Letter 451c

451c. Dorothea Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Coppet: Vienna, 25 November 1809 [*]

Vienna, 25 November 1809

Our dear, excellent brother! You have given me permission to write you quite often without first having to wait so long for an answer, and I, not someone inclined to laziness, do not need to be told twice.

Of course, heaven only knows whether my letters really reach you, or where [1] — but that does not particularly bother me; when one lives so long and so often separated from those whom one loves, as I unfortunately must, one falls into a kind of routine of conducting monologues. [2] I have become so accustomed to directing my thoughts to those who are far away that it is far easier for me simply to communicate those thoughts in a letter than in any sort of conversation. I am never as talkative as when I am alone, whereas in society people think I am mute. —

I immediately forwarded your letters, which I found here, to Friedrich, and here is what he wrote me in response:

“The letters both moved and occupied me in so many ways. Wilhelm’s faithfulness is something golden in this otherwise iron, rigid age in which we live. — It is quite possible that I will enter into this dispute with Schelling as soon as I have the time; [3] it will happen if I sense that doing so can help the good cause, and this will indeed be the case if I but have the opportunity to show that my Catholicism is founded on the most profound speculation, and the opportunity to annihilate those phantoms merely as an aside.” —

You will no doubt be satisfied with this view and his intention of responding to the attack in as little personal a fashion as possible. Conducted in this way, and based on such motives, the dispute truly can be of use to the world; and yet, though I by no means am to be counted among the timid, I cannot help feeling a sense of dread! [4] I do realize that it is only in battle that the good can prove its worth, and that it is often from the collision of opposing opinions that truth emerges; but what person is always able to control his emotions and passions? And in what age has one experienced more often than in our own that it is precisely through unchecked zealousness in defending what is right that the most sacred things are trampled underfoot?

Oh, my dear Wilhelm! Please unite with me in prayer that your brother be equipped with strength, action, moderation, and with all the gifts of the divine Spirit, and that his soul not suffer any harm in this terrible battle! — Do not laugh at my fear, dear Wilhelm! Your brother’s soul is dearer to me than my own life, dearer than his fame.

Knorring left for Munich several weeks ago, indeed before my own arrival in Vienna, and you yourself have probably already received this news from there. [5]

Cornelius Best left Sophie [6] and is now employed as a physician with the French army, where things seem to be going very well for him indeed and where he is quite respected for his excellent medical expertise and handling of the infirmaries (something he learned from his genuinely great father). [7] I was utterly astonished to see him enter my apartment one evening in the uniform of the French armée, and looking indeed comme il faut. [8]

He related a great deal to me about Munich, and also . . . (but you must give me your word not to betray me in any of this!) [9] that at the Tieks’ it has become fashionable to rail against Friedrich and me and to make fun of us. [10]

They are certainly welcome to engage in such amusing diversions concerning me, though I am unaware of having done anything to them to merit it. I have never given Sophie occasion to complain about me, and it was actually easy, since we never had any real relationship except that I was very obliged to her for her cordial reception of Friedrich. Nor have I ever done any wrong to Tiek, unless it be my inclination toward him, which never permitted me to allow any accusation of my friends or acquaintances toward him to be expressed.

But they really should leave Friedrich untouched, and count it as an honor to have been born in the same era with him! Just how sincerely well-meaning Friedrich has always been toward them can be attested by everyone with whom he has spoken about them. But I must say there is not as much talk there about good opinions and proven friendship as about Friedrich’s one-sidedness, his avarice, his superficial philosophy, and the petty idiosyncracies of his personality, all of which they mock with considerable wit and theatrical art, while trying to make him seem contemptible because of the detested influence his wife has over him. [10a]

Indeed, I have no other influence over him, nor do I seek to have any other, than what any person will invariably have about whose loyal affection the other person is convinced. Nor have I ever abused this natural influence to my own advantage. I do not even know of any advantage for myself alone. His well-being, his honor, and his success are my own. I would die of anxiety had I not the cleanest conscience in this matter!

I cannot yet quite comprehend how the Tiecks think they have the right to speak about Friedrich’s philosophy. It is a matter of indifference to us that they are striving to gain an advantage from their friendship with the president of the Academy; let them come to terms with that themselves. But they have no right to engage any means to this end, and taking sides against Friedrich’s religiosity is both tasteless and heinous. Do they really believe they are making their own conversion to the church more pleasant by engaging in their charming jokes in that regard? [11]

Ludwig intends to continue his Zerbino, and Friedrich is to have a role in it. [12] Well, fine! if he does it quite wittily, he will prove himself all the more to be the Aristophanes of his age, and these relationships will thereby also finally be separated out and identified for what they are, and the conceit of one and the same clique will finally come to an end! But just because he cannot resist castigating him with wit for certain things, must he then also, and in all seriousness, take sides against him with one of his worst adversaries? [13]

As for my own part, he at least is — a matter of indifference! — there is but one thing in all this that (please allow me to voice this complaint to you) greatly saddens me. Someone glossed over their own reproach precisely by vaunting your dissatisfaction with me. —

The same thing has already happened to me once before as well, where a certain woman [14] gave weight to her own bitterness toward me by adducing your hatred for me. But she is no more! I have long forgiven her for everything, and my lips never learned to accuse her! [15]

But this time it must not, nor shall it remain such, I intend to insist on my rights, and for the very reason that this time (as I believe) it would make you more sorry to do me injustice! —

My dear brother, I implore you with weeping eyes, please never allow strangers to play the part of judge between us, if ever again you believe it necessary to lodge a complaint against me, do not express it toward strangers who to me are otherwise indifferent persons. Express it to your brother, who does not know to which of us he should give precedence in his heart. Express it to Charlotte, who loves you with such genuine tenderness and whose remarks I will take on every occasion as the guide of my own actions. And express it finally to me myself, whose greatest, loftiest ambition is to merit your satisfaction.

And it is not just for my own sake that I ask for your consideration (if you disapprove of my alliance with your brother, I cannot really escape your displeasure); just consider also how very much your brother’s honor suffers from this unconcealed disapproval! —

I will add no more — you are Friedrich’s brother, the most magnanimous of men, you yourself will sense what pains me. —

I am sure I need not remind you not to mention anything in Munich about all this, [16] for I had to give Best my word not to compromise him. Nor is it really necessary, for I have nothing to settle with those people, and they can do absolutely nothing more to me. But I did want to voice my complaint to you about it so that I not have anything in my heart that was bothering me about you, especially since you are leaving us for so long a time now. I am weak, and who knows whether you will see me again? If you write about it in letters to Munich, a completely unnecessary and disastrous gossip campaign will result. . . .

Please be not angry with me, my dear, good Wilhelm! Please allow some of your love for your brother to come my way as well.

Dorothea S.[chlegel]


[*] Source: Krisenjahre 2:88–91.

A penultimate reminder (see Dorothea’s letter to Wilhelm on 6 January 1810 [letter 453a]) of how fragile was the collective of personalities that once gathered in Jena and became known as the early Romantics. Back.

[1] Wilhelm had mentioned leaving Coppet for a town in the French provinces (according to letters from Dorothea to Friedrich Schlegel on 29 November 1809 [Dorothea Schlegel und deren Söhne 1:388–89], and from Wilhelm to Helmina von Chézy on 6 October 1809 [(1930) 1:241]). Back.

[2] Friedrich Schlegel was accompanying the Austrian army; see the editorial note to Dorothea’s letter to him on 21 November 1809 (letter 451b). Back.

[3] See Schelling’s letter to Carl Joseph Windischmann on 7 August 1809 (letter 442a), note 2, and Dorothea’s letter to Friedrich on on 21 November 1809 (letter 451b). Back.

[4] Dorothea had long seen little sense in the disputes the early Romantic had both with outsiders and, now, among themselves, having once quipped in a letter to Schleiermacher on 28 October 1799 (letter 252a) (illustration: Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, “Die Philosophen” [The philosophers], Illustrationen zu Erasmus’ Lob der Narrheit in sechs Abteilungen [1780]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki WB 3.31):

In general, my opinion now is that all you revolutionaries need to fight with body and blood first, and then you might be in a position to retire and write, just as Götz von Berlichingen wrote his own life story. . . .

For as it is, your personalities, your desires — all that accords with the literary path and criticism and all that stuff the way a giant fits into a child’s bed. I see quite clearly now that those who are sitting at the rudder are polite, cold, malleable simpletons who cannot use any of you for the tiny machines they have set up for their feeble hands. They bend way over when passing through the tiny door, and all of you want to enter standing upright; no wonder you hit your heads.

The quarrel with the Literatur-Zeitung has now been initiated, and something will probably be appearing publicly soon. Wilhelm is a worthy warrior; but it pains me that he must squander so much wit and energy against these wretched creatures.



[5] Sophie Bernhardi had been anxiously awaiting Karl Gregor von Knorring’s arrival in Munich for most of 1809, not least for financial reasons. Concerning this unfortunate and chaotic situation, see Caroline’s letter to Pauline Gotter on 1 March 1809 (letter 440).

Vienna is located ca. 450 km east of Munich (Thomas Kitchin, Map of Germany [ca. 1780]):



[6] Cornelius Best had been in Munich since at least January 1809 and had been acting as Sophie Bernhardi’s physician and even tutoring Felix Theodor Bernhardi (Sophie to Wilhelm on 26 January 1809 [Krisenjahre 2:14]). Back.

[7] It was Cornelius Best who, having just come to Vienna from Munich, had related to Dorothea the news of Caroline’s death. See Dorothea’s letter to Friedrich on 21 November 1809 (letter 451b). Back.

[8] Fr., “as is proper, quite as one should.”

Here the French marshal Jean-de-Dieu Soult (1769–1851) in uniform during this period (M. A. Thiers, Collection de 350 gravures dessins de Philippoteaux, etc. pour l’histoire du consulat et de l’empire, vol. 2 [Paris 1870], plate 182) and a French field surgeon with Napoleon and General Lannes at the battle of Esslingen in May 1809 (“Napoleon and Marshal Lannes at Essling,” in William Milligan Sloane, Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, vol. 3 [New York 1901], plate following p. 174):




[9] Viz., to the Tieck siblings, who were still there. Dorothea was likely unaware that Wilhelm was still corresponding with Sophie Bernhardi, and similarly unaware of his affair with her. Back.

[10] All three Tieck siblings were living together in Munich: Ludwig Tieck, Friedrich Tieck, and Sophie Bernhardi (Der Freund des schönen Geschlechts: ein angenehm und nützlicher Taschenkalender für das Jahr 1808):



[10a] Mode-Almanach fur Damen auf das Jahr 1802:



[11] The reference is to Ludwig and Sophie’s alleged conversions to Catholicism; see Caroline’s letter to Pauline Gotter on 1 March 1809 (letter 440), note 21; see also Friedrich’s letter to Dorothea from Pest in late 1809 (Dorothea Schlegel und deren Söhne 1:386–87):

As far as religion is concerned, do not let it bother you so much; the abuse of those who are unworthy is simply part of the earthly appearance of the heavenly light. Believe me, during the time of the apostles, even in their own immediate surroundings and among their alleged followers, there were certainly enough of precisely that sort of false confessors, those who had doubtless comprehended part of the mysteries with their understanding or imagination but who had otherwise remained desolate and wicked by disposition. You will find clear references to them in a great many New Testament passages and will, moreover, now understand those passages all the better. Back.

[12] Prinz Zerbino, oder, Die Reise nach dem guten Geschmack, Romantische Dichtungen von Ludwig Tieck. Erster Theil (Jena 1799); a slightly altered version appeared in vol. 10 of Tieck’s Schriften (Berlin 1828). Friedrich, in fact, greatly admired this piece. Tieck’s later statements regarding a possible continuation, however, mention nothing about pilloryng Friedrich. See in any case Friedrich’s letter to Caroline on 19 February 1799 (letter 221), note 9. Back.

[13] Friedrich soon developed a closer relationship with Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. Back.

[14] Viz., Caroline in Jena. Back.

[15] Dorothea makes the same overtly disingenuous point concerning forgiveness and, esp., accusation in her letter to Friedrich on 21 November 1809 (letter 451b) (Almanac de Goettingue pour l’anneé 1786; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[16] As above: to the Tiecks. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott