Letter 328a

328a. Sophie Bernhardi to Wilhelm Schlegel in Jena: Berlin, 25 August 1801 [*]

Berlin, 25 August 1801

My dear friend, let me send along these letters that arrived for you and at the same time relate that Nicolai was utterly unable to contain his rage and has instead already written several sheets printed in an extremely tiny, tightly spaced font that he might carry on his long-winded prattle without it immediately being so terribly obvious. [1] In general, he is constantly begging everyone’s pardon for being so long-winded, which, he claims, is nonetheless utterly necessary for the sake of clarity.

Although he has probably not yet actually distributed this precious piece, we did manage to borrow it from Madam Sander for a day, and read it amid enormous merriment and laughter; nor have you been spared its barbs, he instead admiring the incomprehensible brazenness with which a person not only has the audacity to admit his authorship of the Ehrenpforte, but also to refer to it as a “piece of art.” [2] Nicolai talks about “snakes” and “gnats” and then mentions you and Tieck, hence you yourself are to be viewed as a snake.

But before you are too quick to agonize about having such a persecutor, let me immediately comfort you by reporting that an admirer has shown up of the sort I have never yet encountered in all my life. His name is Tümpeling. [3] Surely you have already heard of him, he can speak of nothing but the “great Tieck and Schlegel,” and, because I am Tieck’s sister and also such an interesting woman otherwise and a star of such rare grandeur, he is so subservient that his head was almost always under the table.

He had a large manuscript in his valise and read aloud to us without further to-do, as befits an admirer, a poem he is having published in Müchler’s Almanach, though, because he became so excited while reading it and spoke everything so vehemently and quickly, we understood very little of it indeed. [4] What kind of poem it otherwise is you can tell from the fact that he believes the Polish Jew simply does not trust his own powers and talents enough and is much too modest. [5] When I quite modestly remarked that the Jew could possibly be too ignorant and that this seems to me to be his greatest shortcoming, he became extremely upset and almost doubted my grandeur. [6]

This humble admirer otherwise had terrible manners and was constantly kissing my hands with such immodest brazenness as if he were my declared favorite, so much so that it hardly even helped when out of sheer aversion to his horrible behavior I grabbed my knitting and was thus very happy indeed when he began to read and was forced to engage his mouth for something else, and yet hardly had he spoken the final words before he picked up again exactly where he had left off earlier. [6a]

Madam Meier has also been unfaithful to you (as you see, I am alternating between good and bad news). She believes you were unfair to Kotzebue and that the Ehrenpforte is not witty at all and instead amounts to downright persecution in which you cannot deny your malice toward the president, [7] and that it is a ponderous thing that he, however, accepted quite lightly and without becoming angry. The president’s Ass was allegedly much wittier, lighter, and better, and yet you were unable to respond to its satire against you. [8]

So you see, my friend: such is fame. Am I not quite correct in maintaining that acquiring it is not worth the trouble? When you return to Berlin, I am sure you will be venerated again.

But return to Berlin you must indeed, and soon. Mademoiselle Schede is longing indescribably for your return; she is with me here and has charged me with sending her warmest regards, she simply cannot conceal her tenderness and affection, nor does she make any effort to do so. [9]

Bernhardi also sends his warm regards; he, too, longs to see you again and wishes the ladies there were a bit less charming that you might separate yourself from Jena all the sooner. [10] Let me request that you pass along my very kind regards at least to the one. [11]

Your friend,
Sophie B[ern]h[ardi]


[*] Source: Krisenjahre 1:12–13.

Sophie uses the formal form of address, Sie, in this letter, rather than the familiar du.

That said, Wilhelm’s response on 4 September 1801 (letter 328e) confirms receiving this letter and its “enclosure,” the latter likely being Sophie’s clandestine love letter of the same date (letter 328b), which uses du (map: Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



[1] As a response to Fichte’s pamphlet Friedrich Nicolai’s Leben und sonderbare Meinungen Ein Beitrag zur Litterargeschichte des vergangenen und zur Pädagogik des angehenden Jahrhunderts (“Friedrich Nicolai’s life and peculiar opinions: A contribution to the literary history of the past century and to the pedagogy of the commencing century”), Friedrich Nicolai published, as a supplement to the Neue allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek (1801) no. 61, the diatribe Über die Art wie vermittelst des transcendentalen Idealismus ein Wirklich existirendes Wesen aus Prinzipien konstruirt werden kann (“On the manner in which by means of transcendental idealism a genuinely existing being can be construed from principles”) (Berlin 1801), encompassing only 4 printer’s sheets (Gottlieb Böttger der Ältere Diskussion zwischen zwei Männer [1799]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 243:



[2] Wilhelm had written his declaration of authorship:

let me, in order to demonstrate that I have absolutely no reason to be ashamed of this work of art, and rather am quite proud to claim it as my own, herewith declare that I am indeed the author of same.

Wilhelm otherwise briefly assesses the personal attacks against him in his letter to Sophie on 18 September 1801 (letter 329e). Back.

[3] Josef Körner, Krisenjahre, 3:17, thought the identity of Herr von Tümpeling (generally spelled Tümpling; Wilhelm seems to mention him as “Lünpling” in his letter to Sophie on 4 September 1801 [letter 328e]) might be established from Wolf von Tümpling, Geschichte des Geschlechtes von Tümpling, vol. 3 (Weimar 1894), to which Körner by his own admission did not have access.

That said, Ludwig Tieck mentions a certain “G. von Tümpeling” in a letter to Friedrich Frommann on 30 January 1801 as someone who had submitted otherwise unacceptable poems for Tieck’s Poetisches Journal (Jena 1800) (H. Günther, “Ungedruckte Briefe L. Tiecks,” Euphorion 20 [1913], 641–47, here 643). Körner thought this “poetaster” might be a son of Ferdinand von Tümpling; the son died in 1803 as a Prussian officer in Warsaw (ADB 38:784).

Körner, (1930), 2:57fn1, similarly adduces the following essay on the impoverished Polish aristocracy by a certain T—g, “Der polnische Adel in seiner Verarmung: Fragment,” Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1802) 13 (Saturday, 30 January 1802), 97–99, which might attest the familiarity with Polish circumstances as mentioned by Sophie.

Zacharias Werner writes in a letter to Julius Eduard Hitzig from Königsberg in March 1803 Briefe des Dichters Friedrich Ludwig Zacharias Werner, ed. Oswald Fleck, vol. 1 [Munich 1914], 156): “I am infinitely saddened by Tümpling’s dreadful fate. He was a genuine, unmistakable [scil.: poetic] talent.”

The previously mentioned Geschichte des Geschlechtes von Tümpling, vol. 3, 161–63, contains an entry on Heinrich Gottlob Friedrich Ludwig von Tümpling (6 August 1771–September 1803), who, initially a page in Gotha, in April 1788 entered Prussian military service. In 1794 he was promoted to second lieutenant, then participated in the Polish campaign in 1795, where he also lost his brother Carl Rudolf Christian Maximilian Leberrecht von Tümpling. He left military service on 7 February 1803 for an unspecified reason and died in September in Silesia, and it may be to this Tümpeling that Zacharias Werner and the others, including Sophie Bernhardi, are referring. The reason for his leaving military service and dying so soon thereafter may perhaps have been a serious wound or illness or some otherwise unmentioned situation or event. Back.

[4] “Ein Leseconvent,” Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1803: Dem Edeln und Schönen der frohen Laune und der Philosophie des Lebens gewidmet (1804), plate 4:


Josef Körner, Krisenjahre, 3:17, adduces the Taschenbuch für edle deutsche Frauen, ed. Karl Friedrich Müchler (Leipzig 1801). The title of the contemporary publication was in any case Taschenbuch für edle teutsche Frauen, and it was edited not by Müchler but by Heinrich Müller.

Such periodicals generally appeared during the autumn of the preceding year rather than in the given year of publication. Hence during August of 1801, Tümpling and Sophie Bernhardi would have been referring to a poetic anthology appearing in the autumn of 1801 but dated for 1802. The 1802 issue of the Taschenbuch für edle teutsche Frauen contains no entry by “Tümpling,” though that does not preclude an anonymous entry. Tümpling’s ebullient braggadocio about his poem in the Bernhardi household, however, sooner militates against an anonymous contribution.

Although Karl Friedrich Müchler did not publish any periodical in 1801, he did indeed publish the anthology Egeria (1802), which would have appeared in the autumn of 1801 (frontispiece and title page):



Müchler’s index at the back of the anthology lists three contributions by “v. Tümpling”: on pp. 23–45 the lengthy “Entstehen der lebenden Wesen: Phantasie” (“Origin of living beings: a fantasy”), a unrestrained panegyric to the role played by love in the emergence of harmonious life, and on p. 90, “Lied eines liebenden Mädchens” (approx. prose rendering):

of a Girl in Love

What strange yet precious pain
Does torment you, my aching heart?
When gentle west breeze gently caresses blossoms,
When from a thousand stars joy smiles down,
Then do spirits me embrace,
And graves close fast!
When heavy cloud in darkened heavens lurk,
And tempestuous storm bends low lofty poplars: —
Then, then do I harmony find.

See below concerning the third poem. Back.

[5] Sophie seems to be referring to Tümpling’s third contribution to Egeria, “Das Vögelchen,” 161–63, also signed “v. Tümpling,” a peculiar poem that refers not to Polish Jews as such, but rather metaphorically to a timid “little bird” that confronts the unsteady emergence of springtime (approx. prose rendering):

The Little Bird

Though spring had well arrived,
Its balmy air came not,
Anxious in its cleft the little bird:
Then ventures forth from the rock,
By sunshine gracious tempted,
With ready swiftness glides
Through brightness new and light,
Towards lofty, warming height! —

On full sun's rays it gazes down
On frozen roofs below
That paint far cliffs in gold,
And toward shimmering light now flies. —
But then of a sudden: veil of clouds
Conceals spring's sun's gentle fire;
Now seeks it gentle meadows,
But lo — waters now rush through
Where once it lived amid blossoms' dew. —

To oft-sung treetops now it flies,
And finds them bare of leaf,
Astonished thinks it but deep dream —
And knows the place no more!
Cold blow winds through forest bare,
In torrent of river wild,
Tiny creature uncertainly quakes,
"Ah, could I but live above,
Where eternal springtime blossoms!" —

Its tiny heart does swell with disquiet,
Lamenting nature itself,
To its lair it would return,
Swiftly hastens from the meadow,
Would relieve its breast from grief,
And bathe its plumage in warmth of blue;
In torrent's rushing reflection it beholds
The aether high above — lowers wings,
And in cold flood: perishes once for all. Back.

[6] The Bernhardi family was known for its anti-Semitism.

See Friedrich Schlegel from Jena to Rahel Levin, a Jew, in Berlin on 1 April 1802 (Galerie von Bildnissen aus Rahel’s Umgang und Briefwechsel, 2 vols., ed. K. A. Varnhagen von Ense [Leipzig 1836], 1:233; KFSA 25:345): “Even the most stupid things can flourish at the Jungfernbrücke; nothing is too stupid for such clever people, hence also that sort of hatred of Jews.”

Concerning the Bernhardi residence at the corner of Jungfernbrücke 10/Oberwasserstrasse 10 in Berlin, see the supplementary appendix on Wilhelm’s residences in Berlin. Back.

[6a] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, (in order) illustration to Christian Fürchtegott Gellert’s Sechs Fabeln und Sechs Erzählungen (1775), Los Angeles County Museum of Art; illustration to Friedrich Schulze’s William (1790), Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Beckanntschafft mit grossen Männern, “The acquaintance of great men” (1779), Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Uh 4° 47 (296); Girl Seated, Sewing (1784), National Gallery of Art Washington, DC:




[7] Kotzebue had earlier been president of the Magistrates Board of the Province of Estonia. Back.

[8] In her second marriage, to the Berlin physician Heinrich Meyer, the actress Johanna Henriette Meyer was an aggravation for Wilhelm in other contexts as well. See his cutting response to this remark in his letter to Sophie on 4 September 1801 (letter 328e).

Her husband caused trouble later by refusing to let her play the allegedly unseemly role of Creusa in Wilhelm’s play Ion: ein Schauspiel (see Hans Christian Genelli to Wilhelm Schlegel from Berlin on 29 May 1802 [letter 361b]). Back.

[9] A sister of a childhood friend of Ludwig Tieck, Karl Schede (1774–1833), known among her friends as “Schedeli”; Wilhelm mentions her as “Schodeli” in his response on 4 September 1801 (letter 328e). Among Karl Schede’s sisters, however, one cannot here determine who is meant: Wilhelmine, Charlotte (possibly born 1773), or another.

Schleiermacher was also acquainted with the family and mentions the daughters in letters to his sister (Schleiermacher als Mensch: Sein Werden: Familien- und Freundesbriefe 1783 bis 1804, ed. Heinrich Meisner [Gotha 1922], 92–93, 195). In 1802 Ludwig Tieck solicited Karl Schede to serve as Sophie’s Berlin attorney amid the increasingly difficult legal circumstances of her marriage to Bernhardi. Back.

[10] The ladies: Luise Wiedemann, her daughter Emma, Julie Gotter, and an otherwise unnamed “lady” (see Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie on 14 August 1801 [letter 327a], note 5). Back.

[11] I.e., to Caroline. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott