Letter 114

• 114. Caroline to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer in Berlin: Mainz, 12 August 1792

[Mainz] 12 August [17]92

|261| I was just sitting here about to write — I no longer even know now to whom — when, quite late, Forster sent your letter over to me, [1] and now it is impossible for me to take up my quill for anyone except you — I am also quite glad to have the opportunity to do so — it is the only thing that can occupy me this evening. I am extremely restless. Auguste pestered me to tell her what was wrong, and I finally divulged it to her — she claims it to be nothing of importance — perhaps you will have a better sense for it.

What I would like to know is not whether I will or will not see the man [2] — tomorrow or the day after — the man so dear to me — but rather whether he can be so unnatural, inhuman, and wondrous as to deny both himself and me the joy he could have and in his own turn give — because such pleasure can only be enjoyed in passing — that is what I would like to know. In this case, I can sense with such forcefulness the dependence the heart imposes that I might easily entertain the rebellious idea of escaping, indeed could easily wish to escape from it — since this is not the first time such dependence has tormented me. If this does not come about, then I would fear my own joy, albeit not for long — the certainty of being permitted happiness of this sort would soon restore my gentler disposition.

Here you have the explanation of these words, words that, though I do not speak them to you in cold objectivity, I nonetheless cannot regret having said: Augustus Frederick [3] is making the ronde of the mineral-spring spas in the area near us — he has long wished to have Tatter with him instead of the fawning, dung-fork court toadies serving him now — and a chance occurrence has now made that possible.

Tatter departed Hannover a couple of days ago. The prince was in Ems [4] — his route does not take him through Mainz, and obstinate Tatter |262| always takes the direct route. If he will but reflect on it — if our more congenial skies can inspire him to more appropriate measures — I will see him tomorrow — or will my impatience with such foolishness make me fall out with him?

I am sure to see him — the prince has been in Schwalbach since yesterday [5] — but must he embitter me toward this joy, which, really, is the first fortuitous event for us? Unfortunately, in things such as this, things not commanded by the strictest necessity and things in which I cannot assume an active role myself, I tend toward a certain vehement disposition of which my calm external appearance betrays nothing.

How often has he already made me give in against my better judgment — and what if suddenly it were to become stronger than my will to bend it? — what if the injustice were now to become so obvious that I had to condemn him? That is the moment my entire soul is resisting. My dear Meyer, it would depress me were you to view this feeling merely as tension prompted by imminent expectation, or if you were to view me as being at all overwrought in that sense.

I cannot view it differently, nor can I myself be different. When an emotion becomes too much of a torment, when the pain is no longer sweet — is it not quite natural to try to tear oneself away? But if precisely this victory then lays the heart waste forever in this regard, is not that in itself terrible? I would then have only my child and would be unable to look at her without anxiety — my care and my love would forfeit something of their resolute character. —

My current situation does not provide me with the kind of salutary activity and distraction enabling me to be useful to others. Can you comprehend what I am saying? I have overcome a lot — not because I was strong — but because I was yet able to draw a measure of joy from suffering — I parted from the object of what in my life was certainly a unique emotional attachment and forgot that parting |263| precisely because of that affection —

I accommodated myself to circumstances which, had my heart been empty, would have driven me crazy — as it was, my disposition enabled me to amuse myself with it. A flood of the purest serenity could pour itself out over me when the sun was shining — or even when the wind stormed against my window and I was merely sitting busily absorbed in some activity or the other. During every hour when I could have been content, I was.

Am I someone who chases after fruitless grief or sorrow? No, my sensibility is focused on every possible bit of happiness — fate gave me little — and wanting to rob me of that is harsh. That is perhaps something I could not overcome, since my recklessness in fact does not take the form of thoughtlessness. —

The beginning of your letter was comforting and picked up on the waking dreams I have had during my most recent sleepless night. Even if the notion is false, I still know not how to defend the Creator who allows such a thing to emerge in the brain of one of his creatures — the idea of one’s former, burdensome existence.

Will I perhaps be smiling kind-heartedly at him again tomorrow? — Tell me, should and must a woman constantly surrender to blind faith? Could I but do that, I would be calm. For me, his justification is more precious than any reunion.

I have reproached him on several occasions for similar reasons, but he coerced me into honoring his reasoning with the obstinacy and sweet temper that is uniquely his even though such reasoning could never be my own.

If I had to battle with a lack of love, the battle would soon be over — but I am struggling against a strange being who attracts me and who brings me to despair because he refuses to acknowledge the normalcy of my own disposition and who for reasons of pride does not pursue his own claims to happiness, a being who would give his life for me and yet leaves my most burning desires unfulfilled — a person, born to be a hermit, who |264| surrendered to love like a child — the most sensitive stoic — whose touchiness over against freedom prompted him to fetter himself with unnecessary chains and who observes the most precious obligations more poorly than the most superfluous.

Even were I finally to tire of constantly excusing him, I will be glad if he is freed from Hannover and can go to Italy with the prince [6] — and even if I continue to feel affection for him, I would prefer this separation to the previous one. It will do him good to escape the courtly etiquette that torments people like mule horses.

And you, dear Meyer? how we would quarrel were we to speak again — though not over our differing opinions — but over the opinions which you load onto us — and onto me. The red Jacobin cap you place on my head I simply cast back in your face. We know the heroes of Brissot’s type quite well for what they are, and we know qu’il nage dans l’opprobre sans s’y noyer, puisque c’est son élément. [7] Forster recently wanted to scratch someone’s eyes out because the person welcomed the attaque of June 20, [8] and the National Assembly — along with the Jacobinsitem Lafayette [9] — everything has been betrayed — except the cause itself. No one, admittedly, is particularly praying for the good fortune of the imperial and royal armies — despotism is detested, but not all aristocrats — in a word, a mature, noble impartiality predominates — and were you yourself not to adopt our confession — then your diabolical spirit is merely guilty of self-contradiction.

One peculiar feature is the bitterness the émigrés harbor against those who assist them — they would be more than happy to turn their weapons against the latter — and it is with democratic indignation that they speak about the aristocratically military conduct of the Prussians during their march through the countryside here, and in Koblenz. [10] The |265| Duke of Braunschweig is the only one they value. Klopstock wrote an ode to him trying to dissuade him from the campaign — which he answered with the manifesto you probably saw. [11]

Goethe followed the army. [12] — No, he certainly did not sin against nature in Gros Cophta. [13] How unjust! Goethe otherwise also portrays only normal people — no highly stylized Posas [14] — and I loved them. —

Lafontaine, in a couple of his own stories — “Liebe und Achtung,” and “Liebe und Eitelkeit” — in the series of stories under the title, Die Gewalt der Liebe [15] — also portrays only such characters — and I find him to be true — psychological — accurate — but the Gr[oss] C[ophta] is a limp, blatant occasional piece — as a theater piece, it completely forgets to make use of the situations the occasion really did offer — as history, it is on the whole merely a lie — and you can speak — about healthy imagination? — and think Grosse’s Genius is bearable? [16]

My head is spinning. I can excuse the fact that he may well interest you as an adventurer, since you have not seen him up close. He was a disorganized windbag who out of sheer poltroonery was utterly insensitive to shame. Since you have read his memoirs, you probably also know that the last story involves our family. [17] Out of revenge, he coined a couple of nicknames for me in that chapter — what I say about him is not revenge — it is instead heartfelt indignation toward stupid malice, and a complete acquaintance with the entire matter, all of whose documents I now have in my possession. It is bad enough that inexperience and an utter lack of cool judiciousness and experience with the world entangled an upright family with such a wretched hero, one too miserly to eat his fill at home and who was more interested in my mother’s coffee than in Louise’s kisses. [18]

His ambition was to be a scoundrel — it is only that he did not quite understand |266| how, else I should certainly praise him myself even though I have a hard time developing any taste for such distortions. — I wish I had been in Göttingen at the time — I would like to think things would not have gone as far as they did. I only saw him a couple of times 4 years ago, and he looked like a shoemaker’s apprentice, though utterly convinced that he looked exactly — down to the last hair — like Karl XII. The rogue Crecy Montmorenci, whose story can be found in the Berliner Monatsschrift, vividly reminded me of Grosse again. [19]

It is terrible the way a person can accomplish so much once he decides to lie; and regardless of how certain one is that he is lying — he fairly forces one to throw him in prison. — I was always puzzled how Grosse, given his simple, burgher education, had managed to get that far.

I will not respond to everything today — I have probably answered one thing silently — or at least not with words. What I gave to you — my trust, my friendship — an expression I use seldom enough that I can do so here — is now in your hands — only you yourself can make me take it back. That much goes without saying.

Your question — “Does it have any effect?” — you would not ask were you to see me. If then you were to find a mannerism — a turn of the head — or a notion that might justify you in doing so — that is, were it not the simple Caroline, wholly and completely, standing before you — who might at most turn about in a bit more lively fashion or speak a bit more quickly in a conversation that really should take place — then, indeed, you could go ahead and satirize — as well as you can. —

Should Amalie allow herself to be turned away from you through Therese’s flattery? Therese could do a lot! But — she has never spoken about you the way you speak about her. She gets along extremely well with Amalie — Amalie is truly charming, and Therese helped her |267| with her conquest — is that not to her credit? I did not really notice that such was her intention. —

Ludwig Müller is Feder’s stepson and a Hannoverian legation secretary. Apart from not speaking any foreign languages and from his inclination to prattle away, he is quite suited for such a position. Farewell for now —

I have left it such that I will have to write you again soon. Please maintain your brotherly disposition toward me.


[1] Meyer had apparently written to Caroline in care of Forster, as she suggested in her letter to him on 29 July 1792 (letter 113). Back.

[2] Georg Ernst Tatter, who did not visit Caroline in Mainz until ca. 20 September 1792. Back.

[3] Augustus Frederick, later Duke of Sussex, had studied in Göttingen with his brothers and received lessons in German from Tatter. Back.

[4] Ems (today: Bad Ems) on the lower Lahn River near where it flows into the Rhein, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries one of the most famous and popular mineral springs spas in Germany (Franz Ludwig Güssefeld, Neue und vollstaendige Post-Carte Durch ganz Deutschland [1804]; Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans; illustration: frontispiece to Joseph von Droste-Hülshoff, Ems und seine Heilquellen für Bade- und Brunnengäste [Münster 1831]):




[5] Presumably Schwalbach just north of Mainz in the modern district of Lahn-Dill, famous for its mineral water, which is still sold today as Schwalbacher Quelle (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]; illustrations: Schwalbach in 1605 and the mineral spring in 1728, from Adolph Genth, Der Kurort Schwalbach: Eine historisch-topographische Skizze [Wiesbaden 1864], [1] frontispiece to chap. 1, [2] plate following p. 72):





[6] Tatter accompanied Augustus Frederick to Italy in later September 1792. It was during this trip that the prince contracted his problematical marriage with Lady Augusta Murray in Rome on 4 April 1793. Back.

[7] Fr., “that he swims in opprobrium without drowning, since it is his element.” Back.

[8] After France’s declaration of war on 20 April 1792, the beginning of the wars of the Revolution against the anti-revolutionary coalition forces, and the initial French defeats, the National Assembly decreed the mobilization of an army of twenty thousand.

When the king essentially vetoed the move, the Girondists mobilized to topple the throne itself. A mob of sans-culottes attacked the Tuileries in Paris on 20 June 1792, where they forced Louis XVI to put on the phrygian cap of liberty (Geschichte der nachtheiligen Folgen der Staatsrevolutionen alter und neuer Zeiten [1793]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung; a pirated copy of Reichard’s Revolutions-Almanach [1793]):



[9] Fr., “the same with Lafayette”; on 20 August 1792, Marie-Josef Marquis de Lafayette, having already been impeached and proscribed, fled his army at Sedan (originally 52,000 strong and located between Philippeville and Lauterburg), was captured by the Austrians, and imprisoned at Olmütz till 1796. See esp. Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 20–21 August 1795 (letter 154), note 9. Back.

[10] The reference is to aristocratic emigrés from revolutionary France.

While the revolutionary government in France was reorganizing its armies after initial setbacks (France had declared war on Prussia and Austria on 20 April 1792 and had intended to invade the Austrian Netherlands), an allied army under Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, was assembling at Koblenz on the Rhein River. The armies invaded France in July, and the duke’s forces, consisting mostly of Prussians, had taken the fortresses of Longwy (23 August) and Verdun (2 September) (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):


See, however, also Caroline’s letter to Meyer on 27 October 1792 (letter 118), note 11. Back.

[11] In the early summer of 1792, King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia and Emperor Leopold II of Austria formed an alliance with the goal of reestablishing the old order in France. Friedrich Gottlob Klopstock’s admonitory ode, “Der Freiheitskrieg,” was sent to the commander-in-chief Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, commander-in-chief of the allied troops, on 2 July 1792. Back.

[12] Goethe was part of the entourage of Duke Carl August of Weimar, recounting his experiences later in his Campagne in Frankreich 1792 (Tübingen 1822). During this tour, he also visited the Forsters and Caroline in Mainz. Back.

[13] Concerning Goethe’s play Der Gross-Cophta. Ein Lustspiel in 5 Aufzügen (Berlin 1792), see Caroline to Luise Gotter on 20 April 1792 (letter 112), with note 10. Back.

[14] Marquis von Posa (described in the dramatis personae as a “Maltese knight”) is one of, or arguably even the main character in Schiller’s verse play Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien (finally published in 1787) (Friedrich Echt and Arthur von Ramberg, Schiller-Galerie: Charaktere aus Schiller’s Werken [Leipzig 1859], unpaginated):


Posa, the close friend of the nominal protagonist, Don Carlos, is portrayed as an advocate of high-minded ideals, including that of religious tolerance and freedom of thought, even ultimately sacrificing himself in an effort to save Don Carlos. Back.

[15] “Liebe und Eitelkeit” does not seem to appear in August Lafontaine’s collection Die Gewalt der Liebe in Erzählungen, 4 vols. (Berlin 1791–1801), though it does include titles such as “Liebe und Eifersucht,” “Liebe und Edelmuth,” “Liebe und Achtung,” “Liebe um Liebe,” and “Stolz und Liebe.”

Here the frontispieces from vols. 1 (1791); 4 (1794); 1 (1799); 2 (1799); 1 (1801):







[16] Erich Schmidt (1913), 1:698 (similarly Reichard, Selbstbiographie 243), thought the alleged author of the effect-laden horror novel Der Genius. Aus den Papieren des Marquis C. v. G., 4 vols. (Halle [also Hohenzollern (Vienna)] 1791–96) was Franz Rudolf Grossing (born in 1761 in Magdeburg), who fraudulently passed himself off as a marquis in Göttingen, among other places, ultimately even becoming engaged to Luise Michaelis.

Grossing, however, was born in 1753 and was never in Göttingen. The reference is to Carl (also: Karl) Friedrich August Grosse, calling himself Marquis of Pharnusa, the author of Der Genius. Aus den Papieren des Marquis C. v. G., 4 vols. (Halle 1791–94; Hohenzollern [Vienna] 1794–96); here the frontispieces of all four volumes (in order) from the Viennese edition:



Grosse was also the author of Memoiren des Marquis von G.: von dem Verfasser des Genius, 2 vols. (Berlin 1792–95). The Göttinger Musenalmanach (1793), 194, contains a poem, mocking “Charlemagne,” with the title “Carl der Grosse, / als Dichter / aus dem Piemontesischen” by a certain “Menschenschreck.” It should be noted that here “Menschenschreck” is not Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer, who used this pseudonym in the Göttinger Musenalmanach earlier (1788; 1789; he also used “Frau Menschenschreck” in 1791; see Caroline’s letter to Meyer on 6 December 1791 [letter 111], note 8), but rather Gottfried August Bürger. See Carl Christian Redlich, Versuch eines Chiffernlexikons zu den Göttinger, Vossischen, Schillerschen und Schlegel-Tieckchen Musenalmanachen (Hamburg 1875), 11–12. Bürger’s poem was reprinted in his Gedichte (Carlsruhe 1823), 2:309:

Charlemagne, as a Poet. From the Piedmont.

No poeticizing genius has yet ascended as swiftly as he
To the status of Hofrath, envoyé, canon, and marquis.
Soon, however, should he but continue so commendably,
Will he surpass all conceivable honorific distinctions
Through the poetic arts as sure as can be. Back.

[17] The book about which Caroline is here speaking, namely, Grosse’s (so Erich Schmidt: repugnant) Memoiren des Marquis von G***. Vom Verfasser des Genius (Berlin 1792), after recounting various erotic adventures, does indeed describe a university town and then (book 2, 185ff.) offers (187–216) an audacious portrayal of the family of Professor “P.”: the vain father (Johann David Michaelis); the limited, miserly mother (Madam Michaelis), who in a letter reeking of small-town values tries to pin down the stranger with a question concerning his “serious intentions”; the youngest daughter, “Mariane”(Luise Michaelis), who is attractive, in love, uncultured, but less interested in marriage; a middle daughter (Lotte Michaelis) who returns home from her journey a changed person; an importunate son (Philipp Michaelis) who oppresses the entire household. The account also references Caroline, as she herself explains in this letter (for the text see supplementary appendix 114.1).

The Memoiren des Marquis von G***.: von dem Verfasser des Genius was severely criticized in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1792) 221 (Friday, 17 August 1792) 395–96 (i.e., a mere five days after Caroline’s letter here), in a review casting the character of the author (i.e., Grosse) in the worst possible light, the reviewer never tiring of castigating his falseness, deceit, lies, lack of shame, crudeness, and charlatanism (text see supplementary appendix 114.2). Caroline’s description and vocabulary in this present paragraph seem to be drawn from that review. Back.

[18] For a first-hand account of Grosse’s relationship with the Michaelis family and especially with Luise Michaelis, see Luise herself in her Erinnerungen, pp. 18ff. et passim; as Luise points out several times in her memoirs, to the very end of her life she remained genuinely perplexed concerning his intentions (“Ah, how he would have loved me”; Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Wie er mich würde geliebt haben [1786]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.709):



[19] Grosse seems to have been in Göttingen while Caroline was in Clausthal, from which she returned during the autumn of 1788 — four years earlier — after the death of her husband, Franz Böhmer.

“Bourbon-Crequi, ein Französischer Abenteurer in Glogau und Stettin,” Berlinische Monatsschrift 19 (1792) (May), 474–511, the story of the alleged adventurer Bourbon-Crequi, who also called himself Montmorency. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott