Letter 258j

258j. Dorothea Veit to Rahel Levin in Berlin: Jena, 23 January 1800 [*]

Jena, 23 January 1800

Were you to be angry with me, my dear Rahel, I would certainly deserve it and would have no idea how to go about justifying myself.

But you know how these things are: it is not only in society that one tends to neglect the best people, confident they will sooner be able to fend for themselves, but also in letters; I write to every rogue because I constantly fear they will hold it against me if I do not and then take it out on me afterward; but you, dear, I have never hesitated to neglect. Nonetheless it is precisely my correspondence with you that is the most pleasant and satisfying of them all; and your letter alone, among all I have received here, gave me the purest joy. [1]

So, how are you, my dear? Please tell me something about yourself, about your joys and sufferings! Do not take my own answers so terribly precisely, it would be a heaven-sent gift had you written again without waiting for my response. For you cannot believe all I have to do, though I wish to God you could be here and see for yourself. Quite apart from business matters and chores, of which I certainly have enough, the responsibilities of refined conviviality also take up considerable time.

But do tell me something about the opera. What is being performed? Has Madam Marchetti given birth? did she sing? Has Madam Unzelmann already performed a benefit? And Fleck as well? And what was performed? —

I am living quite contentedly here as well and am becoming more experienced and skillful by the day. A person would have to be made of stone and iron not to become so among and with these people. The perpetual concert of wit and poesy and art and science surrounding me here can easily make you forget the whole rest of the world, and especially what the rest of the world calls pleasures.

I will, however, be coming to Berlin again, because I must; whether I come as early as Easter or only toward the end of the summer depends on Madam Ernst, who will be coming here toward Easter; [2] if after getting to know me she thinks I can exist satisfactorily in Dresden, I will spend a few months there first before coming to Berlin again. If such is not feasible, however, then I will come to Berlin earlier and see what needs to be done for me during the summer. All of us, however (including probably the Schlegels), will be spending the coming winter in Berlin. [3]

But please keep my plans for Dresden as well as the Schlegels’ for Berlin a secret. People gossip so much about us that we would like to keep our own projects as private as possible. Certainly you will tell no one.

My dear, have you thought again about your plan of living together with me? or have you again found it not to your liking? or think it impossible to carry out? I still flatter myself that something might yet come of it; only do not let yourself start thinking it impossible. The better I get to know you, and the better I get to know myself, the more am I convinced that we could get on quite well together. [4]

How I yearn to talk to you again. Dear, are you still sad? Has nothing changed in your fate to bring you greater happiness? [5] Please do not get tired of allowing me read within your heart; even though I cannot help, I do think I am worthy of it.

You are unwilling to acknowledge that Caroline Schlegel is hard? Well, you are wrong, and even had you never been wrong before. Hard, hard as stone; we — you and I, my love — are soft as silk compared to Caroline! She can be quite charming otherwise, when she wants to! But she need not necessarily be such!

No, indeed, my dear; though she has infinite advantages over most women, and in other respects is utterly on the same footing as most — she hardly has an equal in being hard as a rock, and how that could escape you of all people is incomprehensible to me. [6]

You once spoke some very true words to me about “big little” Auguste. But she is such a beautiful creature, it is simply a shame nothing more will become of her. Her voice will also be ruined, she has no opportunity to learn anything here, and has already developed a whole host of bad habits, though I do so wish she could come to Berlin sometime that she might hear and learn something proper, for she has a rare and strong voice for her age.

The longer I am here, the more cordially and trustingly do people treat me, and my own proud humility simultaneously serves as an impenetrable shield against cold egoism. But no one is as genteel, refined, or as quietly loyal and loving as Friedrich! and to top it all he possesses the most divine intellect.

I must say a few words to you about the sonnet against Merkel even though it is already a bit dated. [7] Although no one is to be told about it except you; you, dear, must not react with the rabble and like the rabble.

You see, this sonnet is a work of art, the first sonnet of this sort in German, the Italians call it a “betailed sonnet,” rhythmically it is completely pure, and completely worked out. So you see, even as a work of art it thus possesses a certain value that no opponent will so easily be able to match.

Of course, you might insist that reproaching someone and rhyming their name requires no real art. But the way this has been done is indeed art; although one can, for example, rhyme “Schlegel” with “Flegel,” obviously, that is neither true nor witty. [8] But every line in the sonnet, and everything derisive that rhymes with the name, is not just rhymes, but just as much witty ideas and facts, facta. So you can easily see the difference.

Do you think the Schlegels fear a witty response? Indeed, were the gods to grant that someone, among the many, might succeed in composing an equally witty sonnet using their name with every conceivable rhyme, they themselves would be the first to greet the author ardently with open arms as friend and brother and to welcome him as one of their own.

You are also under the impression that the Schlegels are agresseurs, and here, too, my dear, you are ill informed. For they would get little joy from attacking such a pathetic rascal as Merkel, who otherwise would never have drawn their attention had he not made such a nuisance of himself and tried to play the “puffing blade,” as one puts it. This wretched gentleman made it his business to slander the Schlegels in every society, and in an extremely malicious fashion spread the rumor that the Duke of Weimar had forbidden them from doing anything to his authors in Weimar; how utterly childish and foolish of the duke, were that true, and how malicious and stupid of Merkel, since it is in fact not true.

But that is how things go: everyone thinks it is the Schlegels who start these quarrels, since it is their pieces that are read and become generally known, while the scoundrels remain unidentified, scoundrels who are always the instigators. [9]

But, then, what does it matter? the truth will always shine through. But because you, my dear, ought not be allowed to remain in the dark, I have risked boring you here. And you must own that the Schlegels cannot but be in the right, not least because not a single intelligent thing has been said amid all the stuff now appearing against them! Not a single thing that they in their own turn could do anything but have the utmost contempt for. For example, what has been said against Lucinde except reprehensible vulgarities? and, moreover, precisely there, where the door was certainly open more than wide enough for witty reproaches and cheap praise. — —

Stay well, the mail really is about to depart now. Please do remember me and let me hear from you. Adieu, and yours truly.

D[orothea] V[eit]

Please pass along my regards to your closest friends.

I have heard that Brinckmann will be coming to Berlin chemin faisant. [10] Where in the world can one be going if one is coming from Paris chemin faisant to Berlin? I would, however, like to see him again.


[*] Sources: Denkschriften und Briefe zur Charakteristik der Welt und Litteratur, 5 vols., ed. Wilhelm Dorow (1838–41), 4:108–14; Dorothea Schlegel und deren Söhne 1:26–30; Wieneke (1914), 316–17); KFSA 25:48–51. Back.

[1] Rahel’s letter does not seem to be extant. Back.

[2] The trip did not materialize; see Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 17 October 1799 (letter 249), note 5; Dorothea also mentions the trip in her letter to Schleiermacher on 16 January 1800 (letter 258g) (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937):



[3] This sojourn also did not materialize, though Dorothea similarly mentions the possibility in her letter to Schleiermacher on 16 January 1800 (letter 258g); see note 3 there (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):



[4] Dorothea, of course, was not yet married to Friedrich Schlegel, and in that same letter to Schleiermacher on 16 January 1800 (letter 258g) had voiced her apprehension about what she would do should Friedrich follow Wilhelm Schlegel to Berlin. Back.

[5] After much indecision, in 1800 Rahel broke off her relationship with Count Karl Friedrich Albrecht von Finckenstein, which had started in the winter of 1795–96 (Frauenzimmer Almanach zum Nutzen u Vergnügen für das Jahr 1808; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


She considered his withdrawal from their engagement a form of betrayal and planned a journey to Paris as a distraction; it is in connection with that journey that, as emerges from Dorothea’s subsequent letters, she planned to visit Dorothea in Jena. Back.

[6] Rahel had met Caroline during the summer of 1798 on an excursion from Dresden to Saxon Switzerland; see the initial paragraph of Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Henriette Herz on 24 August 1798 (letter 202g); for more on the excursion, see note 1 there. Back.

[7] Concerning the quarrel with Garlieb Merkel and the sonnet Dorothea is about to discuss, see notes to Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 28 October 1799 (letter 252) and esp. supplementary appendix 252.1. Back.

[8] Germ. Flegel, “lout, boor, churl, clown”; Daniel Jenisch had engaged this wordplay in Diogenes Laterne (Leipzig 1799); see example 4 in supplementary appendix 252g.1. Back.

[9] An essentially accurate observation on Dorothea’s part. Concerning the defensive stance of the Jena Romantics, see the editorial note to Wilhelm Schlegel’s letter to Schleiermacher on 5 November 1799 (letter 253b). Back.

[10] Fr., “on the way” from Paris; the reference is not entirely clear. KFSA 25:412fn36 cites a letter from Brinckmann to Schleiermacher on 29 January 1800 (KGA V/3 368) (Maurille-Antoine Moithey, L’Europe: Divisée en tous ses Royaumes et subdivisée en ses principales parties [Revue et Corrigée] [Paris 1785]; Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans; second illustration: Dilligence [19th century]; Bibliothèque municipale de Bordeaux, Album d’illustrations diverses] [278]):


I am traveling through Germany without being able to go to Berlin, which is admittedly harsh. But this time I must continue straight ahead, like a lemming, until I arrive at the shore somewhere, and this particular mouse theory does not allow for any lyrical side trips.



Translation © 2013 Doug Stott