Letter 277a

277a. Dorothea Veit and Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Braunschweig: Jena, 20 or 21 December 1800 [*]

[Jena, 20 or 21 December 1800]


Jena truly is about to laugh itself silly; so now imagine how I am doing amid it all! Paulus, even as dry as he is, and his wife, even as sick as she is, [1] sat up with us that evening until midnight, and there could be no thought of sleep until the bells of dear Kotzebue’s funeral had tolled.

Little Caroline [2] cannot stop singing and playing bu bu bu, and Philipp in his own turn will not fail to declaim bu bu bu to all his comrades in the market place, [3] just as he already did with the sonnet to Merkel; [4] and all the Christmas dolls this year are named Puseltusel. [5]

In short, brace yourself for faring the same with Kotzebue as did that traveler with Malborough in the epistle. [6] Not even the Frommanns can withstand the urge to laugh, though they do admittedly immediately cross themselves on account of its sheer inhumanity. It is also quite charmingly composed; the ode especially is a true parody. [7] Friedrich will relate to you what Goethe had to say.

Sincere thanks to you and Caroline for sending the coffee and sugar. [8] The money will absolutely be paid in January. Stay well, dear friend!



I immediately visited Goethe to get his reaction while it was still quite fresh. [9] He praised it to the skies, and most of all what I myself like the most, the travel description. [10] There is still much to say about all this in person; it has illuminated comedy anew for me. . . .


[*] Sources: Walzel, 452; Dorothea Schlegel und deren Söhne 1:66–67; Wieneke (1914), 342–43 (frag.); KFSA 25:213 (no. 129).

Dating according to KFSA 25:213 with reference to when Wilhelm sent complementary copies of his Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen to various people, including Schleiermacher, Fichte, Goethe, and likely Friedrich and Dorothea as well; Goethe’s correspondence with Schiller on 22 December 1800 also narrows the date down (included in the supplementary appendix mentioned below).

The reference in this letter is to Wilhelm’s anonymous dramatic satire Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen für den Theater-Präsidenten von Kotzebue bei seiner gehofften Rückkehr in’s Vaterland. Mit Musik. Gedruckt zu Anfange des neuen Jahrhunderts (with piano parts), published with neither place nor publisher indicated (Braunschweig: Vieweg, 1801) (Sämmtliche Werke 2:257–342 + 4 pages of piano parts).

Concerning the background, disposition, and reception of this piece, see the supplementary appendix on Wilhelm’s Kotzebuade. Back.

[1] Concerning the Pauluses’ stays in Bocklet, see Dorothea’s letter to Schleiermacher on 28 July 1800 (letter 265i), note 2.

Even after her rehabilitation stay in Bocklet during the summer, Karoline Paulus had come down sick yet again (Dorothea to Schleiermacher on 17 November 1800 [letter 274c]). Her husband lamented in a letter on 10 March 1801 (Reichlin-Meldegg 1:349–50):

. . . my wife, too, had to spend almost the entire winter being sick. We spent almost 4 weeks in Bad Boklet, north of Würzburg, and it had been an eternity since she felt as good as she did for the next three months [the Pauluses had returned from Bocklet in approx. mid-August 1800]. And how much more easily did I myself then also breathe! For I would rather feel ill myself than have to watch a loved one suffer.

But with the first arrival of the damp cold weather, all our joy was at an end. For eighteen weeks the poor woman was unable to leave the sofa. Cramps in her lower abdomen, sleeplessness and lack of appetite along with the πολυ πασχειν υπο των ιατρων [the considerable suffering under the doctors] were the maladies that utterly destroyed all my hopes once more.

Now that the weather has changed for the better, she can at least alternately remain upright in company for a bit. In the spring a new general course of treatment will commence.

Concerning Karoline Paulus being unable to leave the sofa during this period, see Dorothea’s letter to Schleiermacher on 17 November 1800 (letter 274c), also, comically, with note 8 there.

Karoline Paulus returned to Bamberg and Bocklet during the summer of 1801, leaving in April (attested in Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 20 April 1801 [letters 310]); see esp. also Caroline’s indignant letter to Wilhelm on 29 June 1801 (letter 323). Back.

[2] Sophie Karoline Eleutherie Paulus; her parents initially called her Karoline. Back.

[3] Here the Jena market square as the Jena circle experienced it (Ernst Borkowsky, Die Burschenschaft Germania zu Jena [Jena 1897], 87):


Dorothea’s reference is to the refrain after each stanza in the “celebratory song of German actresses at Kotzebue’s return” (“Festgesang deutscher Schauspielerinnen bei Kotzebue’s Rückkehr”), which appears after the two-act play in Wilhelm’s play (Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen 85–88; Sämmtliche Werke 2:327–29); for a translation of the first three stanzas (of eight) with this refrain as well as the music, see the “Bubu”-section in the supplementary appendix on the Kotzebuade. Back.

[4] The satirical sonnet Wilhelm composed in the Romantics’ quarrel with Garlieb Merkel; see supplementary appendix 252.1. Back.

[5] In Wilhelm’s Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen, the daughter of the Kamchatkan village mayor in the theatrical section “Kotzebue’s Rettung oder der tugendhafte Verbannte. Ein empfindsam-romantisches Schauspiel in zwei Aufzügen.” Her main appearance occurs in act 2 (Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen 58–65; Sämmtliche Werke 2:306–12). For the text of these scenes, see the “Puseltusel”-section in the supplementary appendix on the Kotzebuade. Back.

[6] Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre, a popular French folk song, a burlesque lament inspired by the false rumor of the death of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722) after the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709. It tells how Marlborough’s wife, awaiting his return from battle, is given the news of her husband’s death. The melody probably predates the song’s words and has been adapted for English in the song “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

Around the year 1780, the song suddenly became enormously popular. The rage endured for many years, slowly fading after the French Revolution. The song was translated into several languages, one English translation being by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (though in 1786 the song was sung half in French, half in Italian) (English text see supplementary appendix 277a.1).

Dorothea conflates Goethe’s brief mention of the song in the letter (Dorothea: “epistle”) of 17 September 1786 in his Italienische Reise (“At night singing and all sorts of noises begin. The ballad of ‘Marlbrook‘ is heard in every street” [Goethe’s Travels in Italy: together with his second residence in Rome and Fragments on Italy, trans. A. J. W. Morrison and Charles Nisbet (London 1892), 40]) and his more pointed mention of it in the second elegy of his Elegien, Rom 1788, where he refers specifically to the English traveler being pursued by the song when abroad (although in the original version of this piece Goethe compared the way he was pursued by the fame generated by Die Leiden des jungen Werthers to the way the English traveler was by the “Song of Marlborough,” Dorothea read the version of the Roman Elegies published under the title Elegien in Schiller’s Die Horen (1795) no. 6, 1–44) (text see supplementary appendix 277a.2). Back.

[7] For the text and music to this piece, see the “Ode”-section in the supplementary appendix on the Kotzebuade. Back.

[8] Dorothea had made the following request in her and Friedrich’s letter to Wilhelm on 5 December 1800 (KFSA 25:207–8):

I have a rather grand request to make of you, my dear friend, namely, that you might be so kind as to send us from Braunschweig, by mail, 30 pounds of coffee and about 20 pounds of finely ground sugar, if, that is, it is acceptable that we do not pay until January; the sum can be as high as about 25 Groschen.

I charged various people with purchasing coffee and sugar for me in Leipzig during the previous book fair at Michaelmas, but since you were not there, no one was gracious enough to do so; and now I had to use the money elsewhere.

Although with Schirmer I may also defer payment, the quality of his goods is by far not as good, and then it is also quite expensive, I have to pay 17 Groschen for a pound of coffee and 13 for a pound of sugar; prices are doubtless considerably lower in Braunschweig, quite apart from the fact that I will get a better weigh.

If it is at all possible, my dear Wilhelm, please do this for us; the coffee will taste all the better then when you drink it here with me. And may that happen soon! Back.

[9] Goethe to Schiller on 22 December 1800 (Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller 2:354): “I have continued my solitary life, and have only had one walk on one of the finest days. Friedrich Schlegel, [Jena physician Franz Joseph] Haarbauer, and Niethammer have called upon me.” Although Goethe’s diary (Weimarer Ausgabe 3:2:315) has no entries for 19 or 21 December 1800, Friedrich may have visited him on one of those days. Back.

[10] “Kotzebue’s Reisebeschreibung,” one of the verse pieces at the end of Wilhelm’s Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen (97–103 in the original; Sämmtliche Werke 2:336–40). Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott