Letter 277b

277b. Wilhelm Schlegel to Schleiermacher in Berlin: Braunschweig, 22 December 1800 [*]

Braunschweig, 22 December 1800

Perhaps you were thinking, my good friend, that this parcel contained a bunch of louis d’or, neatly sewn onto cards, but nothing could be further from the truth! It is merely a bit of deviltry in the tiniest format, a newly invented kind of calling card that I would request you distribute as widely as possible to your various friends. [1]

If your office, which inclines you to exercise compassion, should make you disinclined to have anything to do with this undertaking, then simply hand all the copies over to Tieck or Bernhardi. But they may not be wasted, since I had only a very small print run indeed done of this dainty piece; I anticipated the greatest debit in Berlin. —

Although Bernhardi did already take Merkel a bit to task for Genoveva, the unprecedented ignorance and arrogance of this man cannot be sufficiently chastised. Although a sound beating would be the most appropriate method, the police would doubtless take note of such, something that is considerably less to be feared in the case of a triolet. The enclosed is, by the way, done precisely according to the rules. [2]

As a supplement to the Kotzebuade, which I do hope arrived safely, you are also receiving here a parody of the Lord’s Prayer, which may, however, be distributed only among our more intimate circle of friends. I have presented it as an offering — should anyone come up with the idea of forbidding the Kotzebuade — to counter the possible pretext that its prohibition is intended to “preserve the honor of God.”

So, you see, the devil does not sleep once he has gotten going, roaming about instead like a hungry lion searching for victims to devour. The fun hatched out for carnival and the new century in Weimar, which I would surely have attended, has unfortunately come to a halt. You probably already know that because of the Austrian losses, the duke has ordered that all entertainment be suspended.

But what a shame. Something was supposed to have been performed in Goethe’s house before a company solely of men, without women, and you can well imagine how crazy that likely would have been, and who knows whether it will now ever see the light of day. [3] . . .

Some work I first needed to complete has until now prevented my departure; I will be there among you in a few weeks, since I am planning on staying in Jena for only about two weeks. [4]

People in Weimar are still flattering themselves that Iffland will be coming there toward 14 January. Please send me news if you know anything about that. There is a very nice French theater company here whose performances I am diligently attending; it serves quite well as a comparison for the German stage. [5]

I would first like to secure the opinion of several artistically knowledgeable friends concerning Schadow’s drawings before I write to him again. [6] I hope he was satisfied with my last letter. Of course, say nothing of the above to him. If you see him, tell him merely that I will be writing to him soon and then make arrangements in person; and give him my kind regards. The area where the monument is actually to be erected has unfortunately once again become the theater of war. [7]

Stay well.

AW Schlegel

of German Actors to Kotzebue

Our Father, who art in Siberia, applauded be thy name, thy theater come, thy wit be fun, in Germany as it is in Britain. Give us this day our daily roles, and forgive us our boringness, as we forgive those who bore us in turn. Lead us not into poesy, but deliver us from Gustav Wasa. [8] For thine is the theater, the audience, and the renown, from now until the new age. Amen.


[*] Sources: Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:250f. (frag.); KGA V/4 385–88. Back.

[1] The “calling cards” contained a triolet composed to ridicule Garlieb Merkel similar to those on which Wilhelm’s previous sonnet on Merkel were printed. Concerning this entire episode with Garlieb Merkel and the texts referenced in this letter, see supplementary appendix 252.1. Back.

[2] I.e., according to the strict rules of poetic genre. The reproach in the first place was that Merkel had mistakenly identified terza rima as a triolet. Back.

[3] The carnival reference is to the millennial New Year’s Eve celebration Schelling mentions in his letter to Wilhelm on 15 December 1800 (letter 276d) and which Caroline similarly mentions in her letter to Schelling on 20 December 1800 (letter 277). See similarly Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm on the same day as Schelling’s letter (15 December; Walzel, 450; KFSA 25:212):

In Weimar there were plans for a grand celebration for the — new century. But the duke just had them all canceled because of the sad experiences the Roman Empire [i.e., the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation] has had during the old century.

Concerning these defeats, see Schelling’s letter to Wilhelm cited above, note 3. Back.

[4] Concerning Wilhelm’s travel itinerary, see his letter to Schleiermacher on 1 December 1800 (letter 276b). Back.

[5] Caroline mentions her own attendance at the French theater in Braunschweig in her undated letter to Schelling in October 1800 (letter 273). Concerning that French theater company, see Wilhelm’s letter to Goethe in early February 1801 (letter 285a), note 5. Back.

[6] At issue are sketches for a memorial for Auguste; Wilhelm has already exchanged several letters with Schleiermacher on the subject; see, e.g., their exchange on 1 and 6 December 1800 (letter 276b, 276c). Back.

[7] Schelling mentions in his letter to Wilhelm on 15 December 1800 (letter 276d) that

the advance columns of Augereau had the plunder signal drummed on the outskirts of Bamberg. Augereau himself is now there and is contenting himself with an enormous tribute that he has imposed on Bamberg quite over and above what it has already paid.

See also note 7 there. Back.

[8] August von Kotzebue, Gustav Wasa: Ein Schauspiel in fünf Aufzügen (Leipzig 1801). The Allgemeine Encyklopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste, vol. 2 H–N, ed. August Leskien, part 39 (Leipzig 1886), 184, remarks that

the tragedy Octavia [Octavia: Ein Trauerspiel in fünf Akten (Leipzig 1801)] and the play Gustav Wasa, published in 1801, provided proof to those who did not already know that Kotzebue’s strength lay solely in the farce and the sentimental comedy, and that one could not really ever expect him to soar any higher.

Here the frontispieces from two editions of Gustav Wasa (Vienna 1802, 1833):


Gustav Wasa was later reproached for its “wooden Schillerisms” (so Charles Edwyn Vaughan, The Romantic Revolt, Periods of European Literature 10 [Edinburgh, London 1907], 315). It was performed in Weimar on 4 and 6 January 1800 (Das Repertoire des Weimarischen Theaters, 35). Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott