Letter 317a

317a. Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin: Jena, 18 May 1801 [*]

Jena, 18 May 1801

Beloved brother,

You must excuse me for not having written for a while. Hardly had I written you my last lines when I had to go to Leipzig to pick up Dorothea and accompany her back. [1] Tieck was still there, and I spent several quite contented days with him, and also took care of all business matters. [2]

We had hardly been back and spent two days with household business and a visit, and then Dorothea came down quite seriously ill. [3] Although she was never in danger, the loss of time was painful enough for us both, quite apart from the usual attendant unpleasantness. Hence you must also make do today as well with only very little news. She will unlikely be able to get out of bed for another 5 or 6 days, and in the meantime I do hope I can soon get around to the copying and everything I will have to postpone today.

Hence I will limit myself to only the most important matters, to what concerns us directly. I am heartily glad that, at least according to your letters, I may hope to be seeing you here so soon. [4] I will assuredly not be leaving here before the end of June, hence you will still find me here —

I have much to talk about with you, much to relate to you that could not be said in letters, and I confidently hope nothing will disturb you with regard to cordial frankness and artistic discussion. I will not touch even remotely on anything that might be unpleasant, indeed, I intend to do everything reasonable on behalf of the external reconciliation you desire.

That said, I nonetheless am not particularly hopeful on that account, since it is all too clear that Karoline is not at all interested in such, wanting instead nothing more than to extinguish me in your heart and rob me of your friendship. [5]

You are truly not unbiased in all this; just ask Tieck, ask whomever you will who is familiar with the background, and everyone will concur that I really did far more than Karoline had any reason to expect from me in the way of paying her cordial visits quite on my own initiative. It was only out of love for you that I was able to put aside my natural pride for a moment through this gesture. And then merely because I perhaps used excessively harsh words in writing to you about the ill success of this gesture, [6] you inundated me, your most loyal friend, with a whole litany of undeserved reproaches?

And indeed, what sorts of things do you now let yourself be persuaded to believe? —

For example, that I allegedly avoided situations in which I would be speaking with Karoline alone! [7] — My dear friend, there is not a word of truth to that. Quite the contrary, I was not a little surprised that she herself had given me no opportunity to do so, that she herself never once responded to my own accommodating gesture, not even merely for show, with a similar gesture of approach on her own part. So much so that, were I to consider my words precisely, I could not even say that she was particularly polite toward me. I am still prepared and have indeed been prepared as soon and as often as she wants to speak with me.

And how strange it also is to hold it against me that I have still not yet answered the letter from her. [8] You yourself know how during the past few months I have been swept along from one project to the next, from one disruption to the next, from one small journey to the next, so much so that I often hardly have time even to write a few necessary lines to you. Moreover, that letter was the first sign of life she had given me in 9 months; because I found out so short a time before she actually arrived that she was definitely coming at all, there was no more time to answer it. Nor was it at all a letter requiring such a hasty response; if I may describe it as best one can, and far better than it deserves, then I would say it is the final word to a friend who in fact is no longer such. —

If you believed its intention was to promote even the possibility of rapprochement, then you are quite deceived. I will also confess to you that even were I to consider such rapprochement a possibility, any response I might make to the letter would put me in an extremely awkward position insofar as the letter itself is of such an ugly disposition that my response, and were it written in ever so considerate a fashion, would be highly unlikely to dispose Karoline favorably.

The first time I visited Karoline, I in fact genuinely had an apology ready, but her own behavior held me back. [9]

I have intentionally limited myself solely to the latter. —

But now tell me yourself: what more could I have done, or what more ought I yet do? I am completely willing to do what you ask and to forget the usual element of pride.

I was deeply touched by what you wrote, by the manner and disposition, and all of it filled me with pain and sadness. Indeed, I believe a consideration of your fate could not but move any reflective observer with the most profound sentiment. [10] And how could it fail to move me to tears, considering how similar we are in so many ways and how linked by so much that is sacred and more valuable?

It is high time I closed. I will not defend myself now against the reproaches toward me you raise in the larger sense. If you have not completely forgotten your most resolute decisions, your so oft repeated promises that Karoline’s arts would never separate us, if you have not completely forgotten everything that has happened and everything we discussed together, then you yourself should be able to find the answer to all this.

I will address all the other matters in my next letter — poems and business. . . . [11]


[*] Sources: Walzel, 482–84; KFSA 25:271–73.

Although the letters from Wilhelm to which Friedrich alludes in this letter are not extant, it seems clear from the points Friedrich makes here that Wilhelm must have reacted to things Caroline had been writing him, some of which are indeed extant, and now Friedrich felt constrained to defend himself. Also and esp. at issue is the “epistolary affair” mentioned earlier.

The background to Friedrich’s remarks here include Caroline’s letters of 5 May 1801 (letter 313), which also alludes to the “letter” she had written him earlier that winter and which plays a role later (Friedrich apologized to Wilhelm on 2 February 1801 for not having answered it yet (see notes to letter 315).; also 7 May (letter 314), 11 May (letter 315), and 18 May (letter 317); see finally Wilhelm’s letter to Ludwig Tieck on 28 April 1801 (letter 312) concerning “taking sides.” Back.

[1] Dorothea Veit had had new teeth made in Leipzig; see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 24 April 1801 (letter 311), esp. note 3 there. She and Friedrich had arrived back in Jena on 10 May 1801 (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]; illustration of Leipzig in 1747: excerpt from Johann Christoph Müller, Abbildung der Königlichen und Churfürstlichen Sächsischen, Weltberühmten Kauf- und Handels-Stadt Leipzig: mit der dabey liegenden Gegend von Süd-Ost anzusehen [Gera, 1747]):



Here a dentist or oral surgeon in the early eighteenth century (Christoff Weigel, Abbildung Der Gemein-Nützlichen Haupt-Stände Von denen Regenten Und ihren So in Friedens- als Kriegs-Zeiten zugeordneten Bedienten an biß auf alle Künstler und Handwercker nach Jedes Ambts- und Beruffs-Verrichtungen meist nach dem Leben gezeichnet und in Kupfer gebracht etc. [Regenspurg 1698], illustration following p. 148):


Here six eighteenth-century illustrations portraying tools used at various stages in the process and the false teeth at various stages of production (Pierre Fauchard, Des Herrn Pierre Fauchard Frantzösischer Zahn-Artzt, Oder Tractat von den Zähnen: Worinnen die Mittel, selbige sauber und gesund zu erhalten, sie schöner zu machen, die verlohrne wieder zu ersetzen … gelehret werden [Berlin 1733], plates from vol. 2):




Dorothea in any case clearly could not have anticipated having an easy time of such a procedure ([1] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Chirurgiesche Operationen [1789]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.822; [2] J. J. H. Bücking, Vollständige Anweisung zum Zahnausziehen für angehende Wundärzte [Stendal 1782], final illustrations):




[2] The business matter included an advance on 12 May 1801 from the Berlin publisher Heinrich Frölich of 10 louis d’or on the second part of Lucinde, which never appeared (text of receipt, KFSA 25:694, no. 3). Back.

[3] Friedrich writes to Wilhelm shortly after this letter, on 1 June 1801 (Walzel, 484–85; KFSA 25:274; illustration: Leipzig Taschenbuch für Frauenzimmer zum Nutzen und Vergnügen auf das Jahr 1794; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):

You will surely pardon me for not writing yet again, and for not sending along either the fairy tale or the copy of the poem today, when I tell you that Dorothea has unfortunately been seriously ill now for 3 weeks, and that although she is somewhat better now must still keep to her bed.


Friedrich similarly writes to Schleiermacher on the same day (Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 3:274–75 [frag.]; KGA V/5 128; KFSA 25:276) (Friedrich is referring to his and Schleiermacher’s plans to translate Plato, a project Schleiermacher ultimately completed largely by himself and which contributed to the estrangement between the two friends):

Beloved friend, as fine and good as it indeed is that you will countenance no excuses with respect to Plato, you will unfortunately probably have to countenance the one I am about to give you; Dorothea has been seriously ill for 3 weeks now and only today has tried to get out of bed for the first time for a few hours. It is the exact same illness as three years ago. She was in considerable pain, though she is indeed doing so much better the past few days, and the primary malady seems to have disappeared so completely that we will soon have the time to properly lament all the lost time (at least for our work), not to speak of the money. Dorothea sends her warm regards to both you and Madam Herz, you will no doubt take a heartfelt interest in this considerable unpleasantness.

We are extremely satisfied with the physician Succow, a brother-in-law of Hufeland.

I have stayed with her day and night, and since I am wholly unaccustomed to it, having to endure being half awake or enjoying only uneasy, disrupted sleep for so long has greatly weakened me, so much so that for a week now I have been incapable of even the lightest reading.

Finally, Friedrich wrote from Jena to the publisher Heinrich Frölich in Berlin on 31 July 1801 (Briefe von und an Friedrich und Dorothea Schlegel, ed. Josef Körner [Berlin 1926], 34; KFSA 25:280) to excuse his lack of productivity, having been “so constantly thwarted from work by the illness and sickliness of both myself and my family that I must again ask for your continued patience” (see note above; Frölich had given Friedrich an advance against delivery of the second part of Lucinde).

According to Caroline in her letter to Wilhelm on 31 May 1801 (letter 319), Dorothea was suffering from nervous fever caused by the dental procedure in Leipzig. Back.

[4] Friedrich had been unsure whether and when Wilhelm was returning to Jena, and had asked in a letter on 1 May 1801 (Walzel, 481; KFSA 25:270):

If you do not find it indiscreet, might I ask you to tell me honestly whether you will be coming to us this summer, and if so, when and for how long. I will naturally keep it as secret as you wish. I am so interested in knowing because I will myself perhaps not be here for a good part of the summer.

Wilhelm arrived in Jena on 11 August 1801. Back.

[5] Caroline anticipates precisely this reaction in her letter to Wilhelm on 11 May 1801 (letter 315):

My dear friend, please, no manifest in this matter; I can neither allow that Friedrich reconcile with me as the result of such a manifest, nor that as a result he should feel justified in saying that it was I who separated the two of you. Back.

[6] Likely a reference to Friedrich’s letter to Wilhelm on 27 April 1801 (letter 312a); for Caroline’s description of the visit, at which Schelling was present, see her letter to Wilhelm on 24 April 1801 (letter 311). Back.

[7] Caroline alludes to such a situation in her letter to Wilhelm on 24 April 1801 (letter 311):

Although I gave him an opportunity to speak with me alone, or at least to say that he wished to do so, he did not take advantage of it, perhaps because he was not quite thinking clearly, for he was rather absent-minded and dreamy, quite peculiar in that way of his. Back.

[8] The “epistolary affair” mentioned in the editorial note above. Back.

[9] The visit on 24 April 1801 mentioned in Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on that same day (letter 311). Back.

[10] KFSA 25:606n27 points out that although it is unclear what fate Wilhelm had lamented (the letters being lost), it probably did not concern his relationship with Caroline. Back.

[11] With respect to the main issue of this present letter, Friedrich responded from Jena on 31 July 1801 to a letter from Wilhelm in Berlin (Wilhelm’s letter not extant) (Walzel, 486–87; KFSA 25:280):

The fraternal assurance with which you concluded your letter was quite precious to me. I cannot think without pain on any inner estrangement of that sort, and I hope you will take with you from our relationship only as much as you think you need given your more specific circumstances. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott