Letter 148c

148c. Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Amsterdam: Dresden, 7 December 1794 [*]

[Dresden] 7 December 1794

. . . I am rejoicing at your decision to return [1] and am delighted with Dante. [2] I agree with Karoline; you have never yet written with such calmness. But your style, too, has greatly improved in another respect. It is more nervous. —

I cannot pay you in kind for your critiques; I simply lack the talent. Hence please make do with a few general remarks. We are wholly of one mind with respect to Dante in any case, nor do I find anything to criticize in your translations. It seemed to me that the passage with the devils, a bit insulting at first glance, was also too long. [3] That said, it is quite characteristic and very powerful. The insulting element in fact involves only one’s first reading, and one would certainly have to keep the entire piece in mind in order to assess the length.

In general I would also remind you not to be too frugal with the interspersed comments and history, at least not to deprive the reader of anything you might have in the manuscript (or are thinking about) out of fear the piece might become too swollen. Nor should you let yourself be convinced to eliminate the passages Karoline deleted not by virtue of her position as judge, but by virtue of her being a woman. [4] . . .

Körner is in general a person with rare taste. He is perhaps not without an element of natural genius, could accomplish something significant perhaps in a single field, perhaps in music, which seems to be his true field. His situation prevents him from concentrating on one thing, placing him instead in the middle of all the various philosophical and aesthetic projects. That middle, however, in the proper proximity and distance, is perhaps the most advantageous position for taste. That is how I would refer to what is unique to him.

If I may be even more precise: among the three of you, Humbold[t] has perhaps the greatest receptivity, Körner the most taste, and you the most sensibility; or actually infinitely more. I do not consider the other two capable of much of the latter. Karoline perhaps unites the sensibility and receptivity of all of you, but among the four of you has the least taste, if I may say so with her permission. And with your permission, since I have prattled on for so long: good night. More soon. . . .


[*] Sources: Walzel, 200–207; KFSA 23:217–23. — This letters attests Caroline’s close reading, even at this early stage in their relationship, of Wilhelm’s scholarly work and not least also her readiness to offer criticisms and suggestions. Back.

[1] Wilhelm would not return to Germany until July 1795. Back.

[2] KFSA 23:464–65n4 suggests the reference is to those particular sections of Wilhelm’s lengthier piece on Dante’s Divina commedia that through the mediation of Christian Gottfried Körner appeared in Schiller’s periodical Die Horen: “Dante’s Hölle,” in Die Horen 1, 3 (1795) 22–69; 2, 4 (1795), 1–13; 3, 7 (1795) 31–49; “Ugolino und Ruggieri. Fortsetzung von Dante’s Hölle,” 3, 8 (1795), 35–74. Back.

[3] Divine Comedy, “Hell,” canto 22; here an English translation of the canto: (The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, trans. Charles Eliot Norton, rev. ed., vol. 1 [Boston, New York 1919], 142–48; illustrations by Gustave Doré):

I have seen ere now horsemen moving camp, and beginning an assault, and making their muster, and sometimes retiring for their escape; I have seen foragers over your land, O Aretines, and I have seen the starting of raids, the onset of tournaments, and the running of jousts, now with trumpets, and now with bells, with drums, and with signals from strongholds, and with native things and foreign, — but never to so strange a pipe did I see horsemen or footmen set forth, or ship by sign of land or star.

We were going along with the ten demons. Ah, the fell company! but in the church with the saints, and in the tavern with the gluttons. My attention was only on the pitch in order to see every condition of the pouch, and of the people that were burning in it.

Like dolphins, when by the arching of their back, they give a sign to the sailors to take heed for the safety of their vessel, so, now and then, to alleviate his pain, one of the sinners would show his back and hide it in less time than it lightens. And as at the edge of the water of a ditch the frogs lie with only their muzzle out, so that they conceal their feet and the rest of their bulk, so on every side were the sinners; but as Barbariccia approached so did they draw back beneath the boiling. I saw, and still my heart shudders at it, one waiting, just as it happens that one frog stays and another jumps. And Graffiacane, who was nearest over against him, hooked him by his pitchy locks, and drew him up so that he seemed to me an otter. (I knew now the name of every one of them, I had so noted them when they were chosen, and afterwards when they called each other had listened how.) “O Rubicante, see thou set thy claws upon his back so thou flay him,” shouted all the accursed ones together.

And I: “My Master, contrive, if thou canst, to find out who is the luckless one come into the hands of his adversaries.” My Leader drew up to his side, and asked him whence he was, and he replied: “I was born in the kingdom of Navarre; my mother placed me in service of a lord, for she had borne me to a ribald, destroyer of himself and of his substance. Afterward I was of the household of the good King Thibault; there I set myself to practice barratry, for which I pay reckoning in this heat.”

And Ciriatto, from whose mouth protruded on either side a tusk, as of a boar, made him feel how one of them rips. Among evil cats had the mouse come; but Barbariccia clasped him in his arms, and said: “Stand off, while I clutch him,” and turned his face to my Master. “Ask further,” said he, “if thou desirest to know more from him, before another one undo him.” The Leader: “Then, tell now of the other sinners; knowest thou any one under the pitch who is Italian?” And he: “I parted short while since from one who there beyond was a neighbor; would that with him I still were so covered that I should not fear claw or hook.” And Libicocco said: “We have borne too much,” and seized his arm with his grapple so that, tearing, he carried off a sinew of it. Draghignazzo, he too wished to give him a grip down at his legs, whereat their decurion turned round about with evil look.

When they were a little quieted, my Leader, without delay, asked him who was still gazing at his wound: “Who was he from whom thou sayst thou madest ill parting to come to shore?” And he replied: “It was Friar Gomita, he of Gallura, vessel of every fraud, who held the enemies of his lord in hand, and dealt so with them that each of them praises him for it. Money he took, and let them smoothly off, so he says; and in his other offices besides he was no little barrator, but sovereign. With him frequents Don Michael Zanche of Logodoro, and their tongues never feel tired in talking of Sardinia. O me! see ye that other who is grinning: I would say more, but I fear lest he is making ready to scratch my itch.” And the grand Provost, turning to Farfarello, who was rolling his eyes as if to strike, said: “Get away there, wicked bird!”

“If ye wish to see or to hear Tuscans or Lombards,” thereon began again the frightened one, “I will make some of them come; but let the Malebranche stand a little withdrawn, so that they may not be afraid of their vengeance, and I, sitting in this very place, for one that I am, will make seven of them come, when I shall whistle, as is our wont to do whenever one of us sets himself outside.” Cagnazzo at this speech raised his muzzle, shaking his head, and said: “Hear the cunning trick he has devised for casting himself below!” Whereon he who had snares in great plenty answered: “Too cunning am I when I procure for my own companions greater sorrow.” Alichino held not in, and, in opposition to the others, said to him: “If thou plunge, I will not come after thee at a gallop, but I will beat my wings above the pitch; let the ridge be left, and let the bank be a screen, to see if thou alone availest more than we.”

O thou that readest, thou shalt hear a new sport! Each turned his eyes to the other side, he first who had been most averse to doing this. The Navarrese chose his time well, planted his feet firmly on the ground, and in an instant leaped, and from their purpose freed himself.


At this, each of them was stung with his fault, but he most who was the cause of the loss; wherefore he started and cried out: “Thou art caught.” But it availed little, for wings could not outstrip fear. The one went under, and the other, flying, turned his breast upward. Not otherwise the wild duck on a sudden dives under when the falcon comes near, and he returns up vexed and baffled. Calcabrina, angry at the flout, flying kept behind him, charmed that the sinner should escape, that he might have a scuffle; and when the barrator had disappeared he at once turned his claws upon his companion, and grappled with him above the ditch. But the other was indeed a full-grown sparrowhawk for clawing him well, and both of them fell into the middle of the boiling pool.


The heat was a sudden ungrappler; but yet there was no rising from it, they had their wings so beglued. Barbariccia, in distress with the others of his troop, made four of them fly to the other side with all their forks, and very swiftly, on this side and that, they descended to their posts, and stretched their hooks toward the belimed ones, who were already cooked within the crust: and we left them thus embroiled. Back.

[4] Uncertain but intriguing allusion. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott