Letter 190

• 190. Friedrich Schlegel to Auguste Böhmer, Caroline, and Wilhelm Schlegel in Jena: Berlin, early November 1797 [*]

[Berlin, early November 1797]

|437| . . . Today I had been quite properly and festively looking forward to writing you, dear Augustchen, concerning what a “temperament” or a person’s “inner disposition” is; [1] to you, |438| dearest Mother, about how my own inner disposition is doing; and to you, Wilhelm, about the romanzo, about the romantic comedy, [2] and particularly about Herkules. [3] With what impatience, indeed, with what voracious hunger have I not been anticipating an answer today to my last letter! How many projects have not already been completed!

Your last letter, Karoline, particularly gladdened me. For now just this much: Every element of mistrust was wholly superfluous. I am well, and my circumstances are also good. I will, however, yet tease you about several things in your first epistle, which could not but be more than painful to me, as you seem to suspect despite the maternalism that on the whole has reconciled me with it. I am to become or at least can become a total stranger to you, you say? I will never become thus. Unfortunately, however, I was such a stranger if you could write to me that way [4] . . .

Schleyermacher and M. are my only consolation. [5] But I do often, indeed very often, yearn to be with all of you again . . . Please write and tell me whether you know anything about Hardenberg. I so long to hear something about him. . . . Did I leave my D’Anville atlas of older maps in Jena, Auguste? [6] . . .


[*] Excerpted in Erich Schmidt (1913), 437–38, from a longer letter first published in Walzel, 308–10; later KFSA 24:36–38. Dating “early November 1797” from KFSA 24:343.28n1 with reference to Friedrich’s eagerly awaited answer concerning Herkules, i.e., the anticipated launch of a new periodical, which he mentions in his letter to Wilhelm and Caroline on 31 October 1797 (letter 188c). Back.

[1] See Friedrich’s letter to Auguste ca. 24 October 1797 (letter 188b), in which he remarks that “your mother does write more from her heart than you do, and you yourself have probably written more from the heart in your diary than in your letters to me.” Auguste seems to have requested a more thorough explanation of the term.

The German term at issue is Gemüth, whose breadth of meaning can encompass such notions as a person’s heart, mind, feeling, natural or inner disposition, turn of mind, temperament, and the like. Adelung 2:556 commences its entry on Gemüth as follows: “the soul, with respect to desire and volition, just as, with respect to understanding and reason, such is also called mind or spirit (Geist).” The simple English terms “temperament” and “inner disposition” can suffice here if readers will but bear these other shades of meaning in mind.

In his translation of the Athenaeum fragments, Peter Firchow translates the term Gemüth as “temperament.” See in this context especially fragment 339 in Athenaeum (1798) 275–76 (here Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow [Minneapolis 1971], 215):

Feeling that is aware of itself becomes spirit [Geist]; spirit is inner conviviality, and soul [Seele], hidden amiability. But the real vital power of inner beauty and perfection is temperament [Gemüth]. One can have a little spirit without having any soul, and a good deal of soul without much temperament. But the instinct for moral greatness which we call temperament needs only to learn to speak to have spirit. It needs only to move and love to become all soul; and if it is mature, it has a feeling for everything. Spirit is like a music of thoughts; where soul is, there feelings too have outline and form, noble proportions, and charming coloration. Temperament is the poetry of elevated reason, and, united with philosophy and moral experience, it gives rise to that nameless art which seizes the confused transitoriness of life and shapes it into an eternal unity. Back.

[2] By romanzo Friedrich is referring to Wilhelm’s initial idea for a “chivalric poem.” Friedrich writes to Wilhelm from Berlin in December 1797 (Walzel, 313; KFSA 24:50): “For the summer you will be writing the projected romanzo, will you not?”

See KFSA 24:343n3:

[In a previous letter Friedrich had spoken about the “romanzo of the Italians”] by which he understands the verse epics of the Italian Renaissance, such as those of Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso. Wilhelm Schlegel wanted to work on a similar chivalrous poem that was initially to be called “Lancelot,” then “Tristan,” of which, however, only the first canto was in fact written (Sämmtliche Werke 1:100–26).

By “romantic comedy [Germ. Komödie],” which Wilhelm Schlegel later called the “romantic Lustspiel” in both his Berlin Vorlesungen über schöne Literatur und Kunst and Viennese lectures [Über dramatische Kunst und Litteratur. Vorlesungen 3 vols. (Heidelberg 1809–11); translated John Black and Alexander James William Morrison as A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature (London 1846)], the Schlegels generally understood the comedy of the romantic age. At the time of this letter, such refers almost exclusively to the Shakespearean comedy, then a bit later also to the comedies of Calderon and other English and Spanish playwrights of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Rudolf Haym, Die romantische Schule, 711n***, traces the correspondence concerning this poem (“Tristan”) between Friedrich, Wilhelm, Schleiermacher, Ludwig Tieck, and Goethe, the latter of whom had provided a German version from an “aged German tome . . . bearing the title Book of Love and containing the story of Tristan and Iselde,” though Goethe notes that he does not know whether it was a translation or adaptation (1 January 1800, Körner-Wieneke 90). Haym also remarks that

the poem, expansively conceived in stanzas after the model of Ariosto, never got beyond the initial canto despite Tieck’s encouragement; the writer [Wilhelm Schlegel] only got around to publishing it in 1811 in his Poetische Werke, 2 vols. (Heidelberg 1811), 1:98–134, whence it also was incorporated into the Sämmtliche Werke 1:100–26).

For a translation of the first two stanzas of canto 1, see Wilhelm’s letter to Goethe on 30 May 1800 (letter 260c), note 2. Back.

[3] Herkules was the proposed name of the periodical Friedrich was proposing he and Wilhelm establish (what later became their Athenaeum). See Friedrich’s letter to Wilhelm and Caroline on 31 October 1797 (letter 188c). Back.

[4] This note of tension derives also from Friedrich’s suspicion that Caroline had queried Meta Liebeskind, a Berlin acquaintance of Friedrich’s, concerning his relationship with Dorothea Veit (see the piqued remark in his letter to Wilhelm and, N.B., Caroline, on 31 October 1797 [letter 188c], with note 9) (Genealogische Kalender auf das Jahr 1810; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


On 26 September 1797, Friedrich had already given Friedrich von Hardenberg permission to tell Caroline “whatever you think appropriate” concerning his relationship with Dorothea (Friedrich Schlegel und Novalis 107; Novalis Schriften 4:492; KFSA 24:22). Back.

[5] M. for “Dorothea Mendelssohn,” which may seem a peculiar designation for Dorothea Veit, though Friedrich uses the same reference in a letter to Caroline in mid-February 1798 (letter 195b; redated letter 227 in [1913], 1:517–19). Back.

[6] KFSA 24:344n10 points out that Erich Schmidt, (1913), 1:438, misread “d’Anville” as “d’Auville”; the reference is to Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville (1697–1782), Géographie ancienne abrégée, 3 vols. (Paris 1763; also 1768; 1782), with fold-out maps. Here the frontispiece to vol. 1, Europe (1768); note the maps on the ground and books in the figure’s hands:



Translation © 2012 Doug Stott