Letter 388c

388c. Dorothea Schlegel to Karoline Paulus in Würzburg: Cologne, 8 December 1804 [*]

Cologne, 8 December 1804

What you write about Goethe does not surprise me at all. Ever since I have known him, I have always harbored a kind of mistrust toward him; [1] one need but read Meister carefully and in the process vividly evoke his personality to see quite clearly how in reality he values a mediocre talent far more than a truly excellent one, and how the only understanding he demands from people is that they be capable of following his ideas or even only his ideas. No less, but also no more. [2]

He treats the university like his theater, and the professors like his actors, whom he wants to groom and, God willing, also cultivate, but not each in his own way, but rather in a nice, boringly harmonious fashion so that rather than any single one standing out, all of them together come to represent his work of art. That he finds it necessary to flatter the mediocre professors is quite natural, since, after all, he has none that are better; but why did he let all the good ones leave? [3]

That is what only very few people will understand, but what to me seems quite natural for him. It is just as he likes it. The old gentleman has long been old, otherwise he could not have written Eugenie; [4] but not everyone who becomes old is also as antiquated as he; for that one does not really need ever to have been truly young. . . .

What is this rumor about Markus having been dismissed from grace because of some dispute he had with Kilian in the Zeitung für die elegante Welt? How did Markus get into a quarrel, and in the Elegante Zeitung of all places, the customary conveyance of all gossip mongers? And how can a man of such importance be dismissed so quickly? There must be something else behind it. What do you bet that the new connection between Markus and the Schellings had something to do with it? [5]

And then the bishop’s prohibition against clerics even entering the Protestant lecture halls: Does that apply to Schelling alone or to all the others as well? [6] I also heard that your territorial sovereign intends that children receive no more gifts for Christmas. Is that true? Well, that is what I call “Enlightenment”! Even the poor little worms must now also be enlightened! Well, in that regard my Philipp is still lagging very far behind, since he did indeed receive gifts at Christmas, it being quite the custom here in any case; and the worst thing is that he was delighted with it all; so what an unhappy child he must be, what oh whatever is to become of him? [7]

Stay well, my beloved, dear soul; always yours,



[*] Source: Briefe von Dorothea und Friedrich Schlegel an die Familie Paulus, 34–37.

This letter, in response to a letter from Karoline Paulus that seems to have been lost, offers a concentrated enumeration of several developments affecting Schelling and Caroline at the university in Würzburg along with a perhaps surprising insight into Dorothea’s and the Romantics’ assessment of Goethe.

Dorothea and Friedrich Schlegel had been living in Cologne since early summer (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern, ed. T. Molls [Vienna 1805]):



[1] See Dorothea’s quite different description of her first encounter with Goethe in Jena in her letter to Schleiermacher on 15 November 1799 (letter 255b) (Leipziger Taschenbuch für Frauenzimmer zum Nutzen und Vergnügen auf das Jahr 1808):


Since Karoline Paulus’s letter is not extant, this reference is obscure. Rudolf Unger (Briefe von Dorothea und Friedrich Schlegel an die Familie Paulus, 139fn34,16) surmised that the reference is perhaps to Goethe’s relationship with Heinrich Karl Abraham Eichstädt, editor of the newly established Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, about whom Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer had apparently voiced numerous complaints to Clemens Brentano back in October 1804, who had been in Würzburg (see his letter to Sophie Brentano on 31 October 1804, letter 387i). Perhaps not insignificantly, Schelling soon wrote to Eichstädt himself (on 20 December 1804 [letter 388f]). Back.

[2] See Dorothea’s diary from 1800 (Dorothea Schlegel und deren Söhne 1:96, no. 55):

For me Meister is a book I admire, study, read again and again, is always on my table and never out of my mind, but also one that is so contrary to my own innermost nature that I cannot but say: I do not understand it. G.[oethe] himself makes the same impression on me as Meister.

Rudolf Unger, Briefe von Dorothea und Friedrich Schlegel an die Familie Paulus, 139fn34:22, suggests that Dorothea’s implicit criticism of the protagonist Wilhelm Meister in this present letter may well reflect Friedrich Schlegel’s altered view since his earlier assessment of Goethe in “Über Goethes Meister,” Athenaeum (1798) 323–54.

In Friedrich’s review of the first four volumes of the first edition of Goethe’s works published by Johann Friedrich Cotta (Goethes Werke, 4 vols. [Tübingen 1806]) in the Heidelbergische Jahrbücher der Literatur, Abteilung 5 für Philosophie, Historie, Literatur und Kunst I, 2 (1808), 145–84, here 173 (also KFSA 3:109–44), he reproaches Wilhelm Meister’s character for being “too weak and dependent despite all his charm.”

In general, in the five pieces he contributed to the Heidelbergische Jahrbücher der Literatur before leaving Cologne in 1808, Friedrich publicly turned away from his own past for the first time. After converting to Catholicism (16 April 1808), he at the same time rejected the “religion” of Athenaeum as aestheticism, which “in its innermost soul did not really take things seriously” (KFSA 8:70). He demanded instead that “this aesthetic dreaminess, unmanly pantheistic giddiness, and flippant play with forms must cease; it is unworthy and no longer commensurate with the great age” (KFSA 3:156f; cited in Klaus Peter, Friedrich Schlegel, Sammlung Metzler 171 [Stuttgart 1978], 55). Back.

[3] See the account by H. E. G. Paulus of the exodus of important faculty members from the university in Jena in 1803 and 1804; the university had earlier, of course, lost Fichte because of the atheism dispute. Back.

[4] Goethe’s play Die natürliche Tochter (Jena 1803), a play sometimes referred by the name of the primary character, Eugenie, and set against the backdrop of the eve of the French Revolution, was intended as the first part of a trilogy that was never completed, whence the rather unsatisfactory ending of the play as it stands by itself. The play never gained popularity. Friedrich Schlegel remarked in his letter to Karoline Paulus on 27 March 1805 (Briefe von Dorothea und Friedrich Schlegel an die Familie Paulus, 49) that Goethe had “become stupid to the point of Eugenie.”

Concerning the play’s general disposition, see John G. Robertson, A History of German Literature (London 1902), 378:

More in accordance with the taste of the time was the historical tragedy, Die natürliche Tochter (1804), completed in the spring of 1803. Goethe had found the theme in the Memoirs, which were published in 1798, of Princess Stephanie Louise de Bourbon-Conti, and his original intention was to write a trilogy which should embody the spirit of the French Revolution, as Wallenstein had expressed that of the Thirty Years’ War; but he did not get beyond the first drama.

In the Natürliche Tochter, Eugenie’s illegitimate birth throws a shadow on her life; it excludes her from the position to which her father’s rank and her own education entitle her. She is placed at the mercy of political intrigue and party strife, and in the end her life is only saved by her faithful Hofmeisterin, who secretly removes her from the scene of her trials.

Die natürliche Tochter was intended as a prologue to the real drama of the Revolution, which the poet had in view; but before he was ready to write this sequel, the Revolution had passed away, and, to some extent, Goethe’s own antagonism to it.

Of all his more important works, Die natürliche Tochter is the most difficult to understand, by reason of its uncompromising classicism ; in his striving after complete objectivity, Goethe has not even named his characters; the heroine alone is an exception, the others being simply “the king,” “the duke,” and so on.

In its classical smoothness the drama has not unjustly been compared with marble; the calm impersonal tone of its poetry is almost statuesque. But the comparison is only partially true; there is neither coldness nor want of colour in the Natürliche Tochter, and the chief actors at least are drawn with clear if delicate lines.

Concerning the story, see Peter Hume Brown, Life of Goethe, vol. 2 (New York 1920), 495–96:

The leading characters, of only one has a personal name, are the King, the Duke (the King’s uncle), Eugenie (the Duke’s natural [illegitimate] daughter), Eugenie’s Governess, and the Secretary.

The play opens with a scene in a dense forest, in which the Duke informs the King that he has a scapegrace son who has been little of a joy to him, but that he has also a natural daughter whose character and accomplishments would make her the pride and delight of any father.

As they are conversing, they are alarmed by the outcries of an excited crowd, and they learn that in the course of a hunt Eugenie has been precipitated over a cliff and thrown from her horse. Carried into their presence, she recovers consciousness, and in the conversation that ensues the King promises to have her recognized at Court on the occasion of his next birthday, though, at the same time, warning both father and daughter of the grave difficulties that may lie in the way.

These difficulties, we are given to understand, are due to political complications which may threaten a revolution. In point of fact, in the scenes that follow, it is not made clear that Eugenie’s fate is determined by any changes in the State. The Secretary, an agent of her brother who dreads her public recognition as detrimental to his own interests, persuades her governess to carry her off secretly as her life is in danger.

On her disappearance the Duke is informed that she has met with another riding accident, this time fatal, and that she is so disfigured that he would best consult his feelings by refraining from the sight of her. In the Fourth Act the scene changes to a seaport town, where we find Eugenie and her governess — the latter in possession of a document in which it is set down that Eugenie must either marry a commoner or leave the country for ever.

A judge in the town, represented as of noble character, offers her marriage, and, after a desperate struggle with herself, she agrees to accept him, but on the condition that he regards her only as a sister. By the last words in which she gives the reason for her decision, we are again reminded of the perturbed world in which the action of the drama takes place. She sees a people on the eve of revolution and entertains the hope that, in the commotion that will follow, she will obtain justice and deliverance.

The Oxford Companion to German Literature, ed. Henry and Mary Garland (Oxford 1976), 626, remarks that the “play embodies the corruption and violence of the old society and sounds a repeated warning of coming revolution. Written in blank verse, it has stylized character denoted by rank, and its action is conducted statically in long set speeches.”

See esp. Clemens Brentano’s remarks to Sophie Brentano on 20 October 1803 (Briefwechsel zwischen Clemens Brentano und Sophie Mereau, ed. Heinz Amelung, 2 vols. [Leipzig 1908], 2:44–45):

. . . if ever again someone were to say to me, and be it a wise man or a woman toward whom one must be more gallant than I am able, that Eugenie is beautiful, then that person I will consider an ass, a liar, and a conscripted sailor who sings God save the King.

I for my part find her to be much too beautiful for me and many others, and on the whole extraordinarily ponderous, dandified in expression such that one must stop and consider quite normal things that one often reads there; the whole thing impresses me like some colossal Niobe made of Meissen porcelain, and a miniature Venus of inferior bread would be its opposite; the concept and plan I find extraordinarily beautiful, but individual expressions repugnant, and the forced Dutch cleanliness utterly nauseates me.

My feeling is that one squanders too much time in this short life of ours to turn normal discourse into pretension; one ought simply to let the soup get cold over them. That notwithstanding, it is a great work, too great for me, great enough for art, and quite right for Goethe, though I myself would rather have written Shakespeare’s inferior play than this one; it is strange, and perhaps unique to me and thus not cheeky at all when I say that I would prefer that Eugenie never have been written. I gain nothing from it for art, and it nauseates me from the third act on.

Click on the image below to open a gallery of nineteenth-century illustrations to Goethe’s Die natürliche Tochter:


[5] The reference is to Adalbert Friedrich Marcus’s anonymous “News from Würzburg,” which had been published in the Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1804) 47 (19 April 1804), 374–75, an acerbically ironic criticism of the appointment of faculty members with disparate academic inclinations, poor conditions at the Julius Hospital, and other either real or alleged problems at the newly organized university in Würzburg.

This article was ill received by Karl Friedrich von Thürheim, who initiated an investigation that eventually determined that the author was indeed Marcus (Schelling’s friend, moreover), who was bitter that his hopes in having the university moved to Bamberg had been disappointed (see the retrospective remarks of Friedrich Wilhelm von Hoven concerning Marcus and the latter’s inclination to intrigue).

But Marcus had unfortunately adduced his colleague Konrad Joseph Kilian as guarantor of the content of the article, albeit not as its author, as which he was unfortunately taken; a lawsuit developed. See esp. supplementary appendix 383f.1, note 4, and Marcus’s letters to Schelling on 13–14 October 1804 (letter 387f) and 4 November 1804 (letter 387j). Back.

[6] The decree affected Karoline Paulus’s husband, H. E. G. Paulus, as well.

Georg Karl von Fechenbach, who after 1803 had retained his ecclesiastical position but was on acceptable social terms with Paulus, had had to yield to conservative Catholic pressures. See the Intelligenzblatt of the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1804) 20 ([n.d.]), 156: “The former prince bishop of Würzburg has under threat of excommunication and denial of priestly consecration prohibited all Catholics studying there from attending the lectures of professors Paulus and Schelling.”

Hence as a Protestant theologian, Paulus, though an opponent of Schelling, was also affected by the prohibition. At the same time, however, theologically Paulus was a resolute rationalist, viz. (Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, ed. J. M. Baldwin, 2 vols. [New York 1911], s.v. Rationalism):

Rationalism (in theology). (1) The doctrine which teaches, in opposition to mysticism, that the organ of religious knowledge is ratiocination rather than intuition. (2) The claim that human reason is competent to discover and define religious truth without supernatural aid or divine revelation.

See Reichlin-Meldegg, 1:373–81:

Paulus lectured on theological encyclopedia for Catholic theologians, i.e., the seminarians, and it was the wish of the liberal-minded administration of Maximilian von Montgelas, which had already done so much for the developing Catholicism in Bavaria according to the principles of reason, that Catholic theologians diligently attend the lectures even of the scholar [i.e., Paulus] whom even Protestants had called a heretic [as a rationalist theologian]. Because there were not yet any Protestant students in Würzburg to attend his lectures, for now Paulus lectured solely to Catholics.

The last prince bishop of Würzburg, Baron von Fechenbach, who as a result of the mediatisation effected by the Principal Conclusion of the Extraordinary Imperial Delegation [Reichsdeputationshauptschluss] had ceased being the sovereign prince in 1803, nonetheless still exerted some influence. And as cordial and benevolent as he otherwise was in general toward Paulus, whom he even invited to dine with him several times, he nonetheless had to yield to the nonsense or the Jesuit shrewdness of self-conceited Bavarian ecclesiastics at least to the extent that he came out against allowing Catholic theologians to attend Paulus’s lectures. The power of the Bavarian government, however, upheld Paulus’s position against such machinations. . . .

The bishop’s position over against a large number of old-Bavarian ecclesiastics, however, was still such that, given his lack of resolute energy and liberal-mindedness, he did have to pay attention to the plethora of complaints concerning the impairment of or infringement on Roman Catholicism. The administration finally gave in to his demands regarding the Catholic seminarians, and they ceased attending Paulus’s lectures.

“In the matter involving the seminarians,” Paulus wrote at the time [27 April 1804], “and their attendance at the lectures of Schelling and me etc., the administration has found it advisable to yield silently. As little as I want to lose these students given their inquisitiveness and good preparation, just as little was I ever inclined to retrieve them for my own sake. I have reason to believe that our Herr Prince Bishop does not act more cordially at least toward any other Protestant here than toward my own person.” Because Catholic theologians eventually were no longer content merely with silent acquiescence on the part of the government, they initiated formal measures against Catholic theologians attending Paulus’s lectures. . . .

Because Catholic theologians were no longer permitted to attend his lectures, and the number of Protestant students of theology was insignificant, Paulus finally had but an extremely small number of students. “Just how small the number of students attending my lectures will become,” he writes [3 October 1805], “we will just have to wait and see. Because a few in any case will probably stay, I, too, must stay.”

In connection with the problems Paulus was encountering at the university, one incident does perhaps deserve mention because Schelling’s and Caroline’s names also surface. See Reichlin-Meldegg, ibid., 377–79:

Some vile person had disseminated a list of theses Paulus had allegedly presented in his lectures, and these appeared in printed form in 1804 under Paulus’s name, being distributed then in Landshut, Munich, Heidelberg, and other places as “Paulusian Theses” . . . Paulus wrote to Schnurrer on 27 April 1804 concerning these fictional theses, “I have not even been able to acquire a complete corpus delicti [concrete evidence of an alleged crime] either in Munich, Heidelberg, etc. concerning what has been disseminated as my alleged theses, and even less have I been able to figure out why anyone would attributed precisely such assertions to me.”

These fictional theses, attributed to Paulus, appeared in April 1804 in the Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung [(1804) nos. 39, 43] and in several other journals . . . :

(1) The Christian religion is the real religion of sensual pleasure;
(2) sin is the greatest stimulant for love of the deity;
(3) the more sinful a person feels, the more Christian is that person;
(4) unconditional union in the deity is the purpose of sin and love;
(5) religiosity is completely a matter of imagination;
(6) religion is not for the sublunar world.

It is peculiar in any case that these statements can be found verbatim in the writings of Novalis as edited by Friedrich Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck [Novalis Schriften, ed. Friedrich Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck, 2 vols. (Berlin 1802), 2:493; these statements had been cited in the review of this edition in the (Halle) Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1803) 260 (Tuesday, 13 September 1803), 582].

Was one perhaps thinking of the Romantic philosopher of nature Schelling, who was now married to the divorced wife of A. W. Schlegel? After all, Schelling loved strong paradoxes. Since in Würzburg Schelling and Paulus together had long been thrown together into a single category as heretics as the new Protestants from Jena at the Catholic university, might one perhaps have mistaken assertions made by the paradoxic-drunken philosopher of identity, assertions reeking of Romantic atheism, with alleged utterances of Paulus and attributed them to the latter quite out of ignorance or perhaps malice?

Ludwig Ferdinand Huber, who from Munich was the first to send Paulus a printed copy of this product of the factory of self-conceited ecclesiastics, made the following casual remark with respect to Schelling in letter of 17 April 1804: “People here are prattling on so much about the Würzburg Pansophies that we simple children of the earth can hardly comprehend anything. But precisely this incomprehensibility is, after all, truly one of the primary characteristics of the newest school. May our philosophers de la nouvelle date [Fr., “of (more) recent, modern date”] always address both the heart and the mind!”

Finally, it seems Paulus even received implied death threats while in Würzburg (Reichlin-Meldegg, 380):

Whereas in Würzburg Paulus lived peacefully together with both Catholics and Protestants, the zealots continued to cast suspicion on him, and word even had it that the Catholics wanted to murder him. “After probably six months of silence,” Paulus writes in a letter from Würzburg [27 December 1804], “the day before yesterday I received a letter yet again from de Sacy himself. People had told him I was dead. In fact, I even heard that according to rumors in Jena I had been murdered by the Catholics here. Thank God that apart from my time” (an allusion to his burdensome and time-consuming duties with the consistory), “nothing about me has been murdered, or even wounded.” Back.

[7] It may be remembered that Dorothea had only converted to Christianity on 6 April 1804 in Paris. Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott