Letter 142

• 142. Therese Forster to Caroline in Gotha: Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 25 February 1794 [*]

[Neuchâtel, Switzerland] 25 February 1794

|324| Your letter of December 28, I believe, did not reach us until February 21; we do not understand the delay.

You probably know by now how sadly and unexpectedly our fate has been altered, how horribly death has torn asunder bonds that cost so many frightful battles and so many bitter sacrifices to establish. [1] He now rests in his grave, the kind, unhappy man [2] — this mixture of the most noble character traits — whose excesses led him to make mistakes that ultimately poisoned his life.

He never possessed my love, never possessed my senses, though from the first moment we were married he did possess my melancholy tenderness, my fretful care. His happiness was necessary for my own peace, — yet he was never happy, and I never knew peace and quiet. I would have sacrificed myself — and my love for Huber — to his happiness, but I could not extirpate my love — and thus the moment of declaration came — that is not clear — had Forster, as a reasonable, older man, as a husband and as a friend, advised me and ordered me never to see Huber again, had he taken me away — I would never have resisted — but because he was too noble-minded for that, and too incapable of sensing that I could never love him, he resisted this, the only means that could have made a difference, and wanted instead to modify my feelings, and exposed me to all sorts of dangers — He was too noble and too weak — alas, he was unspeakably miserable, and I was — what I felt, often having to hate this man, always deceiving him, he who was always the first object of all my gentle concern and tenderness.

Once having learned to think, I have never been able to pray, and yet amid the mortal anxiety of my love, — a love that unfortunately violated duty itself in soaring above everything else, and given my unremitting desire to be kind to him, I often prayed out of a sense of sheer foolishness that he might instead |325| be my brother — When I married, I was more innocent than a child. It was not until four weeks after my marriage that I became a woman, since nature had not destined us to be man and wife. I wept in his arms and cursed nature that had created this agony as lust — finally I became accustomed to it — in Poland, I made him happy, but love was not enough for him even though he had to believe there that I loved him, since my letters to Meyer, as rapturous as they were and which he saw, did not disturb him. [3]

But then we returned [to Göttingen], and he became miserable, for now he saw that I had never loved him. [4] At that time, I offered, requested, indeed entreated him to separate me from Meyer. He did not want to; what he wanted instead was for me to love him and to be Meyer’s lady friend — Meyer could have possessed me unconditionally, but this enigmatic person seemed to care nothing about that, and instead wanted to corrupt me, giving me despicable books to read, trying to destroy my feelings — and abandoned us.

At the time, Forster had incensed my soul — he knew I loved someone else — he was the confidant of my imprudence — he could have led me down a calm path of life, and instead besieged me with sensuality.

Then I fell into despair. I had grown numb to all feeling and persecuted every trace of feeling with fanatical bitterness. Forster’s prosperity, his household was my only focus — I always, always had to be kind to him — he was dear and precious to me in every respect in which I was not his woman, but wherever I touched his senses, I had to grit my teeth. I finally came to view myself as a bitch whom the male dog prostrates [4a] — I viewed it as the humiliation of humanity — Although I became consumed with misanthropic bitterness that loathed all feeling, his benevolent heart usually took no notice of it.

And then we began to fall in love, |326| Huber and I — for before Forster went to England, [5] we had never had any relationship of any sort — a chance occurrence revealed how close our hearts were, and Forster’s domestic tranquility was over. He no doubt related a great deal to you — He was infinitely noble, good, humane — but nothing could protect him from the misfortune that befell him — I could not love him, and yet — the most loving heart simply had to love, had to love for the first time with all my heart and senses and understanding, though now no longer with the initial vehemence of youth, but with the immutable inwardness of cultivated emotion.

I do realize what he suffered — my own wounded heart told me for three years — out of sheer pain, my own life moved toward the grave — my George drank death at my breast because I lived in grief [6] — And yet how could his uncomprehending goodness resolve to take the necessary steps that my own, passionate love was unable to demand? Had he wanted to separate me from Ferdinand, I would never have resisted — indeed, I made him that very offer on three separate occasions, but his heart was too soft. —

We saw him in November [7] — we would have been happy now. Truth and love united us. He perceived that we met him with the highest conceivable degree of trust, he saw us happy, united, loving — no deception, no lies, instead with the most childlike zeal to show him kindness, to show him gratitude. From my own mouth, he knew the entirety of my guilt. Could I but show you the letters he wrote after our decision to separate! Could you have witnessed our meeting —

We were hoping to go to France this year that we might live near him, [8] — he felt robbed, he felt he had made an enormous sacrifice, but he felt rewarded. All the respect I had for his character, all my long familiar tenderness, all the melancholy attaching to transgressions committed long, long ago, was now joined in my heart |327| by the most childlike trust, the most profound gratitude. Look — you will understand — for us, he was what God is for Christians — we had to be devout and happy for his sake, the life we purchased through him had to be sacred to us. Ah, truly, truly, we would have made him happy; — and he died.

Although your letter contains much that seems irreconcilable and that my gloomy heart does not comprehend, there is nothing in me that might keep me from pouring out my inexpressible pain to you, you who knew him. Time will lessen that pain — I am not turning it into an obligation, but now the scene of his lonely death is the foundation on which every color in the present becomes cloudy, and on which the future futilely applies its brush — I hear his voice calling out to his children for the last time, see his poor, faltering eyes look up and see no friend return their gaze, and I see how in the grave he is no longer suffering and no longer struggling.

Ah, were there but a path leading from the spirit world to us, I would long have taken it — he would already, and often, have laid his hand on my weeping eyes in the still of the night — I can no longer be glad. I looked forward to his happiness, and now he is dead. And he was so good! And yet he could never be happy, nor ever make anyone else happy — but he was able to enjoy many happy hours, and I would have provided that for him, and Ferdinand. My imagination sees him — in everything — and everyone.

Everyone weeps for him — What a fate he had! Good night, good night, O weary one — O Karoline, how little he knew what love was — I loved him so sincerely — but I could never be his woman.

I have told you much here that is of no use to you, but which must show you that you are not a stranger to me, for I have offered you my sacred possession, my grief — time will ease it. Huber was just as noble then as he was in everything he did. |328| Voss in Berlin conducted himself with extraordinarily surprising magnanimity, all the promissory notes have been destroyed. [9]

Forster’s collected works are to be published later, for now his literary estate, and probably as quickly as possible also his correspondence for the good of the children. It is still undecided whether the nation [France] will do anything for the latter. Because dear Forster left nothing but debts in Paris, I will perhaps not be able to save even his watch as a memento. — He died of a stroke just when he thought he was getting better. — Ah, but these images!

At the end of April, we will be getting married and then going to Zürich [10] — all our plans have been destroyed by his death, and I cannot make any new ones. God only knows where the money for travel, for accommodations is to come from — Ferdinand’s childlike sensibility simply looks cheerfully to the future, I cling to his serene gaze and feel I have the strength for anything, and as long as I am in his presence, I am fine, though we see each other at most for only three hours a day, since he is not living with us and has much work and must also see people.

I have worked an unbelievable amount — thank God I can. [11]

The children are healthy and are worthy of the father they have lost and of their provider. Kläre is very charming and happy; Röse resembles him.

Karoline, for what has fate destined the two of us? What have we experienced, what suffered these 15 years?

Liese is still with me — she is infinitely attached to me and to us all.

You are still alive, as is your child. [12] Thank God. Your presence in Gotha shocked me at first. Marianne mentioned it to me in a letter even before your own letter of December arrived. I was unsatisfied. Your reasons satisfy me completely, as does your entire letter; |329| you will understand that my so infinitely frayed heart finds you somewhat harsh and is able to answer you now only with childlike gentleness. I wish you peace wherever you may be, and miss you even though I fear that which is different in you.

For myself I wish for nothing other than a quiet life under Huber’s gaze. My youth is over, my health unstable, my hopes — now lie in his lonely grave — I now live only through love — my wish to live for him is now everything, for this best of all human creatures — for from a human perspective I did not know anything gooder [13] than Huber; living for him is everything — my only strong feelings are for France’s freedom — people now mean almost nothing to me, — but these thoughts are already taking me too far astray —

You will write to me when your own destiny moves forward. Please accept a single request, one that must not insult you, for it is a loyal one. I am unaware whether your heart be disengaged or not just now, or what may be occupying love’s place in it, but if you enter into relationships with men, beware lest they slight or take advantage of you. Give yourself out of love, but not out of surfeit, tension, despair. — If you can get on without them, so much the better, till you have found your right walk in life. You must unlearn TatterSchlegel may have been able to save you, but he is totally inadequate to the task of guiding you. [14] Mere social relationships are dangerous for you — let me entreat you, because I know not how you should keep yourself from getting hurt and because I do wish you to have peace. Please write me when you have new plans, or write Huber, since it may be more unpleasant for you to write me, and that is something I do not want.

Let people do what they will — even Böhmer, should he be released [15] — you cannot defend yourself against their poison, they are raging against you. — Have you written anything down about your sojourn in Königstein and about the things that happened there? |330| Please do send it along to me! I would like to know more about it — you are now free again, and if it does not cause you too much grief or sorrow, please tell me how you fared there. [16]

Farewell! I embrace Gustel — and the little boy. But tell me, how on earth is it possible to bring Gustel to an understanding of your situation? [17]

[Final page, a fourth of which had writing on it, was torn off]


[*] Concerning Therese’s immediate itinerary after leaving Mainz in early December 1792, see Caroline’s letter to Meyer on 17 December 1792 (letter 119), note 5.

Before Erich Schmidt’s publication of this letter in full, it was known only in an extremely abridged form suppressing Therese’s open confession to Caroline concerning her physical revulsion toward her husband, Georg Forster, whom Therese suspected of having been erotically involved with Caroline in Mainz. Precisely this point does give the letter, which (Schmidt maintains) is otherwise quite sensible in many respects, a certain barb.

In this context and in connection with Caroline’s letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer from Gotha on 7 June 1794 as well (letter 145), however, one must also consider that Meyer was equivocal enough to relate to Caroline a long, undated general confession he had written to Therese, one as interesting as it is convoluted, concerning his own resigned behavior. A copy of this confession, which Caroline herself wrote out, was found in her literary estate. Erich Schmidt had intended to publish this piece soon after the publication of these letters but unfortunately did not live long enough to do so (Schmidt died on 30 April 1913).

Also published in Therese Huber Briefe 1:285–89, based on the text published in Schmidt (1913). The editors there do, however, speculate whether the material Schmidt indicates was torn off might have been a postscript, possibly composed by someone other than Therese herself (Therese Huber Briefe 1:642). Back.

[1] An allusion to efforts made esp. by Georg Forster himself to find a way to live with Therese and Ludwig Ferdinand Huber in a single locale on the basis of friendship, possibly in France. Back.

[2] Georg Forster died on 10 January 1794 in Paris. See Caroline’s letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 20 February 1794 (letter 140), note 7. Back.

[3] Concerning Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer’s relationship with Therese, see Therese Huber Briefe 1:604–5:

Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer, who studied in Göttingen 1775–79, became an assistant librarian and professor in Göttingen in 1785 through the mediation of Christian Gottlob Heyne. Therese Heyne presumably made his acquaintance after her return from Gotha [where she had tended the terminally ill Auguste Schneider], thereafter beginning a friendship with Meyer that included Georg Forster when the latter returned to Göttingen in August 1785.

Meyer acted as a witness at the wedding of Georg Forster and Therese Heyne on 4 September 1785. During their time in Vilnius [where Forster had a professorship], both Georg and Therese carried on a correspondence with Meyer. After their return to Göttingen in the late summer of 1787, the trio friendship continued and even intensified. “Meyer is our daily companion at the midday meal . . . He is our brother and inseparable friend. Our small alliance is called the Trinity, and he is called Assad” . . .

In early 1788, however, there was a serious marital crisis, leading to a dispute with Christian Gottlob Heyne, Georg Forster’s trip to Berlin, and Meyer’s own departure from Göttingen and his separation from Therese and Georg Forster. They never saw one another again. When in 1794/95 Ludwig Ferdinand Huber worked together with Meyer on the Friedenspräliminarien project, Therese Huber and Meyer picked up their correspondence again in 1795; in 1805 there was a temporary reestablishment of critical contact [between Therese and Meyer; Huber had died in 1804].

Only fourteen letters from Therese Forster to Meyer are known from the period between 1788 and 1820; Therese presumably destroyed all the letters from the Göttingen and Vilnius period (as she probably also did with the letters from Forster and Huber). Nine letters from Meyer to Therese Huber from the summer 1785 and two from 1805 are known [for documentation see Therese Huber Briefe 1:605]. Back.

[4] Concerning the marital crisis the Forsters experienced esp. after their return to Göttingen from Vilnius in 1788, see Therese’s letter to her father, Christian Gottlob Heyne, between 22 and 28 February 1788. As a result of the crisis, Forster went to Berlin between 21 January and 2 March 1788; the crisis had been precipitated by the rather peculiar relationship between the married couple and Meyer (Ludwig Geiger, “Aus Therese Hubers Herzensleben,” Westermanns illustrierte deutsche Monatshefte 81 [1897], 638–41; Therese Huber Briefe 1:245–48 [dating ibid., 600]) (supplementary appendix 142.1). Back.

[4a] The “barb” mentioned above consists in Therese’s implication that although Caroline had engaged in an extra marital affair with Forster, Therese herself had consistently found precisely such physical relations with him repulsive ([1] Taschen-Kalender auf das Jahr 1811; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung; [2] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Heirahts Antrag des Alterthum Kenners [ca. 1780]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [3-194]):




[5] From 25 March to 11 July 1790, Georg Forster traveled with Alexander von Humboldt through Belgium, Holland, England, and France. It was while Forster was away on that trip that Caroline visited Therese in Mainz (see Caroline’s letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 14 January–1 March, 1791 [letter 100]). Back.

[6] Therese’s son, Georg Forster, died on 23 (or 24) July 1792; popular belief held that a nursing mother’s psychological disposition affected her milk and consequently also the nursing infant (Therese Huber Briefe 1:542n56). Back.

[7] I.e., they saw Georg Forster, who met Therese and Huber in Travers, Switzerland (Neuchâtel, Neufchatel on the map below) on 3–5 November 1793 and then left Pontarlier on the Swiss border on 22 November, arriving in Paris on 26 November (Therese Huber Briefe 1:639n17,30; maps: Daniel de la Feuille, Caarte, van Neufchatel et Valangin [1706; reissue 1747]; Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):




[8] Viz., in a single locale in France, similar to the earlier plan to live together with Friedrich Ludwig Meyer. Back.

[9] At the time of his death, Forster owed Christian Friedrich Voss 2100 Reichsthaler (Therese Huber Briefe 1:542n94). Back.

[10] Therese married Huber on 10 April 1794, but they returned to Neuchâtel rather than going to Zürich.

Therese informed her father, Christian Gottlob Heyne, of the wedding in a letter on 16 April 1794 from Neuchâtel (Ludwig Geiger, “Aus Therese Hubers Herzensleben,” Westermanns illustrierte deutsche Monatshefte 94 [1903], 683; Therese Huber Briefe 1:291):

I intended to write you on the previous postal day, my dear father, that you might know that on 10 April the good, upright Huber really did become your son. After finally overcoming all the silly obstacles, on that day we set out on an extremely adventurous trip to Diesse, a village five hours from here under Bernese sovereignty, where we could be married. We traveled by carriage half the way, then climbed on foot for three-and-a-half hours as far as the foot of Mount Chasseral, which is still covered with snow, whence we then, completely soaked by the rain, found our way to the cleric.

Here the topography of Therese’s account from A. Ringier and G. Kümmerly, Distanzenkarte der Schweiz in Marchstunden (Bern 1893), i.e., a map with distances between locales measured by how long a given distance is traversed on foot; photograph: 1930 postcard:



An elderly widow, the landlady of my good friend, and one of our acquaintances accompanied us as witnesses; at the home of the pastor, whom someone here had recommended to us, we were most hospitably received and were even treated to a genuine wedding meal. Covered with mud and muck, ours was indeed quite a little assembly, but I am so accustomed to seizing the moment that I did indeed heartily share the joy and merriment of the good people round about me.

It was a remarkable day, and whoever saw us could not but think all were quite happy. Tomorrow I will be moving in with my dear friend, and given the most recent letters you have received from him, it seems our stay here, as unattractive as it may well be, will be lasting for some time. Back.

[11] Therese was not only taking care of the household and children, but also helping Huber by working on translations and stories that appeared either anonymously or under Huber’s name (documentation in Therese Huber Briefe 1:639–40n58). Back.

[12] Either Auguste or Julius. Back.

[13] Germ. guteres rather than the customary comparative besseres. Back.

[14] Therese thus knew about Wilhelm’s involvement in Caroline’s release from prison. Back.

[15] Since 29 July 1793, Caroline’s brother-in-law Georg Wilhelm Böhmer had been incarcerated in the Prussian fortress at Ehrenbreitstein at Coblenz on the Rhine River. In early 1794, the advance of French troops prompted his transfer to the fortress Petersberg near Erfurt (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]; illustration of original Ehrenbreitstein fortress — destroyed by the French in 1801 — overlooking the Rhine River ca. 1700 by Jan van Call [Rijksmuseum]):



He was not released until February 1795 in exchange for hostages held by the French, after which he emigrated to Paris, where he continued his activities on behalf of French annexation of the right bank of the Rhine River. He did not return to Germany until 1807. Back.

[16] Although Caroline seems never to have written anything about her incarceration in Königstein, or at least nothing that has survived, Johann Heinrich Liebeskind did (see supplementary appendix 128.1). Caroline was probably better advised not to say anything to Therese in any case, who later revealed all she could about Caroline’s past, including the affair with Jean-Baptiste Dubois de Crancé, to her daughter Therese (see Therese Huber to Therese Forster between 17 and 25 July 1803 [letter 380b]). Back.

[17] Concerning the answer to this question, see Caroline’s letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 20 February 1794 (letter 140). Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott