Letter 277d

277d. Schleiermacher to Wilhelm Schlegel in Braunschweig: Berlin, 27 December 1800 [*]

Berlin, 27 December 1800

I cannot possibly resist sending off yet another letter right after my last to thank you for the Kotzebuade, which at the time of that last letter was already at the post office but not yet in my hands.

That same evening, we read it together with Tieck amid indelible laughter and equally permanent admiration, and even afterward it caused me to have the most pleasant restless night I can ever remember. [1]

Indeed, you succeeded with it beyond all imagination, and if even a few people are capable of appreciating the whole of it, it cannot possibly fail in fulfilling its objective, and one might hope that now all sorts of pieces will not be able to be performed without everyone thinking immediately of your own divine parodies and without loud laughter seizing the entire theater.

The crescendo in which the whole progresses comes across splendidly; even the songs after the play, something one would not believe possible, constitute an intensification, [2] and the “Farewell” is like a fanfare with drums and trumpets, a tutti of hissing and a loud, involuntary outbreak of joy at the successful piece. Behind every passage that delights me it also occurs to me: “Those are the Hyperboreans” — in a word: it is divine.

That said, the terrain here is as unfavorable as could be for such productions, and several people, including my friend Engel and the upright Herz, found nothing as striking in it as the nefariousness of taking poor Kotzebue’s misfortune as an object of mockery, and yet others have so little sensibility that they think Tieck is the author, probably solely because of the speaking dog. [3] . . .

But the triolet, my good friend, is much too dainty for Merkel, and the whole point — at least for Berliners — not expressed clearly enough. Anyone who has not just read the Archiv der Zeit will not understand what the reference is, since most people simply overlooked the blunder themselves in Merkel’s Briefe. [4] . . .


[*] Sources: Josefa Elstner and Erich Klingner, “Briefe Friedrich Schleiermachers an August Wilhelm Schlegel,” Euphorion 21 (1914) 584–98, 736–73, here 765–66; KGA V/4 392–94. Back.

[1] Schleiermacher’s group doubtless found it more interesting than the gentleman at the left did his own evening (Christian Benjamin Gladbach, Runde von vier Männern, einer vorlesend, zwei rauchend, einer schlafend [ca. 1751–1800]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 815):


See by contrast the supplementary appendix on the singular entertainment provided by Tieck reading aloud. Back.

[2] The songs include the “Festgesang deutscher Schauspielerinnen” and “Ode.” Back.

[3] In Tieck’s play Der gestiefelte Kater, ein Kindermärchen in drey Akten mit Zwischenspielen, einem Prologe und Epiloge (Bergamo [Berlin], 1797), the “Puss in Boots” character speaks, and in Wilhelm’s Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen (act 2, p. 73 in original edition; Sämmtliche Werke 318), it is a Kamchatkan dog who brings Kotzebues news of his imminent freedom:

A Kamchatkan dog comes running up, out of breath.

Benyovsky. Behold, what can this beast want? . . .

Dog. Bow wow! Kotzebow! You are free! The monarch has pardoned you! You can journey home. The joy — oy — oy, the run- — run- — -ning — I breathe — my last. (Dies.) Back.

[4] Garlieb Merkel had mistakenly identified terza rima verse as a triolet. Wilhelm then composed a satirical triolet on Merkel following strict poetic form. Schleiermacher’s point is that the Berliners themselves did not notice Merkel’s original mistake.

In any case, the specific reference is to August Ferdinand Bernhardi’s November review of Garlieb Merkel’s Briefe an ein Frauenzimmer in the Berlinisches Archiv der Zeit und ihres Geschmacks (1800) 2, July–November (November) 376–78. Concerning the background and texts to this quarrel, see supplementary appendix 252.1. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott