Supplementary Appendix: Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer

Erich Schmidt’s introduction of Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer, (1913), 1:672–73.

Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer, the “Harburg Meyer,” born 28 January 1759, studied in Kiel and Göttingen, where he formed a close, lifelong acquaintance with the classical philologist Christian Gottlob Heyne and his family, under whom he became librarian and at least nominally a special professor for “scholarly history.”

Although he was never really a serious scholar, he did master several modern languages along with their literatures, was a skillful interpreter of poetry and prose, a tasteful stylist, clever critic, clean and smooth in his own eclectic poetry, the latter of which appeared in the Göttinger Musenalmanach and in rare instances also in Schiller’s Musenalmanach, poetry tending to play more on the surface and reflecting his own keen sensibility for the formative arts. He combined his own pieces with various samples from Romance, British, and earlier German poesy in the anthology Spiele des Witzes und der Phantasie (Berlin 1793).

Quite gifted as an actor, apart from modest adaptations of dramatic works and his own pieces, he later became the knowledgeable biographer of Friedrich Ludwig Schröder, though the grand work was ill conceived. In the “Armory” [Göttingen’s improvised theater during the eighteenth century], he even tried his luck at roles such as Hamlet. He maintained quite active literary relationships. After travels in his favorite country, England, and in Italy, and after a lengthier stay in Berlin, he ultimately lived a solitary life in Bramstedt near Hamburg. The external appearance of this handsome man of the world enflamed not only Lotte Michaelis but also Therese; see the humoristic, tongue-in-cheek “attestation” in which his friend Gottfried August Bürger describes him as follows (Strodtmann, 2:364–65):

Personal attestation of one [Friedrich Ludwig] Wilhelm Meyer from Haarburg, of medium stature, pinkish complexion, light flaxen hair, smiling countenance, histrionic inclinations, diligent student of the law, dilettante in poesy, slightly unreliable nature, speaks with a straw-bass voice, intends to return home to Hamburg from Göttingen by way of Hannover after passing his quadriennio academico. Whereas same has courteously requested we provide him with a credible attestation of his life and comportment as well as of aforementioned character traits, similarly therewith to commend him to the patrocinio of the most renowned Herr Boie during his stay in Hannover; in connection with which we had all the less reservation in complying with said request insofar as said person is an extremely fine, unassuming young man, and insofar as the air in and around Göttingen is — thank God! — yet healthy and uninfected by any excesses of Genie, whereupon highly commended Herr Boie is hereby most courteously entreated sub oblatione ad reciproca most cordially to receive previously described Wilhelm Meyer, to in- and extraducere same in sundry places and otherwise treat same as if we ourselves were also present, i.e., so to arrange things such as same were being courteously accorded to ourselves as well. Said document attested by our personal signature this __ day of October 1779 in Wöllmershausen.

for S. T. Wilhelm Meyer
alias Pine alias Gu. [Meyer’s pseudonyms in the Göttinger Musenalmanach (1780)]


Although Caroline treated him as a trusted friend on a first-name basis during the critical period when she was a widow, she, too, found his character unreliable. As late as 1805, he wrote and told Therese that when Caroline once tried to involve him in her intrigues and turn him into some sort of friend or admirer, he allegedly intentionally put her off on the wrong track — and yet he also wrote quite ambiguously to Caroline concerning Therese. [1] Wilhelm von Humboldt, in a letter to Schiller on 15 August 1795, criticized the admixture of his various personality traits by enumerating his amusing moods, his wit, the incredible degree of shamelessness in his inclination for fictitious invention, his merely adaptive talent lacking any genius or feeling, his chilly vehemence, and his nonsensuousness, while alleging that he was nonetheless the most competent arbiter of taste in Berlin. See Elise Campe, Erinnerungen, which includes many letters but does not really offer a well-rounded portrayal or more detailed characterization. [2]


[1] This episode is obscure. The passage in Meyer’s letter from Bramstedt on 23 August 1805 is cited in Ludwig Geiger, Dichter und Frauen: Abhandlungen und Mittheilungen, Neue Sammlung (Berlin 1899), 74–75:

When Caroline B[öhmer] once — or so it seemed to me — tried either intentionally or unintentionally to draw me into her intrigues, wanting to turn me into a kind of friend or admirer when her and my friends seemed to offer their assistance in the matter, in my embarrassment I could think of no other seemly means to extricate myself than to send her off on a wild goose chase by pretending to be involved elsewhere. I was successful with them; I wanted to deceive you as little as myself. That is the unadorned truth. Back.

[2] Editor’s note: see also Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 7 September 1797 (letter 185), note 8. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott