Letter 111a

111a. Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Amsterdam: Leipzig, January 1792 [*]

[Leipzig, January 1792]

In the long interim between your next-to-last and last letters, I was in constant anticipation — and precisely that anticipation kept me from writing. For I could not possibly write about indifferent things beforehand. Now, finally, the anticipated letter has arrived with a new demonstration of your unconditional trust. This demands a response — let me give you my frank opinion concerning everything to the extent it can be helpful. If I nonetheless do not view the matter from the right perspective, the reason is that you are still treating me as only a semi-confidant.

First and foremost let me ask that you not take my last letter the wrong way, as if it was based only on selfish considerations. It was based entirely on the suspicion that your negotiations there would not be resolved to your satisfaction; this suspicion was based on several statements from letters from Hannover that I took too seriously. —

In this case, let me repeat my request, and any hindrances possibly impeding our contact will be immediately eliminated. I leave it to the tenderness of the woman to mislead her friend, out of self-interest, into taking a risky step — indeed, she [1] can do even more, she can, through all her arts, seduce him into acting such that the very nature of her friend will thereby be utterly and unavoidably dishonored. —

And yet she herself says quite correctly that a man can make any sacrifice to love except one — his feeling of self-worth — to which he may make any sacrifice or, in reality, none. And thus did you show yourself; and I believe she must respect you even more for it though she might conceal it for now. —

But why do you insult her if you feel true respect for her? — and if so, then it was enough simply to remain silent. Which is what you should have done right after the second letter, or should have sent it back instead of a response to it. No woman deserves sparing consideration who, without reflection, gives you a prescription for your happiness and then soon quite unaffectedly tears it up, and for no other reason than because she feels it “resides thus deeply within her.”

You are certainly justified in wondering how you found it necessary to respond differently to her third letter; and I for my part wonder even more about her announcement of an indifferent correspondence, which you no doubt will simply leave unopened in any case, as if an intellectual correspondence is something so rare that the torment it will cause both of you is not even taken into consideration. Your alliance is completely at an end, and I do not take seriously your offer of friendship.

Your alliance is completely at an end, for your love for her was merely a means to a higher purpose, a purpose those means now threaten to destroy. You demonstrate such insofar as the goal was more important to you than the means. — You merely used her, and you are justified in throwing her away now that she is becoming detrimental to you. Or have you perhaps not realized that in her you loved merely your own ideal of grandeur?

In a few years you cannot but see that the reason for your elevation in these past few years lay within you yourself; she was merely the occasion. And yet she assures you quite naively that all this was her work. During a personal encounter, she might well have found the means to make that credible.

My good brother, I by no means fail to recognize who she is. — And she is quite correct in saying that whoever sees nothing in her but a “mistress” deserves contempt. She is still the same person to me now that she was earlier. But I am asking only what she is for you, not what she is in and of herself. And there you made an excellent decision. If she loved you, and that is certainly possible, then her self-conceit and female desire to dominate was more important to her than you. —

I do not for a moment fail to recognize several quite extraordinary, grand traits in her; I only wish she would once look into her own inner self with the same ruthless honesty which she otherwise boasts having. — For is such grandeur — really so eager to make its own superiority felt? does she say incessantly: “I am grandeur” without really believing it herself, instead needing someone to remind her? — Anyone without consciousness of his infinite power — permeated by the feeling of his own insignificance, that person’s view will of necessity be at least a bit short. —

Behind all the expressions of her feeling, which exhibit the obscurity and presumption of such utterances as — “that is the way it is within me” — “I call it the way it is, not the way it should be” — “I feel it” — “it is, it must” — “I am permitted to do what I must” — behind all these ostensible figures, in their background, there lurks perhaps something quite different from what she herself suspects. —

It is not entirely impossible that she will someday regret her decision; she feels your loss deeply. — The poor, deceived one will one day have a terrible awakening — doubtless without any intervention on your part. Your description in the next-to-last letter alludes to a man concerning whom I, however, cannot comprehend that she has seen him again precisely now, and several other circumstances. A man of considerable cleverness — who in frosty self-conceit nourishes himself both within and outside himself. [2] — I would very much like more information about this.

According to your last letter, her judgment of your moral worth is of considerable importance to you — an insulted woman is doubtless not a cold, objective judge — and in her last letter she did, after all, prove to you that she will demonstrate contempt to you even against her own feelings.

I must speak about yet one more point that I do consider of not inconsiderable importance. In the letter in which she declines your coming, [3] she assures you that you will not become a great writer. (And indeed, by contrast, letter no. 2 lacks nothing except for her to give you her word in insisting that you will indeed become such.) Here her judgment does not count for as much with me as is usually the case — but it might influence you — and since I do believe it would be good for you precisely now to distract yourself with work — I reserve the right to write a letter specifically on that subject. —

Nor should her feigned contempt vex you for even the smallest moment. I think that when I subtract what advantage she has over you simply by being a woman, the lengthy habituation of presumed superiority, moreover, what lengthier experience genuinely bestows as an advantage, and, with respect to the separation, the fact that she is speaking from the possession of someone else [4] — she would have to stand quite far below you indeed were she not to exhibit a seeming predominance.

When I think about how, precisely now, after having been so violently torn away from the object to which it clung so tenaciously, your spirit must be barren and lonely and, moreover, utterly subject, by external circumstances, to the most bitter pain, pain in which it will now be tormented for so long until, steeled and ennobled by suffering, it lifts itself up by its own powers — my heart breaks because I cannot be with you now, because I cannot concentrate all my energy on cheering you up. Several statements in your letters even lead me fear you might sink into despondency. [5]

But woe to you if you are not soon — serene and happy again. Otherwise it would have been better for you, and more commensurate with your nature, to do homage in perpetual servitude. — You bear the wonderful name human being with honor; the source of love and joy in your breast is too pure and strong for lowly faint-heartedness and ignoble defiance to cloud or repress it for long. —

Only concentrate on keeping your eye on the grander goal — eternal, immutable peace within yourself, and countless intellectual pleasures, from each of which countless new ones will emerge — something you will certainly attain quite easily if you but engage all your powers to the utmost; — and now behold how paltry is that which might cause you to miss your grand calling — a brief bit of suffering, despondency, and pointless quarreling with deaf fate. —

I wish so much I could now pour into these lifeless letters what burns so ardently inside me — the grandeur that I know you can attain if you seriously so desire — but I also profoundly feel how all that means nothing to you just now. With such a sure insight into how things would have to be and indeed could be, and yet knowing that one cannot help at all, in such cases nothing remains but the pathetic satisfaction of cursing the God who engages in such bloody mockery of us. . . .


[*] Sources: Walzel, 30–34; KFSA 23:37–40; excerpt in Waitz (1871), 1:340–42. Dating according to KFSA 23:37.

One of Friedrich’s finer moments as a brother and the most important source documenting, albeit indirectly, the episode in which Caroline rejects Wilhelm’s bid to accompany her to Mainz and perhaps his offer of marriage. Friedrich also offers a shrewd and in part unflattering take on Caroline’s character that recurs in several coming letters. Back.

[1] Caroline. Back.

[2] Presumably Georg Tatter (Waitz [1871], 342n1; following him, Walzel, 32n1). Back.

[3] To Mainz. — Caroline’s correspondence with Wilhelm during this period seems unfortunately no longer to be extant (Calendar für das Jahr 1803 [Offenbach]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[4] Presumably Georg Tatter. Back.

[5] “O Julie — o meine Julie — dich erblicke ich” (“Oh, Julie, oh my Julie, here I behold you”), Calender auf das Gemein-Jahr 1790; also Genealogischer Calender auf das Jahr 1783 [Berlin]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



Translation © 2011 Doug Stott