Letter 279

• 279. Caroline to Schelling in Jena: Braunschweig, 2 January 1801 [*]

[Braunschweig, 2 January 1801]

|23| My dear friend, how vivid was my sense of being with you during the final hours of the year. Because I received your letter of Christmas day that morning, I knew where you would be that evening, and that made my loneliness quite serene. I lived not in myself, but completely in you. I looked into the room just as you doubtless looked into it, and I was thinking that something would inevitably have to happen before my very eyes, but my visions did not extend so far that I might now be able to tell you what you will have to relate to me.

I know nothing except that something happened at Goethe’s; it is still for me to learn whether you had something performed there or whether you yourselves were the actors. [1] If the latter, then |24| at 12:00 you may very easily have drowned out your lady friend’s memory amid the crazy activities of the present. [2] But I forgive you, my darling, for that first moment when “your intelligence tore itself free again through free abstraction” did, after all, belong to me.

Should I also tell you about my 12:00? Its existence was purely interior; not a sound round about, not a single sign of celebration. All sorts of parties and social gatherings were held, but I would not have wanted to be at any of them, nor did the others want to go. Luise went to a ball for only a couple of hours, then returned at 10:00. Schlegel was not feeling well and spent the entire evening sleeping on the sofa in my room. I had gone downstairs to Luise’s room, since no one really wanted to go to bed.

We concocted a small bowl of punch with huile de canele; [3] the stroke of 12 took us by surprise, I wanted to wake Schlegel before it finished tolling, since I had a peculiar feeling it might have ill consequences were one of us not awake, as if he were about to sleep through the harmonic resonance of his stars — and so I ran upstairs. He had also heard the stroke, had gotten himself together, and was coming downstairs to us — and thus, like the two centuries, did we meet there on the staircase. My soul, however, was with you, and with the ring on your hand. [4]

Not a single public celebration was scheduled here, so that except for the night watchman, who sang a lengthy song, nothing was to be heard. [5] So you see, this time you had it much better — and will probably often have it better than your good lady friend. —

Yesterday we did manage to do something for the new era: Herr and Madam Schlegel gave a souper of an extremely sophisticated kind, with sophisticated guests, sophisticated food, sophisticated wines, sophisticated spirit and wit.

First Tristan was read aloud, [6] then Palaeophron and Neoterpe, [7] and for dessert a Hans Sachsean Shrovetide play Schlegel had composed in considerable haste but which was |25| no worse because of that; although it tends toward the transcendent, it is quite lively and was extraordinarily well received. He will be glad to get a copy to you. [8]

But listen, let me not conceal from you that the “Pastor” was also read aloud, and not a single person escaped the tremendous effect of this rather incorrect poem. [9] It goes without saying that the author remained anonymous; only Luise suspected it might be by you and told me so afterward. Schlegel himself, who read it aloud, was once again completely captivated by it, and I began to tremble, a situation prompted in no small part — as is usual — by the mere notion that this was your work. —

You do indeed play quite squarely to my weakness by sending me the announcement of your grandeur; I am horrifically eager to read about it, and this particular example seems to be expressed quite elegantly and to be composed with considerable understanding. Do you know who wrote it? [10] I will even ask for the sonnet from Wilhelm and promise you that I will not circulate it publicly. [11]

Schlegel is still not really feeling well; although he was better yesterday, today he again has a fever, though there is nothing more to it than that.

[End of sheet.]


[*] Dating: Erich Schmidt (1913), 2:23, dates this letter to early January 1801.

In this letter, however, Caroline mentions that she and Wilhelm Schlegel had given a souper the previous evening at which Wilhelm read aloud his Shrovetide play “Ein schön kurzweilig Fastnachtsspiel vom alten und neuen Jahrhundert. Tragiert am ersten Januarii im Jahr 1801,” Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802 274–93 (Sämmtliche Werke 2:149–62), which according to its title was performed on 1 January 1801. The play itself similarly begins by referring to the occasion of its premiere (Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802, 274; Sämmtliche Werke 2:149):

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen dear,
In the name of this, our brand new year!
We are eating here — that much is clear —
The very first dinner of this brand new year;
And since 'tis indeed the first supper at which we are sitting,
I would like to do something special, something fitting etc.

Assuming the dinner mentioned here is the same to which Caroline is here referring, this letter would then be dated to 2 January 1801. Back.

[1] Initial plans had called for something “to have been performed in Goethe’s house before a company solely of men”; see Schelling’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 15 December 1800 (letter 276d) and Wilhelm’s to Schleiermacher on 22 December 1800 (letter 277b). Back.

[2] Henrik Steffens recounts the New Year’s redoute in Weimar, after which Schelling joined Steffens, Goethe, and Schiller, the latter of whom spent part of the night holding forth, half-drunk, on aesthetic theory. For Steffens’s account, see supplementary appendix 279.1. Back.

[3] Fr., huile de cannelle, “oil of cinnamon,” cinnamon, citrus, and sugar being basic ingredients in various hot, mulled-wine winter punches (also known as Glühwein), made, e.g., with red wine (sometimes white), cinnamon, cloves, lemon and orange rinds (or juice), star anise, and sugar to taste, though recipes vary widely (eggs could also be used). See the basic recipe from Franz Anton Weilhuber, Teutsches Universal-Kochbuch, oder Inbegriff aller Kochkunstvortheile, um gut, wohlfeil und wohlschmeckend zu kochen, 2 vols. (Pappenheim 1822), 1:253:

Mulled wine, red, without eggs. Take 2 bottles of good red wine, pour them into in a brass pan with 1/4 pound of refined sugar and place it over the fire. As soon as it starts to simmer, add 1/4 ounce crumbled cinnamon and several citrus rinds cut into small pieces, and, if the wine be too strong, add 1/8 quart of pure boiling water. After boiling for a short period, the wine is taken up, poured into a punch terrine through a strainer, and presented covered. One pours it into guests’ wine glasses round about, and for those with an inclination for sweetness, sugar is offered for sweetening. Back.

[4] Caroline mentions the ring in her letter to Schelling in late December 1800 (letter 278). Back.

[5] Night watchmen commonly sang during their rounds. Karl August Gottfried von Seckendorff composed a similarly lengthy night watchman’s song celebrating this same turn from the eighteenth to nineteenth century (Gedichte, vol. 2 [Zwickau 1808], 140–44); for the translation, see supplementary appendix 279.2. Back.

[6] Wilhelm’s Tristan-fragment (Sämmtliche Werke 1:100–26; never published otherwise), about which Ludwig Tieck went on so effusively in the unpaginated preface of his second Phantasus volume (Phantasus,, part 2, in Tieck’s Schriften, vol. 5 [Berlin 1828]), which he dedicated to Wilhelm: “It was at that time, during the marvelous spring weather, that you composed your Tristan, which was unfortunately never finished but which could have become a national epic” (for the passage from Tieck’s letter, see Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Caroline on 29 October 1798 [letter 207], note 13).

Concerning the background to Tristan, see Friedrich’s letter to Auguste, Caroline, and Wilhelm in early November 1797 (letter 190), note 2; and (for an excerpt from the first canto) Wilhelm’s letter to Goethe on 30 May 1800 (letter 260c), note 2. Back.

[7] Goethe’s Paläophron und Neoterpe. Ein Festspiel zur Feier 24. Octobers 1800. An die Herzogin Amalia. Nach einer kleinen theatralischen Vorstellung gesprochen, in Goethe’s Kleine Schriften 1 (Weimar 1801) (English translation Paläophron and Neoterpe; A Masque for the Festival of the 24th of October 1800, trans. J. C. Mellish [Weimar 1801]), thus christened at Friedrich Schlegel’s suggestion, an occasional play composed in October 1800 for the birthday of the dowager duchess Anna Amalia (24 October 1800) and first published in Leo von Seckendorf’s Neujahrs Taschenbuch von Weimar auf das Jahr 1801, I–XXXVI, a charming message of peace in the guise of an allegorical dispute and reconciliation between the old and new ages, between Paläophron (focused on the old) and Neoterpe (who delights in the new) (Gustav Könnecke, Goethe: Eine Biographie in Bildnissen, 2nd ed. [Marburg 1900], 28):



[8] In direct contrast to Goethe’s message of peace between the two centuries, Wilhelm then read his own Romantic declaration of war to the dead century of the Enlightenment, “Ein schön kurzweilig Fastnachtsspiel vom alten und neuen Jahrhundert. Tragiert am ersten Januarii im Jahr 1801,” published in the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802 under the pseudonym “Inhumanus” (see editorial note above for bibliographical information).

For a summary, a sample of the exchange between the two centuries, and the Herald’s concluding words, see supplementary appendix 279.3. Back.

[9] A mysterious and dark story, based on a legend, of a pastor at an isolated church on the coast of Zealand who is awakened in the middle of the night by strangers from a ship and forced to perform an eerie wedding ceremony (illustration: Deutsches Balladenbuch, mit Holzschnitten nach Zeichnungen, 2nd ed. [Leipzig 1858], 191):



[10] See Waldemar von Olshausen, “Neues aus dem Caroline-Kreis,” Euphorion 28 (1927), 350–62, here 354–56. With respect to Caroline’s earlier letter to Schelling (originally letter 271, dated to October 1800; now letter 274d, redated to 18 November 1800), Olshausen wonders whether Stefan August Winkelmann, whom Caroline there implies has otherwise earlier professed Schelling’s “divinity,” might not have expressed his admiration for Schelling in poetry. For Olshausen’s introduction and an approximate prose translation of this dedicatory poem, albeit a poem published without the editors of Euphorion totally agreeing with Olshausen’s attribution, see supplementary appendix 279.4. Back.

[11] Wilhelm’s sonnet “An Schelling” (Sämmtliche Werke 1:353).

Concerning Proteus in Greek mythology, see William Smith, A Smaller Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology, and Geography, 11th ed. (London 1868), s.v.:

Proteus, the prophetic old man of the sea, is described in the earliest legends as a subject of Poseidon, whose flocks (the seals) he tended. According to Homer, he resided in the island of Pharos, at the distance of one day’s journey from the Aegyptus (Nile); whereas Virgil places his residence in the island of Carpathos, between Crete and Rhodes.

At mid-day Proteus rose from the sea, and slept in the shade of the rocks, with the monsters of the deep lying around him. Any one wishing to learn futurity from him was obliged to catch hold of him at that time: as soon as he was seized, he assumed every possible shape, in order to escape the necessity of prophesying, but whenever he saw that his endeavors were of no avail, he resumed his usual form, and told the truth. After finishing the prophecy he returned into the sea.

Wilhelm here eloquently alludes to Aristaeus, the son of Apollo and Cyrene, who succeeded in subduing Proteus and forcing him to prophesy (illustration: Pierre Mariette, Prothée [ca. 1700]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur PMariette d. J. Verlag AB 3.9):


To Schelling

When solely to disturb the aged wise one's peace,
Impertinence did intrude into Proteus's gloomy grotto,
Proteus transformed himself, to mock the intruder,
Into a thousand indistinct forms.

But whom enthusiasm drove to hold him fast,
Undeterred by the gang of ogres, for him
Proteus did transform himself into a clever god,
Deeming him worthy to unfold mysteries.

You, friend, neither count nor measure the hieroglyphs
Writ round about Nature's infinite columns; to you
They instead speak, and matter to thought turns.

Soon will those who slept in lifeless wisdom,
The gods, arise, and consecrate to priests those
Scholarly seekers who did drink from the spring of poetry. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott