Letter 285a

285a. Wilhelm Schlegel to Goethe in Weimar: Braunschweig, early February 1801 [*]

Braunschweig, [early] February 1801

The news of your sudden illness greatly upset all of us here; fortunately the news of your improvement followed quickly on its heels. [1] What would I have given had I been able magically to conjure my friend Marcus from Bamberg over to you! [2] But you are now better, and presumably as a result of proper treatment. For my sake, all our sake, indeed the world’s sake, I wish you a speedy recovery with all my heart.

I had been hoping to see and speak with you once again after so long a time. My departure from here, however, has been hitherto delayed by urgent work, indisposition, and the unstable weather, and now I will be going immediately on to Berlin, not returning to Jena until the spring, since my previous plan was actually to spend some time in Jena first and only then to go to Berlin. [3]

Above all I would have liked to solicit your advice in person with regard to a memorial we are planning for our beloved, unforgettable daughter. [4] I am sending the drafts to Herr Meyer with the request that he also relate to me your assessment and advice should you not have time to do so yourself. . . .

This past winter I have been prompted to make various observations and comparisons concerning our theater, since a French company has been performing here, one that although not very large and with only a limited repertoire, is nonetheless developing some quite solid talent and in which on the whole a quite cultivated tone predominates. [5]

It is especially with respect to the latter that I have been led to some rather gloomy comparisons, since just now, for the trade fair, [6] the German company from Magdeburg has been engaged and is now pouring out its entire repertoire of Kotzebue, and which is pathetic, unskilled, and base beyond all imagination, but which is being received with thunderous applause by a certain class of the population here out of a spirit of opposition (since the court in fact supports the French theater) and out of a natural sense of pleasure in such flaccidity. [7]

Stay well and healthy, and favor me soon with a few lines, which you need merely address to my brother in Jena. My wife sends her warmest regards; she has been in perpetually poor health since the death of her daughter and will be staying here until the spring. [8]



[*] Source: Körner-Wieneke 112–14 (map: Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



[1] Wilhelm and Caroline had learned of Goethe’s illness from Schelling and the Hufelands in Jena (see Caroline’s letter to Schelling in early January 1801 [letter 281] and to Luise Gotter on 23 January 1801 [letter 283]). Friedrich Schlegel then relayed news of Goethe’s recovery (see letter 281, notes 1 and 3). Back.

[2] Wilhelm, Caroline, and Schelling had visited the Bamberg General Hospital the previous August, likely in the company of Marcus or Andreas Röschlaub. Back.

[3] See Wilhelm’s letter to Schleiermacher on 1 December 1800 (letter 276b), note 1. Back.

[4] See the editorial note to Wilhelm’s letter to Schleiermacher on 1 December 1800 (letter 276b). Concerning the history of the memorial, see also the supplementary appendix on Auguste and the cemetery in Bocklet. Back.

[5] The French theater company of Aurore Bursay performed in Braunschweig from 17 March 1800 till 25 June 1806 (though see below: 1807?) except during the period of mourning after the death of the dowager duchess, Philippine Charlotte, who died on 17 February 1801 (Caroline mentions this lack of activity in several letters). The standing German company from Magdeburg, under the direction of Hoftovsky and F. L. Schmidt, gave guest performances in Braunschweig from 27 January till 15 February 1801 (Körner-Wieneke 238).

See in general for this period Adolf Glaser, Geschichte des Theaters zu Braunschweig: Eine Kunstgeschichtliche Skizze (Braunschweig 1861), 76–77:

When Tilly died, his wife [as director] followed until 1799. When she, too, died — in Braunschweig itself — the attorney Niemeyer took over the guidance and organization of the company’s affairs until the arrival of the director Seconda.

A smaller company under the direction of Ziehr had in the meantime given several performances in the Coffee House. . . .

In March 1800 a French company arrived in Braunschweig under the direction of Madame Aurora Bursay and her husband Fleury. They came from Rheinsberg, where they had been engaged by Prince Heinrich von Preussen as his French company and subsequently began quite modestly in Braunschweig.

Gradually, however, they expanded and acquired considerable influence. Madame Bursay herself and Mademoiselle Duquenoi were quite adept at combining the currently fashionable inclination for things French with other inclinations at court. They remained until 1807, when Jerôme Napoleon summoned them to Kassel in order to organize a royal Westphalian theater for the court there. During the presence of this French theater company [in Braunschweig], the German companies that wished to perform in Braunschweig during the trade fairs had to pay a fee to the French company.

For two years — 1801 and 1802 — the Magdeburg Company under Fabricius and Hoftowsky performed; their offerings included Die Piccolomini, Wallensteins Tod, Maria Stuart, and Die Jungfrau von Orleans. Eine romantische Tragödie by Schiller and Heinrich der Löwe by Ziegler. Das Donauweibchen (parts one, two, and three) were quite well received, and each season brought new plays by Kotzebue and Iffland.

See also the section on the Braunschweig theater in Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 20 May 1795 (letter 150). Back.

[6] Concerning the Braunschweig trade fairs, see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 20–21 August 1795 (letter 154), note 1. Wilhelm is here speaking about the fair that commenced on the Thursday of the week of 2 February 1801. Back.

[7] Der neuesten Moden Almanach auf das Jahr 1795; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[8] Wiener Damenkalender zum Nutzen u. Vergnügen auf das Jahr 1801; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:


Wilhelm departed Braunschweig on 21 February, while Caroline arrived in Jena on 23 April 1801. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott