Letter 259m

259m. Dorothea Veit to Schleiermacher in Berlin: Jena, 28–30 April 1800 [*]

[Jena, ca. 28–30 April 1800]

. . . My heart has completely turned away from Caroline; she is showing herself now in a hateful light, and even though my ears are drummed full from all sides with praise for the “magic” and “exquisite” disposition of her intellect and mind, I have nonetheless lost all faith even in her intellect. Although Friedrich is essentially of my opinion, he insists on not denying her intellect. Why does he harbor such a low opinion of intellect? Why does he put it so far beneath understanding, of which he claims she has not a trace? —

Everyone is constantly holding up her exquisite, imaginative letters to me like the head of Medusa; [1] and though I do indeed acknowledge them for what they are, I nonetheless maintain that she puts precisely all her intellect and imagination into these letters, whereas in conversation it is the knife-like and sword-like cutting that comes increasingly into view, and her judgments are so full of prejudice, so superficial, calculated, and transparently intentional that one does not know whether to find them abominable or ludicrous. Even the tone of her voice is cutting.

I am almost inclined to believe she simply has not found me worthy of having the more brilliant side of her intellect divulged to me, for even Madam Ernst — unerring, incorruptible Charlotte — cannot help writing about the “magical quality” of her intellect and spirit! —

All my dealings with Caroline are located precisely at the boundaries of general politeness. I pay her one or two brief visits a day and avoid any more intimate overtures. She is Friedrich’s enemy, what concern can she be for me? —

She is now taking a ride each day with Auguste and Schelling, but because, as she says, she is not yet sufficiently recovered, a change of locale is assumed to be absolutely necessary that she might fully recover. Hence to that purpose — this week, in fact — she will be traveling to Bamberg with Schelling, [2] and from there will be visiting the necessary mineral springs.

Notwithstanding how utterly transparent this plan is and that is was already long decided between them, Schelling only yesterday presented it to Wilhelm in quite humble terms for his signature, he being quite satisfied with regard to her recovery, but feeling forced to engage pleas and invoke authority to move the poor woman to take this step, she having a thousand reservations both in his regard and with regard to the world! and feeling too weakened to elevate herself above such considerations.

In a word: she will be leaving. And we will all breathe a sigh of relief. I do not at all believe she will be returning any time soon. Perhaps never! But it is all being presented to Wilhelm as if she intends to return quite soon indeed; solely to avoid separating herself entirely from him, or, rather, him from her!

I will write you about our dearest, most important matters another time. Your reasons against the secrecy are valid, and this notion initially made me rather anxious as well, only in my anxiety did I think about it. [3]

If you write to Veit, you should at least allude to the fact that I will not yet be able to return to Berlin. But do not yet write anything about baptism. . . .

What will you say to Doctor or perhaps even Professor Friedrich? He may be creeping into proper civil respectability after all! It just needs to remain a secret for now. [4]

Please do remain graciously disposed toward me.


. . . Friedrich will probably not write be writing today, not because he is lazy, but rather simply perhaps too busy; he is paying his attentions to several pretty ladies here, to which I can have no objections, otherwise he will likely start believing there are even more Dorotheas around. [5]


[*] Sources: Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:172 (frag.); Briefe von Dorothea Schlegel an Friedrich Schleiermacher 54–58; KGA V/4 8–13; KFSA 25:101–3. Dating according to KFSA 25:447. Back.

[1] Medusa (the Gorgon Medusa), who unlike her sister Gorgons Stheno and Euryale was not immortal, was (The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed., ed. N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Scullard [Oxford 1973], 472 s.v. Gorgo),

a terrible monster in Greek mythology . . . the daughter of the marine deities Phorcys and Ceto. She had a round, ugly face, snakes instead of hair, a belt of the teeth of a boar, sometimes a beard, huge wings, and eyes that could transform people into stone. . . . Perseus went in search of [Medusa], killed her with the aid of Athena, and escaped . . . Her head adorned the aegis of Zeus and also that of Athena.

Here iterations of the theme in antiquity (Carl Ottfried Müller and Carl Osterley, Denkmäler der alten Kunst, 3rd ed., ed. Friedrich Wieseler [Göttingen 1877], vol. 2, no. 1, plate lxxii, nos. 900f.):


Here the Medusa (1595–96) by Caravaggio (Uffizi Gallery):



[2] Schelling had been planning this visit to Bamberg (ca. 125 km southwest of Jena) since the autumn of 1799; see esp. his letter to Schiller on 25 April 1800 (letter 259h), note 1 (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):


Schelling had become increasingly fascinated with the doctrines of the Scottish physician John Brown (see also Schelling’s “Some Remarks on the Occasion of a Review of Brunonian Writings in the A.L.Z.” [supplementary appendix 258t.1]), and was keen on making the acquaintance of the Bamberg physicians and professors Adalbert Friedrich Marcus and Andreas Röschlaub, both proponents of Brunonianism (Röschlaub would translate some of Brown’s works into German, e.g., John Brown’s Anfangsgründe der Medizin [Frankfurt 1806]). Back.

[3] Dorothea wanted to convert to Christianity and marry Friedrich; such had to take place secretly, however, to ensure her continued relationship with her son Philipp. Back.

[4] See KGA V/4 13n121f:

After Fichte’s dismissal following the atheism dispute, and after Schelling, too, had taken up residence for a time in Bamberg at the beginning of May 1800, Friedrich thought the conditions favorable for realizing his long-held plan of becoming a private lecturer at the university in Jena.

During the summer, he was already promoting the lecture courses he was planning for the winter semester 1800/1801, collecting sixty subscriptions by early August. He registered for Habilitation [postdoctoral lecturing qualification] on 20 August and simultaneously applied for the venia legendi [license for lecturing].

His doctoral promotion took place on 23 August [albeit without having to take the examen rigorosum], and on 18 October, after a trial lecture, he was granted permission to teach. He began his course of lectures on transcendental philosophy on 27 October 1801; the yet outstanding public disputation of theses, to be handed in to the faculty, did not take place until 14 March 1801, and in its own turn created a considerable stir.

Although Dorothea speaks of this situation as if Schleiermacher had already been informed, no previous extant letters from either her or Friedrich to Schleiermacher mention it. Back.

[5] The reference is presumably to Auguste and her girlfriends (KFSA 25:449n39). Friedrich seems already to have returned from Weimar (see Wilhelm’s letter to Goethe on 27 April 1800 [letter 259j], note 5). Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott