Letter 327e

327e. Sophie Bernhardi to Wilhelm Schlegel in Jena: Berlin, ca. 20 August 1801 [*]

[Berlin, ca. 20 August 1801]

I awaited a letter from you today with such painful longing, and now I cannot accept the fact that my hopes have been betrayed. I cannot write you much today, I just want to send this letter to you. I have been very ill for several days now, am tormented every night by fever, am coughing up a great deal of blood, and will in fact surely die soon. [1]

But do not take it too seriously, often when I am doing better I feel a real urge to live and am able to immerse myself so completely in the sweet notion that you belong to me and that you rejoice in my existence — and then I cannot weep enough tears at the thought that I must do without you.

I have been quite diligent these last few days and have almost finished writing the fairy tales. I know they could have been really good had I betrayed to the stream of love that is now violently sweeping me forth how my heart is driving me on. But I am loath to betray to anyone the ardor that is consuming me, and so they are stiff and cold. [2]

I have now reread your poems yet again and really lustfully enjoyed the pain they cause me. [3] I see in them your loving soul, your early, unrecognized tenderness, and not for me. Trees are not images of love, they blossom each year and bear fruit. But the delicate flowers, they blossom and are fragrant but once, and then wilt forever.

The fact that I no longer see you — everything awakens my memories of you, my little Wilhelm cannot yet forget you, every morning he goes to your door to look for you. The way I jestingly teased you now torments my own heart with such pain, I cannot mention my Wilhelm without thinking of you, and when I call him and he smiles at me, I think of you and how I now no longer see your eyes, which so often shined toward me like friendly stars. [4]

I do not want to write anymore. What good does it do that I constantly repeat my laments? I must endure your absence. And even should my recollection of past hours awaken in me the most ardent longing, I can extinguish the devouring flame only with burning tears.

Stay well. I simply cannot write anything but foolishness, and when I think about how you are perhaps already colder when you think about me, now that you no longer see me, I would rather not even send this page at all. I am so mistrustful, I cannot live with the calm conviction that my letters have any value for you if you are never able to tell me so. Would it absolutely not be possible at all for you to write me? Could you not enclose a letter, address it to Schleiermacher, and in that one yet another letter that I could give to Schleiermacher lest I be embarrassed should Bernhardi speak to Schleiermacher about the letter that came for him? [5]

Laugh not at my suggestions. You cannot sense how painfully I miss you and how harsh it is not to have even a single line that belongs completely to me alone. Stay well, my beloved, dear, precious friend. You must not, you cannot forget me, the passion in my heart cannot help but pull you violently to me, and through this enchantment of love you are my own.

Stay well.

Eternally yours,
S[ophie] Bernh[ardi]


[*] Source: Krisenjahre 1:10–12.

This letter, in which Sophie uses the familiar form of address, du, rather than the formal Sie, is answered by Wilhelm’s letter of 24 August 1801 (letter 328), the day this present letter arrived in Jena (ibid., 3:16) (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):


Concerning Sophie Bernhardi’s residence in Berlin, see the supplementary appendix on Wilhelm’s residences in Berlin. The building at Jungfernbrücke 10 is on the right just past the bridge (undated drawing; Jungfernbrücke von Norden; Landesgeschichtliche Vereinigung für die Mark Brandenburg e.V., Archiv Berlin-Mitte):



[1] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Das Freundenmädchen (1791); Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.890:


See Josef Körner’s remarks in Krisenjahre, 3:16:

Sophie was sickly and hypochondriacal from an early age. Ludwig Tieck’s earliest family letters already refer to her unsatisfactory health. In his answer to this letter on 24 August [letter 328], Wilhelm asks for more precise information about her condition, casts doubt on the care of her physician, Dr. Bing, and recommends consulting the famous Bamberg physician Adalbert Friedrich Marcus in writing.

Wilhelm had arrived back in Jena on 11 August 1801 thinking that Caroline would be doing well. He found instead that she had been bedridden for two weeks. He now receives a letter from yet another ailing woman in his life. As Julie Gotter remarks to her mother, Luise Gotter, on 18 August 1801 (letter 327d.1):

Schlegel arrived quite unexpectedly a week ago, when she [Caroline] was still keeping to her bed. Because he had thought she was doing well, he was very unpleasantly surprised. And in general, all of us were so out of sorts because of various things that he did not really enjoy all that cheerful a reception. Back.

[2] Sophie’s Wunderbilder und Träume in eilf Mährchen (Königsberg 1802), concerning which Clemens Brentano remarks to Achim von Arnim in a letter from Marburg on 8 September 1802 (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, 44—45): “A volume by Sophie Bernhardi, Märchen und Traumbilder, has appeared, characterized by immense structuring of verses, grand imitation, and horrific boredom.”


In a review in his periodical Europa I/1 (1803) 58, Friedrich Schlegel writes:

The Wunderbilder of Sophie Bernhardi betray an unmistakable talent for poetry and versification; the delicate sentimentality and melancholy inspiring the whole is all the more beautiful for being everywhere coupled with the childlike. The prose is less cultivated than the verse, and the whole should perhaps be reworked once more to appear just as exquisite as was its conception.

He was more frank in a letter to Wilhelm on 16 September 1802 (Walzel, 497):

What is Madam Bernhardi doing? I am following her work on poetry with great interest. I only hope she does not tire of her own ideas too quickly! She really should now redo the Wunderbilder once more, then it could become a divine poem. Back.

[3] Presumably Wilhelm’s Gedichte (Tübingen 1800):



[4] Considerable documentation concerning Wilhelm’s external appearance extols his expressive eyes (e.g., Friedrich Karl von Savigny). Even in a letter from his mother on 22 August 1808 (unpublished; manuscript in Coppet), one reads:

People here [in Hannover, where Schlegel had just been] found you quite handsome, especially your animated eyes. Those who always want to say something pleasant maintain that you got something similar from me.

(Portrait: ca. 1800/02, unknown artist; original: Freies Deutsches Hochstift, Frankfurter Goethe-Museum):


And Madame de Staël remarked on meeting him in Berlin for the first time (Körner, [1930], 2:287): “He is 36 years old, small, and rather ugly, though he does have extremely expressive eyes.” By contrast, Henriette Herz remarked after her return from Italy in 1819 (ibid., 2:288): “How altered was his external appearance! His eyes, so radiant earlier, seemed extinguished.” Back.

[5] Whence the double meaning in Wilhelm’s response of 24 August 1801 (letter 328), intended to provide assurance for later missives:

Please pass along my kindest regards to Schleiermacher for now, and ask that he view things as if I had written him myself and enclosed all these handsome requests in my letter, as, by the way, I must surely do. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott