Letter 219a

219a. Wilhelm Schlegel to Goethe in Weimar: Jena, 4 February 1799 [*]

Jena, 4 February 1799

I feared importuning you with my words of thanks for your very interesting parcel, knowing as I did you would still be involved in theatrical activities and distractions whose fruits we for our own part enjoyed in considerable comfort on Saturday evening thanks to your kind provisions of a loge. [1] It was quite salutary for us to attend a play once again of the sort that has unfortunately wholly disappeared from the stage. I myself am still completely filled with the impression it made on me, an impression I am now gradually trying to organize. —

I am extremely curious to learn what stir the Piccolomini will make in Berlin. [2] There will be no lack of actors for the most important roles — I do at least trust that Fleck, to the extent I am acquainted with him, will generously and fully render the idea of Wallenstein, and Iffland, as father Piccolomini, will doubtless leave nothing to be desired. [3] I do not, however, expect much of the public there, which is by nature prosaic and Kotzebuized to the highest degree by simple habituation. — The first performance, as Madam Iffland writes, is to be Fleck’s benefice. . . .

I hear that the English family Gore in Weimar owns the recently published works of Horace Walpole. I would very much like to see them because of some plans I am making in this regard. [4] If you could possibly secure them for me and perhaps bring them along when you come here, you would be performing me a great service. [5] In the meantime, stay well. Your devoted


[*] Source: Körner-Wieneke 82–84, here 82–83. Back.

[1] On 22 January 1799, Goethe had sent Wilhelm the second issue of his periodical Propyläen and the manuscript of the first volume of Karl Ludwig von Knebel’s translation of Lucretius, T. Lucretius Carus Von der Natur der Dinge: mit dem lateinischen Text nach Wakefield’s Ausgabe, 2 vols. (Leipzig 1821–22), adding (Körner-Wieneke 82) that

the preparations for Piccolomini [first part of Schiller’s Wallenstein after the prologue and Wallensteins Lager premiered back on 12 October 1798] are taking all our time, we only have a week left, the piece will be given on 30 January [1799] and 2 February, and on Friday the 1st [of February] there will be a redoute; I hope you will not entirely spurn these celebrations.

Although Wilhelm and Caroline did not attend the premiere of Schiller’s Die Piccolomini on Wednesday, 30 January 1799, they and Auguste did attend the performance on Saturday, 2 February, according to Wilhelm’s remarks here: in a loge in the Weimar theater arranged by Goethe. See Caroline’s less than enthusiastic assessment in her letter to Friedrich von Hardenberg (letter 219), the same day as Wilhelm’s letter here. See esp. her letter to Luise Gotter in early 1799 (letter 215) with note 1, and Auguste’s enthusiastic account in her letter to Cäcilie Gotter on 18 February 1799 (letter 220). Back.

[2] The Berlin premiere of Die Piccolomini came on 18 February 1799, though Friedrich Schlegel missed the performance; see his letter to Caroline on 19 February 1799 (letter 221). Back.

[3] Iffland did indeed perform the role of father Piccolomini in the premiere. — Concerning Ferdinand Fleck and Iffland in the performances in Berlin, see Johann Valentin Teichmanns literarischer Nachlass, ed. Franz Dingelstedt (Stuttgart 1863), 64:

The most important and far-reaching event of Iffland’s administrative period [in the Berlin theater] was that after a lengthier period of calm, Schiller felt his youthful vigor renewed and recovered his enthusiasm for the dramatic arts. The second and third parts of Wallenstein (Die Piccolomini and Wallensteins Tod [also referred as the first and second parts after Wallensteins Lager, which functions as the prologue], premiered on 18 February and 17 May 1799 after Iffland had carried on negotiations with Schiller during the previous year and finally acquired the completed work for 60 Friedrichsd’or.

Wallensteins Lager, although finished at the same time as the other two parts, was not performed until 28 November 1803, Iffland being apprehensive about presenting the piece earlier.

What follows are several remarks from contemporary theatrical periodicals concerning the performances of the primary actors in the piece:

“Whenever,” we read, “one thinks of Wallenstein and of his magnificence, one certainly ought occasionally also to recall the excellent Ferdinand Fleck, who glorified the mature period of his own life through his study of this role.”

“Certainly, those who saw him perform the role of this hero when the piece first appeared witnessed something truly great. I attended performances of this play in almost every German theater at various times; although there was much to praise, and much that succeeded in those performances, nowhere did I discern anything even remotely similar to this true actor of heroic parts. Where was the grand monologue or the scene between Wallenstein and Wrangel ever spoken and performed that way again?”

“Iffland performed Piccolomini superbly, and even if the other performers allowed for this or that criticism, nonetheless even the weaker among them during those years still delivered their lines much better than one is accustomed to hearing today even from the better performers.”

Illustrations from Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1804, ed. Wieland and Goethe; p. 6: Thekla (alone) in act 3, scene 9 (“There’s a dark spirit walking in our house”); p. 58: Octavio Piccolomini and Max Piccolomini in act 5, scene 1:



[4] Wilhelm’s secretive plan came to fruition in the collection Historische, literarische und unterhaltende Schriften von Horatio Walpole, trans. August Wilhelm Schlegel (Leipzig 1800) (almost 450 pages); he describes his plans for the edition in his query to the Leipzig publisher Johann Friedrich Hartknoch from Jena on 14 February 1799 (Körner, [1930], 1:84–85):

After the death of the famous Sir Horace Walpole, subsequent Lord Orford, his collected works appeared in England in 1798 in 4 [actually 5] quarto volumes. Apart from a couple of plays and a romantic story, The Castle of Otranto (the only piece by him that to my knowledge has hitherto been translated into German [by Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer; see Caroline’s letter to him on 30–31 August 1794 (letter 147) with note 17]), they also contain a wealth of entertaining essays of various literary, historical, and political content, stories, letters, etc.; and finally an excellently conceived history of the formative arts, especially of painting, in England.

He addressed all these materials in a fashion that was consistently imaginative, often quite witty, and always instructive. The original intellect of this man, his liberal candidness, which elevates him so far above the national prejudices of the contemporary English, made me want to engage him in greater depth, and ultimately to publish an abbreviated translation of his works. Anything of merely local interest would be omitted entirely.

Similarly also the pieces fugitives [Fugitive Pieces in verse and prose (1758)], since, notwithstanding their excellence, would not really be worth the effort of a metrical translation into German. By contrast, in the case of a tragedy, The Mysterious Mother [1768], I would not be deterred by such requirements. The history of painting would also have to be significantly shortened, and thereby made more interesting insofar as everything would be omitted that constitutes merely historical research or proof materials. I would supply a preface and here and there also annotations.

The translation was not, however, the success Wilhelm had anticipated; he writes in a letter from 1824 (Körner, [1930], 2:33): “the German public did not seem to appreciate the merits of this imaginative writer”; the Anecdotes of Painting in England were never translated. Back.

[5] Goethe was in Jena 7–28 February 1799 (Weimarer Ausgabe 3:2:232–36). Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott