Letter 196b

196b. Friedrich von Hardenberg to Wilhelm Schlegel in Jena: Freyberg, 24 February 1798 [*]

Freyberg, 24 February 1798

Your command wholly accords with my own wishes — a rare enough occurrence with commands. You will definitely not be seeing too little of me this summer. It vexed me a bit that Friedrich will not be part of the company and will be staying in Berlin. I cannot comprehend how he can simply push six such beautiful months away. [1]

In the meantime, do not be surprised if between now and then I suddenly walk into your parlor. [2] At that time I will also free you from your worries about my turning into nothing but a+b here. I have to the contrary genuinely resolved to treat mathematics with extreme contempt in the future precisely because you are treating me like an abecedarian.

With chemistry the danger is greater still — though my old inclination toward the absolute has once more successfully rescued me from the empirical strudel, and I am hovering now and perhaps forever in more radiant, strange spheres. The enclosed fragments will convince you of the veracity of that statement [3] — most derive from an earlier period and are merely turned back. Whether your collective assessments destine them for the fire or the wet path — I myself am completely disengaging.

If you are interested in making public use of them, I would request they be signed Novalis — an old family name of ours, and not entirely inappropriate. [4] . . . If this mass appeals to you, I can deliver more. I still have several sheets of logological fragments, poeticisms, and an incipient piece with the title “Der Lehrling zu Sais” [5] — similarly fragments — but all related to nature.

It is just that I so lack books — but even more so people with whom I might philosophize, people who can electricize me. I produce best in dialogue, something I completely lack here. Although your project with Jena would admittedly be wonderful, it is impossible for me to carry out. I will be staying here this winter — and beyond that have absolutely no idea. [6]

I am happy to accept your invitation concerning the formative arts. I am not yet familiar with Schlegel’s fragments, the new ones. [7] Your own intuition and my ignorance provide fertile ground indeed for artistic paradoxes. With respect to ignorance, I refer to one of my alleged fragments — I do not yet know whether Friedrich recognizes them as fragments. If formative art is also poesy, then I must understand something about it. The technical side is utterly alien to me — but the beautiful form — I think, I do have some sensibility for that.

But I am speaking solely about the beautiful form — I know absolutely nothing about composition etc. — which is why I see only the individual form — and utterly ignore perspective, colors, and everything else. Once you have read these fragments, and the following, which will be even more forceful, I would very much like to hear your assessment of my mysticism, which is still an immature creature. More on which in person.

In the future I will occupy myself solely with poesy — all the sciences must be poeticized — I am hoping to discuss this real, scientific poesy with you at considerable length. One primary concept here is the idea of religion in my fragments. . . .


[*] Sources: Novalis Briefwechsel mit Friedrich und August Wilhelm, Charlotte und Caroline Schlegel, ed. J. M. Raich (Mainz 1880), 58–62; Novalis Schriften 4:251–53. Back.

[1] Friedrich did journey from Berlin to Dresden with Wilhelm at the end of June 1798; Hardenberg himself joined them there on 25–26 August 1798, where he visited the Royal Saxon Art Gallery and the Dresden Antiquities Collection with Caroline, Wilhelm, Friedrich, Schelling, and Johann Diederich Gries (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]; street scene in Dresden ca. 1750 by Bernardo Belotto):




[2] Hardenberg was in Jena in late March 1798, meeting Goethe in Jena along with Wilhelm on 29 March, and Schiller that same evening. See Goethe’s letter to Wilhelm on 24 February 1798 (letter 196a), note 1. Back.

[3] Apparently an early version of what later became the “Blüthenstaub” fragments in Athenaeum (1798) 70–106. See Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis, trans. Arthur Versluis (Grand Rapids 1989). Back.

[4] See Novalis Schriften 834n251 concerning the background to Hardenberg’s pen name Novalis, which genuinely did derive from earlier members of his family (from approx. 1190). The Latin humus novale (fallow land) accords with the motto to “Blüthenstaub”: “Friends, the soil is poor, we must sow potent seeds in order that we may reap mighty harvests” (trans. by F. V. M. T. and U. C. B. [sic], The Disciples at Saïs and other Fragments by Novalis [London 1903], 144). Back.

[5] Hardenberg adduces the working title “Der Lehrling zu Saïs,” published posthumousy as “Die Lehrlinge zu Sais” in Novalis Schriften, ed. Friedrich Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck, 2 vols. (Berlin 1802), 2:159–246. Concerning the “logological fragments” and “poeticisms,” see Novalis Schriften 2:522–32, 537–38. Back.

[6] Wilhelm seems — intriguingly — to have suggested Hardenberg spend the coming winter (1798–99) in Jena (Wilhelm, Caroline, and Auguste would return from Dresden in early October). Back.

[7] Presumably parts of the “Fragmente” in Athenaeum (1798) 179–322. Back.

Translation © 2012 Doug Stott