Letter 428

• 428. Caroline to Luise Gotter in Gotha: Munich, 15 January 1808

Munich, 15 January [18]08

|514| [Errands, requests.] — Just before Christmas, we saw Frau von Staël along with her family and Schlegel here. Their presence here, which lasted about a week, gave us considerable pleasure. [1] Schlegel was quite healthy and serene, the atmosphere as cordial as could be and void of any tension. [2] He and Schelling were inseparable. [3]

Beyond all the intellect she already possesses, Frau von Stael also had intellect and heart enough to become quite fond of Schelling. She is a phenomenon full of vitality, egoism, and incessant intellectual activity. Her external appearance is transfigured by her inner soul and is indeed in need of such, for there are moments — or rather clothes — when she looks quite like a sutler, [4] and yet one |515| can nonetheless simultaneously imagine her fully capable of playing the role of Phaedre in the loftiest tragic sense. [5] The company stopped here on their way to Vienna.

Rumohr and Tiek have announced they will be arriving here toward spring. [6] The fact that Werner did not come attests his Polish carelessness. [7] He could have kept the names. [8] — Since this letter must yet be posted, I will save everything else for another time. May things go well for all of you in this new year!


[1] Wilhelm Schlegel had arrived in Munich in the entourage of Germaine de Staël on 15 December 1807 and departed for Vienna on 21 December 1807. Concerning this visit, including its chronology, see Schelling’s letter to Madame de Staël on 15 December 1807 (letter 426b); here their route (Germany and Italy in 1806, from William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas [New York 1926]):



[2] Germaine de Staël seems to have picked up on precisely this — for her — odd lack of awkwardness between formerly married spouses in the presence of the new husband. Brigitte Rossbeck, Zum Trotz glücklich: Caroline Schlegel-Schelling und die romantische Lebenskunst (Munich 2008), 254, suggests, probably correctly, that Madame de Staël’s impressions of Caroline during this visit (she had not made her acquaintance in Würzburg back in 1804) made their way into the broader chapter (chap. 3) on German women in Staël’s book on Germany (1813).

Although it is impossible to sort out her specific impressions of Caroline, Staël was indeed struck — doubtless not least by the relationship between Caroline, Wilhelm, and Schelling — by how facilely German women change marital partners without subsequent rancor or awkwardness in social situations (“They change husbands with as little difficulty as if they were arranging the incidents of a drama”). For the text to that brief chapter, see supplementary appendix 428.1. Back.

[3] Apparently an accurate statement. Friedrich Schlegel wrote to Wilhelm from Cologne on 6 January 1808 (Krisenjahre 1:493):

My last two letters to you contain so much in the way of advice and entreaties for caution that you may well have laughed at it all. But just so you can see how attentively people are watching every move of you all, I can tell you that from a different source and in a rather roundabout way (via Hamburg), I already know more about your stay in Munich than you yourself wrote me. —

Everyone in Germany already knows that Madame de Staël spends every evening with Jacobi, and that you yourself were never seen without Schelling. Most people likely find the former to be quite in order, whereas concerning the latter they are probably composing all sorts of glosses. — Did you also see his wife? —

The only thing I object to is that you really are too incautious to give into your noble good-nature that way, since I am absolutely convinced that these people had no other motive for seeking your company than the intention of sounding you out, in part for your ideas, since Schelling is just now experiencing this violent urge to sound off about art, whereby, unfortunately, what he lacks is precisely his own ideas on the subject, with regard to which nothing could be more welcome to him than the occasion to take possession of either yours or mine, and in part to acquire whatever material he can for the opportunity to gossip or slander us, and especially me.

Wilhelm and Caroline never saw each other again after this visit. Later, on 20 May 1809, Wilhelm wrote the following less-than-flattering remarks to Karl von Hardenberg from Coppet (excerpt published in Ernst Heilborn, Novalis der Romantiker [Berlin 1901], 210–11; a book, incidentally, with an extraordinary bias against Caroline; full text in Körner, [1930], 1:236):

Schelling has related to me [letter not extant] amid a great many polite phrases that he has attacked my brother because of the philosophical section of his piece on India [Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (Heidelberg 1808)]. The principles of this fellow [Schelling] are as bad in general as they are in philosophy in particular, though admittedly I myself may have contributed my share to such by way of the company I passed on to him.

Schelling attacked Friedrich in “Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit,” F. W. J. Schelling. Philosophische Schriften 1 (Landshut 1809), 397–511. See Schelling to Carl Joseph Windischmann from Munich on 9 May 1809 (Plitt 2:156; Fuhrmans 3:604):

I know that you do not think the way Friedrich Schlegel does, whose covert polemic I have tried to transform into a public one. His extremely crass and general concept of pantheism admittedly does not permit him even to conceive of the possibility of a system in which along with the immanence of things in God there also exists freedom, life, individuality, similarly also good and evil. He is familiar solely with the three systems presented in his book on India; the truth, however, is to be found precisely between these three and contains within itself the organically interwoven constituent parts of each.

Wilhelm’s remarks above notwithstanding, there is some question whether Schelling did not merely use Friedrich’s book as the occasion to take issue more broadly with Spinoza, Fichte, and Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi and their understandings, respectively, of pantheism, freedom, and the inherent contradiction between the two (see Georg Neugebauer, Tillichs frühe Christologie [Berlin 2007], 81–83; one might note that Paul Tillich paid eloquent tribute to the intellectual debt he owed Schelling; see, e.g., Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought: From Its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism, ed. Carl E. Braaten [New York 1967], 438):

I recall the unforgettable moment when by chance I came into possession of the very rare first edition of the collected works of Schelling in a bookstore on my way to the University of Berlin. I had no money, but I bought it anyway, and this spending of nonexistent money was probably more important than all the other nonexistent or sometimes existing money that I have spent. For what I learned from Schelling became determinative of my own philosophical and theological development. Back.

[4] A “sutler’s serving-girl” appears in Schiller’s Wallenstein’s Camp, the first part of the trilogy Wallenstein. The clothes or costume of sutlers (Fr. vivandière, cantinière) were, at least in France, often stipulated by military rules; here a (more stylized) illustration from 1859 (anonymous, “The Vivandieres of the French Army,” The Illustrated London News 35.1 [1859] 986 [Saturday, 6 August 1859], 139):


Caroline is sooner referring to the coarse, rough, often frumpy impression such clothing made compared with normal women’s clothing (in order: sutler from Schiller’s play Wallenstein’s Camp, from Schiller’s Works, ed. J. G. Fischer, vol. 2 [Philadelphia 1883], plate following p. 118; satirical illustration from Humorist.-satyrische Kriegsbilder, 2nd ed. [1870] no. 2, p.1):


Pauline Gräfin de Pange, August Wilhelm Schlegel und Frau von Staël: Eine schicksalhafte Begegnung, trans. Willy Grabert (Hamburg 1940), 159–60, cites the diary of the Bavarian general Count Clairembault, who concurs in an even more unkind fashion with Caroline’s assessment of Madame de Staël’s appearance during this Munich visit (illustration: Philibert-Louis Debucourt, Conférence de Madame de Staël [ca. 1800]; Bibliothèque nationale de France):

Because as a celebrated writer she [Baroness Staël] had brought a great many letters of introduction with her, she was indeed greatly fêted during her visit. She treated women, however, quite offhand, preferring to speak solely with men.


Her own clothes were extraordinarily laughable, she herself ugly, and thus the overall impression even more dreadful. Back.

[5] One of the customs at Coppet was for Madame de Staël to stage theatrical productions in which she herself performed the role of the protagonist, in this instance the character of Phaedre in the play by Jean Racine (1677), a play whose passionate and emotional characterizations shocked audiences of Racine’s time. She had also read aloud from the play during her earlier visit to Weimar (illustration of final scene from Phedre et Hippolyte, tragedie [Amsterdam 1698]):


Wilhelm had just published a comparison between the dramatic treatments of Phaedra by Racine and Euripides, much to the chagrin of French readers. For the background, see Roger Paulin, The Life of August Wilhelm Schlegel, Cosmopolitan of Art and Poetry (Open Book Publishers 2016), 281:

Schlegel wrote on both [Benjamin Constant’s] Wallstein and Phèdre, but it was Racine’s play that had occupied him since earlier that year. During the spring of 1807, while Madame de Staël herself was barred from the capital [Paris] or only clandestinely and furtively a visitor, Schlegel had used his weeks in Paris to negotiate publication of his famous — infamous — Comparison entre la Phèdre de Racine et celle d’Euripide [Paris 1807], the 108-page brochure that came out later in 1807 with [the publisher] Turneisen (Tourneisen to his French readers).

Later (1842) he would claim that it was merely something “that I found amusing to do on literary opinion,” and in the same context he saw it as a product of a time of social distractions and voyagings that allowed him little time for sustained work. It is true that it does draw largely on existing insights and indeed is not free of signs of haste. Closer in time, he would state to his sister-in-law Dorothea Schlegel that he merely wanted to stir things up, get people annoyed, and to Goethe he used a similar tone. Back.

[6] Concerning Karl Friedrich von Rumohr’s and Ludwig Tieck’s plans to come to Munich, see Rumohr’s letters to Tieck on 26 September 1807 (letter 425b) and to Caroline (undated) in early 1808 (letter 427) and on 7 March 1808 (letter 430). Back.

[7] I.e., did not come visit the Gotters while in Gotha, as Caroline had charged him; see her letter to Luise Gotter on 12 November (December?) 1807 (Letter 426). Back.

[8] Uncertain allusion. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott