Caroline’s Reviews of Nathan the Wise (travesty) and Wilhelm Calezki

Caroline’s Reviews of Nathan the Wise (travesty) and Wilhelm Calezki’s Poems [*]

(1) Caroline’s Review of
Nathan der Weise. Schauspiel von Lessing.
Travestirt und modernisirt in fünf Aufzügen

Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung
(1805) 65 (18 March 1805), 519–20

Berlin und Wien, [1] bei Nathan und Comp.: Nathan der Weise. Schauspiel von Lessing. Travestirt und modernisirt in fünf Aufzügen. 1804. 96 pages. 8vo. (6 gr.). [2]

The genus of travesty authors is proliferating such that one is not easily inclined to expect more from new attempts in this genre than from the most recent preceding ones. The inferiority of this particular attempt, however, surpasses even modest expectations of that sort. It is a satire without spice and without sense, without merriment and without object; or at least it is difficult to discern such. One can at least say with some certainty that its intentions are political rather than literary. Saladin’s role is that of the hero of the age; Recha’s role that of the image of the Mother of God, abducted from Loretto, displaced into life, boarded out with a wicked Jew, and rehabilitated by Saladin. The narrative of Nathan involves brothers in a religious order rather than in faith; Lessing is particularly abused as a dervish; Sittah even represents one of the imperial sisters, but there is simply no clear coherency anywhere except that of thoroughgoing dullness, to which we would also prefer to relegate this piece. [3]


(2) Caroline’s Review of
Wilhelm Calezki, Poetische Versuche.

Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung
(1805) 65 (18 March 1805), 520.

Without place or date of publication: [4] Poetische Versuche by Wilhelm Calezki. 192 pages. 8vo. (12 gr.). [5]


The only noteworthy thing about this modest collection, printed on gray paper and without place of publication, is its boldness, to wit, in dedicating such to Her Majesty the Queen of Prussia, as if the sun could transform these weeds into flowers. These attempts betray not even the authorship of a young student who might be committing his paltry views to a couple of printer’s sheets of rhymes, but far sooner an itinerant trade apprentice to whom the muses respond in his language, as he himself recounts:

Fall! [from Pegasus] what would come of it?
That you might appear an idle slacker etc. [6]



[*] Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1805) 65 (18 March 1805), 519–20; reprinted in “Caroline, Schelling, and the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, 34. The satirized play is Lessing’s Nathan der Weise: Ein dramatisches Gedicht in fünf Aufzügen (1779).

In the notes section to his publication “Caroline, Schelling, and the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung,” Erich Frank (54–55) provides the following preface to these first two reviews and the later one on Samuel Bürde (no. 4):

These reviews were received by the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung on 22 February 1805 as a kind of sample together with Caroline’s review of the journal Aurora. Only the review of the Aurora is not reprinted here, though it is still extant in Caroline’s literary estate (Waitz, [1871], 1:v,fn [ed. note: see Georg Waitz’s introduction in this edition]) and will likely be published in the anticipated edition of Caroline’s letters by Erich Schmidt, similarly also her review of Becker’s Erholungen (1806), which Schelling, however, seems not to have submitted at all [ed. note: Neither review was published in Erich Schmidt’s edition of 1913].

The background to the Aurora review is the following. Eichstädt sent it to Goethe in manuscript form with his letter of 8 May 1805 along with the already printed review of Varnhagen’s Musenalmanach [Frank footnote: unpublished in the Goethe-Archiv under “Eingegangene Briefe,” XLVII, 60 (see the introduction to Caroline’s reviews of the Berlin Romantics)]. Goethe did highly praise both reviews (Weimarer Ausgabe 4:5092), but wanted a review “from the same hand” of the journals Der Freimüthige and the Zeitung für die elegante Welt. Eichstädt passed Goethe’s wish along to Schelling and probably delayed the printing of the review of Aurora while waiting for these other reviews. [Frank footnote: As late as 8 January 1806, he encouraged Schelling to compose a review of Kotzebue’s journal Der Freimüthige: “I am not of the opinion that one ought to allow everything this shameless man does to go unpunished and unaddressed . . . I am convinced that were Lessing still alive, he would long have stepped on this serpent to prevent its poison from spreading any further and harming the incautious.” Schelling seems to have attempted precisely this in his review of Kotzebue’s novels.] Finally, however, it was too late. Given these considerations, no special additional demonstration is needed that Caroline authored these reviews. Back.

[1] Hamburg. Back.

[2] Erich Frank remarks (55):

The author of this parody is not known. A similar anonymous travesty appeared at about the same time by Julius von Voss with the title Der travestirte Nathan der Weise. Posse in zwei Akten mit Intermezzos, Chören, Tanz, gelehrtem Zweikampf, Mord und Todtschlag. Das Nachspiel ist der travesirte Alarkos, Berlin 1804. 8vo. With engravings (Johann Geog Meusel, Lexikon der von 1750 bis 1800 gestorbenen teutschen Schriftsteller, vol. 5 [Leipzig 1805], 557; and vol. 9 [Leipzig 1809], 274).



The travesty Caroline discusses is explicitly designated as being “without any murders!”

For more information see the Lexikon deutscher Dichter und Prosaisten, ed. Karl Heinrich Jördens, vol. 3: K–M (Leipzig 1808), 291–92. Back.

[3] The previoiusly mentioned Lexikon deutscher Dichter und Prosaisten, 292, cites a review of the same piece in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1806) 75 (Friday, 28 March 1806) 599–600 (which, oddly, lists the piece as having 72 rather than 96 pages):

Apart from a few quite funny ideas and successful verses, this reviewer at least could not really find much in this travesty. Nowhere is there any sense that the piece proceeds from a firm or specific sense of direction, nor do the heterogeneous parts exhibit any specific or characteristic elements among them. By contrast, there is all the more in the way of peculiar and nonsensical elements. Such include especially the notion of having Lessing himself appear as a dervish, and the incivility not only of having him speak much that is in quite poor taste, but also of placing his entire disposition and actions in an extremely disadvantageous light. One quickly guesses who Saladin is supposed to be, except that even in his portrayal, the features are in part simply wrong and in part already washed out and ineffectual simply by virtue of the time change. The conclusion is wholly unanticipated and as such thus more simply a dismissal of the reader than any real resolution or development, though where there is no real entanglement to begin with, such resolution cannot really be expected in any case. Back.

[4] Halle 1805. Back.

[5] Illustration from title page. — Although Erich Frank (55) was unaware of Wilhelm Calezki’s identity, Goedeke, vol. 7: Zeit des Weltkrieges (book 7, part 2) (Dresden 1900), 7:2:304, identifies Calezki as “from the area around Anhalt, a relative of Friedrich von Matthisson, whose manner he imitated.” Back.

[6] Caroline collates two stanzas here from Calezki’s original poem (“Antwort der Musen” [The muses’ response], the first poem in the collection), in which Calezki humbles himself before the muses and generally laments his unworthiness of their favor, being bold enough to kiss their garment but not their hand or, certainly their mouth. He does, however, entreat them to bestow on him a ride on the hippogriff (what Caroline calls Pegasus) that he might flee to Helicon, the mount where Apollo and the muses dwell. They, however, doubt he can handle the “untamed wild animal”:

You, however, would best leave him be, 
For you he prances far too vigorously
You would but from immeasurable heights
Fall — what would come of it?

That you would appear an idle slacker,
Hah! behold (thus would one whisper
in the other's ear) the bold rider!
How the fool now writhes in excrement!

The reference to “idle slacker” derives from one of the fairy tales of Johann Jakob Grimmelshausen (1622–76), Der erst Bärenhäuter (1670) (also treated later by Achim von Arnim, Clemens Brentano, and in volume 3 of the Grimm brothers’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen), the word being Bärenhäuter, “bear skinner”: “this [the bearskin] is to be your cloak, and on it you must also sleep, and are not permitted to lie down in any bed. And because of this clothing you are to be called Bärenhäuter” (Kinder- und Hausmärchen, vol. 2, 5th ed. [Göttingen 1843], 95); the word also came to mean “idle slacker; indolent fellow” (see also Germ. Faulpelz). The story: After a war, a soldier with nowhere to go and no means to support himself enters into a pact with the devil, agreeing to wear the skin of a bear for seven years, not to wash, not to cut his fingernails, etc., in return for which he is assured of always having enough money. At the end of the seven years, the soldier wins as his wife the youngest daughter of a poor man whom he has helped. Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott