Letter 253

• 253. Caroline to Auguste in Dessau: Jena, Monday, 4 November 1799

[Jena] Monday, 4 November [1799]

|574| I have two letters from you, my precious girl, one of them through Bertuch. [1] If only I could be sure you are now cough-free and full of song! [2] . . .

Your friend Luise Seidler has just suffered a very great loss. Her grandmother died the day before yesterday. If Luise must now go back to her mother, it will be a lamentable fate. [3]

Madam Schiller is still very sick, but the fact that her illness is lasting so long gives hope that she might still be saved. [4]

Heaven forgive, but the two enclosures have been here with me for a long time already.

The first club gathering was yesterday. We did not pay at all this time and will probably hardly attend even once. There was dancing until 1:00, and Madam Hufeland was once again in her accustomed element. [5] Sophie has recently been having her cramps more frequently and thus stayed at home.

Tiek read us a play by Ludvig von Holberg aloud, Ulysses of Ithaca, until we almost died of laughter. [6] He intends to read everything yet again when you come; what a reading machine he is, and absolutely indefatigable with it. Only do not worry, the little cat will still purr plenty just for you. [7]

On the other hand, I no longer like her at all; she is a cat after all, only a white one. — Holberg is the Danish comedic playwright about whom Steffens is so crazy. But what cursed stuff it is. When you hear a piece like that, you feel like you have 4 legs.

Here is the thing Wilhelm and Tiek composed during a recent evening. A great many copies of it are already on their way to Berlin. Merkel’s eyes will certainly open up when he sees it! But he has gossiped so excessively about the Schlegels that he has honestly earned it. [8] The Bohns are also bringing one of the Shakespeare volumes; make sure you give it a good read. [9]

Friedrich is quite fond of you and will write to you very soon. [10]

|575| Schelling sends his regards to a child who is still gentle and delicate and hopes she never ceases to be such. Amen. [11]

This refers to your previous slenderness and future corpulence. [12] . . .


[1] The reason and timing of Bertuch’s presence in Dessau are uncertain. Back.

[2] In one of her previous letters to Caroline, none of which seems to have survived, Auguste mentioned having a cough, to which Caroline responded in her letter to August on 28 October 1799 (letter 571). Back.

[3] Louise Seidler had been living with her grandmother since she was five years old because of domestic problems in her own parents’ home; see her memoirs, Erinnerungen der Malerin Louise Seidler, ed. Hermann Uhde (Berlin 1922), 9–13:

Domestic quarrels that unfortunately became increasingly worse from year to year cast an early shadow over my youth. To remove me from such ill impressions, my mother had me live permanently with my grandmother from the time I was five years old [1791], who — after being widowed through the death of her husband — had moved to Jena with her family. The elderly woman initially fell into the most oppressive circumstances, for she had no inheritance and had to care for a whole array of children, among whom only the few eldest were already independent.

But the courageous woman proved up to her difficult obligation and yet lived to see all her children excellently provided for except my good Aunt Dorette, who cared for my grandmother until the latter’s death. The initial, quite difficult years my grandmother experienced after the passing of my grandfather, moreover, were soon improved by ducal beneficence; because my grandfather had perished from injuries incurred in the Weimar castle fire of 1774, Anna Amalia had been gracious enough to make provisions for his survivors. It was at her initiative that my grandmother also received living quarters in a former monastery.

It is with this building that my earliest memories begin; when it became my home, all my grandmother’s children had already been dispersed in all the world except for the previously mentioned Aunt Dorette, and it was these two, noble women who laid the cornerstone for my later happiness in life through an extremely careful education; I especially owe that happiness to my Aunt Dorette, who united both heart and intellect with a firm will and tremendous energy. These characteristics of her personality had a quite beneficial influence on me, and since she was herself also learned in so many areas, she along with my grandmother guided my initial education, which I later shared with my sister, Wilhelmine , who, by the way, remained in my parental home. . . .

[Later] I often had to perform on the piano for my grandmother — including, for example, during her final illness. When she felt her end coming on, she asked that I play her favorite pieces for her; amid the tones of these melodies, which I coaxed from the keys with tears in my eyes, the precious old lady breathed her last. (anonymous, Mann und Kind bei Beerdigung [ca. 1790]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. A: 64.8)


Louise’s account picks up with the decision to have her attend school in Gotha and with her confirmation in Jena together with Auguste; for that continuation, see Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 28 October 1799 (letter 252), note 17. Back.

[4] Concerning Charlotte Schiller’s extremely difficult, apparently life-threatening illness after childbirth, see Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 28 October 1799 (letter 252), note 16. Concerning the perils of pregnancy and birth in general at the time, see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 22 June 1785 (letter 57), notes 2, 3, and 5. Back.

[5] The club for professors at the university in Jena was held in the inn/tavern “Zur Rose” on Johannesstrasse, named for the miller Just Rosenhain and his son, baker Wolf Rosenhain, from whom the university purchased the building in 1570; the academic concert hall mentioned below was built inside in 1787 by a group of professors, and the first concert held there in November of that year. Here an early photograph (Gustav Heinrich Schneider, Die Burschenschaft Germania zu Jena [Jena 1897], 61):


And here the tavern on a later postcard:


See the introduction to Jena for prospective students published anonymously in 1798, Zeichnung der Universität Jena für Jünglinge welche diese Akademie besuchen wollen (Leipzig 1798), 84–85 (both illustrations: Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1814: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet 1814; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):

The Rose — an inn and tavern belonging to the university where one encounters regular customers. The university added a beautiful hall along with a whole array of rooms to the Rose where concerts and balls are held. The Sunday concerts are under the supervision of Herr Hofrath Loder and Herr Hofrath Heinrich, and under the musical direction of Herr Domeratius. Here one can often hear musicians that are passing through Jena. The talented musical connoisseur Herr Domeratius spares neither diligence nor effort. The musical performances would be far better if Herr Barth, town musical director, might choose better subjects for his orchestra. . . .

Here the professors’ club is also held. The usual balls are held in this hall, though as far as participation is concerned a non-resident cannot determine whether he is being betrayed or sold. For the ladies are engaged for these balls a whole three months in advance. This eternal engagement fills a newcomer with aversion, and results in boredom; indeed, the result is that Jena has the reputation of being afflicted by small-town customs.


But do feel free to attend these events! I certainly have no objection, though let me advise you to find a lady dance partner early, and then to engage this same lady for the entirety of your academic study. If you fail to heed what may seem to be a rather comical bit of advice, then you are yourself responsible if at these academic balls you end up sitting by yourself the entire evening like an old maid.



[6] Ludvig von Holberg, Ulysses von Ithacia (1723), which Erich Schmidt, (1913), 1:749, called a “delightful piece of theatrical nonsense.” Tieck would have read the piece aloud in a German translation.

His choice of plays, moreover, was not arbitrary, for it was Holberg’s Ulysses von Ithacia that provided Tieck with a model for the shuffling or switching of performance levels of the sort he employed in his own Der gestiefelte Kater, ein Kindermärchen in drey Akten mit Zwischenspielen, einem Prologe und Epiloge von Peter Leberecht, Volksmärchen, vol. 2 (Berlin 1797), which incorporates the theme of puss ‘n boots; although published in 1797, it would not premiere in actual performance until 20 April 1844 (in Berlin).



Tieck’s play in its own turn influenced subsequent writers such as E. T. A. Hoffmann (the unfinished novel Lebensansichten des Katers Murr nebst fragmentarischer Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler in zufälligen Makulaturblättern, 2 vols. [Berlin 1819; 1821]; vol. 3 never appeared) and Clemens Brentano (Satiren und poetische Spiele von Maria. Erstes Bändchen. Gustav Wasa [Leipzig 1800], in which — as Dorothea Veit wrote Schleiermacher on 16 June 1800 [KFSA 25:125] — “he believes he is the veritable Tieck of Tiecks; but it is enormously stupid and crazy, and yet does sound a bit like Tieck”). Back.

[7] An allusion to Tieck’s play-within-a-play mentioned above, Der gestiefelte Kater; when Tieck initially arrived in Jena and Auguste saw him enter the room, she is alleged to have quipped, “What? You come in through the door? I would sooner expect you to come striding in like your cat, across the rooftops” (Köpke, Tieck: Erinnerungen, 1:249–50). Back.

[8] The reference is to the satirical sonnet Wilhelm and Tieck composed contra Garlieb Merkel; see Caroline’s earlier letter to Auguste on 28 October 1799 (letter 252) and (for the text) supplementary appendix 252.1. Back.

[9] Concerning the presence of Lübeck residents (and relatives of the Frommanns) Johanna Sophie Bohn and her husband in Jena, see Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 28 October 1799 (letter 252). Back.

[10] The last extant letter from Friedrich Schlegel to Auguste is the undated letter after 17 October 1799 (letter 249a) (left: William Hoarer, Miss Hoare [ca. 1704–56]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur JFaber II V 3.2330; right: Calendar für das Jahr 1803 [Offenbach]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[11] Caroline has twice discussed Auguste’s objectionable behavior toward Schelling; see her letters to Auguste on 30 September and 14 October 1799 (letters 245, 248). Back.

[12] “This” presumably (but not unequivocally) refers not to the previous paragraph about Schelling, but rather to what follows in the letter; the rest of Caroline’s letter has, however, regrettably not been included. Caroline had earlier reacted to Auguste’s apparent weight gain in her letter to Auguste on 28 October 1799 (letter 252). Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott