Letter 282a

282a. Charlotte Ernst to Wilhelm Schlegel in Braunschweig: Dresden, January 1801 [*]

[Dresden, January 1801]

I am answering you so late because I was unable to give you a satisfactory answer to your request.

Gareis is not even here anymore; you will find him in Berlin. The picture by Mademoiselle Alberti is so yellowed that even she herself doubts it would be of much use. [1] Then she also said that Gareis is not at all the person to paint someone accurately from memory, that he cannot paint even a single stroke without having the person sitting for him, and thus it is highly unlikely you would get a proper memorial of your Auguste this way. [2] I often vividly see the lovely girl before me.

But what devastation has occurred in our garden circle. Caroline, who was otherwise so healthy, now sickly; Hardenberg hardly a shadow. It would grieve you so to see this young man now, and there is very little hope he will recover, and his mind has become so frightfully weak that he is hardly even recognizable now. I see him almost every day with his fiancée; it really bothers me, he seldom joins the conversation, merely listens, speaking is becoming quite difficult for him, and often he falls asleep and then looks like a dead person. [3]

Dearest Wilhelm, I do wish you would write me in more detail about how Caroline is doing. What exactly is the nature of her sickliness; will she perhaps receive particularly good care from her mother? Please write me something with details for a change, otherwise we will become complete strangers to each other as far as our lives are concerned. I also heard you would be going to Berlin, but I hope this letter will still reach you. [4]

We are all, thank heaven, doing very well. Our Gustchen is growing, my husband is also quite well. It is I who have fallen most often into the physicians’ hands, though my eyes are now getting better. All the medications, however, have greatly weakened my stomach. I need to see how to go about strengthening it again. [5]

Mamsel Weissen is marrying young Schindler, something that has provided great joy indeed. [6] I am extremely anxious to see your grand poem; [7] I have heard so much about how excellent it is; surely it will be published at Easter. Have you given no thought to visiting Dresden?

How is it, dear Wilhelm, that you no longer have any desire to lecture at the university? [8] Friedrich seems to be quite fond of it. [9]

Your visit gave my mother great joy. [10] But she found you a bit changed. You should not cling to grief too excessively. [11] I hope your Berlin trip will cheer you up. I also wish you would quit waging war. Peace is without a doubt the ground on which your nature flourishes best, and you really failed to recognize yourself when you threw yourself on the other side. [12]

Stay well and write soon.

Charlotte Ernst

[From a later letter:]

— — I am glad to hear that Caroline’s health is improving; I hope the quinine will eventually restore her strength completely.


[*] Sources: partially published in Waitz, (1882) 82; complete in Körner (1930), 1:122–23.

Although Körner (1930), 2:51, corrects the date from “November 1800” to “end of December 1800,” the editor of Novalis Schriften 4:1025n130 points out that Friedrich essentially quotes from this letter in his own letter of 16 January 1801 (Walzel, 455; KFSA 25:219, with 559n12: “I have received very bad news from Charlotte about Hardenberg’s health. He is still in Dresden, and she sees him every day”), it apparently is to be dated shortly before 16 January. Caroline also cites essentially verbatim from it in her letter to Luise Gotter on 23 January 1801 (letter 283) (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



[1] Concerning the alleged portrait of Auguste by Maria Alberti, see Sophie Tischbein’s letter to Caroline on 28 August 1800 (letter 267), note 2, esp. with the cross reference to Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Auguste in November 1798 (letter 207b), with note 5.

Friedrich von Hardenberg similarly attests Maria Alberti’s presence in Dresden, writing to Ludwig Tieck from Dresden on 1 January 1801 (Novalis Schriften 4:343):

The winter is putting all sorts of obstacles in the way of my recovery, nor can I anticipate any fundamental improvement before the summer and perhaps a stay at Karlsbad. Hence I am just sauntering along, as it were. Karl is my constant companion — Julie is also here, and except for strength and good health I have everything I need to makes things pleasant for me . . . We see your sister-in-law and Madam Ernst most frequently and also prefer their company the most. Back.

[2] An accurate portrait would be necessary for the preparation of a memorial for Auguste; for some reason the portrait by Tischbein is not mentioned here. Back.

[3] Friedrich von Hardenberg left Dresden with his father and Julie von Charpentier on Tuesday, 20 January 1801 (Novalis Schriften 4:672–73) and arrived in Weissenfels on 24 January (Walzel, 461). He died just over two months later, on 25 March 1801, of consumption (Heinrich Schmidt, Trauernde an einem Sterbebett [ca. 1753–99]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. A: 141):



[4] Wilhelm had been delayed in departing for Berlin (and, earlier, Jena) by weather and illness; he did not leave for Berlin until 21 February 1801. Back.

[5] Charlotte Ernst had apparently been troubled by a cataract; see Caroline letter to Schelling on 13 February 1801 (letter 286). Back.

[6] Unidentified. Back.

[7] Concerning Wilhelm’s unfinished poem “Tristan,” see Caroline’s letter to Schelling on 2 January 1801 (letter 279), note 6 (with cross references). Back.

[8] Concerning Wilhelm’s lack of success as a professor in Jena, see Caroline’s letter to Schelling in October 1800 (letter 273), note 3; he had apparently already alerted Charlotte of his decision not to continue in Jena. Wilhelm was, however, preparing for an extremely successful series of lectures on belles lettres and art in Berlin between 1801 and 1804. Back.

[9] Friedrich had been lecturing in Jena on transcendental philosophy since October 1800; he, too, would not continue. See esp. Schelling’s letter to Fichte on 31 October 1800 (letter 273c), also Caroline’s letter to Schelling on 18 November 1800 (letter 274d), note 3. Back.

[10] Wilhelm had visited his mother in Hannover after he and Caroline had visited Göttingen during early October 1800 (Leipziger Taschenbuch für die erwachsenere Jugend männlichen Geschlechts zum Nutzen und Vergnügen auf das Jahr 1791):


See their itinerary in Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 18 September 1800 (letter 268), note 1. Back.

[11] I.e., over Auguste’s death; Wilhelm’s marriage with Caroline was essentially over as well. Back.

[12] Charlotte adds her voice to those wishing an end to the “literary wars.” See Dorothea Veit’s similar sentiments to Schleiermacher in her letters to him on 28 October 1799 (letter 252a) and 31 October 1800 (letter 278b) (both passages cited at the beginning of supplementary appendix 280.2.

Charlotte had written similarly to Friedrich von Hardenberg in February 1799 (Novalis Schriften 4:517)

You made me a bit apprehensive writing about the peppered critiques my brothers are planning; if you could make their attitude in this regard a bit milder, my joy in these two brothers would be quite unclouded.

If they would but rigorously examine themselves, they would find not that their real motivation is just some pure love of the good and the true, but rather that a certain measure of spiteful mischievousness is at the bottom of it, and an element of vanity that will not allow them to repress their brilliantly witty ideas. They take no account of the enemies such antics create for them, nor the hardness it gradually causes in their own personalities.

My own opinion is that the best criticism, and the criticism that is best for the public, is simply to be a better writer in a given field.

Even essentially contemporaneous with Charlotte Ernst’s letter here, Dorothea was still pleading with Schleiermacher on 17 January 1801 (letter 282b): “My dear Schleier: if you still have any trust in my opinion, then do not get mixed up in any critical journal, and do not advise Friedrich to do so either; I detest this entire enterprise.”

Concerning Wilhelm’s own view of “waging war,” see his letter to Minna van Nuys on 13 September 1799 (letter 243e), in which he speaks at length about the “literary wars” of the Jena Romantic group. Those “wars” resulted not least in the following caricature in 1803 (Caroline allegedly on the back of the cart):


See the supplementary appendix on August von Kotzebue’s caricature “The Most Recent Aesthetics.” Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott