Supplementary Appendix 314.4

Johann Daniel and Sophie Sander in Weimar

In the autumn of 1801, Sophie Sander sent food gifts to Goethe and essentially ambushed him with a request that he be a godparent to their daughter. Goethe wrote a rather chilly letter to Johann Daniel Sander on 25 November 1801: [1]

I am kindly obliged to you for the doubled attention with which you have supplied not only my kitchen, but my book collection as well, [2] all the more so insofar as this remembrance from you both is so pleasantly accommodating.

Although I do not quite know what to say regarding being a godparent, I cannot fail to acknowledge your cordial intentions in making the offer to me.

My own names are such that one ought burden neither a boy nor, even less, a girl with them, the latter of which, of course, in consideration of future adventures, one ought to give as charming a name as possible. [3]

Is not the unfortunate name Christel, [4] for example, somewhat disruptive in so many interesting scenes of the “significant year of life”? [5] And if the spouse of a worthy but exiled man [6] had been named Emilie, for example, what a different impression that would make! It seems we human beings are simply constituted such that our ears seem to be even more closely allied with what is seemly and proper than even our eyes.

When I further consider how little import my testimony carries in the Christian church, I must without further explication leave it to you to conclude the extent to which you are permitted to invite me to participate in such an act. If you may remember me with love with respect to this spiritual kinship and be persuaded that I maintain a cordial interest in you and yours, I shall consider it a great profit for myself.

Stay very well.
Weimar, 25 November 1801


The Sanders ended up naming their daughter Emily after all, having her baptized on 2 January 1802, the “only present godparents being Wilhelm von Humboldt and the Swede Brinckmann,” i.e., they essentially refused to take no for an answer and implied that Goethe was at least a godparent in absentia.

Ludwig Geiger elucidates the background to the offer to Goethe to be a godparent: [7]

The request to serve as godparent . . . probably derives from Goethe’s relationship with a relative of the Sanders. In 1801 Goethe received Teltow turnips from Sander, with which otherwise only Karl August Böttiger and a few select friends were favored. . .

Sander wrote in this regard (24 November 1801): “The occasion to make this request was his extremely cordial social contact with our niece, Madam von Breitenbauch, a young, beautiful, twenty-year-old widow who was in Pyrmont during the summer with her mother, my sister-in-law.” On 5 December . . . he relates that Goethe did answer him . . . Sander remarks that the letter was respectful but not at all groveling. . . . After characterizing his letter [to Goethe of 14 January 1803], he continues:

I have nothing either to hope or to fear from him, and yet am in a kind of relationship with him since he is my godparent. Between us: he failed to respond once last summer. In the fall I sent him turnips and wrote a few accompanying lines, quite in a cavalier fashion, cold as ice, and instead of sending it all not by mail, sent it as a consignment note, so that it took 3 weeks to get there.

And behold! I immediately received an extremely polite — albeit poorly written and illogical — letter to the effect that he “views it as a clear sign of my cordial inclinations that I wrote him a second time,” moreover, he formally apologized. That is how to treat such proud people! —

But say not a word about this to anyone! Not even my wife is to know anything about the letter to Goethe today. If you could read it, you would be astonished at my frankness. Grand and justified compliments to the poet, but nothing but hard truths to the protector of the Schlegelian school.

Concerning the Sanders in general, Schelling, in Jena, writes to Wilhelm Schlegel in Berlin on 16 July 1802 how after the Johann Daniel Sanders’s visit in Weimar and after encountering them again in Lauchstädt, Goethe had referred to them as a “veritable band of gypsies”: [8]

Goethe, who just returned from Lauchstädt, intends to spend the entire month of August here.

It would probably be quite entertaining to hear from Madame Sander about all the courtesies shown to her and her spouse by Goethe both here and in Weimar. For us it was quite fun in part both to see and to hear the scene that played out when Goethe arrived in Lauchstädt and found them already there, how he [Sander] greeted him [Goethe] when the latter exited the carriage, and yet how Goethe received him in his own turn by remarking to his traveling companions — naturally out of Sander’s earshot — that they really were a veritable band of gypsies.

Charlotte Schiller similarly writes to Schiller on 29 May 1800: [9]

Goethe is giving a grand banquet today. Madam Sander is there along with her husband, whom you know. Yesterday they sat in my loge, [10] the wife is not so bad, and even has some pretty features, but there is also something worn and frivolous about her. She related that Goethe had promised that she would see you, and you are not entirely safe from receiving a visit from her.

See also Friedrich Tieck’s remarks to Sophie Bernhardi on 15 June 1802 (letter 363a) to the effect that Goethe had allegedly treated the Sanders quite despicably. Caroline herself mentions that the Sanders had indeed visited Jena in her letter to Julie Gotter on 15 June 1802 (letter 363).


[1] Weimarer Ausgabe 4:15:286–87, notes 362–63. Back.

[2] Teltow turnips and August von Kotzebue’s Das merkwürdigste Jahr meines Lebens (Berlin 1801), which Sander had just published. Back.

[3] The Sanders had hoped for a boy but had had a girl instead. Back.

[4] The name of Kotzebue’s wife in the aforementioned piece. Back.

[5] Kotzebue’s previously mentioned book. Back.

[6] Kotzebue during his exile. Back.

[7] Ludwig Geiger, “Miscellen 26. Zum Sander-Goethischen Briefwechsel,” Goethe Jahrbuch 15 (1894), 285–88, here 286. Back.

[8] Plitt 1:376; Fuhrmans 2:413. Back.

[9] Charlotte von Schiller und ihre Freunde, 1:260. Back.

[10] Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni was performed in the Weimar theater on 28 May 1800 (Das Repertoire des Weimarischen Theaters, 39). Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott