Letter 320b

320b. Caroline to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin: Jena, mid-June 1801 [*]

[mid-June 1801]

|51| Postscript. You are quite right in maintaining that those involved with the Erlanger Litteratur-Zeitung are quite incapable of escaping their own stupidity. Issue 117 contains a review of Kosegarten’s Ida von Plessen. Somewhere or other someone gave her the lines from Gretchen’s song from Faust, “My peace is gone etc.” The reviewer remarks that even verses such as the following appear, extracts that song, and then ends with “!!” [1]

That is doubtless what the reviewer of your poems did. You need to ask Mehmel about it — it really does deserve a public reprimand. [2]

Florentin has already been quite heartily praised — or whatever you call it — in the Leipziger Jahrbücher and the Gotha newspaper. The former say that it has all the mistakes and merits of Wilhelm Meister — the latter is an announcement, composed by a friend, perhaps Monsieur Ast, that discusses the intention of the authoress. It is even possible that Jacobs wrote it after a visit from Paulus and Seidler. [3] The review in the Leipziger Jahrbücher also considers Friedrich to be the author. [4]


[*] Although it was initially unclear whether this “postscript” belongs to Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 27 February 1801 (letter 292), Erich Schmidt, (1913), 2:605, concluded that it does not.

Literary reviews found or examined subsequently indeed suggest a considerably later terminus a quo.

Because the latest of those reviews (see below) dates to 6 June 1801, this postscript is now positioned after Dorothea Veit’s and Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Schleiermacher and Henriette Herz on 15 June 1801 (letter 320a). Back.

[1] The Erlanger Litteratur-Zeitung (1801) no. 117, contains a review of Ludwig Theobul Kosegarten’s sentimental novel Ida von Plessen, 2 vols., Romantische Dichtungen, here vol. 1 (Dresden 1800), a negative assessment that also draws a comparison with Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Leipzig 1774).

The review concludes by remarking tongue-in-cheek that the character of Edmund generally always adds “a modest bit of poetry” to his letters “that will occasionally please the reader even better than does the prose. The following verses also occur, sung by Julie: My peace is gone . . . The house I quit!!!”

The reference is to Ida von Plessen, 98–101, where Gretchen’s (Margaret’s) entire song at the spinning wheel from Goethe’s “Faust. Ein Fragment” is cited verbatim save for the final stanza (from Goethe’s Schriften vol. 7 [Leipzig 1790], 1–160, here 133–35).

The triple exclamation points in the review (Caroline refers to double) wryly signals to the reader, of course, that the writer is essentially including an entire piece by Goethe in his own work. Here an illustration of the scene in Faust from Minerva: Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1829 (Leipzig):


In Ida von Plessen, the male love interest, Edmund, writes in a letter about his recent encounter with Julie. The title vignette from vol. 1 of Ida von Plessen (1800) depicts the scene in this new context (trans. of Margaret’s song: from Faust. A Tragedy, trans. Bayard Taylor [Boston, New York 1870], “Margaret’s Room”; the text in the later version of the first part of Faust is the same as in the fragment):


Yesterday evening, while returning home at sunset, I caught sight of her at a distance beneath a blossoming apple tree in her garden, sitting on a turf bench that I, with her brother’s help, had recently set up, and gazing out longingly into the fiery sunset.

Without her noticing, I moved closer, and, hidden behind a blossoming white sloe tree, to my astonishment heard her singing the following Lied, one I certainly never taught her.

My peace is gone,
My heart is sore:
I never shall find it, 
Ah, nevermore!

Save I have him near,
The grave is here;
The world is gall
And bitterness all.

My poor weak head
Is racked and crazed;
My thought is lost,
My senses mazed.

My peace is gone,
My heart is sore:
I never shall find it,
Ah, nevermore!

To see him, him only,
At the pane I sit;
To meet him, him only,
The house I quit.

His lofty gait,
His noble size,
The smile of his mouth,
The power of his eyes,

And the magic flow
Of his talk, the bliss
In the clasp of his hand,
And, ah! his kiss!

My peace is gone,
My heart is sore:
I never shall find it,
Ah, nevermore!

The omitted, final stanzas (a single stanza in the original; Edmund refers, however, to “stanzas”) read as follows except that in the original, “bosom” is actually, and more overtly, “womb,” Mein Schoos:

My bosom yearns
For him alone;
Ah, dared I clasp him,
And hold, and own!

And kiss his mouth,
To heart's desire,
And on his kisses
At last expire!

Edmund continues in his letter:

The demure girl did not sing the final, ardent stanzas, as if even in the seclusion of her own, more peaceful thoughts such lines seemed too ardent to her.

The melody and content of the simple Lied moved and touched me such that I retired to my room, where, tormented by a searing headache, I carelessly threw myself down on the bed.

Julie came in to summon me to the evening meal, and when I lamented my condition to her, she moved sympathetically closer. Before I knew it, she was sitting next to me.

A sweet, mystical twilight enveloped us. The flowers gave off their fragrance, the nightingales warbled just outside the open window — —

I know not what happened, but when I came to, Julie lay whimpering in my arms. — — O sacred, purifying feeling of love! Thou alone didst save the imprudent man from a misdeed, and Julie from the demise of her peace.


The topos of saving “the imprudent man (or oneself) from a misdeed” with respect to vulnerable feminine honor is similarly attested elsewhere during the period, in the following illustration with the caption “Though the opportunity be ever so tempting, a tender disposition follows the lead of honor” (Kalender der Freundschaft und Liebe auf das Iahr 1802 [Vienna]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


Here the title vignette from vol. 2 and the frontispieces to vols. 1 and 2 of Ida von Plessen:




[2] Gottlieb Mehmel was the current editor of the Erlanger Litteratur-Zeitung. Caroline’s allusion is uncertain, since the review is not available.

In any event, the review of Wilhelm’s Gedichte (Tübingen 1801) in the Erlanger Litteratur-Zeitung (1801) no. 96, which Caroline calls “absolutely stupid” in her letter to Wilhelm on 22 June 1801 (letter 322) and which Schelling, in a letter to Wilhelm 3 July 1801 (letter 323a), suggests was authored “by a mangy dog, or rather: by an ass,” was, however, according to Erich Schmidt, (1913), 2:606, obviously written by an intelligent critic despite its one-sidedness. It raises several formal objections and generally speaks quite unfavorably about the artificiality, affectation, pretentious metaphors, and empty ostentation of the volume after earlier attempts that were emotionally more genuine. Back.

[3] Uncertain; perhaps Louise Seidler’s father, Ludwig Seidler? Back.

[4] Erich Schmidt, (1913), 2:605, notes how Caroline remains silent concerning Dorothea Veit’s quite readable novel Florentin. Ein Roman herausgegeben von Friedrich Schlegel, vol. 1 (Leipzig 1801) (vol. 2 never appeared).

At Schmidt’s request, Reinhard Buchwald in Leipzig and Professor L. Goldschmidt in Gotha ferreted out the reviews of the novel, which Schmidt, (1913), 2:605–6, summarizes as follows:

(1) Leipziger Jahrbuch der neuesten Litteratur vom Jahre 1800 3 (1801) April bis Junius 1801, no. 199 (29 April 1801).

According to an old editorial copy at the Leipzig university library, the review is by Rudolf Hommel (vol. 1, 587f., contains a review by Friedrich von Oertel of Johann Bernhard Vermehren’s Briefe über Friedrich Schlegels Lucinde, and 710f. of Wilhelm’s Gedichte [Tübingen 1800]).

This review, after addressing various shortcomings and positive features, the latter including especially a “correct, philosophical view of life,” compares Florentin favorably with Wilhelm Meister but also criticizes the currently popular fashion of casually including rhapsodic poems here and there.

It also suggests that Friedrich Schlegel is presumably merely the editor (rather than author); otherwise this work would signal, after his Lucinde, a change of disposition on his part that would be as salutary as it is unexpected.

(2) The Gothaische gelehrte Zeitungen auf das neunzehnte Jahrhundert (1801) no. 45 (6 June 1801), offers an unusually positive assessment of the novel, but not overly trite and without any allusion to the authoress, and similarly views it favorably with regard to Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, with whose character Therese the reviewer compares that of Eleonore in Florentin.

The reviewer draws attention especially to the figure of Florentin alongside the women and finds only the character of the senior constable (chapter 13) out of place.

The presumed reviewer, Friedrich Ast from Gotha, at the time a shield bearer for Friedrich Schlegel, was according to Johann Heinrich Voss a “barren branch [a play on Germ. Ast, “branch, bough”],” and according to Clemens Brentano in 1809 (Achim von Arnim und die ihm nahe standen, ed. Reinhold Steig and Herman Grimm, 3 vols. [Stuttgart 1894–1904], vol. 1, Achim von Arnim und Clemens Brentano, ed. Reinhold Steig, 1:262) similarly a “poor, proud branch who as a Saxon was even able to take on Schelling’s pronounced Swabian accent.”

It was in his periodical that the writer Joseph von Eichendorff first published. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott