Letter 181f

181f. Friedrich Schlegel to Friedrich von Hardenberg in Tennstedt: Jena, 5 May 1797 [*]

Jena, 5 May 1797

. . . I am losing a great deal by your being unable to be here. Since you will be leaving Tennstedt so soon, might it not be possible for you to spend at least a 4-week period here? [1] My family here would also find it quite pleasant. — I am not doing all that well myself. I am constantly having to fuss with my health, must work frightfully much without ever being able to finish, and am, moreover, suffering sadly from loneliness. But, then, they will be returning from Dresden in 10 days. [2]

I am on the whole satisfied with the mood of your letter. The solitude in Tennstedt is doubtless quite salutary for you. It is better to be alone after such an irreplaceable loss. A person must come completely to terms with such a thing oneself. [3] . . .

. . . By the way, I am very grateful to you for having related to me your judgment just the way it was — a judgment which, concerning not only everything philosophical, but also everything individual that I myself write, is more valuable to me than that of all the Goethes and Fichtes of the world, and even than that of my sister-in-law. Please do continue to do so. . . .


[*] Sources: Novalis Schriften 4:482; KFSA 23:363. Back.

[1] Hardenberg had traveled to Tennstedt (ca. 60 km northwest of Jena) on 12 April 1797 to be near the grave of his deceased bride, Sophie von Kühn, who had died on 19 March 1797 of consumption (tuberculosis) and was buried in the cemetery of the village church in Grüningen (map 1: Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]; map 2: (Karte des deutschen Reichs, ed. C. Vogel [Gotha 1907], no. 18); funeral illustration: Ernst und Scherz: Ein Taschenbuch zur angenehmen und nüzlichen Unterhaltung für das Jahr 1810 [Augsburg 1810]):





[2] Caroline, Auguste, and Wilhelm Schlegel returned to Jena from Dresden on 20 May 1797. Back.

[3] Sophie von Kühn’s death had plunged Hardenberg into a crisis during which he seems to have undergone a religious experience (one of his brothers had also died) and struggled with his understanding of death. The literary expression of this crisis was his Hymnen an die Nacht, composed in 1799 and arguably the most significant poetic creation of the early Romantics. They were published in Friedrich and Wilhelm’s periodical Athenaeum (1800) 188–20. Several English translations are available. See John G. Robertson, A History of German Literature (New York 1902), 426:

. . . the Hymnen an die Nacht, which contain some of the most spiritual poetry in the German tongue. Never has religion blended more perfectly with personal grief and bereavement than in these outpourings of the soul, in which the “holy, inexpressible, mysterious Night” symbolises the Nirvana of earthly sufferings. These hymns, which are, for the most part, in rhythmical prose, contain the poetic essence of Jakob Böhme’s mysticism.

Concerning Hardenberg’s visit to Sophie von Kühn’s grave, see, e.g., hymn 3, trans. George Mac Donald, Rampolli: Growths from a Long-Planted Root: Being Translations, New and Old, Chiefly from the German (London 1897), 5–6 (illustration: N. Monciau and Pierre Philippe Choffard, Trauriger Mann auf einem Friedhof [ca. 1776–1800]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 444a):


Once when I was shedding bitter tears, when, dissolved in pain, my hope was melting away, and I stood alone by the barren mound which in its narrow dark bosom hid the vanished form of my Life, lonely as never yet was lonely man, driven by anxiety unspeakable, powerless, and no longer anything but a conscious misery; — as there I looked about me for help, unable to go on or to turn back, and clung to the fleeting, extinguished life with an endless longing: then, out of the blue distances — from the hills of my ancient bliss, came a shiver of twilight — and at once snapt the bond of birth, the chains of the Light.

Away fled the glory of the world, and with it my mourning; the sadness flowed together into a new, unfathomable world. Thou, soul of the Night, heavenly Slumber, didst come upon me; the region gently upheaved itself; over it hovered my unbound, newborn spirit. The mound became a cloud of dust, and through the cloud I saw the glorified face of my beloved. In her eyes eternity reposed. I laid hold of her hands, and the tears became a sparkling bond that could not be broken. Into the distance swept by, like a tempest, thousands of years. On her neck I welcomed the new life with ecstatic tears. Never was such another dream; then first and ever since I hold fast an eternal, unchangeable faith in the heaven of the Night, and its Light, the Beloved.

The notion of the possibility of such otherwise unexplainable experiences or communication with the dead had also otherwise become increasingly popular; in a letter to Schleiermacher on 15 November 1799 (letter 255b), Dorothea Veit remarks that Hardenberg’s external appearance was that of a “ghost-seer” (Ebenezer Sibly, A New and Complete Illustration of the Celestial Science of Astrology; Or, The Art of Foretelling Future Events and Contingencies, 2 vols., 12th [sic] ed., [London 1822], plate following p. 1106):



Translation © 2012 Doug Stott