Letter 328d

328d. Sophie Bernhardi to Wilhelm Schlegel in Jena: Berlin, ca. 30 August 1801 [*]

Berlin, ca. 30 August 1801

[Sie] Just a few words to ask that, if possible, you might see to it that, should my brother perhaps arrive too late with his drawing, it nonetheless be accepted. I recently forgot this request. [1]

And then even if tea is asthenic and is to be avoided, it is surely not so much so that in the end I not get any at all, since, after all, I must occasionally offer it to others. [2]

The announcement is being printed, and I do hope it will be successful. [3] The skirmishing hussar is getting himself quite ready to do everything in his power to contribute to that success. [4]

I am sorry my suggestions were not accepted, and now I will betray with not a single word any disposition more tender than you deserve. [5]

Stay well, and improve your feelings toward me.

Let me ask you to give this enclosed page to your wife. [6] I am completely alone and could yet express all my tenderness, but I do not want to do so.

Stay well, and if you can indeed keep me in memory, then please do not forget me.

S[ophie] B[ernhardi]

[du] And yet I cannot simply part that way after all, I must tell you that your cold, indifferent letters cannot chill me, [7] that I am instead so foolish as to read them over and over until I am able to read tender sentiment into those indifferent words, and that I try to believe that your efforts to return here so soon are solely because of me, and I try to forget all the other things that draw you back here as well. [8]

Stay well, I do not want to write further, since otherwise I will break down in tears and betray to everyone how much even the thought and the act of writing to you moves me.

Ah, my dear friend, I could lament so much to you that wounds me and oppresses me; then you would see that I am not at all happy and can never be. The thought of you elevates and consoles me in the face of so much, and then also in lonely hours, when I doubt whether you really understand my heart as well, or whether you recognize it and really believe that all the blossoms of my life incline toward you.

And then, when my old pride awakens in me, and I feel what a rich treasure I give to you and yet cannot overcome my doubts — I then find myself on the brink of despair. And then I think again of unhappy Aurelia from Meister, who could never excite the passion she herself felt when she loved — and that seems to be my fate, [9] and I will forgive you if you turn your attention away from me and toward charming women, [10] and will weep only for myself.

And thus do I incessantly torment myself, and am rarely happy with the thought that you nonetheless do belong to me, and yet I cannot give it up because my life cannot do without it.


[*] Source: Krisenjahre 1:16–17.

Concerning the use of Sie, the formal form of address, and du, the informal, see the editorial note to Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie on 14 August 1801 (letter 327a). In this letter, Sophie begins with Sie and then switches to du during the second part of the letter, a transition marked by the bracketed forms here. Back.

[1] Friedrich Tieck entered the Weimar art competition with a (lost) piece “Achill on Skyros” that Caroline preferred over those of the winning entries. The deadline for the competition was 25 August 1801. He was, however, on his way back to Germany from France and was expected soon in Weimar, and his itinerary had been a topic of discussion over several of Wilhelm’s letters during the summer of 1801. See, e.g., Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie on 14 August 1801 (letter 327a), with note 6.

Friedrich Tieck seems to have arrived in Weimar on ca. 5 September 1801. Wilhelm had, however, already brought entries from the Berlin painters Friedrich Bury and Johann Erdmann Hummel with him to Jena.

See the supplementary appendix on “Achilles on Skyros.” See also Wilhelm’s letters to Sophie on 14 August 1801 (letter 327a) and 21 August 1801 (letter 327f). Concerning Caroline’s assessment of Tieck’s entry, see her letters to Wilhelm on 16 November 1801 (letter 330) and 23 November 1801 (letter 331). Back.

[2] See Wilhelm’s admonitions in his letters to Sophie on 14 and 21 August 1801 (letters 327a, 327f). In his response on 18 September 1801 (letter 329e), he changed his approach. Back.

[3] In his letter of 21 August 1801 (letter 327f), Wilhelm had enclosed his draft for an announcement (he called it an avertissement) of the lecture series he hoped to commence on his return to Berlin in November. He instructed Sophie to submit it to the junta (August Ferdinand Bernhardi and Schleiermacher) for assessment and to have it printed should it meet their approval with or without changes.

Although no copy of this announcement has apparently survived, the Goethe-Schiller Archive in Weimar does have a copy of what Wilhelm calls the billet, namely an admission ticket. For the text, see note 19 in that letter of 21 August 1801. Back.

[4] Unresolved private joke. Is the reference perhaps to Herr von Tümpling from Sophie’s (first) letter of 25 August 1801 (letter 328a)? Back.

[5] Sophie’s suggestion in her letter of ca. 20 August 1801 (letter 327e) that Wilhelm enclose personal love letters to her in with letters addressed to Schleiermacher. Back.

[6] Regrettably not extant. Back.

[7] For reasons of caution, Wilhelm had hitherto written only essentially open letters to Sophie, using the formal form of address, Sie. Back.

[8] Probably intentionally ambiguous, the “other” reasons being not merely the lecture series Wilhelm was anticipating giving in Berlin, but also the actress Friederike Unzelmann; concerning Sophie’s concerns about Wilhelm’s attraction to this actress, see Sophie’s letter to Wilhelm on 14 October 1801 (letter 329o).

In the broader sense, in Berlin Wilhelm was, partly of necessity, no stranger to social gatherings (illustration: Goethe’s Works, vol. 4, trans. G. Barrie [New York 1885], 300):



[9] An allusion to and paraphrase from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, book 7, chapter 7. In the scene in question, the protagonist, Wilhelm Meister, is exchanging stories of previous loves with the characters of Lothario and Jarno (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, trans. R. Dillon Boylan [London 1867], 437–38; illustrations: [1] Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1807: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet; [2] Taschenbuch für Häusliche und Gesellschaftliche Freuden auf das Jahr 1802; both: Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):

“You will doubtless pardon me,” he [Lothario] continued, as he turned towards Wilhelm, “for abandoning Aurelia for Theresa; with the latter, I might have hoped to enjoy a life or perpetual bliss, while, with the former, I could never expect to pass a single happy hour.”

“I must admit,” said Wilhelm, “that when I first came hither, my heart was highly incensed against you, and I had intended to call you to account for your conduct towards Aurelia.”

“I deserve your censure,” continued Lothario, “I ought not to have converted my friendship for her into a feeling of love; I should not have substituted, for the respect which she deserved, an attachment which she was neither calculated to inspire nor to return. She could never excite the passion which she felt, and that is the greatest misfortune which can befall a woman.”

“Well, that is all over,” answered Wilhelm, “we cannot always avoid error — our thoughts and our actions will sometimes strangely turn from their naturally virtuous course. And yet there are certain duties of which we should never lose sight. But peace be to the ashes of our friend [Aurelia]! Without blaming ourselves or censuring her, we will strew flowers upon her grave. And by the side of that grave, in which the unhappy mother rests, let me inquire why you do not protect her child.


He is a boy of whom any one might well be proud, and yet you entirely neglect him. With your pure and affectionate feelings, how can you so wholly forget the instinct of a father’s heart?


During the entire of our conversation, you have not uttered one syllable about that precious creature, of whose sweet disposition you might have said so much.”

“Of whom are you speaking?” inquired Lothario. “I do not understand you.”

“Of no other than your son, Aurelia’s son, a hopeful child, whose good fortune fails in nothing, but that he should be taken to a father’s heart.”

“You mistake egregiously, my friend. Aurelia never had a son of whom I could have been the parent.”

Ironically, Sophie nonetheless later convinced Wilhelm that he had fathered her son Felix Theodor Bernhardi, who was, however, instead almost certainly the son of Karl Gregor von Knorring. Back.

[10] Almanach und Taschenbuch für Hæusliche und Gesellschaftliche Freuden auf das Jahr 1800; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:


See Sophie’s lament in her letter to Wilhelm on 25 August 1801 (letter 328b) that she was “not beautiful and charming enough to make you forget all beautiful women” (also note 8 there). Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott