A Word about Illustrations

Briefe aus der Frühromantik
Über Abbildungen


Illustrations in this project come from a variety of sources spanning an approximately six-hundred-year period: practical guides for domestic life and even student life, fashion journals, travelogues, postal routes (maps for almost every locale mentioned in the correspondence), the natural sciences, histories (including military accounts), even children’s books and pedagogical guides. Such illustrations are, moreover, occasionally drawn from British, French, Italian, and Spanish publications, to name but a few.

Illustrations from late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century German-speaking publications, however, generally best evoke visually the middle-class, educated bourgeois background, lives, and sensibility of Caroline, her correspondents, and her acquaintances. Among the illustrations from that period (including especially copper engravings, etchings, aquatinting), those from popular literature and journals are arguably more fetching still in this regard.

That said, in the 1799 edition of Athenaeum, Wilhelm Schlegel makes the following disparaging remarks concerning precisely such engravings, vignettes, and similar illustrations from popular literature: [2]

Nothing is more commonplace among us than copper engravings and vignettes to poems, especially to plays and novels, in part in the editions themselves, in part in pocket-book anthologies in the tiniest [octavo, duodecimo] format. Art exhausts itself in such embryonic products, rarely bringing forth anything more mature or more fully developed.

(Johann Conrad Gütle, Kunst in Kupfer zu stechen, zu Radiren und zu Aezen, in schwarzer Kunst und punktirter Manier zu arbeiten [Nürnberg, Altdorf 1795], pp. 113, 317:)



While it is certainly true that editions of authors such as Goethe, Schiller, and Wieland often included such illustrations, Wilhelm is referring to editions especially of “plays and novels” of authors of lesser stature, in a word: popular literature. He writes similarly in his later Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature about the dramatic genre: [3]

The repertory of our stage, therefore, exhibits, in its miserable wealth, a motley assemblage of chivalrous pieces, family pictures, and sentimental dramas, which are occasionally, though seldom, varied by works in a grander and higher style by Shakspeare and Schiller.

In these two citations, Wilhelm distinguishes broadly between, on the one hand, the loftier literary production of Shakespeare and Schiller (and Goethe, doubtless including Goethe’s novels), and, on the other, popular literature in the form of “plays” (“a motley assemblage of chivalrous pieces, family pictures, and sentimental dramas”) “and novels” and poems “in pocket anthologies.”

This distinction plays a major role in Caroline’s correspondence and its accompanying cultural backdrop and has the extra benefit (though Wilhelm would doubtless disagree) of providing copious period illustrations “in part in the editions themselves, in part in pocketbook anthologies” not only for the reading material but by extension also for life and customs in the middle-class, bourgeois society at the end of the eighteenth century that constitutes the setting of the majority of these pieces. In this capacity, they also provide a visual glimpse into not only the emotional tenor of the age of sentimentality running concurrently with (and not necessarily opposed to) the Enlightenment, but also the self-understanding of readers at the time.

(Toiletten Kalender für Frauenzimmer 1799; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:)


Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the emergence and florescence of this popular literature in Germany (at the time: as part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) largely coincides with the dates of Caroline’s letters (1778–1809) and literary reviews (1796–1807). This literature finds copious mention in her letters, not to the exclusion of the allegedly loftier publications — the latter were often enormously popular in any case — and constitutes no small part of the literary pieces she herself reviews (vol. 1, vol. 2). Especially when Wilhelm Schlegel was publishing his plethora of reviews for the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, he seems quite willing to pass along to Caroline these popular pieces for review while devoting his own time to allegedly more scholarly or aesthetically challenging reviews.

One effect of the Enlightenment pedagogical notion that a literate public might be more easily educated culturally, morally, and even politically was that this literate public quickly developed almost an addiction to reading (Leselust, Lesesucht, and the accompanying emergence of lending libraries) and came to prefer literature that reflected its own, often more practical and modest but solid bourgeois ideals, morality, and culture rather than remote universals. And not surprisingly, even critics at least initially agreed that such cultural edification could be made more accessible in settings that reflected precisely that accessible bourgeois milieu in an entertaining artistic form.

The novel, because narrative prose was not included in the classical aesthetic canon, enjoyed considerable play in its development and increasingly focused on delivering entertainment set within these familiar confines of bourgeois life, though escape from the present through exotic locales, historical periods (the age of chivalry), and adventure stories provided additional settings. Novels of moral edification and didactic value, on the one hand, and adventure, on the other, emerged in more trenchantly delineated forms with typical motifs and structural types that were largely fixed by ca. 1795, after which even these forms were sometimes mixed without anything substantively new being added.

Basic types included, significantly, women’s novels that frequently revolved around the themes of seduction and innocence in which a woman eventually reaches the higher ground of maintaining her sexual purity and moral steadfastness, often in the face of a corrupt aristocracy, temptations, deception, and false accusations,.

(“I trust no woman who tries to prove her innocence with tears and fainting spells”; Frauenzimmer Allmanach zum Nutzen u. Vergnügen für das Jahr 1794; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:)


A second type focused on the moral struggle of a fundamentally virtuous woman between passion and duty, e.g., in an unhappy or arranged marriage, which echoes both Kant and Schiller’s philosophical concern with inclination and duty.

(Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Heyrath durch Überredung, [Marriage through persuasion] [1788]; Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Museumsnr./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.775:)


Toward the end of the 18th century, perhaps predictably, the more overt and coarser theme of seduced innocence and resulting depravity and moral corruption began appearing in novels.

(“Practical Knowledge of the World”; Genealogischer Calender auf das Jahr 1774; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:)


It is tempting to speculate which of the initial types Caroline herself had in mind in her unfinished “draft of a novel,” which belongs to this narrative type. Therese Huber in any case followed the model of the struggle between passion and duty in her story “Eine Ehestandsgeschichte” in the Taschenbuch für Damen auf 1804, 12–116, in which an eighteen-year-old woman is married off unwillingly to a fifty-year-old man only to have her childhood sweetheart reappear later.

(Frauenzimmer Allmanach zum Nutzen u. Vergnügen für das Jahr 1794:)


Apart from political novels keyed to contemporary developments such as the French Revolution and novels featuring Enlightenment- and philanthropically inspired individuals who seek to improve society, other types include especially novels centered around bourgeois families and the challenges they face in a changing but stubbornly hierarchical society. One also finds historical novels (including the age of chivalry), adventure novels, ghost novels, and bandit novels, all of which often maintain the Enlightenment didactic function and some of which include the element of a “secret society” that guides much of the action behind the scenes in a protagonist’s life much the way the “Society of the Tower” does (often unsatisfactorily) in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister.

Family novels especially reflect the bourgeois setting, often realistically and generally against the backdrop of a threat to the integrity of the traditional bourgeois, patriarchally oriented family unit. Such threats include political developments or intrigue, class friction, the morally corrupt aristocracy (though authors included members of the lower aristocracy who, perhaps surprisingly, adhered at least to the spirit of bourgeois values), or attempts of members or associates of the bourgeois family to drift away from that environment through the pursuit of money or marriage out of one’s class (disobedient son) or social striving. These stories often involve entanglements of problematic love and marriage that threaten the otherwise modest but upright bourgeois environment, and it is this orientation that preserves the element of Enlightenment didacticism and moral edification.

([1] Neuestes Taschenbuch fur Frauenzimmer edlerer Bildung [1801]; [2] Berlinischer Damen Kalender auf das Jahr 1803; both: Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:)



Such storylines provide ample opportunity for illustrations of the bourgeois and aristocratic environments, of emotions, passions, situations from daily, social, and family life with births, deaths, marriages, quarrels, dark periods, loss, happy ends, and myriad other narrative snapshots.

([1] Frauenzimmer Almanach zum Nutzen u. Vergnügen für das Jahr 1803; [2] Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1806: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet ; both: Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:)


Such threats to the traditional bourgeois, patriarchal family unit and an accompanying didactic and moral edification similarly found their way into the theater during this period, so much so that this type of drama came to represent the overwhelming majority of pieces actually performed in theaters at the time and greatly influenced theater directors’ choice of material, and, conversely, the kinds of plays playwrights tried to publish. The fundamental view of the bourgeois class in these pieces, however, is not tragic insofar as it assumes the perfectibility of humankind through human reason and moral improvement, which is why so many plays end with the reestablishment of the equilibrium of the patriarchal family or its equivalent.

As seen frequently in this present project, the plays of Goethe and Schiller and even classical authors were also performed along with contemporary authors with loftier ambitions (e.g., Wilhelm himself with his play Ion: ein Schauspiel). Nonetheless playwrights such as August von Kotzebue, the most frequently performed playwright during the period (albeit one who drifted away from what he eventually considered the fundamentally futile inculcation of Enlightenment principles in audiences), consciously sought to increase ticket sales by catering to the growing demand among theatergoers for more plays of this type.

What Wilhelm above calls “family pictures,” Familiengemälde, is but one of several different designations that share enough common features to be largely interchangeable as representatives of the overriding expression “bourgeois drama” (bürgerliches Schauspiel), including Lustspiel (comedy), Schauspiel, Familiengemälde, Sittengemälde (tableau of morals), and burgerliches Trauerspiel (bourgeois tragedy), [4] though plays called comedies frequently contained more serious elements and bourgeois tragedies lighter elements.

Even titles, moreover, frequently and revealingly indicated that the material of such popular novels and plays were “taken from real life” or “reflected life as it is,” and it is from this perspective that illustrations from popular literature, especially novels and plays, provide such rich visual representations of bourgeois self-understanding at the time. Wilhelm writes as follows concerning the “family picture” mentioned earlier from his unmistakably skeptical perspective (ibid. 523):

The family picture is intended to portray the every-day course of the middle ranks of society. The extraordinary events which are produced by intrigue are consequently banished from it: to cover this want of motion, the writer has recourse to a characterization wholly individual and capable of receiving vividness from a practised player, but attaches itself to external peculiarities just as a bad portrait painter endeavours to attain a resemblance by noticing every pit of small-pox and wart, and peculiar dress and cravat-tie: the motives and situations are sometimes humorous and droll, but never truly diverting, as the serious and prosaical aim which is always kept in view completely prevents this.

The rapid determinations of Comedy generally end before the family life begins, by which all is fixed in every day habits. To make [domestic, household] economy poetical is impossible: the dramatic family painter will be able to say as little of a fortunate and tranquil domestic establishment, as the historian can of a state in possession of external and internal tranquillity.

He is therefore driven to interest us by painting with painful accuracy the torments and the penury of domestic life — chagrins experienced in the honest exercise of duty, in the education of children, interminable dissensions between husband and wife, the bad conduct of servants, and, above all things, the cares of earning a daily subsistence. The spectators understand these pictures but too well, for every man knows where the shoe pinches; it may be very salutary for them to have, in presence of the stage, to run over weekly in thought the relation between their expenditure and income; but surely they will hardly derive from it elevation of mind or recreation, for they do but find again on the stage the very same thing which they have at home from morning to night.

(Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1803 für edle Weiber und Mädchen; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:)


The famous arbiter of manners and social customs Adolf von Knigge describes such dramatic presentation from the opposite, positive perspective: [5]

A good play is a portrayal taken from actual human life with the highest possible degree of illusion, presented in actions [rather than mere declamation] by living actors [rather than by, e.g., marionettes] through aesthetically pleasing imitation with the goal of attaining a specific moral goal among spectators in a way providing those spectators with pleasing entertainment.

The setting audiences encounter was thus ideally one of essentially instant familiarity: the bourgeois home, often a salon or common room, and with the language and conventions of everyday life, all for the sake of enhancing the illusion and facilitating an empathetic emotional tenor ultimately with the goal of moral edification. Illustrations accompanying such pieces, albeit often stylized, essentially enhance the illusion by portraying easily recognizable and largely accurate bourgeois life for readers.

Hence although “real life” itself did not always reflect the satisfactory and idealized conflict resolution within a troubled or threatened bourgeois family or group as portrayed in plays, nonetheless the setting, characters, situations, language, emotions, struggles, and conflicts largely did, or potentially could. And it is the illustrations to these pieces, including also in novels, that provide visual examples from the everyday world of Caroline and her correspondents and acquaintances.

(Bergisches Taschenbuch für 1798: Zur Belehrung u nd Unterhaltung; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:)


Although not always precise depictions of a given situation or emotion, they nonetheless are often surprisingly (and gratifyingly) commensurate with a given passage from a letter, a given emotion, situation, remark, or even person, and otherwise can function as “representative” of such situations (as do several of the illustrations on this page).

The present project is intended for readers whose lack of familiarity with the original language or cultural setting and intellectual history hinders the closer engagement accessible to those already familiar with that backdrop. This group explicitly and intentionally includes readers who may be encountering such materials for the first time or with only passing familiarity. The supplementary appendices in this edition, for example, and not least the annotations, provide background for beginning readers as well as for more experienced scholars.

The same applies to the illustrations, many of which are doubtless already familiar to readers with more experience with the original language and texts. Readers lacking that experience, at a remove of more than two centuries from the daily lives, sensibilities, customs, and especially external settings of the persons who appear in this edition, are often unprepared to imagine more accurately the visual environment in which these persons move in virtually every letter. These illustrations are intended to evoke visually Caroline’s world for such readers and to provide a more engagingly visual experience of this correspondence for readers at large.

(Illustration of a young woman by Ernst Ludwig Riepenhausen from the Almanac de Goettingue pour l’anneé 1786:)


As Caroline herself writes in a letter to Pauline Gotter from Munich on 24 August 1807 (letter 425), referring to August von Kotzebue, who had accepted the position of royal theater director in Vienna in 1798 but then left at the end of the year because of differences of opinion with the theater personnel: “As you see, I thought that because the letter would need no postage this time, I could afford to write all sorts of things like this that in their own turn are not worth a single Kreuzer (or three Hellers) but which provide you with the same sort of insight into our customs here that Kotzebue’s plays provide, for example, for Vienna.”


[*] For the sake of focusing on the use of illustrations in this present project, the following discussion simplifies developments in German literary history during the second half of the eighteenth century that are otherwise considerably more complex.

For a more nuanced and detailed study of these developments, see, e.g., Zwischen Revolution und Restauration: Klassik, Romantik 1786–1815, vol. 5 of Deutsche Literatur: Eine Sozialgeschichte, ed. Horst Albert Glaser (Hamburg 1980), esp. the chapters by Marion Beaujean, “Frauen-, Familien-, Abenteuer-, und Schauerromane,” and by Markus Krause, “Trivialdramatik.” — Also Deutsche Aufklärung bis zur Französischen Revolution 1680–1789, vol. 3 of Hansers Sozialgeschichcte der deutschen Literatur, (Munich 1980), e.g., vol. 3:1:3, Jochen Schulte-Sasse, “Drama,” and Rolf Grimmiger, “Roman.” — And Gert Ueding, Klassik und Romantik: Deutsche Literatur im Zeitalter der Französischen Revolution 1789–1815, vol. 4 of Hansers Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur (Munich 1987), e.g., vol. 4:1, part 3, section iv, “Rührstücke: Kotzebue, Iffland.” Back.

[2] “Ueber Zeichnungen zu Gedichten und John Flaxman’s Umrisse,” Athenaeum (1799) 193–246. Back.

[3] Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, trans. John Black, 2nd rev. ed. (London 1889), 525. Back.

[4] Thus, commensurate with the previously mentioned bourgeois sensibility, the title description of Christian Felix Weisse’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in 1769 with a happy ending in which Romeo and Juliet live and the families reconcile: Romeo und Julie: Ein bürgerliches Trauerspiel in fünf Aufzügen (Vienna 1769).

Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter’s three-act version similarly enjoys a happy ending: Romeo und Julie: Ein Schauspiel mit Gesang (Leipzig 1779). Back.

[5] Adolph, Freyherr Knigge, Ueber Schriftsteller und Schriftstellerey (Hannover 1793), 212–13. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott