Wilhelm Scherer 1871/74

Wilhelm Scherer
Vorträge und Aufsätze zur Geschichte
des geistigen Lebens in Deutschland und Oesterreich
, 356–72. Berlin 1874
(originally appeared in the Viennese periodical
Die Presse, vol. 24, no. 164 (15 June 1871), 1–4) [*]


|356| Caroline is the title of a recently published book edited by Georg Waitz, [1] one the following lines would like to entice my own readers to read. Anyone interested in the literary scene and literary factions in Germany at the end of the previous and the beginning of the present century will draw a wealth of information from these volumes, and will encounter the story of a woman one cannot follow without being profoundly moved.

The heroine of this book — a book offering not a biography, but rather merely the material for such in the form of a rich correspondence — is Caroline Schelling, divorced Schlegel, widowed Böhmer, née Michaelis, who died in 1809 at the age of forty-six.

The daughter of the renowned Göttingen scholar of Near Eastern studies [Johann David Michaelis] and raised amid the professorial milieu in that university city, she then married the physician Franz Wilhelm Böhmer, whom she lost through death after four years of externally relatively untroubled, though not personally very satisfying (at least for her) marriage in a rural town in the Harz Mountains. The intelligent young widow then spent several years, albeit in vain, seeking a firm foothold in life. These years included cordial contact with August Wilhelm Schlegel, who passionately adored her — a marriage proposal from a respected clergyman — a confused love relationship with a certain Georg Ernst Tatter — a period in Mainz |357| amid the storms of revolution, storms in which she herself was alleged to have participated — friendship with Georg Forster — and finally imprisonment in the fortress at Königstein. This enumeration approximately describes the years of learning and apprenticeship of this remarkable woman, years that finally, through her marriage to Wilhelm Schlegel, found at least a provisional conclusion until this tie, too, was sundered by mutual agreement, whereupon this woman, having been thus cast about for so many years, attained late but profound and gratefully acknowledged happiness in the arms of Schelling, a man twelve years her junior.

Of course, the life path this woman had traversed was anything but normal, nor could Caroline escape the fate for which any woman must be prepared who stray so far from the thoroughfare of normalcy. That notwithstanding, she was nonetheless condemned all too precipitately. One too easily forgets that there is no fixed standard in moral matters, and that temperament, natural inclination, individual disposition and life circumstances, as well as the general moral views of an age must necessarily be taken into account if one is to render a pure and just judgment in such matters. Who can possibly claim to predict all the puzzling wrong turns taken by the human heart and then predict once and for all the precise course that heart must invariably take? The lives of remarkable people invariably present more than merely a single tangled psychological knot that we simply cannot untie and whose impenetrable mystery we simply must acknowledge. But are we then permitted to condemn rashly merely because do not understand everything before us?

Perhaps Caroline might have been forgiven her extraordinary strokes of fate. Her contemporaries, at least, were less severe in this regard. She was, however, an extraordinarily charming woman, possessing that captivating element of grace and softness, that charming admixture of intelligence, animation, wit, and feeling, and that particular overall harmonious disposition that seems to breathe love and indeed demand love — albeit not intentionally, nor through calculation, but rather simply as her innermost nature; she can be no other way; she is unaffected, naive, open, truthful, possessing something of that “abandon resulting from innocence” as Goethe once refers to it [2] and which exerts such an irresistible power over the male heart.

Such women are invariably surrounded by a circle of distinguished |358| men all of whom more or less seem to be enraptured and beguiled by her. Reason enough for such women to be hated by other women who believe they, too, might lay claim to as much intellect and charm, yet without being celebrated to the same extent. “Such charm and attraction! Something must be amiss, some sort of false, impermissible arts cannot but be at work.” Such the manner in which public opinion emerges, whereupon slander then enjoys a broad realm of free play.

