Caroline Michaelis Böhmer Schlegel Schelling



Portrait by Tischbein

Reading Robert Richards’ The Romantic Conception of Life for my fall seminar on German Romanticism, I come to a section about the personalities that made up the early Romantic circle in Jena. In a footnote, Richards confesses that he has fallen in love with a brilliant woman:

“Caroline’s magical, erotic power — the kind of power only a beautiful woman with a wonderfully creative intelligence can effect—has pulled writers into her embrace over the last two hundred years. . . . Biographer of Friedrich Schelling, Kuno Fischer, fell in love with her from a distance, and this historian, too, has succumbed.”

Caroline was the daughter of an Orientalist and was fluent in four languages before she was married to a medical doctor named Böhme at the age of 20. They moved to a small town where she languished socially and intellectually, had 2 children and was pregnant with a third when her husband died of an infected wound. Richards writes: “Caroline Böhmer’s life happily changed in 1788 when her husband died.”

Back in Göttingen she had several admirers, including August Wilhelm Schlegel. She and her one living child (2 had died in infancy) moved to revolutionary Mainz where she joined the circle of Georg Forster (whose book on his voyage with Captain Cook inspired Alexander von Humboldt — whose books about his own explorations inspired Darwin) and was arrested by the German forces who chased out the French. Pregnant by a young French officer, she was pardoned by the Prussian monarch on the advice of Wilhelm von Humboldt and then followed an invitation from Wilhelm Schlegel to join him and his brother Friedrich. She gave birth, left the child in the care of friends, and married Wilhelm, promising in a letter to a friend to teach him passion. She helped him with his Shakespeare translations and was active in the social circle of Romantics in Jena that included Novalis, Goethe, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Young Schelling soon supplanted Wilhelm Schlegel in her affection (Richards notes that perhaps Wilhelm didn’t learn her lessons). Schlegel left for Berlin and Caroline and Schelling ultimately married.

Philosophically and physically (the two were, Richards writes, intricately interwoven for the German Romantics) these were fascinating people whose ideas continue to shape our identities to this day.

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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4 Responses to Caroline Michaelis Böhmer Schlegel Schelling

  1. Chuck Hamaker says:

    WOULD a course combining German and British romanticism be fun.And maybe a few Americans thrown in to.the mix


    • Scott Abbott says:

      yes it would, although combining the two/three would dilute the focus. i’ll have my students read Shelley’s Frankenstein at the end, just to gesture towards England, and because the creature reads Goethe’s Werther as part of his education


  2. Chuck Hamaker says:

    Romanticism without Wordsworth. “I wandered lonely as a cloud” or a brief telling of Byron’s life? Educated Brits read German. Cosmopolitan Europeans read english. The influence was mutual though rarely in lit courses acknowledged.


    • Scott Abbott says:

      Wordsworth and Coleridge remained unknown in Germany… Welleck’s article here shows that while somewhat parallel, there was next to no influence from the English Romantics on the Germans during the key years of the Romantic movement in German.
      German and English Romanticism: A Confrontation

      René Wellek
      Studies in Romanticism
      Vol. 4, No. 1 (Autumn, 1964), pp. 35-56


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