Letter 170

• 170. Caroline to Luise Gotter in Gotha: Jena 3 October 1796

[Jena] 3 October [17]96

|398| My dear Louise, you must once again help me out of a bind. We have been so diligent that we have knitted up all our yarn, and in this wretched nest, where one can get even nectar and ambrosia, one cannot, however, get any bleached yarn . . . You should also be receiving the Musenallmanach on loan from me very soon. [1] When the occasion arises, please let Herr Fromman know that Schlegel is still thinking about traveling with him to Leipzig and is very much counting on him coming through Jena on his return trip.

When I send you the Allmanach, you should also have the commentary on it. In the interim, let me write down a few epigrams for you. [2]


33. Manso on the Graces.
Though witches, indeed, be invoked through inferior aphorisms,
Grace does enter only at the summons of grace itself.

34. Tasso's Jerusalem by the same.
An asphalt swamp does yet here mark the spot
Where once Jerusalem stood that Torquato sang for us.

35. The Art of Love.
You even need art in order to love? Unhappy Manso,
that nature otherwise did nothing, absolutely nothing for you!

36. The Breslau Schoolmaster.
In boring verses and fatuous thoughts
a preceptor teaches us here how to please and how to seduce.

37. Amor as Teaching Colleague.
The most terrifying of all terrifying things?
A pedant itching to be loose and easy. [3]

Only do not let Minchen see this page! There are at least a half dozen more about Manso. [4] Here is the one about Ramdohr:

119. Charis.
Be this the wife of the artist Vulcan? She speaks about the trade
As befits the commoner's noble half. [5]

And by the way, my darling, though the wit here does indeed prompt my laughter, it does not prompt my approval.

Yesterday at the Schillers’ I made the acquaintance of Geheimrath Voigt from Weimar. He told my husband that people had related to him quite a few nice things about me. So you see, thus does truth make its way even to thrones. [6]

. . . I embrace you warmly, dear woman.

Göthe remarked just yesterday that the Geisterinsel was a masterpiece of poesy and language, and that nothing more musical could be imagined. If only we could see or hear it! [7] The theater company will not be coming here. [8]


[1] Schiller’s Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1797; here the title vignette and title page:



[2] The reference is to Goethe and Schiller’s “Xenien,” Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1797, 197–302. This satirical collection of epigrams concluded the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1797.

The title is drawn from the Roman poet Martial and referred originally to gifts distributed to departing guests, whereas here it is used satirically. The epigrams were authored by both Goethe and Schiller in response to what they considered the uncomprehending and hostile reaction to Schiller’s periodical Die Horen during 1795. A commentary was required because many of the epigrams were addressed to or were about persons not immediately identifiable, a feature that did, of course, make for considerable suspense and second-guessing.

Here in any case an illustration from 1797 portraying Schiller physically striking Friedrich Nicolai after having already dispensed with Johann Gottfried Herder. The goddess Minerva presides, who guides men through the perils of war. Not insignificantly (given the questions concerning the authorship of some of the more trenchant and cutting Xenien), Goethe keeps his distance in the background at left Otto Güntter, Friedrich Schiller: Sein Leben und seine Dichtungen [Leipzig 1925], 83):


It is perhaps difficult to imagine the excitement and indignation (accompanied, moreover, by numerous published responses) these epigrams provoked when finally published, epigrams leaving scholars guessing into the late nineteenth century and even beyond concerning their intended targets. One such puzzling xenion was initially thought to be addressing Caroline herself, xenion 267 (273; some dual numbering exists); see her letter to Luise Gotter on 22 October 1796 (letter 171).

Schiller in any event seems to have been aware Caroline was copying out certain epigrams and sending them along to others, and also that she had somehow acquired page proofs of the final installments of Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister. On 11 October 1796, he wrote slightly piqued to Goethe (Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller, 1:235 ):

I have, meanwhile, not heard anything further about the Almanack [Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1797], except that our good lady-friend here, Madam S— [i.e., Caroline], has copied those Xenia which are directed at Manso, and sent them to Gotter, who is said to have been very much horrified at them.

The same lady is also already speaking of the Seventh and the beginning of the Eighth Book of your Wilhelm Meister, which she insists upon having read in print. It is rather strange that S— [Wilhelm Schlegel] should have received printed sheets of your novel before you yourself have seen them!

Goethe answered wryly on 12 October 1796 (ibid., 236):

All hail to our lady-friend that she copies and distributes our poems, and that she takes more thought of our proof-sheets than we do ourselves! Such faith, verily, was rarely met with in Israel!.

Matthew 8:10 (NRSV; illustration: Christoph Weigel, Historia von Iesu Christi unsers Heylandes Geburt, Lebenswandel, Wunderwercken, Gleichnußreden, Leiden, Sterben, Auferstehen und Himmelfahrt: Zur Einpflanßung von Jugend auf, und state Unterhaltung Gottseelige betrachtungen auß denen heyligen Evangelisten Mattheo, Marco, Luca, und Johanne, vorgebildet [Augsburg 1695]):


When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.

Erich Schmidt (1913), 1:714, explains that because the Xenien had been published again in, among other places, the Weimarer Ausgabe 5:1, he would not reproduce the epigrams Caroline included in this letter, but rather only the titles. He also refers readers to his own commentary, Xenien 1796: nach den Handschriften des Goethe- und Schiller-Archivs, ed. Erich Schmidt and Bernhard Suphan, Schriften der Goethe-Gesellschaft 8 (Weimar 1893). For another, earlier study, see especially also Eduard Boas, Schiller und Goethe im Xenienkampf, 2 vols. (Stuttgart, Tübingen 1851).

Translations of the missing epigrams are included here. Back.

[3] Xenia 33–40 were directed at various imitative books by the school director Johann Kaspar Friedrich Manso in Breslau. See esp. Caroline to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 30–31 August 1794 (letter 147) with note 18. Back.

[4] Minchen Bertuch could not but be upset at the Xenien barbs at Manso, who had been a Gymnasium director in Gotha from 1783 to 1793 before moving to Breslau; Minchen apparently had affectionate feelings for him. See Caroline’s gently teasing comments in her letter to Luise Gotter in the autumn of 1795 (letter 156); see also Mitteilungen des Vereins für gothaische Geschichte und Altertumsforschung, Jahrgang 1924 (Gotha 1924), 18. Back.

[5] This xenion addresses Ramdohr’s (in the opinion of Goethe and Schiller) confused book by the same name, Charis oder über das Schöne und die Schönheit in den nachbildenden Künsten (Leipzig 1793). See Ramdohr’s biogram for an explanation. Back.

[6] That is, the ducal throne in Weimar; Voigt was a high administrative official in Weimar. — Otherwise Caroline is concerned about the “truth” about her character as opposed to her reputation. Back.

[7] Concerning Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter’s Geisterinsel, see Gottfried August Bürger to Wilhelm Schlegel on 31 October 1791 (letter 107a) with note 4; Caroline to Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter on 13 November 1791(letter 110) with note 6; Caroline to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 7 June 1794 (letter 145) with note 11; and Caroline to Luise Gotter in March 1797 (letter 181). Back.

[8] Concerning the possibility of the Weimar theater company performing in Jena, see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 4 September 1796 (letter 169), with note 7. Back.

Translation © 2012 Doug Stott