Letter 106

• 106. Caroline to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer in Hamburg: Göttingen, 29 October 1791

Göttingen, 29 October [17]91

|229| Did not a certain feeling come over you that someone was recently quite close to you — someone whose guiding star — presumably running parallel to your own — seems to destine her to remain eternally distant from you? I use the expression “quite close” because I found your traces everywhere, the ghosts of your conversations hovering all about me — in a word: I was just in Gotha — pure chance — a hasty decision guided me there — and were I a devout child, I might even say — the hand of providence — but because I failed to show deference to her, she continually plays the dirty trick of never allowing me to find you. [1]

Why was it not to be? I so yearned for you, and if after midnight Gotter had but allowed me light, I would have told you so from there. Among my old, dear friends, whose — truly undeserved — devotion blossomed so youthfully even after an absence of ten years, I often expressed aloud and even more often felt secretly what it would mean to me |230| to see you there among them — except that then I might too easily have become ungrateful and, fixated on the one, neglected the others.

The health of our restless friend was discussed back and forth at dinner and constituted the bond between one beautiful, young woman, [2] more modest than beautiful, and your ardent friend, neither beautiful nor modest — but good, proud, and natural enough, juxtaposed with every possible claim of others, to be such to you. I realize — how gladly you, too, would have conjured me to appear there during your own visit [3] — at the very least I myself requited your wishes.

Please excuse me for repeating all this yet tenfold — and without having told you anything different at the end — it is simply that I am full with it, and find writing, having to relate things in that way all the more disagreeable. You might thank me now and then a bit for it — you see, it is painfully difficult to forget that I missed you there considering that Tatter was here when I returned — and is still here.

He sends his regards — his love — with regard to very few people indeed are he and I in such agreement. He related to me many and varied things about you, chatting on and on to me, all of which calmed me down considerably again — and even without that I comprehend quite well just now why one does not jump into the crater of Aetna. [4] I hope things will yet go well for you, and along a smooth path.

The intentions of both of you in my regard were good — also wanting to get me back on track — alas, in defiance of the decrees of heaven itself, I will follow my own destiny! Do you know — but dare not repeat this! — that on my own power I completed a conquest that both of you intended for me — though a person only completes something he himself has undertaken, whereas I was completely innocent with regard to initiating this particular piece.

My mere consent, my yes, would have brought to completion a novel one might describe, piece by piece, with the kind of hints |231| found in the margins of English newspapers, for all the way from my resemblance to a certain, blessed, deceased woman all the way to the emotional stirrings prompting this man of the cloth’s desire for me [5] — everything fit perfectly.

But seriously, my dear Meyer, through her unprepossessing appearance, this godless little woman — the “coquettish young widow” (people really are saying such things about me) [5a] — managed to captivate — him — you know his name — and I wavered — the whole tangle of life went back and forth through my head — one way or the other! For 3 days it was a puzzle to me — it finally came down to the question: do you want to be tied down, with a comfortable life, with worldly esteem till the end of your days — or be free, even if you have to pay for it with troubles and grief. —

The lethargic part of my nature tended in the former direction — while the pure, innermost flame of my soul seized the latter — I feel what I must do — because I feel what I am capable of — let no one reproach me for being unreasonable — I considered everything quite carefully, and I am well familiar with the entire value of such a situation and the way it fits into the normal course of things — but it could not fool me concerning the true value of life.

Those who are certain they will never bemoan the consequences may do what seems appropriate to them. I admittedly could have made myself quite useful to the state by keeping a proper household for him and by raising another half dozen children just like my own one and only, dear little girl — but all that will happen just as well without me, [5b] and in that case no one’s happiness will be dismembered — hence it is in fact better thus for the good Lord’s state. Who would sacrifice himself when there is more to the sacrifice than the name alone — only those with gaps to fill — or emptiness to conceal — do such a thing.

I do not believe in sacrifices — or in exceptions. The former will prevent me from being unhappy not without some measure of trouble or |232| from considering myself such — and the latter from being disappointed in my own expectations. — This is referring to the choice of my future place of residence. Can you guess what it is? [6] But no more today — please write me as soon as you receive this. Herr von Launay will bring it to you, and commends himself as well to your — acquaintance with a variety of members of the human race — he is extraordinarily silly and has a great deal of reason — I have known him for years, which is the most generous act of kindness I can grant him.

Tatter will write soon — he cannot do so just now — we women can always find a hiding place and a fleeting moment for a good friend — please do not spurn such when it comes from my hand — my fondness for you comes from the bottom of my heart.


[1] Caroline had been in Gotha visiting the Gotters; Gotha is located ca. 90 km southeast of Göttingen (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):


Concerning Meyer’s itinerary, see Caroline’s letter to Meyer on 14 January 1791 (letter 100) with note 1. Elise Campe, Erinnerungen, 2:5, remarks that after Meyer returned from his lengthy journey to England, Italy, and France in September 1791, there is no information concerning exactly how long he stayed in Hamburg before moving to Berlin, his next place of residence.

That he was, however, still in Hamburg at this time is demonstrated by the fact that, as Caroline points out later in the letter, she would be giving this present letter to Auguste de Launay de Tilliers to deliver to Meyer, and that Friedrich Jacobs (Personalien [Leipzig 1840], 45–46) attests that de Launay did indeed travel to Hamburg after leaving Göttingen (see Caroline’s undated letter to Lotte Michaelis in 1789 [letter 94] with note 16). Georg Ernst Tatter would also have been able to relate Meyer’s present location to her.

Concerning Meyer’s stay in Gotha, Gottfried August Bürger writes to Wilhelm Schlegel on 31 October 1791 (Strodtmann, 4:137) that “Prof. Meyer has returned to Germany and is currently in Hamburg, having visited Gotha for several weeks, but not here [Göttingen].” Back.

[2] Uncertain allusion. Luise Gotter? Back.

[3] On his journey from Paris, Strasbourg, and Mannheim back to Hamburg. Back.

[4] An allusion to remarks in her earlier letter to Meyer on 1 March 1791 (letter 100). Back.

[5] The “blessed, deceased woman,” who had died in 1789, is Dorothea Elisabeth Löffler, née Silberschlag, first wife of the “man of the cloth,” Josias Friedrich Löffler; concerning Löffler’s interest in Caroline and Caroline’s justification for having declined his offer of marriage, see Caroline’s correspondence with the Gotters during the autumn of 1791 (letters 105, 107, 108, 109, 110). Back.

[5a] “The coquettish widow”: (François-Bernard Lepicié, Die hübsche Witwe; La Veuve coquette [1724]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur FBLépicié WB 3.6):


See esp. the later supplementary appendix on Friedrich Nicolai’s Vertraute Briefe von Adelheid B**, Athenaeum, and Caroline as a romantic coquette. Back.

[5b] Illustrations: Berlinischer Damen-Kalender auf das Gemein-Jahr 1809; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:




[6] Presumably Mainz, though one cannot ascertain whether at this point Caroline may have been thinking of a different location; in her letter to Meyer on 11 July 1791 (letter 103) she was considering Gotha, Weimar, and Mainz (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):



Translation © 2011 Doug Stott