Letter 339d

339d. Dorothea Veit to Rahel Levin in Berlin: Jena, January 1802 [*]

[Jena, January 1802]

How very nice and good, my beloved friend, that you are allowing Friedrich to know so much about you. I do not begrudge you this at all, and he certainly deserves it! [1] That I myself do not know that much about you is understandable, natural, and goes without saying, since even in a larger sense I know absolutely nothing at all, and least of all about people. There are two things for me in that sense: either I love someone or I do not, I never find out anything more. That is the oracle from which I take my orientation. It cannot be a secret to you how I love you, and have always known how to love you! —

Moreover, my dear, Friedrich also knows more about me than I myself know, so you would in any case be better advised to ask him about me. What I know is merely a weak reflection of his understanding. Just go ahead and ask him whether it is not true that I actually have no understanding whatever, I have always said that. [2] I will, however, severely interrogate you about Friedrich when I see you, so be prepared. So, we will be seeing each other again in Paris! Think of all the things you can for us to do there together! You can count on me!

bonnets? rouge? odeurs? [3] Ah, my dear, had you only seen the tiny, pathetic surroundings amid which I read about all these offers, you would certainly have had a good laugh with me! But goodness gracious! Are you totally unaware of how poor we are? And have you forgotten how poor especially I am? Oh, Friedrich, you simply must make the little one comprehend!

If, however, though such is certainly not to be expected, mon Friedrich should perhaps take in more money and spend less than we anticipate, then please purchase for me, first of all, a length of hair for binding in front so that one need not curl one’s own (a sample of my hair is enclosed), and a silver-grayish, velvet piece, either a hat or bonnet, with a similarly grayish, long, round feather. The whole a bit dazzling, but not small, and which can be arranged comfortably —

I am writing out this request for you merely as such, — you need not take it so seriously, — though such sweet offers have admittedly stirred my vanity a bit. But please do not think that I would be in unpleasant straits were I not to have these things. I hardly miss these things now, with my good, inner conscience, which I really do finally have, and which I am quite enjoying.

There are actually three things of which I am in dire need, so please send whichever of these three is easiest and most expedient! These three things are: health, money, and Friedrich! [4]

Because I currently often find myself in a society where one engages in love in a highly indiscreet fashion, I am almost ashamed to say how I worship this Friedrich. [5] And yet it is true; so much so that I feel genuinely quite abandoned in his absence, thinking he is probably doing a bit better there than here. I was always so aggrieved whenever I saw he was not really cheerful, and now I am constantly imagining him as being quite content.

My hands are weary from all this writing. Stay well a thousand times over.


[*] Sources: Wieneke (1914), 349–51; KFSA 25:322–23. Dating according to KFSA 25 (Wieneke [1914], 349: “late 1801”). Back.

This letter is a response to one in which Rahel Levin had apparently written Dorothea about the things one might do or purchase in Paris, but Dorothea later destroyed all of Rahel’s letters. See Dorothea to Karl August Varnhagen von Ense from Frankfurt am Main, 29 May 1833 (Wieneke [1914], 548–49):

It greatly pains me not to be able to fulfill your wish concerning the earlier letters of the dear deceased Rahel. For an extremely long time, we made it our habit to destroy all letters after we had answered them, a measure made unavoidable by our frequent changes of place of residence, apartments, etc. The ultimately uncontrollable accumulation of older papers and correspondence finally became too disconcerting for my late Friedrich.

He also, moreover, found repugnant the increasing abuse of published letters of recently deceased persons during our time — (a feeling I completely shared) and so we decided not to risk subjecting our letters, especially those from cherished persons, to the danger of having them read by strangers for whose eyes they were not meant.

And so I myself witnessed the incineration of a package of all the letters from our late Rahel. Had I, or had Friedrich remotely suspected that I, the much older — would end up being the survivor, and that you might ask for those letters back, we would have kept them. Back.

[1] Dorothea did begrudge it and continues in this letter her tendentious and anxious attempt to impress upon Rahel that she rather than Rahel is Friedrich’s romantic partner. It may be recalled that Dorothea and Friedrich were not yet married.

Concerning the background to the relationship between Friedrich and Rahel, see Friedrich’s initial letter to her in December 1801 (letter 335c), note 2, and his other letters to her during December 1801 (letters 335c, 335d, 335g); see esp. also Dorothea’s suspicions in her letter to Rahel at the turn of the year 1801/02 (letter 335h), with note 1. In this present letter, Dorothea goes to considerable effort to demonstrate that she is aware of or suspects a romantic involvement between Friedrich and Rahel as suggested in Friedrich’s undated letter to Rahel esp. in January 1802 (letter 339c). Back.

[2] See Dorothea’s letter to Schleiermacher on 14 February 1800 (letter 258m), in which Dorothea writes that

even though Friedrich often enough reproaches me for my nonsensicalness, as he calls it — but this reproach does not really bother me in its usual sense, since I am actually getting further along than the others, and what more can I ask for? but I am indeed bothered by the sense that he must be associating with it and that I do not really get.

See note 13 there. Back.

[3] Fr., “caps, blush, perfumes,” i.e., things one could purchase in Paris or, more likely in this case, Berlin (Rahel has apparently offered to do so for Dorothea). Rahel had left Berlin in mid-July 1800 as the companion to Caroline von Schlabrendorf on a journey to Paris, where she remained until April 1801. Dorothea and Friedrich moved to Paris during the late spring of 1802 (Maurille-Antoine Moithey, L’Europe: Divisée en tous ses Royaumes et subdivisée en ses principales parties [Revue et Corrigée] [Paris 1785]; Bibliothèque nationale de France; illustration of Paris in 1750 viewed from the Pont neuf: Vue et perspective du Pont Neuf à Paris. N° 58 [1750]; Bibliothèque nationale de France):




[4] Dorothea is here clearly circumscribing her position with respect to Friedrich (“mon Friedrich) to address suspected romantic involvement between him and Rahel. Back.

[5] Viz., the Romantic circle in Jena, though Dorothea is being disingenuous (illustration from Retif (or Restif) de la Bretonne, Les contemporaines; ou, Avantures des plus jolies femmes de l’âge présent, 42 vols. in 12 [Leipsick 1780–85]; Bibliothèque nationale de France):


See Ludwig Tieck’s letter to Sophie and August Ferdinand Bernhardi on 6 December 1799 (letter 257c). See also Dorothea’s letter to Schleiermacher on 31 October 1800 (letter 273b), note 21, and the supplementary appendix on Karoline Paulus. Back.

Translation © 2016 Doug Stott