Letter 308b

308b. Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin: Jena, 17 April 1801 [*]

Jena, 17 April 1801

[Publication and business matters.] . . . Everything else is fine and well. But I am utterly enraged that you two believe that Afterdingen needs to be completed by someone else, indeed I am beside myself, and I become furious all over again whenever I come back to it, since it seems to me not only inexpedient, undoable, and utterly inappropriate, but also sacrilegious, abominable, godless, and unsacred. [1] I can fathom it with regard to neither you nor Schleiermacher. Have you two lost all sense of reverence and honesty? Have you resolved no longer to honor relics? — Do you really believe that such a beginning can have a good ending?

Any one of us might easily enough treat the war at the Wartburg, each in his own way; I, too, may even try it sometime. For it is an utterly objective subject. [2] But I doubt any of us could complete the Afterdingen of our Novalis, or any of us continue it, not even were he to cut himself up into little pieces.

And now Tieck, of all people. He is so vastly superior to Hardenberg in mechanics that everything already there would have to be completely destroyed and recast if the whole were to exhibit even a modicum of harmony. But the heart and soul of that divine fragment is far, far removed from anything at least Tieck says or can say

It must, however, be published, and if Unger is not interested, then we can doubtless find ten scoundrels for one who will do it. [3]

Nor can Hardenberg’s communications to Tieck concerning the second part help in the slightest, since on the very last day, Hardenberg told me he had completely and utterly changed his plan. [4] . . .

When might we expect you here? [5]


[*] Sources: Walzel, 477; KFSA 25:261–62 (text corrected according to latter). Back.

[1] In the original manuscript, Friedrich von Hardenberg’s novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen had the spelling Afterdingen. The initiative to complete the novel came from Wilhelm (KFSA 25:596n37), whereas Ludwig Tieck, whom Wilhelm was trying to enlist in the project, in fact shared Friedrich’s opinion (see his letter to Friedrich on 23 April 1801 [letter 310b]). See also Friedrich’s letter to Schleiermacher on 17 April 1801 (letter 308c). Back.

[2] The Wartburg castle is located just outside Eisenach, ca. 90 km east of Jena (Franz Ludwig Güssefeld, Neue und vollstaendige Post-Carte Durch ganz Deutschland [1804]; Bibliothèque nationale de France; illustration: frontispiece to J. P. de Keyser, De Wartburg [Arnheim 1866]):



Concerning the legendary minstrel’s tournament (war) there, see William Walsh, Heroes and Heroines of Fiction: Classical Mediaeval, Legendary (London 1915), 350:

Wartburg, Minstrel’s War of (Ger. Der Sängerkrieg auf der Wartburg), more familiarly known as the War of Wartburg (Wartburgkrieg). A famous tournament of song commemorated in a [Middle High] German poem of the thirteenth century, in two parts, the first being obviously of much earlier date than the second. The latter is conjectured by some to have been written by Frauenlob.

The poem gathers up into a consistent whole all the floating legends in regard to a celebrated tournament of song held at Wartburg Castle near Eisenach, in the presence of the famous Hermann, Margrave of Thuringia, the patron of mediaeval minstrelsy, somewhere between 1204 and 1208.

In the first part Heinrich of Ofterdingen undertakes to prove, against the combined efforts of Wolfram von Eschenbach, Walter von der Vogelweide, Reinmar von Zweter, Biterolf and the Virtuous Scribe, that Leopold of Austria is the greatest living prince, offering his head as the forfeit in case he is vanquished. The rival claims of Philip Augustus of France, the Count of Heneberg, and especially of the Landgrave of Thuringia are canvassed.

The event itself, a kind of trial by ordeal that later also was adapted by Richard Wagner for his Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf der Wartburg, though once thought to be historical, is now generally considered to derive from a legend.

See further A. W. Grube, Heroes of History and Legend, trans. John Lancelot Shadwell (London 1882), 334 (initial illustration: Germania: Zwei Jahrtausende deutschen Lebens: Kulturgeschichtlich geschildert von Johannes Scherr, ed. Johannes Scherr [Philadelphia 1883], 181):

In the year 1207, it happened that five noble minstrels came together at the Wartburg, in order to engage in a poetic tournament with young Heinrich von Ofterdingen. The minstrels were, besides Walther [von der Vogelweide], Wolfram von Eschenbach, Reinmar von Zweter, Heinrich von Risbach (Landgrave Hermann’s chancellor), and Biterolf (one of the Landgrave’s courtiers).

The subject of competition was the praise of the worthiest princes. Heinrich von Ofterdingen praised the renowned Leopold the Seventh of Austria; all the rest, however, praised the Landgrave of Thuringia; and Walther followed their example, after having first extolled the King of France.

The markers watched the contest, and it was strictly ordained that the vanquished should suffer death by the hand of the executioner. Heinrich could not stand against his five adversaries, the markers declared him beaten, and the executioner was about to tie him up, when the young poet took refuge under the cloak of the Landgrave’s beautiful wife, Sophia of Bavaria.


She protected him, and obtained permission for the famous master, Klingsor of Siebenburgen, to be called in as umpire. The poetical contest now began again, and Master Klingsor sang with Heinrich against the other five, till at length he reconciled them. Thus peacefully ended the minstrel’s war of the Wartburg.

Here a medieval portrayal of the minstrels in the fourteenth-century Manesse Codex (Grosse Heidelberger Liederhandschrift; here: Codex Manesse, UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 219v, under the fictitious author Klingsor von Ungarland):



[3] Instead of Friedrich Unger, it was the Berlin publisher Georg Reimer who eventually published the novel in two volumes in 1802. Back.

[4] Friedrich was with Hardenberg the day the latter died. See supplementary appendix 303a.1. Back.

[5] Although both Caroline and Friedrich were still anticipating Wilhelm’s essentially imminent return to Jena, such did not happen until 11 August 1801, and then only until November (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



Translation © 2015 Doug Stott