Letter 133a

133a. Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Amsterdam: Leipzig, 21 August 1793 [*]

Leipzig, 21 August 1793

A storm is brewing for us precisely where I feared it would from the very beginning. [1]

Madam Fleischer and Madam Krug [2] wrote to Mademoiselle Stock in Dresden that you brought an unidentified woman here etc. (Göschen assures me they wrote nothing about her circumstances.) [3] The latter responded that it must be Madam Forster or Madam Forkel or, more likely still, indeed almost certainly, C[aroline] B[öhmer], with whom the “excellent young Schlegel” is known to be carrying on a pernicious love affair about which the family, moreover, is extremely saddened. [4]

Körner wrote me a very cordial letter today, mentioning nothing, and adding in the postscript that “your sister would like to receive a letter from you soon.” —

Göschen will immediately do everything he can to get the Körners off the track, or at least to silence them, — if it is not already too late. But if Charlotte discovers things and learns of Caroline’s circumstances — which heaven forbid — I will without hesitation declare her to be yours, — for only thus can her honor be saved — but I will do so such that you in any case will still have the possibility of retreat. A complete break with our family is then the natural consequence for us. [5]

Hence not least for that reason — forgive me — I felt justified in taking a moment to reflect. It was similarly necessary for you to write to Göschen beforehand; now I have something to fall back on and can simply refer things to you; otherwise it would have been impossible to avoid his questions. As proof of which consider the following. His first question on my return was, “Is it by chance or design that she came with your brother?” [6]

Today, after giving him a few hints, I had to listen to him tell me that “I would have brought him your manuscript from Amsterdam in February.” [7] Only through jesting was I able to escape this importunacy. Afterward he advised me with all good intentions — since sooner or later this misfortune with our family would inevitably burst forth — to counter it brazenly by trying to secure our parents’ assent as quickly as possible. [8]

Göschen does not have time to answer you today; he sends his kind regards and wants me to tell you that he will, of course, maintain complete and loyal silence concerning everything you wrote him. He will write you himself soon. —

Let us neither write nor say anything to her. Why should I make her anxious? — My good friend, I cannot hide from you that she is sad and aggrieved — more than she is perhaps telling you in her letters — something her appearance and numerous smaller signs sufficiently betray. Try to comfort her as much as you can in your letters. Take the time you set aside for me to write her as well.

I am wholly innocent in all this. Immediately on seeing her, I asked that she warn Göschen to see to it that it not become known through his family that you had been here. He himself believed that such a prohibition would merely lend an element of unnecessarily anxious importance to the entire matter. And who knows whether it even would have helped, since so many people already knew about it who had nothing to do with Göschen and who are only too happy to have something strange to write about. —

I think it would be wise were you to write to Charlotte immediately and in as cordial a fashion as possible to win her favor lest she otherwise do us some sort of harm; and since you do, after all, have to write about C[aroline] B[öhmer], you might confide to her that she is in Berlin. [9] As soon as I myself learn anything more, I will write you immediately. Basically they can do us no harm if you are but resolved to sacrifice our own good relationship with the family for the sake of B.’s honor.

In my last letter I seemed not to know something that even the slightest attentive reflection on your instructions had already enabled me to guess unequivocally and which my first glance confirmed. [10] Unfortunately, it was so obvious that all of Göschen’s sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law also observed it and guessed it. —

Because I myself did not yet know whether she would be remaining here in Saxony, perhaps it was more convenient for all of you if I appeared not to know. But since, however, she will now be staying here for a lengthier period, and since I am already in contact with her and will have to remain such — securing letters and doing smaller errands for her and seeing her from time to time — that semblance of not knowing will not do, hence I am admitting my awareness to you now openly. —

I do not really know how I will spare her what could perhaps be an unpleasant moment of disclosure in that regard. I have hitherto carefully maintained the appearance of not knowing anything. —

By the way, I found and still find it quite natural that she was not particularly keen on revealing it specifically to me; not least because I was not really in a position to offer any substantive assistance. — And with that, too (though it initially vexed me), I am now quite at ease. Although I am certainly glad to devote to her rescue what little bit of life may yet be in me, it is actually quite good that I am dispensable to her in that regard, since otherwise things would be hanging by an extremely thin thread. You yourself know how unsure things are with my own life from one day to the next. [11]

But, my dear brother, there is one thing I must genuinely put to you. Consider that I will be the only human being whom she will be seeing during this extremely difficult, trying time. Perhaps I may yet hope to get far enough soon to be able to cheer her up, lift her spirits, for moments or maybe even hours. Nor should that sort of thing be made impossible for me by petty considerations and half-confidences. Has she not yet written at least a few lines expressing her assessment of me? — I had explicitly asked that you relate such to me. —

You are expecting me to believe what you are demanding, and yet at the same time not to believe it. That is simply not within my power, since the truth is simply too obvious. I will, however, to the best of my ability try to act toward her as if I am persuaded of what you yourself write. — She is yours, — in the fullest sense of the word — namely, because you want it to be thus. And I approve of your decision to risk yourself for her. She is a noble woman, and you owe her more than you can ever requite. —

But enough of all that, since you may well not be particularly keen on hearing me go on about it.

You ask that I write more about what I think of her, and about the impression she has made on me. But how little have we seen each other! — I was out there a bit last week. [12] Her health seems reasonably good, though she does complain about sleeplessness. I spoke a bit above about her general disposition. — I would describe our relationship as one of confidentiality without trust, concerned interest without true fellowship. But do not misunderstand me. I sensed the superiority of her intellect over my own quite early indeed. But that a woman can be thus is still too strange, too incomprehensible to me to genuinely believe in her openness and freedom from artifice.

We think it best that the letter from Madam Michaelis be sent to you from Hannover lest suspicion arise there, [13] which may easily enough happen in any case insofar as Karl is doubtless familiar with her handwriting. You must send the six louis d’or here. [14]

Had I been able to do anything for her, or feared that such might yet happen, I would really have words with you over the fact that the accompanying notes you sent with the letters to Caroline contain ever more, ever new demands. Do you really believe that simply a word from you would not suffice to prompt me to do everything for your lady? — But you can also be assured that at least to the extent I know her, it certainly suffices merely to do these things for her own sake. —

I would think you would be writing me again as well, that you must have a great deal to tell me. I for my own part would also have much to tell you; I do not lack for time to do so, I simply know not whether you would listen to it. To wit, not things about her, nor about petty worries, but solely about myself.

Because you seem not to realize that my journey to Hannover was a painful sacrifice I made to our friendship, it seems I must tell you as much myself. [15] I for my part had firmly resolved not to see my family again until I could be among them with honor and joy according to their concept of such as well. —

Every single moment I was in Hannover, I was depressed. But I do not regret it. Even though there was not a single time when I was wholly enthusiastic about seeing you, it was nonetheless of abiding and considerable value to have seen you. —

You deeply wounded me, and perhaps did not wholly sense just how deeply. I must also defend myself to you yet again, something I will do soon. For some time now you have judged my actions and affairs like a stranger, but I do consider it my obligation to present them to you. I cannot believe you have given up on me, that you are prepared just to let me go. —

I would like to hear from you, including about Sophie. [16] — . . .


[*] Sources: Walzel 99–103; KFSA 23:119–22. Back.

[1] Namely, the risk that Charlotte Ernst, Wilhelm’s and Friedrich’s sister in Dresden, might discover from other women in Leipzig Wilhelm’s connection with Caroline (and the latter’s pregnancy), of which neither Charlotte nor the Schlegel family in Hannover would approve (Goettinger Taschen Calendar vom Jahr 1790; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


There was, moreover, considerable socializing in the Göschen household because of Göschen’s position as a prominent publisher (“Kaffeevisite 1794”; from Königliche Akademie der Künste: Johann Gottfried Schadow Ausstellung vom 27. Jan.–7. März 1909 [Berlin 1909], plate 94):



[2] Otherwise unidentified Leipzig acquaintance of the Göschen family. Back.

[3] Caroline was now almost seven months pregnant. Back.

[4] That is, Friedrich and Wilhelm’s family in Hannover. Back.

[5] Friedrich was already estranged especially from his father because of seemingly irreconcilable disagreements concerning his career path (Calender für das Jahr 1796 [Offenbach]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[6] Göschen suspected that Wilhelm was in fact the father of Caroline’s child when he arrived with her in Leipzig sometime after mid-July 1793; Wilhelm would not clear up the ambiguity associated with his arrival with Caroline in Leipzig until his letter to Göschen on 13 January 1794 (letter 137c). Back.

[7] Reference to an earlier translation by Wilhelm Schlegel that Friedrich had offered to Göschen; moreover, the reference should be to December 1792 rather than February 1793 (see KFSA 23:429n15). Back.

[8] Namely, for Wilhelm’s relationship with Caroline. Back.

[9] Caroline had told various acquaintances of Göschen in Leipzig as well as her own friends in Gotha that she was currently living in Berlin or in the countryside outside Berlin; see her letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 15 August 1793 (letter 133). Back.

[10] To wit, Caroline’s pregnancy, concerning which Wilhelm had not earlier informed Friedrich. Back.

[11] Friedrich had himself been having a difficult time in Leipzig, at one point even considering suicide. Back.

[12] That is, in Lucka, where Caroline had been since 7 August 1793 (Johann Baptist Homann, Tabula geographica in qua…principatus Gotha, Coburg et Altenburg cum omnibus eorundem praefecturis tam in Thuringia quam Misnia et Franconia sitis ostenduntur [1724]):


Concerning Friedrich’s first impressions of Caroline, see also “Caroline in Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde. Ein Roman (Berlin 1799),” supplementary appendix 132a.1. Back.

[13] Perhaps a letter of thanks from Caroline’s mother to Wilhelm; the letter seems not to have been preserved. Back.

[14] Presumably to cover a gambling debt Friedrich had incurred rather than Caroline’s expenses (see KFSA 23:429n28) (Genealogischer Kalender auf das Jahr 1774; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[15] Friedrich had spent two weeks in Hannover while Wilhelm settled Caroline in Leipzig, Wilhelm then returning to Amsterdam by way of Hannover, where he saw Friedrich (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):



[16] Wilhelm’s love interest in Amsterdam, apparently Sophie Tischbein. See the supplementary appendix on Sophie Tischbein as the Amsterdam Sophie. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott