Supplementary Appendix 143.1

Concerning Auguste Schneider:
H. A. O. Reichard comments in his autobiography,
Therese Forster’s extensive accounts, and
Goethe’s comments in letters to Charlotte von Stein.

H. A. O. Reichard, Selbstbiographie, 156:

The graceful form of Auguste Schneider (thus her name) — whose slender figure, unfortunately, admittedly already harbored incipient consumption — was coupled with the inner qualities of a bright, cultured understanding and an excellent heart. Although lacking the regular features of traditional beauty, she was nonetheless extraordinarily charming, something not only I myself but also no less a personage than the regnant lord himself sensed.

He recognized Auguste’s excellent traits, which Thümmel’s work also describes with an equal measure of both accuracy and warmth, albeit without naming names. The noble, sensitive duke came to appreciate this excellent young woman, who in her own turn was impressed not by his status, but by his uprightness and his disposition, something neither party could conceal. There thus arose between the two that particular sort of delicate, spiritual love the mere possibility of which between persons of different gender seems a laughable non-thing to those of a coarser nature — though such is nonetheless quite real in all its chaste purity and almost always ends only with death.

I myself discerned the inclination between the two germinate and then grow. At the same time, however, I sensed what might have developed between Auguste and myself had this attraction with the duke not occurred. There thus began an inner struggle within me between my own feelings for the beloved girl and my ever increasing respect and devotion for the duke — though such passed quickly, and I resigned myself to viewing Demoiselle Schneider solely as a sister.

And I was indeed lucky that my own inclination had not yet become so deeply rooted when I discovered Auguste’s love for the duke, for one of my friends — by the name of Dürfeld — on whom the dear girl had similarly made a powerful impression, had come to believe that he could not live without her, and when he realized his love could never be reciprocated, shot himself to death — an event that contributed to weakening Auguste’s already precarious health even further.

Goethe wrote to Charlotte von Stein from Gotha on 5 June 1784 (Weimarer Ausgabe IV, 6, 285):

I visited Mademoiselle Schneider, for whom I felt terribly sorry. She is doubtless a rare, good creature who by all appearances will not live another six months. She is bearing her misfortune with composure, and is so reasonable and comports herself so nicely that I am not at all surprised the two princes are quite interested in her.

I have no idea what will happen to the duke when she dies. God keep us from such a situation. He still holds out hope, whereas I in his place would not be able to. I sensed quite strongly how I, in the same situation, would offer my beloved poison and then take it with her.

In a subsequent letter to Charlotte von Stein on 16 September 1785, Goethe mentions Amalie Reichard and Therese having visited Auguste Schneider frequently when Therese and Georg Forster were visiting Weimar. From September 1784 till April 1785, Therese was in Gotha helping to care for Auguste Schneider (Weimarer Ausgabe IV, 7, 96).

The younger Forster was here with his young wife, née Heyne from Göttingen; they ate dinner at my house with the Herders, Wieland, and Amalie Seidler, who knows Madam Forster from Gotha, where they both spent considerable time caring for Mademoiselle Schneider when she was dying.

H. A. O. Reichard, Selbstbiographie, 183–84, continues later:

I assisted the dying woman [Auguste Schneider] in both word and deed, visiting her several times a day. During the final, difficult months yet granted to the long-suffering woman, another friend besides me stood by her with all her heart and all her love, both caring for her and waiting on her. It was the bride of the world traveler Georg Forster, daughter of the great Göttingen philologist, namely, Therese Heyne, who later, as the widow Huber, edited the Morgenblatt [für gebildete Stände] and indeed is still living. [ . . . ]

Poor Auguste, however, who suffered all the more greatly the longer the illness lingered, viewed the approach of death with both calm and composure. The day of 23 February 1785 finally brought an all-too-early end to the patience of this noble soul. Two hours before her death I knelt at her bedside, overcome by my own pain — Auguste was already unable to speak. Therese drove me out of the room and forced me to leave the house; soon thereafter she related to me, in a penciled note, the peaceful end of dear Auguste.

After Auguste Schneider became bedridden, the duke had no longer spoken with her, an additional, harsh sacrifice he was forced to make to his status. Her grave is graced by a beautiful plaque of white Carrara marble, which the duke had placed there, with Auguste’s name, year of birth and death, along with the following inscription by General Superintendent Koppe: “The husk this good woman left behind is honored by her orphaned friends with this modest stone. She herself now belongs to heaven.”

[Here the location of the older cemetery in Gotha, where Auguste Schneider is buried (no. 20 at top left; no. 1 at center bottom is Friedenstein Castle (Grundriss der Stadt Gotha nach einer Ocular Messung vom Jahr 1796 [Gotha 1796]).]

Auguste_Schneider_cemetery_location

[Anonymous photograph of the Gotha cemetery in which Auguste Schneider’s grave was located (unfortunately) out of frame to the left, originally with an iron fence around it; the location of the grave itself had already disappeared during the 1850s, nor is the location of the marble marker now known.]

Auguste_Schneider_cemetery

It is a futile undertaking to try to portray the duke’s emotions at this loss. But he expressed them quite openly, something he could moreover do all the more freely insofar as his wife, the duchess, had long known about his relationship with Auguste Schneider. The duke himself had revealed that relationship to her during the initial days of his recovery from the serious illness of 1779 that I mentioned earlier. He “did not want” (thus his own words) “to desecrate the initial hours of the new life that had been granted” him “through any sort of secrecy or deception” toward his companion.

Therese Heyne herself writes to Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring from Gotha on 24 December 1784 concerning this entire situation (Forster’s Briefwechsel mit Sömmerring, 172–76; Therese Huber Briefe, 1:163–65):

You were probably puzzled when I wrote you last time that a great burden had been taken from my heart knowing of your acquaintance with Auguste [Schneider]. I do not know whether Dürfeld also disclosed the primary hindrance to his happiness when he disclosed his love [for Auguste Schneider] to you, namely, the unfortunate alliance in which Auguste was involved at the time [with the duke].

My friend, can you condemn the man [i.e., the duke] who is bound to a woman [his wife] whom he can never love and who has not the slightest thing in common with him, whom he married solely because of a cabal [unknown allusion] whose victim was ultimately his own lack of caution? Can you reproach the man who meets a young girl beneath his position but whose acquaintance tells him at every moment: “She was created for your heart”?

And when the girl finds in him all the characteristics her romantic spirit demands from the beloved, the sacrifice of every sensual pleasure, emotion, discretion, loyalty — not to [shine] through glitter, false honor, the flattery of all the pathetic genteel people who want to pay her, the future mistress, their addresses — when she values nothing, gives only love, sacrificing her own peace to love, and health itself to her grief at the ambiguity of her reputation, and now, after eight years, after suffering and illness have stripped the rose of its petals, and long after her beauty has been devastated in its blossom, when now she is still the lady friend of the man for whom she suffered all those things, and when he still rapturously loves her, and she him — could you possibly condemn these two people?

Such was Auguste’s and the duke’s fate. I cannot explain whether she loved Dürfeld, since she loved the duke, but I do know she had firmly resolved to tear her heart from the duke, that she wanted to unite with Dürfeld, declare herself with him, and that on the very day she had set to do so a misunderstanding separated them, and that three days later Dürfeld shot himself to death, during the same days when she had hoped finally to reward his love, and despite her weak heart to give her hand to the man whom she esteemed above all others — that much I do know, and that is terrible.

She must have harbored an extraordinary interest in his fate, for she still weeps countless tears to his memory, embittering what little peace fate has left for her. She is aware of how he died even though no one speaks to her about it, and she often is enraptured at the thought of him and wishes to go to him.

My dear friend, whither does this heart of ours lead us?! I have absolutely no intention of denying that Auguste erred, she should have fought more resolutely against her passion for the duke, and though she does believe she did all she could, such is not really true, her heart, her excellent heart, which always wants to do the very best, has convinced her of it; she did not really possess more strength of soul than she engaged, which is why I respect her weakness. Her connection with the duke is probably quite singular in its way. He is never permitted to give her any gifts that are really worth anything, and she is constrained to restrict herself severely, since her own finances would not otherwise suffice. [1] He sees her often, for he visits several of his subjects quite without accompaniment. —

Given all these circumstances, the utterly uninformed masses cannot possibly judge things the way they really are, and cannot but always view poor Mademoiselle Schneider in a disadvantageous light. Every reasonable person does justice to her, according her total respect, and yet I have often been disquieted by the wretched thought that Forster might hear on his return, “Your fiancée spent six months with the duke’s alleged mistress.”

I never had time to write him everything you have just read, nor the occasion to do so, moreover, I felt it humiliating having to excuse my Auguste when she was not considered guilty in any case. I have now spoken openly enough to you about her that I could refer Forster to you were he ever to reproach me for not having informed him earlier about Auguste’s situation. Perhaps you are wondering why I am so concerned. —

My dear friend, I feel I owe my beloved Forster the same obligations now as if I were already his spouse, and he is perfectly justified in demanding from his fiancée the utmost caution with respect to her reasons for choosing her company thus and not differently. Auguste loves me rapturously. There can be no doubt that a high degree of friendship between two persons quite closely approximates the feelings and emotions of love. I have often been so loved by my female friends, but was always the beloved, through an inborn, hateful drive toward control and pride. Gustel [Auguste] is jealous of me, overly sensitive, tries to win me over because I love her calmly, as her comforter, her caregiver, often her harlequin with a rent heart, just trying to keep her cheerful. Ah, what sad power habit exercises over my heart, which for most of my life has had to bear the larva of gaiety.

When your heart from its wounds does bleed,
Your countenance yet oft feigns peace —

My mother often told me that, and she was right. But that does not belong here. — There is no purer soul than Auguste, nor any soul who loves God with a gentler, simpler heart, who endures life and sighs for death while trembling at the thought of leaving the loved ones who filled her life with such suffering. There is no purer soul than hers. . . .

Concerning the possible damage to her own reputation through association with the duke’s “alleged mistress,” Therese continues to Sömmerring on 17 January 1785 from Gotha (Forster’s Briefwechsel mit Sömmerring, 188; Therese Huber Briefe, 1:168):

Although the gossip involving the duke initially upset me, I afterward thought about it quite coldly. . . . I have rarely seen the duke when he is with Gustchen [Auguste Schneider], only when he passes through my room, and in the future I will try to avoid it even more, not because the world might learn of it, nor because I fear anything, but because I myself find no joy in being the third party to such a relationship.

As Auguste Schneider’s condition worsened, Therese wrote to Sömmerring on 7 February 1785 (Forster’s Briefwechsel mit Sömmerring, 198–200; Therese Huber Briefe, 1:170–71):

Auguste has been doing very poorly for five weeks now, and has often been near death. Her illness now seems to be moving toward an end through hasty consumption, and what she has suffered has been so painful that she now considers this death and her previous suffering to be something sweet indeed.

It is simply incomprehensible how long death can gnaw away at the delicate thread binding the soul to this husk of dust before finally dissolving it all and bursting the iron chain that so often oppresses us so horrifically.

I have known many kinds of misery, but it was always misery of the soul; now I have considerably enlarged that sum since being around Auguste, for now I am acquainted with all the devastation, the shameful devastation caused by illness. I say “shameful,” my friend! — for whither, to what sphere, to what level of debilitation does a soul fall that once, while yet dwelling in a bearable, healthy body, had at least some degree of strength and firmness, such that now, by degrees, as the pain and the weakness of the body increased, the mental capacity of my poor sick friend decreases.

And not just her memory and emotional vitality, but I would almost say the very nature of her emotions and memory. When Auguste is doing so poorly, she has me read prayers to her from books, and my entire powers of composure are necessary to keep from laughing at the utter shallowness and superstition. . . . As soon as her body calms, she, too, finds these inadequate, or even ill-suited to providing the nourishment of encouragement and comfort. Then she prefers to hear Klopstock, Gellert, etc. She has always had the kind of piety that is comforted by much praying; although we never discussed religious doctrines, I do know that we think quite differently on the subject. . . . I do not know, and scarcely believe that Gustchen will yet see Easter.

After Auguste Schneider’s death in February 1785, Therese wrote to Sömmerring on 14 April 1785, now from Göttingen (Forster’s Briefwechsel mit Sömmerring, 216–17; Therese Huber Briefe, 1:175):

I have been so restless and confused recently that I do not even know whether I wrote you about the death of my Auguste. I do remember writing to Fiekchen, but to you as well? I simply no longer remember — but enough, you now know that she is finally at peace. Quite contrary to the physician’s expectations, the actual lung disease progressed very quickly in ending her life; [2] that is, quickly according to the calculations of the physician, who unfortunately engaged his inhuman skills in fettering the last spark of her soul, against its will, to her wretched body. It is your duty, [3] I know, but whether it is the duty of the ill person to endure several days of torment, or several eternities of helpless nights without hope or comfort. . . .

Auguste suffered indescribably. Her total inability to breathe was accompanied by severe cramps and throat pain of the sort such dying persons apparently often suffer, as I was informed. I had seen a sick woman in death, [4] and the thought of watching someone die was indescribably horrible, not because I am weak, and even less from any fear of death.

I have learned it all, and am grateful to my beneficent fate for having taught it to me — all the suffering of this winter, [5] all the scenes at the deathbed, which I hardly left right up to the funeral, the terrible, ineradicable memory of the final contortion of my distorted Gustel’s precious angelic face — her final twitching at my breast — oh, my dear friend! the moment two hours before her death, when she pressed my hand to her stiffening lips and said: “God bless you! You have comforted me in death!” That moment was a greater, indeed far greater reward for me than this suffering. We human beings are so wretched, so helpless, but never more than during our entry into and exit from this world! . . .

Notes

[1] In his Selbstbiographie (182–83), Reichard remarks in this regard, “Auguste Schneider could never be persuaded to accept money or gifts from her lofty friend; she died as poor as she had always been.” Back.

[2] Germ. Lungensucht; Therese earlier refers to the disease as consumption, Germ. Schwindsucht or Auszehrung; Lungensucht was generally thought to be caused by an “open and pussy ulcer of the lungs and accompanied by a progressive, enduring fever” (Adelung, 2:2133). Back.

[3] Sömmerring was himself a physician. Back.

[4] Her mother, Therese Heyne, who had also died from consumption. Back.

[5] Therese had cared for Auguste in Gotha from September 1784 till the latter’s death on 23 February 1785. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott