Letter 206a

206a. Dora Stock to Charlotte Schiller in Jena: Dresden, 24 October 1798 [*]

Dresden, 24 October 1798

Paralysis in my right arm that made me quite anxious about the future also prompted me to go to Karlsbad. [1] . . .

But this journey did not, as is usually the case, leave me with any particularly pleasant memories. The empty life one must normally lead at a mineral-springs spa was not interrupted or enhanced this time by any pleasant or interesting acquaintances. Everyone was bored. And everyone complained about being bored. But no one did anything to change it. And yet such boredom must be reckoned as healthy, since the complete peace and quiet and relaxation of the spirit had such a salutary effect on my body that I was indeed able to enjoy in a quite pure and unadulterated fashion a feeling that has long been a stranger to me, namely, that of being quite healthy.

Although the Fichtes were among the familiar faces I found there, [2] they always kept their distance from the circles in which I myself moved, and because they never attended any balls or other public gatherings, I was unable to renew our acquaintance despite considerable effort on my part, they seeming quite to ignore me.

She was remarkable solely because of her rather adventurous promenades; she kept him with her even during walks, and among the rather gloomy, ghostly public squares — of which Karlsbad has several [2a] — one could almost imagine her as a bewitched princess. Like the goddess of surfeit, she always carried a cornucopia of flowers with her; even more so, however, she preferred to wander about in a white garment with a basket of [viz. “and”] straw woven in her hair; the flowers in the basket were also of straw, sumptuously radiant in a variety of colors. You who are not unfamiliar with her face can easily enough imagine how light and dainty such became her. [3]

The Schlegels were here, as you know, [4] and, quite in accordance with our own wishes, kept their distance from us. They veritably took possession of the gallery, spending almost every morning there with Schelling and Gries. They took all sorts of notes and held forth such that it was quite a delight. I often seemed rather pitiful to myself, being so far removed from wisdom that I could not even quite comprehend theirs. They occasionally spoke about art with me, asking me various things, which, however, I simply could not answer. I feel and I paint; [5] but I do not understand the language of art, which is why I am timid around those whose higher wisdom makes me aware of my own limitations. They also initiated Fichte into the mysteries of art. You would have laughed, my dear Lotte, had you seen the Schlegels with him, the way they dragged him around and inoculated him with their convictions by storm. [6]

My dear, have you read much in Athenaeum? I confess I simply cannot get to the point where I understand the “Fragments.” [7] Even should there be no wondrously profound meaning there that I am perhaps simply incapable of understanding, I yet cannot hide the fact that certain passages simply seem flaccid and quite ordinary to me.

Could I but see you again soon together with your dear child! Karl’s physiognomy made an enduring impression on me; his pleasant smile, beautiful eyes, and blond locks hover before me constantly. I recently painted Amor, and though it was, I believe, successful, nonetheless it is Karl’s charming face that abides in my imagination. [8]


[*] Source: Charlotte von Schiller und ihre Freunde 3:24–25. Back.

[1] Modern Karlovy Vary in western Bohemia, Czech Republic, formerly known as Karlsbad, ca. 110 km southwest of Dresden; a popular mineral-springs spa, especially during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the spa Töplitz was nearby (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]; illustrations: [1] Franz Sartori, Taschenbuch für Carlsbads Curgäste wie auch für Liebhaber von dessen Naturschönheiten (Vienna 1817), frontispiece; [2] frontispiece to Dr. Kronser, Illustrirter Kurkatechismus von Karlsbad: Neueste Beschreibung alles Wissenswerten dieses Weltbades, rev. ed. [Leipzig 1873]; [2]):




For more on Karlsbad, including illustrations, see Pauline Gotter’s letter to Caroline on 6 September 1808 (letter 434), esp. note 9 there. Back.

[2] From ca. 21 July till mid-August 1798, Fichte and his family were in Karlsbad. Following their return home to Jena, Fichte then departed Jena on 17 September 1798 for a two-week journey to Leipzig, Dresden, and Rammenau. Back.

[2a] Market Square in Karlsbad (George Hesekiel, Karlsbad [Leipbig 1846], plate following p. 160):



[3] The reference is to Amaltheia or Copia, the goddess of surfeit in Greek mythology (illustration from W. H. Foscher, ed., Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, vol. 1 [Leipzig 1884–90], 263):


What Dora Stock describes here sooner evokes variations on the theme such as the following frontispiece to a later edition of Schiller’s poems (Schiller, Gedichte, vol. 1, [Leipzig 1804]; reproduced in Gustav Könnecke, Schiller: Eine Biographie in Bildern [Marburg 1905], 42):


See also the lesser goddess Flora, a singular sight indeed on the streets of Karlsbad (Philipp Gottlieb Seeger, Die Götter der alten Griechen und Römer: nach ihren Herkünften, Thaten, Nachkommenschaften, Tempeln, Vorstellungen, Benennungen und Bedeutungen, 2 vols. [Frankfurt am Main 1777], II. Theil, Tafel XVII):


Perhaps an even closer approximation to the mood evoked by Dora Stock’s description might be found in an engraving done by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki to accompany a bucolic fictional dialogue by Salomon Gessner (1730–88) — a Swiss poet and artist and a countryman of Johanne Fichte — “Phillis Chloe,” a dialogue from Gessner’s multi-volume Idyllen concerning a basket Amyntas had woven for Chloe (Chodowiecki, Phillis Chloe [1771–73]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./SignaturUh 4° 47 [100]):


The stylized thematic evocation in Dora Stock’s description of Madam Fichte, of course, is ultimately the sort of bucolic scene also found in Gessner’s own illustration Bukolische Szene (1767):



[4] Caroline and Auguste had arrived in Dresden on 12 May 1798, Wilhelm later (with Friedrich Schlegel) sometime after 20 May 1798. Back.

[5] Dora Stock was a talented portraitist, her subjects including Schiller, Mozart, and Charlotte von Stein. Back.

[6] An animated and in part touching (with the severe philosopher Fichte being led around the Dresden Gallery) description of the activities and preliminary dialogue exchanges constituting the background to Wilhelm and Caroline’s programmatic essay “Die Gemählde. Ein Gespräch von W.,” in Athenaeum (1799) 39–151. See Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 24 October 1798 (letter 206), note 6, and the cross reference there. Back.

[7] “Fragmente,” Athenaeum (1798) 179–322; Eng.: Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis 1971), 161–240. Back.

[8] See Karl Schiller’s biogram for a portrait of him as a young man; Karl was five years old at the time. — No painting or sketch of Amor by Dora Stock seems to be extant. Although Amor was a popular theme for artists at the time, no documentation helps identify those with which she might have been familiar. She could conceivably have been familiar with the recent (1790) piece by the earlier Dresden resident Anton Raphael Mengs, which may perhaps stand as representative for the period (Dresden gallery):



Translation © 2013 Doug Stott