Letter 203e

• 203e. Friedrich Schlegel to Auguste Böhmer in Dresden: Berlin, October 1798 [*]

[October 1798]

|634| What an evil child you are; on top of not answering me at all, you even reprimand me. I am confidently hoping, however, |635| that you will improve and soon write me a long, proper letter. With this hope in mind, then, let me relate all sorts of funny things to you that you can also read to your mother if you want.

First concerning the Ungermonster. She has always written me only letters full of useless stuff, and sometimes even quite coarse stuff, especially recently. Hence a few days ago I let her know that I would no longer accept or open any letters. So what does she do? I am sitting upstairs in Unger’s library working on the catalogue, in a broad topcoat. She comes upstairs with Tieck and Schleiermacher and, before I know what is about, manages to slip two written cards onto the catalogue and then slithers out the door.

I am very angry that she is trying to coerce me thus into corresponding with her. So in the presence of little Wilhelm, [1] who is helping me in the library, I wrap the entire story into a piece of white paper and stick it in Grosse’s Erzählungen [2] and have it taken downstairs and put into her reference library. —

Ah, what exquisite pleasure it is, as Hamlet says, to dig ten cubits deeper and more cunningly than our adversary. [3] — And now, when the right occasion arises, I will tell her confidentially where the dog is buried, and that I did not read any of her stuff, but I will not simply tell her straightaway, but rather the way Hamlet renders an account to the king concerning the corpse of Polonius. [4]Apropos, although you can also read Hamlet, you will not completely understand it — a fate you will share with me and with many other intelligent people!

Listen, I did write to Charlotte and your mother, or as good as wrote to them. So do not moralize any further on the subject. How did you get started doing that anyway? After all, morality is hardly your favorite pastime.

|636| One more thing. I encountered Iffland at theater time. He was extremely cordial, talked constantly about Wilhelm, about Caroline and Hamlet, [5] and took me with him into the theater. But I have since had enough of it all for a while. One piece was the Der Baum der Diana, [6] a dainty, light bit of music that must, however, also be performed lightly and daintily and in the Italian fashion. And yet it was all so heavy-footed and sleepy and un-Italian. —

And then also such boredom even before the curtain rose. I sat in the middle of a bunch of gens d’armes officers who were not there to see the play, but to make noise after it was over. I was constantly hearing people around me say: “There are already nineteen of them, and this evening one really has a chance to get a look at the young army.” I thought they were traveling journeymen with epaulets. And now fat, dull Unzelmann comes in and pulls all sorts of gross faces, and the gens d’armerie laughed so hard the rafters shook. [7] The coarseness of it all really got me in the — and indeed took my breath away.

After the second act they finally opened the doors of the parterre, a cutting cold air blew in, and my condition started to become unbearable for me. I rushed out, saw Iffland outside pacing to and fro and wringing his hands in disgust at the intoxicating [?] spectacle and calling out just as I was completely outside and wet, since it was raining: O, che canaglia, che plattitú. [8] I will probably not be going back there anytime soon.

Tieck is very happily married except for complaining that his dear Amalie does not have much sense for art. She always falls asleep when he reads his things aloud to her. [9] Henriette sends you her warm regards and is quite fond of you. And I even more.

Friedrich Schl.


[*] Source: Schmidt (1913), 1:634–36 (letter no. 22); Waitz (1871), 1:367–69; reprinted in KFSA 24:175–76. — That Auguste is still in Dresden is suggested by the reference to Charlotte Ernst in Dresden. — Concerning the textual history of Friedrich Schlegel’s letters to Auguste Böhmer, see supplementary appendix 181d.1. Back.

[1] Uncertain reference; the Ungers had no children. Back.

[2] Karl Grosse, Erzählungen [Memoiren?] vom Verfasser des Genius, 2 vols. (Berlin 1793–94). Back.

[3] Hamlet, act 3, scene 4, just before Hamlet exits “dragging the body of Polonius” (Shakespeare: Complete Works, ed. W. J. Craig [London 1966]; illustration: The Works of Shakespeare, ed. Howard Staunton, illustrated by John Gilbert [London 1867]):


There’s letters seal’d; and my two schoolfellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fang’d,
They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way
And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petar; and it shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon. O, ’tis most sweet
When in one line two crafts directly meet.
This man shall set me packing.
I’ll lug the guts into the neighbour room.
Mother, good night. Indeed, this counsellor
Is now most still, most secret, and most grave,
Who was in life a foolish prating knave.
Come, sir, to draw toward an end with you.
Good night, mother. Back.

[4] Hamlet, act 4, scene 3 (text ibid.):

King. Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?

Hamlet. At supper.

King. At supper! Where?

Ham. Not where he eats, but where he is eaten; a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service; two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end.

King. Alas, alas!

Ham. A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

King. What dost thou mean by this?

Ham. Nothing, but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.

King. Where is Polonius?

Ham. In heaven; send thither to see: if your messenger find him not there, seek him i’ the other place yourself. But, indeed, if you find him not within this month, you shall nose him as you go up the stairs into the lobby.

King. [To some Attendants.] Go seek him there.

Ham. He will stay till you come. Back.

[5] Concerning the complicated issue of Iffland’s interest in this regard, see Ella Horn’s essay on the background to the premiere of Hamlet in Berlin. Back.

[6] Der Baum der Diana (original: L’arbore di Diana [The tree of Diana]), mythological–allegorical comic opera by Vicente Martín y Soler (1754–1806) in Vienna, Italian libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte; premiered there on 1 October 1787, Der Baum der Diana. Ein Singspiel in zwey Aufzügen. Aufzuführen bei der Ankunft J.K. Hoheit Maria Theresia Erzherzoginn von Oesterreich, Braut des Prinzen Anton von Sachsen (Vienna 1787); German libretto by Ferdinand Eberl, Der Baum der Diana, ein heroisch-komisches Singspiel in zwey Aufzügen (Vienna 1787); see also Christian Gottlob Neese, Baum der Diana. Eine comische Oper in 2 Acten (Bonn 1795). (here the frontispiece to Vicente Martín y Soler, Lorenzo Da Ponte, Der Baum der Diana: Ein heroisch-komisches Singspiel in zwey Aufzügen; Aus dem Italienischen; Sämmtliche Arien [1792]):



[7] Representative theater scene (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Des Doctor Primrose und seines Sohnes Georg Wiedersehen [1776]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki-Kopie St AB 3.6):



[8] Italian and French(?), “What riffraff, what dullards!” Back.

[9] Caroline jestingly compares herself to Amalie in her response to Friedrich on 15 October 1798 (letter 204) (excerpt from Sebastian Mansfeld, Adeliger trifft auf schlafende Frau im Garten [after ca. 1751]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 1665):



Translation © 2012 Doug Stott