After losing his first wife, Sophie Mereau, in childbirth in 1806, Clemens Brentano went through a difficult, unsteady period. He eventually fell in with young Auguste Busmann (Bußmann), the unstable niece of the banker Moritz Bethmann in Frankfurt.
The following materials include Brentano’s anxious, despairing, and disjointed letter to Achim von Arnim recounting how the marriage came about and its immediate aftermath, and a summary of the subsequent course of the marriage. The following locales are mentioned below (Thomas Kitchin, Map of Germany [ca. 1780]; Allendorf is located just outside Marburg):
The following excerpt comes and letter from Reinhold Steig and Herman Grimm, Achim von Arnim und die ihm nahe standen, 2 vols. (Stuttgart 1894), 1:221—24, 257:
Arnim was about to send words of consolation to his friend [for the loss of Sophie Mereau] when he received the stunning news from Bettina that Clemens had remarried, to wit, to Auguste Busmann. Auguste had lost her father early, and her mother [Maria Elisabeth Bethmann (1772–1847)], a sister of Moritz Bethmann, had married a second time, namely, Comte de Flavigny. Bethmann himself acted as father to the orphaned child. When Clemens met Auguste, who had hardly left childhood, in Frankfurt, he was charmed by her gifted and adroit personality. . . . But the inflexible, vehement, and unbridled nature of her personality gradually emerged more brusquely. Almost against his will, Clemens married her on 20 August 1807, settling then with her in Kassel. . . .
Clemens’ marital life only too quickly took the turn that his family had fretfully foreseen. Clemens spoke quite frankly to Arnim about these remarkable events on 19 October 1807:
Oh, my dear brother! The Königsplatz [in Kassel] is bathed in such fresh, bright sunshine that I could fly to you this very moment! Your letter of 8 October is here; the only reason I have neglected to answer is simply my profound irritation and shame concerning my circumstances.
May the devil take it all! Without wanting to myself, against the wishes of the entire Bethmann family, who still curse me without my really meriting such, after I saw the girl [Auguste] five times, who a year earlier had just as violently promised her hand to an adjutant of the king of Holland, coercing the consent of her parents by falling at the feet of the queen herself at the Riedhof, and was known all over town as his fiancée, appearing externally extraordinarily quiet, gentle, and thoughtful, indeed deeply reflective, and expressing herself in a horribly sensible fashion — Auguste Busmann throws herself at me with terrifying force, after several poetic sweet nothings I had made to her without at all being acquainted with all her circumstances.
Frightened by the so overtly public steps she took to secure her previous fiancé, I find her to be like a person who is going to her death. I stand next to her on the steps in the Taxischer Hof [in Frankfurt] when Napoleon and the other princes are walking back and forth, in a niche with Claudine and Bettine like a group of statues there before the eyes of everyone in Frankfurt. Her behavior is so crazily tender and overt that everyone is now staring at us; I feel like I am on display in the stocks.
(Frontispiece to Das Schleifermädchen aus Schwaben, vol. 1 [Frankfurt 1796]):
Amid inexpressible fear and a profoundly sad feeling, I felt only quite faintly, only as a dark premonition, that the arms that were here publicly embracing me might genuinely turn into an iron collar around my neck.
And now she utterly loses control, tells me that she is already promised to someone else, that the queen herself is involved; only with enormous effort am I able to hold her back and keep her from falling at the feet of Bonaparte himself, thereby weaving my poor, beleaguered self into world history. Everyone round about us flees me in terrifying sadness, I no longer have control of myself, the entire town is talking about me, and I do not really love her, I instead simply admire the girl’s courage and terrible character, which comes so violently to expression in love.
And just as I always believe only what is most magnificent, in a wholly shy, modest girl I perceive as simple love and splendid enthusiasm what otherwise, that is, in a headstrong woman who from her earliest years has engaged in romantic intrigues and secrecy, I invariably would view as fanaticism.
Without being in love, I fall into a kind of fever that envelopes me like a fiery cloud. Profoundly sad, I frequent all the small niches where she arranges, through the most artificial connivance, for me to meet her despite the heightened surveillance by her family. While she threatens surely to perish from love itself, such things fill me with contempt.
At 1 a.m. one night I calmly go to Moritz [Bethmann, her uncle and guardian] and ask for his advice. He is cordial, assures me he has no intention of undertaking anything against us in this matter, speaks at length about the intrigues and character of this strange creature; I promise him to journey to you [Achim von Arnim] and to leave the test of this situation over to time. I am quite touched by his cordiality, he relates his entire life story to me, and we part apparently quite closer to each other. And now I thought about journeying to you, ah, God, fate invariably strikes me on the way to see you! But Moritz was merely cordial in order to entice me out.
Auguste now pressures me despite all hindrances, raises all sorts of complaints against me, says they are about to put her in a convent. They speak about the most horrendous abominations of which I am guilty, and yet after I defend myself and constantly propose a we take the path of patient endurance, she suddenly has a maidservant summon me to come to house at 10 p.m. at dinner on the Parade Square.
I go, there I am, and behold! this seventeen-year-old girl comes running to me — I now seeming quite common — out of the gate with a bundle under her arm. Christian [Brentano], who had accompanied me, secures a postal coach that then picks us up. And thus do we flee to Kassel to Jordis [royal banker of Jerome Bonaparte], whom I had left sitting at the table with LuLu [née Brentano, Clemens’s sister, Jordis’s wife] in Frankfurt.
After countless threats and empty impertinences, after the entire, stupidly proud family, who had already so often teased me with their derision and contempt, had now taken all their ire out on me, berated and smeared, called a rogue and vagabond, and now, through my brothers’ fearfulness, with whom the Bethmanns wanted to break, disdained by my own family, and at the same time discovering more clearly and with bitter grief each day that I had abducted an entirely different creature — or rather, had myself been abducted by an entirely different creature — than I was really interested in, and now viewing all the strong actions I had originally attributed to her heroic courage and powerful love as coming instead from extraordinarily ordinary obstinacy, in a being wholly lacking any ideal nature, cosseted, ungainly, and vehement in her resolve, here next to me without any charms of either body or soul — and I, though still unwed, nonetheless declared for such honoris causa [Latin, “for the sake of honor”], and yet emotionally already separated — after all this, finally, after confessing and taking communion, I was married by a Catholic priest in Fritzlar, seven hours from here, in the presence of Jordis and Lulu, according to the family’s wishes, accompanied by the utmost imprecations of the family but with their consent, the step having been formally announced in Frankfurt.
(Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795])
The entire act was so foolish and insipid, so pathetic, the church seemed to collapse in on me, and an enormous emotional sadness crushed me such that I received three sacraments utterly without dignity and utterly detached. May God forgive me this transgression.
And now I am married. the Bethmann family is pressing me to settle into an appropriate profession, wants to direct me, but I cannot and will not! That would be the final blow! And so I am hunkering down in my library and thinking of Sophie and you and weeping, loving, and reading. But now I am used to it; we [Brentano and Auguste] often exchange not a single word for six or seven days, and I am quite cheerful.
The following is summarized from Lujo Brentano, Clemens Brentanos Liebesleben (Frankfurt am Main 1921), 128–72:
On 12 March 1808, Auguste stabbed herself twice with scissors but recovered and resisted Clemens’s attempts to secure a divorce, and Brentano’s friends were advising him to have her put in a convent, by force if necessary; not even her mother was willing to take her in, the family now acknowledging, however, Auguste’s instability. Instead she was sent to a pastor in Allendorf [just outside Marburg] with whom Brentano was acquainted, from where she also wrote Brentano ardent love letters. Brentano gave in, hastened to Allendorf, and experienced the most horrific scenes yet in his marriage.
(Blumenstrauß für Musen- und Menschen-Freunde ; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
So he departed after but two days, after which she resumed the previous tone in her letters.
When Brentano’s good friend Friedrich Karl von Savigny received an appointment in Landshut as Hufeland’s successor, Brentano decided to move there with Auguste. Brentano and Auguste, accompanied by Bettina and the Savigny family, temporarily settled in Munich on 21 September 1808, where Caroline renewed her acquaintance with Brentano, whom she had known in Jena, and became acquainted with Auguste.
The chronology is difficult to follow. Here the Baierische National-Zeitung (1808) no. 231 (Thursday, 29 September 1808), 948, which recounts that Brentano and his family arrived in the inn Zum schwarzen Adler on 28 September 1808:
The narrative continues:
After finally moving to Landshut with Auguste, things, not surprisingly, went from bad to worse for Brentano when Auguste feigned having taken poison, whereupon Brentano fled her presence entirely to Munich to remove the main audience member from her dramatic scenes.
Auguste followed after announcing in Landshut that she intended to take poison and kill herself in his presence at the inn. Brentano fled out the inn’s rear door just as Auguste entered through the front. Savigny and another friend arranged a refuge for him in the mountains two hours from Landshut, where he hid under the name Benone.
Meanwhile back at the inn, Auguste read letters and poetry to her from Brentano to all the guests and took out a bottle from which she allegedly was going to drink poison.
(Leipziger Taschenbuch für Frauenzimmer zum Nutzen und Vergnügen auf das Jahr 1798; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):
Physicians and the queen’s father confessor were summoned and the death bell rung. But Auguste had not drunk poison at all, and had, moreover, and oddly, arranged for a lending library in Munich to send several novels to her in Landshut. She was informed by the secret police that the king was especially ungallant toward those who attempted suicide, and after three days she was quickly dispatched back to Landshut and from there back to Allendorf, whereupon Brentano returned to Landshut.
Because Auguste could still appear as a stable and reasonable individual in public situations, a divorce was still impossible, and a series of steps undertaken by both sides had to ensue before she finally relented and the couple divorced in 1811, Auguste having gone to Vienna with Moritz Bethmann, and Bretano having finally, after lengthy negotiations, succeeded with his complaint of “malicious behavior” on Auguste’s part.
She remarried and even had four children but was allegedly never happy, committing suicide in 1832 after arguing with her husband at dinner, rampaging through her house, and then fixing two heavy stones around her own neck at the river.
(Nordischer Almanach ):
A more forgiving, if brief assessment of Auguste Brentano is provided by Valerie Paradiz, Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales (New York), 55–68, here 58–68.
Translation © 2018 Doug Stott