Letter 284a

284a. Charlotte Ernst to Wilhelm Schlegel in Braunschweig: Dresden, late January 1801 [*]

[Dresden, late January 1801]

Our good Hardenberg was picked up and taken back by his father; he successfully withstood the journey, spending five days on the road. [1] He departed here in an utterly hopeless condition; our farewell was enormously upsetting for me, and yet it was good that he got away, since this is not really his home.

His brother is in fact an excellent person, and I have never seen such a picture of brotherly love. His Julie, who never leaves his side, is wasting away in quiet grief, fighting back the perpetual tears in her eyes that she might always show him a cordial smile; even the most indifferent spectator could not remain around them without being moved. [2] Poor Julie’s mother has become melancholy, and now simply has no place where she can put her thoughts at rest. She went along with them, though not really wanting to, fearing for the parents, and yet it was impossible to leave him.

Hardenberg’s mother has apparently also become quite melancholy; this past autumn, her twelve-year-old son drowned himself, he was her favorite; [3] she has always been inclined to gloominess, and this incident completely pushed her over the edge.

Petzold has completely given up on him, though I still harbor a small bit of hope, he has a great deal of hypochondria and sees everything from the worst side. He says that his innards are completely decimated and have essentially collapsed.


[*] Sources: Novalis Schriften, ed. Richard Samuel and Paul Kluckhohn, rev. ed., vol. 4: Briefe, Tagebücher und Charakteristiken von Zeitgenossen, ed. Richard Samuel (Leipzig n.d. [1929]), 468 (manuscript in the Dresden Landesbibliothek); Novalis Schriften 4:673–74. Back.

[1] Hardenberg, who was suffering from consumption, had been transported back to his home in Weissenfels, ca. 120 km west of Dresden (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]; illustration: Heinrich Schmidt, Trauernde an einem Sterbebett [ca. 1753–99]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. A: 141):



See John Owen’s brief account of the progress of Hardenberg’s condition, Henry of Ofterdingen: A Romance, trans. John Owen (Cambridge 1842), xi–xii (map: frontispiece to Jakob Gottlieb Isaak Boetticher, A Geographical, historical, and political Description of the Empire of Germany, Holland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Prussia, Italy, Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia, trans. from the German [London 1800]):

When in August [1800] he was about departing for Freiberg to celebrate his marriage, he was seized with an emission of blood, which his physician declared to be mere hemorrhoidal and insignificant. Yet it shook his frame considerably, and still more when it began to return periodically.

His wedding was postponed, and, in the beginning of October, he travelled with his brother and parents to Dresden. Here they left him, in order to visit their daughter in Upper Lausatia, his brother Charles remaining with him in Dresden.


He became apparently weaker; and when, in the beginning of November, he learned that a younger brother, fourteen years of age, had been drowned through mere carelessness [see below], the sudden shock caused a violent bleeding at the lungs, upon which the physician immediately declared his disease incurable.

Soon after this his betrothed came to Dresden. As he grew weaker, he longed to change his residence to some warmer climate. He thought of visiting his friend Herbert; but his physician advised against such a change, perhaps considering him already too weak to make such a journey.

Thus the year passed away; and, in January 1801, he longed so eagerly to see his parents and be with them once more, that at the end of the month he returned to Weissenfels. There the ablest physicians from Leipzig and Jena were consulted, yet his case grew rapidly worse, although he was perfectly free from pain, as was the case through his whole illness. Back.

[2] Illustration (excerpt): anonymous, Frau am Krankenbett (ca. 1771–1800); Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. C: 1 oben rechts:



[3] Bernard had drowned in the Saale River (anonymous, Erwachsene an einem steilen Flußufer versuchen ein ertrinkendes Kind im Fluß zu retten [ca. 1801–25]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. B: 179 links):


Revealingly, such tragedies are frequently depicted, as above as well, with helpless bystanders and family members on the shore (Aglaia: Jahrbuch für Frauenzimmer auf 1803; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


Caroline mentions this incident in her letters to Schelling on 13 February 1801 (letter 286) and to Wilhelm on 1 June 1801 (letter 319); here Weissenfels in 1907 situated along the Saale River (frontispiece to Friedrich Gerhardt, Geschichte der Stadt Weißenfels a. S. [Weißenfels 1907]):



Translation © 2014 Doug Stott