Letter 289a

289a. Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin: Jena, 20 February 1801 [*]

Jena, 20 February 1801

. . . When he [Bretari] handed over the bill, he asked whether he should invoice you or Schelling for a shawl purchased around Easter 1800. As far as we know, the shawl was for Auguste and Schelling the one who ordered it. [1] . . .

Niethammer came to see me and asked to let you know that no one had come to him with regard to the logis for Easter. I promised to get an answer for him soon. [2] . . .

I have not had any news from Hardenberg of late, though he did write to Ritter once from Weissenfels. [3] — I still find it impossible to entertain any serious fear for him. . . .

I would be very grateful if you could help me secure Hardenberg’s novel soon. [4]

As far as Vermehren and Seckendorf are concerned, they are actually a quite harmless sort of little crab lice, and my opinion is that 500 such lice do less damage to poesy than Schiller. After all, Goethe is contributing as well; why should he alone except himself from a bit of popularity? [5] Fundamentally there really is quite a bit we might discuss in this regard, and it may well be that a more fundamental difference in our opinions underlies this apparently more petty consideration. My confession of faith is that it is not the English vignettes that damage art, but the Propyläen; and so on throughout the whole of it. [6]

Implore Tieck to have his piece contra Iffland sent to me as soon as it is finished. [7]

Dorothea is still greatly in arrears with the 2nd part of Florentin. Are you satisfied with the conclusion to the 1st? [8] . . .


[*] Sources: Walzel, 461–65; KFSA 25:234–37. Back.

[1] Bretari/Bretary/Breddary: otherwise unidentified merchant in Jena. Friedrich writes on 6 March 1801 (Walzel, 468; KFSA 25:242) that “the other apothecary is to be paid tomorrow too along with Bretari,” though Dorothea adds in the same letter to Wilhelm (Walzel, 469; KFSA 25:243) that “if you have not already answered us with regard to paying Breddary for the shawl, let me urge you to do so immediately, since he inquired about it yet again.” In this present letter, she similarly adds in a postscript that “the shawl cost 8 Thaler 22 Groschen.” Back.

[2] The reference is likely to the lease status of the apartment Leutragasse 5 in the house Niethammer owned, since it had stood empty since Friedrich and Dorothea Veit had moved out in September 1800. Caroline, on the other hand, was still intending to return there from Braunschweig (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



[3] Friedrich von Hardenberg was gravely ill with consumption in Weissenfels; the letter to Johann Wilhelm Ritter is not extant. Concerning Hardenberg’s trip back to Weissenfels from Dresden, see Charlotte Ernst’s letter to Wilhelm in late January 1801 (letter 284a). Members of the group now send and react to increasingly dire news from Weissenfels. Back.

[4] Heinrich von Afterdingen [later: Ofterdingen], the manuscript of which Ludwig Tieck had in his possession. Friedrich and Tieck eventually published the novel posthumously in Novalis Schriften, ed. Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel, 2 vols. (Berlin 1802).

See the summary in John G. Robertson, A History of German Literature (New York 1902), 427–28 (translations from Henry of Ofterdingen: A Romance, trans. John Owen [Cambridge 1842], pagination as indicated; illustration: lower group, third from right: the Minnesänger Heinrich von Ofterdingen, namesake for Hardenberg’s protagonist, as portrayed in the Manesse Handschrift; Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848):


Heinrich von Ofterdingen is Novalis’s chief work and, in many respects, the representative novel of Romanticism. Like all the romances of the School, its model is Wilhelm Meister; but the materials out of which Heinrich von Ofterdingen is constructed are very different from the realities which, as Goethe once complained, were all he had to work upon.

The world of Heinrich von Ofterdingen is that dream-world of medievalism, which had first been opened up by Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen; in passing, however, through Novalis’s fine imagination, it has become spiritualised: “The dream is World, the world is Dream” [p. 195].

Heinrich von Ofterdingen, whose childhood has been spent in Eisenach, accompanies his mother on a visit to his grandfather in Augsburg. This journey, in the course of which they are joined by merchants who discuss literature and art with them, is the beginning of Heinrich’s apprenticeship to poetry.

In Augsburg, he chooses the poet Klingsohr as his master, and from Klingsohr learns the Romantic mysteries of poetry; he loves Klingsohr’s daughter, Mathilde, as the author himself had loved Sophie von Kühn. Mathilde dies, and, like Novalis, Heinrich too finds consolation in a new love.

The essential difference between Wilhelm Meister and Heinrich von Ofterdingen is the latter’s self-reliance: he is not a blind seeker after the true path of his existence; he begins life as a poet, and with the clear consciousness that he has to find the wonderful “blue flower,” in which the ideals and yearnings of Romanticism were symbolised. Disenchantments such as Meister had, Heinrich has not; he sets out to find no asses, but a kingdom, and at the unwritten close of the book, was to have entered into possession of his inheritance.

Heinrich von Ofterdingen is more of a poetic “Märchen” [fairy tale] than a novel; as Novalis himself once described it to Tieck, it is an “apotheosis of poetry”; and like Tieck’s Romantic poems, but in a higher degree, it is suffused with the unreal light of a purely imaginary world. “The partition between Fiction and Truth, between the past and the present has fallen down. Faith, Fancy, and Poetry lay open the internal world” [p. 224]. Back.

[5] Bernhard Vermehren published the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802, and Leo von Seckendorf the Oster Taschenbuch von Weimar, auf das Jahr 1801. Friedrich contributed pieces to both, apparently prompting an objection from Wilhelm.

It may be recalled that the Jena circle, after the cessation of Athenaeum, was now also smarting under the failure of its Jahrbücher project. Otherwise Goethe, though solicited, did not contribute to Vermehren’s Almanach, though he did publish “Paläofron und Neoterpe” in Seckendorf’s Neujahrs Taschenbuch von Weimar auf 1801 (KFSA 25:574n58–63). Concerning Goethe’s piece, which Wilhelm read at a New Year’s Day dinner he and Caroline hosted in Braunschweig, see Caroline’s letter to Schelling on 2 January 1801 (letter 279). Back.

[6] Walzel, 464n2 and, in concurrence, KFSA 25:574n65, point out that Friedrich is likely referring to Wilhelm’s essay “Ueber Zeichnungen zu Gedichten und John Flaxman’s Umrisse,” Athenaeum (1799) 193–246, which begins:

Nothing is more commonplace among us than copper engravings and vignettes to poems, especially to plays and novels, in part in the editions themselves, in part in pocket-book anthologies in the tiniest format. Art exhausts itself in such embryonic products, rarely bringing forth anything more mature or more fully developed.

Goethe’s programmatic periodical Propyläen. Eine periodische Schrift was published by Johann Friedrich Cotta in Tübingen between 1798 and 1800, and Friedrich’s statement here reveals his fundamental aesthetic differences with Goethe at this point.

Click on the following image to open a gallery of selections from Flaxman’s illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy:



[7] Ludwig Tieck worked on but never published a piece contra August Wilhelm Iffland because of the latter’s support for the Berlin performance on 3 November 1800 of Heinrich Beck’s malicious play Das Kamäleon (the play was published in 1803).

Tieck’s frustrated and lengthy rejoinder — about which Friedrich is here asking — “Bemerkungen über Parteilichkeit, Dummheit und Bosheit. Bei Gelegenheit der Herren Falk, Merkel und des Lustspiels Camäleon 1800. An Diejenigen, die sich unparteilich zu sein getrauen,” was, however, published only posthumously in Ludwig Tieck’s Nachgelassene Schriften. Auswahl und Nachlese, ed. Rudolf Köpke, 2 vols. (Leipzig 1855), 2:35–93.

For Tieck’s lengthy and fruitless exchange of letters with Iffland on the subject, and concerning the play itself, see the supplementary appendix on the Kamäleon and the Romantics. See also Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 23 January 1801 (letter 283). Back.

[8] Dorothea never completed volume 2 of her recently published novel, Florentin. Ein Roman herausgegeben von Friedrich Schlegel, vol. 1 (Leipzig 1801). She discusses her reasons in later letters. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott