Letter 136

• 136. Caroline to Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter in Gotha: Lucka, 4 November 1793 [*]

[Lucka] 4 Nov[ember 1793]

|311| In Amsterdam? Why not simply fall into the hands of slave traders and be shipped out to the East Indies instead? [1] No, |312| I am closer, and I would very much like to set out even today and then suddenly appear there among you. And I am doing fairly well, apart from original sin — namely, now and then a cursed attack of gout of the sort that kept me in Mainz a year ago. —

So, my dear Gotter, as condemned and banished as I am, you would seriously consider accepting me into your house for a while? — You are not afraid my presence might prompt malicious gossip toward you? Your entire behavior is truly exemplary of genuine friendship. I would like — and entertain a certain hope of finding an opportunity even before Easter to come to Gotha — until Easter, when my fate will have been further decided, I would then probably ask you to allow me to stay with you — genuinely to accept me and take me in — otherwise I will not pass the threshold — we will talk about all this further. —

Meyer visited me, and that gave me a great deal of joy — you can imagine how much we talked about Gotha! He had just been on a trip and was returning to Berlin. [2]

I answered Huber directly [3] — and had a great deal to say to him; that in its own turn cost me additional time, and he is responsible in another fashion as well for the brevity of this note, for which you yourself are reproaching me. — His Juliane is finished and is being printed. [4]

Have you read the Bürger General Schnapps? People are saying it is by Goethe. [5]

Our good Porsch — he really did want to leave Frankfurt. I cannot think of him without the most profound sense of gratitude and heartfelt good wishes

Please give my regards to Mother Schläger — ah, I cannot wait to see all of you again! I embrace you and Louise.


[*] Caroline, writing the day after her son was born and on the very day he was baptized in Lucka, nonetheless mentions not a word of either event in this letter to the Gotters in Gotha. Back.

[1] That is, in Amsterdam with Wilhelm Schlegel; see Caroline’s letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 30 July 1793 (letter 132) (W. R. Shepherd, Historical Map of Central Europe about 1786 [1926]):


Caroline’s quip about slave traders reflects not least the perhaps surprisingly frequent references to and illustrations of slave trading and the treatment of slaves in periodicals at the time ([1] König. Großbr. u. Chur. Braunsch. Lünen. Genealogischer Kalender auf das Schalt-Jahr 1776; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung; [2] Johann Oswald Berndt, Gefesselte Sklaven in Afrika [ca. 1760–90]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 191a; [3] Göttingischer Taschen-Calender für das Jahr 1801; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):




[2] Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer had visited Caroline sometime between 16 and approx. 22 October 1793; concerning the timing of this visit, see Friedrich Schlegel’s to Wilhelm Schlegel on 16 October 1793 (letter 135cd), with note 5.

Meyer, as Caroline notes, was en route from Gotha back to Berlin (maps: [1] J. Walch, Neueste Post-Karte von Deutschland und dessen angrenzenden Laendern [Augsburg 1813]; [2] Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]; illustration: Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Von Berlin nach Danzig: Eine Künstlerfahrt im Jahre 1773, von Daniel Chodowiecki. 108 Lichtdrucke nach den Originalen in der Staatl. Akademie der Künste in Berlin, mit erläuterndem Text und einer Einführung von Wolfgang von Oettingen [Leipzig 1923], plate 13):





[3] Ludwig Ferdinand Huber was currently with Therese Forster and her children in Switzerland; in fact, between 3 and 5 November 1793, he and Therese along with Therese’s children Therese and Claire were meeting with Georg Forster in Travers, Switzerland, to make plans for the future. See Caroline’s letter to Meyer from Mainz on 17 December 1792 (letter 119), note 5. Back.

[4] Ludwig Ferdinand Huber, Juliane. Ein Lustspiel, published in Schiller’s Thalia 3, no. 9 (1790), 110–42; no. 12 (1791), 78–97; then as Juliane: ein Lustspiel in drei Aufzügen von dem Verfasser des heimlichen Gerichts (Berlin 1794); here the frontispiece to this edition of 1794:



[5] It was indeed: Goethe, Der Bürgergeneral, ein Lustspiel in 1. Aufzuge: 2. Fortsetzung der beyden Billets (Berlin 1793). The piece is a period comedy of deception involving a barber who poses as a revolutionary French general in order to deceive a peasant for free food; here an engraving of a scene from 1880:


Goethe had written the play during the second half of April 1793, and the play premiered in Weimar on 2 May 1793, with Heinrich Beck performing the role of “Schnaps,” the play’s “citizen general” (Caroline spells it Schnapps)> Concerning Goethe’s dramatic works during this period, see J. W. Schaefer, Handbuch der Geschichte der deutschen Literatur, 2nd ed. (Bremen 1855), 471:

Der Gross-Cophtha (1792) [see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 20 April 1792 (letter 112), notes 9 and 10], Der Bürger-general (1793), and Die Aufgeregten, should not be measured by the standard suggested by the plays worked out in Italy. In Gross-Cophtha, which Goethe initially intended to treat as an opera, he adapted the necklace episode and deceptions of Cagliostro as a comedy, though without being able to extract any more cheerful, attractive elements from the rather repugnant material. The Bürger-general (the continuation of a play [Die beiden Billets] by Anton Wall) is a facilely composed dramatic morsel cast in animated dialogue and calcuated solely for its momentary stage effect; the latter piece [Die Aufgeregten] remained fragmentary.

See also Eduard Engel, Goethe, der Mann und das Werk (Berlin 1910), 335:

In the Bürger-general . . . he [Goethe] took the unpolitical position of European rulers at the time, viz., with their view of the [French] Revolution as a meaningless uprising instigated by a few swindlers, enthusiasts, and covetous good-for-nothings.

Interestingly, Der Bürger-general was performed at the theater opening in Lauchstädt on 31 July 1802, where Caroline and Schelling attended plays at the end of June that year. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott