Letter 328i

328i. Sophie Bernhardi to Wilhelm Schlegel in Jena: Berlin, ca. 10 September 1801 [*]

[Berlin, ca. 10 September 1801]

It is with a peculiar feeling that I am writing to you today — today is my wedding anniversary. [1] How much unexpected suffering has tormented me during these two years and almost exhausted my heart. Fate eternally treats us better and worse than we think, and we never know whether to be grateful or to curse it. Two years ago I thought I had left behind everything the earth might offer me, and through this submission, in giving away my freedom, I gave away the last possession I had in life. Now I have (should I say: “won”?) only you. —

I am so unhappy about displeasing you in everything I say that it makes me shy and timorous about writing to you at all. I can as little weigh out my words in a reasonable manner as I can my feelings. I have never loved except now, and yet now I am supposed to sacrifice the most precious possession of my heart to a “reasonable” internal and external diet? and that is supposed to be the “most affectionate” thing I can demonstrate to you? [2] I consider it a paltry thing to lose life, peace of mind, and health in this ardent longing for you, and yet I must fear that it is precisely because of this feeling that you are becoming hostile toward me.

Perhaps you cannot tolerate it when someone says they cannot be happy; [3] when one loves and is loved, that person is supposed to “want” to be such even though many more steps must be taken to get there. If this lovely statement did not apply to me, I could easily laugh at you for it. If a person still has “steps to take” before being happy, then that person precisely cannot “want” to. You have proven to me that you do not understand what torments me, as little as you understand my love, for otherwise you could not be giving me this and that advice and correction.

No, it is just too ill when one cannot find the words to express tenderly enough how utterly the other person fills our heart in every single moment of life, and then to receive a letter full of reproaches. I am vain enough to have anticipated more your gratitude than your reproaches. Yes, I am indeed foolish enough to put more stock in words than in actions. [4] Nor do I deny it, and since it is in any case not possible for us to view something differently than simply from the perspective of our own interior, it can easily be explained that, because I do indeed view my actions as something external, I am much more generous with them than with my good words, which I view as an expression of my soul and thus offer to only very few people.

I entreat you not to hold this against me, for with your statement “that is how all of you are” you really were intentionally trying to put me under the rubric of all females in general, and I must say that, for me, in that very attempt you really were acting just like a man. [5]

I could just weep for myself when I think about how lost and lonely I am in this world and how my striving is so ignored and how even my most ardent love is now supposed to stay so “reasonable” that even Fichte himself could not but approve of it.

Ah, but how foolish I am for still trying to articulate my anger and my love. [6] Either I am so unhappily unskilled that I simply do not have the power to disclose myself, or I suddenly sense how you cannot tolerate it and for that reason turn against me etc.

So, to spare myself all the sleepless nights and the excessive weeping that your “reasonable,” gently reprimanding letter has caused, I have decided not to write any more letters specifically to you, and instead to let this letter be the last one, and whatever I might perhaps have to report in the way of “reasonable” business matters I will do in Bernhardi’s presence lest I betray my childish longing, my vehement love, or my imprudent sensitiveness to my oh-so-severe judge. [7]

Not even my vanity can be acknowledged when my passion, which after all has become enflamed for you alone, is dispensed with in so ill a fashion that it must withdraw into the interior of my own heart.

Stay well. I cannot believe that you have answered every tender letter that has ever been written to you in so ill a fashion as you answered mine.

S[ophie] B.[ernhardi]


[*] Source: Krisenjahre 1:22–23.

The manuscript of this letter is torn twice lengthwise. This letter uses the informal du form of address and was probably a covert enclosure in the letter that uses the formal form, Sie, of the same date (letter 328h).

Concerning the use of Sie and du in the correspondence between Sophie and Wilhelm, see the editorial note to Wilhelm’s letter to her on 14 August 1801 (letter 327a).

In this letter, Sophie is largely responding to statements (what she is calling “reproaches” and “reprimands” and otherwise “reasonable” suggestions) Wilhelm made in his (second) letter of 4 September 1801 (letter 328f), what at the end of the letter she calls his “‘reasonable,’ gently reprimanding letter.” Back.

[1] The exact date of Sophie’s marriage to August Ferdinand Bernhardi in 1799 is not known; this passage seems to be the only reference that allows an approximate dating. Back.

[2] Wilhelm had remarked in his (second) letter to Sophie on 4 September 1801 (letter 328f): “Just please be gentle and patient and do not overly exert yourself, and in so doing give me the most beautiful proof of your affection”; “hence strengthen yourself, take care of yourself for my sake, and always believe that doing so is the truest proof of your affection.” Back.

[3] In his (second) letter to Sophie on 4 September 1801 (letter 328f), Wilhelm had remarked: “I similarly can henceforth not tolerate hearing you say that you can ‘never be happy.’ If a person loves and is loved in return, then that person must want to be happy, regardless of how large the required steps might be.” Back.

[4] In his (second) letter to Sophie on 4 September 1801 (letter 328f), Wilhelm had remarked: “But that is how all of you are, putting more faith in talk than action.” Back.

[5] Sophie is again referring to Wilhelm’s remark, “But that is how all of you are, putting more faith in talk than action.” Back.

[6] In his (second) letter to Sophie on 4 September 1801 (letter 328f), Wilhelm had remarked: “You remember what I told you about your beautiful anger, notwithstanding it frightened me such that I might well be partial against it.” Back.

[7] Sophie is threatening henceforth to write only “ostensible” letters, i.e., letters that use the formal Sie form of address, without the private and more intimate enclosures as previously. She did not carry out this threat.

That said, concerning this side of Wilhelm’s personality, see Caroline’s remarks in her letter to Wilhelm on 19–20 July 1801 (letter 326) (illustration: Genealogischer Calender auf das Jahr 1774 [Berlin]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung): “Believe me, dearest friend, at times you have the capacity to come across quite harshly with people, and have also come down hard on me long before I provoked any more passionate reason in you to do so.”


Friedrich Schlegel earlier alluded quite frankly to this particular “schoolmaster” aspect of Wilhelm’s personality. Dorothea Veit writes to Schleiermacher on ca. 28 April 1800 (letter 259k) (illustration: Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Szenen aus dem Alltagsleben [ca. 1765–1824]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 161): “As Friedrich says, only three devils ever got into him [Wilhelm]: the schoolmaster, the professor, and the husband.”

And in his own earlier letter to Caroline on 2 October 1795 (letter 157), Friedrich remarks: “The Grand Schoolmaster of the Universe could then take me in as his apprentice and teach me the art of writing properly and loving perfectly.”


See esp. note 8 to Dorothea’s letter above. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott