Letter 126a

126a. C. Möller to Wilhelm Schlegel in Amsterdam: Berlin, 16 May 1793 [*]

Berlin, 16 May 1793

Although it was indeed an extraordinary pleasure for me to hear something from you again after such a long separation, my good friend, [1] the occasion itself and especially the anxiety you seem to be suffering on account of good Madam B[öhmer] admittedly dampened my joy not inconsiderably. Since I myself was utterly unclear with regard to the fate of the prisoners, I first wrote to Hannover and Göttingen, whence I received information that, albeit incomplete, is nonetheless at least somewhat reassuring and which I here hasten to pass along to you. [1a]

Madam B[öhmer] as well as her fellow prisoners, Mesdames Forkel, Wedekind, and Madam F[orkel]’s mother are being kept quite comfortably at Königstein, [2] enjoying the freedom to move about the fortress as well as the appropriate domestic services. They are being interrogated concerning members of the M[ainz Jacobin] Club and the Freemasons there. The elderly B[öhmer] in Göttingen [3] has hitherto tried in vain to secure their release and will continue those efforts on their behalf in the future.

I indeed know not the extent to which Madam B[öhmer] got involved in things from which she should wholly have kept her distance. I myself left Maynz 2 days after the invasion of the French and have since then had almost no reliable news concerning her or her behavior. [4] I do, however, fear she may indeed have become too deeply involved in things. She had long ceased concealing her own principles and opinions, and even if she was not as imprudent as Forster and his wife in her statements, the Forsters and her constant contact with them had already long drawn attention to her.

I warned all of them on several occasions and even as late as my own departure advised them to keep a low profile, imploring especially Madam B[öhmer] to leave M[aynz] immediately. That she did not do so and instead remained there until the very last moment, Forster’s own imprudent behavior, and several lesser circumstances, e.g., that she dined on several occasions with Custine, prompt me to fear she was not entirely clean in the matter. [5] — —

She will no doubt not suffer any injustice — on the other hand, if she has indeed incurred some culpability or other, people are now generally too embittered toward transgressions of that sort to overlook such entirely merely out of consideration for her relatives and patrons and to then drop the investigation. — —

The matter will not, I think, cause Madam B[öhmer] excessive grief — I know her to be a good philosopher and a person of firm principles. — At the same time, however, I do hope this imprisonment will serve as a kind of corrective for her and at the very least make her a bit more cautious in expressing those principles.


The involvement of the elderly Herr Böhmer will doubtless contribute toward hastening the investigation, notwithstanding — something that, given the circumstances, however, is highly unlikely — it might otherwise have proceeded rather slowly. — It will no doubt emerge quite soon whether she can be charged with anything. —

Then also — though certainly no sooner — at T[atter’s] entreaty, perhaps Prince Augustus. — T[atter], who is extremely cautious in any event, will no doubt also be such in this instance [6] — though not entirely inactive, either — she cannot really ask more of anyone. [7]


[*] Source: Waitz (1882), 23–25. Passages Waitz did not include are indicated by “—.” Back.

[1] Although it is unclear what Möller had been doing in Mainz, his acquaintance with Caroline presumably dated from his student days in Göttingen. Back.

[1a] As a native of Göttingen, Caroline was a subject of the Electorate of Hannover. See the chapter on Lower Saxony in the supplementary appendix on Germany in the late eighteenth century, esp. the section on the Elector of Hannover. Back.

[2] Caroline and Meta Forkel were arrested on 2 April 1793 and had been incarcerated in the fortress Königstein since 8 April, though the conditions had in the meantime become less acceptable. Back.

[3] Georg Ludewig Böhmer, Caroline’s father-in-law, not “G. W. Böhmer” as in Waitz (1882), 24n1. Back.

[4] The French had occupied Mainz on 21 October 1792.

Möller’s remarks here concerning Caroline’s participation in events in Mainz contradict at least to a certain extent her own asseverrations of having been at most only peripherally involved. His remarks deserve serious consideration also insofar as they reflect his own observations rather than hearsay, and insofar as, in responding to Wilhelm’s letter and queries, he has no apparent reason to dissimulate or slander Caroline rather than to give Wilhelm an accurate assessment.

The remarks also support Caroline’s insistence that Therese Forster had indeed been more involved than, e.g., Therese herself claims in her letters to her father, Christian Gottlob Heyne, back in Göttingen. Although the complete story of Caroline’s involvement may never be known, Möller’s remarks arguably suggest that she may have been quite fortunate indeed to have gotten off as easily as she did, notwithstanding the damage this episode did to her reputation for the remainder of her life. Back.

[5] Concerning Caroline’s alleged relationship with General Adam Philippe de Custine, see esp. Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 3 April 1793 (letter 121c). Back.

[6] See Luise Wiedemann’s assessment of Tatter’s behavior in the chapter on Caroline in her Erinnerungen, p. 81. Back.

[7] Waitz (1882), 25n1, points out that the final sentence originally read: “you yourself cannot really ask more of me.” Contextually, Caroline’s allegedly deeper involvement in the episode of the Mainz Republic essentially made her a person to whom one might offer assistance only at considerable risk of one’s own reputation or even status, something Tatter understood only too well. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott