Carl Friedrich August Grosse, Memoiren des Marquis von G***. Vom Verfasser des Genius (Berlin 1792), 185–216, concerning the family of Professor P* (Grosse conflates and alters the setting) (frontispiece):
|185| It is true, the town of H* can boast of considerable, indeed enormous erudition; that notwithstanding, there is also no less a lack of taste and understanding. The young people there all firmly believe themselves to be in the possession of refined manners. Refined manners, however, do not consist solely in dancing and making eyes at the young ladies. Although people do pay one another visits, they have no real understanding of the kind of polished manners that through a slight degree of dissimulation brings people closer together.
The pride of erudition, however, is inestimably more insufferable than the pride of nobility. The rusticity of professors who have scratched their way up to a certain status is far more insulting than the arrogance on the part of the large part of the nobility, which the latter at least generally manage to spice up through refined manners. |186| One can put off driveling courtiers far more easily and with far less effort than pedants grown gray amid their books.
Nor can one anticipate that simply a confluence of so many people with court experience will necessarily improve the general tone. They must instead also be in accord with it simply for the sake of meeting people, they must abandon wit and mood, freedom and grace in thought, and certainly joy for the sake of light, unaffected sociality, becoming accustomed instead to the distorted delicatesse of these petty ratholes. I had spent hardly a month there, and I would bet my life that my previous friends in W* would not recognize me.
What made my situation even worse was that I had to be mindful not to come into any closer contact with the young nobility. Such straightaway precluded the sort of simplicity through which I |187| was hoping to recover for a while from my previous experiences.
To wit, there were several persons from the higher nobility in H* at the time through whose contact I might well have derived some amusement. They were princes [sons of George III], and it was amid their company that the premier classes tended to gather. I, however, sought to avoid them, provoking universal offense by extending my withdrawn lifestyle to the point that I did not curry their favor. Everyone in town was puzzled at this behavior, and it was through this one ridiculous triviality that I first caused a bit of a stir.
Herr P* [Johann David Michaelis], an old acquaintance with whom I had already enjoyed a good relationship during an earlier stay in S*, was the first person who received me on my arrival. Although he was a truly good, upright man, I had utterly outgrown his demonstrations of friendship. Everything about him now seemed quite |188| provincial, his principles, which he had never had occasion to test, had become sour and distasteful, his thinking too petty and limited to offer me much entertainment. The only thing he thought he could do for me consisted in assuring me of his friendship; and yet precisely his believing himself to be standing out from the crowd in doing so made for the most painful and awkward boredom.
Although he had traveled, indeed widely — the journey from H* to M** and thence also on to M* consisting of thirty [German] miles [ca. 225 km] — he brought nothing home with him from this trip except a complete knowledge of all possible varieties of wines. For him, nothing in the world was better than Bacharacher, Hochheimer, or Steinwein, though he was especially fond of the first. He was also quite familiar with the latest fashions in leggings and the most dainty way to fasten a necktie.
He spoke incessantly about the young girls |189| he had seen, the dainty hands he had kissed, and the charming words he had spoken, and viewed me as little more than a patient vessel for his pathetic past life. Yawn though I might, he always came with the same tired stories. Until that time I had never realized how with so few words a person might nonetheless be so fundamentally boring.
All these salient characteristics might have turned him into an unequivocal fop had he possessed even a bit more wit. Although he intended to be discreet, he might just as easily have viewed himself as impolite. He was characterized by erudition and an obsession with reforming, both of which were always overtly present in his comportment, sometimes alternately, sometimes simultaneously, but always at the most inappropriate time.
(König. Großbrit. Genealogischer Kalender auf das 1785. Jahr; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
|190| Since his paternal house was in S*, it was quite natural for me to increase my boredom as much as possible by having him show me around it. Madam P* [Caroline’s mother] was intent on being the perfect lady of the house in every respect; she was as stingy with her compliments and courtesies as with her expenditures, and her countenance and manners were as sweet and ill-tasting as her curls. Moreover, both also sought praise.
Otherwise, however, they were neither proud nor arrogant, and though they could not hide their contentment at being the first family in S*, neither did they pretend to any other distinction. And though she was indeed a good Christian, rarely missing church on Sunday, she was not above petty epistolary interceptions to stay informed of her children’s secrets.
(Goettinger Taschen Calender fuer das Jahr 1791; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
Locks were tested to see if they held, |191| and seals to see if they could be opened, all for the sake of preserving honor and peace in the family, and though the former was anything but well preserved, and the latter unable to come about amid incessant quarreling, nonetheless there was hope for the future. Although she was no longer young, she paid no less attention to her makeup. It was sufficiently clear that she preferred a modern hat to an old-fashioned one. She was, by the way, extremely weak, and no great art of human wit was required to lead her essentially anywhere.
I was, however, sufficiently compensated for the boredom of these acquaintances by Marianne [Luise Michaelis], their youngest daughter. She had inherited nothing from her mother save a wee bit of human vanity and a few pretensions.
(“Das leichtsinnige Mädchen” [“The frivolous young girl”], Berlinischer Damen-Kalender auf das Gemein-Jahr 1809, Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
Her face was not to everyone’s taste, |192| but her figure was slender and delicate. Her hair fell naturally into that particular artless form one so rarely finds. A certain freshness of the sort makeup cannot recreate was the most comely feature in her coloring. Her eyes, though not large, were animated, and her glances said everything she wanted.
(König. Großbrit. Genealogischer Kalender auf das 1786 Jahr; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
She carried herself quite well. Her figure, gait, everything about her was fetching. And yet the virtues of her soul were even more attractive yet. She had retained little of what she had read, and had no idea what on earth erudition was, but said everything that was necessary and no more, and always without haste. She was on the brink of transitioning from that particular, burdensome vivacity whose eruptions merely stupefy, to a certain gentle seriousness; often, however, she still did try in vain to suppress the vehemence of her |193| passions.
Combining all the virtues of a pure imagination and a merely half-suppressed naiveté, her soul possessed all the gentleness that both attracts and charms and also spreads happiness when it so desires. Although she tended to be a bit distracted by amusement and external appearances, she was quick to sacrifice everything as soon as a certain side of her heart had been touched. She was in the true sense made for love, completely devoting her entire self and with the most gentle pliability for all the ideas of her beloved, with a complete willingness and just as much artifice as necessary to make and keep him happy. Nothing more simple, nothing more pure can be imagined than her inclinations.
It was quite natural for me to seek out this gracious creature at every opportunity. Nothing has |194| ever been easier for me, however, than to admit as much openly. I told her as much just as one must, and she in her own turn indicated that she at least was similarly not disinclined toward me or my remarks.
(Göttinger Taschen Calender Für das Iahr 1796; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
It would be tasteless for me to maintain that my intentions were initially as seriously directed toward her hand as toward her heart. Our status was too different, and, after all, I was not really that well acquainted with Marianne. This absurdity was not apparent, however, and hardly had I seen her but twice, hardly had others noticed that something was indeed happening between us, when Mama politely and wistfully inquired in a letter to me whether I had serious intentions. This pitiful step, which immediately and clearly instructed me concerning provincial attitudes, entangled her and me in a particular sort of unpleasantness that for a time proved so tiresome and burdensome to us all.
|195| My response to this naive query was the most appropriate in the world. Since I had not the least reason to freely disclose to them my status and situation, I composed a most delightful story—to which I have earlier alluded—characterized by a surprising degree of probability. Since, however, I saw just as little reason to relinquish such a charming and attractive conquest, I did give them hope that Marianne’s traits might just perhaps persuade me to forget status and pretensions.
To wit, I suggested we merely be allowed time to become better acquainted and to develop our personalities and relationship completely. Such exquisite tact flattered the vanity of Madam P*, who made no secret of her satisfaction.
(Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Quelle der Bekanntschaft ; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [4-235]):
Marianne and I were frequently brought together and provided with equally frequent opportunity |196| for declarations; although promises had been made not to disclose anything to her father before we had come to a full understanding, no covert arts were spared in making him aware of what was happening, and before I knew it, he knew the entire secret.
(Goettinger Taschen Calendar für das Jahr 1791; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
Marianne comported herself in this matter with absolutely admirable skill; she became ever warmer toward me, captivated me ever more ardently, and I myself eventually felt justified in the hope, even were I unable to marry her, of at least making her happy as my beloved.
In the meantime, the elderly Herr P* felt no less flattered by the honor I promised to do him. He was a thoroughly learned man, admirably experienced in all the secrets of both state and cabinet, and as smitten by an honorary order [the Swedish Order of the Polar Star, the (Nordstjärneorden), which Johann David Michaelis received in 1775] that chance had cast his way as if |197| he had purchased it with his very blood.
He was utterly delighted at this new acquisition, I had to show him on a map where my estates were located, and he was already anticipating himself being showered with attention and honors at being my father-in-law. But as little as even a single letter belonged to me among the locales I showed him on the map, as little also was the honor to be his that he was imagining. Who would have dreamed that afterward he would magnanimously decline it once he saw it could no longer be acquired?
The modest public in S* is one of the most pleasant in the world. I had arrived there so secretively that they were all frightfully embarrassed at what to make of me. I bore the stamp of prosperity and easy circumstances quite without the expenditures, and seemed |198| to possess some claim to respect quite without the pretension; the younger Herr P* [Philipp Michaelis], to whom I had confided my name on the condition of the most sacred secrecy, did not fail to divulge it now and then for precisely that reason, and they were all much too taken with the title I had assumed in the letter to Madam P* not to let it drop occasionally in conversation.
Before I knew it, the entire public was initiated into the secret. Whereas previously several people had considered me a bastard or a writer, others a fugitive duelist, now everyone marveled at the new discovery, and even more so at the new alliance that had prompted it and in connection with which it had now come to light.
(Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Gnädige Herren, schöne Frauen ; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.212):
Marianne’s and my status were simply far too different, and she possessed too little of that which is universally pleasing to excuse any truly |199| serious intentions.
This initially made me quite suspicious, though I did not appear as if I were particularly concerned about it. Quite apart from these considerations, what particularly embarrassed her were the multifarious addresses under which letters arrived at the post office for me. I had sent my new address to most of the acquaintances whose correspondence might have given me away. I already learned on several prior occasions how members of the public in extremely small towns usually maintain quite intimate familiarity with the post office. Hence in order to avoid the risk of discovery, more important letters were sent to a neighboring post office, where I had them picked up.
As one can see, every arrangement had been made to ensure that my life in H* would be as pleasant as possible. I found myself loved by |200| an adorable young girl and had reason to hope I could keep her faithful to me. I occupied myself according to my taste with scholarly works, and most of what I published subsequently is a fruit of this happy period. I kept all the demands of court at a distance. My status was unable to exert any claims on me. I thought I might make more friends by way of my seclusion and my decision to merely let my rank be naturally noticed than by trying to assert it. But this quiet peace was soon disrupted.
The first hindrance that kept me from enjoying that peace was young Herr P*. Without comprehending what I might ask of him, he fancied himself justified by his pathetic friendship to demand everything of me. To wit, he wanted my complete trust, and yet I was absolutely of no mind |201| to grant him even the slightest portion of such with any seriousness.
(König. Großbrit. Genealogischer Kalender auf das 1785. Jahr; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
Generally people of this sort who think themselves insulted thereupon revert to their true nature. He for his part became discourteous and brutal. He could thank my forbearance for the fact that I spared him. I was wholly indifferent to his behavior. He, however, became an unbearable burden to his family.
I received an extraordinarily pretentious letter on this matter from his eldest sister [Caroline], who lived in another town. The letter writer herself seems not to have understood her own letter. I gave up trying to decipher its meaning and was only able to glean from a few passages that one was entrusting me with the cure. I answered this excellent sister — whose entire intellect consists in empty-sounding words — in a letter with an equally meaningless style, laden with an equal measure of bombast, and in equally ludicrous and contorted expressions and clichés, |202| and she in her own turn was so astute as to take this letter to be a declaration of love, something that emerged from her rather comical answer. I would now give almost anything to have had the desire at the time to spin the thread of this beautiful “understanding” even further.
(König. Großbrit. Genealogischer Kalender auf das 1785. Jahr; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
With respect to my relationship with Marianne, I found myself in increasingly embarrassing circumstances. Since I was now her declared suitor, they had every right to query me further about things. To preserve my initial untruth, I now had to invent a hundred new ones. I often despaired at how all this would end should anyone prematurely discover the falseness of what I was telling everyone. Even more often, however, I began to feel sorry for Marianne, who had in the meantime crept into my heart by way of the sweetest tenderness. In a word, a hundred reasons to worry, and several to despair.
(Heyrath durch Zuneigung , Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Museumsnr./SignaturDChodowiecki AB 3.765):
|203| To my utter astonishment, I in the meantime received new commissions from my court superiors involving tasks as difficult as the previous ones, just as mysterious and no less suspicious. But I was slave enough to my own ambition and foolish enough to accept them. So sweetly had I been seduced into this net, however, that at the time I yet considered it a gracious stroke of good fortune merely to be thus occupied again. All fault was to be forgiven and forgotten that I in fact had not even incurred, and no effort was spared in enticing me into something that could never justifiably be forgiven. The same ambition that was engaged with such excessive artificiality, however, simultaneously rescued me by endowing me with supernatural powers.
Marianne was the youngest daughter in the family. Besides the previously mentioned eldest daughter [Caroline], there was also a middle one, Friderike [Lotte Michaelis], who was expected to arrive back from a trip at any hour. I was |204| already previously acquainted with her, was enormously fond of her, and perhaps even more. Misunderstanding had estranged us somewhat, and I was keenly anticipating her arrival that I might clarify these things with her. My imagination had endowed her at a distance with the sorts of feelings one so facilely expresses in writing without knowing any more about them than this one designation.
But how changed I found her even at the very first glance! She seemed to have become what one might call a “perfect diminutive”: with a diminutive countenance and expressions, diminutive, amusing ideas, and a diminutive, weak constitution.
(Goettinger Taschen Kalender vom Jahr 1789; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
All more profound emotion had disappeared in a gloss of manners and world, something one is glad to have after having spent time in larger towns and which frankly did not become her ill at all. Her heart had acquired that element of indifference toward all goings-on within human life that invariably attaches itself to a |205| certain degree of coquettishness, which itself increased daily.
Certain principles quite similar to my own emerged in her large, beautiful eyes, which often spoke more clearly than was necessary for such an audience [ed. note: see letter 25a]. All elements of pettiness disappeared. She took on the colors of her surroundings, and I in my own turn daily felt all the more strongly inclined toward her the less I was in a position to allow her to notice such. Although she had an infinitely subtle understanding, her inclination for amusement and for ostentatious witty remarks caused her to overlook such things as were oft to be found in her surroundings. Our relationship always remained tense, nor did we ever approach each other without simultaneously intending to deceive one the other.
Hardly had I familiarized myself with my new role than I received a letter from |206| Prince S* in which he alleged to have heard that I intended to marry. He seemed extremely bitter at this prospect and categorically forbade me even to think of such a thing now were I counting on his continued favor. Although this rumor was likely based on the events in which I was involved in W*, and even though it had no real connection with my present circumstances, it did prompt me to exercise more caution. Several words seemed to allude to a certain alliance that had been determined for me.
Although I had hitherto never thought about any serious connection with Marianne, from this moment on I felt inclined toward her. Indeed, I felt I could likely become quite happy with her, to me she seemed to possess the potential for higher status, and I now doubted not a moment further her wish to develop that potential for my sake. That was when I first began to desire a certain possession, namely, now that someone had viewed |207| the wish itself as a real possibility.
I had at least to try to determine the extent to which it might be possible to combine my duties to my prince with the idea I had wanted to present of myself right from the outset, and with my own happiness. There was nothing more to risk, and the goal was certainly commensurate with my own powers. My plan had already been made when a stroke of chance threw something in my path that gave it a different, more advantageous turn.
Permit me to present here merely a brief overview of events that will likely interest only very few of my readers. I will be insulting myself quite without cause, and I would have to recount a plethora of such pathetically petty, shameful scenes that it would constitute a veritable reproach to my readers to consider them even capable of any interest in such.
|208| A rumor suddenly emerged in H* to the effect that everything I had said about myself was in fact a lie. I have already indicated what in my behavior and circumstances was so suspicious as to prompt such a rumor. Young Herr P* [Gottfried Philipp Michaelis] was the first person to inform me of this rumor, and with considerable anxiety.
(Almanac de Goettingue pour l’anneé 1786; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
Although I was a bit embarrassed, I tried to conceal such. How, in my present circumstances, was it possible to refute the rumor without having documents forged or without giving myself away. I considered the former too contemptible, the latter impossible in any case without disadvantageous consequences for myself, my business affairs, and my prince. I assumed a posture of good humor and simply laughed at the news.
The elderly gentleman [Johann David Michaelis], however, had in the meantime become rather anxious about the rumor, and I soon found that were I to alter my plan but a trifle, there would be a way out enabling me perfectly to attain the goal I had indicated to everyone. |209| I examined whether I myself might be able to withstand the personal insults during the period I would be kept here, determined the difficulties in doing so to be minor, and thus proceeded with executing my plan.
The first thing I did was to reassure Marianne’s family concerning the documents I would be having sent, since I otherwise simply had nothing with me to prove my status. Of course, this refusal to produce them outright merely increased the rumors, and soon the entire town was full of them. I found it advisable to make myself suspicious through several anonymous letters I wrote to friends of Herr P*. I covertly augmented everything myself. I had already spoken earlier about litigation concerning all my estates. Now the litigation had been lost, and I possessed nothing more.
People allowed themselves to be deceived by this silly, transparent fiction, |210| and since they saw that I was nonetheless still living in a grand style without incurring debts, they conjectured I was making a living off my writing. People were monitoring every step I took, and the whole matter was going very well indeed.
That I might take advantage of this situation, I immediately renounced Marianne, since I had nothing more with which to support her. Unfortunately, my renunciation was not accepted. More was required to make me sufficiently suspicious.
In the meantime, I did little to support the rumor; one could anticipate that my passive, inactive behavior would do more than all my covert efforts. Young Herr P* fancied himself in possession of an extremely refined sense of honor, so much so that he would not defend me publicly before I myself |211| had persuaded him.
In the meantime, however, I had nonetheless had the opportunity to relate just enough to Marianne herself to reassure her concerning everything I yet had to undertake in order to break with her publicly. I knew I could depend on her, and had now firmly resolved to make her happy.
(Goettinger Taschen Calender vom Jahr 1789; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
In the meantime, however, they were petty enough to write to my mother quite without my knowledge to learn how much she would be willing to pay me annually in order to support Marianne and me, since the latter did indeed have as little as I was now pretending to have. On my initiative, however, they received an ambiguous response that threatened none of my plans.
Day by day people had learned more about me, and finally they even wrote to officials in my hometown to inquire concerning my familial circumstances. The response they received confirmed the general rumor that absolutely |212| nothing was known about me, certain things received no credibility in any case, it all being simply too wondrous, and mixed in among the many truths were several untruths as well, which I immediately refuted in order to maintain my position at least a little longer. Had I done nothing with regard to things people could know that I was indeed capable of doing, people would have concluded that I merely did not want to.
This in its own turn prompted a new renunciation, one that was now accepted. But to give me satisfaction was thought to be an ambiguous gesture with respect to honor. Irritated thus from every quarter, they themselves became worried, and in order to save their good reputation they chose the only possible path, namely, to repress everything through feigned assurances, to rely on my talents, and to unite me with Marianne as quickly as possible. Although they had come up with this idea earlier, |213| I myself had led them astray yet again through an evasive maneuver.
Publicly everyone had come to complete clarity through my renunciation. Now it was all too clear that I was a swindler. Some thought I was an itinerant adventurer out to make his fortune, others someone exiled from court life who had tried to see how well he could make things work here with Marianne. No one had even the slightest inkling of the truth.
In the meantime, I increasingly withdrew from all human contact lest I betray myself, and I must reckon these days, which my business matters did require I yet spend in this place, as among the saddest in my entire life. As was natural enough, however, over time I became increasingly indifferent to an element of lost fame and in the end was easily able to sacrifice a name that concerned me not at all |214| were I to be prevented from relating the truth.
Even now I have been able to do so only halfway, since I am hesitant to identify myself completely. To do so would require that I go into even more detail and expose certain men to deserved shame, men whom I otherwise quite respect for their other merits. If I am not maliciously forced to abandon this obscurity, I can leave the tale as it is now told, since these things concern only my friends.
After a whole series of lesser tricks, quarrels, intrigues, and gossip, all of which I will pass over for the same reason, after having granted my boring friend P* his well-deserved leave in a comprehensible fashion, after having found sufficient means to wholly calm Marianne, after having sworn to one particular relation of the family to whom I had for quite intentional reasons written a somewhat threatening letter |215| and who had started a legal process against me for just that reason, — having sworn to that relation not to relieve him in any fashion of his oh-so-precious life, I left H*, where I had wasted so many useless months and enjoyed them so miserably. My business was at an end, and I had nothing more to do there.
Nowhere have I ever been less happy, and yet nowhere so culpable in my own calamities. The intrigue itself was too petty to occupy my entire intellect or to counter the concomitant boredom, and the waste of time too large ever to be made good again. Although people urged Marianne to renounce me, her thoughts in this respect were too noble to withdraw her heart.
(“Ah, how he would have loved me”; Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Wie er mich würde geliebt haben ; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.709):
For several weeks thereafter, all sorts of efforts were undertaken, advice sought, letters written to who knows where trying to find out about me; they were even foolish enough to write to the residence and court |216| I had adduced as my own, though of course not a single living soul there knew anything about me, my life, or my titles; they had quite passed by the purer sources that were right nearby, and all the money, effort, time, wit, and reasoning, indeed all the efforts of these refined intellects were utterly wasted.
Translation © 2011 Doug Stott