Letter 329h

329h. Dorothea Veit and Friedrich Schlegel to Schleiermacher in Berlin: Jena, 25 September 1801 [*]

[Jena] Friday, 25 September 1801

[Dorothea:] Despite my effort to write a great deal and in as much detail as possible, it seems I still have not succeeded in presenting things clearly and comprehensibly the way they really are, otherwise you could not possibly grant us our position only with qualification. [1]

Given your answer to our story, you still do not quite understand that Wilhelm had absolutely and positively not a single reason to be angry with us, indeed, quite to the contrary, that as long as he lives he will never be able to make good the wrong he did us.

It is absolutely not at all the case that we “interfered” in things or “worked against” things in which “someone had already made a decision,” but rather that Wilhelm prompted Friedrich to speak, and he also knew Friedrich was going to write to Charlotte [2] and yet at the time absolutely did not object to it in any way.

It just seems to me that I have already written you precise details about all these things.

And Wilhelm, let me emphasize: Wilhelm, got along quite well with us, up to the very last moment before his departure, [3] with respect to Caroline and everything else, and even more, at that time he himself spoke with us about her in a tone of voice that we would never have dared use in his presence.

After he left, absolutely nothing transpired between us and Caroline. So what is he now thinking by being angry about things that took place at that time with his knowledge and under his purview? He, Wilhelm, prompted Friedrich, imploring him by his fraternal bonds, to break with Schelling, and to be unequivocally nasty, and to say nothing to him at meals.

So now he himself is getting along with Schelling and just leaves Friedrich standing there in the lurch. They [4] did indeed take every possible step toward Wilhelm to set things right with him, and to draw him into their party again, and yet found no need to make avances toward Friedrich, [5] and certainly not once they were again more certain of him, that is, of Wilhelm.

Was it not then his duty and obligation to prompt them to take the first steps toward Friedrich? And how can he now even turn against Friedrich with them? How can he expect Friedrich to be the first to extend his hand when he, he solely and alone, is the cause of all the hostilities?

To be quite honest, quite apart from Caroline’s base, maliciously intended machinations, she in her own way also has a right to be angry, for she has certainly suffered amid it all, but what Wilhelm wants is simply incomprehensible, as incomprehensible as his whole lacheté [6] — but what does it help to write about all these things? Henceforth I intend to limit it simply to making as sure as possible that you do not lose the thread. All the accusations, or justifications, I simply cannot and do not intend to perpetuate either, or expect such. Come and see for yourself. Adieu.

Just so you remain quite au courent des evenements, [7] and I do not end up having to write entire books to keep you informed, let me relate the latest to you. Now that Karoline doubtless realizes she cannot affect our standing in society here, she has changed her maneuvers, and is now trying to alienate the brothers from each other in their literary pursuits. [8] Nothing we might do to thwart that can help, so she will probably succeed.

In various billets, she had constantly pressed Friedrich to return the last letter she wrote him, and Friedrich did not want to do so until it was convenient for him, since, after all, she in fact no longer had any right to that letter and, especially, no reason in all the world to demand it back in any case. [9] Hence she is now explicitly complaining to Wilhelm and urging him to get quite seriously involved in the matter, as if someone had done her God knows what injustice. [10]

Wilhelm is loath to have something of that sort imposed on him yet a second time, so is now quite solemnly demanding this letter be returned, formally authorized by Caroline (how important must he have thought himself at such a grand moment!). Friedrich refused to hand it over because he simply had no inclination to do so, but he did need some appropriate, unobtrusive excuse. Mon Wilhelm, [11] no sluggard he, now writes a rather crude billet and quite diplomatically appropriates this affair as his own.

Friedrich, now sick and tired of the whole misère, [12] sends the letter back to him with the greatest indulgence, since it was basically not particularly important in any case, and Caroline in all likelihood instigated it solely to rekindle the quarrel between the brothers, which had in the meantime begun to cool.

Since she was not to be allowed that victory, Friedrich gave in, and the brothers were once again on good terms. So, I thought, what will happen now? —

Wilhelm has traveled over to Weimar for several weeks with Caroline to see Madam Unzelmann. [13] Yesterday a letter from Wilhelm suddenly arrives in which he sends a poem by Friedrich back that Friedrich had already sent him back in January for the Almanach. [14] The same poem, “The Withered Garland,” that Friedrich had given me for my birthday. [15] He returned it to him under the pretext that it upset him too much, moved him too unpleasantly, and all that sort of thing. [16]

Now, just consider that Wilhelm has been familiar with this poem since January, [17] praising it, expressing his love for it, and writing Friedrich 2 long pages full of praise for it. So it is absolutely crystal clear that it is Caroline who prompted him to return it under the pretext that it evoked excessively sad memories for her (but what an excuse!) merely to instigate yet another quarrel between the brothers and to estrange them in their literary projects. For it is certainly easy enough to comprehend now that Friedrich cannot and will not participate in any future Almanache or in any other shared projects.

Should he subject himself to such encounters? Caroline without a doubt is counting on him not to do so, and then she has reached her goal. It was only with considerable effort that I was able to keep Friedrich from writing an extremely vehement letter to Wilhelm on the spot. Instead, he has simply remained silent and has taken back his poem. But I can certainly never have any interest in persuading him to participate further in the Almanach. [Friedrich:] (and with Athenaeum, too, I can continue only under the condition that the previous mutual veto be suspended — since I have promised to fill an entire issue with philosophy, [18] you can easily enough imagine that it would first have to pass Karoline’s and Schelling’s censorship, which is utterly inappropriate for my philosophy. —)

[Friedrich:] Let me strike through that, since Dorothea, to whom I did not show Wilhelm’s letter, did not express herself precisely enough. The matter is as follows.

I sent him “The Withered Garland” back at the beginning of the year, a poem I wrote in memory of Auguste and directed to Dorothea. He wrote me 2 full pages about the metrical art in it, and otherwise also in the strongest language about the tears with which he read it, and how he read it again and again and all that sort of thing about the poem’s internal beauty. —

On 3 or 4 occasions I told him specifically what I wanted to contribute to the Almanach, and every time he accepts this poem along with the other contributions I offered, and always with the most effusive praise. —

Even as late as Easter, Tieck told me in Leipzig that Wilhelm often wept such ardent tears while reading my poem and could not help reading it again and again. [19]

Only now, just before the printing is finished, does he return the thing to me because it allegedly “goes against his feelings,” something he suggests he has “no need to explicate further”! —

No one who knows me even a little can believe I am all that concerned whether one poem more or less of mine be published. Indeed, I offered all that material solely out of love for Wilhelm and Tieck and for the sake of the shared nature of the enterprise. But I simply cannot subject myself to such insults a second time. —

Moreover, Wilhelm’s punctuality is too well known. The contradiction between his behavior in this case and the usual principles of his literary organization, I believe, certainly entitles me to suspect that the basis of this course of action is absolutely to be found in Karoline. [20] That is to say, objectively and publicly, since apart from that, anyone who is au fait [21] hardly needs any elucidation in that regard.

Now, it is not at all in my disposition to be subject to invisible authorities, and much less can I be interested in participating in an Almanach ruled by a person who has behaved disgracefully toward me in every possible respect. I think I am all the more permitted to say that to a certain extent Caroline herself is actually editing the Almanach, since Tieck has had very little to do with the editing. [22]

I would be justified in demanding back my contribution this year, and, since such is no longer possible, to declare it publicly. I do not do so merely out of friendship for Tieck and consideration for Wilhelm.

[Dorothea] Verte [23]

[Dorothea:] Just imagine, all these hostilities are going on without me even moving, and without me speaking with even a single stranger. (Friedrich does indeed realize what consequences his step will have, but it is nonetheless necessary; he wanted me to tell you that.) No matter what I do, no matter how quietly and peacefully I behave, they absolutely do not stop treating me with hostility. That is just too crazy. Caroline has not a moment’s peace, as little as does the Sambatyon. Have Madam Herz explain to you what sort of river that is. [24]

For the rest, we are living very quietly and diligently here, and I am working on the second volume of Florentin. [25] If all this sort of nonsense did not constantly interrupt us, we would be very content indeed, and would be working even more.

But may it be lamented to God how severely one’s time and health are affected by such stupid business! It does not bother those others at all, on the contrary, such traccasseries [26] are their very element, they splash about in them like fish in water, whereas those unaccustomed to it all end up feeling sick and nauseous.

Adieu, our friend. Give our regards to Madam Herz, and to the Bernhardis, when you happen upon them. Marianne Baronne de Eibenberg visited us last week. [27] Would you but come visit!

25 September 1801


[*] Sources: Briefe von Dorothea Schlegel an Friedrich Schleiermacher 110–14; KGA V/5 213–17; KFSA 25:295–98. Back.

[1] The loss of the apparently lengthy letter Dorothea wrote to Schleiermacher prior to ca. 14 September 1801 and to which she is here referring, is regrettable. See the editorial note to Friedrich’s letter to Schleiermacher ca. mid-September 1801 (letter 328j). Back.

[2] It is not known whether Friedrich actually wrote the letter or why such would have been an issue between him and Wilhelm; the latter may have given Charlotte a different version of the situation with Caroline. Back.

[3] Wilhelm left Jena on 21 July 1800 after news of Auguste’s death in Bocklet reached him. He did not return to Jena until 11 August 1801. Back.

[4] I.e., Caroline and Schelling. Back.

[5] Fr., “advances.” Back.

[6] Fr., “cowardice.” Back.

[7] Fr. “up to date with the course of events.” Back.

[8] Despite Dorothea’s insistence that Caroline was unable to influence their social standing in Jena society, she and Friedrich were apparently increasingly isolated there in any case.

In a letter to Schleiermacher from Jena on 26 October 1801 (KGA V/5 233; KFSA 25:301), Friedrich speaks about the difficulties preventing him from traveling to Berlin to spend time with Schleiermacher to discuss, among other things, the projected translation of Plato: “But the main reason is unfortunately Dorothea’s sickliness, which would make it very difficult for me to leave her alone, especially since she would then be so unutterably alone here.” Back.

[9] The “epistolary affair” that has been mentioned in this correspondence since early in 1801. See the editorial note to Wilhelm’s letter to Friedrich on 14 September 1801 (letter 329a) with cross references. Dorothea here mentions that letter and the three that follow it (letters 329b, 329c, 329d). Back.

[10] The following discussion involves Wilhelm and Friedrich’s exchange of those four letters on September 14 and slightly later (letters 329a–d). Back.

[11] Fr., “my.” Back.

[12] Fr., “misery, wretchedness, trouble.” Back.

[13] Friederike Unzelmann gave guest performances in the Weimar theater between 21 September and 1 October 1801.

Concerning the background to Friederike Unzelmann’s guest performances in Weimar, see Wilhelm’s letters to Goethe on 14 August 1801 (letter 327c), and to Friederike Unzelmann herself on 7 September 1801 ( letter 328g).

For her performance schedule during this visit, see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 11 May 1801 (letter 315), note 10.

See also Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter in September 1801 (letter 329). Back.

[14] Wilhelm’s letter is not extant. Back.

[15] Concerning this poem and Dorothea’s birthday celebration, see Dorothea’s letters to Wilhelm on 28 October 1800 (letter 273a) and to Schleiermacher on 31 October 1800 (letter 273b). See also Friedrich’s letter to Wilhelm in late December 1800 (letter 277c), and, for Caroline’s vexed reaction during the summer of 1801, her letter to Wilhelm on 10 July 1801 (letter 325), esp. with note 3. Back.

[16] Auguste had given Friedrich the garland before her departure for Bocklet in May 1800, whence the symbolism of death that now attached to it for Wilhelm. Back.

[17] Wilhelm apparently had the poem even earlier. In her letter to him on 28 October 1800 (letter 273a), Dorothea writes about “another poem, which I will enclose here if I have time to copy it out. It is about a wilted garland of violets that Auguste once wove for him [i.e., for Friedrich], and which he gave to me.” Friedrich writes to Wilhelm in late December 1800 (letter 277c): “I am even more delighted that you are pleased with the meter of ‘Der welke Kranz.'” Back.

[18] Friedrich had mentioned this possibility in a letter to Wilhelm on 31 July 1801 (Walzel, 487; KFSA 25:280) and then also to the publisher Heinrich Frölich on 21 September 1801 (KFSA 25:295). In any event, Athenaeum was never revived. Back.

[19] Friedrich and Dorothea were in Leipzig 7–10 May 1801 (Dorothea had been there since ca. 20 April 1801). See Dorothea and Friedrich’s letter to Schleiermacher and Henriette Herz on 15 June 1801 (letter 320a), note 1. Back.

[20] Friedrich is quite correct. See Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 10 July 1801 (letter 325). Back.

[21] Fr., “fully informed.” Back.

[22] Such has indeed been Wilhelm’s ongoing complaint as attested in his letters over the past few months. — See, however, Friedrich’s essentially identical version of the story (using in part strikingly similar wording) in his letter to Ludwig Tieck on 5 November 1801 (letter 329q). Back.

[23] Latin, “turn over [viz., the page].” Back.

[24] Concerning the perpetually turbulent “Sambatyon” (Dorothea spells it Germ. Zammbattchen), see The Encyclopedia of Judaism, ed. Geoffrey Wigoder (New York 1989), 621:

Name given to a legendary river beyond which the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were thought to remain in exile. This river’s miraculous nature, hinted at by the Talmud (Sanh. 65b), is elaborated in the Midrash: it renders crossing impossible by throwing up stones during the week and only comes to rest on the Sabbath (Gen. R. 11.6). Back.

[25] The second volume of Dorothea’s novel, Florentin. Ein Roman herausgegeben von Friedrich Schlegel, vol. 1 (Leipzig 1801), never appeared. Back.

[26] Fr., “annoyances, vexations.” Back.

[27] Wilhelm had mentioned Marianne von Eybenberg’s presence in Jena in his letter to Sophie Bernhardi on 18 September 1801 (letter 329e); he himself did not see her during her stay in Jena. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott