Letter 215a

215a. Wilhelm Schlegel to Friedrich von Hardenberg in Freiberg: Jena, 12 January 1799 [*]

Jena, 12 January 1799

I do realize that since we last saw each other in Dresden, I have been as silent as the dead. [1] But since the handsome and amiable Herder is visiting us today — who has not only come from near where you are, but will also be returning there — I could not let the opportunity pass without writing you at least a few lines.

I have had much to do this winter, which has also contributed to my silence. My wife has probably already informed you of as much. My lectures have not yet caused me any boredom. [2] I do wish you had the opportunity to hear some of the ones on aesthetics; I would like to hear your assessment. The public collegium on the history of German poesy has prompted me to read our older and in part very old poets, which in its own turn has awakened in me the desire perhaps to undertake a chivalric poem myself, something I will doubtless get to next summer. [3] Otherwise I am diligently at work on Shakespeare and have almost finished the Merchant of Venice. [4] I hope you will be pleased with it.

Furthermore — lest I forget the most important news — Athenaeum has successfully recovered from its shabby publisher; a different bookseller, Fröhlich, who bought Vieweg’s Berlin business, has taken it on and has also bought up the inventory of the initial issues. [5] You will have the third issue in about six weeks. Hence you will also be requisitioned for contributions. Hülsen was in Berlin, fraternized with my brother and promised him various things. [6] We are thinking about continuing with the sthenic diet, that is, not to skimp on peppered critiques. The complete works of Wieland will presumably also be dealt with in the next four issues to which the bookseller has committed. [7]

I have begun a grand elegy to Goethe on the subject of the art of antiquity — actually, more than just begun. [8] I am extremely keen to see how you judge it. But you shall not see the piece until it is finished and printed (in the fourth issue of Athenaeum). Unless, that is, you yourself come to see us in person, which would, of course, enormously please us.

Friedrich has been extremely preoccupied by the domestic chaos regnant with his lady friend, Madam Veit, and I do hope you will excuse his silence on that account. Now, however, she is divorced from her husband, [9] and, as Friedrich assures us, a new period in his own life plan has now commenced. [10] If one may trust his letters, he has genuinely and really begun a novel with the title Lucinde, and promises to have a good part of it finished soon, which he will then send to us for our reaction. —

As far as literary news is concerned, let me direct your attention merely to a piece that has just appeared, namely, Tieck’s Phantasien über die Kunst, which contains Wackenroder’s — the Klosterbruder’s — literary estate, amplified by Tieck’s own essays. [11]

You have probably already learned from the Intelligenzblatt of the Literatur-Zeitung about Fichte’s dealings with the good Lord. [12] Valiant Fichte is actually fighting for us all, and if he is vanquished, the pyres have once more advanced uncomfortably close. [13]

Stay well, valued friend; though Caroline is adding nothing to the letter, she does nonetheless send her warmest regards and will write soon herself.


[*] Sources: Novalis Briefwechsel mit Friedrich und August Wilhelm, Charlotte und Caroline Schlegel, ed. J. M. Raich (Mainz 1880), 96–99; Novalis Schriften 4:513–14. — Hardenberg directed his answer to Caroline on 20 January 1799 (letter 216). Back.

[1] Hardenberg had been in Dresden 25–26 August 1798 and was now back in Freiberg (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



[2] Concerning Wilhelm’s lectures during this, his first semester as a professor in Jena, see his letter to Georg Joachim Göschen on 31 October 1798 (letter 207a), note 2. Back.

[3] Wilhelm finished only the first canto of his chivalric poem, initially to be called “Lancelot,” then “Tristan” (Sämmtliche Werke 1:100–26). Back.

[4] Volume 4 of Wilhelm’s edition of Shakespeare appeared in May 1799 and contained The Merchant of Venice and As You Like it (Der Kaufmann von Venedig and Wie es euch gefällt). Back.

[5] At issue is the transfer of Athenaeum to a new publisher and the conditions of that transfer; see Friedrich’s letters to Caroline (undated) in November, on 27 November, and 15 December 1798, and to Caroline and Wilhelm Schlegel on 22 December 1798 (letters 209, 210, 212, 213). Back.

[6] Hülsen’s essay on the natural equality of human beings, “Ueber die natürliche Gleichheit der Menschen,” appeared in Athenaeum (1799) 152–180, which appeared in early March 1799. Back.

[7] Concerning Wilhelm’s proposed “annihilation” of Christoph Martin Wieland, see Friedrich’s letter to Caroline of 20 October 1798 (letter 205) and esp. the supplementary appendix on the the break with Wieland, specifically its section on Wieland’s annihilation. Back.

[8] Wilhelm’s “Die Kunst der Griechen. An Goethe. Elegie” opens the second issue Athenaeum (1799) 181–92; see esp. Friedrich von Hardenberg’s response to this letter (to Caroline) on 20 January 1799 (letter 216). Back.

[9] Dorothea’s divorce from Simon Veit became final on 11 January 1799, i.e., the previous day. Concerning her and Friedrich’s situation during this period, see supplementary appendix 210.1. Back.

[10] See Friedrich’s letter to Caroline and Wilhelm on 15 December 1798 (letter 212): “Rejoice that my life now has a firm grounding and footing as well as a center and distinct form. Extraordinary things can happen now!” Back.

[11] Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, Phantasien über die Kunst, für Freunde der Kunst, ed. Ludwig Tieck (Hamburg 1799) (frontispiece from the edition Vienna 1818):


Caroline identifies Wackenroder as the author of the Herzensergiessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders (Berlin 1797); her review of that piece appeared in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1797) 46 (Friday, 10 February 1797) 361–65. Back.

[12] “Ankündigung neuer Bücher: Fichte’s Appelation an das Publicum über die ihm beygemessenen atheistischen Äusserungen,” Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 1 (Wednesday, 9 January 1799) 1–3, a pre-publication announcement of Fichte’s Appelation an das Publikum über die durch ein Kurf. Sächs. Confiscationsrescript ihm beigemessenen atheistischen Aeusserungen. Eine Schrift, die man erst zu lessen bittet, ehe man sie confiscirt (Jena, Leipzig, Tübingen 1799). —

To wit, Fichte was being charged with atheism; the dispute this charge generated ultimately prompted Fichte’s dismissal from the university in Jena and his move to Berlin in July 1799. The topic recurs in coming letters and represents a pivotal episode in Fichte’s life. See the overview of the dispute and the student response in supplementary appendix 215a.1. Back.

[13] For the Jena circle, this reference to heretics being burned at the stake invariably evokes the life and death of Giordano Bruno, who exerted considerable influence later on thinkers such as Spinoza, Goethe, and not least Schelling (Bruno; oder, Über das göttliche und natürliche Princip der Dinge: Ein Gespräch); Hardenberg would have recognized the allusion immediately (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, “Die Verbrennung eines Ketzers,” Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate LXXIII):



Translation © 2013 Doug Stott