Supplementary Appendix 102.1

Concerning Gottfried August Bürger, Elise Bürger, née Hahn,
and the Michaelis family. [*]

It may be noted that Philipp Michaelis’s relationship with Elise Bürger began quite soon after the newly married couple’s arrival in Göttingen: [1]

[Discussion of Elise Hahn’s earlier moral failings.] Hence it can come as no surprise that as soon as two months after marrying Bürger [in October 1790], she was unfaithful to him. As she herself later admits, Elise’s first lover secured her favor right at the beginning of her residence in Göttingen. It was the young Dr. med. Philipp Michaelis . . . Hardly two weeks after the arrival of the newly wedded couple, he began paying quite noticeable attention to her, and soon began coming to her house for daily visits . . .

On 3 February 1792, Gottfried August Bürger writes to Christiane Elisabeth Hahn in Stuttgart, Elise Bürger’s mother (it was customary for the son-in-law, regardless of age difference with his in-laws, to address them as “Mother” and “Father”), concerning his decision to divorce Elise: [2]

It is painful, good Mother, painful for me to have to reproach your daughter so severely, — and that I must divorce her. But she is a wasteful, extravagent, hypocritical, wanton, and adulterous woman.

After discussing what he considers normal problems in any marriage, he also mentions considerable problems with physical intimacy, then continues: [3]

Alas! I had not the faintest idea of what I now — unfortunately! — know, namely, that a suitor had already established himself with her during the very first month of our presence here [in Göttingen]. For from the time of the first pickenik I attended with her — hardly two or three weeks after our arrival — the brother of the demoiselles M[ichaelis] cozied up to her, began wooing her with considerable ostentation, and was soon coming by our house daily even though both I and Doctor A[lthof] made it quite clear to her that this person, quite the opposite from enjoying a good reputation, was instead known to be a lascivious slave to women. The following is Elisabeth’s [Elise’s maidservant who accompanied her to Göttingen from Stuttgart] statement concerning this first paramour:


One evening last year [1790], long before Christmas, Herr Doctor [Philipp] M[ichaelis] accompanied Frau B[ürger] home and went to her room with her. Although Elisabeth, as was her custom, came up to help her lady undress, the latter told her to depart instead, saying she would ring if she needed her for anything. M[ichaelis] stayed alone with her for about a half hour, then left. Herr Prof. B[ürger] was not home that evening. Philippine [the handmaid], who carried the lantern while accompanying Frau [Bürger] and Doctor M[ichaelis] home, allegedly remarked that Frau Bürger spoke quite intimately with the gentleman, [Philippine] then also asking Elisabeth just who he might be.

After this first incident, Doctor M[ichaelis] allegedly came to the house several other times as well and spent time alone with Frau Bürger. About two weeks thereafter Elisabeth’s mistress [Elise Bürger] gave her a billet and several books, instructing her then to take these to Herr Doctor M[ichaelis] but to be sure to hand them over to him herself, and especially not to let anyone in the house see the billet. Doctor M[ichaelis] would then give some books back to her and needed to say either Yes or No. He allegedly read the billet, gave her some books back, and said: Yes, he intended to come. — Afterward Doctor M[ichaelis] allegedly came to see Frau Bürger often and indeed almost daily, moreover, always at a time when her husband was giving his lectures. —

(Bergoldt, Ein Liebespaar in einem Zimmer [ca. 1797–1836]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. A: 395.6):


She, Elisabeth, then allegedly, and at the express order of her lady, had to occupy Philippine or otherwise send her out of the house lest she might see him coming and going. Frau Bürger would then lock the door to her chamber with the night latch and order Elisabeth to see to it that neither her husband nor anyone else come over or upstairs. When she [Elisabeth] would make coffee at 3:00, Herr Professor [Bürger] would often ask, “What is my wife doing?” whereupon Elisabeth, inevitably embarrassed, and yet nonetheless having been given the strictest instructions, answered that she had gone to her room and closed the door to sleep.

One day Frau Bürger allegedly then changed her instructions to Elisabeth to the effect that Doctor M[ichaelis] was to come at 5:00 rather than 3:00 because he had become concerned that by coming every day at the same time he might arouse the attention of Herr Professor [Bürger]. Elisabeth herself now had to focus attentively on this changed hour with respect both to possible intrusions and to Philippine.

On the second day of Christmas, Frau Bürger instructed Elisabeth to cross in front of the M[ichaelis] house such that Doctor M[ichaelis] would notice her, then to deliver a billet to him. Such allegedly did indeed happen, and Doctor M[ichaelis] then immediately handed yet another billet for Frau Bürger back to her under the passageway in the courtyard of the lecture building.

One evening, while Herr Professor [Bürger] was visiting Doctor A[lthof], Frau Bürger allegedly disguised herself as a man to play a joke on Herr Professor [Bürger]. Doctor M[ichaelis] spent that entire evening with Frau Bürger, helping her with the disguise and then accompanying her thus disguised all the way to Doctor A[lthof]’s house.

Bürger remarks in a footnote that he was not at all amused by the caper and that his wife never made the slightest allusion to Philipp Michaelis having been with her at home or having accompanied her, otherwise having regularly insisted that she never received visitors in her husband’s absence. He continues with Elisabeth’s account:

As a Christmas or New Year’s present, Frau B[ürger] allegedly also gave Doctor M[ichaelis] a white, embroidered kerchief with blue flowers, a money purse, and a letter wallet.

Although on several occasions when Frau Bürger had locked herself in her room with Doctor M[ichaelis] Elisabeth herself had snuck up to the door, she never heard anything more definite than soft noises and whispering.

The professor [Bürger] once surprised his wife during one of her trysts with Doctor M[ichaelis], the latter of whom was just in the process of trying to hide in a side chamber.

([1] Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1806: Der Liebe und der Freundschaft gewidmet; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung; [2] Tempel der Musen und Grazien: Ein Taschenbuch zur Bildung und Unterhaltung für 1797; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



Husband and wife then allegedly exchanged angry words, with Frau Bürger afterward confiding to her [Elisabeth] that she just barely managed to come up with a good excuse, namely, that Doctor M[ichaelis] had managed to acquire several Frankfurt Crown Ducats and was just showing them to her — which Professor [Bürger] was allegedly not supposed to see because Frau Bürger wanted to surprise him with them for his birthday. Frau Bürger explicitly told her [Elisabeth] that it was a stroke of luck she had thought of this excuse just in the nick of time.

[Bürger’s footnote:] I, poor wretch, with my infinite trust, never in a thousand years subject to any negative suspicions, allowed myself to be satisfied with this excuse. Because the student whom I was privately tutoring did not show up that day, I left my own room and passed through an intervening room over to my wife’s chamber, where I certainly did not expect to find anyone else. When I approached the door, I heard the [side] chamber door inside opening. When I entered, my wife hurried over to me, and I just managed to see the [side] chamber door closing. My wife’s embarrassment prompted me to ask just who was hiding there, whereupon I myself went over to the [side] chamber and found Signor [Philipp] M[ichaelis]. I said nothing further than, in a cold, derisive tone: “Well! So it’s you?”


— and immediately returned to my own room. Madame soon came running after me with a tragic grimace and all sorts of exclamations, such as “Do you not consider me your woman? Your upright, faithful woman? Can you possibly think ill of this?” — I responded coldly, “It certainly seems I almost should!” even though in my heart I really did not view it as anything more than a considerable bit of imprudence on her part, imprudence prompted by anything other than that she was intending unfaithfulness. For a while I acted more alarmed than I in fact was, whereupon she put forth her own excuse [the ducats] to gloss over the situation. I responded, “But why was it necessary to flee into the chamber to hide a couple of miserable ducats? After all, you two could simply have closed them up in your hands, or covered them with your hands, or otherwise hid them from view and merely said: ‘My dear, we have something you are not supposed to see yet’, and been able to put an end to the whole thing and ushered me out of the room amid joking.” — She had to concede my point, excusing herself by explaining that I had come upon them so suddenly that, in their haste, they had merely chosen the more imprudent and rather stupid trick of trying to hide. —


As weak as the entire excuse was, I accepted it without the least suspicion, merely expressing as gently as possible my displeasure concerning their imprudent choice. She pretended the Crown Ducats were intended as my birthday present and to be used as whist markers, since I had recently lost my other ones. [4] All this happened before Christmas. So you see, good Mother, how early I was being deceived. But let us pick up Elisabeth’s account again.

Doctor M[ichaelis]’s almost daily contact and visits at the appointed hour lasted about three months before Herr von S[chwengelm], a student from Livonia, replaced Doctor M[ichaelis] [in this capacity]. As Frau Bürger immediately related to Elisabeth, she had met Herr von S[chwengelm] at the same pickenik. Elisabeth concluded that Doctor M[ichaelis] had been pushed aside in part from remarks Frau Bürger herself had made to her and in part from the fact that M[ichaelis] started coming less frequently and eventually no longer came at all.

Here Strodtmann cites the passage from Caroline’s letter to Philipp of 22 June 1791 (this present letter 102), i.e., well before Bürger’s divorce.

In the same letter to Elise’s mother, after recounting several other episodes in his wife’s scandalous life (including the adversaries her behavior generated and the neglect of her child), Bürger cites a letter to Elise herself from 29 November 1791: [5]

I am astonished that you do not seem to be the least bit concerned that even all your female friends here are quite visibly trying to distance themselves from you. It seems to me that at the very least there are clearly not all that many people coming to see you now. Apart from invitations and visitations prompted by bare courtesy, I really cannot see much of anything. And if in your frenzy you have not yet thought of this, then let me bring it to your attention. Indeed, I must tell you even more, for from more than one reliable source I have learned that all your female friends, without exception, disapprove of your disposition and behavior and therefore are trying to withdraw from your company as much as possible. I hear that from the Sp. [Spittlers?], from the G., from the S., in a word: from everyone, even from the M[ichaelises]! Of course, if the one or other needs you yet again to facilitate a love intrigue, she will admittedly doubtless come calling on you again, since they can easily enough see your readiness to engage your services with blind, thoughtless insanity in both word and deed for those who at such occasions seek shelter beneath the wings of your favor. Otherwise, however, even those who in consideration of their own good reputation have nothing to lose will avoid you as much as possible to avoid losing precisely that reputation like nothing merely through your acquaintance.

[Bürger’s footnote:] This prophecy has already come about in its entirety. She [Madam Bürger] played the role of intermediary in the love intrigues of the demoiselles M[ichaelis] despite all my warnings, causing a scandal throughout the town. And yet now no one deals more shamefully with her than precisely these ladies. They have now long declared, quite without making any secret of it, that they have broken off what was otherwise daily contact for the sake of their good name. And yet it is precisely the Michaelis family that was the first reef on which my wife’s good name foundered. I certainly warned her enough; but what good did it do?

Bürger then relates to Elise’s mother how he summoned her to his office, where she had to sign statements acknowledging her unfaithfulness and accept various terms of divorce. Bürger then continues: [6]

She accommodated herself to these demands. Then, with the full measure of her audacious composure, she admitted she had played her game with [Philipp] M[ichaelis] (just imagine, Mother, in the very first month we were here, when she had hardly had time to cool off from our wedding night!), then with S[chwengelm], then with H[ardenberg], and now with N[erifsche]. But she insisted things never went beyond finger play, and that she had always denied their requests for the real thing, since she herself found it detestable and repugnant. She said she in fact felt no love for any man, and that in the future she would hate them. And that she had allowed things to get as far as finger play not out of lust, but rather only because she could not resist the young men’s pleas and flattery; for she found such operations in and of themselves to be detestable, repulsive, abominable, etc. She fairly gushed such wholly crazy, insane nonsense. She would not concede that she herself was not quite kosher [not as pure as she claimed] when she first got into my bed. — She insisted that [Philipp] M[ichaelis] was the first to seduce her, and that in general the M[ichaelis] family was culpable for her entire ruin (probably the only true statement in the whole of this idle drivel). She nonetheless allegedly never loved M[ichaelis], just as she had long never loved any individual man. She insisted it was the worship and admiration of all these young gentlemen that had turned her into a wanton coquette, and that in the future things would be different, these male beasts would never again come to her etc.

Even after divorcing Elise in March 1792, Bürger wrote bitterly to Wilhelm Schlegel from Göttingen on 30 July 1792: [7]

Rumor by way of Madam [Caroline] B[öhmer] has presumably related to you some of the details concerning my domestic fate. This past winter I had to secure a legal divorce [8] from the most wasteful, extravagant, hypocritical, wanton, and adulterous of all women under God’s sun. Madam Furciferaria was a veritable paragon of virtue by comparison. . . . A museum piece of marital vice equal to this woman will probably never again exist in nature. Although millions of men have already been deceived by women, and millions more will be so in the future, I can say without hyperbole that none either have or will yet be deceived as disgracefully and shamefully as I. Ah, if only I could relate to you the complete story of my third, unhappy marriage! [9]

I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotty and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on End
Like quills upon the fretfull porcupine.

. . . May God protect you from bad women, my dear boy! Their number is greater than you may think, and greater even than I myself ever imagined despite all my experience. Here I have had the occasion to peer deeply into the female nature. . . .


[*] At the time the following events took place, Gottfried August and Elise Bürger had since September 1770 been living in the rear edifice of the house owned by August Ludwig von Schlözer at Paulinerstrasse 19 in Göttingen (here the main house fronting on Paulinerstrasse [Lithography by Louise von Schlözer, SUB Göttingen: Schlözer-Stiftung, Bilder AL 145]):


The Michaelis house at Prinzenstrasse 21 was on the opposite side of the Church of St. Paul and the university library, essentially just around the corner (Karl Baedeker, Northern Germany as far as the Bavarian and Austrian Frontiers; Handbook for Travellers, 15th ed. [Leipzig 1910]):


Four contempoarry illustrations incorporated into the text portraying analogous or similar situations: Johann Georg Penzel, Das Schleifermädchen aus Schwaben (1796); Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1:2027; title vignette to vol. 1 of the 2 vol. novel by the same name by Franz Kratter (Frankfurt 1796); Johann Georg Penzel, Ein Mann entkleidet den Oberkörper einer schlafenden Frau (1796); frontispiece to vol. 2 of the same novel; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1:2031; Gottlieb Böttger der Ältere, Ertapptes Liebespaar (1802); Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1:239; Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Des Pfarrers Tochter von Taubenheim [1789]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung (2-97).

Kratter’s novel, coincidentally called Das Schleifermädchen aus Schwaben, involves the misadventures of an ambiguously innocent and yet sensuously (and carelessly) inclined young woman from Swabia (Elise Hahn was Swabian); the anonymous review in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1796) 385 (Monday, 12 December 1796) 619–20, which begins as follows:

The heroine of this novel debuts as a very young girl who has tainted herself through onania but is then rescued in the nick of time by the advice and warning of a physician. In volume 1 she succumbs more than once to the methodical seduction of a lascivious cleric but then returns to virtue. . . . A mixture of cheekiness and reflection, rapturous enthusiasm and calm consideration, of heroism and weakness, sensuousness and a virtuous sensibility makes her personality ambiguous and dampens the reader’s empathy. Back.

[1] Wolfgang von Wurzbach, Gottfried August Bürger: Sein Leben und seine Werke (Leipzig 1900), 301. Back.

[2] Strodtmann 4:142; Gottfried August Bürger’s Ehestands-Geschichte: Geschichte der dritten Ehe Gottfried August Bürger’s: Eine Sammlung von Acten-Stücken (Berlin, Leipzig 1812), 57. Back.

[3] Strodtmann 4:144–47; Ehestands-Geschichte, 64–75. Back.

[4] Concerning whist, references to which occur elsewhere in this correspondence, see Collier’s New Encyclopedia, 10 vols. (New York 1921), 10:352:

Whist, a game of cards, so called from the silence necessary to play it attentively and correctly. It was formerly also called whisk. It is played by 4 persons, 2 of whom are partners against the other 2. The full pack of 52 cards is used, 13 being dealt one at a time to each player in order, the dealer beginning with the player on his left. The last card dealt is turned face up on the table, and is called the trump card; the suit to which it belongs has for the hand the privilege of taking or being superior to any card of any other suit. The cards rank in value as follows: Ace (the highest), king, queen, knave, 10, 9, 8, and so on. The game is commenced by the player on the left hand of the dealer laying one card face upward on the table, this being called leading off; the player on his left then plays a card of the same suit (if he has one), and is followed similarly by the player on his left. When all have played, the person who has played the highest card takes up the 4 cards played, these constituting what is termed a trick. If a player has no card of the suit led off, he may play one of any other suit. The winner of the first trick then leads off with any card he pleases for the second trick, the winner of which becomes the leader of the third trick, and so on. The score is taken as follows when the hand is played out; the partners who conjointly have won the majority out of the 13 tricks, score one point for every trick over 6. The ace, king, queen, and knave are called honors, and the partners who hold between them 3 of these cards score 2 points, and if they hold all of them they score 4 points; this is technically known as scoring 2 (or 4) by honors. If each side holds two of these cards, honors are said to be divided or easy. In long whist (now [1921] becoming obsolete) 10 points make a game, in short whist only 5 points are required, and in this it is usual to count by tricks alone. A rubber consists of 3 games, and is won by the partners who score 2 of them. If one side wins the first 2 games the third is not played out. There are several modifications of the game, such as solo whist, three-handed whist, bridge whist, compass whist, military whist, duplicate whist, etc.

Henry William Bunbury, The Xmas Academics: A Combination Game at Whist (1773); Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur JBretherton AB 3.10):



[5] Strodtmann 4:161–62; Ehestands-Geschichte, 127–29, with the date 30 November. Back.

[6] Strodtmann 4:186–87 (abridged); Ehestands-Geschichte, 228–30). Back.

[7] Strodtmann 4:209–10. Back.

[8] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Scheidung (“divorce”) (1788), Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.775; second illustration: Almanach der neuesten Moden (Vienna 1795):



The local church consistory generally had the last word in cases of divorce. Here Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki’s illustrations of (1) a meeting of hierarchical consistory members ca. 1774, and (2) an individual having to appear before such a consistory (“Ein hierarchisches Konsistorium,” from the Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate LXXIII d; Sebaldus vor dem Consistorium [1774]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [1-51]; both illustrations Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [1-15]):




[9] The following verses in English in original; from Hamlet, act 1, scene 5. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott