Letter 425a

425a. Sophie Bernhardi to Wilhelm Schlegel in Coppet: Munich, 19 September 1807 [*]

Munich, 19 September 1807

My beloved friend, my faithful brother, how shall I find the words to express to you how unsettled is my soul? I am here, depressed and lonely, feeling abandoned by God and shunned by all human beings. [1] Never have I felt this lonely, and such a fear of people often now washes over me. I received your precious letter here, but unfortunately without the money, and now I am here but can travel no farther, and must wait it out. Oh, God, please finally grant me peace! [2]

I will take care of your request to Aretin, all the more so because I know a person here, his name is Dotzen, who understands Old German quite well and will no doubt copy it out cheaply, though Schelling believed that will hardly be necessary, since the Nibelungen that Herr von Hagen has published was made from the copy here, with annotations where it deviates from the other one that has been published. [3]

I visited the Schellings here, and they received me quite graciously. Caroline tried to be cold and distant but could not hold that disposition for even two minutes, since I have learned so much of the world — in the wretched world — that whenever I choose to do so I am quite able myself to set the tone for people’s dealings with me, and so now it is as if we had always been the best of friends; and my appearance is so serene that anyone would believe that I am absolutely happy, and yet not a single person has any inkling of what pain and suffering are tearing my soul apart. [4]

My beloved friend, I must cease writing in order to spare myself lest I become excessively upset, which could easily utterly destroy my health. As soon as Hardenberg sends me the money, I will depart. [5] I implore you, do write me a comforting letter to my address in Prague, address it to me in care of Knorring, at the house of Baron von Edelmuth on Wallensteiner Gasse. [6]

I implore you, write me immediately, I have never needed consolation such as I do now. May God grant that we see each other again soon. My children send their regards a thousand times over and are beside themselves with joy when I tell them they will soon see you again. [7] Stay well and happy.

your sister,


[*] Source: Krisenjahre 1:437. — Wilhelm was currently living at Coppet, the estate of Madame de Staël. Sophie Bernhardi continued for several years to write Wilhelm letters of lament with entreaties for financial support. Back.

[1] Sophie had been in Munich since 17 September, having returned from Rome by way of Florence with almost no money and yet with the intention of traveling on to Prague (Germany and Italy in 1806, from William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas [New York 1926]):


Back on 22 August 1807, she had written Wilhelm from Rome (Krisenjahre 1:434; illustration: Der Kutscher [1782]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.767; AB 3.435):

In all likelihood, I will be departing here a week from today, and with very, very little money. Hence I beseech you, my dear, beloved friend, to write me in Munich immediately upon receiving this letter and to send me something more [i.e., money] for the trip, and be it ever so little, it will help and lessen the risk that I will not be able to pay the coachman or get any farther.


Our financial situation is worse than I anticipated, Germany is much poorer than people here could believe, and so it is also financially necessary for me to live for a while in Germany, where I can cut back much more than is possible here. Back.

[2] Sophie had last written Wilhelm from Florence on 3 September 1807 (Krisenjahre 1:435–36), entreating him to provide financial assistance for the journey:

God knows how I am ever to complete this journey without your assistance. It costs more than I thought, and I have less than you will believe. For now just please keep in mind that it was absolutely necessary, even if I do not enumerate all the reasons; I am simply so distracted and weary from the journey.

I can add nothing more than the request, which I must repeat, for you please to see to it that upon my arrival in Munich I will find letters and some money. I am so unhappy that I must be a burden on my friends and have often lamented my fate that condemns me to do so, not because I believed it might weaken your friendship for me, but because even the mere feeling itself is such a misfortune, namely, to be conscious that someone else must do without so much for our sake. Back.

[3] Johann Christoph von Aretin was the head librarian at the central Munich library. Wilhelm was requesting a copy of manuscript D of the Nibelungenlied that the library had acquired by way of the secularization of the previously Catholic monasteries in Bavaria.

The Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungen), often called the German national epic, is an anonymous Middle High German heroic epic poem from the early thirteenth century that tells, in a chivalric setting, the ultimately tragic story of Siegfried’s courtship of Kriemhild and his murder (first part), and Kriemhild’s revenge on her brothers in Burgundy (second part) (Emil Engelmann, Das Nibelungenlied für das deutsche Haus, 4th ed. [Stuttgart 1900], plate following p. 176):


Of the thirty-four or so, often fragmentary, manuscripts, the most important were referred as A, B, C, D, and I, with D — a copy of which Wilhelm was to receive — dating to the fourteenth century. Here a facsimile of the initial lines of the Nibelungenlied in manuscript A, the Hohenems Münchener Handschrift (Gustav Könnecke, Bilderatlas zur Geschichte der deutschen Nationallitteratur, 2nd ed. [Marburg 1895], 31):


Wilhelm was engaged in a long-term project — having already lectured on the epic in both Jena and Berlin and corresponded with Ludwig Tieck about it as far back as 1802 — of collating manuscripts and producing his own edition, which, however, he never completed, though he would publish two articles in Friedrich Schlegel’s periodical Deutsches Museum, 3 vols. (Vienna 1812–13), namely, “Aus einer noch ungedruckten historischen Untersuchung über das Lied der Nibelungen,” Deutsches Museum I (1812) 1:9–36; and “Ueber das Nibelungen-Lied,” Deutsches Museum I (1812), 6:505–36; II (1813), 1:1–23.

See in general Roger Paulin, The Life of August Wilhelm Schlegel, Cosmopolitan of Art and Poetry (Open Book Publishers 2016), passim, esp. 409–14, where (412), Paulin remarks:

The longest [of his articles in Friedrich’s periodical], on the Nibelungenlied, extending over three numbers, was scholarly, detailed, historical and textual; it was accompanied by a declaration announcing the imminent publication of a critical edition of this heroic lay. It aligned Schlegel with those other antiquarians and scholars who at roughly the same time were bringing out similar editions, Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen, or Johann Gustav Büsching, but it also pointed forward to the definitive form that the Nibelungenlied would take at the hands of Karl Lachmann in 1826. It raised hopes that Schlegel might be the first to publish an edition with an established text based on manuscript variants.

Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen published a translation of the epic into New High German in 1807, Der Nibelungen Lied (Berlin 1807); the author’s preface is dated 28 August 1807, not quite a month before this letter. Hagen’s general editorial explanations begin on p. 467, his glossary on p. 528, and his annotations and comparisons with other versions on p. 596. Hagen took issue with, among others, Sammlung deutscher Gedichte aus dem XII. XIII. und XIV. Jahrhundert, vol. 1, Der Nibelungen Liet, Eneidt, Got Amur, Parcival, Der arme Heinrich, Von der Minnen, [Dis ist] von der Wibe List, Dis ist von dem Pfenninge, ed. Christoph Heinrich Myller (Berlin 1784), a corrupted version from manuscripts A and C.

Schelling took over this request for Wilhelm, writing him with further information on 7 November 1807 (Krisenjahre 1:466–68; Fuhrmans 1:390–93) to the effect that Aretin had agreed, since Docen was already engaged in other projects, to send Wilhelm the manuscript itself. Schelling alerted Wilhelm on 9 January 1808 (Krisenjahre 1:495–96; Fuhrmans 1:399) that the manuscript was to be delivered to him through a private businessman (Heymann Pappenheimer) from Munich. Back.

[4] See Caroline’s comments on Sophie’s weeklong stay in Munich in her letter to Luise Gotter on 12 November (or December) 1807 (letter 426). Back.

[5] Karl von Hardenberg, younger brother of Friedrich von Hardenberg, writes to Wilhelm Schlegel from Meiningen on 24 September 1807 (Krisenjahre 1:437–38):

As soon as I received your letter, my valued friend, I took care of the business for Sophie B.; I had already sent her an exchange for 100 Th. to Munich, which according to your letter today of the 19th she did indeed find on her arrival there; of the 220 Th. that you had here with me, I sent her another 150 Th., and 70 Th. of it to Knorring, who had absolutely nothing more, and whom I otherwise would have helped with the 100 Th.

Our friends’ utter lack of familiarity with day-to-day civil matters likely plunged them into a labyrinth in Italy from which I myself can as yet see no way out. I helped more than I really could, since I now often find myself in the most embarrassing situations because of it. . . . Friedrich Tieck seems to have have remained behind in Rome in an extremely depressing situation.

Sophie soon left for Prague, from where she wrote Wilhelm again on 8 October 1807 (Krisenjahre 1:455–58). Wilhelm himself left Coppet for Vienna with Madame de Staël on 30 November 1807, arriving in Munich on about 13 December 1807 by way of Bern, Zürich, Ulm, and Augsburg, before departing for Vienna itself on 20 December 1807 (Germany and Italy in 1806, from William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas [New York 1926]):


More is said in coming letters about his stay in Munich and visits with the Schellings. Back.

[6] Jakob Ritter von Edelmuth owned two houses on Waldsteingasse in Prague. Back.

[7] Wilhelm Bernhardi and Felix Theodor Bernhardi.

In her letter to Wilhelm on 8 October 1807 mentioned above, Sophie again pleadingly solicits Wilhelm’s financial support by alluding to his paternity with respect to Felix Theodor Bernhardi (Krisenjahre 2:457): “Let me put away all false, subtle delicateness and entreat you not to allow me and my children — who after all, are so dear to your heart — to literally starve in the meantime until everything has been worked out again.” Earlier in the letter (2:456), Sophie writes that upon her arrival in Prague (illustration: Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Mariane allein auf ihr Kämmerchen macht kummervolle Betrachtungen [1791/92]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Uh 4° 47 [250]; illustration: Frauenzimmer Allmanach zum Nutzen u Vergnügen für das Jahr 1792; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):

K[norring] was already here; but alas, my beloved brother, how grievous is the fate that makes me so cruelly entangle my most beloved friends as well in my distress. Ought I tell you what lack and want K[norring] had to suffer here? That for almost 3 months he lived solely from a bit of fruit and bread, and was able to endure it only because of his strong constitution? My dear friend, my dear brother, my entire soul dissolves in melancholy when I reflect on my life.



Translation © 2018 Doug Stott