take the waters. Tender missives from Auguste’s hand are sent from Bamberg to the temporarily absent Schelling; Caroline herself writes to him what he doubtless already has heard from her personally: “You know that I will follow you wherever you go, for your life and work are sacred to me, and serving in the sanctuary — in God’s sanctuary — means having dominion on earth.”

Hardly any testimony other than these words are really necessary to refute the fable Gustav Plitt presented in his edition of Schelling’s letters concerning the origin of Schelling’s love for Caroline from within his love for Auguste, a fable Waitz (1871), too, inexplicably seeks to uphold in its essentials. Wilhelm Dilthey, who had access to Friedrich Schlegel’s letters to Schleiermacher concerning precisely this relationship, already recognized the true state of affairs [in Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben]. Not a single one of the numerous documents Waitz includes supports even in the slightest the hypothesis that Schelling had any serious inclinations for Auguste.

Auguste was a charming and amiable child, |447| one whom all who knew her viewed with both caring concern and hope — more charming and amiable and innocent, indeed, than may well have been expected given her rearing by such a mother and the indulgence and spoiling she enjoyed in such a circle. When Friedrich Schlegel gives her private instruction in Greek and writes her teasing letters half in the style of fragments for children, and when her mother dispenses maternal teachings to her in an excessively tender tone and at the same time draws her into her own relationship with Schelling through captious, risqué allusions, one might justifiably wonder how this young girl exhibits so little of the artificial nature and precociousness that makes most of the child figures portrayed by the Romantics so repugnant. She seems to have been a happily and cheerfully disposed creature full of grace and charm and amiability.

While still alive, she was the most dainty of toys, then after her death became a cult object for all who had been more closely acquainted with her. But her days were numbered, and on 12 July 1800 she succumbed to a rapidly progressing illness in Bocklet. And not a line in any of the letters we have from Caroline’s hand during the period after this sad event suggests that her death was lamented in any way as that of a bride or beloved in the amorous sense.

Although all these letters, insofar as they are directed to Schelling, are letters of comfort and consolation, the one consistent element in that consolation is that she loves him, in the most lofty sense and with all the power of her entire soul and being. Clearly, Auguste’s death had profoundly stirred up Schelling’s passion for the mother, and through his own profound caring concern for her pain his own half-dreaming affection had awakened to full clarity. A harsh light had been cast into the abyss of the hopelessness of their relationship, and whereas earlier the serenity of life had woven a poetic veil around his love, now, amid the grief attaching to these days, the future suddenly seemed empty to him — with no way out save death itself.

It is to these laments and thoughts of death that Caroline’s letters now respond. “My heart, my life, I love you with my entire being. Never should you doubt that. . . . please do be calm, you are certainly permitted as much.” “I have a deep, heartfelt fondness for you . . . Even if I could muster a lengthy counter to your own understanding of things, and produce heaps of enthusiastic, reasoned responses correcting your own faulty views, it would still be nothing more than a rhetorical exercise — it is enough that I promise my friend that I do want to live, indeed, enough that I myself am threatening to continue living should he in his own turn seek death thus at such an untrue hour. You love me, and even should the vehemence of the |448| pain now tormenting you one day deceive you with hatred and in so doing tear me to pieces, you still love me, for I am worthy of it, and this entire universe is trumpery, or we have indeed recognized each other inwardly for all eternity.”

Far removed from trying to talk him out, as it were, of the pain in his heart for the deceased girl, she instead implores him to bear the unassuageable maternal pain she herself feels and to permit her to cry herself out at his breast, for only if she need conceal nothing of such grief from him can she fully trust him — “Allow me at least to touch upon it; I have no intention of making you linger over it.” And on another occasion: “If my heart should falter, I now know I can lean on yours and seek comfort there; that is the proper relationship between the mortal mother and the divine son.”

Poetry has never ventured to portray such a wondrous play of emotions as emerged in this woman’s breast, such an ebb and flow of the most profound grief and sunniest serenity, such an admixing and separating of waves of the most varied love. For with every attempt, it would fail; the improbable would not be believable, nor the believable graceful. Reality is richer than fiction.

The unconditional acknowledgement of the sovereign rights of the heart would inevitably unhinge the structure of the moral world. Though this woman throws golden snares ever more tightly around the neck of this man she loves, though she dissuades him from every objection, though she invokes God as a witness that no objection can take root in her own heart — “I loved you — it was not an impious jest, and that absolves me, it seems to me” — we are nonetheless quite capable of remaining circumspect enough to remind her that she is guilty on the basis of both old and new culpability.

And though in the most peculiar admixture of jest and seriousness she assures the beloved that she was nonetheless born to be faithful, insisting that precisely this consciousness of “inward faithfulness” allowed her “to take risks in what I allowed myself” without losing “the eternal balance in my own heart,” and that she would always have to “rely on my heart beyond considerations of distress and even death, even if doing so had led me precisely to distress and death,” we in our own turn cannot but cry out to her here as well: You err, for this heart’s conscience is a deceptive conscience!

And yet all this remains a spectacle that captivates our gaze to the point of sheer astonishment: this heart with its insatiable neediness and its unfathomable confidence — spreading out its wealth before us in enchanting colors, |449| almost always remaining faithful to forms of the beautiful, creative in finding hitherto unknown forms of charm and grace. She describes her innermost being as being so disposed that “a smile can verge on the most unspeakable distress.” Him whom she loves, she loves — as incomprehensible as it may well seem to our customary understanding of the soul — with the double love of the mother and the beloved — “Think of my eyes, of my love. If only you were my son and those eyes might rest on you with motherly joy!”

She loves the friend, the beloved in him, and simultaneously, with an enthusiasm that does, after all, always remain that of a woman, she encompasses the conceptually creative thinker, the grandeur of his scholarly-poetic ideas, and the fame of this herald of a new Weltanschauung. She continues to be the goddess to whom he looks up when reaching, in poetry and thought, for the most lofty regions, and is simultaneously the affectionate woman cuddled up next to him, a humbly admiring woman devoted in her love — “Love me, I kneel before you in thought and entreat you to do so.”

Never before has she become so intimately familiar with a conceptual world not originally her own, or elevated herself as high with the powers of her own intellect and spirit than now, through her unrestricted interest in the studies, works, and conceptual dreams of the philosopher of nature. Her love is philosophy, her philosophy love. “And in the more general sense [let us] simply forget ourselves. You will see that I can still learn even though it does not really interest me at all that I know it, but rather only the simple fact that it is known.”

Here is the point where her poetic sensibility raises the wings of her love, where her sensibility for the genius of Goethe’s poetic productions opens her understanding to the idealism of the philosophy of nature. In Schelling she sees the poet focused on the most lofty, the poet who is wresting the mysteries of nature from nature itself; and that is the difference between Schelling and Fichte, namely, that “you have poesy, whereas he does not.” In Schelling she sees virtually the completion, the associate of Goethe himself. And it is to Goethe that, as long as she herself is yet absent, she directs the grieving Schelling, as if to “sanctuary and salvation.”

“Goethe,” she says in reference to the grand, unfinished poem on nature which the stanzas to Caroline were to introduce, “Goethe is now also ceding the poem to you, delivering his nature over to you. Since he cannot appoint you his heir, he is giving you a donation among the living. He loves you like a father, I love you like a mother — what wondrous parents you have!” And when Goethe becomes seriously ill — she senses what an irreplaceable loss it would be, “but you must preserve yourself all the more. |450| What would happen then to this world?!” Thus is she indefatigable in paying homage to the beloved by paying homage to his genius, whispering the sweetest words of both praise and flattery into the ears of this proud man who in any case is already intoxicated with his addiction to ambition and fame.

Alas, in her soothing she was stirring, and in her consoling seductive; every one of her soothing words was balsam, and every one simultaneously poison. Is it really comfort and consolation when finally — at the beginning of 1801 — she writes to calm and clarify the relationship: “You must sincerely try to determine whether you can do without me, but give yourself time enough to consider. We belong together, we should be inwardly one. Have I ever mistrusted you, you my soul? Then why you me? You will probably ask me whether I am indifferent to the outcome. I must answer yes, even if sweet love wants to hold me back. I am certain both of my indestructible happiness as well as of my incurable misfortune. That is my privilege.”

And soon thereafter, as if it were an irrevocable final decision: “I am not parting from you, you who are my everything on earth; the means the soul seizes to escape the desecration of the alliance also creates everything, the alliance itself in all its beauty as well as the tenderness that sustains it. . . . I greet you as your mother, no memory shall wreck us. You are now my child’s brother; I give you this sacred blessing. From now on, it is a crime if we seek to be anything else to each other.”

It was doubly necessary to circumscribe the relationship either thus or in some other way, for after a long period of contact solely through letters, Caroline was now about to return to Jena after having spent the winter with her husband in Braunschweig. She was now to live alongside Schelling, whereas Wilhelm would not be returning to Jena, having instead moved directly from Braunschweig to Berlin.

And toward Wilhelm, too, she had expressed herself in precisely the same way concerning her relationship with Schelling. No perfidious secrets on this point were to obtain between them: “I can never deny Schelling as a friend, but neither can I under any circumstances pass one particular boundary concerning which we are in agreement. This is the first and only vow of my life, and I will keep it, for I have accepted him in my soul as the brother of my child.”

But had she not already earlier passed beyond those boundaries? And could those transgressions be undone? And even in the larger sense, was she a woman who |451| could be bound by vows? And above all, even if she believed herself capable of such — could she expect the same renunciation within pleasure, the same pleasure within renunciation from her friend?

The differences in age and experience could not but eventually, unavoidably come to bear. What good did it do that she also perceived this with perfect clarity and even expressed it with utter frankness — how he, the young man, was quite justified in expecting untroubled, youthful happiness, while she, accustomed to resignation through early disappointments, might make do “in rich humility,” he on the other hand only “in bitterness”?

Would he ever be able to wholly overcome this bitterness? Would he — would not any man in his place, sooner or later, weary of bearing this sweet yoke, this plethora of love simultaneously with these fetters of renunciation? One of two. Either he tore himself away to seek more natural, unconstrained happiness commensurate with his own youthful claims, or — that vow was broken after all, and she wholly granted to him what after all that had occurred she hardly really had any right to refuse him any longer.

With a strength of disposition and intellect and with skill to which we cannot entirely deny an element of admiration, for a lengthy period of time she genuinely did manage to divide herself between spouse and lover, duty and inclination, or, more precisely, friendship and love. For Schlegel she had never felt anything more than friendship and gratitude, mixed with a bit of irritation at his weaknesses. Nor did she now cease maintaining and engaging these same feelings. Quite to the contrary, she persuaded herself all the more zealously to engage them the more difficult Wilhelm himself made it for her.

A whole series of letters first from Braunschweig, then from a visit with her brother Philipp Michaelis in Harburg, and finally from Jena to Berlin, where Wilhelm was then living, amply demonstrate how careful she was to avoid giving her spouse any reason to be dissatisfied. Of course, we could round out our judgment fully only if more of Schlegel’s own letters had been preserved as well.

In the letters we do have at our disposal, she is the indefatigably amiable one, he the uncordial, unamiable one. She follows his poetic activity with sincere interest, and is profoundly delighted with the success of his play Ion, even putting her own quill to work to ensure that success; [29] the success of his Berlin lectures fills her with pride, she wishing only |452| that “the blue-eyed Caroline could turn into the blue-eyed Athena, that she might stand right there next to you, invisible, and place divine utterances into your mouth.”

And how — as if she feared danger for herself as well from his extended absence — does she ply him ever anew with requests that he finally keep his promise and return. How visibly does she labor to thwart his disgruntlement in advance with flattery, and, when despite it all he nonetheless takes well-intentioned advice and cordial praise ill, to calm him or point out his uncordial manner to him with gentle prudence and graciously mischievous words — “You will be robbing me of a great deal of my courteousness and grace if you make me timid. It is your own loss.”

Nor is there any dearth of recollections of the better times during their relationship, of individual tones that do come purely from the heart, of tender requests that he, too, occasionally write from the heart. Although she is certainly familiar with his vanity, she also knows — something she expresses in a letter to Schelling — that he is a dependable friend, without guile, and is “more honest than all the rest of you.”

Hence half out of respect and half out of prudence, half out of friendship and half out of sympathy, and yet always with natural grace and sweetness, she does everything in her power to avoid a break. Even her teasing remarks about the tender relationships Wilhelm cultivated in Berlin with Friederike Unzelmann, the dainty “fairy sprite,” with Madam Schütz, and with Madam Bernhardi, were sooner intended to keep the friend in a good mood than to provoke him.

He was — this much he knew from her own mouth — merely the spouse, “good, dear Schlegel,” the “honest, “dearest friend” — not the one she loved from the bottom of her soul. And yet all that notwithstanding, who knew him better, who better understood him with all his weaknesses and all his good traits, and who ultimately had intentions that were more faithful toward him than she, the unfaithful one who was never unamiable?

And who, once she ceased doing so, would speak to him about his own imperious nature the way she herself did in a letter that so accurately points out the truth to him, and with such good intentions? “Believe me, dearest friend, at times you have the capacity to come across quite harshly with people, and have also come down hard on me long before I provoked any more passionate reason in you to do so. There is no other way, one must simply accept it as part of you and pass over it as a postulate of sorts, or else become rebellious. I am declaring this in the name of all those who have ever been, are, or will be your friends, for I myself would prefer nothing more than that all of them might gather around you |453| with appreciation and affection; and you can certainly hear what I have to say in this regard, for I myself am no longer of this world, not even, as it were, your wife whom you have no intention of allowing to tell you such things.”

Alas, where had it gone, the time when her most spiteful words of rejection had served only to stimulate the young poet doubly to court her favor, even at the cost of his own honor? This magic had lost its efficacy; too late now, he sensed the burden of his early foolishness. He had agreed beforehand to allow himself to be burdened with something that, once it had indeed come, he nonetheless now did not bear — yet without having the courage to put an end to it!

The person who had first opened his eyes, or at least had first pricked his touchiness on the subject, was his brother Friedrich. For early on these two, Friedrich and Caroline, so similar in so many ways and thus also so attracted to each other, had quarreled and wounded one the other. As early as the very beginning of their acquaintance, during Friedrich’s Dresden period, Friedrich once complained that Caroline occasionally “takes a tasty bite” out of him.

His own genteel condemnation of Schelling then crosses her growing affection for the latter. Ruthless words of truth she wrote to him in Berlin concerning his fragments and zealous enthusiasm for Athenaeum occasionally provoked him to uncontrollable anger, and when she goes so far as to take his confidential communications concerning his nascent relationship with Dorothea Veit a bit too facilely and derisively, he repeatedly vents his irritation, not least in the otherwise quite accurate remark concerning how Caroline was continuing to cultivate her old habit of thinking nothing of “abusing men who respect and love her.”

Such dissonances surface and then disappear again. All these occasional discords seem to have been smoothed over when Friedrich arrived from Berlin and introduced his lady friend in his sister-in-law’s house. That lady friend, too, is received with extraordinary warmth. Caroline’s description of her personality in a letter to Auguste is only moderately malicious; she does not fear finding a rival in her, and indeed refers to her as an “excellent woman” — which she doubtless was — of whom she was growing fonder with each day, and whenever Dante was the topic of study with Fritz and Schelling, Dorothea, too, sat there contributing her full share to all the wit and other poesy within this lively company.

Caroline, moreover, comes to Friedrich’s ardent defense over against Huber: “Friedrich is a thoughtful, often deeply brooding, inwardly great person, who |454| externally walks about with it all rather like a fool. He deals even with the artificial intentionality of his own compositions with childlike confidence and unawareness. He is sincere in everything, even into the deepest ground of his soul.” Indeed, even later, during the period of most bitter hostility, she is still capable of extolling at least his artistic judgment, over which allegedly no external factors exert any influence; indeed, she asserts that he was the most independent of them all in that regard, and utterly without caprice.

Whence, then, this sudden, bitter hostility? From where else other than precisely this extolled sincerity and from precisely this capacity for independent judgment, which, after all, Friedrich did not exercise solely with respect to works of art? No one had studied Caroline’s character as thoroughly as had Friedrich. He knew her through and through. He knew only all too much about her past. He was initiated into the entire story of his brother’s love for her, a story as novelesque as it was solicitous of pity. He loved this brother as genuinely and tenderly as he was capable of loving anyone. Was the honor and happiness of this brother to be a matter of indifference to him?

Shortly before Schelling and Caroline left together for Bamberg — when their passion, already long cultivated, was becoming clearly visible and had not yet been transfigured into a higher sphere by Auguste’s death — at that time Friedrich became Caroline’s accuser. He simply could not comprehend how, despite all this, Wilhelm nonetheless continued “agnosticizing her as your wife,” and it was only with sadness and pain that Friedrich could now think of their relationship. “Indeed, I believe a consideration of your fate,” he writes his brother on 18 May 1800, “could not but move any reflective observer with the most profound sentiment. [30] And how could it fail to move me to tears, considering how similar we are in so many ways and how linked by so much that is sacred and more valuable?”

It is not saying too much to suggest that despite the subtle sophistry of emotion with which Caroline labored to gloss over or even moralize this double dealing of her heart — it was in Friedrich that she encountered the personification, as it were, of the remnant of pure, unadulterated conscience that doubtless did remain in her. And precisely that is why she directed hatred toward him that was as deep as was her love for Schelling, hatred surpassed only by that with which henceforth Friedrich’s loyal lady friend, Dorothea, hated her in her own turn.

When Caroline loved, her disposition and spirit always assumed the shapes and colors of grace and beauty; when she hated, the harmony of her disposition shifted, and the ugly — the only truly ugly features of which her physiognomy was capable — came into view. She viewed the two of them — Friedrich and Dorothea — with an abiding and |455| irreconcilable passion, with a lust for vengeance, and with schadenfreude.

Unfortunately, it was not difficult to become Friedrich’s accuser. This man’s gnarly intellect, one constantly coming up anew with capricious flights of fancy and projects, his disorganized lifestyle and pleasure-driven financial irresponsibility all offered more than sufficient basis for reproach, and certainly considerably less is required for two women to start slandering each other in the most malicious fashion; it sufficed for Dorothea to have committed a few indiscretions and to have shown herself to be an inferior household manager for her to become the target of Caroline’s abusive vilification once the latter had been set into motion.

Once Caroline had resolved to maintain the relationship with her husband, she doubtless had to paralyze Friedrich’s influence on his brother, on the one hand, and manipulate the latter against the former, on the other — and she did so incessantly. Her letters are full of catty malice, explicit and incidental rants, and both subtle and coarse jabs at the detested couple. When Friedrich commits the folly of giving lectures in transcendental philosophy at the Jena university and quickly comes up short against Schelling, she triumphs over his defeat — “That is true revenge,” she writes, “and I am triumphant without reserve and without sparing anyone.”

When in the spring of 1802 Friedrich goes to Paris and takes Dorothea as his wife, she mocks their republican wedding: “Under Robespierre, being drowned in the Loire was referred to as noces republicaines, and I would gladly grant such a wedding to at least half of that couple!” — it is difficult for us to comprehend how hatred was thus able to take control even of the cultivated taste of this intelligent woman.

Be that as it may, at precisely this time Friedrich was to have the satisfaction of seeing his brother liberated from the agony and affliction of this alliance, which had lost all inward substance. After Schlegel had spent one more brief period in Jena in the autumn of 1801, the two spouses did not see each other again until the spring of 1802 in Berlin. Caroline forced her journey through even after Schlegel had half rescinded his initial invitation.

Nothing more than this reunion, however, was needed to destroy any appearance that they still understood and belonged to each other. Caroline’s presence was inconvenient for her husband in every possible respect, who had in the meantime arranged his life and plans for the future without her. On the rather unpleasant topic of financial questions and economic circumstances, they discussed how the life path |456| of the one was now contrary to that of the other, and it was Caroline who first summoned the courage to put a just end to all the discord by deciding on a divorce.

Various formalities had to be fulfilled, but on 17 May 1803 the divorce was publicly declared, and a few days thereafter Caroline journeyed together with Schelling to the latter’s home, and there, in Murrhardt, his father wed them on 26 June.

Our story is moving toward its end now, and it is a pleasing, conciliatory end. Caroline and Schlegel had parted company in Berlin amid rancor and quarrels and with ill-feeling. But the spirits of earlier days were to come into contact once more. Schelling’s adversaries exploited the sad incident in Bocklet by turning it into a contemptible, slanderous accusation against him, insinuating that his own medical treatment caused the young girl’s death. Schlegel undertook a public refutation of this abominable accusation and yet in the process had to suffer Caroline telling him how precisely during that time of grief his own indelicate behavior had wounded and turned her heart against him.

The unpleasant retrospectives now finally were put away, and they separated with the assurance that a relationship of sincere respect and friendship would obtain and that the friendship between the two men, too, would continue. We hear Caroline’s confession — her account of the separation to the daughter of her old friend Luise Gotter. No one would expect her to accuse herself. She has now done “what is right and true for me,” not questioning, of course, how “something that is good in and of itself” “may appear to others.”

But she does acknowledge the error of her union with Schlegel, adding a comely remark that from her might be taken as a sort of admission of past guilt. “Although fate,” she tells her young friend, “has often bestowed its most precious gifts on me, it has at the same time dealt me such pain and poured out such exquisite grief on me that no one who sees my fate can be tempted to risk stepping on unknown ground through bold and arbitrary actions, and must instead ask God for a more simple, straightforward fate, vowing, moreover, not to do anything to forfeit it.”

While she had indeed not been spared such temptations, in her union with Schelling she did now find happiness and inner satisfaction that could replace, or perhaps |457| even more than replace the condition of innocence. The pain she had endured, pain culminating in the loss of her most beloved child, she took with her into this new and final period of her life; the errors and guilt of the past, however, she left behind. The cheerfulness and frivolity that had never been entirely absent even during her most troubled days, now yielded to a more even, steady mood of satisfaction that joined the most profound melancholy and longing for what had been lost.

And indeed, what a marvelous, wondrous spectacle, the way this “existence full of contradiction” was resolved in devotion to a man whom she loved to the point of apotheosis. A profound need to be loyal and good, to love and to respect, inhered deep within her being; she was now so happy finally to have found the point where satisfying this need cost her no struggles and demanded no sacrifices.

All the men on whom her capacity for love had previously essayed itself had either been beneath her or had not seriously wanted to take the risk with her. The man to whom she now belonged satisfied both her heart and her intellect. His powerful egoism made him her master, and his intellect, living as it did within the ideal, elevated her own. She reigned through him, shined through him, saw through him into a world similar to her own poetic world and yet seemingly pointing beyond.

Whence the wondrous transformation that was at once also a purification. When after the initial rapturous enthusiasm of youth normal women direct their hearts to greater calm, thereafter finding anew their lost faith in true love perhaps only in maternal love, it is not until after the blossom of her years has passed that this woman learns to love with complete seriousness and with all her strength; it is onto the beloved himself that she — who is now childless — also transfers the fullness of such maternal love.

Whereas earlier, amid the surfeit of her desire for freedom, she had almost blasphemously toyed with both friendship and love, now, for the first time, she is like a devoted young girl, like a bride who, no longer with a will of her own, cuddles up to her groom. She brings to this youthful man an even younger heart of her own, and yet at once also the most mature intellect and spirit, that he, who, having been spoiled, has come to demand so much, not lack for anything.

“My heart,” she calls him, “my soul, my spirit, even my will.” “Oh, you sweet, dear heart,” she caresses him when he is absent, “when will I again be able to attend to my devotions to the heart of my lord!” He is her “adored spouse,” nor does she ever tire of proclaiming such to those who take an interest in her. “You know him,” she writes on one occasion, “who is not merely a temporal companion to me.”

|458| On another occasion — a few months after the battle of Jena — she expresses her elevated frame of mind and happiness in love with an even higher degree of confidentiality to the Gotters: “I would much rather,” she says after lamenting the shattered state of the world, “have been living in a village right at the battle front in Jena and been trampled to death with all the others than to have my soul infected by this abominable confusion of all that is moral. But I am extremely fortunate to have the aegis alongside me here, for even if the entirety of this world of propriety and respectability perish in all its old forms, an immutable world would nevertheless emerge for me against the backdrop of an even more beautiful horizon. He in whom I find it is an inexhaustible spring of all that is magnificent and comforting.”

The successful shaping of her external circumstances corresponded to her inner happiness. Her delicate constitution, previously subject to constant bouts of illness, had strengthened, and she enjoyed her new life in relatively good health. Her longing for the south, however, was never addressed, their firmly projected journey to Italy having been thwarted by Schelling’s appointment in Würzburg. From Würzburg she followed Schelling to Munich, where he had received an appointment to the Academy of Sciences and Humanities before quickly also becoming general secretary of the Academy of Fine Arts.

In Würzburg she was still surrounded by former acquaintances from Jena, and both old and new hatred emerged again against, around, and in her. By contrast, in Munich she feels free and settled in new, rich soil, and when soon the one, then the other among their former friends and companions arrives, she thinks it a not entirely disagreeable notion indeed that a new collecting point might emerge here as earlier in Jena, and that what seemed lost in the distance might be reconstituted for a time.

We have called Caroline’s story a novel that was genuinely lived. It also exhibits the character of a novel insofar as almost all the persons in whom during the course of the narrative we were constrained to take an interest now reappear within the heroine’s purview, serving now, within new, significant relationships, to elucidate the turns of her fate, or, put differently, her interior development.

Admittedly not a syllable is wasted on Tatter, and references to Meyer are only as to a missing friend. By contrast, she encounters Huber and Therese again during a trip to Stuttgart; the manes of Forster and her own entire history in Mainz appear before her once more; and yet another occasion, namely, Huber’s death and Therese’s subsequent biographical publication in that regard, prompt Caroline to repeat her |459| earlier judgment of the friend of her youth, now mixed with the harshest reproaches.

And finally in Munich, the Tiecks and Brentanos [Clemens and Bettina] and Johann Wilhelm Ritter — and also Wilhelm Schlegel with Madame de Staël — make an appearance. Here we can read a whole series of the strangest and most memorable assessments of all these people. Not without malice, and yet ultimately with an element of the most accurate truth, she refers to the Brentanos’ “unnatural nature,” and characterizes her friend Tieck as a “graceful and dignified rogue.”

She simply has ceased having anything in common with them. Thanks to her status and connection with Schelling, she has become more settled, collected, and, we must add, more refined. From her secure port, half like someone who has been rescued, half like someone who has been elevated, she now looks down at her former companions. She feels called to speak about the immorality and irreligiosity, about the lost innocence and sin of these people who externally are now acting so pious, or even, like Friedrich Schlegel, have sought peace in the womb of the one and only redeeming church.

She is doubtless correct with these statements, and certainly also in honorably separating her old friend Wilhelm out from the others. Although a bit of arrogance is indeed still discernible in all these remarks, it is no longer that of previous years, namely, that of a defiant heart abandoned to itself. She has now found her mainstay, as is appropriate for a woman, in a stronger man, and it is against that man that she now measures others. “In contrast how firm, how grounded in himself, how good, childlike, receptive, and totally dignified has my friend remained whose name I do not need to mention to you.”

Schelling meant that much to her. And he himself expressed what she meant to him. He recounts her death in letters to Luise Gotter and Philipp Michaelis. During a trip to Württemberg to visit Schelling’s parents, she was snatched away from life in Maulbronn on 7 September 1809 by the same illness to which her beloved daughter had once succumbed. “When one day it is time for me finally to close my eyes,” she had written many years before, “it will be with a soul that in its innermost reaches is both peaceful and calm.”

And according to Schelling’s account, thus did she genuinely depart this life. “She was,” the grief-stricken man writes, “a unique, singular being; one had to love her entirely or not at all. . . . Even had she not meant to me what she did, I as a human being would have to weep for her and grieve over the fact that this tour de force of spirit is no longer, this rare woman with such masculine greatness of soul, with the most |460| incisive intellect, united with the softness of the most feminine, most delicate, loving heart. Alas, nothing of that sort will ever appear again!”

The natural partiality of the man to whom she had so entirely devoted herself and who ultimately perceived “her entire being transformed into sweetness” cannot be our own. Surveying the entirety of her life, we in many instances must judge her more harshly, indeed even condemn her. One beautiful story from the gospels, however, has continually hovered before us — “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her!”

Indeed, we will not object should one or the other of our readers find that we resemble a bit too closely Odysseus bound to the mast, and that we, too, have been smitten by these intelligent, gentle eyes, the smiling mouth, and the generally charming features speaking to us from within the attached portrait.

But our judgment is most prominently tuned to leniency by the observation that her mistakes and faults were occasioned to a large extent by the overall moral disposition of the age itself, whose sensual-intellectual agitation resonated so deeply within her own interior. Our own age is utterly incapable of producing as rich and interesting a female personality as the one whom we have gotten to know in Caroline.

We should consider ourselves lucky, however, that our age has also rendered such moral developments as this impossible. As early as the days of the great War of Liberation, other duties and interests emerged for noble women than those deriving from participation in the poetic and philosophical culture of men.

The days in which we are now privileged to be living have a more sober and serious countenance. If our own age is exquisite, it is so as a result of labor and work, and by virtue of the discipline with which our dearest ideals have had to accommodate themselves to harsh reality. The most beautiful portion of the happiness and tasks of the present will today be enjoyed by those women who through calm and noble moderation, loyalty and simple perseverance, and domesticity and piety become the keepers of German discipline and morality.


[*] Original article: “Ein deutsches Frauenleben aus der Zeit unserer Litteraturblüthe,” in Preussische Jahrbücher 28 (1871) 457–506; reprinted in Gesammelte Aufsätze von Rudolf Haym, ed. Wilhelm Schrader (Berlin 1903) 408–60. All notes are my own (i.e., the editor’s) except note 16. Pagination according to the reprinted version in Haym’s Gesammelte Aufsätze. Back.

[1] Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben: In Briefen, 4 vols., ed. Ludwig Jonas and Wilhelm Dilthey (Berlin 1860–63). Back.

[2] Goethe, Torquato Tasso, in Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 6 (Leipzig 1790).

Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris. Ein Schauspiel, in Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 3 (Leipzig 1787), 1–136. Concerning the differences between Goethe’s version and the original by Euripides, see supplementary appendix 432a.1; for the original illustrations to this 1787 volume with Iphigenie, see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter and Wilhelmine Bertuch on 28 May 1784 (letter 41), note 8. Concerning Caroline’s special relationship with this play, see her letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 18 April 1808 (letter 432a), note 2. Back.

[3] Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Ein Roman, 4 vols. (Berlin 1795–96). Back.

[4] Lucinde. Ein Roman, part 1 (Berlin 1799); translation from Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis 1971) 92. Back.

[5] Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn (Breslau 1785). Back.

[6] Gott! Einige Gespräche (Gotha 1787). Back.

[7] Friedrich Ludwig Schröder: Beitrag zur Kunde des Menschen und des Künstlers, 2 vols. (Hamburg 1823). Back.

[8] Elise Campe, Erinnerungen. Back.

[9] A character in Lessing’s play Nathan der Weise: Ein dramatisches Gedicht in fünf Aufzügen (Berlin 1779). Back.

[9a] Both Georg Waitz, (1871), 1:383, and Erich Schmidt, (1913), 1:664, read “Waller” rather than “Walter” (Schmidt is presumably following Waitz’s reading). Back.

[10] Goethe, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Leipzig 1774; rev. ed. 1786); Torquato Tasso, in Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 6 (Leipzig 1790). Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Eduard Allwills Briefsammlung (Breslau 1781); Woldemar: eine Seltenheit aus der Naturgeschichte (Flensburg 1779). Back.

[11] Haym is citing from Tatter’s own letters to Meyer as cited in Elise Campe, Erinnerungen, 1:316, 318. Back.

[12] Georg Waitz, who was married to Schelling’s daughter Clara (from his second marriage, i.e., with Pauline Gotter). Back.

[13] Here Haym is drawing from letters Friedrich wrote to his brother Wilhelm. Back.

[14] This “Dutch Sophie” seems to have been Sophie Tischbein, wife of the portraitist Johann Friedrich August Tischbein. Back.

[15] Translation from Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis 1971) 91–92. Back.

[15a] In order: review of Condorcet’s Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit human. 1795, in Philosophisches Journal einer Gesellschaft Teutscher Gelehrten, ed. F. J. Niethammer, vol. 3, no. 2 (1795) 161–72, reprinted in Jugendschriften 2:50–56; KFSA 7:3–10; “Versuch über den Begriff des Republikanismus: Veranlasst durch die kantische Schrift zum ewigen Frieden,” in Deutschland 3 (1796) issue 7, no. 2:10–41, reprinted in Jugendschriften 2:57–71; KFSA 7:11–25.; “Georg Forster: Fragment einer Charakteristik der deutschen Klassiker,” in Lyceum der schönen Künste 1 (1797) part 1:32–78; KFSA 2:78–99; “Über die Diotima,” Die Griechen und Römer: Historische und kritische Versuche über das klassische Altertum (Neustrelitz 1797) 251–326; earlier in Berlinische Monatsschrift 26 (1795) July, no. 3, 30–64; August, no. 4, 154–86. Back.

[16] [Haym’s own footnote:] “This is one of the points in which the author of this present essay could not but wish to correct or complement his portrayal in Die romantische Schule (Berlin 1870) on the basis of Waitz’s publication. Although his own essay [Die romantische Schule] silently contains several such complementary additions, perhaps it may be permitted here to correct explicitly one specific, coarse error on p. 154 in the aforementioned work. A. W. Schlegel’s “Briefe über Poesie, Sylbenmaass und Sprache,” Die Horen (1795) vol., 4, 11:77–103; (1796) vol., 5, 1:54–74; 2:56–73, cannot have been written under the impression of Schiller’s treatise “Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung,” as stated there, since the first two letters of the former appeared simultaneously with the first section of Schiller’s treatise [editor’s note: “Ueber das Naïve,” Die Horen (1795) vol. 4, issue 11:43–76; the second part of Schiller’s essay was published as “Die sentimentalischen Dichter,” Die Horen (1795) vol. 4, issue 12:1–55; the third as “Beschluss der Abhandlung über naive und sentimentalische Dichter, nebst einigen Bemerkungen einen charakteristischen Unterschied unter den Menschen betreffend,” Die Horen vol. 5, issue 1:75–122; all three parts were then published together under the collective title in Schiller’s Kleinere Prosaische Schriften, vol. 2 (Leipzig 1800) 1–116]. The same expert critic [editor’s note: Michael Bernays] who brought the author’s attention to this point also pointed out that A. W. Schlegel’s review “Ueber Bürgers hohes Lied” (Die Romantische Schule, 869) appeared in Neues deutsches Museum 2 (1790) issue 2 (February) 205–14; issue 3 (March) 306–48. That “Marburg” should be read for “Koburg” on p. 871 hardly need be mentioned. Back.

[17] Wilhelm Julius Böhmer (Krantz), the child Caroline left behind in foster care in Lucka, died in April 1795. Back.

[18] 3 vols. (Leipzig 1869–70). Back.

[19] In Athenaeum (1799) 313–16; Müller’s letters had originally appeared in Deutsches Magazin (1798–1800). Back.

[20] “Litterarischer Reichsanzeiger oder Archiv der Zeit und ihres Geschmacks,” Athenaeum (1799) 328–40. Back.

[21] Sämmtliche Werke, 12 vols. (Leipzig 1846–47). Back.

[22] “Mode-Romane. Lafontaine 1798,” Athenaeum (1798) 149–67. Back.

[23] Athenaeum (1799) 39–151. Back.

[24] To Wilhelm Schlegel on 1 July 1797 (letter 182a). Back.

[25] “Tell Goethe on occasion that Madame Lucifer is doing him the honor of letting people know, in a modest way, that he is to be reckoned among the number of her quiet admirers. He will no doubt be not a little delighted with this distinction” (11 March 1804). Back.

[26] Premiered in Weimar on 2 January 1802; published in Hamburg 1803. Back.

[27] Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen für den Theater-Präsidenten von Kotzebue bei seiner gehofften Rückkehr in’s Vaterland. Mit Musik. Gedruckt zu Anfange des neuen Jahrhunderts (Braunschweig 1801); reprinted in Sämmtliche Werke 2:257–342 + 4 pages of musical score. Back.

[28] In the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802, ed. Wilhelm Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck (Tübingen 1802) 243–50. Back.

[29] In the Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1802) 7 (16 January 1802), though a whole series of exchanges between her and Schelling, on the one side, and Wilhelm (or someone prompted by him), on the other, ensued. For a complete listing of these exchanges and their bibliographical information, see the project bibliography. Back.

[30] KFSA 25:606n27 points out that although it is unclear what fate Wilhelm had lamented to Friedrich (the letters being lost), it probably did not concern his relationship with Caroline. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott