Letter 328g

328g. Wilhelm Schlegel to Friederike Unzelmann in Breslau: Jena, 7 September 1801 [*]

Jena, 7 September 1801

I am happier than I can tell you, dearest friend, finally to have received such a wonderful, cordial letter from you and to be certain now of your arrival. Since your own letter only took a week to arrive here, I will try to write you once more while you are in Breslau; [1] if my letter travels as quickly as yours, it will perhaps yet arrive on the very evening before your departure.

Tomorrow I shall immediately ride over to Weimar again to relate this pleasant news to Goethe should he not already have received a letter from you himself. [2]

Be not overly concerned about Schiller; he will doubtless be summoned back and arrive quite in time. [3]

Nor does the absence of Mademoiselle Jagemann constitute any hindrance whatever to playing Maria Stuart; some other actress can take her place, the piece has already been performed elsewhere thus. [4]

I mentioned several roles to Goethe that you yourself do not list, then by contrast was not familiar with a couple you did mention. For example, I recommended to him especially Minna von Barnhelm; [5] although I myself have admittedly not seen you in that role, all my Berlin friends assure me it is something quite incomparable. This piece is being prepared and could be performed immediately.

Similarly also, among the operettas, Der kleine Matrose, about which you yourself told me you would like the opportunity to perform it once outside Berlin. [6] I myself would be very much in favor of Johanna von Montfaucon; [7] although it has not yet been performed here, the actors could prepare it quite easily, which will also be necessary with Nina. [8] The initial evenings will quickly be in order, and the rest can then be taken care of. [9]

May you have a pleasant journey and arrive in excellent health. Do not tire yourself excessively by trying to travel too hastily — you will have to rest up for at least a day, something you can best do with us here. [10]

Although my wife has been a bit indisposed again these past few days, she is hoping for a quick recovery especially by the time of your arrival that she may genuinely enjoy your visit here. If she is well, we will have no trouble at all accommodating both you and your chambermaid in our home. [11]

If possible, I myself will ride out to meet you along the way. [12] I can hardly wait for this visit. I am sure everything possible will be done in Weimar to provide for your reception and entertainment.

Stay very well.

Your devoted,
A. W. Schlegel


[*] Source: Josef Körner, (1930), 1:131–32 (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Besetztere und illuminierte Landkarte von Deutschland, from the Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate xlv):


Concerning the background to Friederike Unzelmann’s performance in Weimar, see Wilhelm’s letter to Goethe of 14 August 1801 (letter 327a). Wilhelm himself was the initiator of these guest performances, something Caroline managed to guess after various veiled remarks he had made in his letters to her; see the initial paragraph in Caroline’s letter to him on 11 May 1801 (letter 315).

Following this letter, Heinrich Meyer in Weimar then wrote to Schiller, who was not in Weimar at the time (see below), on 10 September 1801 (Ludwig von Urlich, Briefe an Schiller [Stuttgart 1877], 441–42) to relate to him that “through A. W. Schlegel’s negotiations, Madam Unzelmann will be coming here on the 20th of this month to give several performances.”

According to Goethe’s diary, she arrived in Weimar on 19 September 1801, remained until 2 October, and gave seven guest performances (in eight plays) beginning on 21 September (Weimarer Ausgabe 3:3:35). Goethe took his leave of her on 1 October.

Wilhelm had already made Friederike Unzelmann’s acquaintance during his first stay in Berlin (May–June 1798) and seems also to have had an amorous relationship with her at the time (Luise Iffland had earlier cattily teased Caroline about his relationship with the actress; see her letter to Caroline on 8 September 1798 [letter 202i]), and during 1801 rumors arose according to which the two intended to divorce their spouses and marry (a rumor Caroline herself relates; see her letter to Wilhelm on 22 June 1801 [letter 322]).

Wilhelm did earnestly try to promote Friederike Unzelmann with both Schiller and Goethe, dedicated several poems to her, defended her against a malicious critic, and cloaked an essay in the form of an open letter to her (“Über einige tragische Rollen von Frau von Staël dargestellt. An Madame Bethmann geb. Flitner, Schauspielerin des königlichen Nationaltheaters zu Berlin,” Berlinischer Damen-Kalender auf das Gemein-Jahr 1807 [1807] 16ff.; Sämmtliche Werke 9:267–81).

Even at a more advanced age, Wilhelm still extolled the long-deceased actress in an addendum to a new printing of his earlier essay for Die Horen (1796) no. 4, 57–112, “Etwas über William Shakespeare bei Gelegenheit Wilhelm Meisters” (dated 1827, for his Kritische Schriften 1:365–86; this particular passage: Sämmtliche Werke 7:68), in which he extols her deft treatment of lines composed in specific and sometimes difficult poetic meter.

See in general the supplementary appendix Friederike Unzelmann.

No letters from Friederike Unzelmann to Wilhelm Schlegel have been preserved. Back.

[1] Friederike Unzelmann had departed Berlin for guest performances in Breslau on 24 July 1801; see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 19–20 July 1801 (letter 236), note 40, and Wilhelm’s letter to Goethe on 14 August 1801 (letter 327c), esp. with notes 4 and 5 concerning Breslau. Back.

[2] According to Goethe’s diary (Weimarer Ausgabe 3:3:34), Wilhelm was indeed in Weimar on 8 September 1801. Back.

[3] Concerning Schiller’s itinerary at the time, see Wilhelm’s letter to Goethe of 14 August 1801 (letter 327a), note 10. He returned to Weimar from Dresden on Sunday, 20 September 1801. Back.

[4] Karoline Jagemann was performing in Berlin at the time; see Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie Bernhardi on 21 August 1801 (letter 327f), note 34. Friederike Unzelmann did indeed perform the role of Maria Stuart in Weimar.

Wilhelm viewed Jagemann’s absence in fact as advantageous, since he was earlier apprehensive about her behind-the-scenes intrigues. Caroline had written Wilhelm on 25 May 1801 (letter 318) that “Mademoiselle Jagemann is becoming extremely domineering. At the same time, though, Goethe will surely do everything he can for Unzeline.” And Wilhelm mentions in his letter to Sophie Bernhardi on 21 August 1801 (letter 327f) that Goethe was “presumably doubly gleeful at Mademoiselle Jagemann’s absence.” Back.

[5] Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Minna von Barnhelm oder Das Soldatenglück: Ein Lustspiel in fünf Aufzügen (1767); Friederike Unzelmann performed the title role in Weimar. Back.

[6] Concerning the play Der kleine Matrose, see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 22 June 1801 (letter 322), notes 29 and 30; this piece had been performed in Berlin since 20 May 1797. Back.

[7] August von Kotzebue’s romantic tableau Johanna von Montfaucon. Romantisches Gemälde aus dem 14. Jahrhundert in 5 Akten (Leipzig 1800) premiered in Berlin on 21 May 1799. Madame de Staël celebrates Friederike Unzelmann’s performance in her book De l’Allemagne, 2 vols. (Paris 1813), 2:25; Eng. trans. Germany, 3 vols. (London 1813), 257–58; Staël is discussing the plays of Kotzebue:

Jane of Montfaucon being a chivalrous adventure of Kotzebue’s own invention, he has used more freedom in that than in any other of his pieces, in the manner of treating his subject.

A charming actress, Madame Unzelmann, used to play the principal part; and the manner in which she defended her heart and her castle against a discourteous knight produced a very agreeable impression on the stage. By turns warlike and desponding, her helmet, and her disheveled locks, alike seemed to embellish her.

But situations of this description are better suited to pantomime than to dialogue, and the words answer no other purpose than that of filling up the action.

Henrik Steffens, Was ich erlebte, 4:191–92, presents strikingly similar remarks concerning this role; Steffens is here writing about his time in Berlin:

The theaters were absolutely full, and justifiably so. Iffland was still in his prime, though it was Fleck and the singular Madam Unzelmann who truly elevated the theater. . . .

Madam Unzelmann had just returned from a journey and performed first in a role with which I was quite familiar, namely, that of Orsina in [Lessing’s] Emilia Galotti. I had never seen anything like it, and yet her performance as Johanna von Montfaucon was to surprise and move me even more. In Hamburg I had seen Schröder as the governor in Kotzebue’s [Graf] Benjowsky; in the scene in which he demands his daughter back from the kidnapper, as silly and foolish as she is, his performance was so powerful, the audience participation he elicited so irresistible, that my knees trembled. —

Here such silent mimicry would move me even more profoundly. Madam Unzelmann performed the role of Johanna von Montfaucon. The castle has been taken by her hated admirer, Lasarra. Pursued by the victor, she flees across the stage with flowing locks. Lasarra appears shortly thereafter. There is no way out of the cabinet in which she has sought refuge.

Lasarra approaches ever closer to the door, and Johanna, who sees no way to save herself, steps out of the cabinet pale and silent. She still had not yet spoken a single word, but the performance made such a horrific impression on me that it still seems to me like a real, experienced, terrible event.

Madam Unzelmann’s figure, as is well known, was not really that advantageous for stage performance. She was not beautiful, and instead owed everything to an artistic sensibility over which she disposed as hardly any other woman either before or after.

The action prompting this “horrific” impression takes place in act 2, scenes 1, 5, and 6. In scene 1, amid the nocturnal chaos and din of the battle for the castle (“During the initial, silent scenes, thunderous music from the orchestra continues uninterrupted“), Johanna appears alone onstage:

Johanna. (Driven by terror and fear, enters at center stage, listens, flees, stops, listens again, and when the din of battle seems to draw closer, she flees through a side door at right stage, — in the meantime, the battle behind stage shifts around to the right. Johanna returns, wrings her hands, and rushes into a side door at left stage. The noise of the battle gradually abates.)

In scene 5, Lasarra is hunting Johanna down inside the castle after taking not only the castle itself, but also her son, Otto, whom he plans to use as a hostage to get at Johanna before having the son slain. He approaches her room, finds it locked, and tries to flatter and cajole her into coming out. She remains silent, Lasarra steps away from the door and continues speaking, then suddenly rushes the door and kicks it in:

Johanna. (Steps toward him with a drawn dagger.)

Lasarra. (Stumbles backward.)

Frontispieces to (in order) August von Kotzebue, Theater von Kotzebue, vol. 12 (Prague 1818); Neue Schauspiele, vol. 4 (Leipzig 1800):



[8] Nina, oder Wahnsinn aus Liebe, a popular singspiel at the time, included in the Berlin repertoire as a perennial box-office favorite since 3 May 1788. Concerning Friederike Unzelmann’s performance as Nina in Berlin, see Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer’s account; concerning her performance of the role in Breslau just before she came to Weimar, see the eyewitness account, both in the supplementary appendix on Friederike Unzelmann.

It may be recalled that Auguste was also apparently scheduled to perform the role in Bamberg in the summer of 1800; see Dorothea Veit’s letter to Auguste in June 1800 (letter 263), esp. with note 2 there.

It was to Friederike Unzelmann in her role as Nina that Wilhelm Schlegel dedicated his poem “An Friederike Unzelmann als Nina” published in Schiller’s Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1799 (Tübingen 1799), 73 (Sämmtliche Werke 1:243):

To Friederike Unzelmann as Nina

Though of grief's reveries,
And of lost raptures,
    Nina, you were healed.
Yet did you to all your listeners bequeath
The tender anguish
And delusion of beguiled hearts. Back.

[9] Concerning Friederike Unzelmann’s performance schedule in Weimar (not all the pieces were performed), see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 11 May 1801 (letter 315), note 10. Back.

[10] Wilhelm was anticipating that the journey from Breslau to Weimar would take “five or six days” (Wilhelm to Goethe on 14 August 1801 [letter 327c]; concerning the distance, see note 5 there). Back.

[11] Wilhelm and Caroline spent the time in Weimar instead of having Friederike Unzelmann at their home in Jena. Back.

[12] Wilhelm rode out as far as Dornburg, albeit in vain, on 18 September; see his letter to Goethe of 18 September 1801 (letter 329f). As noted above, Friederike Unzelmann arrived in Weimar the following day, 19 September 1801 (“Le coche de voyage du dix-huitiéme siécle,” in anonymous, “La locomotion terrestre: Les ancients coutures de voyage,” La nature: Revue des sciences etc. 16 [1888], premier semestre, no. 768 [18 February 1888], 177–79, here 177):



Translation © 2015 Doug Stott