Thus also, for all practical purposes, Caroline’s own experience. The ladies for whom she represents competition wish her ill, the attendant men and admirers must sing the same song, and in letters even the opinion of those at a distance is guided in the same direction. Such letters then once more find the light of day through publications among posterity, and our own literary history, obsessed with detail as it is, turns itself into an echo of earlier gossip. And thus does it happen that our picture of Caroline becomes increasingly obscure the better informed we think we are. And this diminutive, dainty woman ultimately turns into a demonic being, a goblin that spreads discord, a Dame Lucifer who disrupts and ruins all the relationship within her sphere, a kind of “evil genius” of the Romantic school.

Sitting here having read the aforementioned edition of letters, one is tempted to take on the role of knight protector of this harshly impugned lady over against the most recent portrayals of Romanticism, and to write one of those “rescues” that are so in vogue just now. My feeling, however, is that the edition itself provides the best rescue. One regrets only that it does not throw sufficient light on every issue regarding Caroline’s more personal, intimate life. “I could understand,” Caroline once writes, “how one might leave behind to one’s children and even to those who come after us certain materials documenting the confusing events of one’s life, that is, as an experience that might interest humanity as such. Only when names and persons are no longer pertinent does such material really appear in its true light.” In this respect, the present edition leaves much to be desired; although events are not always clear, Caroline’s character becomes perfectly vivid, emerging everywhere as attesting a grandly, freely, nobly disposed nature. No careful reader can avoid this impression, and the previously mentioned literary historians will surely seize the opportunity |359| to apologize to this amiable and charming woman for the ungallant judgments they have passed on her.

There is in any event an excessive inclination to cling to biographical details that, though perhaps highly instructive and interesting in and of themselves, nonetheless contribute little to the primary matter at hand. Even were everything rumored about Caroline true, the core of her personality would remain essentially untouched. To me, the most important consideration seems to be what a person is and accomplishes. The memory of distinguished men throughout history is not determined by their private lives, that is, not by their having been upright family men, good husbands, or amiable colleagues, but rather by what they accomplished for the state, the fatherland, for science and art, indeed, for all humanity. The sphere of activity of women, by contrast, is generally much more narrowly circumscribed, and their remembrance in history generally derives solely through what they meant for distinguished men. Frau von Stein will remain unforgettable for the German people because of how much Goethe owed to her, and the indiscreet curiosity that would intrude into the real nature of the relationship between the poet and his adored lady friend, or even eavesdrop on the most intimate of their moments together, has precious little to do with any just historical assessment. And so also in Caroline’s case, the most important consideration is what Wilhelm Schlegel and Schelling owed to her. The blessing she left behind in the hearts of her husbands is an ineradicable, meritorious service she performed for them and thereby indirectly also for Germany’s intellectual life. And who can judge such better than these men themselves?

Some three months after her death, Schelling writes: “The further away from me she moves, the more vividly do I feel her loss. She was a unique, singular being; one had to love her entirely or not at all. To the very end, she maintained this power to address the heart at its very core. We were united by the most sacred of bonds, remaining loyal within the most extreme grief and the most profound misfortune — all those wounds have begun bleeding anew since she has been torn from my side. 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 |360| most incisive intellect, united with the softness of the most feminine, most delicate, loving heart. Alas, nothing of that sort will ever appear again!”

Caroline Schelling was a proper scholar’s wife, not as such are usually found, but as they should be.

Scholarly pursuit understood as a life vocation always runs the risk of grim, one-sided doggedness, of business-like restrictedness and dull insularity within a narrow circle solely with oneself. Here a woman must be a sort of reverse Circe [Odyssey 10:210f.] who in each case transforms the scholarly herd animals back into human beings. Caroline was intensely conscious of this function. Just as she was enormously fearful of seeing herself sink down into a philistine existence, so also did she understand how to keep others from doing so. “What a miserable life scholars lead,” she writes her brother Philipp, “oh, endeavor to the very end of your days to maintain a sense for the wide open world, for that is our ultimate happiness.” The great fountains of youth of humankind are nature and art; just as according to mythological understanding the sun immerses itself daily in the ocean, so also ought we immerse ourselves in what is beautiful, that we might thereby derive energy and freedom for our soul alongside our more narrowly circumscribed activities.

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

As intensely as Caroline nourished within herself the most vigorous feeling of independence, and as intensely as she was able to give to those whom she loved, just as intense and great was her capacity to receive in her own turn, and just as wondrous her talent for human closeness and intimacy. She possessed an incredible elasticity of mind and spirit with which she seized everything of significance that entered her sphere. “Nothing good and great was too sacred or too common for her to take a passionate interest in,” Friedrich Schlegel says. And thus in fiery passion did she experience the political revolution in Mainz, and thus also the Romantics’ own revolution against the ancien régime of the previous century in literature. She participated in Wilhelm Schlegel’s work on Shakespeare, |361| in the literary reviews of the allied friends of the group, and threw herself hungrily into the world of ideas of Schelling’s philosophy of nature — also producing this or that for publication, though always only when urged by someone else, or for a specific occasion, perhaps to please Schlegel, but wholly without personal literary pretensions. Although according to Wilhelm Schlegel’s own assessment she possessed all the talent to shine as an author, her own ambition was not so disposed. She did not feel naturally inclined to transcend the boundaries of quiet domesticity. And she did indeed lack genuinely original creative powers. She did, however, possess something of the receptive genius of the sort that also dwelled in Wilhelm Schlegel, the incomparable translator, reviewer, and literary historian. She herself, however, perceived such as a lack, referring to it in one letter to her brother as a family weakness “to assimilate a great deal and then, after coming up with a few ideas of one’s own, to dispense with it.”

And yet precisely this talent — what a stroke of good fortune for a man who, like Schelling, was wrestling with the most serious, profound problems, that his companion is capable of following him into the most distant conceptual regions, that he in his own turn is able to initiate her into the mysteries of the most abstract speculation, that his own ideas resonate back from her in a kind of new clarity, and that he receives back — with interest — what he donated to her from the treasures and wealth of his ideas.

Caroline was blessed with an extraordinary capacity for the quick feminine glance, for simple, straightforward understanding, and for steadfast, unswerving judgment. “I sensed the superiority of her understanding over my own quite early indeed,” her brother-in-law Friedrich Schlegel recounts. The clear disposition of a naturally serene, active, well-articulated personality and nature emerges sometimes with astonishing clarity even in the letters written during her youth. “Reflection is completely futile here,” with these words she tears herself away from a certain religious reflection, “it merely confuses our thinking, and confused thinking disheartens us.” And on another occasion she describes how she must always have a plan, whether in the larger or the smaller sense: “I cannot bear to knit even a single stitch without both the enthusiasm and the genuine anticipation of actually finishing the project and afterward being able to think, ‘I really have accomplished something’ . . . If I am without purpose, I am like those who are accustomed |362| to lacing themselves up from sunrise to sunset and who without their stays do not quite know what to do with their body. If I am then plagued with the additional thorn in the flesh of intending to do something I do not particularly like, and which I do not really have the power to coerce . . . then I am but a miserable creature who indifferently sees the morning light peeking through the curtains and then in the evening goes to bed unsatisfied by the day.”

Her high intellect and sense of understanding, however, never come to expression in any obtrusive fashion, nor stiffly or pedantically, remaining instead perpetually pliable, delicate, beautiful. Her charming, lovely letters wind their way like light, graceful arabesques through the serious literary business of the men around her. She accompanies the weighty chords of Schellingian philosophemes as if with the brightly intelligent, witty figures of sweetly rapturous music.

It is as if she was made for sociality, albeit less for the more boisterous type associated with large gatherings in which all-too-many boring, insignificant people demand uniform civility and attentiveness, than for the more modest variety found around an intimate tea circle with a few good friends, around whom she could simply be herself and let her radiant conversational gifts emerge in an easy, unconstrained manner. And she spoke beautifully. She was like the young lady in the fairy tale from whose mouth a rose falls with each word she speaks. “She enveloped everything in tenderness and wit; she had a feeling for everything, and everything emerged transfigured out of her shaping hand or her sweetly speaking lips. . . . She understood every allusion and answered those questions, too, which had not been asked. . . . No sphere of lively conversation was alien to her. . . . In one and the same hour she could mimic some comic nonsense with all the playfulness and subtlety of a trained actress, and could read a sublime poem with the ravishing nobility of an artless song.” [3]

And yet despite these social talents, despite the attention accorded her in surfeit, how utterly unspoiled she is, how unpretentiously and modestly does she stand beside her husband, how zealously does she provide him with secretarial services, how willingly does she accommodate herself to his engagements, how good-naturedly does she withdraw when scholarship will not turn him loose. Thus does she once excuse Schelling’s absence to a friend with the words, “For I myself have not seen him for eight days now |363| except when he has come downstairs to eat and in the process also hastily taken note of the latest news of victory; I myself have often stood before his closed door with all sorts of things to discuss, but, alas, Baal was deaf, and I soon began simply telling myself: Baal is putting pen to paper. Hence let us allow him to continue to do so . . . ”

Am I not now justified in saying that she was the ideal of a German scholar’s wife?

For I must also add that she is an assiduous, practical, precise housewife as well, one who knows quite well how to take care of the physical aspects of life; she is a extremely skilled housewife who understands how to endure gracefully, to ignore, or to rebuff the strict master’s moods; she is also a good daughter and sister, a reliable lady friend, and an excellent mother. With what rapturous love does she cling to Auguste Böhmer, her only daughter. And how the entire world is altered from the very moment she loses this daughter. One immediately senses that a wound has been opened that can never fully heal. Thoughts of this charming deceased girl will now constitute the quiet, sad background of her entire life.

During her youth, Caroline stands before us as a magnificent image of energy, self-awareness, freshness, and courage in the face of life, “neither beautiful nor modest — but good, proud, and natural,” as she herself describes herself. How untroubled does she go about in the world, “this godless little woman, the coquettish young widow”; for such things genuinely are said about her, and yet it is in great fun that she relates such to her friends. And how charmingly does she joke about her own thoughtlessness: “I am hopeful of committing similarly ill-considered mistakes in my 80th year should I not be so fortunate as to die before my 40th.” How lustily does she pursue life itself: “Happiness consists only in moments; There is nothing I am less inclined to pardon than not being happy — nor will the time ever come when I would not thoroughly enjoy whatever pleasure might offer itself to me.” And how securely, inwardly anchored must a person be who could say, “I fear 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. . . . |364| 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.”

Of course, things sound quite different when during the same year Auguste died she writes to Wilhelm Schlegel from Jena, whither she had just returned: “I am happy just to have made it through the initial stage here, and for the future will be calmly relying on your friendship and on the quiet power of my own good disposition. These two together will, I am sure, be able to reestablish something, to construct a small hut among the ruins of former splendor. Oh, my friend, how often have I built and then torn down again. These are now the final branches, the branches of a weeping willow that I will weave together above my head that I might await the evening in their shade.”

The earlier tone of teasing bantering and humorous portrayal now disappears almost entirely from her letters. Although she is a considerably changed woman, the fundamental traits of truthfulness, strength of character, and goodness of heart remain.

From what we have now seen of Caroline, might anyone yet raise the question of whether she was capable of writing nice letters? The most charming in all the world! The editor of this present collection [Georg Waitz] is utterly justified in saying that “Caroline’s letters as such can claim a rightful place in our literature.” They are not merely important as a historical source, they are also true gems of form, delicate specimens of unaffectedly chatty epistolary style, immediate reflections of an animated, inspired, significant personality that “writes down so clearly and soulfully what she conceived as if she were carrying on a conversation.” [4]

It is unfortunate that the editor left out “insignificant material,” as he puts it. Does such definitely include nothing more than what anyone would be willing to forego were he already familiar with it? The taste of an editor need not necessarily be that of his readers. Women of this sort tend to write so charmingly precisely about wholly insignificant things that readers become interested in every sock and every children’s bonnet. Whereas there are people who should really offer only “rays of light,” people in whose letters and other creations entire pages seem to exist solely to illustrate a |365| single beautiful passage — in the case of a different sort of person, namely, those truly harmonious beings of which Caroline was one, one cannot really eliminate anything that flows from her quill; although there are basically no so-called “beautiful passages” to be found, and although we are hardly conscious of details, the whole is absolutely enchanting.

I would be very pleased indeed were I to find some of these lacunae filled out in a new edition. And perhaps one might also offer a facsimile of Caroline’s handwriting, something I at least am reluctant to do without.

Volume 1 is adorned by a picture of Auguste Böhmer exhibiting that particular element of “delicate, inwardly directed femininity” attributed to her by her contemporaries. [5] A picture of Caroline herself delights us at the beginning of volume 2. A remarkable, wondrous countenance, albeit lacking regular beauty and with a rather unhandsome nose that is too broad and a mouth perhaps too large. But what goodness and understanding flash from her eyes, what mischievousness plays about her mouth, what clarity is discernable on her exposed forehead. The motto framing these features seems to be: Frank and open.”

The color of her eyes was blue, as we happen to read in one letter in which she calls herself the blue-eyed Caroline, desiring then, like blue-eyed Pallas Athena alongside the Homeric heroes, to stand alongside Wilhelm Schlegel, “invisible, and place divine utterances into your mouth.” That I know nothing more precise about her figure and gait does grieve me somewhat. But when I read how Friedrich Schlegel jokes with her — to her face — about “such a small, delicate, fragile, frivolous woman so colossally in love,” I can imagine only a delicate, supple figure with a light, sure, elastic gait . . .

But alas! that these sweetly speaking lips have gone silent forever! And yet it seems, when I am immersed in these letters, that I can almost hear the words spoken aloud by a soft, melodic voice — indeed, it is just as Friedrich Schlegel says, one can almost see the exchange of glances and her own slight change of expression. The entire irresistible magic of her rich, beautiful personality comes to expression once more through the medium of the written word; I at least must confess that I have wholly succumbed to it. It seized me as if she had died to me when I read Schelling’s account |366| of her death: “Her final days were quiet; she had no sense either of the power of the illness itself or of the approach of death. She died just as she had always wished. During the final evening, she felt light and cheerful; all the beauty of her loving soul opened up one final time. The perpetually beautiful lilt of her speech turned into music. Her spirit already seemed as it were to be free of her body, hovering over it as if over the husk that it would soon be leaving forever. She passed away on the morning of 7 September, gently, without struggle. Nor did her grace abandon her even in death; when she was dead, she lay there with her head turned in the most charming, peaceful fashion, an expression of serene and magnificent peace on her face.”

15 June 1871


When I wrote the preceding lines, I was yet unaware of the egregiously compromising things that happened during Caroline’s time in Mainz, things Waitz related to me later and which Rudolf Haym made generally public in his article “Ein deutsches Frauenleben aus der Zeit unserer Litteraturblüthe” (Preussische Jahrbücher 28 [1871]). I had initially thought we were to reproach her for a moment of weakness toward a man whom she loved but who then faithlessly abandoned and withdrew from her. I did not know that this magnificent woman had become the spoils of some arbitrary Frenchman. My initial reaction on learning this was anger and indignation of the sort one feels when a sublime work of art has been defaced — “Abominable! Unpardonable!” I had no other words for it.

No palliation, no excuses can help now. One will certainly allow the mitigating circumstances adduced by Haym to stand, and certainly acknowledge that we would have to learn all the details before determining the degree of culpability. The accusation as such, however, remains untouched by such considerations. No one can deny it, no one do away with it. The brutal fact is of ineradicable ugliness. Caroline herself could have recalled her desolate time in Mainz only with embarrassed, awkward feelings.

|367| Were a drink from the waters of Lethe to be granted to human beings that they might, according to their own choice, deliver over to forgetful oblivion part of their deeds and experiences forever — perhaps they would nonetheless stand there irresolute, not knowing whether it would be more difficult to part with their past sufferings or their vanished joys. The only thing each of us would be pleased to get rid of, without reserve and in the most resolute haste, would be the recollection of those moments in which we did something unworthy of ourselves.

Such forgetting could not but be like falling asleep or drowning. The waves engulf us, surround us, pull us down into the depths, and finally all is calm.

For some people, life is a struggle not for existence, but rather for sleep, and morally perhaps a struggle for forgetting. To some people, however, nature herself willingly grants both. It is possible, indeed, even quite probable, that Caroline possessed that particular weakness of memory often found in extremely elastic feminine natures, who, like water nixes, rise up from the depths of the lake, cast off all the grass and reeds and mud and vegetation clinging to them, and then push their radiant limbs forward once more through the clear-blue waves as if young and reborn. Caroline lived in the present, completely absorbed in it, and perhaps she was able to view her past as if it had not been hers at all, or as the fate of a stranger. No one, however, can completely forget such experiences. And in those moments when her memory did completely revive, when all the nasty mud through which she had had to pass and into which she herself descended, once again oppressed and confined her imagination — I am convinced that her cheeks reddened with profound shame. And even if she likely did not particularly believe in the efficacy of remorse and tried to view the past as lightly and brightly as possible (and I do trust she was capable of such) — she doubtless did everything she could to ensure that this harsh dissonance resonated as little as possible within her soul. But that dissonance as such did doubtless resonate within her, and the recollection was doubtless repugnant to her.

That notwithstanding, I am not at all ashamed of the sincere enchantment the existence of this woman elicited in me, and I remain firm with respect to the enthusiastic words published above.

|368| There are those who, with an air of superiority, have mockingly pointed out that, sixty years after her death, Caroline has still been able to turn the heads of certain German professors. All the better for those German professors! One is wont, and not without some justification, to accuse them of a certain narrow-mindedness and Philistinism in moral matters. How wonderful if Caroline has been able to ease some of that severity. I envy no one the robust virtuousness that without further ado places Schelling’s adored spouse on the same level as the next streetwalker. Nor, however, do I challenge the moral judgment passed on this singular woman, though by nature I am inclined sooner to forgive than to condemn. But I will declare openly that it seems rather crude to me to measure the value of a woman such as this solely according to the sixth commandment, and for everything she otherwise was and did to be extinguished simply because on one single occasion in her life she incurred disgrace through irresponsible thoughtlessness. It seems not entirely inappropriate that we, too, might view her to a certain extent through the eyes of Schelling or Louise Gotter.

Have we really already sunk so far that we take mere correctness to be the highest good? Have we forgotten that beautiful humaneness is the blossom of all morality? What good do all the correct women of the world do us if they do not enhance our joy in existence? In the confessional and according to the catechism, it is a matter of utter indifference whether a woman is beautiful or ugly; is it also a matter of indifference for life and for a higher morality, for the rich, free, energetic development of all noble humanity in a person? Would we really be willing to surrender up even a single perfect love song, one inspired or written perhaps amid the most unbridled passion, merely to turn its poet into a blameless, correct confirmed bachelor or husband?

Such questions, however, are of only secondary importance. I do not feel called to be Caroline’s advocate. My enthusiasm was and continues to be directed not toward the individual, not this individual, specific Caroline, but rather toward the idea incarnated in her.

If during the tumultuous Paris Commune the nose of Venus de Milo had been knocked off, would she be any less Venus de Milo for it? |369| Would the artist who created her then have less right to anticipate the gratitude and admiration of posterity? As far as the guilt is concerned through which Caroline herself distorted her own life, I view it wholly as just such a mutilation. But now as before I continue to admire the magnificent image of the human being that is thereby distorted, and remain grateful to creative nature for having produced such a miraculous piece of work.

Language sometimes forces — or at least seduces — even contemporary human beings into engaging in a sort of mythology. I have spoken about the idea that appeared in Caroline. I am not referring to anything transcending the facts of reality, and yet I do mean something similar to the Platonic idea. Today it is more common for us to speak about “types.” We collect the dispersed forms of character that seem to be repeated, each of which exhibits some tropism or other; we can complement, correct, expand, and delineate them all each through the others, thereby acquiring a kind of ideal image of the “type,” albeit one never encountered in its wholly perfect form in reality and yet one to which the forms of the real world more or less approximate. Life often places a given individual at a certain remove from the purity of the type. The child promises more than the developed individual delivers.

Caroline is the most perfect realization of the type to which she belongs. This particular type, however, this wondrous admixture of captivating and seductive character traits, seems almost inextricably tied to a certain weakness.

Caroline was definitely one of those woman who need masculine guidance, who need a genuine, strong, superior man standing alongside them. When they do not have such a man, when they are left to themselves, their weakness and fanciful excitability are capable of virtually anything, including that which is woefully wrong. Frau Böhmer and Frau Schelling: with what might one reproach them? But Widow Böhmer and Frau Schlegel: they unfortunately found themselves in precisely this lamentable situation, without guidance and without protection.

Hence if a certain, not merely physical fragility belongs to this particular type, and if such also inhered in Caroline herself and indeed managed to blemish her life: should such prevent us from admiring the idea that appears in her? Should we not rather |370| seek to preserve our joy in all those character traits we can extract from her accidental earthly personality that we might behold in them a piece of perfect womanliness?

And were we to sketch an ideal image of our people, if we were to survey what rich moral productivity such an ideal image is capable of developing, and how many different character types it has already produced, it does seem to me that as far as aesthetic perfection is concerned, then among female types we will find that particular type at the pinnacle that Caroline herself most perfectly represents.

13 June 1874


We will eventually doubtless encounter Caroline being abused as the protagonist of some bad novel. She herself found that she had already become the subject of a bad play.

The play bears the title Die Mainzer Klubbisten zu Königstein, oder Die Weiber decken einander die Schanden auf: Ein tragi-komisches Schauspiel in einem Aufzuge [“The Mainz Clubbists in Königstein, or How the Women Exposed One Another’s Shame: A Tragicomic Play in One Act”] (n.p. 1793), 32 pages, small 8vo. [6]

One need go no further than the dramatis personae to be sufficiently informed concerning this absurd product. The list of characters reads verbatim:

Citizen Madam Böhmer, a widow who promises much and delivers little.
Citizen Madam Forkel, day laborer in the English translation factory of Citizen Forster, Deputy in the Mainz National Convention.
Citizen Madam Essbeck, formerly of the nobility, now Club lector.
Citizen Madam Wehdekind, mother of the great arch-citizen Wehdekind.
Citizen Madam Wehdekind, wife of arch-citizen Wehdekind.
Aloysius Franziskus Xaverius Ignatius Loyola Blau, professor of democratic dogmatics in Mainz.
Arnsperger, unbridled chaplain in Kassel, young bull in Bingen (see p.30, where Reit says to him, “They should have made you the young bull [Germ. Farren] rather than the pastor [Pfarrer] of Bingen.”)
Scheuer, police commissioner and proclamation herald in Mainz.
Reit, duodecimo scholar from Mainz
Arand, the most learned pastor in the locale nearest Mainz, Nackenheim, regens and wine merchant in the seminary, pastor in Kristoph, Doctor baccal, Biblic. Stultiss. formatus & bombasticus, real auxiliary bishop, archbishop in petto.
The commandant of Königstein.

There is not much at all to the story. The commandant grants the clubbists incarcerated in Königstein permission to gather for tea in his quarters, just as they were wont to do at the Forsters. Once there, however, each enumerates the former sins of the other until the commandant has enough and has the guard take them away.

The first scene takes place in the room of Madam Citizen Böhmer. For scandal mongers lacking spoils, this portrayal, too — one deriving naturally enough from a raging adversary — still relates that Caroline was considered the most significant woman in this revolutionary circle alongside Therese Forster. And yet the author does treat her with relative respect, for even in this inferior satire she remains lively and animated, and only in what she says does one discern any revolutionary pathos.

As one can clearly conclude here, the general public knew nothing about the truly horrific situation in which she found herself at the time, since the author, whose cynicism-laced polemic leaves little to be desired, would hardly have deprived himself of the opportunity of introducing so promising a theme [sc. as Caroline’s pregnancy].

The author has Frau Forkel, Caroline’s housemate in Mainz, present the severest reproaches he has in store for Caroline, namely, that she allegedly incited Georg Forster against his own wife after the latter’s departure: “Your intent, however, was to ensnare Forster in your own net, to make him your husband, to move to Paris with him — who had long dreamed of nothing else and whom perhaps this plan alone might have made into a true democrat — as deputy of the Mainz national convention, and then to play the important, grand, learned lady both there and in Mainz, and — .”

At this point, Madam Citizen Böhmer interrupts Frau Forkel: “I have listened to your insults long enough and with as much composure as possible. If ever I did have a certain weakness for Forster, |372| I could certainly be excused for it; — I am a widow, with no attachments whatsoever” etc.

Madam Citizen Forkel in her own turn now calls her “a lying, ambitious, false, wicked creature whose democracy is in fact not so very pure at all, having instead arrogance as its source; indeed, if the nobility had paid but even a little attention to you, it never would have occurred to you to take up that cause.”

Concerning Therese, Madam Citizen Böhmer says that “it was she who, with her own fire, electrified Forster himself, who, amiable and weak, initially shrank back from the French atrocities and accordingly also from capitulation. [7] And so what at first was a rather trivial matter yielded the grandest, most useful action any person can engage in, namely, democratic proselytizing.”

As one can see, there is nothing to be learned here. The author is so unskilled that he allows persons to fall out of character in the most crass fashion. We will leave it to others, should such be worth the effort, to determine the extent to which this pamphlet might otherwise illuminate the sad, confused story in Mainz.


[*] Pagination according to Vorträge und Aufsätze. Back.

[1] 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., ed. Georg Waitz, 2 vols (Leipzig: Hirzel 1871). Back.

[2] Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and Travels (here: Wilhelm Meister’s Travels: or The Renunciants), trans. Thomas Carlyle, 2 vols. (Chicago 1890) 2:411. Back.

[3] Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis 1971) 92, albeit as a pastiche here in Scherer’s rendering rather than in the order found in the text itself; moreover, Scherer added the sentence “No sphere of lively conversation was alien to her,” which is not found in Lucinde. Back.

[4] Scherer here conflates material from Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde; the original passage reads (Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, 93): “When one read her letters — which she conceived as if she were carrying on a conversation — one could almost see those changes of expression, so clearly and soulfully did she write.” Back.

[5] The physician Adalbert Friedrich Marcus in a letter to Caroline on 10 December 1801 (letter 335b). Concerning the portraits in Waitz’s and other editions, see the portraits gallery on this site. Back.

[6] A translation of this play is included on this site. Back.

[7] Whereas Scherer reads “capitulation,” the edition Die Mainzer Klubbisten zu Königstein, oder Die Weiber decken einander die Schanden auf, Deutsche Litteratur-Pasquille, ed. Dr. Franz Blei, Viertes Stück (Leipzig 1907) 12, reads “constitution.” Although I have not seen an original edition of the play, Scherer obviously had, and my editorial inclination is to follow his reading, not least because contextually it seems more cogent (Forster is apprehensive about the capitulation of Mainz having heard about French atrocities). Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott