Letter 432a

• 432a. Caroline to Johann Diederich Gries (?) in Heidelberg: Munich, 18 April 1808 [*]

Munich, 18 April 1808

|525| . . . So what do you think about Goethe’s fragment “Elpenor”? [1] Does not the entirety of his grace and sublimity reside in it, indeed even more vividly than in Iphigenie? The beautiful young boy is as fresh as the morning dew. Were he yet to finish it [2] . . .

C. S.


[*] Source for Erich Schmidt: (1913): “Mittheilungen von Zeitgenossen über Goethe 1772–1832,” Goethe-Jahrbuch 18 (Frankfurt 1897), 119, without any accompanying remarks or notes from Max Grunwald, who (see the editorial note to Caroline’s letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 9 June 1799 [letter 240]) published several passages from Caroline’s letters to Gries.

Although Erich Schmidt accordingly indicated Gries as the addressee of this fragment, he was unable to find the original manuscript of the complete letter either in Hamburg, where Grunwald had access to it, or with Grunwald himself. Dating uncertain.

At the time, Gries was living in Heidelberg, though during the coming summer he would be taking a journey to Switzerland, after which he would move back to his beloved Jena for the winter (Aus dem Leben J. D. Gries 79–82). Concerning Gries’s itinerary and stay in Heidelberg, see Caroline’s letter to Schelling on 9–10 May 1806 (letter 409), notes 5 and 6. Back.

[1] Goethe’s unfinished dramatic fragment (first act and part of second act, in verse and rhythmic prose) “Elpenor,” originally intended to celebrate the birth of Karl August’s heir in January 1783, was eventually published in a revised verse form in 1806 in the fourth volume of the first edition of Goethe’s works published by Johann Friedrich Cotta (Goethes Werke, 13 vols. [Tübingen 1806–10]). Back.

[2] That Caroline seems to have owned or had access to this edition of Goethe’s works is significant enough, attesting as it does her continuing and essentially lifelong interest in and admiration for the author.

Even more intriguing are her admiring remarks here and especially her association of the unfinished piece with Goethe’s earlier dramatic piece Iphigenie auf Tauris (unpublished, second prose version 1783; verse version in Goethe’s Schriften, vol. 3 [Leipzig 1787], 1–136), which, as was seen earlier in this correspondence (letter to Luise Gotter and Wilhemine Bertuch on 28 May 1784 [letter 41]), she seems to have read aloud with a singular talent. Gries himself had once included a reference to this talent in a poem to Wilhelm Schlegel (see the supplementary appendix on Gries’s poems for him and Caroline):

 Ah, but should you wish to experience for yourself how your song
Might draw in souls through its magical power,
Then have Caroline read it to you aloud.

Friedrich Schlegel had remarked to Wilhelm Schlegel on 27 February 1794 (letter 141a):

Caroline read Iphigenie aloud to me. You already know how well she reads, and I confess that the music of this piece seems to me to approach the soaring fullness and powerful tenderness of the ancients.

Wilhelm in his own turn had remarked (full cite see ibid., note 3):

But do tell me seriously, has Goethe’s Iphigenie, when read aloud by, say, Caroline, ever seemed monotonous? Well, then may God and St. Klopstock help you!

Here Georg Melchior Kraus’s painting of Goethe as Orestes and Corona Schröter as Iphigenia in the play’s premiere in its prose version in Weimar on 6 April 1779:


Because Caroline had what seems to have been an intuitive understanding both of Goethe’s works generally (and not without criticism; see, e.g., her merciless chastisement of Der Gross-Cophta in her letter to Luise Gotter on 20 April 1792 [letter 112]) and of Iphigenie specifically, her intriguing association of “Elpenor” and Iphigenie merits further examination. See Henry Wood’s discussion of the possible continuation of the “Elpenor” dramatic fragment and its relation to Goethe’s Iphigenie in supplementary appendix 432a.1. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott