Letter 316

• 316. Caroline to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin: Jena, 15 May 1801

[Jena] 15 May [1801]

|137| Let me hastily yet write just these lines to you — tomorrow I am hoping to receive something from you.

The Mädchen von Orleans is definitely not going to be performed just now. [1] Nor Maria tomorrow either, but rather Wallenstein, in Cotta’s honor. [2] I will not be traveling over to see that. Schiller has invited Schelling to come over and go into raptures tomorrow evening with Goethe and Cotta. [3]

My, what |138| a good-as-gold letter, [4] that is, so proper, indeed, a charming, two-page assessment of Fichte’s Nicolai as the latter might have been, namely, much more dignified and representative, portraying the entire genus, like Machiavelli’s Prince, or — I expected to hear: like Kotzebue [5] — but, no — like Sebaldus Nothanker. [6] As it is it, however, it is — Schiller maintains — allegedly merely a sensible contemporary polemical piece from which one can see that the disputed object is not worthy of the disputant etc. (say nothing of this to Fichte).

Then he also sent Schelling his Maria and shorter prose writings, asking Schelling to tell him, should he have a spare hour in which to look at, e.g., the Aesthetic Letters, [7] what relationship they have to the current situation. “Response: no relationship at all.” That is how I would answer. [8]

I sent everything along to Ludwig Tieck, Martinengo, Marcus. [9] Please do me one favor, write to Friedrich personally and ask him to return all the books before you come. I cannot send someone over there every day when I find I would like to have this or that book, for example, just for fun: Tobias, with which Goethe has allegedly had such tremendous fun. [10]

By the way, things have gone just as I could not but anticipate — Madam Veit has sent no word at all. She has not even sent to ask whether I still might be missing anything (and I am constantly discovering new deficits). [11] Although this is indisputably impudent, it is quite what I prefer. I will continue to say nothing about her even though she is without question talking about me, but never and under no circumstances can anyone now expect me to see her again. Her manner of behavior in this regard can derive only from precisely the context in which it genuinely does reside. [12]

When will you be coming, my friend? It is quite beautiful here. I am also taking a great many walks, something Philipp has strongly urged me to do. [13] Do not linger there too long. [14]

|139| Please resolve the following dispute between Schelling and me: Is one permitted to deal with hexameters thus:

Yes, frail is the blossom on the vine and lovely.
Why reckonst thou now on eternal contentment?
Brief is the sojourn of spring, and short too the betrothal,
its time between heav'n and earth, brief the crepuscular light.

I find the last two lines awkward, — but he is insisting on them. Here are some that are less awkward:

Can one discern the diff'rence between love and war then?
Is there no placid happiness, nor a blissful calm?
No, for behold the earth, which above in the skies
'twixt those stars Venus and Mars makes its stormy way.
Creating, as earth does, you go, mortal born and earthly,
stridently on your way 'tween poles of love and war.

He has countless such small poems in which the philosophy of nature and his own inner disposition are intimately intertwined — I just happen to know these by heart. [15]

Stay very well!


[1] Concerning the background to the problems with the performance of Schiller’s play Die Jungfrau von Orleans. Eine romantische Tragödie (Berlin 1801), see Caroline’s letters to Wilhelm on 27 April 1801 (letter 312), notes 15, 16, and 17, and on 11 May 1801 (letter 315), note 3. Back.

[2] Wallenstein was performed on Saturday evening, 16 May 1801; Maria Stuart. Ein Trauerspiel (Tübingen 1801), which Johann Friedrich Cotta had just published, was performed on Wednesday, 10 June 1801 (Das Repertoire des Weimarischen Theaters, 39). Cotta had, finally, also just published Schiller’s adaptation of Macbeth on 27 April 1801. Back.

[3] Schelling traveled over to Weimar on Saturday, 16 May 1801, attended the performance of Wallenstein with Johann Friedrich Cotta in the theater, and afterward dined with Schiller, Cotta, and Goethe, who had also attended the performance (diary entry of 16 May 1801 [Weimarer Ausgabe 3:3:13]).

Concerning Schiller’s residence at this time, see Caroline’s letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 27 December 1799 (letter 258). note 9.

Weimar is ca. 20 km west of Jena (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]; Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):




[4] To Schelling from Schiller on 12 May 1801; see below. Back.

[5] Caroline refers here not to August von Kotzebue himself, but rather to Wilhelm’s satirical Kotzebuade. Back.

[6] Christoph Friedrich Nicolai’s Enlightenment novel, Leben und Meinungen des Herrn Magister Sebaldus Nothanker (Life and opinions of Herr Master Sebaldus Nothanker), 3 vols. (Berlin 1773–76). Back.

[7] “Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen,” in Die Horen 1, 1 (1795) 7–48; 1, 2 (1795) 51–94; 2, 6 (1795) 45–124, an essay on aesthetics and the pedagogical function of art in effecting a balance in human beings in which human potentialities and capacity are perfectly poised. Back.

[8] Schiller, who had spent almost the entire month of March 1800 in Jena and had met with Schelling there, writes to Schelling from Weimar on 12 May 1801 in his “good-as-gold letter” (Plitt 1:332–33; Fuhrmans 2:321–22):

My most sincere thanks for your piece [“Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie,” Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik 2 (Jena, Leipzig 1801), no. 2, 1–127], dear friend, whose beginning and initial sentences immediately quite caught my attention, betraying as they do that you are addressing the material from an excellent perspective, albeit doubtless also the most difficult.

I can see quite well, e.g., how much you gain negatively by taking this approach, namely, by eliminating all at once all the old, recalcitrant errors that perpetually resisted your own philosophy. What I cannot yet surmise, however, is how you intend to unfold your system positively from the principle of indifference. That you have done so I do not doubt for a moment, which is also why I am all the more curious to see how this knot has been untied.

I am herewith returning Fichte’s piece with gratitude. It contains a great deal that is both upright and accurate, it is just too bad that he allowed himself to be so infected by the prose of his material. It is admittedly a daunting task to write about Nicolai and remain consistently clever, but it seems it would not have been more successful even had it been approached differently.

It seems to me that either the object had to be addressed in a strictly philosophical fashion, and Fichte had to delineate the primal and fundamental character of the philistine and in so doing elevate it to the status of genus, and do so with the most serious or even dignified philosophical countenance, much the way Machiavelli wrote The Prince and in the most ingenuous fashion, thereby creating a frightful satire on princes.

Or it had to be done poetically and be executed as a counterpart to Selbadus Nothanker. The nature of the individual had to appear in connection with actions and presented thus to the reader.

In either case, the piece would acquire absolute value, even had there been only a single Nicolai in the world. Now it is merely a sensible piece of polemical writing in which one can see that Fichte is too good for his adversary and the latter not worthy of the battle in the first place.

Enclosed you will find Maria Stuart and copies of several of my earlier philosophical treatises. I hope they enjoy a cordial and kind reception with you. If you have a chance to look at my essay on aesthetic education, please do tell me, when next we see each other, how this conception of the matter fits with the present state of philosophy. You should, of course, remember that some elements in it derived from the status of philosophy at large when it was composed six years ago, and focus instead only on the overall tendency of the piece, not on the excessively dogmatic execution.

Cotta is scheduled to be here on Saturday, and Wallenstein will be performed. It would a pleasure if you could come over and dine with Cotta and Goethe here at my house after the performance. Please mention it to Niethammer as well to see if perhaps he would like to come.

Stay very well and be assured of my ardent friendship.


Schelling writes similarly writes to Fichte in Berlin on 15 March 1801 (Fichtes und Schellings philosophischer Briefwechsel (1856) 72):

Nicolais Leben, a copy of which I received thanks to your good will, represents a wholly new acquisition for our literature not only by virtue of its content, but equally and indeed even far more by virtue of its form. Let us hope that this work proves devastating not only for the individual to whom it is directed, but also for the entire race to which that individual belongs. Back.

[9] Wilhelm seems to have “paid attention” to Martinengo’s attractive young wife (and she to him) during the previous summer in Bocklet (according to Dorothea Veit in a letter to Wilhelm on 16 January 1810 [letter 453a]). Back.

[10] Tobias (Frankfurt 1800), Old Testament epic poem by the Frankfurt resident Johann Friedrich von Meyer in naive imitation of Goethe’s Hermann und Dorothea, the latter originally published as the Herrmann und Dorothea. Taschenbuch für 1798 (Berlin 1798). Wilhelm Schlegel himself borrowed it from August Ferdinand Bernhardi on 28 April 1801. Here the illustrations from the 1831 edition:






[11] Deficits in French in original (for déficits). Back.

[12] Concerning which see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 7–8 May 1801 (letter 314):

She is striving, with a strong, ill feeling regarding her nationality, to attain an upright bourgeois existence, or at least an upright social existence, and she thought she could use the ruin I had brought on myself as the foundation for that existence Back.

[13] Caroline had stayed with Philipp Michaelis — a physician — and his family in Harburg during 1–16 April 1801; unfortunately, none of his letters to her during this period seem to have survived. Back.

[14] Wilhelm did not arrive back in Jena until 11 August 1801, then departed again for Berlin on 3 November 1801. Back.

[15] Caroline is presumably querying Wilhelm about the possibility, in the hexameter (with six metrical feet, typically five dactyls – and a trochee – or spondee ––), of substituting (in English) a spondee for any of the dactyls except in the fifth foot, where a spondee is rare. German poetic theory generally understood it as 6 dactyls with the freedom to replace any of the 2 short syllables in the first 4 feet with a long syllable with the exception of the penultimate (5th) foot, the final syllable generally being a trochee.

Variations of these pieces were published in the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802: the first as “Thier und Pflanze,” 158–59, with some deviations and without the first two lines Caroline reproduces here; the second as “Loos der Erde,” 273, with slight metrical changes. Schelling did indeed alter the “awkward” lines 3 and 4 (1 and 2 below) in the first example along with three lines in the second (trans. present editor and Mark McCulloh; changes between letter version and published version indicated; hexameter not maintained):

Animal and Plant

But brief is the sojourn of spring, heav'n and earth,
short, too, your betrothal; brief the crepuscular light.
Plant, earthly offspring, why so ardently upward strive with
Blossom and tendril? O plant, well you know.
With sun and realm of light does the genus alone you link;
How diff'rently animal kind, how diff'rently human kind,
Who, of sunlight born, through the genus alone in the earth
Has roots, conjuring the while heav'n itself to earth below.

Through all nature dwells in man alone power to beget.
On you, O tender genus, did it bestow the task of plants,
Through sprout and sun-shoot to cultivate from within
What with love man does imp onto splendid ground.
Such nature of plant did it too impart to woman: whom I call plant
Among animals, the man animal among animals.
More delicate woman's love, more indispensable, quiet, and brief;
More bestial, free, yet more enduring, too, does man love.

Alterations between published version and letter version:

•Lines 1–2: Kurz nur ist das Verweilen des Frühlinges, Himmel und Erde,
Eurer Vermählung Zeit; kurz die Berührung des Lichts.

(letter) Kurz ist das Verweilen des Frühlings, kurz der Vermählung
Zeit zwischen Himmel und Erd', kurz die Berührung des Lichts.

Fate of the Earth

Can one discern the diff'rence between love and war then?
Is there no placid happiness, nor a blissful calm?
No, for behold the earth, which above in the skies
'twixt those stars Venus and Mars makes its stormy way.
Creating, as earth does, you go, mortal born and earthly,
stridently on your way 'tween poles of love and war.

Alterations between published version and letter version:

•Line 2: Giebt's kein ruhiges Glück, nimmer auch glückliche Ruh?
(letter) Giebt es kein ruhiges Glück und keine glückliche Ruh?

•Final line: Unverdrossen dich denn zwischen der Lieb' und dem Krieg.
[letter] Unverdrossen denn auch dich zwischen Liebe und Krieg. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott