Letter 436

• 436. Caroline to Pauline Gotter in Gotha: Munich, 23 November 1808 [*]

Munich, 23 November 1808

|535| From your last letter, my dear Pauline, I was indeed able to discern that the considerable splendor of emperors and kings [1] was nonetheless unable to move your heart as much as did that of the deluxe edition of the shepherd Aminta, something I confess I, too, find quite appropriate. [2]

I must say, however, that you did nonetheless deny your own origins a bit by saying not a word to me about the performance of the French actors. Can Gotter’s daughter really pass over Talma and Mademoiselle Duchenois in silence? [3] One might almost think that entrusting any assessment of these heroes to a letter was simply too risky — since to find, for example, that they yelled abominably loud and gesticulated convulsively might well be taken for a crime de leze majesté. [4]

And yet you did indeed take time to speak about the parterre de rois [5] — prompting me almost to suspect that precisely that silence was indeed merely alluding to the inappropriate loudness. I was especially pleased that all of you were there and were able to see the double performance, and then also that it was our king who pleased you the best. [6]

I, too, sincerely like him best among all who are now alive, |536| and dear heaven, had I but known, you could have taken advantage of that opportunity to come along as well, one through which the king would have earned entirely new merit. [7] There was a senior postmaster in the retinue whom we know well but do not often see, which is why I learned of it too late. And how glad would I be could you but be here with us precisely this winter. You, too, would not be displeased.

Instead of the grand spectacle, [8] we would have a smaller but exquisite one, namely, Tiek, who reads dramatic pieces aloud and who on several evenings has already transported us into that illusion where one feels one is sitting before a stage on which every role has been assigned to the most select actor. Although he was already excellent at reading aloud earlier, now it is the best one can experience in that genre, indeed, it is something quite singular. He virtually shapes each piece precisely as he reads through it. [9]

He has been here for 4 or 5 weeks now along with his sister, [10] both of whom came from Vienna. He will presumably pass through Gotha on his return to Prussia. [11] He is waiting here for his brother to arrive, who is just now occupied in Coppet with turning Madame de Staël into — well, into a bust, [12] after which he intends to come through Munich and continue on to Italy with his sister.

All these people are perpetually on the move, and our other good friends are living a nomadic life as well. By contrast, we here are wholly immobile but do have the pleasure of having them pass by here often to see us, and indeed also settle down when they find as stable a core as we in fact are. You will see, everyone will soon be drawn to Munich just as earlier to Jena and, just as then as well, be drawn out and dispersed again over all the earth.

Our barone has already gone astray. His ennui, [13] and ours as well, became so unbearable that one day he suddenly simply up and left, leaving his manservant behind for months without either money or news until, finally, he wrote from the Bohemian border with a rather pitiful wringing of hands |537| trying to get a passport into Austria. He allegedly behaved rather childishly and immaturely in public places while en route such that he aroused suspicion and was followed. [14]

Have none of you heard anything of this sort? Around the same time I last wrote you, there was yet another barone here who similarly seemed to belong to the wretched sort, one who called himself Piehl and whose name was Seckendorf, a brother-in-law, I believe, of your lady friend, [15] and a person who is similarly wholly in the dark concerning his purpose and talents to the extent he is intent on devoting himself to poesy and the theater. He made several attempts to get placed here that could not possibly succeed, then went to Vienna, where the enterprise is again not succeeding, for how could it, considering he is not even up to the miserable craft of simple declamation.

After the Grand Water Master himself returned, [16] the Wiebekings invited us to a grand water party — that is, a tea party — and in return I gave them a fête where it was the element of fire that predominated, [17] namely, insofar as Tiek performed his readings. Whereupon Fräulein Fanny then also caught fire and fell in love with him. Try to imagine that misfortune! Far better to fall in love with the old gentleman — as you have. [18]

At the Wiebekings, I saw some Gotha sheep’s wool that was so exquisite that I would like to ask you to send me 2 ℔ of the same sort. Our sheep here are too stupid to produce such wool. Some was supposed to be sent to us from Spain, the emissary even having already been appointed who would be importing it, when the war broke out. [19] And so now the King of England is getting our merinos! I am quite serious in saying I would like to have some wool from your merinos [20] . . .

Please do give my regards to your dear mother and sisters, and write me again very soon.


[*] Caroline is responding here to a letter from Pauline Gotter that seems no longer to be extant. Back.

[1] The reference is to the “Napoleon days” at the Congress of Erfurt from 27 September to 14 October 1808, during which Napoleon met with Czar Alexander of Russia in Erfurt to reaffirm the tenuous alliance concluded the previous year with the Treaty of Tilsit following the end of the War of the Fourth Coalition and to impede any future alliance between Russia and Austria (Fr. Bernh. Werner, A. Gläßerse, and Mart. Engelbrecht, Erfurt [1740]):


Insofar as Napoleon was attempting to awe Alexander with the glories of the French Empire, the meeting became a social as well as political conference involving an array of thirty-four kings, princes, dukes, barons and notables from all over Europe. François-Joseph Talma and the entire Comedie Française presented sixteen French tragedies over the course of the Congress.

As emerges later in this letter, Luise Gotter and her three daughters, Julie, Cäcilie, and Pauline, similarly also Johanna Schopenhauer in Weimar (Goethe attended as part of the retinue of Karl August), seem to have secured tickets through contacts at the Gotha court (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):


See in general Gustav Brünnert, Napoleons Aufenthalt in Erfurt im Jahre 1808 (Erfurt 1899), 15–17:

After their meal, toward 7:00 in the evening, the grand personages retired to the theater. The renowned actors of the theatre français from Paris had been summoned to Erfurt to perform French tragedies before a “parterre of kings.” The Erfurt theater, what is today [1899] the Emperors Hall on Futterstrasse, was renovated and enhanced such that it compared favorably with the smaller theaters in Paris.

Since the theater had but a single entrance, a new, special one was constructed for His Majesty the Emperor leading from the street to a staircase and directly to the ruler’s private loge. Three additional entrances were added as well. A round opening for fresh air was constructed in the ceiling. The loges were wallpapered, and the benches replaced with tasteful chairs and sofas. Double lighting sconces were affixed to each column in the noble loge, and five crystal lustres were suspended from the ceiling. The parterre was outfitted with benches with red upholstery.

The gallery was reserved for private persons of rank and for the elite among the Erfurt public, the loges for the monarchs and illustrious personages, the parterre similarly for the nobility, distinguished persons, and officers. A more radiant and splendid parterre than this one in Erfurt might be difficult indeed to find. Wherever one looked, one beheld shimmering, sparkling stars, ribbons of various orders, and sashes.

At an approprirate remove from the parterre, a separate parquette was constructed near the orechstra for the majesties of France, Russia, the King of Saxony, and the Grand Duke Constantine, for Napoleon had noticed that Alexander, who had sat in the noble loge on the first evening, had been unable to hear everything in the theater because of his weak hearing.

Every evening at 6:00, the theater was surrounded by grenadier guards and no one admitted inside who did not have a ticket or was part of the monarchs’ entourages. No one was allowed in the theater with boots and overcoat, for everyone had to be wearing shoes, stockings, and tails. Whenever the carriages of the two emperors arrived, the drums were sounded thrice, whenever carriages of the kings, only once. It happened once that the guard, deceived by the external appearance of a carriage of the King of Württemberg, began the threefold drum greeting, whereupon the commanding officer angrily ordered it to cease with the words, Taisez-vous, ce n’est qu’un roi (“Quiet, that is merely a king”).

The actors included the most meritorious Talma, who, moreover, enjoyed a cordial friendship with Napoleon, and the actresses included Mademoiselle Duchenois one of the premiere tragic heroines of her time. These two offered everything one might expect from an artist of such distinguished talent in the way of beauty and grandeur. “These two,” wrote the author of Erfurt in seinem höchsten Glanze, left all previous conceptions of artistic grandeur and sublimity far behind. The sensitive performances, the truth and the declamatory fire, were all simply beyond description. The most important of the fifteen tragedies performed included Voltaire’s plays Mahomet, Œdipe (1718), Zaïre (1732), Racine’s Iphigénie, Phédre, and Andromaque, and Corneille’s Cinna and Les Horaces. —

Often the actors only learned at midday which pieces they were to perform that evening. . . . The pieces had been carefully selected, and all were to serve Napoleon’s intention of presenting to the German public grand heroes who had performed mighty deeds and thereby elevated themselves above normal human beings through their courage and lofty intellectual gifts and who were venerated and extoled by their astonished contemporaries as beings of a higher order.

Illustrations of such “beings of a higher order” from (in order) Voltaire’s Mahomet, Œdipe, and Zaïre (Voltaire, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, 70 vols., éd. de Kehl (1785–89]; Mahomet [1783]; Œdipe [1785]; Zaïre [1785]):




Illustrations from (in order) Racine’s Iphigénie, Phédre, and Andromaque (Racine, Œuvres de Racine, 3 vols. [Paris 1801–5]; Iphigénie 1801; Phèdre [1801]; Andromaque [1801]):




And finally illustrations from (in order) (1) Corneille’s Cinna, (2) Les Horaces (both: Corneille, Théâtre de Pierre Corneille, avec des comm., 12 vols. [Geneva 1764]), and (3) the actor Talma himself in his rôle in Cinna (“Talma in the role of Augustus Caesar in Cinna,” from M. A. Thiers, Collection de 350 gravures dessins de Philippoteaux, etc. pour l’histoire du consulat et de l’empire, 2 vols. [Paris 1870], vol. 2, no. 142):




Concerning the experiences of Johanna Schopenhauer at the theater performance, and of Goethe in his encounter with Napoleon, see supplementary appendix 436.1. Back.

[2] It may be recalled that Goethe had met Pauline the during the summer of 1808 in Karlsbad; see her letter to Caroline on 6 September 1808 (letter 434).

On 28 September 1808, Goethe then sent Pauline the “quiet Amynttas,” namely, Torquato Tasso’s pastoral play Aminta (1573) (uncertain “deluxe edition”; English trans., Amyntas. A Tale of the Woods, trans. Leigh Hunt [London 1820]) (illustration here from Aminta favola boschereccia del S. Torqvato Tasso [Vinetia 1603], 21):


The story, set in the time of Alexander the Great, recounts Aminta’s love for the beautiful nymph Silvia; the play’s characters are shepherds and nymphs, the setting wholly bucolic. Goethe sent the gift with quite cordial words of greeting (Weimarer Ausgabe 4:20:170–71) (illustration from L’Aminta dv Tasse: Pastorale, new rev. ed. [The Hague 1681], illustration following p. 10):

You might well think, my dear Pauline, that ungrateful friends had already forgotten not only the wonderful hours in Carlsbad with all their amiable activities [see Pauline’s letter to Caroline on 6 September 1808 (letter 434)], but also all their promises and assurances. It is my intention to convince you otherwise, so let me begin by sending to you, from amid a tumultuous court and thundering world events, quiet Amyntas, which will surely enjoy a friendly reception from you. Think of me when you are displaced into these ideal forests, and let me know soon that you yourself still fondly remember the Bohemian fir forests.

Weimar, 28 September 1808



This gift and cordial notice from Goethe, however, likely implied something more, and something more complex and poignant; see also Caroline’s remark at the end of this letter to the effect that it was “far better to fall in love with the old gentleman [i.e., Gothe] — as you have [than with Ludwig Tieck]” See John Black’s remarks on Tasso’s own disposition when writing Aminta (Life of Torquato Tasso: With an Historical and Critical Account of His Writings, 2 vols. (Edinburgh 1810), 1:360–63, here 360):

It would seem that Tasso had been, at the time of writing it, under the influence of the most violent passion for some unattainable object. He bewails the obstacles which honour opposes to the gratification of mutual desire, and regrets the liberty, or unreproved and innocent licence, of the golden age.

That Goethe was not disinclined to form one-sided romantic attachments to younger women is demonstrated by, among others, his later (1821) attachment to and even courtship of the young Ulrike von Levetzow (1804–99), a relationship that came about similarly in the mineral-springs spa Marienbad (Generalkarte von Europa, ed. Joseph Scheda [Vienna 1845–47], here abbreviated as Franzensbr[unnen]; portrait of Ulrike von Levetzov in 1821 from Mary Caroline Crawford, Goethe and His Woman Friends [Boston 1911], illustration following p. 416):



His poignant but resigned disposition after this painful and apparently not entirely graceful episode comes to expression the the poem “Marienbader Elegie” (1823).

His conscious choice of this poem to send to Pauline suggests that his recollection of the time he spent with her in the bucolic setting of Karlsbad evoked similar poignantly affectionate memories.

Concerning Tasso’s poem, see John Black’s synopsis and remarks in supplementary appendix 436.2. Back.

[3] Pauline’s father, the late Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter, was one of the most frequently performed playwrights in Germany during his lifetime. Back.

[4] Fr., crime de lèse-majesté, “a crime against a sovereign, high treason.” Back.

[5] Fr., parterre des rois, “parterre of the kings,” i.e., in Erfurt; see footnote 1 above. Back.

[6] As a French ally (and king by the grace of Napoleon), Maximilian Joseph I naturally attended the events in Erfurt, something Johanne Schopenhauer similarly notes.

“All of you” refers to Luise Gotter and her three daughters, Julie, Cäcilie, and Pauline herself. They presumably obtained tickets to the performances through connections with the Gotha court, as did similarly Johanna Schopenhauer through connections with the Weimar court; both sovereigns were in Erfurt for these events. The family may have enjoyed some preference because of the theater reputation of the deceased husband and father, Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter. Back.

[7] I.e., journeyed back to Munich with the Bavarian king’s retinue; Caroline had in her letter to Pauline on 16 September 1808 (letter 435) urged her at length to seek an opportunity to travel to Munich to stay with the Schellings. Back.

[8] In French in original. Back.

[9] See the supplementary appendix on Ludwig Tieck’s talent for reading aloud. Back.

[10] The two had arrived in Munich on 18 October 1808. Back.

[11] Tieck did not leave Munich until the summer of 1810.

Concerning Tieck’s earlier itinerary, see Dorothea Schlegel’s letter to Karoline Paulus on 13 January 1805 (letter 389a), note 17. Tieck had returned by way of Munich to Ziebingen but had by the early summer of 1808 again set out on travels, going by way of Berlin and Dresden to meet his sister, Sophie Bernhardi, in Vienna, who was returning from Italy by way of Munich and Prague with Karl Gregor von Knorring (see her letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 19 September 1807 [letter 425a]) (Germany and Italy in 1806, from William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas [New York 1926]):


Friedrich Schlegel and Dorothea Schlegel had in the meantime already relocated to Vienna, having converted to Catholicism in Cologne back in April (see Georg Michael Klein’s letter to Schelling on 29 May 1808 [letter 432e], note 1) (Thomas Kitchin, Map of Germany [ca. 1780]):


Ludwig Tieck, however, who was becoming increasingly involved in the divorce and child-custody scandal between Sophie Bernhardi and her husband, August Ferdinand Bernhardi, relocated to Munich with Sophie in October 1808 with passports issued by the nunciature just as the Viennese police, indeed if necessary with the help of the military, were about to seize the Bernhardi children (Krisenjahre 3:383).

On 24 December 1808, Bernhardi himself appeared in Munich with a court order and, after the police occupied the house where Ludwig Tieck and Sophie were living and forced Sophie’s hand, spent time with Sophie and the children. He eventually softened and accepted custody only of Wilhelm Bernhardi, while Sophie kept Felix Theodor Bernhardi (see also Caroline’s letter to Pauline Gotter on 1 March 1809 [letter 440]).

Bernhardi was back in Berlin by mid-January 1809 (Krisenjahre 3:384), while Tieck ended with a terrible bout of gout and mounting debts in Munich (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Besetztere und illuminierte Landkarte von Deutschland Elementarwerk, from the (Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate xlv):


Friedrich Tieck joined Ludwig and Sophie in Munich in mid-April 1809, coming from Coppet (see Schelling’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 12 December 1808 [letter 437a], esp. with note 1).

Tieck finally left for a mineral-springs spa in Baden during the summer of 1810 (William R. Shepherd, “Germany and Italy in 1803,” Historical Atlas [New York 1923]):


He then journeyed on to Heidelberg, where Amalie Tieck herself came and fetched him back to Ziebingen in late 1810 (Krisenjahre 2:179, Friedrich Schlegel quipping that Tieck seemed to have returned, if not to a safe harbor, then at least to a safe stall).

Sophie Bernhardi married Knorring in 1811 or 1812 (date uncertain), thereby becoming a baroness just as Caroline had predicted (see her letter to Luise Gotter on 4 January 1807 [letter 420]), and moved initially to Arroküll (Aruküla), Knorring’s estate just northwest of Tartu (Dorpat) in Estonia, then to Heidelberg after Knorring’s death, and finally in 1822 back to the Knorring estate Ervita in Estonia, where she spent the rest of her life. Back.

[12] Madam de Staël sent Duchess Luise in Weimar a cast of Friedrich Tieck’s bust of her; Erich Schmidt noted that in 1913 it was still standing in the ducal library in Weimar.



[13] Fr., “boredom.” Back.

[14] Rumohr had been detained at the Bohemian border (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Veranlassung zu Einsamkeit und Nachdäncken [ca. 1773]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [1-45)]:


See Schelling to Lorenz Oken from Munich three days later, on 26 November 1808 (Alexander Ecker, Lorenz Oken. Eine biographische Skizze. Durch erläuternde Zusätze und Mittheilungen aus Oken’s Briefwechsel vermehrt [Stuttgart 1880] 114; Fuhrmans 1:423):

The political rodomontades of H[err] v[on] R[umohr] are similarly of such a nature that if his pursuers knew him as well as I, they would doubtless not have done him the honor of pursuing him that far.

In the meantime, though, I was nonetheless quite sorry to hear about the incident, one concerning which I had received only obscure allusions from him, since he is otherwise a person possessing a not inconsiderable number of admirable qualities, and since I thereby seemed to have lost the prospect of seeing him here again. Back.

[15] Uncertain whether Franz Karl Leopold von Seckendorf and Caroline von Seckendorf’s first husband, Friedrich Bernhard von Seckendorf, were related. Piehl: uncertain allusion. Back.

[16] Georg Heinrich Karl Wiebeking, a hydraulics engineer, had returned to Munich in mid-November 1808 from his excursion to north Germany in connection with the proposed canal to connect the Weser with the Elbe River. See Caroline’s letter to Pauline Gotter on 16 September 1808 (letter 435), note 26. Back.

[17] Wry allusion to the notion (e.g., in the Greek philosopher Empedocles and later medieval thought) that the fundamental elements of reality were water, earth, air and fire (Isidorus Hispalensis and Izydor z Sewilli, De responsione mundi et de astrorum ordinatione [Augsburg 1472], unpaginated):



[18] The reference is to Pauline’s infatuation with Goethe in Karlsbad the previous summer; see Pauline’s letter to Caroline on 6 September 1808 (letter 434) and Caroline’s response on 16 September 1808 (letter 435). Back.

[19] I.e., what is known as the Peninsular War, in which the French were intent on gaining control of both Spain and Portugal not least to thwart any British foothold on the continent. The campaign was ultimately quite costly to the French with respect to both lives and money (here the French army traversing the mountains in Portugal, from William Milligan Sloane, Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, vol. 3 [New York 1901], illustration following p. 96):


In theory, however, the French managed to close off virtually all continental ports to imported British goods, albeit with the qualification that smuggled goods continued to enter continental ports from England, while Napoleon himself encouraged the sale (rather than barter) of continental goods to England with the goal of depleting the British gold supply. Back.

[20] Although a seemingly trivial concern in a town as yet largely untouched by more violent military activity, Caroline’s remark does reflect the European-wide economic effects of military developments at the time as noted in the previous footnote (“Merino sheep [Ovis aries hispanica],” “Die Säugetiere, vol. 3; Alfred E. Brehm, Brehms Tierleben: Allgemeine Kunde des Tierreichs, 3rd rev. ed., ed. Dr. Pechuel-Loesche [Leipzig 1891], 239):


Here an illustration from the late-17th, early-18th century of wool carders at work ([1] Christoff Weigel, Abbildung Der Gemein-Nützlichen Haupt-Stände Von denen Regenten Und ihren So in Friedens- als Kriegs-Zeiten zugeordneten Bedienten an biß auf alle Künstler und Handwercker Nach Jede Ambts- und Beruffs-Verrichtungen meist nach dem Leben gezeichnet und in Kupfer gebracht etc. [Regenspurg 1698], illustration following p. 590; [2] Des Herrn Roland de la Platiere, Oberaufsehers der Manufakturen in der Picardie … Kunst des Wollenzeugfabrikanten, oder, Neueste vollständige Beschreibung geschorne, glatte und gekreutzte Wollenzeuge zu verfertigen nebst den darzu gehörigen Instrumenten und den damit verfertigten Zeugen, trans. J.C. Harrepetern [Nürnberg 1782], end illustration):




Translation © 2018 Doug Stott