Supplementary Appendix 149.1

Concerning the scandal surrounding the theft of the block of silver-ore from the Göttingen Academic Museum during the night of 15–16 January 1783, Albert Leitzmann, “Aus Karolinens Lebenskreisen,” 128, draws attention to a letter Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote to the Hannoverian administrator Johann Andreas Schernhagen (1722–85) from Göttingen on 1 December 1783 (excerpt in Albert Leitzmann, “Neues von Lichtenberg III,” Zeitschrift für Bücherfreunde 4/1 [1912], 176–77; full letter in Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Briefwechsel, ed. Ulrich Joost and Albrecht Schöne, 5 vols. [Munich 1983–2004], 2:779–80):

As your esteemed Sir can certainly believe, I have said not a single word to a single living soul in the matter of the discovery concerning the silver-ore block, for to speak about it to your esteemed Sir was the same as if I were speaking about it in court, except that now I hear that even Madam Meisteress (I have underlined the -ess) has spoken about it. Hence the perpetrators in all likelihood have leisure enough to get away, and perhaps this, too, is just as well. For heaven’s sake have someone secure for your esteemed Sir the eleventh volume of Bernoulli’s Reisen Sammlung [see below], which contains a letter on the silver-ore block that is absolutely abominable. Bernoulli is a veritable rogue, and is the first with that name who peddles such useless anecdotal stuff and, to the honor of the name, presumably the last. [1] He says all sorts of scandalous things about Göttingen, viz. that all the art treasures were being miserably kept. If Blumenbach [2] were not Heyne’s brother-in-law, he (the man writing the letter) insists he would not be interested in sharing his fate. Just now, he [Blumenbach] (i.e., instead of being punished) was allegedly taking a journey funded by the royal adminstration. [3] Is that not abominable? This stuff will doubtless quite sour the accouchement for good Blumenbach. [4] . . .

The letters in question are found in Johann Bernoulli, Sammlung kurzer Reisebeschreibungen und anderer zur Erweiterung der Länder- und Menschenkenntniss dienender Nachrichten, 18 vols. (Berlin 1781–87), here vol. 11 (1783), 422–24:

Excerpt from two letters from Göttingen.
To Herr . . . .n in L.

(1) from the 14th of February 1783

You have presumably heard about the large silver-ore block that was stolen from the museum here. The thief had an easy time of it because it was poorly protected, with no guard, and every member of the lower classes here had been granted access to it. It is now known that the block was shattered, several pounds of calcite were found in a wooded area nearby, but just where the perpetrator got off to with the silver — not a trace. The museum now has a double guard, and you shall soon hear about whatever other security measures are taken. In general, they take care of objects quite ill here. . . .

(b) in the month of April 1783

You think that no one was charged with taking care of the treasures here; to my knowledge, Professor Blumenbach is charged with taking care of the natural-science collection; I have not yet inquired specifically but will do so on the quiet. I did not want to subject myself to unpleasantness in that regard; so many pasquils are still being circulated here because of the silver-ore block, and if Professor Blumenbach were not the brother-in-law of Herr Hofrath Heyne, I would perhaps not have wanted to share the Herr Professor’s fate; as it is, however, everything has been taken care of, Herr B[lumenbach] has been exonerated, and word has it that he will now be taking a journey funded by the royal court itself.


[1] Bernoulli came from a line of renowned mathematicians from Basel. Back.

[2] As museum curator. Back.

[3] To Switzerland; Therese Heyne was a member of the traveling party. Back.

[4] Blumenbach’s wife had just given birth to a daughter. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott