Letter 329m

329m. Sophie Bernhardi to Wilhelm Schlegel in Jena: Berlin, 13 October 1801 [*]

[Berlin, 13 October 1801]

Today is the first time, my dearest friend, that I can write to you with a bit of peace and quiet, for my small, dear Wilhelm is better today; he has cut his teeth and I no longer fear losing him. [1] Indeed, I view him as being bequeathed to me completely anew. You can imagine the worry and anxiety his illness has caused me and which has also prevented me from doing all sorts of things.

I in any case do yet intend to send the comedy, even should it arrive too late. [2] Thank you so much for the Almanach as well as for your letter. [3] My brother himself wrote me about all these various circumstances, and I greatly regret that I will now still not be seeing him for so long a time. [4]

You, my dear friend, have dealt very ill indeed with us by having given my brother such strange ideas about our conversations about him, for he now believes we described him to you as some sort of “wild beast.” I simply cannot understand how you could have interpreted so ill our joyous anticipation at seeing him, anticipation which amid our efforts to repress how profoundly moved we were at even the memory of him poured itself into jesting about him instead. But those are trifles, and my brother cannot really believe it when he asserts that I somehow presented him as some exotic animal.

I would now like to propose something very nice indeed to you. Journey back here together with my brother that we might have the double joy of seeing both of you at once. [5] You have, I hope, already received the letter from Schütze in which he wanted to write you about your lectures, in which regard none of us here has any more doubt that they will indeed come about. [6]

To wit, Madam von Berg has promised to find 20 people, and if such indeed be the case, then there is no question we can find 20 more who will immediately sign up, it is simply a matter of getting the list back from Madam von Berg, who is behaving quite elegantly by making us wait a long time for it. [7] One can then surely also assemble the remaining number.

That said, however, your presence here is indeed necessary if these things are to come about. People will not really believe it until you yourself are here. Our idea about distributing tickets was ill conceived, and all we did was prove that we do not really know the Berliners, since we were trusting them to risk their money so far in advance on something that is not yet certain. [8]

The list is a far better plan. Those who have registered themselves cannot possibly be so dishonorable as not to have the tickets picked up when the lectures begin. But do come. No one really doubts that you will find 60 attendees. [9] If only Madam von Berg would finally send the list back to Buri, I would send it to you immediately that you might see that things really are as I describe them. [10] Levi and even Delbrük are very interested themselves. [11] I know at least 10 people who intend to register. But we have not approached them yet because we want the more distinguished people in society and the nobility to be in front. People are just so silly; something like that attracts them. [12]

I went to the trouble to copy out the poem for you and am enclosing it here, but let me ask you in all seriousness to tell me honestly what you think of it. If it seems bad to you, then please just say so with unadorned words. It is quite important to me to know, but to tell you why is too circumstantial for me to do in a letter, so I would prefer to tell you in person. [13] Let me ask you to mention it no more to my brother. [14]

You must already have another letter from me unless it has taken as long to get there as yours of the 3rd, which I only received today, the 13th. I write that only so you will not wonder why I have answered it so late. [15]

Bernhardi is sitting here next to me and reading the Almanach from front to back to find his sonnet. [16] When he has finished reading one poem through he gets increasingly curious about what happened to his own and would like to ask you to relate to him the reason for this great loss. [17]

If you would be willing to restrict yourself a little and would be satisfied having the small room as your apartment in which Bernhardi resided during the summer, and sleep together with my brother in the one you lived in during the summer, then you could live with us for the winter. The green room where I always was would be a common room, since it is to be arranged as a heated room, and you could receive your visitors there. [18]

Think about whether you might be satisfied with this less-than-elegant living arrangement. Schütze’s apartment is doubtless better, but by contrast you have the convenience of not needing special servants and would not need to go out for your meals, which in bad weather is often so burdensome here. But I do not want to decide for you lest you blame me later if you find you are not really living comfortably enough.

If, however, you do come together with my brother and would like to live with us, then please let us know the exact date of your arrival, for I suffer nothing more ill than surprises. Even when I die, I want to enjoy it properly. Such surprises always excessively vex me in any case, since instead of surrendering myself to joy, I must take care of the bed and evening meal.

But both of you should simply come along very soon; that is my most serious desire.

Stay well.

S.[ophie] Bernhardi


[*] Source: Krisenjahre 27–29. — In this letter, Sophie uses Sie, the formal form of address. Concerning the use of Sie and du, the informal form, in her correspondence with Wilhelm, see the editorial note to Wilhelm’s letter to her on 14 August 1801 (letter 327a). Back.

[1] Sophie’s eldest son had had trouble teething; see the opening lines to her letter on ca. 30 September 1801 (letter 329j). Back.

[2] The comedy of intrigue Sophie and Wilhelm have variously discussed in these letters, Donna Lauro, intended for a competition being conducted by Goethe; see Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie on 3 October 1801 (letter 329k), note 11, with cross references. Back.

[3] Wilhelm had enclosed in his (first) letter of 3 October 1801 (letter 329k) the “first complete copy” (here: proofs) of the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802 (it was not in bookstores until 26 November 1801 [KFSA 25:630–31]). See Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie on 3 October 1801 (letter 329k), note 13.

Sophie is referring to Wilhelm’s (first) letter of 3 October 1801 (letter 329k), which had crossed in the mail with Sophie’s letter of ca. 30 September 1801 (letter 329j). Back.

[4] Commissions involving bas-reliefs in the Weimar castle and his work on Goethe’s bust prompted Friedrich Tieck to “spend part of the winter in Weimar” (Wilhelm to Sophie on 3 October 1801 [letter 329k]) (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]; Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):


Wilhelm had related his initial impressions of Friedrich Tieck in his letter to Sophie on 18 September 1801 (letter 329e), remarking that “all of you gave me a false impression of him.” Back.

[5] Sophie had already queried in her letter of ca. 30 September 1801 (letter 329j) whether her “other brother” (Friedrich Tieck) would not be coming to Berlin soon as well. Wilhelm was already planning a quick return to begin his lecture series.

As it turned out, Friedrich Tieck did not return to Berlin until 2 December 1801, accompanied not by Wilhelm, who had returned a full month earlier, but by Friedrich Schlegel (see that letter of ca. 30 September 1801 [letter 329j], note 8). Back.

[6] No correspondence between Wilhelm Schütz and Wilhelm Schlegel has been preserved. Back.

[7] In her letter in late September 1801 (letter 329i), Sophie had related how Wilhelm’s Berlin friends had “arranged to start a list in which everyone has to register who intends to participate, and I will send you this list next time.” On ca. 30 September 1801 (letter 329i), Sophie had written that Caroline von Berg had herself become interested in the lectures. Apparently she also ended up with the list.

Caroline mentions such a list of attendees for the first series of lectures (1801–2) in her letter to Wilhelm on 12 January 1802 (letter 340). Schelling took it and showed it to Goethe in Weimar as well. Back.

[8] The original plan for Wilhelm’s lectures had been to distribute tickets in advance after prepayment; see Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie on 21 August 1801 (letter 327f). Back.

[9] Wilhelm apparently had calculated that this many attendees would be necessary to make the enterprise financially feasible, viz. would enable him to live in Berlin. The same number is mentioned in Sophie’s letter of ca. 30 September 1801 (letter 329j). Back.

[10] No correspondence has been preserved between Wilhelm and Friedrich Bury. Their friendship is occasionally mentioned, e.g., his sonnet “An Buri,” also in connection with the Berlin art exhibition of 1802. Caroline mentions Bury’s lost portrait of Wilhelm in a letter to Wilhelm on 19 July 1801 (letter 326). Back.

[11] Josef Körner, Krisenjahre, 3:26, suggest that “Levi” is the Berlin banker Theodor Levin (later: Robert), brother of Rahel Levin, but does not adduce support for this identification; could it have been his brother, the writer Ludwig Levin (later Robert), instead?

The royal tutor Johann Friedrich Ferdinand Delbrück later reviewed Wilhelm’s play Ion: ein Schauspiel (Hamburg 1803) in the Halle Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1805) 12/13 (Monday/Tuesday, 14/15 January 1805) 89–104. In a letter to Schleiermacher on 5 February 1805 (Aus Schleiermacher’s Leben 4:111), the philologist Georg Ludwig Spalding (1762–1811) identifies the author as Delbrück and asks whether Schleiermacher has yet read his “anti-Ion.” Back.

[12] Caroline remarks in a letter to Luise Gotter near the end of November 1801 (letter 333) how Wilhelm “will begin his lectures in Berlin on 1 December before a magnificent assembly consisting almost exclusively of the nobility; just imagine!” Luise’s daughter Julie adds parenthetically: “[including a great many ladies]” (illustrations, left to right: [1] Göttinger Taschen Kalender Für das Iahr 1800; [2] Göttinger Taschen Kalender Für das Iahr 1799; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[13] Sophie’s poem “Lebenslauf,” which appeared in Bernhardi’s quarterly Kynosarges (Berlin 1802), 17–21, and which Wilhelm, Sophie, and Ludwig Tieck had variously discussed during the autumn of 1801. Tieck rejected it for inclusion in the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802 for being not sufficiently strong (see Sophie’s letter to Wilhelm on ca. 30 September 1801 [letter 329j]).

Concerning the poem itself, see Sophie’s letter to Wilhelm on ca. 10 September 1801 (letter 328h), note 15. Back.

[14] Wilhelm indeed no longer mentioned it in his letters to Ludwig Tieck; his next letter to Tieck would have been that on 2 November 1801 (Lohner 95–97, not included here). Back.

[15] Concerning the crossed letters, see the editorial note Sophie’s letter to Wilhelm on ca. 30 September 1801 (letter 329j). Back.

[16] A broad hint intended to explain the formal nature of the letter, namely, that Bernhardi was sitting there with Sophie (Toiletten Kalender für Frauenzimmer 1796; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


See Sophie’s apologies at the beginning of her second letter of the same day (letter 329n). Back.

[17] Wilhelm had vetoed the inclusion of a burlesque sonnet on “roast goose” by Bernhardi in the Musen-Almanach (Josef Körner, Krisenjahre, 3:26–27). Back.

[18] Wilhelm had queried Sophie on 18 September 1801 (letter 329e) about possibilities for accommodations in Berlin during the coming winter. Wilhelm did indeed live with the Bernhardis that winter. Caroline teases him in a letter on 16 November 1801 (letter 330): “Do the Bernhardis still believe their housemate is as docile as they thought?” Concerning Wilhelm’s living arrangements in Berlin, see the supplementary appendix on his residences there. Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott