Letter 453a

453a. Dorothea Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel in Coppet: Vienna, 16 January 1810 [*]

[Vienna, 16 January 1810]

My dear, good brother, greetings from the bottom of my heart! I was already angry with myself for having sent you that impassioned outburst so straightaway, and for having caused you God-only-knows-how-many unpleasant feelings [1] — and yet basically I still cannot regret it, for it was, after all, better than keeping it inside and letting it eat away at me.

And now in any case, I absolutely see that it was nothing but quirky rancor and that I actually wronged you, something for which I herewith want to apologize to you quite humbly, [2] but nonetheless not without a sense of inner triumph. Let those people continue to say whatever they like about me [3] — it is sooner the faithlessness toward Friedrich that had so upset me; [4] a less emotional consideration of it all on my part would have comforted me, for I would then have realized that they are doing the most harm to themselves in the whole business! —

But is it not sad the way Ludwig is going to ruin with all his gifts? I feel the same way about that as I do in Tannhäuser, where one has to watch all those people tumbling into Mount Venus following an old fiddler without being able to hold them back. [5] That he saw himself so clearly here, as if in a mirror, just as earlier in Lovel, and as a matter of fact even in Golo, is really profoundly disturbing, and even arouses pity; sometimes I almost wish he had already died earlier! [6]

Very, very few shoots and blossoms genuinely mature into fruit; most carry some worm or other within that ultimately ruins them. So are we to lament when they are shaken off the limb while yet mere blossoms? Is that not actually a better fate? Is that not sooner to be viewed as an example of true attained destiny than is the sort of undoing or destruction that feigns merely external perfection while being inwardly full of the most profound rot? — I once greatly loved this Ludwig! [7]

I did pluck one string that I perhaps should not under any circumstances have touched in a letter. [8] We would doubtless immediately understand each other in person as soon as nothing hostile can come between us anymore. We might have spoken much, much more about it — not even the half of it can be expressed in writing.

Just believe this much: You were not told the truth! I already knew that much even then. But that I remained silent, that I let myself be slandered, and that I did not — I do not want to say avenge myself, for I felt no urge to do that, but instead tried to justify myself to you — All those things happened, first, because no self-justification has any effect against such base accusation in any case. There would have been a squabble, and not of the noblest sort, something for which I simply lack the ability (I think I could sooner acquit myself in a duel than squabble with adroit female eloquence). [9]

Second, any such justification along with its consequences would quite possibly have caused, if not a permanent, then at least a lengthier rift between you and your brother (which was the real intent in the first place, for the batteries were merely directed against me in a fake attack), something I wanted to avoid in any way possible and at all costs. [10] Nothing seemed more important to me than your good relationship. As far as my own justification was concerned, I just entrusted it to the passage of time. And indeed with God’s help, I succeeded in everything. —

People talk so much about the “sense of justice” that men alone allegedly possess. But show me even a single man who would render justice to a woman in questionable circumstances whose favor he does not already possess or hopes to possess or at least once possessed; one woman alone finds justice — and the rest can just watch if they like! —

But come, allow a bit of war to be waged with you. Was it right to condemn me so straightaway and unheard? And should one not have taken — as part of this reflective exercise of justice — my own, voluntary silence and resignation into consideration? —

To my knowledge, no housewares or furniture of any significance were damaged during the time that we resided in that house; [11] nor do I see how one can assert with respect to insignificant pieces that it was I who necessarily caused the damage, since at the time the plaintiff herself had been sick for six months and did not check anything before her departure. [12] I at least received nothing in the way of an inventory, nor did she acknowledge the condition of any of the housewares.

As far as the “drunken rout” we allegedly gave in the rooms is concerned, [13] I honestly do not know what that is supposed to mean unless the reference is to the so-called doctoral banquet that your brother was required to give at the time and that hardly can be said to correspond to the expression “drunken rout.” You yourself had granted us use of the house on your departure without disallowing casual or occasional use of the large rooms. [14] Such an occasion did present itself, and we did indeed use them to save on what that ceremony cost us in any case. [15]

On her return, the deceased found all the rooms clean and properly arranged, and us no longer in the house. [16] Perhaps we should have asked for your permission beforehand to give the banquet in your room, but there was not enough time, and we considered that permission assured in any case. Afterward, when you were in Braunschweig, Friedrich did write you about it and thanked you. [17]

These accusations are exactly the sort I already had to endure earlier, like that concerning my son, who is alleged to have infected the house with vermin and leprosy! [18] — Admit it, my dear Wilhelm, one simply cannot relate such things about a woman of whom you are so fond! —

But how, now, am I to address that grand, bitter accusation you mention, which sends a cold shiver down my spine? My dear brother, how on earth could anyone persuade you of such abominations concerning me?! [19] The truth is that I did not speak with a single person in Bocklet about either the child or her mother.

On my arrival there, [20] I found a letter to Hofrath Markus warning him and the entire spa society against both me and Madam Paulus as the most despicable and vile creatures. I read the letter after having to give my solemn promise to Hofrath Markus to write absolutely nothing to you about it. [21] And I kept my promise as long as the authoress was alive.

In her vain conceit, it likely never occurred to her that Markus would betray her that way as a favor to Madam Paulus, of whom she thought so little! [22] Since we did not know to whom else she may have written such letters, we thought it best to deny her and her acquaintance as far as possible. I was there under my father’s name and pretended I had come from Berlin so as to avoid being questioned in any way.

Nor did that ever happen, except at one fête [23] in Aschach at the house of a pretty young woman who did indeed remember you well, for you had paid some attention to her during your own stay in the spa. [24] I have forgotten her name, but as far as I can remember it was an Italian name; her husband was the provincial or spa director. [25]

Well, we were at her house, and Markus teased her a bit because of her predilection for you, and told her she could in fact query me about you, since I was related to you. After I had explained and specified the correct nature of the relationship, [26] she took me aside and asked me whether you were not the real father of the deceased child, and the mother merely the stepmother. They argued with everyone who maintained that the opposite was the case. Of course, I told her that the opposite was indeed true, whereupon she effusively praised your fatherly love for the child, not mentioning the mother any further. I, too, remained silent.

Then it so happened that I was waited on by a girl who had also waited on the child during her illness. [27] She related a great deal to me about the child’s final hours without at all noticing the interest I took in it all, apart from the same interest any stranger could not fail to take in such a story.

Early one morning, when it was completely quiet, this girl also led me to the child’s grave; [28] no other person has ever learned of my visit there, and I myself never spoke with anyone about either that or her illness, though admittedly much was said about it at the spa. That that particular accusation is a slander you can easily enough assess from the fact that the letter to Markus was written much earlier than my own arrival there; so what did she possibly already have against me at that time? And how was I not completely torn down in that letter? – – –

But enough, this final point has so upset me that I can hardly guide my quill. —

How I wish you were here! I would really like to see you once more before the horrible trip. [29] . . .

Adieu, my dear Wilhelm; I will write you again very soon, but nothing about subjects that are unpleasant for us; just please do not so quickly think me capable of such malevolent things. . . .

A peaceful, quiet life together with Friedrich, where we might enjoy life for a while yet without distress and grief, is probably not going to happen anytime soon, perhaps ever; and it would be merely a useless struggle were we to strive exclusively for it.

May God keep us.

Dorothea Schlegel


[*] Source: Krisenjahre 2:105–9.

In this letter, Dorothea revisits a more recent issue, namely, that of the Tieck siblings’ derogatory and even derisive remarks concerning her and especially Friedrich Schlegel, and an old issue concerning Caroline that this recent issue has now revived and which, it seems, had been smoldering within Dorothea since 1800 and 1801 and concerning which she now wishes to confront Wilhelm.

She recently raised the two issues in her letter to Wilhelm on 25 November 1809 (letter 451c). One sees again how fragile was the collective of personalities that once gathered in Jena and became known as the early Romantics.

In any event, this present letter is best understood in the light of previous correspondence from that period, all of which is either cited or cross-referenced below. Back.

[1] See Dorothea’s letter to Wilhelm of 25 November 1809 (letter 451c), esp. its second paragraph, to which Wilhelm (letter not extant) seems to have responded angrily. Back.

[2] In letter 451c, Dorothea had annoyingly remarked that “someone glossed over their own reproach precisely by vaunting your dissatisfaction with me.”

Josef Körner (Krisenjahre 3:441) notes that in his response to Dorothea (not extant), Wilhelm had probably declared that he was giving no credence to the gossip spread by the Tiecks in Munich (all three Tieck siblings were living together there at the time: Ludwig Tieck, Friedrich Tieck, and Sophie Bernhardi).

Dorothea had, moreover, complained to Wilhelm from Vienna in a letter on 31 May 1809 (Krisenjahre 2:47):

I do not deny that I was somewhat sensitive to the fact you, a man who otherwise made it his perpetual rule always to observe the most charming consideration and the most subtle delicacy in dealing with women, — that you were always intent on dealing precisely with me so in so inconsiderate a fashion. This particular distinction (which I was not in any case aware of having deserved) was all the more painful for me insofar as you were otherwise so utterly justified in counting on my most ardent gratitude after having done so much for us! Back.

[3] The Tieck siblings (“clique”) in Munich, as broadly presented in Dorothea’s letter to Wilhelm of 25 November 1809 (letter 451c) (Carlo Goldoni, Opere complete, vol. 9 [Venice 1910], 413):



[4] In her letter to Wilhelm on 25 November 1809 (letter 451c), Dorothea remarks (illustration: Mode-Almanach fur Damen auf das Jahr 1802):

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 make mock with considerable wit and theatrical art.



[5] Tannhäuser, originally a Middle High German poet who became legendary as the knight who visited Venus’s grotto, in which Venus reigns in a realm of sensual pleasure while her guests incur damnation. Ludwig Tieck treated the theme in Der getreue Eckart und der Tannenhäuser, in Tieck’s Romantische Dichtungen, vol. 1 (Jena 1799), 423–92, here 473–74 (Tannenhäuser is speaking):

An old tale relates how centuries ago there lived a knight by the name of Loyal Eckart, and how at that time a minstrel who had come from a strange mountain, a minstrel whose wondrous music aroused such deep longing, such wild desires in the heart of anyone who heard it that they were irresistibly seized and drawn by these sounds and ultimately got lost in that mountain. It was at that time that hell opened its portals to poor humanity and enticed them in by means of charming music.

Tieck deals with the theme as it involves Eckart himself in a song within the narrative shortly before the above description (ibid., 463–69). Back.

[6] Ludwig Tieck, Geschichte des Herrn William Lovell, 3 vols. (Berlin, Leipzig 1795–96); “Golo”: character in Tieck’s Das Leben und Tod der heiligen Genoveva, in his Romantische Dichtungen, vol. 2 (Jena 1800), 1–330.

The character William Lovell begins as an idealist but during his grand tour of the continent becomes an immoral, ruthless, depraved, but despairing hedonist and seducer and is eventually killed in a pistol duel in Rome (anonymous engraving):


Golo is a similarly depraved character who tries unsuccessfully to seduce another man’s wife but is rejected, whereupon he schemes (also unsuccessfully) to have the woman (Genoveva) killed; ultimately, and ostensibly remorseful, he is executed as a criminal (Friedrich Franz and Christian Johannes Riepenhausen, Leben und Tod der heiligen Genoveva [Frankfurt 1806]):



[7] Dorothea remarks in her letter to Wilhelm on 25 November 1809 (letter 451c): “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” (Göttinger Taschen Calendar Für das Iahr 1795 (Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[8] Namely, concerning Caroline.

In her letter to Wilhelm on 25 November 1809 (letter 451c), Dorothea follows her remarks about others “glossing” their own reproaches of her by “vaunting” Wilhelm’s dissatisfaction with the statement: “The same thing has already happened to me once before as well, where a certain woman gave weight to her own bitterness toward me by adducing your hatred for me” (Berlinischer Damen Kalender auf das Iahr 1799; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[9] I.e., Caroline’s adroit female eloquence (anonymous, The Petticoat Duellists [London August 1792] for the Carlton House Magazine; Wellcome Collection):



[10] See Friedrich’s letter to Schleiermacher before mid-September 1801 (letter 328j):

The fact that she tries to put all the blame on Madam Veit, as if the real quarrel were between the latter and her rather than originally with me, an interpretation Wilhelm has also encouraged with you — accept at least one fact in this regard — is absolutely unfounded and a barefaced lie, since she herself knows only too well that such is simply not the case, unless she has now taken complete leave of her senses.

Concerning this denial of Caroline’s attempts to hold Dorothea responsible for the problems besetting the Jena group and the two brothers, see esp. Friedrich’s letter to Wilhelm from Cologne on 15 April 1806 (letter 401d), specifically the passage beginning “How in God’s name is it possible for that depraved woman’s web of lies to still keep you ensnared, and for her phantasmagoria to still hold sway before your eyes?” Also Caroline herself in her letter to Wilhelm on 26 November 1801 (letter 331):

Things are strained with Madam Veit in any case. Yesterday Schelling insisted once more, and quite sincerely, that he would seek Friedrich’s friendship again and would forget any hostility if only Madam Veit were not around. But what does any of this help? I myself often feel I cannot die in peace without having come to an understanding with him. If only someone would strike her dead before I die. Back.

[11] This passage concerns Caroline’s reaction — who had a decidedly different opinion on the matter — to the condition of her and Wilhelm’s apartment at Leutragasse 5 after she arrived in Jena from Braunschweig on the evening of 23 April 1801 (Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel, Deutschland und angrenzende Gebiete [Leipzig 1937]):


See Caroline’s annoyed comments in her letters to Wilhelm in quick succession on 24 April 1801 (letter 311); on 27 April 1801 (letter 312); on 5 May 1801 (letter 313); on 8 May 1801 (letter 314); and on 18 May 1801 (letter 317). Back.

[12] In her letter to Wilhelm on 7 May 1801 (letter 314), Caroline herself confirms Dorothea’s statement here: “Can I maintain that they broke so and so many dozen plates when nothing was ever really formally given over to Madam Veit to begin with?”

See also Friedrich’s letter to Wilhelm on 27 April 1801 (letter 312a):

I also returned the piano to Karoline. It was very unpleasant for me that she found various small items missing from among the kitchen things; fortunately, they have already found most of the things there in the house itself, since we had sent everything over there beforehand; for since Dorothea was not here, and I have a new cook, I felt quite embarrassed about it. Back.

[13] Dorothea is referring to the doctoral banquet held in Caroline’s apartment on 15 March 1801 after Friedrich had received his doctorate a few days before.

See Dorothea’s comments to Clemens Brentano in her letter from Jena on 13 March 1801, cited in Caroline’s letter to Wilhelm on 26–27 March (letter 303), note 14. Caroline mentions the banquet in that letter, albeit in disapproving terms (illustrations: Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1819: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet [1812, 1819]):

and as far as the things they used are concerned, the table settings and the porcelain — which have already been reduced enough as it is through normal usage — are, after all, my own, small, separate property, and, in a word, I do not intend to offer it [the parlor] for their use at the next doctoral banquet




[14] Wilhelm had departed Jena for Bamberg on 21 July 1800 after hearing about Auguste’s death. On 1 October he accompanied Caroline to Braunschweig, then moved to Berlin (without Caroline) on 21 February 1801. Caroline had then returned to Jena on 21 April 1801 without Wilhelm. Back.

[15] According to Dorothea’s letter to Wilhelm of 25 August 1800 (letter 266b), the “doctoral degree cost almost 50 Thaler.” Back.

[16] Dorothea had left Jena for Leipzig on 20 April 1801, and Friedrich went to pick her up there on 7 May. The two were back in Jena on 10 May. Friedrich writes to Wilhelm on 27 April 1801 (letter 312a): “For almost a week now, I have been alone and Dorothea in Leipzig.”

See also Dorothea’s lament to Schleiermacher about her dental problems in her letter from Jena on 15 June 1801 (letter 320). Caroline mentions Friedrich’s departure on 7 May in her letter to Wilhelm on that same day (letter 314). Back.

[17] Friedrich had written to Wilhelm on 24 March 1801 (Walzel, 470; KFSA 25:249; reading “fêtes,” “parties, celebrations,” plural, follows KFSA 25:585n15, whereas Walzel reads Germ. Fass, “barrel, keg”; this plural reading also points out that Friedrich celebrated not only the obligatory banquet on 14 March 1801 celebrating his habilitation at the university, but likely also his twenty-ninth birthday on 10 March):

Because I did not have enough room myself, I gave my fêtes in your house [at Leutragasse 5] and faked the permission. In the meantime, everything has been restored to its previous, tidy condition. Back.

[18] See Caroline’s insinuation, in her letter to Wilhelm on 19 June 1801 (letter 326), that Philipp had a case of elephantiasis. Back.

[19] The accusation, namely, that Dorothea and Karoline Paulus had spread the rumor concerning Schelling having been at least in part responsible for Auguste’s death in Bocklet.

See Caroline’s letter to Julie Gotter of 17 October 1802 (letter 372), in which she mentions Dorothea and Karoline Paulus, “both of whom arrived shortly afterward and, driven by the venomous spite she harbors against Schelling and me, immediately could not but seize on what was originally merely a completely foolish piece of gossip and start circulating it” (Genealogische Kalender auf das Jahr 1810; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


See esp. note 8 there.

Wilhelm apparently touched on this accusation in his preceding letter (no longer extant) to Dorothea. Despite Dorothea’s asseverations of innocence here (“how on earth could anyone persuade you of such abominations concerning me?!”), see her remarks to Schleiermacher in her letter of 22 August 1800 (letter 266a) that “Schelling meddled in the whole thing.” See the supplementary appendix on the scandal surrounding Auguste’s death. Back.

[20] In late July 1801. Back.

[21] See Josef Körner, Krisenjahre 3:442:

This passage illuminates the following, previously obscure statement in Dorothea’s letter to Schleiermacher of 19 November 1801 [letter 330a in present edition; concerning the date of letter, see note 1 there; Körner still reads “September”]:

You can say anything to Wilhelm you deem fit, I know of nothing that need be kept a secret from him or through which you might compromise us. For neither our letters nor anything we think about that wretched affair contain anything he does not inevitably already know as well as we (excepting Caroline’s Bamberg letter, about which Wilhelm knows nothing and is not to know anything) — were he not subject to such convenient memory lapses.

Caroline’s alleged letter is apparently no longer extant, unless it be in the literary estate of Adalbert Friedrich Marcus. Marcus may possibly refer to the letter or situation in his correspondence with Karoline Paulus (seven letters in 1801, 1 in 1810); an assessment of these letters is yet outstanding. Back.

[22] Concerning Caroline’s dislike of Karoline Paulus, see her letter to Luise Gotter on 6 June 1799 (letter 239), note 4, which also cross references supplementary appendix 239 concerning this animosity.

On the other hand — and Caroline was aware of this — Adalbert Friedrich Marcus and Karoline Paulus seem to have had an affair, prompting Caroline’s own suspicions that Marcus might well be the father of Wilhelm Paulus; see Caroline’s letter to Schelling on 4–5 May 1806 (letter 407), note 52, with cross references. That relationship might certainly explain how Marcus might be partial to Karoline Paulus and “betray” Caroline (Göttinger Taschen Calender vom Jahr 1790; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


See esp. the supplementary appendix on the reputation of Karoline Paulus. Back.

[23] Fr., “party, gathering, festivity” (Carlo Goldoni, Opere complete, vol. 15, Commedie die Carlo Goldoni [Venice 1912], 177):



[24] Summer 1800 ( A. G. Eberhard, “Zwist und Liebe,” Neues Taschenbuch zum geselligen Vergnügen 1 [1801], 2–65; illustration in the next volume [1802]):


Aschach is located just across the Saale River from Bocklet (final map in S. Hänle and Dr. von Spruner, Guide of the Bathing Places of Franconia: Kissingen, Bocklet, Brückenau and Their Environs, trans. S. Louis [London 1845]):



[25] Caroline mentions Martinengo in her letter to Wilhelm from Jena on 15 May 1801 (letter 316), as does Adalbert Friedrich Marcus in his letter to Caroline on 10 December 1801 (letter 335b). Back.

[26] Dorothea was not yet married to Friedrich Schlegel, so was not really related to Wilhelm at all. Back.

[27] Presumably a young, general service chamber maid in Dorothea’s accommodations who had earlier served Caroline and Auguste (Deutsches Leben der Vergangenheit in Bildern, ed. Eugen Diederichs, vol. 2 [Jena 1908], no. 1738):



[28] Representative illustration of the old cemetery in Freiburg im Breisgau, from Iris: Ein Taschenbuch für 1813; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[29] Wilhelm’s tentative and ultimately unrealized plans to go to America, something, incidentally, he and Caroline had also once considered; see Friedrich’s letter to Wilhelm 20 May 1795 (letter 150a). Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott