Letter 174

• 174. Caroline to Luise Gotter in Gotha: Jena, 12 December 1796

Jena, 12 December [17]96

|405| How glad, my dear Louise, would I have been to help you on occasion in looking after and entertaining your good patient, and I |406| have cursed the winter ten times over for having caused all of you so much trouble. [1] But I am hoping that now that the winter has finally settled in, it will prove less hostile; at the very least it does seem to have become a bit more predictable. Here absolutely everything has already turned into thoroughfares fit only for sleighs. If Gotter will but take good care of himself that we might see him here next summer and he himself can enjoy it a bit as well. —

I have already heard a more detailed account of your journey to town than you gave me, my frugal friend! [2] Here everyone has become enamored with putting on theater performances, [3] and this week I similarly saw the Die Reise nach der Stadt [4] performed in an extremely small theater of two square cubits by a company that includes Madam Döderlein, in a small parterre that held right at 2 dozen spectators, though among them were several art critics of some import, for example, I myself and Kammerherr von Einsiedel. [5]

Although we did not speak, we were presumably sufficiently attuned to each other to notice in tandem how much space and life and soul were lacking in the performance. Had we been able to converse, we would in all likelihood have been compensated somewhat for having sat through it.

But such was not possible. It was the elderly Eckard’s birthday, and Einsiedel was here on business, having lunch at Eckard’s and then accompanying him to the theater as well. Three places were left unoccupied, I was sitting first, but the elderly E[ckard] sat down next to me, Einsiedel two seats over. I could not very well shout to him, “Herr Kammerherr, do come sit over here, I would like to speak with you about a common friend!”

And so I came away with nothing more than that I saw a Kammerherr who was able to get along quite nicely even in a tight space. My regards to |407| your husband; he, too, would know how to behave quite properly in the face of a negative response. I admittedly should have known right away that nothing else would come about, and that there would be nothing else to do but for Schlegel to return the book to Hufeland — which has already taken place. [6]

Could Schlegel have taken sides and added to Bötticher’s remarks better ones concerning Iffland, he would not have been ashamed at least this time to receive a reproach in return which, really, would merely be adding droplets into the ocean of justified reproach in which the whole Bötticher was to be properly drowned. But he has not hired himself out merely to supply blind praise, and where he does take sides, he does so on his own initiative, indeed, in his own heart, not in the name of the [Allgemeine] Litteratur-Zeitung.

It is a fact that Iffland was engagé for 3000 rh. Humboldt told us. With Porsch, that makes me very glad indeed. If we yet manage to get to Berlin this coming spring, I will be sending out my very first messenger to him. [6a]

I just saw the Gegengeschenke; [7] there is but one voice in this matter. I am glad that Jacobs did not know anything about it, and I also told Schiller, on whom, by the way, they made absolutely no impression. [8] Slowly and gradually (drop by drop, the way a rock is hollowed out), I have gotten Schlegel to the point of being far more favorably inclined toward Jacobs, whom he would now most cordially welcome. —

If you already have Wilhelm Meister, then what should I send you? You can read and reflect on that for a long time. The most recent issue of Die Horen contains a piece called Agnes von Lilien, which I would send to you were it finished, but there are still 8 printer’s sheets outstanding, and then you will once again have the opportunity |408| to admire the wealth and grace of a great mind. [9]

Returning to the subject of our theater enthusiasm — Madam Schütz has revealed to me that she, too, intends to set one up in her house. She offered me a role, albeit — or so it seemed — without much confidence. The first piece is to be The Miser by Molière, [10] translated by her own son

Hence she seems intent on reviving the fine taste of former days, but what a shame it has to happen with the assistance of a schoolboy’s homework assignment. We spoke about other pieces one might be able to perform, and when I hinted that I thought I could handle the role of Cäcilie in Stella, she seized on it with both hands, since she would like to take on the role of Stella. And now only imagine! Who, in that case, would not feel a more affectionate inclination for the abandoned Cäcilie than is usually the case? [11]

Today I will be going to see Madam Mereau, who recently also participated; she played the depraved daughter of the house. [12]

Have you already thought of what to do for your children for Christmas? [13] [Errands. Luise Wiedemann’s illness.] [14]

Mademoiselle Berlepsch is in Weimar. She is following the Frenchman Mounier, who lost his wife in Weimar, whom she in her own turn intends to replace.


[1] Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter was gravely ill with consumption and would die just three months later, on 18 March 1797. Back.

[2] Presumably an account of a trip taken by the Gotters; the expression “journey to town” recurs in the title of the play by Iffland Caroline mentions next. Back.

[3] That is, amateur or aficionado theater. Back.

[4] Die Reise nach der Stadt. Ein Lustspiel in fünf Auszügen, comedy by August Wilhelm Iffland (Leipzig 1795). The title, “The journey to town,” plays on Caroline’s earlier remark. Back.

[5] Friedrich Hildebrand von Einsiedel had literary connections with Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter; see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter in March 1797 (letter 181). Caroline presumably wanted to speak with him privately about Gotter, though the context remains unclear and apparently also involved a book, which Caroline had already mentioned in a previous letter, that Wilhelm Schlegel was to review for the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. See below. Back.

[6] See Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter in October/November 1796 (letter 173) with note 4. Iffland had been an earlier friend of Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter. Back.

[6a] August Heinrich Porsch (not “Franz,” as in Erich Schmidt, [1913], 2:701, 711) had left Frankfurt in July 1796 and journeyed to Berlin by way of Gotha. Back.

[7] Johann Gottfried Dyk and Johann Kaspar Friedrich Manso, Gegengeschenke an die Sudelköche in Jena und Weimar. Von einigen dankbaren Gästen (n.p. [Leipzig] 1797), the authors’ response to having been severely pilloried in Schiller and Goethe’s Xenien (one of many such responses). See, e.g., p. 4, on which the following counter-epigram is found (the Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste had been critical of both Schiller and Goethe):

Apollo leafing through the Musen-Almanach.
Ah, but do tell, Herr Schiller, why you scold so wildly?
But another step more and you will turn into Bahrdt with the iron forehead.

Schiller, whining.
Indeed, yes! those fellows down below simply refuse to praise me now,
And yet everything I write is quite à la mode.
Even my precious almanac, which Cotta so generously compensates,
Is being reproached in the Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften!

Manso, moreover, seems to have been a love-interest of Wilhelmine Bertuch; see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 3 October 1796 (letter 170) as well as from Braunschweig during the autumn of 1795 (letter 156). Back.

[8] See Goethe to Schiller on 5 December 1796 (Correspondence between Goethe and Schiller, 266):

Although I suspect that the malicious spirit of our “Guests” will also have supplied Jena with copies, still I herewith send you mine. It is good fun to see what actually annoys such people, what they think annoys others, how shallow, empty, and coarse is their opinion of an existence foreign to their own, how they direct their shafts against the outworks of appearance, and how little they suspect what an inaccessible stronghold that man possesses who is always in earnest with himself and the things around him. Back.

[9] The “great mind,” oddly, is Goethe, who was not the author at all. Yet even Friedrich Schlegel originally attributed Caroline von Wolzogen’s novel Agnes von Lilien to Goethe, something (according to Erich Schmidt [1913], 1:716) incomprehensible today.

After appearing serially in four issues of Schiller’s Die Horen (1796) vol. 8, no. 10, 6–69; no. 12, 36–104; (1797) vol. 9, no. 2, 43–60; vol. 10, no. 5, 55–90, the piece was published as a book by Johann Friedrich Unger (Berlin 1798). Here the frontispieces and title vignettes from vols. 1 and 2 of the edition (possibly pirated) published in Vienna and Prague in 1798 (the original Berlin edition had no illustrations):



See Schiller to Goethe on 6 December 1796 (Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller 268):

We shall, as it seems, be most successful with Agnes von Lilien; for all those who have spoken of it here have declared themselves in favour of it. Can you believe that our two great critics here — the Schlegels — did not for a moment doubt but that the work was yours? Nay, even Frau Schlegel was of the opinion that you have never created so pure and so perfect a female character, and she admits that her opinion of you has become greater since reading this work. Others seem to have been edified by it, in quite a different manner to what they were by the fourth volume of your Meister. I have not yet been able to make up my mind to dispel this sublime illusion.

See also Wilhelm Schlegel’s letter to Schleiermacher on 22 January 1798 (letter 194d). Back.

[10] Molière, L’Avare (1668). See Library of the World’s Best Literature: Ancient and Modern, ed. Charles Dudley Warner, 45 vols. (New York 1896), 44:308–9, s.v. “Avare”:

L’Avare (The Miser), one of the most famous of Moliere’s prose comedies, first produced September 9th, 1668. It is founded on the ‘Aulularia’ of Plautus, and was paraphrased by Fielding in his comedy of ‘The Miser.’

Harpagon, a sexagenarian miser who incarnates the spirit of avarice, has determined to marry a young woman named Mariane, who lives in obscure poverty with her invalid mother. He has likewise determined to bestow the hand of his own daughter Elise upon Anselme, a friend and companion of his own age, who has consented to take her without a dot or marriage portion.

But the young women prefer to choose their own lovers. Harpagon’s son, Cléante, is the favored suitor of Mariane. Valère is desperately smitten with Elise, and for the purpose of wooing her has introduced himself into the Harpagon household under the guise of the house-steward.

Harpagon’s dearest possession is a casket containing ten thousand francs, which he has buried in his garden, and with which his thoughts are ever occupied. La Flêche, a valet, discovers the chest. Harpagon’s despair and fury, the complications ensuing, and the distentanglement necessary to a successful stage ending, are given with all Moliere’s inexhaustible verve and humor.

Illustrations by William Hogarth and Maurice Leloir:



[11] A revealing choice of roles for Caroline, from Goethe, Stella. Ein Schauspiel für Liebende (Berlin 1776), then in Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 4 (Leipzig 1787), 1–102, based on Goethe’s earlier love for Lili Schönemann but with the non-autobiographical motif of a man, the protagonist Fernando, unable to decide between two women, Cäcilie — the role Caroline chooses for herself — and Stella — the role Anna Henriette Schütz chooses for herself. Here the frontispiece and title vignette to the 1787 edition:


Having abandoned them both, Fernando returns to Stella only to encounter Cäcilie as well, with the latter of whom he tries unsuccessfully to elope. Cäcilie proposes a ménage à trois, which is then indeed arranged (“one dwelling, one bed, one grave,” as Cäcilie remarks in the final scene), a dramatic feature that incensed some of Goethe’s contemporaries, led to the play’s proscription in Hamburg, and prompted even Goethe himself to alter the ending in 1803: Cäcilie’s proposal is made too late; Fernando shoots himself, and Stella dies alone after taking poison.

But in 1796, Caroline is referring to the original version of the play with the proposed ménage à trois. Concerning the character of the two women whose roles Madame Schütz and Caroline are proposing to play — Stella and Cäcilie — and for a synopsis and the text to the key final scenes, see supplementary appendix 174.1.

Friedrich Schlegel later accuses Caroline of covertly contemplating an albeit considerably less overt variation of the original ending with Wilhelm Schlegel and Schelling (see his letter to Schleiermacher in mid-September 1801 [letter 328j]), while Wilhelm opined later in his Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, trans. John Black (London 1846), 515, that “[the play] Stella can only flatter the sentimentality of superficial feeling.” Back.

[12] Auguste writes in a letter to the Gotter daughters in Gotha that “Madam Märo” also performed a role. Erich Schmidt (1913), 1:716, unfortunately provides no more information about Auguste’s letter. Back.

[13] The Gotters’ daughters were Cäcilie, Julie, and Pauline; all were close friends with Auguste from her and Caroline’s earlier stay in Gotha in 1794–95. Back.

[14] Luise Michaelis had married Christian Rudolf Wilhelm Wiedemann on 28 March 1796 in Braunschweig. Caroline is presumably referring to the difficult time Luise was having with her first pregnancy, about which she speaks in his own memoirs, p. 37. Back.

Translation © 2012 Doug Stott