Letter 353

• 353. Caroline to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin: Jena, 11 March 1802

[Jena] Thursday, 11 March [1802]

|315| I am still in the utmost uncertainty, which does inconvenience me somewhat simply because it is uncertainty; [1] not a word yet from Grattenauer. [2] I do want to write you yet again, however, to relate to you the most remarkable week of Kotzebue’s life since the most remarkable year of his life. [3] That you may well already have heard about it will in no way diminish my own pleasure in relating it yet again.

You must know that he has made a point of keeping a dazzling house in Weimar such that each week he gives one tea party for the nobility and one for the citizenry, and has produced his diploma of nobility so that his wife can go to the court. [4] Because he has had absolutely no luck with Goethe, however, he is mindlessly courting Schiller, and the Frommans, for example, are also maintaining that he is utterly worshiping him and quite sincerely extolling him over every other playwright on earth.

Well, for Schiller’s name day he had arranged a fête [5] where scenes were to be performed from the Maid, Don Carlos, etc., [6] and even “The Bell” given a dramatic recitation, [7] with people also alluding to a large cardboard bell having been prepared especially for the occasion. [8] Mademoiselle Imhoff, Madam von Egloffstein, and almost exclusively members of the nobility were the actors, the hall in the municipal building was to provide the setting, and he had discussed it beforehand without, however, stipulating exactly that he was intending to set up a theater there.

|316| The bell was indeed brought over in a conveyance from Etter[s]burg, [9] but just as it was to be unloaded before the municipal building, the council and citizenry would not allow it inside lest it damage the hall. [10] Kotzebue negotiated but was unable to attain anything, and now the entire celebration lay in ruins, since Kotzebue declined all the offers he received from other public houses because by then the rumor had arisen that Goethe, as building director, had appropriately inspired the city council in the matter, and now he, Kotzebue, thought it best wholly to assume the role again of someone who was both persecuted and glorified.

So, by now all of Weimar had gotten into an uproar over the matter. The participants themselves, especially the ladies, had all acquired splendid costumes for the performances, and everyone had gone to considerable expense. Those not bold enough to complain publicly are doing so in private, and the most stupid rumors and judgments are circulating about how Goethe was allegedly envious, not so much of Kotzebue, but of Schiller, for whom the celebration was arranged in the first place, and then allegedly fled here to Jena just as he always does whenever he creates such mischief. [11]

But then yet another event coincided with all this. Kotzebue was to perform a piece: Die Kleinstädter, in all likelihood the same one announced as Das Tollhaus. [12] Goethe deleted all the specific personages in it, and you can well imagine to whom they alluded — indeed, the Weimar public is interpreting one part of the intrigue as referring to a domestic incident in the house of Goethe himself.

Kotzebue agreed to allow some things to be deleted but did insist on keeping others, which Goethe, however, absolutely refused to allow; so Kotzebue withdrew the play entirely. So then, at a concert for the dowager duchess, Goethe and Kotzebue have an exchange of words concerning the matter in which Madam Kotzebue also gets involved, issuing the assurance that her husband would now be performing absolutely nothing more at the theater in Weimar.

And as if that were not enough, the elder Madam Kotzebooby |317| herself wrote Goethe a letter — you yourself can divine what it said. And thus did the god fall in among the fishmonger wives. He did answer her, and I am sure it would make enormously entertaining reading. Old lady Kotzebue wrote it without her son having known about it beforehand, and although he was absolutely ready to surrender himself over to the devil when he heard about it, the deed was already done. [13]

Schelling spoke with Goethe this morning, and he was in a very good mood; but they were not together long enough for Schelling to risk bringing up the topic and learn the particulars. [14] We admittedly also believe that Goethe was not entirely innocent in the hall affair, presumably in agreement with both Schiller and the duke; but was that not splendid of him?

As far as The Small-Towners is concerned, one can only wait now and see what Iffland will do — you might inquire about it with Unzeline. [15] I would also think he would now hesitate with it, not least if this story starts circulating beforehand and he cannot claim ignorance as a defense. Since a madhouse does indeed appear in it, there can be no question that Kotzebue merely changed the title. —

He is here today, since he is having work done on his garden cottage where he plans to spend the summer. Next winter, however, he will shake off the dust, avoid this area entirely, and go to Berlin or Paris. [16]

Goethe quite courageously maintains his position against all these scoundrels and leaves no doubt about where he stands; nor can it hurt that now and then he himself actually gets into the actual fray with them. [17] He asked quite cordially about how you were doing, and Schelling brought along for me the rather grandly composed response of the Berlin theater director, signirt Iffland. [18]

The costumes for Ion have now been engraved, and the next issue of the Modejournal will include them. I will see to it that Tiek is credited as the artist. [19]

|318| I have to tell you something else as well, my dear Schlegel. Since Schelling found it necessary to break with Gabler, whose dishonesty had gotten increasingly worse and who at the moment genuinely has put Schelling in a position of considerable embarrassment, he has also found it necessary, on this very same postal day, to make various suggestions to Unger by way of Hufeland. Since the new publisher will absolutely have to produce 2 additional issues for the book fair, there was no time to lose.

He also called upon Cotta, and in fact did so more seriously, since the query to Unger was really more provisional.

He has refrained from making any offers to Unger until now, considering how grievously the latter wronged you, [20] but he does not ask that you not hold it against him, since he is doing it purely in self-defense for his journal and with the presupposition that you yourself will yet probably reach an agreement again with Unger. [21]

Gabler has created considerable annoyance for him these past few days, nor is it over yet, since as of now even the dialogue about which I wrote you has been put aside because Schelling is not submitting any more manuscripts until Gabler has issued a bill of exchange for the payment, which Gabler in his turn — and impertinently — is refusing to do. [22]


You, my friend, probably know now when I will be seeing you — whereas it is still a secret to me. I do hope that Madam Bernhardi has at least gotten no sicker. [23]

What is particularly unpleasant for me is that both my intended traveling companion and my coachman are grumbling with me because of the uncertainty, and that I cannot really even specify the date after which I no longer intend to wait.

In connection with the aforementioned story, I must also relate that it is being associated with the repression of Böttiger and that people are crying out against the alleged despotism. [24] People are posturing quite democratically now that they must no longer hold the gavel.

|319| Listen, if Goethe had only had the intrigue with him, the one in question, I would go ahead and read it this evening. He will send it to Schelling as soon as he is back in Weimar. [25]

Adieu, my dear.


[1] Uncertainty, that is, with respect to her departure date for Berlin, which has undergone constant delays and logistical problems (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):



[2] See Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 8 March 1802 (letter 352), note 3. Back.

[3] Caroline is playing on the title of August von Kotzebue’s Das merkwürdigste Jahr meines Lebens (Berlin 1801); Eng. trans. The most remarkable year in the life of Augustus von Kotzebue: containing an account of his exile into Siberia, and of the other extraordinary events which happened to him in Russia, trans. Benjamin Beresford, 3 vols. (London 1802):




[4] One factor prompting Kotzebue to establish such gatherings in his own home was his exclusion from Goethe’s cour d’amour, or Mittwochskränzchen, a group of select members of Weimar society whom Goethe chose to meet every couple of weeks to “cheer up the dolefulness of the coming winter” of 1801/02. To evoke the atmosphere of the medieval German troubadour poets (Minnesänger), members were paired off in couples, e.g., Goethe himself with Henriette von Egloffstein, Schiller with Caroline von Wolzogen.

Quite instead of dispelling winter’s boredom, Goethe himself, who became socially increasingly stiff in larger gatherings the older he became, merely contributed to it with his pedantry and rules. Instead of inviting Kotzebue into the circle as suggested by some of its members, Goethe instead lost their loyalty to the latter after Kotzebue established more easy-going social occasions, and the members politely sent Goethe their letters canceling their membership — as allowed by the “rules” of the circle — during the spring of 1802, but not until after Kotzebue, tapping into some of the latent annoyance with Goethe’s imperiousness during these years, had further mobilized them and much of Weimar for the scandalous event Caroline is about to relate.

German accounts of the cour d’amour include esp. Freiherr Carl von Beaulieu-Marconnay, “Goethes Cour d’amour. Bericht einer Theilnehmerin nebst einigen Briefen. Mitgetheilt von Freiherr Carl von Beaulieu-Marconnay,” Goethe-Jahrbuch 6 (1885), 59–83. Back.

[5] Schiller’s name day was 5 March, i.e., that of Fridolin, a diminutive form of Friedrich. — Fête, Fr., “festivity; saint’s day or feast; party, celebration.” Back.

[6] Schiller’s Kalendar auf das Jahr 1802, which contained Die Jungfrau von Orleans. Eine romantische Tragödie (n.p. [Berlin] 1801), variously translated into English as, e.g., The Maid of Orleans. A Tragedy, trans. H. Salvin (London 1824). Dom Karlos: Infant von Spanien, von Friedrich Schiller (Leipzig 1787) (generally known as “Don Carlos”; here the frontispiece from 1787 and four scenes from a later edition by Georg Joachim Göschen: Franz Ludwig Catel, Don Carlos [ca. 1801–25]: act 1, scene 2; act 2, scene 6; act 3, scene 1; act 5, scene 3; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 224a–d):





[7] “Das Lied von der Glocke” (The song of the bell) concludes Schiller’s Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1800, 243–64; the reference seems be to a dramatic enactment accompanying the reading. See the full translation with sample illustrations in supplementary appendix 250.2. Back.

[8] At the celebration’s culmination (see below), Kotzebue was to shatter the cardboard bell, revealing Schiller’s bust (illustration from The Song of the Bell, trans. J. Perry Worden [Halle 1900], plate following p. 128):



[9] Ettersburg, one of three country residences of the Weimar royal family and the residence where Anna Amalia spent her summers between 1776 and 1780. The court and other select members of Weimar society, including Goethe, followed her out there, and among other various forms of entertainment a small amateur theater was also established in one of the side wings of the older part of the castle.

It was here that Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris (unpublished, second prose version 1783; verse version in Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 3, 1–136 [Leipzig 1787]) was performed for the first time, and here as well that Schiller completed his play Maria Stuart. Ein Trauerspiel (Tübingen 1801) during May 1800.

Concerning all these residences, and for maps and illustrations, see Caroline’s letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 9 June 1799 (letter 240), note 16. Back.

[10] The Weimar town council’s hesitancy derives not least from the fact that the municipal building, located on the east side of the market square opposite the town hall in Weimar, had been completely renovated between 1800 and 1802 (C. Hoeckner, Grundriss von Weimar und einem Theile seiner nächsten Umgebungen [Weimar 1857]; “B” on the map below on the Markt, “market square; “A” is the town hall opposite it on the square, Schloss the “castle):


In the Kaiserlich privilegirter Reichs-Anzeiger (1801) no. 257 (Saturday, 3 October 1801), 3383–84, the town council published an announcement opening applications to lease the newly renovated municipal building and containing, among lease conditions, also the following description:

The local municipal building, whose current lease expires on 24 December, is to be leased according to law on 13 October of this year for three or, depending on circumstances, several years.

This municipal building has been renovated and refurnished and consists of two upper stories. The first story includes a large, newly decorated hall, with 5 adjacent, large and spacious rooms. The second story includes 3 rooms, one of which includes a billiard table. All the rooms and the hall have been newly furnished.

During the winter, redoutes, aficionado concerts, and also private balls are held. The municipal building also possesses the right to sell food and drink to customers in the street and to dispense foreign beers. Inventory already includes the most necessary equipment, e.g., glassware etc. . . .

Sig. Weimar, 27 August 1801
Weimar Town Council

Municipal building llustration from Wilhelm Bode, Damals in Weimar (Weimar 1912), 23:


During Caroline’s time, the gable still had a clock; during renovation, workers found that the roof’s superstructure had weakened, so removed the clock to the town hall and replaced it on the municipal building with the figure of a knight. This building was destroyed by bombs on 9 February 1945, the remnants demolished, and the edifice rebuilt with a similar façade. Back.

[11] Goethe had indeed returned to Jena at noon on Thursday, 4 March 1802, having been in Weimar since 21 February 1802; see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 22 February 1802 (letter 348), note 4.

Concerning the shipwrecked celebration for Schiller planned for 5 March 1802, whose intention indeed included aggravating Goethe, Goethe relates the following account in his Tag- und Jahres-Hefte with respect to 1802 (Weimarer Ausgabe 35:122–25; see supplementary appendix 344.1 for preceding material in this entry; representative illustration: Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Paul Erdmanns Fest [ca. 1777–78]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [4-252]):

But all these things [disputes concerning deletions in Kotzebue’s play Die deutschen Kleinstädter] were trivial compared to the profound rift resulting from a celebration to be held on 5 March [1802] in Weimar society. The way things stood, such had to occur sooner or later, though I can no longer recall just why this particular day had been chosen.

Enough, a grand exhibition of various performances relating to Schiller and his works was to take place in his honor in the great hall of the municipal building, which the municipality had recently completely redecorated. The intention was obviously to cause a sensation, entertain the company, flatter the participants, set oneself up contra the [Weimar] theater, present a self-enclosed stage counter to the public one, creep into Schiller’s favor, gain mine through him, or, that failing, to draw him away from me.


Schiller was not at all comfortable with this affair. The role he was to play was wholly deceitful, and intolerable for a man of his sort, as it would be for any well-meaning person to be set up as a target of grotesque veneration in person and in front of such a large gathering.

Although he wanted to claim illness that he might avoid the event entirely, he, more sociable than I, was more enmeshed in society through family relationships and those of his wife, and thus virtually compelled to drink of this bitter cup to the dregs. We assumed the event would indeed take place, and cracked many a joke concerning it during our evenings together; he almost got sick merely thinking about such importunity.

As far as one could tell, several characters from Schiller’s dramas were to appear, certainly a Maid of Orleans, for one. The helmet and standard, which woodcarvers and gilders had carried at a leisurely pace through the streets and into a certain house, had caused a modest sensation and prematurely betrayed the secret.

[Here illustrations of Johanna with her signature helmet and standard ([1] Friedrich Pecht and Arthur von Ramberg, Schiller-Galerie: Charaktere aus Schiller’s Werken [Leipzig 1859], unpaginated plate; [2] Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1810: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



The chorus leader, however, had reserved the best role for himself. A set depicting a stone wall was to be prepared next to which the noble master was to stand in a furred, apron-like garment. After the secret greeting was uttered and a glowing mass flowed out, Schiller’s own bust was finally to emerge from the ruptured wall. We all made good fun of this secret, which had gradually become known, and calmly watched as the preparations move forward.

Those in charge, however, miscalculated our good nature by asking us to participate. A request was made for Schiller’s bust to be used in the presentation, the only original bust and an earlier, cordial gift from Dannecker that was at the time located in the Weimar library.

[Schiller’s bust, 1794, by Johann Heinrich Dannecker (Gustav Könnecke, Schiller. Eine Biographie in Bildern, 2nd ed. (Marburg 1905), 48).]


The request was denied for the quite obvious reason that one had never received a plaster bust back undamaged from such a celebration. The denial from different quarters of several other such requests considerably raised the ire of the initiators of the event, who did not really notice that a few diplomatically prudent steps might have resolved everything.

Whereupon nothing could equal the astonishment, perplexity, and anger that arose when the carpenters, arriving with their supports, lathes, and lumber and such to erect the dramatic framework, found the hall itself locked and received the explanation that because the hall had been completely renovated and redecorated, it could not possibly be made available for such a tumultuous undertaking, since no one could provide a guarantee for the anticipated damages.

The initial finale of this disrupted sacrificial celebration did not cause as horrific a spectacle as the one this particular disruption, indeed destruction of this most praiseworthy of intentions, caused first in upper society, then, incrementally, through every class of the population at large. And since, as chance would have it, the various hindrances blocking the path of the event seemed so skillfully orchestrated, one thought one could discern the guidance of a single hostile principle amid the whole.

Hence it was I myself who became the target of the most vehement wrath, though quite without my having any inclination to hold it against anyone. One should have considered, however, that a man such as Kotzebue, who was already wont to provoke ill-will from various quarters through various actions, might occasionally prompt hostile reactions from hither and thither even more quickly than he ever could from a genuinely organized plot against him.

Charlotte Schiller satirized the episode in her short farce Der verunglückte 5. März 1802. Ein Schwank; in Charlotte von Schiller und ihre Freunde 1:23–39. Ludwig Urlichs introduces the farce as follows:

In the year 1802, Herr von Kotzebue, vexed at being excluded from the circle around Goethe, enlisted various lady friends from the finer strata of society to plan a celebration in the new municipal house, in which Schiller was to be honored by the performances of scenes from his tragedies and a portrayal of his poem “The Bell.” Kotzebue himself was to shatter a cardboard bell, whereupon the poet’s bust, hidden inside the bell, would suddenly appear and the whole celebration conclude with Schiller’s coronation.

The plan, which Schiller wanted to avoid by feigning illness, collapsed under Meyer’s refusal to lend out the bust from the library, and under Mayor Schulze’s refusal to hand over the key to the municipal house.

An extensive description of the incident can be found in Johannes Falk, Goethe aus näherm persönlichen Umgange dargestellt. Ein nachgelassenes Werk, 2nd ed. (Leipzig 1836), 173–95. Back.

[12] August von Kotzebue’s play Die deutschen Kleinstädter (“The small towners”) (Leipzig 1803), adapted after Louis-Benoît Picard, La petite ville: comédie en quatre actes et en prose (Paris 1801). Garlieb Merkel remarks in his Briefe an ein Frauenzimmer über die neuesten Produkte der schönen Literatur in Teutschland (Berlin 1800), Letter 8 (21 October 1801), 120:

Those things that German literature forfeits because of Kotzebue’s absence include the continuation of his [anti-Romantic] Hyperborean Ass, which he had already completely conceptualized under the title Das Tollhaus.

Caroline, who almost certainly read Merkel’s periodical, is here implying that Das Tollhaus (“The madhouse”) eventually became Die deutschen Kleinstädter. Back.

[13] Concerning this entire affair, including the text of both Goethe’s and Madam Kotzebue’s letters, see supplementary appendix 344.1. Friedrich Schlegel wrote to Wilhelm on 18 March 1802 from Dresden (Walzel, 492; KFSA 25:338): “Kotzebue allegedly submitted a piece contra us for performance there [in Weimar], and Goethe refused it?” Back.

[14] Goethe’s diaries for 11 March 1802 do not mention this meeting. Back.

[15] Kotzebue’s play Die Kleinstädter was performed in Berlin on 28 April 1802. See Wilhelm’s review of that performance in supplementary 344.1. Back.

[16] Kotzebue was back in Berlin in early 1803, where he founded the periodical Der Freimüthige essentially as a locus for adversaries of the Schlegels, Fichte, and esp. Goethe, adversaries including Garlieb Merkel (who eventually took over as editor) and Karl August Böttiger.

The journal quickly became part of an ongoing journalistic war with the Zeitung für die elegante Welt, and, as Christoph Martin Wieland remarked to Böttiger on 25 January 1803 (Wielands Briefwechsel, vol. 16 [Juli 1802-Dezember 1805], ed. Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, ‎Hans Werner Seiffer and ‎Siegfried Scheibe [Berlin 1997], 97), this “declaration of war” essentially made it impossible to be a friend of both Goethe and Kotzebue at the same time, and would surely be fought to the death not only with hardened clubs and stink bombs, but also with poisoned weapons.

Prussia’s military and political defeat at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt in October 1806 essentially brought the quarrel to an end. Back.

[17] Caroline, of course, is also thinking about Goethe’s value as an ally of the Schlegels themselves in these quarrels with the anti-Romantics, esp. in Berlin. Back.

[18] I.e., Iffland’s response concerning negotiations for the performance of Wilhelm’s play Ion in Berlin.

“Signirt [signed], Iffland”: Here Caroline imitates Iffland’s tangled signature ([1] Iffland’s signature, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th ed., vol. 2 [Leipzig, Vienna 1890], plates following p. 170; [2 and 3] Caroline’s imitation of Iffland’s signature, Digitale Edition der Korrespondenz August Wilhelm Schlegels):

Iffland’s signature:


Caroline’s imitation of Iffland’s signature:




[19] A colorized copper engraving depicting five characters from Wilhelm’s play Ion accompanied Goethe’s article, “Weimarisches Hoftheater: . . . Colorirte Darstellungen der antiken Costumes im Ion, wie sie auf dem Hoftheater in Weimar erschienen,” Journal des Luxus und der Moden 14 (1802) (March), 136–48, albeit without any mention of Friedrich Tieck, who also did the frontispiece vignette for the published edition, Ion: ein Schauspiel (Hamburg 1803); for both illustrations, see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 18 January 1802 (letter 341), note 16. Back.

[20] Viz., in bringing out an extra printing of one of the volumes of Wilhelm s edition of Shakespeare without Wilhelm’s knowledge, prompting Wilhelm into filing a lawsuit. Wilhelm’s attorney in that affair was Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Grattenauer, who was now offering Caroline accommodations for her trip to Berlin. Concerning the quarrel with Unger, see supplementary appendix 309.1. Back.

[21] Wilhelm was already on better terms with Unger; see his letter to Unger in late 1801 (letter 338a). Back.

[22] The dialogue is Schelling’s Bruno; oder, Über das göttliche und natürliche Princip der Dinge. Ein Gespräch (eventually published by Johann Friedrich Unger in Berlin, 1802).

Concerning the problems Schelling was having with his publisher, Christian Ernst Gabler, including with respect to his journal Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik, which Caroline here mentions, see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 22 February 1802 (letter 348), note 27.

Schelling wrote Wilhelm on 19 March 1802 (Plitt 1:356–58; Fuhrmans 2:389–91) inquiring directly about the possibility of placing Bruno with another publisher, perhaps Unger, even though the first part of the book had already been printed. Schelling quickly became involved in a lawsuit with Gabler.

One might note that Wilhelm had supplied Schelling with two translations from the Greek for this publication; see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 20–21 December 1801 (letter 336), note 42. Back.

[23] Sophie Bernhardi had just lost one of her children; see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 8 March 1802 (letter 352) and tended to hypochondria in any case (Frey, Babioles Lithographiques no. 3 [ca. 1850]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. C: 319c):



[24] That is, Weimar society was implying that Goethe’s alleged despotism in shipwrecking Kotzebue’s celebration for Schiller was similar to the despotism with which he imperiously suppressed Karl August Böttiger’s critical review of the performance of Wilhelm’s Ion on 4 January 1802. See the pertinent section in the supplementary appendix on reactions to Ion. Back.

[25] Concerning the intrigue by Sophie Bernhardi that Wilhelm had entered in a competition arranged by Goethe and Schiller in 1801, see Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 15 February 1802 (letter 347), note 12.

Concerning the ultimate fate of this intrigue, see Wilhelm’s letter to Sophie Bernhardi on 14 August 1801 (letter 327a), note 16. Back.

Translation © 2016 Doug Stott