Letter 375

• 375. Caroline to Julie Gotter in Gotha: Jena, 18 February 1803

[Jena] 18 February [18]03

|352 If you have been thinking that my silence portends nothing good, revealing either that I am not feeling well in some external sense or am inwardly in an ill mood or not entertaining kind thoughts of you — then you, my child, have utterly and completely erred in all three instances. [1]

I was admittedly hindered now and then just when I wanted to write you, but am otherwise doing quite well and am still utterly devoted my those few who are dear to me. It was thus with the greatest elation that I read your last letter and |353| all about your mother’s absolutely correct and upright decision. That which she is now inclined to do is precisely that which I so often wanted to suggest to her, except that I had Dresden in mind, though it is also that which I thought impossible given your aunt’s illness. [2] It confirms for me anew what an excellent person your mother is, resolved as she now is to do for her children what, as I can easily imagine, had to appear very difficult.

Once everything has been smoothed out in Gotha, things will doubtless go well in Cassell as well, at least with regard to a suitable logis. [3] . . . The surrounding area there will no doubt please all of you, the theater will provide some entertainment, and as far as social contacts are concerned, you would probably have found fewer in Dresden. One must now simply commend Cecile to her own, personal spirit; she must find her way herself — she realizes that Nahl is not the right one. May she now proceed with developing her own personal style. [4]

But it is now also finally time for me to render an account of myself. In May or June, I will be leaving Jena for a long time, going first to a mineral-springs spa in Swabia then in the autumn to Italy, and, God willing, ultimately to Rome for the winter. [5] But if I am to have complete freedom to do this, and not impinge on anyone else’s freedom, then beforehand the bond of marriage between Schlegel and me must be — indeed has already been — dissolved, though I am hoping that an intimate bond of friendship and respect will always remain. —

I have no doubt that at this particular moment, this revelation is no longer really news to you. We will, however, disregard everything else relating to this, holding only to that which I myself relate directly to all of you, and that which I have not the slightest hesitation — nor could I have such hesitation with respect to the truth as such and to everything in my heart — of relating to you, my young friend.

|354| Although fate has often bestowed its most precious gifts on me, it has at the same time dealt me such pain and poured out such exquisite grief on me that no one who watches me can be tempted to risk stepping on unknown ground through bold and arbitrary actions, and must instead ask God for a more simple, straightforward fate, vowing to oneself, moreover, never to do anything to forfeit it. [6] It is not as if I am accusing myself, for what I now find it necessary to do is something I also consider completely justified; it is just that the example itself must not be an enticement.

I have now lost everything. My jewel, the life of my life, is gone; [7] I might perhaps be forgiven if I, too, were now to cast off the last husk that I might be freed. But here I am bound — I must continue this existence as long as it pleases heaven, and the only specific thing I can really ask for now in that regard is tranquility, genuine tranquility and harmony with my immediate surroundings. I can no longer find that in my alliance with Schlegel; various disruptions have cast themselves in the way, and my own disposition has now utterly turned away from it. From the very first moment, I have never concealed this from him, my honesty was utterly without reservation.

Things could, in the meantime, perhaps have been different, but other people gained control of him after I withdrew, and certainly not always the most honorable people, as you well know, and I increasingly found reason to pursue a resolute and, moreover, public separation, albeit not without a struggle, since the thought of having to go through that, too, was a horrible one for me. But ultimately I absolutely considered it my duty. I no longer could nor did I want to be everything to Schlegel, and would merely have hindered him, who is now in the prime of life, from seeking his happiness along a different path.

Moreover, |355| my own health no longer allows me the hope that I might become a mother again, and I did not want to rob him of that which I myself am unable to give him. [8] Children would undeniably have made our alliance indissoluble, an alliance that the two of us otherwise never viewed as being anything but completely free. That is the side of my life where fate itself steps in and there can be no talk of culpability.

By contrast, however, I should have been more cautious about entering into marriage with him in the first place, something prompted more by my mother’s urging than by my own desire. [9] Schlegel should never have been anything but my friend, just as he has indeed been in so upright and often so noble a fashion throughout his life. It is excusable that my conviction in this regard was not more steadfast; but the anxiety on the part of others, along with my own desire to secure a protector for both me and my child amid my shattered circumstances at that time, persuaded me. [10] Alas, now I must atone for that decision after all.

To the extent that you, Julchen, know Schlegel — and here I must appeal to your completely impartial feelings — do you really believe he was the man to whom I could ever give my unqualified love in its entire breadth? Under different circumstances, this would not really have changed anything once the choice had been made. But given the way circumstances gradually developed, it could indeed begin to influence me, particularly since on several occasions Schlegel himself reminded me, through frivolous behavior, of the freedom obtaining between us, behavior which, even if I doubted not the continuation of his love, I could nonetheless not find particularly pleasing and which at the very least did not exactly contribute to securing my affections. [11]

Now that my own fate is no longer intertwined with that of any other being, I do, I think, have the right to do what is right and true for me without considering in the slightest how something that is good in and of itself may appear to others. [12] |356| And I am determined to live and to die in the conviction that it is indeed thus. In Berlin, where everything displeased me and yet where Schlegel intended to stay, I finally made my decision. Although my mother’s illness delayed its execution, the last time you were here all the necessary steps had already been taken [13]

I neither want nor am I permitted to tell you who supported me in an almost fatherly fashion in this entire matter [14] — enough, in the final analysis the duke was inclined to spare us the tedious and repugnant formalities, and very soon the last word in the matter will have been spoken. [15]

I cannot express to you how calm I have been since the moment we made the decision; one might almost call me happy, and my health has improved considerably. —

None of the malicious remarks that may yet be prompted in the wake of all this, none of the spoken and printed pasquinades, nor anything involved with such can touch me now. I have merely asked my friends and family not to beleaguer me with observations taken from any world other than that in which I exist. I ask nothing of that other world and am familiar enough with it to know it would in any case depend solely on me to reassert my own claims on it as soon as I might want.

It is strange that, having once already been entangled in a great revolution with my private affairs, I now as it were have become involved yet a second time, for the stirrings in the literary world are as strong and are fermenting as richly as did the political ones earlier. [16] Scoundrels and dishonorable fellows seem to have the upper hand just now. Starting with Kotzebue, who almost became a state minister in Berlin, a holy alliance of vileness has now emerged in the world. [17] I say “holy,” since divine providence itself will doubtless yet be glorified when it dissolves that very alliance.

Schlegel is not so inconsistent |357| that he would allow himself to be bothered in the slightest by any of what is happening now, and it is precisely this disposition, in all its unshakeable resolution, one he has just declared in a letter to Schelling, that has completely confirmed my own peace of mind in this regard.

If my present circumstances allowed, I would be seeing you in a week to 10 days, at which time Herr von Podmanitzky will be traveling to Gotha. But since the final ruling has not yet been made, [18] and because I had to get out of making a personal appearance by using the pretext of not feeling well, I cannot leave here. Podmanitzky will be visiting you and will tell you much about Schelling and me.

Tell Minchen as well that she can be expecting a visit from him, since Manso gave him a calling card for her in Breslau. [19] Might I ask that you further relate to her, when relating the contents of this letter, that she alone made me undecided with respect to the divorce. [20] I did not want to deny her after she had already stepped forward so boldly as my guarantor, telling the women that “if Madam Schlegel gets a divorce, then all of you will get a divorce.” She really should not go that far out on a limb again, since one can never know what will happen or what a person might be forced to do — the only sure thing is that “regardless of what this or that person may do, that person will nonetheless still maintain something worthy of all friendship that I will never remove from my heart.” [21]

Please give my regards to my dear Chanoinesse She is not hearing anything new. I did not conceal my intentions when I spoke with her in person. [22] One probably does not, on the other hand, need to tell Mama Schläger anything about it. [23]

As far as all of you are concerned, I am confidently counting on your continuing love. Let the world say whatever it wants, you are not in any way being called on |358| to defend me, and I am confident relying on myself in this respect. I do not, by the way, need to assure you that a hundred disseminated lies do not yet constitute a single truth, and that, among other things, there is not an ounce of truth to the entire story about Madam Unzelmann, nor that I had a falling out with Schlegel because of it, [24] nor that I myself did not really want the divorce. To the contrary, I wanted it very much indeed, though I did not take the decision itself lightly and did indeed hesitate foolishly.

I am trying to think of a way for all of us to meet in person once more before we have to separate for so long a time — perhaps a meeting at a third locale is the best solution. [25]

Apart from these more serious communications, I also have a hundred other, considerably more comical things to relate to you. Things have gotten so totally crazy in society here, new alliances and new falling-outs occurring on a daily basis, the whole place is topsy-turvy. The emergence of a witty little circle between Niethammer, Asverus, Vermehren, and Hufeland belongs under this rubric. Möller has now become completely crazy, whereas earlier he was only half so. Hegel is playing the role of the gallant fellow and the general cicisbeo. [26] The whole thing amuses me as well as any comedy, not least because Podmanitzky is so deft at relating it all, through whom I generally I hear about it in the first place. [27] He . . .

[End of sheet.]


[1] Caroline seems last to have written to Julie Gotter on 2 January 1803 (letter 374). Back.

[2] Although the aunt is unidentified, Julie Gotter does speak of her often in her letters home during her, Julie’s, stay with Caroline in Jena between 31 May 1801 and 6 March 1802. Back.

[3] Fr., “house, dwelling, accommodation.”

Luise Gotter seems already to have made a decision to move her family to Kassel, ca. 160 km west of Gotha. The family had not been in the best financial shape since the death of Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter in 1797 (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):


Caroline was earlier thinking about the family moving to Dresden, ca. 245 km east of Gotha:



[4] Cäcilie (Cecile) Gotter had aspirations of becoming a portraitist. Caroline had gone to considerable effort trying to secure her a situation in Dresden making this study possible. See Caroline’s letter to Cecile late June 1802 (letter 366), note 1. Johann August Nahl was based in Kassel. Perhaps the Gotters had inquired whether Cäcile might study under him and been turned down. Back.

[5] Back on 28 May 1802 (letter 361a), Schelling had written to his father about the possibility of Caroline traveling with him to the Duchy of Württemberg in Swabia, not only to visit Schelling’s parents in Murrhardt but also because “she has need of a mineral-springs spa, and would have access to such in Württemberg.”

Caroline seems to be anticipating the petition for divorce from Wilhelm Schlegel being granted in May or June 1803, which indeed turned out to be the case (17 May 1803). Regrettably, for various reasons the trip to Italy and Rome never materialized (Central Europe 1803 after the Peace of Lunéville 1801 and the Secularisations 1803 [Cambridge 1912]):



[6] Caroline is here essentially pointing out the inadvisability in taking her own life’s path as a model — over the course of her life, she had indeed made some bold choices — advising instead to seek a simpler path and do nothing to compromise it. Back.

[7] I.e., Auguste (Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1802: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[8] Caroline nowhere addresses this issue more specifically. In any event, even later Wilhelm never had children of his own. Back.

[9] See the final paragraph of Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 5 June 1796 (letter 163), also with note 4 there. Back.

[10] I.e., after her proscription because of her period in Mainz during the Revolution, and after the precarious episode in Lucka.

It may also be recalled that after the death of her first husband in 1788, Caroline had in the autumn of 1791 taken a considerable risk in declining an offer of marriage from Josias Friedrich Löffler in Gotha, which would have secured both her and Auguste’s future. Her pert reasoning following this decision comes to expression in her letter to Luise Gotter on 29 October 1791 (letter 106):

I admittedly could have made myself quite useful to the state by keeping a proper household for him [Löffler] and by raising another half dozen children just like my own, one and only, dear little girl — but all that will happen just as well without me, and in that case no one’s happiness will be dismembered — hence it is in fact better thus for the good Lord’s state. Back.

[11] Caroline is here thinking of Wilhelm Schlegel’s affairs. See his letter to Caroline on 17 May 1802 (letter 359), note 17 ([1] anonymous, Galante Szene mit Handkuss [1776–1800]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. A: 179; [2] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Rieckchen, Sieh mich an! Gott weiss, es ist kein falsch in mir [1786]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Uh 4° 47 [63]):




[12] Caroline used similar reasoning in her letter to Luise Gotter on 31 October 1791 (letter 107). Back.

[13] See Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 5 July 1802 (letter 368), with cross references in note 1 there. Concerning Julie Gotter’s most recent visit to Caroline in Jena in mid-October 1802, see Caroline’s letter to her on 17 October 1802 (letter 372). Back.

[14] Goethe. Although Wilhelm Schlegel was also not to know, he might reasonably have been expected to surmise who the intermediary was. Back.

[15] The “formalities” included personal appearances before the High Consistory in Weimar, an issue that has been an urgent topic of the past several letters (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Scheidung [“divorce”] [1788], Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.775):


The “last word” was not issued until 17 May 1803 Back.

[16] Caroline is referring, of course, to her experiences in Mainz. Although the literary quarrel between Der Freimüthige and the Zeitung für die elegante Welt was testy enough at the time Caroline is writing, Karl Spazier died in 1805, and the quarrel itself quite lost steam, essentially ending “when at the Battle of Jena the Prussians tasted the consequences of concrete political disputes, and Goethe, in view of precisely these circumstances, called for a general literary ceasefire” (Paul Hocks and Peter Schmidt, Literarische und politische Zeitschriften 1789–1805 [Stuttgart 1975], 99).

The “Romantic retreat into inwardness, religiosity, and opportunism after 1813, Hegel’s and the Hegelians’ philosophical battle against the predominance of art and Romanticism” (Heinz Härtl, “‘Athenaeum’-Polemiken,” in Debatten und Kontroversen: Literarische Auseinandersetzungen in Deutschland am Ende des 18. Jahrhuderts, ed. Hans-Dietrich Dahnke and Bernd Leistner, 2 vols. [Berlin, Weimar 1989], 2:246–357, here 333), not to speak of the urgency during the Wars of Liberation in Germany, considerably shifted the focus of the literary world in Germany toward external rather than internal foes.

Caroline was, however, quite right in sensing in this letter that gossip and personal animosity toward her would continue. One publication of which she was already aware was Christian Gottfried Schütz, Species facti nebst Actenstücken etc., intended as a reponse to Wilhelm’s To the Public. Rebuke of a Defamation of Honor Perpetrated in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (letter/document 371b). See in general also the supplementary appendix on the scandal surrounding Auguste’s death.

Such malice reappears, moreover, in a particularly petty form esp. in Würzburg. See, e.g., the supplementary on the “ladies’ war in Würzburg.” Back.

[17] Caroline is here thinking of the periodical Der Freimüthige; see Caroline’s letter to Julie Gotter on 29 November 1802 (letter 373), note 9. See also the supplementary appendix on Kotzebue’s caricature of “the most recent aesthetics” and Merkel’s publication of the caricature “the storming the Parnassus” in Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter in March 1802 (letter 355). Back.

[18] On the divorce petition. Back.

[19] Minchen Bertuch had once been a love interest of Johann Kaspar Friedrich Manso, who had been in Breslau since 1790. See Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 3 October 1796 (letter 170), note 4. Back.

[20] Unknown but intriguing episode or exchange. Back.

[21] Caroline seems to be quoting herself; otherwise unknown source. Back.

[22] Luise Schläger had visited Caroline in Jena on ca. 8 August 1802; see Caroline’s letter to Julie Gotter on 8 August 1802 (letter 369). Back.

[23] Sarah Elizabeth Schläger, already over eighty years old, would pass away on 12 August 1803 (Kaiserlich privilegirter Reichs-Anzeiger [1803], 2:2870) (illustration: “Gentle Death,” Berlinischer Damen-Kalender auf das Gemein-Jahr 1809; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):

On 12 August, after a brief illness, my beloved mother passed away from enervation, the widowed Sara Elisabeth Schläger, wife of the late Geheimer Hofrath, née Schauer, shortly after celebrating her 82nd birthday. Her many friends, to whom I am herewith announcing for myself and on behalf of her immediate family what is for us a painful separation, understand how revered the deceased was in her circle because of her uncommon gifts of the spirit and heart, and how gratitude on the part of her daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as well as a kindly memory on the part of many of her noble contemporaries will survive long after her.

Gotha, 15 August 1803
Angelica Siegfrieden, née Schläger



[24] See Caroline’s letter to Julie Gotter in March 1802 (letter 354), note 6. Back.

[25] Caroline seems never to have seen the Gotters again. Back.

[26] Italian, the professed gallant and lover of a married woman (Luigi Ponelato, Il cicisbeo [1790]):



[27] Toiletten Kalender für Frauenzimmer (Vienna 1796); Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



Translation © 2016 Doug Stott