Letter 312c

312c. Wilhelm Schlegel to Goethe in Weimar: Berlin, 28 April 1801 [*]

Berlin, 28 April 1801

Please forgive me for having waited until now before responding to your kind letter; [1] I have been quite prevented from doing so by various distractions and business matters that have been in constant flux for me here.

Let me warmly thank both you and Herr Professor Meyer for your cordially related opinion. [2] I have naturally left it to my wife’s feelings on the matter to decide concerning your suggestion that the memorial urns not be erected where our daughter died, but rather in our own residence. [3] In the meantime, because of the ambiguous present situation as well as expectations in a different regard, nothing more has transpired in the matter. [4]

Since my arrival here, [5] I have again become quite occupied with the theater. [6] Although various new pieces have been performed since my initial attendance, it is really only Madame Unzelmann with whom I have become acquainted from a new side. She alone constantly seeks, with a perpetual dynamism of the spirit, to encompass the entire realm of her art, and with every reorganization of the theater — reorganization that will be prompted by the wear and tear on the older, hitherto beloved theater, as well as simply by the changing demands of the time [7] — she will in that regard be ahead of the other actors. She unites the immediacy of the most poignant truth with ideal grace and, when the genre calls for it, a measured performance of her role, and it is from her alone have I until now witnessed truly tragic performances. The very first performance in which I saw her was as Clärchen in Egmont, where she masterfully effected the transition from the intimate surrender of love to heroic exaltation. [8] Unfortunately there was not a trace of the true Egmont himself. [9]

She appears as Bätely in a completely different, graceful figure; here her pure, expressive manner of singing, which allows not a single syllable to impair one’s understanding, was a considerable advantage. The whole, along with the music, provided a pleasant and animated performance. [10]

She is truly grand as Maria Stuart; [11] I wish you and Schiller could have been there. I myself saw the fifth and sixth performance of the piece. Both performances were full and the audience quite attentive, which says quite a bit given the flaccidity and for all practical purposes incapacity of the Berlin public with respect to something of this sort.

For the rest, apart perhaps from Fleck as Leister, the piece was not particularly well performed, indeed, some parts were beneath criticism. Iffland once played Leister, once Melville, though now he is not performing in the play at all. [12] Indeed, I have not seen him in any versified tragedy except as Polonius, which I cannot count. [13] Tancred was not performed to its advantage at all, since Madam Fleck performed the role of Amenaide and Fleck that of her father, neither of whom are at all suited for French tragedy. [14] Madame Meyer is quite extolled in this genre, especially as Merope, though she has not performed during this entire period because of childbed. [15] Nor have I yet seen Fleck as Wallenstein. [16] . . .

The circle of my friends here has been diminished by Tieck’s departure and has to a certain extent become rather dispersed. [17] He will be staying in Dresden only for a while. Although he wanted to take a side trip from there to Weimar and Jena, he does not feel well enough just now to do so and will instead be going to Leipzig on business. [18] . . .

Enclosed please find the 7th volume of Shakespeare, along with my request to give one of the other two copies to His Excellency the Duke and one to Herr Geheimrath Vogt. The eighth volume is half finished and will, I hope soon follow. [19] The following volumes, however, will appear with a different publisher. [20]

Unger played some very bad tricks indeed with me, reprinting the first volume of Shakespear behind my back and then afterward, when I spoke with him about it, refusing my reasonable demands and in general behaving quite ill, so much so that I am literally having to file a lawsuit against him. [21] The applicable laws here do allow, if there is no contract concerning the size of the printing, to undertake a new, unaltered printing. Fortunately, however, this particular printing was done according to a copy I myself had revised and thus constitutes a new edition, so that I do believe at least the letter of the law is on my side.

I am relating this to you because you, too, have a relationship with Unger as a publisher. I am unfamiliar with the sort of contracts you have with him, but I can relate to you with certainty that he has reprinted the 1st volume of your Neue Schriften as well as the 1st volume of Wilhelm Meister. An honest and informed eyewitness has assured me of this. Hence please relay this to Schiller as well, to whom I also send my regards. [22] . . .

I am enclosing here a letter from Madam Unzelmann. Although she initially thought she would not be able to send along the manuscript of Egmont, she just received it in time from the theater management. [23]


[*] Sources: Goethe und die Romantik 1:102–6; Körner-Wieneke 115–17. Back.

[1] 2 March 1801 (letter 294a). Back.

[2] Wilhelm had initially queried Heinrich Meyer and Goethe for their opinions concerning the memorial for Auguste. See his letter to Goethe in early February 1801 (letter 285a), also, for cross references, note 4 there. Back.

[3] See Goethe’s previously mentioned letter to Wilhelm on 2 March 1801 (letter 294a) concerning this allusion, and Caroline’s reaction in her letter to Wilhelm on 26–27 March 1801 (letter 303). Back.

[4] Wilhelm is presumably referring either to the current military situation on the continent in general and perhaps specifically in Franconia, where Auguste was buried (see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 1–2 March 1801 [letter 293]: “That particular real estate will perhaps be getting a new lord — I have no idea where they are intending to go with the Grand Duke of Tuscany; see esp. note 20) or to the unresolved status of his marriage to Caroline, which was not clarified until Caroline’s visit to Berlin in the spring of 1802, or possibly to both. It may also be recalled that his negotiations with Friedrich Tieck in this matter were similarly yet unresolved. Back.

[5] Wilhelm had left Braunschweig on 21 February 1801 and seems to have arrived in Berlin on or about 23 February 1801 (Franz Ludwig Güssefeld, Neue und vollstaendige Post-Carte Durch ganz Deutschland [1804]; Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans):



[6] Concerning the location of the theater in Berlin, see Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Caroline in early March 1799 (letter 224c), note 3.

The theater became one of Wilhelm’s most enduring and fruitful interests, and one of his best-known critical pieces is his Viennese lecture course in 1808, Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, 2 vols., trans. John Black (London 1815).

Here an illustration of the French Theater in Berlin in 1795, situated at the center between the two larger edifices; from C. Schäffer and C. Hartmann, Die Königlichen Theater in Berlin: Statistischer Rückblick auf die künstlerische Thätigkeit und die Personal-Verhältniss während des Zeitraums vom 5. December 1786 bis 31. December 1885 (Berlin 1886), 277:



[7] See letter 224c, note 3 mentioned above: “The final performance in this [older] edifice took place on 31 December 1801, after which it was demolished and replaced by a new edifice (which, however, burned in 1817).” This “New Theater,” which hosted its first performance on 1 January 1802, was located on the Gendarmenmarkt in central Berlin (B. Metzeroth, Berlin [Hildburghausen 1832], from Meyer’s StädteAtlas, vol. 2 [Berlin 1832]; Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin B 54/97 a:1832):


Here the New Theater (first illustration: Rudolph Genée, Hundert Jahre des Königlichen Schauspiels in Berlin [Berlin 1886], 77; second illustration: C. Schäffer and C. Hartmann, Die Königlichen Theater in Berlin: Statistischer Rückblick auf die künstlerische Thätigkeit und die Personal-Verhältniss während des Zeitraums vom 5. December 1786 bis 31. December 1885 [Berlin 1886], 278):




[8] Friederike Unzelmann had chosen the role of Klärchen (Clärchen) in Goethe’s Egmont, Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 5 (Leipzig 1788), 1–198, for her benefit performance, and at her request Goethe had sent her Schiller’s adaptation of that play for the Weimar stage (Wilhelm mentions it at the end of this letter), an adaptation which altered so many parts so drastically that Goethe could never bring himself to see it performed.

The Berlin premiere, with music by Johann Friedrich Reichardt, took place 25 February 1801 (C. Schäffer and C. Hartmann, Die Königlichen Theater in Berlin: Statistischer Rückblick [Berlin 1886], 20; Goethe und die Romantik 338; Johann Valentin Teichmanns literarischer Nachlass, ed. Franz Dingelstedt [Stuttgart 1863], 67). The play was, however, not particularly successful in its Berlin performances (Teichmann, Nachlass, 67).

The story is set in the Netherlands against the background of the Counter Reformation. Count Egmont falls in love with a commoner, Klärchen, a strong and independent woman whose parents urge her to marry someone else. Egmont is arrested after failing to seize an opportunity for escape. Klärchen fails to rouse the populace to free him, and poisons herself. The plays ends with Egmont being summoned to his execution (illustration from Goethe’s Werke: Erste illustrirte Ausgabe, 4th ed., vol. 7 [Berlin 1873], plate following p. 80):


Concerning the character of Klärchen, see supplementary appendix 312c.1. Back.

[9] The role of Egmont had been performed by Friedrich Beschort. Back.

[10] Goethe’s Jery und Bätely: ein Singspiel in einem Aufzuge, Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 7 (Leipzig 1790), 169–224 (also as a single edition Leipzig 1790), also with music by Reichardt, was first performed in Berlin on 30 March 1801. In his Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, trans. John Black (2nd rev. ed., London 1904), 516, Wilhelm writes that “Jery und Bätely is a charming natural picture of Swiss manners, and in the spirit and form of the best French operettes.”

The essentially pastoral play takes place in Switzerland where Bätely, a farmer’s daughter, cannot bring herself to marry Jery, worthy as he may be. Thomas returns from the military, meets his former friend Jery, and is determined to promote the latter’s relationship with Bätely. Because Bätely treats him rudely, however, he seeks revenge and another chance to speak with her. All are reconciled in the end, with Bätely also willing to marry Jery. Here the frontispiece by Heinrich Lips from the edition of 1790; Bätely binds Jery’s injured hand:


Here the accompanying duet in Reichardt’s musical rendering (beginning with Bätely’s lines, “Speak, but speak truthfully”) followed by an approximate translation (Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Jery und Bätely, ein Singspiel in einem Aufzuge von Göthe [Berlin (ca.) 1789]):


Bätely (with a pot of water and linens).
I have remained long, very long,
But come, let us postpone it not:
Come and show me your hand.

Jery (while she wraps his hand)
My dear soul, my heart
Stands ashamed before your goodness.
Alas, how good the bandage feels!

Bätely (who has finished).
Do your wounds still hurt?

Dearest, they have long been bandaged;
Since your finger touched them,
I have felt no pain.

Speak, but speak truthfully,
Look directly into my eyes!
Do you not find me horrible?
Jery, do not flatter me!
You who have given your entire heart,
She whom you now so beautifully defend,
Often, how has she insulted you,
Pushed you away, and hurt your feelings!

If your loving has come to an end,
And your heart turned away,
Then leave me to my pain!
Merely tell me, and I will endure it,
Suffer my transgressions quietly,
You shall be forever happy.

The waters rush,
The clouds disperse;
But the stars abide,
They travel and stand.
So also for me the love
Of the faithful;

It moves, it stirs,
Yet does not change. Back.

[11] Schiller’s Maria Stuart (Tübingen 1801) had been added to the Berlin repertoire on 8 January 1801; Friederike Unzelmann performed the role of Maria. See the supplementary appendix on Friederike Unzelmann for her portrait as Maria Stuart. Back.

[12] Iffland performed the role of Melville in the premiere of Maria Stuart on 8 January 1801, then the role of Leicester thereafter (Wilhelm spells it “Leister”), since Fleck experienced a relapse of an illness that had plagued him during 1800, which necessitated a painful, half-hour operation, and could no longer perform. Here a nineteenth-century rendering of the character of Leicester (Friedrich Echt and Arthur von Ramberg, Schiller-Galerie: Charaktere aus Schiller’s Werken [Leipzig 1859]):



[13] Polonius, Lord Chamberlain in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Back.

[14] Concerning Goethe’s adaptation of Tancred, see Caroline’s letter to Schelling on 1 March 1801 (letter 294), esp. with note 11 (with cross references). — Tancred was first performed in Berlin on 18 January 1801 (Goethe und die Romantik, 339). Back.

[15] Uncertain allusion; that said, Johanna Henriette Meyer had divorced her first husband in 1797 and is said not to have married her second, Heinrich Meyer, until 1802; Caroline, however, unequivocally refers to her as Madam Meyer in her letter to Wilhelm on 25 May 1801 (letter 318). — Voltaire, Mérope, produced in 1743; here the frontispiece to the edition of 1772:



[16] Although Johann Friedrich Fleck was famous for his portrayal of Wallenstein in Schiller’s trilogy (Teichmann, Nachlass, 64), Wilhelm would not have the opportunity to see him perform that role. Although Fleck had performed the role on 18 December 1800, he withdrew from the stage entirely during the spring of 1801 and died on 20 December 1801. Back.

[17] Ludwig Tieck had moved from Berlin to Dresden at Easter 1801 (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):



[18] See Tieck’s explanation of his reasons for postponing the trip in his letter to Friedrich Schlegel on 23 April 1801 (letter 310b). Back.

[19] Volume 7 contained The Life of King Henry V and The First Part of King Henry VI. Volume 8 contained The Second Part of King Henry VI and The Third Part of King Henry VI; it was published in 1801. Back.

[20] Johann Friedrich Cotta in Tübingen did not accept the project (see Wilhelm’s letter to him on 23 April 1801 [letter 310c]); although Wilhelm made tentative arrangements with Johann Daniel Sander, the latter soon withdrew (see Wilhelm’s letter to Ludwig Tieck from Berlin on 7 May 1801, letter 313b). Back.

[21] See Wilhelm’s letter to Caroline on 18 April 1801 (letter 309). The practice of double-printings was common at the time, and Wilhelm did not win his lawsuit. In fact, Unger ended up publishing volume 9. Back.

[22] Concerning double-printings of Wilhelm Meister, see Weimarer Ausgabe 21:333–36, which describes several such printings and the effects their incorrect text had on subsequent editions.

Concerning a double-printing of Schillers Die Jungfrau von Orleans. Eine romantische Tragödie, see Schillers sämmtliche Schriften, Historisch-kritische Ausgabe, vol. 13, ed. Wilhelm Vollmer (Stuttgart 1870), ix, which points out how the initial printing (in the form of a calendar) of this play in October 1801, of which Unger sent Schiller twelve copies, exists in two additional printings, both of which on closer examination prove to be double-printings. Back.

[23] Friederike Unzelmann’s enclosed letter is found in Karl Emil Franzos, “Aus Goethes Briefwechsel mit Friedrike Unzelmann-Bethmann I,” Deutsche Dichtung 9 (October 1890–March 1892), 29–32, here 31. Caroline refers to this letter in her own letter to Wilhelm on 8 May 1801 (letter 314).

Friederike Unzelmann had requested Schiller’s adaptation of Goethe’s piece from Goethe himself, who had then sent it to her on 16 December 1800 (Julius Wahle, Das Weimarer Hoftheater unter Goethes Leitung, Schriften der Goethe-Gesellschaft 6 [1892], 125). Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott