Letter 263

• 263. Dorothea Veit to Auguste Böhmer in Bamberg or Bocklet: Jena, June 1800 [*]

[Jena, June 1800]

|604| Dearest, charming Auguste, I have no intention of letting anyone else thank you in my name for your concern and attention; I intend to do it myself! [1] . . .

I would give both my new dresses (which is saying a lot) could I but see you play the role of Nina, dear Auguste. [2] But tell me, where on earth will you find the requisite paleness? and the unhappiness? you vibrant, radiant one, you! [3] Surely you will write and relate lots of details about your debut, will you not? —

My sincere thanks to your mother for the wonderful illustration of the saint. I am keeping it constantly here in front of me; I do not think I would have chosen any other saint for myself; she is quite suitable for me. [4] The pictures and the Catholic hymns touched me so deeply that I have resolved that should I ever become a Christian, it must certainly be a Catholic. Please have your mother inquire and tell me how I must go about it if, e.g., I wanted to be baptized in Bamberg! Only laugh not, for I am quite serious. [5]

I am so happy that things are going well with your mother’s health; we all are hoping that the mineral springs will restore her completely. I received a comically melodramatic |605| letter from Humbold in Paris, who sends his warmest regards to your mother. [6] . . .

Wilhelm will doubtless write and tell you what is otherwise new here. Give my regards to your Mother and please remember me fondly.


Friedrich sends warm regards.


[*] Also in Waitz (1871), 292–93; Dorothea Schlegel und deren Söhne 1:41–42; Wieneke (1914) 327–28; KFSA 25:115, though all subsequent readings derive from Waitz (including the present). The ellipses (. . .) presumably indicated omissions from the original manuscript, which is no longer extant.

Dating and destination uncertain; because Dorothea seems to presuppose that Wilhelm Schlegel is in Jena (he is presumably the person who would otherwise thank Auguste in her name), the terminus a quo is to be dated after 30 May 1800, when Wilhelm had returned from Leipzig (he writes to Goethe from Jena on that day [letter 260c]).

In the assumed (lost) letter to Wilhelm to which Dorothea here indirectly alludes, Auguste (or Caroline) may have informed Wilhelm of their intention to depart Bamberg on 12 June 1800 (see Caroline’s remarks to Schelling in her and Auguste’s letter to him on 8/9 June 1800 [letter 262]; not “12 July” as in KFSA 25:459), though such still does not clarify whether Dorothea is writing to Auguste in Bamberg or Bocklet. Münnerstadt was the nearest postal station to Bocklet (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795])


In any event, Goethe and Wilhelm’s exchange on 10 and 13 June 1800 (letters 262a, 262b) in this present edition might well be dated (and positioned) after rather than before this letter. Back.

[1] A letter from Auguste in Bamberg to, presumably, Wilhelm Schlegel in Jena seems to have been lost. Back.

[2] Though relatively unknown today, during the final decade of the eighteenth and during the early nineteenth century the French play Nina became extremely popular in France, Germany, England, Italy, and other European countries. Here a ladies’ fan from the late 1780s made of ivory and paper depicting scenes from the play; the reverse side includes the libretto of the play’s best-known aria, “Quand le bien-aimé reviendra” (Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum Collection Fund and the Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 1952):


Women began coiffing their hair “à la Nina,” wearing their robes “à la Nina” (see scene 6, where she makes her entry, “her hair unpowdered, curled carelessly and without order; she is dressed in a white robe”), and singing the aria, “Quand le bien-aimé reviendra” (Karin Pendle, “L’opéra-comique à Paris de 1762 à 1789,” in L’opéra-comique en France au XVIIIe siècle, ed. Philippe Vendrix [Liège 1992], 79–178, here 112; here the original Nina, Louise Dugazon, in the role in a portrait by Claude Hoin, Portrait de Mademoiselle Dugazon dans le rôle de “Nina ou la Folle par amour” [1787], a portrait Auguste, who had just turned fifteen, might plausibly resemble):


People wept during Madame Dugazon’s performance of the play’s signature aria (Charles Malo, Chansons d’autrefois: vieux chants populaires do nos pées [Paris 1861], 245). Here an illustration of her singing the lines from that aria, “Hush! hush! he calls! — Alas! alas! / The well-beloved calls not me!” (Jean-François Janinet, Mme Dugazon dans le rôle de Nina de la ‘Folle par amour’ [1786]; (Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris):


There were at least three German adaptations of this singspiel, in which the heroine, Nina, must sing in five of the six scenes in which she appears, and several scores and musical excerpts were published as early as the late 1780s.

This particular piece, however, was not performed by the amateur theater in Bamberg (founded by Adalbert Friedrich Marcus in 1797) until 19 April 1801, i.e., almost a full year later, with the title Nina, oder was vermag die Liebe.

There was no regular professional theater or even regular theater edifice in Bamberg at this time, nor does the amateur theater seem to have been particularly active, though they did perform Johann David Beil’s Die Einöde: Ein Schauspiel in vier Aufzuügen (Mannheim 1791) on 27 April 1800 and, during Caroline and Auguste’s visit, Emanuel Schikaneder’s comic opera Der Tyroler Wastel. Eine komische Oper in 3 Aufzügen (Leipzig 1798) on 28 May 1800 (here the title vignette from the latter piece):


It is possible, however, and even likely (Auguste has mentioned her “debut”) that Auguste was rehearsing the role of Nina until she and Caroline departed for Bocklet (on 12 June) and was scheduled to debut after returning. Her death on 12 July 1800 in Bocklet presumably prompted the cancelation of the play until the following season (Romantische Liebe und romantischer Tod 101), when a year later, Caroline — with considerable irritation — mentions in a letter to Wilhelm on 31 May 1801 (letter 319) that Sophie Paulus was performing in the same amateur theater in Bamberg (letter 319). It would, of course, have been difficult for Caroline to countenance the notion of the Paulus’ daughter playing the role Auguste was to have performed if such genuinely was the case here. Back.

[3] The circle in Jena was already quite familiar with the play, as indicated not least by Dorothea’s remarks here. Moreover, Wilhelm’s 1799 poem about Friederike Unzelmann’s performance of the lead role in Nina touches on some of the emotional depth to which Dorothea here alludes (Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1799 [1799], 73; Sämmtliche Werke 1:243):

Though of grief's reveries,
And of lost raptures
    Nina, you were healed.
Yet did you to all your listeners bequeath
The tender anguish
And delusion of beguiled hearts.

(Concerning Wilhelm’s infatuation with Friederike Unzelmann as far back as 1798, see Luise Iffland’s insinuating letter to Caroline from Berlin on 8 September 1798 [letter 202i].)

Dorothea herself later published a review of a Parisian performance of Nina, “Aufführung der Nina,” in Friedrich Schlegel’s periodical Europa I/1 (1803), 171–74, in which she finds the Parisian performance inferior to that of Friederike Unzelmann, whom she had presumably seen in the role in Berlin.

Concerning Friederike Unzelmann’s exemplary performance of this emotionally challenging role in 1799 in Berlin, and the difficulties the role presents, see esp. Johann Gottlieb Rhode, “Ueber die Oper: Nina, oder Wahnsinn aus Liebe,” Berlin: eine Zeitschrift für Freunde der schönen Künste, des Geschmacks und der Moden 1 (1799), 277–92, supplementary appendix 263.1 (including a synopsis of the play’s action, a musical score for the aria, and illustrations of Friederike Unzelmann in performance). See also the section in the supplementary appendix on Friederike Unzelmann concerning her performance as Nina in Breslau. Back.

[4] Possibly an illustration of (from 1200) Saint Kunigunde of Luxembourg (ca. 980–1033), wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich II. She is buried in the Bamberg Cathedral; the raised tomb was done by Tilman Riemenschneider and is adorned with reliefs portraying the legends surrounding her. The attributes with which she is usually portrayed (as a nun) include a crown, scepter, imperial apple, plow, church model (as co-founder of the Bamberg Cathedral), hand cross, and book. It is unclear what attracted Dorothea if the illustration did indeed portray Kunigunde, as is likely (KFSA 25:460fn2). Here as an example an anonymous eighteenth-century oil painting:



[5] Dorothea did indeed later convert to Catholicism; see below. Bamberg, of course, was a predominantly Catholic town.

See Dorothea’s letters to Schleiermacher on 28/30 April (letter 259m) concerning possibly being baptized and marrying Friedrich, and esp. on 11 April 1800 (Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:168; Briefe von Dorothea Schlegel an Friedrich Schleiermacher 51–54; KGA V/3 467–68; KFSA 25:93–94):

You say you have no respect for my reasons for not being baptized and getting married. How is that? If the goal of maintaining at least an indirect influence on the upbringing of my children does not deserve respect, then I know not how else I might attain such from you, especially considering what happiness I forego solely for the sake of that goal.

I promised Veit not to marry as long as I have Philipp with me, or rather, I will keep him with me only until I take that promise back. Philipp still needs me to be with him in person, and he is of such a delicate, sensitive nature that I cannot yet relinquish him.

By contrast, in several years I will no longer be enough for him, and then we will have to see what is to be done. I would be disinclined to return him to Veit, and would prefer to have him in a good boarding school; what would you think about Hülsen [who had started a school for boys in Lentzke (Lenzke), ca. 50 km northwest of Berlin]? My plan was indeed to marry as soon as I had Philipp that far.

With the threatening turn things have taken, however, a more hasty catastrophe [in the original sense of the final event of dramatic action, as in a tragedy; here: conversion] may be urgently necessary. You see what my mother’s disposition is, and where else can we go in our circumstances? We would probably also come to a better understanding with you and with our best friends were it to happen; after all, all of you are in favor of it! —

Well, if you think it right and the best thing given our situation, then perhaps it may happen! But only under the condition that you perform both acts, since it must absolutely be kept secret and revealed only at the proper time. Apart from you, I consider Fichte and [Karl Friedrich Ferdinand] Alexander [Count of] Dohna[-Schlobitten (1771–1831)] to be my best friends, so you can relate everything to them and consider with them how best to arrange these things.

I think all of you would get on better with us were we married; also Hardenberg and Charlotte; who would not do out of love for such friends what one might otherwise perhaps not have done? I have also come up with a plan in case my mother remains unreasonable, we will then stay in Berlin only until these things have been completed, then I will try to persuade Veit to send Philipp immediately to Hülsen, and I and Friedrich will then take board with Hülsen, who will have no objections if one initiates him into the secret.

Just so I can remain near Philipp for a little while longer, since he does indeed still need me, and then when I myself see that he is in good hands, Friedrich and I, when we no longer feel we want to stay, will then go wherever we want. Then nothing more will stand in our way.

Although Caroline may have intended the gift ironically, she could not have known that Dorothea would take it quite differently (KFSA 25:460fn4). In any event, Dorothea converted to Protestantism on 6 April 1804 in Paris, immediately after which she and Friedrich Schlegel were married; both then converted to Catholicism in Cologne on 16 April 1808. Back.

[6] Wilhelm and Caroline von Humboldt had been in Paris since late 1797; they remained until the summer of 1801. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott