Letter 371

371. Wilhelm Schlegel and Caroline, Petition for Divorce to Duke Karl August [*]

Most Serene Duke
Most Gracious Prince and Lord!

|342| Our unbounded trust in Your Ducal Excellency’s compassionate and gracious disposition suffers us to take the liberty of presenting to Your Excellency the following most humble request.

Since we were joined matrimonially six years ago, [1] such considerable changes have come about in both of our circumstances that we find ourselves in the position of viewing a legal separation of our alliance both as a necessity and as an element contributing to the happiness of both parties.

No children prompt us to feel that the bond of our marriage be indissoluble, a circumstance that alone suffices, even with regard to the law, to allow the granting of such petition for a separation of this bond, |343| a bond as whose protection the law functions with respect particularly to parental circumstances.

Completely different and in more than one respect divergent life goals, goals determined for the undersigned gentleman in part by his literary situation, for the undersigned lady in part by the condition of her health, make it impossible for us to live continuously in one and the same place and moreover prevent each of us from consistently following such measures as would necessarily be most conducive to the advantage of each party.

Notwithstanding that these circumstances have already obtained for a lengthier period of time, prompting us to view our connection privately for years now as already having been sundered, we have nonetheless preferred to endure that alliance with all its oppressive consequences, as an example of which one might adduce the necessity of having to keep up two different households, rather than make a hasty, insufficiently considered decision or elicit even the appearance of such a decision, and only now believe ourselves obliged to make that decision after all out of the requisite consideration of our own happiness and peace and of the conditions affecting our mutual activities and lives as well as out of consideration for the world, a decision for which we can from the perspective of our unanimous concurrence and mutual respect provide no greater proof than the cordial, shared resolution to request a formal dissolution after ineluctable and unalterable circumstances and disposition have rendered an external separation necessary for us as well.

We may boldly leave to the wisdom of Your Ducal Excellency to assess the extent to which the various causes, though their combinations and entanglements, have finally brought us to a point of tension with regard to all pertinent circumstances prompting a decision and in fact leaving us no choice but |344| the one indicated above. It is with no less confidence that we appeal as well to the humane inclinations of the Most Gracious Prince to grant, out of compassion, to a mother who, through the loss of a most beloved daughter, has been robbed of the most precious of life’s possessions, the fulfillment of her final wish for peace, and to the man summoned forth by his professional activity the complete freedom with respect to civil circumstances which in the future would only limit that very activity.

It is a consciousness of the purity of this decision and of the reasons underlying our petition that gives us the courage to present said petition directly to the Most Sublime Personage of Your Ducal Excellency. Providence has also appointed princes and bestowed upon them power for cases in which the forms of external legislation are unable to assess reasons residing in more interior circumstances, that in the visible world there may then be a personage to whose assessment such reasons might with confidence be presented and who might then decide concerning them from within a higher power.

These general observations along with the more particular ones applicable to the present case, namely, that the usual course of resolution in such matters would cause an incalculable loss of time for the scholar who must submit to such, and that the otherwise necessary forms of civil justice address issues that are inapplicable to our case, is what justifies us, we dare to hope, in the eyes of Your Ducal Excellency as well, when we now humbly beseech that we might attain our separation not through the usual formalities, but instead directly from the hands and Highest Will of Your Ducal Excellency and without having to appear personally before the ecclesiastical judicial authority. [2]

|345| Contributing even further to our confidence that this application might be compassionately granted is the fact that Your Ducal Excellency has already earlier condescended to provide an example of precisely such graciousness, [3] as well as that the complete concurrence on our part with respect not only to the primary decision but also to the partition of our economic and other circumstances, whose adjudication in other instances similarly can be effected solely through the civil courts, frees us, with respect to how we view our own situation, from the necessity of having to resort to those civil authorities.

We will remember with the greatest gratitude and for the entirety of our lives the graciousness Your Ducal Excellency will be demonstrating to us in granting our most humble petition, just as we similarly abide with the deepest devotion

Your Ducal Excellency’s
Most humble

Berlin etc. A. W. S.

Jena etc. C. S. née M.


[*] Caroline’s draft of the petition, which Schelling then sent to Wilhelm on 11 October 1802 (letter 371f).

Here (1) a portrait of Karl August and (2) a silhouette of Goethe — who was acting as intermediary — and Karl August ([1] portrait: frontispiece to Briefwechsel des Großherzogs Carl August von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach mit Goethe in den Jahren von 1775 bis 1828, new ed., vol. 1 [Vienna 1873]; [2] silhouette: in Karl von Lyncker, Am Weimarischen Hofe unter Amalien und Karl August [Berlin 1912], illustration followingn p. 54):



Concerning various aspects of the divorce petition and conditions, see also Schelling’s letters to Wilhelm on 24 September (letter 369j), on 7 January 1803 (letter 374b), on 11 February 1803 (letter 374h), as well as, in general, the correspondence between Schelling and Wilhelm, on the one hand, and between Schelling and Goethe, on the other, beginning in early 1803 and extending up to the granting of the divorce in May 1803.

Wilhelm would be represented by the attorney Georg Friederich Ernst Hesse, Caroline by Karl Friedrich Victor Hufeland. Back.

[1] Caroline and Wilhelm were married on 1 July 1796 in Braunschweig (Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1805 für edle Weiber und Mädchen, Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[2] Viz., the high consistory in Weimar, which at the time consisted of the following members (Hochfürstl. S. Weimar- und Eisenachischer Hof- und Adreß-Calender, auf das Jahr 1803 [Jena n.d. (1803?)], 60–61):

President: Johann Gottfried Herder

Secular section: Friedrich Heinrich Gotthelf Osann; Karl August Böttiger

Ecclesiastical section: Johann Georg Anton Wahl; Wilhelm Christoph Günther

Chancellery section: Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Seidler; Johann Heinrich Temler; Johann Heinrich Scharff; Johann Gottlob Samuel; Wilhelm Phillip Buhler (High Consistory servant)

Schelling discusses this issue at length in his letter to Wilhelm on 24 September 1802 (letter 369j); see also note 19 there. This issue reappears in January and esp. February 1803, when the High Consistory tries to circumvent the duke’s directive not to summon either party to a personal appearance (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Scheidung (“divorce”) [1788], Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.775):


The local church consistory generally had the last word in cases of divorce. Here Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki’s illustrations of (1) a meeting of hierarchical consistory members ca. 1774, and (2) an individual having to appear before such a consistory (“Ein hierarchisches Konsistorium,” from the Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate LXXIII d; Sebaldus vor dem Consistorium [1774]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [1-51]; both illustrations Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [1-15]):




[3] An allusion to the divorce between Friedrich Karl Ernst Mereau and Sophie Mereau; see Caroline’s undated letter to Wilhelm in September 1802 (letter 370), note 2. Back.

Translation © 2016 Doug Stott