Letter 341a

341a. Wilhelm Schlegel to Goethe in Weimar: Berlin, 19 January 1802 [*]

Berlin, 19 Jan[uary 180]2

Please accept my warmest thanks for the extraordinary care you devoted to my first dramatic attempt. [1] The account my Jena friends related to me about the wholly successful and, at least on the German stage, incomparably harmonious performance delighted me; whatever applause the piece received from the public there was doubtless largely due to your efforts.

I am particularly obliged to you for having kept my name and authorship strictly secret, though we have unfortunately not achieved that particular goal. [2] I owe you a bit of an explanation in this regard; otherwise it may certainly seem odd to you that I myself commend others to keep such a secret while that same secret is compromised by me or those close to me. —

When I returned to Jena, [3] I quite naturally informed my brother that I had begun work on the play, though under the explicit condition that he neither show nor tell anyone anything about it. I was actually addressing these instructions, I must say, to one particular person close to him whom he views as his partner but toward whom I myself, having been made quite cautious as a result of previous injuries, have no trust and with whom I have accordingly broken off all contact. He did not, however, understand my demand as I intended, thereby putting indiscreet gossip to too severe a test, as the results attest.

Enough, after my brother’s departure, the friends who come and go in his apartment spread the news around. [4] This will not happen again to me; the next time I will certainly take better precautions.

The effects of this indiscretion are also already evident here as well. A few days ago, Reichardt expressed to me his own suspicion that you were the author of the piece. Unfortunately, as I now hear, the theater management has received not only the manuscript, but also the rumor that I am in fact the author. [5] Kotzebue presumably learned of it during his visit here and probably related everything he knew to Iffland. I would be much obliged to you could you relate to me as soon as possible what Iffland said to you after receiving the piece. [6]

If my anonymity has indeed been irretrievably compromised, perhaps it would be best if I myself now break it and, through my openness and despite the coolness and tension between myself and Iffland resulting from the events of last winter, prompt Iffland to give the performance its full due. [7]

My own relationship with the Berlin public in the larger sense has changed somewhat to my advantage through my lectures, which have become a not inconsiderable sensation and have brought various people over to my side who earlier were against me. —

Of course, I cannot really expect as complete a success here, even under the most favorable of circumstances, as in Weimar. For one thing, your own organizational acumen and guidance will be missing. Moreover, both the actors as well as the public here are less accustomed to such undertakings. Finally, it is also essential that a spectator be able to hear clearly everything that is said in the play, something to which the new theater here is simply not at all conducive. [8]

Tieck is quite pleased that his costume designs were so precisely followed, and that their overall effect was so successful.

Might it be possible to have Ion performed in the Vienna theater, and might you be inclined to promote it there to that end, or could you at least offer me some advice in doing so myself? I am acquainted with Herr von Retzer, and I also spoke once with Baron von Liechtenstein in Dessau. Madam Unzelmann believes Madam Roose, formerly Koch, would make an excellent Creusa there, though it might be more difficult to find a good Ion. [9] . . .

Tieck has been quite diligent here, and has just finished the bust of Madam Unzelmann, who wished to be modeled by him. [10] Schadow finished his bust of Madam Meyer a bit earlier, which compared to his usual, somewhat factory-like work has allegedly turned out quite well, though I have not yet seen it myself. [11]

The day before yesterday, as soon as the first cast was ready, I introduced my own audience to your bust as a new artistic piece. It seems to be enjoying considerable approval. [12] . . .


[*] Source: Goethe und die Romantik 1:114–18; Körner-Wieneke 122–25, here 122–24. Back.

[1] See Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 4 January 1802 (letter 339) concerning Goethe’s careful and conscientious production, on 2 January, of Wilhelm’s play Ion: ein Schauspiel, e.g., “Goethe acted with infinite love with regard to both you and the play itself.” Back.

[2] Concerning Wilhelm’s original wish to remain anonymous as playwright, see esp. Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 20–21 December 1801 (letter 336). Back.

[3] On 11 August 1801. Back.

[4] Friedrich had left Jena for Berlin in early December 1801. Caroline mentions the “friends” in her letter to Wilhelm on 20–21 December 1801 (letter 336) as well as the involvement of August von Kotzebue, whom Wilhelm goes on to mention here. Back.

[5] I.e., the theater management in Berlin, essentially a reference to August Wilhelm Iffland. Back.

[6] Goethe had sent a revised version of the play to the theater direction in Berlin; see Schelling’s letter to Goethe on 29 November 1801 (letter 333a) and Goethe’s response on 5 December 1801 (letter 334b). Goethe drafted but did not send a response to Wilhelm in early February 1802, in which he remarked (Körner-Wieneke 126; Goethe und die Romantik 1:121):

I have not myself heard that Iffland has made any comments; perhaps I will learn something before closing this letter, since I sent it on behalf of the theater itself rather than in my own name. In any event, I do think you would be better advised to reveal your authorship to him yourself; doing so would appear more gracious, and you would more quickly discover how things stand for you. Back.

[7] Concerning Wilhelm’s tensions with August Wilhelm Iffland the previous year, see Ella Horn’s essay on the background to the premiere of Hamlet in Berlin. Back.

[8] Concerning the old and new theaters in Berlin, see Wilhelm’s letter to Goethe on 28 April 1801 (letter 312c), notes 6 and 7. Back.

[9] Ion was not to be performed in Vienna. In the drafted response mentioned above, Goethe noted: “I would suggest directing your queries to Herr von Retzer should you want to have the piece performed in Vienna.” Back.

[10] Bust of Friederike Unzelmann 1802 by Friedrich Tieck; reproduction 4906, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin:



[11] Schadow’s bust of Henriette Meyer seems to have been lost. Back.

[12] Friedrich Tieck’s bust of Goethe; Edmund Hildebrandt, Friedrich Tieck: Ein Beitrag zur deutschen Kunstgeschichte im Zeitalter Goethes und der Romantik (Leipzig 1906), plate 2, following p. 24:


Concerning these busts, see also Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie Bernhardi on 3 October 1801 (letter 329k), note 2. Back.

Translation © 2016 Doug Stott