Letter 338a

338a. Wilhelm Schlegel to Johann Friedrich Unger in Berlin: Berlin, late 1801 [*]

[Berlin, late 1801]

I am delighted that on your own, free initiative you now desire to renew our former cordial relationship, to which end I in my own turn sincerely offer my hand. [1]

Given this unexpected turn of events, I will, of course, now abandon any thought of pursuing new plans for the project and will unite with you to continue and ultimately complete it in its present form, in which regard I am hoping we will continue to have no reason to regret having spent the requisite effort, time, and expense.

It is not out of any sense of mistrust, but rather solely to preclude any disruption caused by misunderstanding, and because it will, after all, take some years to finish the project completely, years during which various unexpected things may arise, [2] that I would like for us to commit to writing the mutual conditions that applied to the more recent volumes of the project. [4]

Because I may possibly find time during this winter to catch up with the disrupted schedule with Shakespeare, let me ask in a preliminary fashion whether you might be willing to publish 2 volumes next Easter. [3]

I would be much obliged if you could let me know when the 2nd and 3rd volumes will be available on vellum. [5]

My kindest regards to you; perhaps I will have the pleasure of speaking with you in person soon.

Respectfully yours [6]


[*] Source: Josef Körner, (1930), 1:143. This letter seems to have been a copy rather than the original that Wilhelm sent to Unger.

This letter marks the incipient reconciliation between Wilhelm and the publisher of his edition of Shakespeare. Concerning the dispute, see Wilhelm’s letter to Caroline on 18 April 1801 (letter 309), in which he first relates to Caroline the problems, and note 4 there. See esp. also the discussion of the dispute in supplementary appendix 309.1. Back.

[1] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Die Freundschaft (1793); Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.968:



[2] Indeed, Unger died on 26 December 1804. Back.

[3] Unger had published two volumes in 1801: The Life of King Henry V and The First Part of King Henry VI (vol. 7) and The Second Part of King Henry VI and The Third Part of King Henry VI (vol. 8). The latter volume appeared at the Michaelmas book fair in 1801. Back.

[4] Such did not happen; the next volume (The Tragedy of King Richard III) did not appear until 1810. See below. Back.

[5] Vol. 2 included Julius Caesar and Twelfth-Night; or, What Your Will; vol. 3 included Hamlet and The Tempest. Back.

[6] A couple of factors not mentioned here eventually play a role in the disposition of this edition of Shakespeare:

  • Wilhelm had just begun his Berlin lectures, which occupied him for three years before he left Berlin altogether in May 1804 in the entourage of Madame de Staël, in whose entourage he stayed until her death in 1817.
  • He was, moreover, not least already essentially separated from Caroline, who had made a considerable contribution to the previous volumes of the edition of Shakespeare. Indeed, his relationship with Caroline ultimately deteriorated beyond repair during her upcoming visit to Berlin in the spring of 1802, which thereby excluded any further participation on her part in any case.

Wilhelm’s final volume was thus volume 10 mentioned above (1810). The remaining volumes (excluding volume 10) were translated much later — between 1825 and 1833 — and arguably at a lower level of quality by Wolf Heinrich von Baudissin and Dorothea Tieck, with Ludwig Tieck acting as a reviser and annotator.

As Josef Körner remarks (supplementary appendix 309.1 mentioned above), “the ultimate victim in this — in reality — petty matter [with Unger] was German literature in the larger sense, since it introduced an irremediable interruption in Wilhelm’s magnificent translation work, essentially maiming it and leaving it as a mere torso.”

That is, that previous quarrel and the delay it caused proved to be disastrous for Wilhelm’s participation in the very project that Caroline quite correctly anticipated would ultimately represent his most enduring work in the eyes of the public (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, “Der Schriftsteller,” Illustrationen zu Erasmus’ Lob der Narrheit in sechs Abteilungen [1780]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki WB 3.32):


See otherwise the supplementary appendix on Caroline and the translation of Shakespeare. Back.

Translation © 2016 Doug Stott