Letter 136.1

136.1 Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Amsterdam: Leipzig, 4–5 November 1793 [*]

[Leipzig] 4 November [1793], evening

My dear Wilhelm, I have just returned from an infant baptism where I also acted as godparent. My godchild is the little cityoen Wilhelm Julius Cranz. [1]

The day before yesterday, in the evening, I found her very ill indeed, and utterly persuaded that things were happening too soon. [2] Yesterday morning even the physician seemed a bit concerned, and she herself so certain she was about to die that, amid quite severe pain, she had me help get her papers in order. I told her I had your portrait downstairs, but then had to leave the room. [3]

Her pain was quite out of the ordinary and unbearably severe; I could hear her cries down in the courtyard, indeed even in the front of the house; they genuinely pierced me to the marrow. [3a] At the moment of most extreme anxiety, she also suddenly asked for your portrait. —

But her pains did not last long, and ended with the most successful delivery for both mother and child. An exquisite joy, and she also had enough strength to enjoy it. Now I was able to bring your portrait in to her, and it could absolutely not have come at a more beautiful moment. The biggest shortcoming she could perceive in it was that it could not reach out and take her hand. —

My dear brother, although she cannot write to you, she does send her regards, and would like to know what you did yesterday and where you were, “presumably with Sophie.” [4] Specifically yesterday morning toward eleven o’clock. I am also to report to you that he looks just like her and appears quite German. [5] Why? So you will not be so inclined to feel such horrible hatred toward him. —

I have now learned what a difference there is in such a thing, and in something else as well. If she were mine, I would have lost my senses. Although I am very fond of her, amid all the anxiety I thought only of you. It was already resolved that you should return to Germany, for I have always believed that in reality it is only with Caroline’s shadow that you have been living there in the fog. —

Although there is considerable grand art in the portrait, it has little of your soul. I find the forehead, eyebrows, nose, and secondary features, such as the hair, quite beautiful. The coloring completely betrays the master, and yet I do confess I do not find the greenish-gray, pale hue as pleasing as the lighter hue of the portraits by Graff.

But the cheeks and a certain feature in the mouth are completely wrong; and he seems to have failed in his attempt to lend a peculiar, sublime element to the eyes. Perhaps he was trying to portray the moist fire that can sometimes make your eyes so charming when you are excited and joyful.

But I do not think it succeeded, just as similarly the soul of the piece, its overall impression, is also neither yours nor natural nor clear. — On the whole, I think Caroline’s opinion resembles my own, though is probably not quite so severe. She will no doubt relate it to you herself.

Although she was doing fairly well yesterday, she did not sleep well last night and then today suffered from her customary nervous disquiet, though not to a particularly high degree. There is absolutely nothing in any of that to make us concerned. — There is a physician in the house who although young does nonetheless seem to be very skilled and with whom she is quite satisfied; and if that does not suffice, she can always get help from here. [6]

It goes without saying that you will receive more news on the next postal day; because I will be going out there again tomorrow, I must write this particular letter a bit ahead of schedule. —

Things essentially having been taken care of, I should probably also disclose to you that she had an annoying experience last week. The pastor here started making trouble with regard to the baptism, and a certain Rath Hegner from Altenburg, [7] where the bailiwick is, wanted to conduct an investigation into exactly who she was, mentioning expensive surety etc. Indeed, that no one genuinely came to interrogate her was prevented only by the zeal of her housemates.

Göschen wrote to President Thümmel, the brother of the writer in Altenburg, who was quite accommodating in ensuring there would be no more queries. The pastor, to whom one louis d’or was sent yesterday, performed the baptism as politely as clerics tend to do in such cases, for truth be told, the whole thing was nothing but a case of outright graft under the guise of the police.

Today when I spoke with Göschen, he told me, “I also now know that your brother is not the father of the child.” Afterward, over the course of the conversation, it came out that someone, whom he absolutely did not want to name (but who I can now say with a fair degree of certainty was Körner) informed him that you loved [Caroline] B[öhmer], but that the love was not returned.

This along with other circumstances (perhaps also Meyer’s statements before he saw her and knew her opinion in the matter [8]), my own ambiguous, still less-than-open statements, her complete silence — all these things quite naturally prompted him to think what he did, and then the most important circumstance, namely, that you spent last winter in Amsterdam, an objection to which I responded in so unsatisfactory a fashion. That, too, probably opened his eyes, though it is stupid of me to have given in so quickly, and base of him for having duped me that way.

That said, however, he knows nothing more, and even if he digs further, he will probably guess Forster. [9] Since his assiduity and willingness to help remain unabated, it should not matter to us one way or the other what he thinks. You can imagine what sort of ideas he came up with, speaking about your “nobility of mind,” though he also once used the word “deceived,” to which I quite openly replied, “No, she did not deceive him; she has always acted quite openly toward him.”

He will admittedly never understand what that means, not even if he continues his bookselling business to the Last Judgment itself. — His wife, however, knows nothing, nor asks any questions, and instead simply offers her help and is delighted to do so. Ah, what a sacred thing ignorance is! —

By the way, afterward I was furious with myself for being such an ass. — And let me repeat once more that his assiduous and willing helpfulness remain the same. — He will even advance her some money; she had to request such because her money had not yet arrived from home and perhaps also because she had been counting on the six louis d’or from you. I can advance her only sixteen Laubthaler, and that only for a short period; and this morning I did not even know if I could do that. . . .

I must go. Please forgive me for not writing more. I will relate everything else on Saturday. [10]

I just spoke again with Göschen; he assures me on his honor that someone else, not Körner, gave him the information. Meyer’s behavior allegedly made him most suspicious, or rather certain. [11] He spoke yet again at length about the “grandeur” of your character and also retracted some of what he had said about B. [Caroline Böhmer] — . . .

If that inferior, unsalutary land [12] is devouring not only your soul, but also your sacred creative powers, then flee back to us, to your fatherland. Seriously, you should discuss your return with me; one letter will enable me to assess the extent to which Sophie is to be considered in all this. B. is part of it, but you are as well. —

5 November [1793]



[*] Sources: Walzel, 133–38; KFSA 23:150–54. Back.

[1] Citoyen: Fr., “citizen,” also used as a form of address during the French Revolution. — See Caroline’s second son’s baptism document in Erich Schmidt’s introduction to Caroline’s period in Lucka.

Here contemporary renderings of infant baptism at home (left) by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki (Eintritt in die Welt [1797]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 437) and (right) from Elisa oder das weib wie es sein sollte, 3rd ed. (Leipzig 1798):


And from 1774 in a church Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate 84):



[2] Saturday evening, 2 November 1793. — “Too soon”: see Caroline’s curious remark (with its accompanying note) in her letter to Friedrich on 13 October 1793 (letter 135cd). Back.

[3] Sunday, 3 November 1793. — The portrait of Wilhelm possibly by Johann Friedrich August Tischbein mentioned in earlier letters. Back.

[3a] As mentioned earlier (Caroline’s letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 15 August 1793 [letter 133], note 5), Caroline and Auguste lived in an ensemble of buildings constituting a typical ThuringianFranconian farmstead, viz., several buildings in some manner of polygon loosely connected and with an interior courtyard between them (“Thüringisch-fränkischer Bauernhof,” Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4 ed. [Leipzig, Vienna 1885–92], vol. 2, s.v. Bauernhaus, p. 0470a, fig. 8):


Friedrich is referring to being able to hear Caroline’s cries while standing both within that interior courtyard and outside the ensemble itself (frontispiece to P. G. Poinsot, to L’ami des cultivateurs etc. [Paris 1805]):



[4] Wilhelm’s love interest in Amsterdam; apparently Sophie Tischbein. See the supplementary appendix Sophie Tischbein as the Amsterdam Sophie. Back.

[5] Other accounts differ. See Caroline’s account in her letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 9 December 1793 (letter 137) and Friedrich’s in his letter to Wilhelm on 17 November 1793 (letter 136.4). Back.

[6] That is, from Leipzig (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]):



[7] Altenburg is located ca. 15 km southeast of Lucka, which legally was subject to Altenburg jurisdiction. — Hegner is otherwise unidentified (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]):



[8] Caroline had directed Meyer to seek out Göschen in Leipzig to learn where she was staying (see her letter to Meyer on 13 September 1793 [letter 135]). It may well have been Meyer who divulged to Göschen that Wilhelm was not the father of Caroline’s child. Back.

[9] Georg Forster had earlier also been surmised as the father of Caroline’s child after rumors circulated about their alleged affair in Mainz. Neither Friedrich nor Wilhelm seems to have contradicted these rumors. Caroline was also earlier suspected of having been romantically involved with Forster. Back.

[10] Friedrich’s next letter to Wilhelm was on Sunday, 10 November 1793 (letter 136.2). Back.

[11] Meyer did indeed know about Caroline’s pregnancy and could surmise the father of the child was not Wilhelm Schlegel; see her letter to Meyer on 15 August 1793 (letter 133). Back.

[12] Holland. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott