Letter 273

• 273. Caroline to Schelling in Jena: Braunschweig, Wednesday, October? 1800

[Braunschweig] Wednesday [October? 1800]

|13| I was unable to write on the last postal day, my dear friend, because I did not want to betray that I was properly bedridden with a dreadful, horrible head cold. I hope that because it was merely a sthenic malady, you will not be any further distressed over this confession. [1]

I am already almost completely recovered, so much so that I was able to ride to the theater yesterday evening — I will have absolutely nothing to do with going out on foot — |14| to see Oedipe à Colone, an opera with recitatives and yet not tout à fait tragique, [2] since ultimately Oedipus does also attend the wedding of his son and the charmante princesse Eriphile, who really is a charmante young girl and is in the 8th month of good hope. [3]

I really did want to see a performance of this serious, French play, and this performance was indeed quite admirable and even an hour later still hurt my ears. [3a] Although Oedipus and Antigone were played by actors who were not really that bad at all, it is superfluous to point out how they undermined the Greekness of the piece and presumably fell far short of the pittoresque performance of passion of someone like Talma. [4]

And yet what little was left over of the elderly one, even the mere appearance of the blind Oedipus led by his daughter, immediately moved one’s entire soul, and I thought of all that is most precious and all that is most painful and on my own fate, a fate similarly abiding under both the curse and the blessing of the gods. [4a]


Among the more normal things surrounding us (after all, one cannot be treated to a Söder every day), [5] it is the theater that is most readily able to distract me. No one speaks to me there, nor do I have to respond to anyone or perform myself. Social gatherings are intolerable for me now, something I experienced yet again yesterday evening at Madam van Nuys’s. —

My very best of all friends, yesterday your letter arrived as well, however, and was a great joy for me. Things are going splendidly, I knew beforehand that they would but did not want to speak much about it. [6] You are not boastful, do not be afraid of anything, I know quite well how everything was, I saw you the way your brother saw you, transfigured through energy and success.

Yes, you have once again entered the battle, |15| precious Achilles, and now the Trojans are fleeing. [7] The immortals have once again honored you and will, moreover, also grant you long life. That is true revenge, and I am triumphant without reserve and without sparing anyone.

Not a trace of regret, nor would such be at all commensurate with a grander sense of humanity, for some people flourish precisely in being repressed, and Friedrich is one of those — if ever he were to taste the full glory of victory, it would destroy his best, most characteristic feature, whereas it quite suits you. You understand how to move about in this element — though should my friend ever start to become arrogant, he will remind himself that in so doing he will be frightening away the more modest sensibility of his lady friend; nor does she have any other memento to hold up to him at this occasion, an occasion which at least for her is quite entertaining. [8]

As far as that particular assertion is concerned, namely, that entering that scene soon would “strengthen her courage” — well, she is still skeptical, and would perhaps feel far more irresistibly drawn were she called to brighten up for her beloved a barren career rather than . . . .

[End of sheet.]


[1] “Sthenic” and “asthenic” illnesses were associated at the time not least with the Brunonian method; it may be recalled that Caroline’s sister’s husband, Christian Rudolf Wilhelm Wiedemann, was a physician (Taschenkalender auf das Jahr 1798 für Damen; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung)



[2] Antonio Sacchini, Oedipe à Colone (Paris ca. 1786; 1788), libretto by Nicolas-François Guillard, based on the play Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles; premiered at Versailles in 1786. — Fr., not “exactly tragic.”

Here an 1809 illustration of the title character (Joly, Oedipe à Colonne, tragédie lyrique de Sacchini et Guillard: costume de Dérivis (Oedipe) [Paris 1809]; Bibliothèque nationale de France):



[3] I.e., “in the family way, pregnant.” Back.

[3a] Concerning the French theater company in Braunschweig at this time, see Wilhelm’s letter to Goethe in early February 1801 (letter 285a), note 5. Back.

[4] Pittoresque, in the eighteenth century used broadly in aesthetics to mean “picturesque, pictorial, graphic,” including in the sense of “colorful” (e.g., as applied to a voyage or garden).

Caroline was aware of François-Joseph Talma particularly through Wilhelm von Humboldt’s letter (of 18 August 1799) published in Goethe’s periodical Propyläen: Eine Periodische Schrift 3 (1800) no. 1, 66–109, on the Parisian theater, “Über die gegenwärtige französische tragische Bühne.”

Concerning the regnant theories of the relationship between actors and the art of acting during the Romantic period, see Gloria Flaherty, “Empathy and Distance: German Romantic Theories of Acting Reconsidered,” in Romantic Drama, ed. Gerald Gillespie (Philadelphia 1994), 181–208, here 193:

Humboldt’s experiences in Paris, where he frequented the theater, led to the essay that Goethe published in the Propyläen (1800), “Über die gegenwärtige französische tragische Bühne” (On the Contemporary French Tragic Stage). The acting of the internationally acclaimed François Joseph Talma (1763–1826) served as the focal point.

In explaining what the actor is and does, Humboldt supported an idea that was very popular at the time. He maintained that during performance the actor was both the artist and the work of art. The demands of being simultaneously producer and product were enormous. The actor not only had the strain of summoning up emotions, but he then also had to keep control over those emotions so as to channel them for aesthetic purposes. . . .

Humboldt distinguished the French style of acting from the German according to the way that aesthetic effect was produced. The French, he wrote, stressed artistry, therefore performing in a painterly, reflective, emotionally distant manner. They were like dancers going through a carefully choreographed routine.

The Germans, on the other hand, stressed nature, which meant performances with expressive gestures, heartfelt sentiments, and emotional appeal. Humboldt wrote that the French actor . . . shows and paints the soul’s whole condition, sentiment, passion, decision, but not the heart itself torn by feelings, stormed by passions, steeled for bold and rash decisions. This controlled French style could lead to boredom or affectation that was neither nature nor the ideal, but it could never lead to confusion with everyday reality. Back.

[4a] That is, Oedipus on the arm of Antigone (Benard sculp., Oedipe et Antigone [ca. 1800]):



[5] Concerning Caroline’s visit to Söder Chateau, see her letter to Schelling on 15–24 October 1800 (letter 272). Back.

[6] I.e., going well for Schelling in Jena. Back.

[7] Allusion to Achilles and his heroic role in the Trojan War, including, among other things, his slaying of the Trojan hero Hector (Peter Paul Rubens, Achilles revenging [1724]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur Museumsnr. / Signatur BBaron AB 2.4):


The “battle” reference is to Friedrich Schlegel’s attempt to appropriate for himself the — as he thought — abandoned discipline of transcendental philosophy in Jena. Schelling had returned to Jena on 3 October 1800 not least to reassert his own status. See Schelling to Fichte on 31 October 1800 (letter 273c): “I had delivered but four lectures before he was beaten dead; and he has already been buried.”

Concerning Schelling in the lecture hall, see Friedrich Muhrbeck’s letters to Friedrich Hölderlin from Jena in September 1799 and shortly thereafter (uncertain dating) (Hölderlin. Sämtliche Werke, vol. 7: Dokumente, ed. Adolf Beck, part 1: Briefe an Hölderlin. Dokumente 1770–1793 (Stuttgart 1968), 142–44 (Wilhelm Schlegel rather than Friedrich was lecturing in Jena at the time):

[Wilhelm] Schlegel would otherwise not be the least bit dangerous to you — He lectures the same way he writes poetry: half understanding, half spirit, vague and without feeling and life. . . . I will write you more about him [Schelling] after I have spoken with him — whether he himself might be intending similar attempts. Word has it that he wants to go to Vienna to study medicine. . . .

I was seized anew by the most profound respect in his [Schelling’s] lecture on transcendental philosophy — his definiteness, which I consider perfected in certain parts, elicited this respect from me — and my joy was considerable indeed in finding such complete concurrence with my own thoughts — I felt so good sensing the movements of thought in such a healthy personality — his gaze was so firm — and so chaste. —

His line of reasoning in the three hours I attended was as follows: he lingered with history, finding 3 periods, in that (1) of blind fate — (2) traces of providence (thus did the intelligence of nature necessarily appear to active human beings) — (3) “then God will be.” — And the way he said it — so firmly — so coldly, as befit being spoken from the lectern, and so seriously. —

The monkish atmosphere of the lecture hall could not hold back the tears — my chest swelled up so mightily — I would have been justified in throwing myself into his arms and extending my hand to him in alliance.

Wilhelm Schlegel — attested by, among others, Friedrich Karl von Savigny, who attended Schlegel’s lectures — also enjoyed little success at the university lectern, drawing only five students in aesthetics despite the paltry competition of Christian Gottfried Schütz. See Adolf Stoll, Friedrich Karl von Savignys Sächsische Studienreise 1799 und 1800 (Cassel 1890), 14–15:

Schelling looks quite young. He stands at the lectern with indifference and pride, and speaks as if he were recounting something rather insignificant. . . .

Imagine my astonishment when I entered Schlegel’s lecture on aesthetics and found — five attendees, though the number has allegedly reached twelve at times. Although his eyes are quite idealistic, some destructive power can be seen in his facial features; one senses that this figure is not what it might be and what it might be if left to its natural path. He has also allegedly quite changed over the past few years insofar as he was earlier a vibrant, beautiful youth. The main cause of this change is supposedly excessive work, whose cause in its own turn is to be found in economic need.

His relationship with his wife is said to be rather peculiar, and can frequently be put out of sorts by their differing opinions about poetic meter and that sort of thing. His lecture has been precisely worked out beforehand and is already ready for the printer, and yet for just that reason also not at all free, e.g., the way he often anxiously searches for an expression.

Concerning Schelling’s classroom presence, see esp. also the supplementary appendix on Schelling at the lectern and in society and and Caroline’s letter to Julie Gotter on 29 November 1802 (letter 373), note 4.

Wilhelm had considerably more success lecturing on aesthetics in Berlin after leaving Braunschweig in February 1801 (published posthumously as his Vorlesungen über schöne Literatur und Kunst). Back.

[8] The “occasion” is presumably the competition with Friedrich Schlegel.

One wonders, however, what exactly in Schelling’s personality has prompted Caroline’s otherwise peculiarly abrupt allusion to arrogance in this passage, and especially her warning, since future correspondence — from Schelling himself and others rather than from Caroline — documents in sometimes painful trenchancy that precisely such a disposition now begins to emerge in the young scholar. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott