Letter 327d

327d. Sophie Bernhardi to Wilhelm Schlegel in Jena: Berlin, mid-August 1801 [*]

[Berlin, mid-August 1801]

Dearest Friend,

I will take this opportunity to send the enclosed letter along to you that I might also write you a few words myself. [1] You would not believe how incomprehensibly lonely I have been since your departure, nor can I believe I will be seeing you again very soon. [2]

Although I have been in a feverish condition the past few days, the more violent tension has subsided, and now I just feel so very sick and weary. I myself did not really believe how completely I belong to you. All my thoughts focus involuntarily on you, and I am devoured by the ardent yearning to see you again; whenever someone opens the door, I am convinced it must be you who will walk into the room — and then I cannot conceal my pain when it does not happen. Bernhardi talked me into going for a carriage ride, and I could not help thinking that we were actually riding after you. I thought I saw you everywhere and could not hold back my tears when I was back in our lonely house. [3]

Please pardon that this letter is becoming so unbelievably foolish, I know of nothing else to write except that you are inexpressibly precious to me, all my other thoughts have been extinguished.

Dearest Wilhelm, precious friend, please do not forget me, I beg you with burning tears, and please forgive me if I occasionally vexed you, and please never think coldly about how I gave myself to you so completely and without reservation and how I sought protection in your arms against so much misery that I still feel even now and how I found comfort at your breast for so many bitter hours in the past. [4]

Do not let your resolve to return soon grow cold, [5] you cannot believe how painfully Bernhardi, too, feels your absence, I am to send you his warm regards.

But I must close, I am able to be alone here for but a moment. Stay well, my beloved friend, write very, very soon and tell me whether you arrived well and cheerful in Jena. [6]

Ah, God, but now it is as if I must take my leave of you yet again by having to separate myself from this sheet of paper. Could I have but a few words from you that would show me you have remained unchangeably mine.

Stay well, I must stop.

Eternally yours,
Sophie [7]


[*] Source: Krisenjahre 1:9–10. This letter is the first in the correspondence between Wilhelm Schlegel and Sophie Bernhardi from the collection Josef Körner found at Coppet in August 1929.

Sophie uses the familiar (first-name) form of address in this letter (Germ. du); concerning the significance of that choice, see the editorial note to Wilhelm’s letter to her on 14 August 1801 (letter 327a).

From Josef Körner’s notes to this letter (Krisenjahre 3:16):

Wilhelm Schlegel added the following inscription to the sealed package in which he kept Sophie’s letters: “à brûler après ma mort sans ouvrir le paquet” (“To be burned after my death without opening the package”). The preserved correspondence, from both parties, leaves no further doubt concerning the (previously merely suspected) fact of an adulterous relationship.

The marriages of the two lovers were already in ruins even before they themselves became closer. Dorothea had already confidentially related her own observations in this regard to Sophie in October 1799 [see letter 247b]. A. W. Schlegel, who resided with Subrector Bernhardi during his first lengthier stay in Berlin, could not help but soon see how things stood with that marriage. . . .

When Schlegel went to Jena for a short period (early August to 3 November 1801), the two lovers exchanged not only ostensible Sie-epistles [formal form of address] also intended for the eyes of the respective spouses [Caroline and Bernhardi], but also a whole series of passionate, ardent Du-letters [familiar form of address].

Concerning the “sealed package”: When Josef Körner assembled his earlier collection of letters to and from Wilhelm Schlegel (Körner, [1930]), he could write (2:56) in the notes to Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie on 14 August 1801 (letter 327a) that “her [Sophie’s] letters to Schlegel during these years have not been preserved.”

In August of 1929, however, just after finishing work on that collection, Körner himself discovered the voluminous collection of letters part of which is now assembled in his Krisenjahre, including Sophie Bernhardi’s letters to Wilhelm, from which many of the following letters are drawn. Concerning the discovery of these materials, which have since come into the possession of the Saxon University and State Library collections by way of auction, see Josef Körner’s account in supplementary appendix 327d.1.

Concerning Sophie Bernhardi’s marital situation in general around 1801, and the circumstances prompting her separation and, later, divorce from August Ferdinand Bernhardi, see Karl August Varnhagen von Ense’s remarks from ca. 1807 in supplementary appendix 327d.2. Back.

[1] The letter, from Caroline’s sister and housemate in Jena, Luise Wiedemann, had been sent too late to Wilhelm’s address in Berlin, i.e., to the Bernhardi residence (see the supplementary appendix on Wilhelm’s residences in Berlin). Wilhelm mentions its contents (news from Christian Rudolf Wilhelm Wiedemann concerning Sophie’s brother Friedrich Tieck) in his letter to Sophie on 21 August 1801 (letter 327f). Back.

[2] Wilhelm had left Berlin on 8 August 1801 (see Wilhelm to Ludwig Tieck from Berlin on 8 August 1801, Ludwig Tieck und die Brüder Schlegel. Briefe mit Einleitung und Anmerkungen, ed. Henry Lüdeke [Frankfurt 1930], 93; Lohner 87: “Write and send [material for the Musen-Almanach], but to Jena, since in this very moment I am departing”) and arrived in Jena on 11 August 1801. Back.

[3] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Mariane allein auf ihr Kämmerchen macht kummervolle Betrachtungen (ca. 1742–1830); Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Uh 4° 47 (250); illustration to Pierre Carlet de Marivaux, La Vie de Marianne:



[4] It may be pointed out that Sophie had just given birth to a son at the beginning of July 1801 and was, moreover, apparently experiencing a difficult recovery following that birth (see, apart from her exaggerated remarks in this letter, also Wilhelm’s letter to her on 14 August 1801 [letter 327a]), so her reference to “giving herself” to Wilhelm is quite possibly to be taken in a different sense than physical adultery, something she herself essentially confirms in her letter to Wilhelm on 25 August 1801 (letter 328b) (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, So ist es denn nicht Täuschung [ca. 1787–95]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Uh 4° 47 [264]):



[5] Preparations for Wilhelm’s anticipated lectures that winter on literature and the fine arts (Vorlesungen über schöne Literatur und Kunst) required that he return soon to Berlin; in his reponse on 21 August 1801 (letter 327f), he assures Sophie he is already thinking of such. Back.

[6] See Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie on 14 August 1801 (letter 327a). Back.

[7] Wilhelm responds to this letter in his letter to Sophie on 21 August 1801 (letter 327f). Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott