Letter 192c

• 192c (was 191). Friedrich Schlegel to Caroline in Jena: Berlin, 12 December 1797 [*]

[Berlin, 12 December 1797]

|438| Could I but write more, my dear Caroline! How gladly would I do so. — You must not hold it against me that, amid the crush of everything I really intended to and should write, I now always give precedence to things involving the journal. [1]

But please do write and tell me about everything you yourself are thinking about contributing in that regard, even before you have settled on anything. I will then advise you as best I can. And please offer me advice as well, and consider quite critically and thoroughly everything I mention to you concerning the works |439| and projects I am preparing for the journal. —

But your interest and participation will also promote especially what Wilhelm can and intends to do. If he picks up my suggestion regarding the master’s most recent lyrical poetry, you can certainly offer him a great deal of help in that regard. [2]

Do not let either Wilhelm’s activity or your own aversion to such work spoil the prospect of contributing something yourself. But even if you cannot or do not wish to do so just now, there is still much you can do — in doubling and redirecting our own enthusiasm through your participation and advice. —

I have always believed that your natural form — for I believe every person of energy and intellect has his own, unique form — would be the rhapsody. What I mean by that may become clear to you if I add that I consider Wilhelm’s true natural form to be the solid, firm, clear mass, and fragments to be my own. — I have, of course, also tried my hand at rhapsodies, and Wilhelm can doubtless compose extremely good fragments, but I am talking solely about that which is most natural to each individual. One makes it hard on oneself, especially without much practice, by choosing a form that is unnatural and thus attainable only through considerable art and exertion. —

Were you ever to write a novel, someone else would perhaps have to come up with the overall plan, and, were the whole not to consist solely of letters, also write whatever is not in the form of letters. —

You yourself can certainly utter fragments and write them in letters, but they always derive precisely from what is completely individual and hence are not really useful for our purposes. Your philosophy and your fragmentariness each goes its own way. —

Hence be careful in choosing your form, and be mindful that letters and reviews |440| are forms you have completely under your control. You will be contributing to the letters on Shakespeare’s comedic spirit if the suggestion is accepted, will you not? [3]

That which might be published from your letters is far too pure, beautiful, and delicate for me to bear seeing it, as it were, shattered into fragments and rendered coquettish merely by its being excerpted in such a way. By contrast, I do not think it entirely impossible that one might — dioscurize from your letters one great philosophical rhapsody. [4] What do you think? —

That would be something for the summer, when I am there with all of you again; for I am very inclined to go along with you and then remain for the entire summer, but then to return here for the winter. [5] — What I would really lack in Jena in the long run are books, which I can have here as I wish and which there I must utterly do without. Could I but sit down at my leisure there and complete one of my novels, that would be a bit different. But even in that case, I would still need rather homogeneous reading material at hand. —

I am very glad Wilhelm again wishes to have me around him, and how could you believe I could resist an invitation so wholly commensurate with my own wishes?

I was quite pleased with what you wrote me about Auguste. Except the part about not wanting to bring her with you. — She can learn to sing here as well as anywhere. Perhaps I could arrange admittance for her to the Fasch vocal academy, where she would hear vocal music of the sort not to be found even in Dresden. [6] Whenever you two went to social gatherings where she did not want to go along or where you thought it inappropriate, she could attend the theater with me. I am intentionally saving it up for then and have hardly been three times myself in the past three months. |441| — Or she can read Greek with me. —

I entreat you to reconsider. The business with innocence means nothing. In the first place, Auguste can certainly see Berlin and yet remain innocent. But if innocence consists in always staying in the same tiny space, then Auguste, who has already experienced so many different cities and customs — a veritable female Odysseus — is no longer innocent and thus has nothing to lose. — But seriously, I would think that seeing Berlin might represent a small contribution to the kind of education that, in addition to the principle of example, perhaps chance, too, has provided for her and that distinguishes her so clearly from other girls her age. — And then, have you not also considered the separation?

Two letters from Wilhelm just arrived. Before I open them, and because time is short before the mail leaves, let me also report the following to which Tieck refers in his letter. —

Unger was really disgusted by Eschen’s most recent letters, and Reichardt even more. [7] Unger wrote Eschen a rather piqued and resolute missive and related it to me, saying he wished Eschen would just tire of the entire affair. [8]

Now, with Tieck, I considered it advisable to see what course things take and then, if things do not work out with Eschen, to suggest Tieck to Unger. Unger was, after all, the first to come up with the idea and is ultimately also the best publisher. — That was that. —

I did not break with Reichardt because of his objections regarding the Vosside, to which I in any event did not respond; indeed, I did not even suspect much of his imperious behavior. Ultimately, however, he wanted to gossip and damage me in Unger’s eyes not only out of malice, but also out of passion and foolishness, though in this instance he completely failed. When I learned of it, I wrote him a reprimanding |442| but cordial billet. The response he wrote was extremely long and extremely base — whereupon I very succinctly took my leave of him. [9]

I doubt very much I can send Fichte and Niethammer something now. I do not have very many fragments that would qualify as philosophical in the sense of their journal. Although I do have a great deal of material, it is not fragments, or at least nothing that can be published now. What I could easily give them now would probably be 1 or 1½ printer’s sheets. But as far as most of them are concerned, and precisely with regard to the best, I am extremely uncertain Fichte would even understand them — or am even too uncertain. I cannot really mesh with the spirit of their journal unless it be that I take over some of the criticism or, when necessary, polemic against the elegant philosophers who are simultaneously making pretensions to philology or poesy.

But if my own essay were not to mesh with the spirit of the whole, they would end up viewing it only as a stopgap, and of little value. For me, however, i.e., for the fragments in our journal, the few that are genuinely philosophical are extremely valuable simply in providing a bit of variety. —

For the time being — that is, until I am able to write him myself — might you say a few words of apology to Fichte in this matter? — My heartiest congratulations to the Niethammers. [10]

[Transitions into a letter to Wilhelm Schlegel.] [11]


[*] Was originally letter 191 in Erich Schmidt (1913), 438–42. Also published in KFSA 24:59–62; a translation of an excerpt from this letter by Lisa C. Roetzel appeared in Theory as Practice. A Critical Anthology of Early German Romantic Writings, ed. Jochen Schulte-Sasse et al. (Minneapolos 1997), 444–45.

The more precise dating of 12 December 1797 (and resulting renumbering in this present edition) follows KFSA 24:358n39.1, which draws attention to Friedrich’s reference in his letter to Wilhelm Schlegel and Auguste Böhmer on 18 December 1797 (letter 194) back to his letter of 12 December 1797, which Walzel incorrectly deduced solely as the continuation of this present letter even though that continuation begins on the final sheet of this present letter. Back.

[1] Athenaeum, which Friedrich, Wilhelm, and Caroline had been discussing in detail since Friedrich’s letter to them on 31 October 1797 (letter 188c). Back.

[2] On 5 December 1797 (Walzel, 324; KFSA 24:55), Friedrich had responded to Wilhelm’s own suggestion that he, Wilhelm, write something about Goethe’s lyrical poetry in Schiller’s Musen-Almanach for 1796–98 : “Your idea about writing something about Goethe’s most recent lyrical poems seems very plausible to me.” Back.

[3] Despite his comments at the beginning of this paragraph, Friedrich had earlier (5 December 1797) been rather exasperated trying to get Wilhelm, Caroline, and even Auguste to compose fragments for the anticipated periodical. See his letter to Wilhelm on 5 December 1797 (Walzel, 327; KFSA 24:57):

So also with the fragments. — Will all of you not be sending any at all? — Do you not want to compose any? Does Caroline not want to compose any? — Does Auguste not want to compose any? — You could all do this quite easily during a meal. Auguste can write them all down at the same time.

Friedrich, Caroline, and Wilhelm were possibly also planning to write a treatise on Shakespeare’s comedic spirit (see Friedrich to Wilhelm on 31 October 1797 [letter 188c]), which may also be the piece to which the expression “romantic comedy” in Friedrich’s letter to Auguste, Caroline, and Wilhelm in early November 1797 (letter 190) is referring. Back.

[4] “Dioscurize,” from a Greek term Friedrich uses to mean essentially “edit together,” in the fashion of the Homeric poems. The term refers originally to the brothers Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology, and Friedrich presumably coined the term to describe his work together with Wilhelm and, by extension, with others involved in the new periodical.

Concerning the brothers, who were variously understood as sons of Zeus, see William Smith, A Smaller Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology, and Geography, 11th ed. [London 1868], 150, s.v. “Dioscuri”: “Castor was famous for his skill in taming and managing horses, and Pollux for his skill in boxing. . . . Although they were buried, says Homer, yet they came to life every other day, and they enjoyed divine honors. They are usually represented in works of art as youthful horsemen, with egg-shaped helmets, crowned with stars, and with spears in their hands” (illlustration: reverse side of a coin struck for King Antiochus VI, in Carl Ottfried Müller and Carl Osterley, Denkmäler der alten Kunst, vol. 1:2 [Göttingen 1854], plate lii, no. 242):


Concerning Friedrich’s use, see the conclusion to his letter to Caroline in November 1798 (letter 209), where he speaks about “dioscurizing” and “excerpting”; see also his letter to Wilhelm on 1 December 1797 (Walzel, 314; KFSA 24:51), where he speaks about publishing a Musenalmanach:

. . . such an unpleasant undertaking, one certainly infinitely more tedious than you are imagining just now. — Having to work through and dioscurize the rhyming of the hacks? and having to do so during the summer, when nature reminds you of your own talent and which you should respect as a time devoted to art and beauty. Back.

[5] Allusion to Caroline and Wilhelm’s anticipated journey to Berlin, after which Friedrich anticipated returning with them to Jena until the winter; neither journey materialized as anticipated, though Wilhelm did travel to Berlin ca. 20 May 1798 and return to Dresden with Friedrich ca. 30 June to meet Caroline and Auguste, who had arrived on 12 May. Back.

[6] See esp. Friedrich’s letter to Auguste in mid-November 1797 (letter 191b) with note 8. Back.

[7] The reference is to a proposed translation (on which see below). — Friedrich August Eschen, one of Johann Heinrich Voss’s students, for a time also friends with Friedrich, had contact with Wilhelm and Caroline in Jena. Schiller wrote to Goethe on 8 May 1798 concerning Eschen (Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller 93):

Eschen, a pupil of Voss’s, who gave him a letter of recommendation to me last year, has become altogether faithless to his old idol and master, and now finds very much to censure in him. The Schlegel family have taken this young gentleman in hand and have led him away from Voss. I fear he has improved for the worse by his change of faith.

Friedrich Schlegel had incurred the ire of Johann Friedrich Reichardt with his irreverent quip about Voss in Reichardt’s Lyceum der schönen Künste: “Voss is Homerian in his Louise; and in his translation, Homer is a Vossian” (see Friedrich’s letter to Auguste on 24 October 1797 [letter 188b] with note 3).

Schiller’s Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1799 did in any case include contributions from Eschen, including five “Hymnen, aus dem Griechischen”: “An die Musen und Apollon” (136); “An Aphrodite” (136–37); “An Dionysos” (138); “An Artemis” (139); “An die Mutter Aller” (141–42); then also “Die Lehre der Bescheidenheit. Idylle” (210–22); “An Louise. Mit einem Gedichte von Ossian” (237–40). In an extraordinarily humble and self-effacing letter from Montelier in Switzerland on 13 July 1798, Eschen respectfully inquires whether Schiller might not only accept his poems for the Musen-Almanach, but also offer him a critique of those poems; he frames the request by alluding to the aforementioned “disloyalty” to Voss (Otto Güntter, “Zu Schillers Briefwechsel,” Euphorion 12 [1905], 408–10; here 409):

I would be assessing these attempts far too highly by believing they might justify a request for a few words of critique from you yourself, despite how welcome such critique would be, since those who have not long made such attempts in the sphere of the poetic arts too easily run the risk of believing themselves capable of either too little or too much. . . .

I once read some of my earlier attempts aloud to Voss. He strongly encouraged me at the time to continue, finding little to reproach as regards form but believing the content to be insufficiently weighty. I reflected on this judgment and indeed implemented it, but then quickly noticed the dangerous, false path down which I was proceeding, and when later I thought myself capable of assessing Voss’s own smaller poems, it seemed to me that most lacked that particular pure concurrence between content and form through which the content, as it were, disappears into the beautiful form.

Since then, I have no longer asked Voss for any critiques, not least also because it seemed he would have little inclination to engage in any deeper examination of the art of poetry and to render a more stringent account of his own fortunate nature, which is usually what guides him. A very few words from you, however, would be all the more welcome to me, since you have penetrated so deeply into the realm of beauty and have so skillfully articulated the delicate outlines of that realm that remain invisible to so many eyes.

On 30 May 1800, Eschen wrote one final letter to Wilhelm Schlegel from Switzerland full of hope for an eventual reunion (on 30 May 1800 [letter 260b]); concerning his fate, see the supplementary appendix Friedrich August Eschen. Back.

[8] The reference here is to a translation into German of Cervantes’s Don Quixote, which Ludwig Tieck then prepared, Don Quixote, 4 vols. (Berlin 1799–1801). Back.

[9] Friedrich did not, however, break completely with Reinhardt over this matter, though Reinhardt asserted as much in a letter to Eschen in 1797 and Friedrich himself announced it in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1797) 163 (Saturday, 16 December 1797) 1352 (text see Friedrich’s letter to Auguste on 24 October 1797 [letter 188b] with note 3). They continued to have contact after 1798, and Wilhelm Schlegel especially had later dealings with Reichardt. Back.

[10] Niethammer married Rosine Eleonore Döderlein, née von Eckard, in Jena in 1797. It was through this marriage that Niethammer came into possession of the house at Leutragasse 5, where Caroline, Wilhelm, and Auguste were living; whence also references to the house in later scholarship sometimes as the Döderlein house, sometimes as the Niethammer house. Back.

[11] This letter’s continuation to Wilhelm can be found in Walzel, 330–32; KFSA 24:62–63. Back.

Translation © 2012 Doug Stott