Letter 277

• 277. Caroline to Schelling in Jena: Braunschweig, 20 December 1800 [*]

[Braunschweig] Saturday morning, 20 December 1800

|21| Herewith I am sending a large, genuine English topcoat to keep my friend warm. It is not supposed to be a Christmas present. I had already long intended to get it for you and had planned it especially for the great carnival, but I simply did not receive it any sooner from Hamburg. [1] I will be delighted if you feel even half as comfortable in it as warm. I have issued it orders to snuggle up very close to you.

When you first wear it, it will leave some loose hairs, and you will have quite a bit to brush off your coats, but that will gradually subside. It is otherwise infinitely comfortable and yet big enough to allow your arms the freedom to embrace a lady friend. The blue coat enveloped you like Count Egmont. Ah, could I but be your Clärchen; but I am only your Caroline. [2]


[*] Contemporaneous with this letter, rumors about Caroline’s whereabouts and well-being seem to have been circulating in Weimar and Jena. Karl August Böttiger, with not inconsiderable dissemblance, sought more precise information in a letter from Weimar on 3 December 1800 to Johann Friedrich Vieweg, who had moved from Berlin to Braunschweig (HAB Wolfenbüttel, Slg. Vieweg, Nr 146; cited in Ernst Friedrich Sondermann, Karl August Böttiger. Literarischer Journalist der Goethezeit in Weimar, Mitteilungen zur Theatergeschichte der Goethezeit 7, ed. Norbert Oellers and Karl Konrad Polheim [Bonn 1983], 229):

Is Madame Schlegel in Braunschweig? The most ridiculous lies about her are circulating here. As little reason as I have to consider her my friend, I find this sort of loose talk insufferable. Even my enemies should be spared such injustice. Please do tell me how things really stand.

As Ernst Friedrich Sondermann, ibid., 229, points out,

because Böttiger was unsuccessful in engaging in any objective criticism of his adversaries’ works, he endeavored instead to damage their public reputation by gathering and disseminating information from their private lives through seemingly harmless queries to people who were well-disposed toward him. Back.

[1] The carnival reference is to the millennial New Year’s Eve celebration Schelling himself mentions in his letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 15 December 1800 (letter 276d). Back.

[2] The English topcoat, essentially a woolen overcoat, seems to have come over as a casual fashion item from England in contrast to the earlier French Frack, or light upper coat. In contrast to the latter, whose tight fit essentially forced its wearer into a more upright posture, the English topcoat’s generous cut was more comfortable and roomy.

Around 1810, the version called the Great Coat or Garrick Coat gained considerable popularity with its even broader cut and overlapping collars. Caroline thus seems to have secured for Schelling an easy-fitting coat made of stout, even heavier woolen fabric, perhaps with a black, silk velvet collar (cordial communication from Sabine Schierhoff, who also provided the following illustration from a period friendship album):


Here two similarly generously cut winter topcoats from 1795 and, specifically English, 1807 ([1] Blumenstrauß für Freunde und Freundinnen zum Neujahrsgeschenk auf’s Jahr 1795; [2] Blumenstrauß für Musen und Menschen Freunde zum Neujahrsgeschenke 1807; both: Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



Otherwise Caroline is alluding to Goethe’s prose tragedy Egmont, which premiered in Weimar in 1791; published in Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 5, 1–198 (Leipzig 1788; also 1791). Translation from J. W. von Goethe’s Works, Egmont, trans. Anna Swanwick (London 1903), 264–66.

In act iii, scene 2, Klärchen’s mother tries to convince her to take more seriously the suitor Brackenburg over Egmont, the latter of whom, however, she loves. Illustration from the first edition, frontispiece by Angelika Kauffmann: Egmont and Klärchen are depicted later in the scene, after Egmont has removed his cloak: “He seats himself [the cloak now lies draped over his chair], she kneels on a footstool before him, rests her arms on his knees, and looks up in his face”:


Mother. Such a love as Brackenburg’s I have never seen; I thought it was to be found only in romance books. . . . He suspects thy intercourse with Egmont; and yet, if thou wouldst but treat him somewhat kindly, I do believe he would marry thee still, if thou wouldst have him. . . . Thou canst think of nothing but thy love. If only it did not put everything else out of thy head. Thou shouldst have more regard for Brackenburg, I tell thee. He may make thee happy yet some day. . . . Youth and happy love, all has an end.

Clara. (shudders, and after a pause starts up). Mother, let that time come — like death. . . . Live without thee, Egmont! (Weeping.) No! It is impossible.

Enter Egmont (enveloped in a horseman’s cloak, his hat drawn over his face).

Egmont. Clara!

Clara. (utters a cry and starts back) Egmont! (She hastens toward him.) Egmont! (She embraces and leans upon him.) O thou good, kind, sweet Egmont! Art thou come? Art thou here, indeed!

Egmont. Good evening, mother!

Mother. God save you, noble sir! My daughter has well-nigh pined to death because you have stayed away so long; she talks and sings about you, the live-long day.

Egmont. You will give me some supper?

Mother. You do us too much honour. If we only had anything —

Clara. Certainly! Be quiet, mother; I have provided everything; there is something prepared. Do not betray me, mother.

Mother. There’s little enough.

Clara. Never mind! And then I think when he is with me I am never hungry; so he cannot, I should think, have any great appetite when I am with him.

Egmont. Do you think so? (Clara stamps with her foot and turns pettishly away.) What ails you?

Clara. How cold you are to-day! You have not yet offered me a kiss. Why do you keep your arms enveloped in your mantle, like a new-born babe? It becomes neither a soldier nor a lover to keep his arms muffled up.

Egmont. Sometimes, dearest, sometimes. When the soldier stands in ambush and would delude the foe, he collects his thoughts, gathers his mantle around him, and matures his plan; and a lover —

Mother. Will you not take a seat and make yourself comfortable? I must to the kitchen, Clara thinks of nothing when you are here. You must put up with what we have.

Egmont. Your good-will is the best seasoning.

[Exit Mother]

Clara. And what then is my love?

Egmont. Just what thou wilt.

Clara. Liken it to anything, if you have a heart.

Egmont. But first. (He flings aside his mantle, and appears arrayed in a magnificent dress.)

Clara. Oh, heavens!

Egmont. Now my arms are free! (Embraces her.) Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott