Letter 452

452. Schelling to Philipp Michaelis in Harburg: Munich, 29 November 1809 [*]

Munich, 29 November 1809

|577| My dear brother-in-law, attribute it to my internal disposition and external circumstances, the one of which continually makes the other ever more painful, that I am responding so late to your letter of September 25, which in so many respects provided me with such solace. [1] I should have written you while I was still in Stuttgart at least to thank you for the concern that amid your own grief you had for mine and for your demonstration of sympathy toward the abandoned friend of your deceased sister. —

It is merely that I kept thinking I would return to Munich earlier than I actually did. [2] My parents’ concern kept me back, along with my own feeling of not yet being up to the task of facing our previous surroundings. Alas, one’s heart and emotions wreck all such calculations. It seems as if my suffering did not really start until I returned here, and it also seems that such grief is more likely to increase than decrease with time. The further away from me she moves, the more vividly do I feel her loss.

She was a unique, singular being; one had to love her entirely or not at all. To the very end, she maintained this power to address the heart at its very core. We were united by the most sacred of bonds, remaining loyal amid the most extreme grief and the most profound misfortune — all those wounds have begun bleeding anew since |578| she has been torn from my side. Even had she not meant to me what she did, I as a human being would have to weep for her and grieve over the fact that this tour de force of spirit is no longer, this rare woman with such masculine greatness of soul, with the most incisive intellect, united with the tenderness of the most feminine, most delicate, loving heart. Ah, nothing of that sort will ever appear again! How fortunate are you to be able to say that you once acted on behalf of, brought sacrifices for this noble being. [3] Had I yet years upon years to live, how gladly would I share all of them with her, indeed, how gladly would I pay a drop of blood for each day I were with her that I might die with her. That which she wrote you in her last letter really was the way she felt. [4] She was weary of Munich — at least for the moment.

All the ills of the age seemed to press in on us during the past summer more violently than ever: the impudence and almost unbelievable crudeness of French envoyés of the sort perhaps Munich alone can attest appeared in their ugliest form. [5] People with whom we had previously had such upright relationships, people of decency and apparent culture, were transformed, and a period of denunciations and angry political persecutions began anew. It was certainly not from any want of trying on these people’s part that all foreigners were not dragged before a revolutionary tribunal. [6]

Even though all this affected me less than some other people, the impression it made on Caroline was exceedingly repugnant. [7] To that was added my being sick for two months, which she thought was caused by the regnant circumstances here. [8] Alas, I am unable, cannot conceal from myself that all this fatigued her to such a degree, and that these worries, troubles, the nights sitting up with me were among the main factors contributing to that weakness of nerves that made her such quick and easy prey to that terrible illness. [9] Even in the larger sense, she had for some time been considerably less able to hold up to such adverse circumstances. |579| Her soul had increasingly turned toward that other world since Auguste’s death. [10] Only a steady, loving, amiable presence was able to call her back and keep her attention here. —

We suffered a great deal from the circumstances of the age. At the beginning of our relationship, it was her wish to travel to Italy. [11] I dissuaded her from that notion for the perhaps petty reason that I first wanted to create a stable situation for her in the world, and in the hope that the trip would be easy to arrange afterward. [12] This hope was deceptive. From one year to the next, the times merely made it all the more difficult. [13]

Now, however, we had again worked our way up to a freer existence after considerable sacrifice especially on her part, and were she still alive, we would be seeing the land for which she so yearned perhaps as early as next year. [14] Now her precious eyes are closed, and my own heart sucks only bitter reproach for itself from these circumstances. —

The gentlest of premonitions here seemed to precede her death. A certain Frau von Stengel, who was devoted to Caroline with all her soul from the very first moment of their acquaintance just as Caroline was to her, remarked to her on our last day here before departing, “Well, I will be seeing you again soon” — whereupon Caroline (perhaps exhausted, moreover, by the disquiet of that final day) threw her arms around her neck and said — “Perhaps never again.” [15]

We did not see each other that entire afternoon because I had a great many things to take care of outside the house and did not return until around 10:00 for dinner. [16] Her first words to me were, “Schelling, when I return, I really think I would like to get a different apartment.” [17] I took the word when in the sense of when (quand) and remarked to her that at the time we would be returning it would be too late for a move. [18] She may also have been trying to spare me by withholding some of her own feelings of being unwell etc. because I myself was sick at the time. —

Once, while standing at a window in Maulbronn, she said to me, “Schelling, do you think perhaps |580| that I might die here?” It was only long afterward that I recalled these words. At the time, I merely took them as a reflection of the monastic-melancholic character of the setting itself. [19] And how in any case was I to think of such a thing — after all, I was the sick one, she the healthy one! —

Our entire final time together, she was more gentle and loving than ever, her entire being transformed into sweetness. During our return from the short excursion, I could hardly wait to be alone with her again [20] — the first attacks came only a few hours afterward. And yet since the beginning of the summer, I had had the most oppressive premonition of impending misfortune — indeed, it was one cause of my own illness. —

But alas, there is really no solace other than the one about which you speak with such doubt. [21] I would not seize on it out of mere soft-heartedness had my own understanding and reflection, which otherwise find no other way out of this considerable gloom, not already long placed me in precisely this position. I am collecting all the relics of this precious woman from the most recent period. If her last letter to you contains nothing that must remain solely between you and her, I entreat you to send it along to me; it will soon be in your hands again. [22]

Please do maintain your friendship with me; it will always be dear to my heart. I know what you did for Caroline. [23] It would be a melancholy but happy occasion for me might I once meet you in person. [24]

May heaven bless both you and your family! I remain with the most respectful friendship



[*] Waldemar von Olshausen, “Neues aus dem Caroline-Kreis,” Euphorion 28 (1927), 350–62, here 350, points out that Erich Schmidt, (1913), did not include two paragraphs in this letter. The first, which Olshausen does not transcribe, concerned “business matters, his [Schelling’s] account concerning the [Caroline’s] estate,” and is likely part of the correspondence with Philipp Michaelis concerning the expenses associated with the memorial for Auguste to which Schelling refers in letters to Wilhelm Schlegel on 12 March 1810 and 7 April 1810 (Krisenjahre 2:119–22). The other similarly concerns the memorial:

Let me commend one thing to you in particular, namely, the memorial for Auguste. Of all the things I can view as the last will and testament of the deceased [Caroline died intestate], this particular item is the most sacred to me. Its execution was delayed during her lifetime only because we ourselves were always hoping to make it to Rome, where the entire piece was then to be done under our supervision.

Philipp Michaelis was still living and working as a physician in Harburg, just across the Elbe River from Hamburg (“Central Europe: Wars of the Third Coalition 1805–7,” Cambridge Modern History Atlas [Cambridge 1912]):



[1] Not extant. Back.

[2] Schelling had returned to Munich from Stuttgart in mid-October 1809. Back.

[3] An allusion, which Schelling repeats later in the letter, to the crucial assistance and intervention with Friedrich Wilhelm II by way of Sophie Bethmann Philipp Michaelis provided in getting Caroline released from house arrest in Kronberg after her incarceration in Königstein in the spring and summer of 1793 (representative illustration: Marie Thérèse Martinet, Madame Gertrude [ca. 1770]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur MTMartinet AB 3.17):


See Caroline’s letter to Friedrich Wilhelm and Luise Gotter on 13 July 1793 (letter 131). Back.

[4] In her final letter to Philipp, on 16 August 1809 (letter 443), Caroline had written concerning her and Schelling’s imminent journey to Maulbronn that “I would not mind if we did not return at all.” Back.

[5] Bavaria, with Munich as its capital, was a kingdom solely by the grace of Napoleon and as such a compulsory ally and member of the Confederation of the Rhine, as well as an important center for diplomatic and military connections between France and its troops and interests in Germany and farther east over the past several years of warfare (Germany and Italy in 1806, from William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas [New York 1926]):



[6] Foreigners, i.e., non-Bavarians. Back.

[7] Caroline had remarked in a letter to Luise Gotter on 6 June 1808 (letter 433) that

what also particularly pleases Schelling is that the Bavarians here are uncommonly satisfied with it all and are happy to grant him the position [as general secretary of the Academy of Fine Arts], whereas otherwise they generally neither acknowledge the attainments foreigners already have nor respect them for those attainments. Back.

[8] Schelling had been ill from late June till at least early-August with, initially, catarrhal fever, and then a persistent cough ([N.] Schwerdtgeburt, Moritz Müller, Ein Kranker auf seinem Lager [1814]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 1831):


See Caroline’s letter to Pauline Gotter on 7 August 1809 (letter 442) and to Philipp Michaelis on 16 August 1809 (letter 443); also Schelling’s letters on 7 August to Carl Joseph Windischmann and Martin Wagner. Back.

[9] Dysentery accompanied by nervous fever (Christoph Nathe and Gottlieb Böttger d.Ä, Frau am Krankenbett [1796]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 245):



[10] On 12 July 1800 (Nordischer Almanach für das Iahr 1807):



[11] The first epistolary mention of this journey, the hope for which never afterward disappeared from Caroline’s correspondence, seems to occur back in Jena in Schelling’s letter to his father back on 28 May 1802 (letter 361a); see esp. note 12 there. Had Caroline and Schelling journeyed to Italy from Munich, they would likely have traveled south through Tyrol and the Brenner Pass unless they first went to Switzerland (Germany and Italy in 1803 after the Principal Decree of the Imperial Deputation, Historical Atlas, 2nd ed. [New York 1921], 151):



[12] The initial journey was postponed not least because Schelling decided instead to accept the position in Würzburg during the autumn of 1803. Caroline wrote to Luise Wiedemann on 17 September 1803 from Munich, where Schelling had just finished negotiations with the Bavarian authorities (letter 381):

It has now been decided, my dear Luise: Schelling has been appointed to a position in Würzburg under the conditions that he himself chose, one of which, however, I would not have chosen myself, namely, that the trip to Italy be postponed, though he has already secured permission beforehand to take it as soon as he desires. Considering the country’s ambiguous situation, and that, at least the way things stand now, we probably could not have gotten as far as Naples in any case, he preferred to be present at the beginning in Würzburg.

On 17 April 1810, Schelling wrote to Martin Wagner from Stuttgart (Plitt 2:204): “I will eternally regret not having directed my steps there [to Italy] six years ago.” Back.

[13] Viz., geopolitical developments and the Napoleonic Wars. Back.

[14] Here Rome in 1816, essentially as Caroline and Schelling would have experienced it (anonymous, published by Thomas Kelley in London on 30 November 1816):


Ironically, that freer existence resulted from Schelling not having secured a professorial appointment anywhere in Bavaria after the troubles in Würzburg. Instead, in Munich he was made a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities and then general secretary of the Academy of Fine Arts, neither of which involved much in the way of professional obligations and both of which together provided the Schellings with a comfortable income.

Concerning the discretionary time needed to turn these circumstances into a sojourn in Italy, see esp. Schelling’s anticipatory plan in his letter to Georg Friedrich von Zentner on 19 January 1806 (letter 400d). Back.

[15] The farewell took place at an evening social gathering on 17 August 1809 at the house of Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer in Munich (Göttinger Taschen Calender Für das Iahr 1796; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


Concerning that evening, see Meta Liebeskind’s letter to Gottliebin Schelling on 14 September 1809 (letter 447), in which she speaks about Caroline’s behavior that evening and her peculiar remarks “And were I now not to return at all.” See esp. note 5 there, with a cross reference, also concerning Rosine Niethammer, to Caroline’s letter to Meta Liebeskind on 28 August 1809 (letter 444). Back.

[16] 17 August 1809; the Schellings departed the next day. Schelling’s statement here does not quite square with the accounts of their having attended the social gathering at the Niethammers’ on the evening of 17 August. Back.

[17] Caroline and Schelling’s last apartment in Munich was located at Im Rosenthal 144. Back.

[18] I.e., in early October 1809; see Schelling’s letter to Carl Joseph Windischmann on 7 August 1809 (letter 442a), note 3.

Schelling is distinguishing between the various meanings of German wenn, which can mean either (1) “when” in the usual English sense of “When I return” (similar to French quand), or (2) “when” in the sense of “whenever; if.” That is, Caroline’s statement could equally well be taken to mean “if I return, I really think I would like a different apartment.” Back.

[19] “Kloster Maulbronn,” Schwäbisches Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1820 (Stuttgart):


Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Oh perdez cette indifférence, et vous connoîtrez le vrai bien, from Isabelle de Montolieu’s novel Karoline von Lichtfield, published in the Gothaischer Hof Kalender zum Nutzen und Vergnügen eingerichtet auf das Jahr 1788 (Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.704 [1786]):



[20] On 1–3 September 1809; see Gottliebin Schelling’s letter to Meta Liebeskind just after Caroline’s death in September 1809 (letter 446), note 7. Schelling had written similarly to Luise Gotter on 24 September 1809 (letter 448) (illustration: Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1820: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):

During this entire excursion she was very quiet and withdrawn, and was so in a rather peculiar manner despite having an external appearance of the most perfect inner serenity. A hundred times I was driven to ask her why she was so quiet and yet every time was prevented from doing so by our companions. Inwardly I was so yearning to be alone with her again and at home.



[21] Uncertain allusion. Back.

[22] Caroline’s letter to Philipp on 16 August 1809 (letter 443). Back.

[23] See note 3 above concerning Philipp’s intervention on Caroline’s behalf in 1793. Back.

[24] Schelling and Philipp Michaelis never met in person. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott