Supplementary Appendix 27.1

Concerning Johann Caspar Lavater’s correspondence with August Ludwig von Schlözer in the affair of Johann Heinrich Waser, see Gerold Meyer von Knonau, “Lavater als Bürger Zürichs und der Schweiz,” in Johann Caspar Lavater, 1741–1801. Denkschrift zur hundertsten Wiederkehr seines Todestages, ed. Stiftung von Schnyder von Wartensee (Zürich 1902), 77–78:

As much as Lavater was offended by Waser’s less-than-praiseworthy characteristics, just as much did he admire his talent and feel pity for his failed life. Lavater was, however, keen to enter into correspondence with Schlözer himself regarding the correspondence Waser contributed to Schlözer’s periodical.

Waser, quite erroneously believing he might improve his situation, had, as mentioned earlier, lied in maintaining that as early as December 1779 he had also sent Schlözer his autobiography with the title “Zürich as it is, not as it should be,” lamenting amid tears he had also quite solemnly and secretly agreed with Schlözer that the latter not publish the piece until after its author’s death, and even less let it be known that he even had possession of the piece.

There can be no doubt that Waser believed this lie would save his own life insofar as the authorities [in Zürich], fearing the arranged posthumous publication of that autobiography, would not dare condemn him to death. Even on the very day of his execution, but a few hours before his death, Waser had with tears in his eyes repeated this assertion to Lavater yet again: “Even if I had a thousand lives, Lavater, even if I had to pluck it from the flames, how gladly would I take back the autobiography I sent to Schlözer,” and with Waser’s words “Do whatever you want, whatever you can,” Lavater had essentially been charged with appealing to Schlözer himself, something he did that very day, on the evening of 27 May 1780, hoping to prevent the autobiography from being published.

Schlözer responded on 9 June that he had never even received the manuscript in question, did not have it in his possession, and in the meantime requested more details about Waser’s trial and final days. Horrified, Lavater responded on 20 June: “So, Waser lied in the most dreadful way even during the very last hours of his life! Alas, Schlözer, do not believe that this man merely imagined he had done something he in fact had not. He had extraordinary presence of mind.”

This exchange between Göttingen and Zürich continued for some time. The main issue, namely, that Schlözer had never even seen the alleged autobiography — which was likely never written in the first place despite Waser having described it in detail — was resolved, and even later, Schlözer’s son and biographer confirmed that he had never found even the tiniest trace of this alleged piece among his father’s carefully and precisely organized papers.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott