Letter 144

• 144. Caroline to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer in Berlin: Gotha, 10 May 1794

[Gotha] 10 May [17]94

|335| Whether we eat or drink, wake or sleep, do everything for the glory of the Lord! [1] — And I? — Whether I speak or be silent, it is, with regard to you — always out of love for my friend. Shall I incessantly be telling you about all my worries and uncertainties? At the very least, I want to write when my heart is calm, for |336| that is something I am indeed able to do now.

The last time I wrote, my feelings likely appeared quite heated — something I conclude from your response. But whatever indignation may have been present was justified, hence all the more easily did I myself forget it; my annoyance with having gotten myself into this difficult situation can never turn into the torment of remorse — every consideration toward myself gives me courage and peace anew. That I did wrong is quite certain, but to the extent I should not have exposed myself to all the trouble associated with the consequences — that was neither good nor prudent, but at the time, my own pernicious will, my own annoyance got the best of me — I could just as well have chosen death would it not have been more bitter still. In and of itself, I did nothing bad — if ever I could believe that — well — then it would probably also be true.

But even if you and the entire rest of the world condemn me, I myself will never believe it. But you will never do that unless you change your understanding of me. I could fear that the plethora of accusations might finally fatigue even your good opinion, particularly insofar as they are presented to you from a place toward which your ear is so naturally inclined in any case and where your eye might make you forget the interests of those who are absent. [2] If your good opinion departs, then so also our friendship — you must judge me the same as I myself do, else I can no longer desire either your sympathetic interest or your advice. So I did indeed think it possible that my own cruel fate might separate me from you as well —

I intend to wait and see what fate has resolved and in the meantime remain favorably disposed toward you. Will we yet be seeing you? Gotter is expecting you any day. We believe you can be more certain of having money for the trip here if you visit us first and only then go on to Töpliz. [3]

A visit here will not cost you much, since we intend to provide food and accommodations, and perhaps even save you the trouble of the mineral-springs cure by |337| healing your podagra with frugal provisioning, and your splenetic melancholy — or whatever else you have — with charming conversation. As far as collisions between the saint and the non-saint are concerned, [4] things should be fine — please, do not let that scare you away. Please send me news about yourself and about what you are doing as soon as you receive this. Although I love quick responses, I have come to detest writing more than ever.

If Meiners and you come to an agreement concerning what advice to give me, then it is probably the right advice — except that he probably finds Switzerland too beautiful, while you find it too dreadful for me. [5] But do not worry, I assuredly have no intention of going there. The M — s wanted to send me to Riga — they had come up with plans that seemed quite suitable — but my delicate soul would freeze to death there. Although I need very little to be satisfied, I do require a tolerable climate both for that and for my health. [6]

Although I had also formulated plans with regard to Prague, Göschen advised against it, still favoring Berlin as he does. Unfortunately, this is the only place where my father- and mother-in-law would be extremely disinclined to see me. Are you familiar with Prague? I thought perhaps it might have wealthy nobility, something resembling a university, theater, a romantic countryside. [6a]

But Göschen tells me the nobility is impoverished, and that every foreigner is subject to an inquisition. Nothing has been decided yet, and even were it, I would still have to wait here until the affairs surrounding my paternal inheritance have been settled, affairs into which Arnemann as the purchaser of the house has introduced a certain degree of disorder, [7] and until I know what the status of my widow’s pension will be. If I am able to keep the latter, I will not have to worry about making a living and can move to the country, perhaps in the vicinity of Dresden. Because of Auguste, I would prefer to live in a town, since I am not particularly keen on her marrying a village preacher. [7a]

She is an amiable girl — I would love to |338| tell you all sorts of things about her if only I did not have to limit myself to what is absolutely necessary. Her brother is alive and healthy — I have received very good news about him; that is always a special day both for her and me. I have not told you anything about the father, and yet he does deserve as much — he did everything in his power to ensure the child’s future and provide for the possibility that he himself might yet perish in the bloody abyss. [8] He has been transferred and since the end of March is no longer in Germany, where his uncle had to remain behind — hopefully the latter will thereby save his noble life.

His nephew, as such, is in danger, though also through his close kinship with one of the premier J[acobins]. I tremble when I see a newspaper; more than one familiar head has already fallen at my feet — and these! [8a] His uncle also wrote me, as I might have expected of him. It has given me great joy being able to think well of both these people and to find them still exactly as I knew them before.

My friends here have also remained just the same — something for which I am heartily grateful. The hearts of my enemies have not softened, which I find reasonable enough — in fact, I even admire it, since it does demonstrate consistency. The truth is, I have ignored it. We occasionally amuse ourselves concerning it when we are together. I have seen the one or the other again quite by accident from among extremely distant acquaintances, and everyone behaved courteously enough. Ultimately the two sisters in whom you had put such great trust might remain behind alone — not even a chance encounter has brought us together yet. [9]

You view this differently, and yet how could I see it properly? This much seems certain to me, however, namely, that the virtue of tenderness that refuses to discuss a deceased friend with someone who knew him and |339| loved him and yet still makes gaming-table conversation out of it — and the virtue of discretion that is silent toward friends and yet has no qualms about speaking to every indifferent passerby or hostile party — such virtues must not be regarded very highly. Is that not so, my good friend? — and how should I have repressed this remark?

But come — and count not on my discretion but on my exceedingly kind-hearted consideration. Were I to leave here before you came, I would indeed have to take a route in the direction from whence you would be coming; but I would really like the opportunity to speak with you more at length, hence would prefer to do so here. Should I yet choose Berlin, I will not at all be considering you in making that choice — so be not reserved with your advice. I am thinking of nothing except what will be most expedient for me and the two children — in that regard, I am guided neither by any other consideration nor by any other person on earth. You could be even more dear to me than you are and still not appear in the background of my decisions.

You there recently passed such wondrous ordinances that I almost fear for my own safety among you. — We read what you wrote for G[öschen’s] project and found it quite delightful — we command you to write a lot and to announce it to us every time, since we here read nothing except that into which someone pushes our noses. Do not imagine, by the way, that one can get very far with the upright Herr G—n if it does not concern his presses — the only people he will give the time of day to are his craftsmen — hence I cannot depend on him much. —

Do you know that Bürger will die — in misery, hunger, and grief? He has consumption — if the elder Dietrich did not give him something to eat, he would have nothing, moreover, debts and children who are not provided for. Poor man! Were I there, I would go see him every day and try to sweeten these final days |340| for him that he need not depart this earth while uttering curses. [10] You ought to write to him.

Louise has been pestering her husband for months now to send his Vasthi and Esther and his Muhmen to Berlin, but his indolence is insurmountable. [11] He finally sent them to Schröder. If this lethargy has its reasons — and if these reasons cost him money and the lethargy then similarly robs him of it, if it ruins his finances and is even capable of bringing his wife and children into distress — then what you call tastelessness is perhaps to be called vice, since he persist thus. So often it genuinely tears my heart apart, since otherwise there is so much that is noble about him.

Stay well — I am going out into her garden — we are together almost every day — in the larger sense, I am too rarely alone, and were I to be initiated into the entire breadth of this social scene, j’y succomberai. [12] Adieu.


[1] 1 Cor. 10:31 (NRSV): “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Back.

[2] Amalie Reichard? Therese Forster? Uncertain reference. Back.

[3] For health reasons (podagra), Meyer was planning (and undertook, as documented by Caroline’s letter to him on 30–31 August 1794 [letter 147], though possibly in Karlsbad rather than Töplitz) a mineral-springs cure in Töplitz (Teplice), located in the modern Czech Republic in northwestern Bohemia near the border with the German state of Saxony, almost due south of Dresden.

Töplitz was one of the popular resort spas in this area during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Goethe and Beethoven met there in 1812). The writer and later Athenaeum contributor Friedrich von Hardenberg visited there later as well because of his incipient tuberculosis. At the time of this letter, of course, Meyer was in Berlin and Caroline in Gotha (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):


Here Töplitz from a distance ca. 1840 (A. Tromlitz, Romantische Wanderung durch die Sächsische Schweiz, Das malerische und romantische Deutschland: In zehn Sektionen 2, Die sächsische Schweiz [Leipzig n.d. (ca. 1840)], plate following p. 204) and closer up, ca. 1830 (frontispiece to Sigmund Graf, Geschichte und chemische Analyse des fürstlich v. Auersperg’schen warmen Bades zu Töplitz im Neustädtler Kreise des Herzogtums Karin [Prague 1831]):




[4] Amalie Reichard and Caroline? Back.

[5] Caroline had been anticipating receiving advice concerning her future from Christoph Meiners and his wife in Göttingen (see her letter to Meyer on 16 March 1794 [letter 143]). Back.

[6] Caroline has already expressed a pronounced disinclination to move anywhere with what she conceived to be a colder or more inclement climate (e.g., Amsterdam; see her letter to Meyer on 30 July 1793 [letter 119]).

In any event, Riga in present-day Latvia (Lettia on map below) was at the time part of Livonia, the latter in its own turn part of imperial Russia, and had a dominant German-speaking upper class and a rich German cultural life as a result of the earlier colonization of the East by the Teutonic Order and the subsequent influence of the Reformation; indeed, until 1891 the official language was still German (Johann Gottfried Herder spent considerable time in Riga during his youth [1764–69]) (Thomas Kitchin, A new map of the Northern States containing the Kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway [London 1790]; illustration: P. Schenk, Riga, emporium in Livonia [ca. 1700]):



Hence the Meiners’ suggestion of Riga as a possible place of residence for Caroline was not as unusual as may initially seem. It may be recalled that Therese and Georg Forster spent the initial years of their marriage in the East, namely, in Vilnius, Lithuania (see Therese’s letter to Georgine Heyne from Vilnius on 26 March 1786 [letter 67a] and esp. her often unhappy account of her life in Vilnius in supplementary appendix 142.1; also Wilhelm Schlegel’s letter to Sophie Bernhardi on 15 May 1804 [letter 383f], note 29). Back.

[6a] Caroline’s conditions for a place of residence are noteworthy. Prague, in Bohemia, had enjoyed considerable cultural development as a result of having been the imperial residence on various occasions for the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. It is located ca. 280 km southeast of Gotha (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):


Prague did indeed have a university; in fact the first university in central Europe was established there in 1348 and was attended primarily by German-speaking students. Like Riga, Prague thus enjoyed a culturally inclined German-speaking population alongside its other residents and had a standing theater that had been founded in 1781–83. Prague is also located in what arguably qualifies as a romantic countryside.

Here Prague in 1812, not quite twenty years after Caroline is writing, and 1841 (first illustration: frontispiece to vol. 1 of Sebastian Willibald Schiessler, Prag und seine Umgebungen, 2 vols. [Prague 1812–13]; remaining illustrations: Ludwig Lange and Johann Poppel, Prag und seine nächsten Umgebungen in malerischen Original-Ansichten nach der Natur aufgenommen [Darmstadt 1841], frontispiece and plates following pp. 118, 120):





On the other hand, although Prague was just over the Bohemian border 120 km southeast of Dresden, Riga was indeed a town quite distant from anything Caroline had known, over 1100 km from Gotha; although not shown on the following map, Gotha is located just west of Erfurt (Pierre-Philippe Choffard and Jean Janvier, L’Europe divisée en ses principaux Etats suivant les nouvelles observations astronomiques [Paris 1769]):



[7] Otto Justus Arnemann, professor of medicine, had purchased the Michaelis house, a transaction that went very badly indeed.

The Michaelis house is located at Prinzenstrasse 21 in Göttingen, just at the Leine Canal (approximately at center left on the corner; the bridge is not indicated; Plan der Stadt Goettingen wie solche im Monath December A° 1760… bloquirt und eingeschlossenworden [n.p. 1760]; Bibliothèque nationale de France):


Here the house at right in an anonymous engraving, late 18th century. The second illustration shows the house from the other side of the Leine Canal: Michaelis house on the left, ca. 1820 by Friedrich Besemann):



Concerning the history of the house, see Walter Nissen, Göttinger Gedenktafeln. Ein biographischer Wegweiser (Göttingen 2002), 152–53, summarized as follows: In 1758, Johann David Michaelis, Caroline’s father, took occupancy of the house in Göttingen formerly belonging to Dr. Crusius Erben, Johannisstrasse 29, though as early as 1753 he already owned a garden house outside the Albani Tor (town gate) (Rohnsweg 1), which, after Michaelis’s death in 1791, the family sold in 1797 to the baker J. H. Schumacher. In 1764 Michaelis acquired another house through foreclosure but sold it in 1769. In 1764 he bought the house on Prinzenstrasse 21, which had been built by Joseph Schädeler in 1737 and from whose heirs Michaelis bought it (the house was originally called the “London-Schänke”), though he did not receive title until 1772 after a lengthy lawsuit.

But he seems to have lived there since 1766, three years after Caroline’s birth. He himself occupied the part of the house fronting Prinzenstrasse, renting out rooms in the wings on the Leine Canal to students. After Michaelis’s death in 1791, the family did indeed sell it to Professor Arnemann, after which it housed various university institutes while remaining known as the Michaelis-house. During the summer semester 1801, Achim von Arnim, a student in Göttingen at the time, rented a room from Professor Arnemann in this house. Back.

[7a] Here an illustration of the marriage proposal of, albeit not a preacher, but a church warden, though presumably the kind of scene Caroline wishes to avoid (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Der Küster, from the series “Marriage Proposals” [1782]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.432):



[8] Jean-Baptiste Dubois de Crancé was indeed killed in action in April 1800; see Auguste’s letter to Schelling on 4/5 June 1800 (letter 261), note 3. Back.

[8a] “Head has already fallen at my feet,” i.e., perished under the guillotine (Revolutions-Almanach von 1794; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


Although Caroline mentions no names here, she was doubtless aware that one of her acquaintances from Mainz, General Adam Philippe de Custine, had been tried by a revolutionary tribunal for treason and negligence (including the loss of Mainz) and executed by guillotine on 28 August 1793. Here in an illustration from the Almanach Europäischer Merkwürdigkeiten auf das Jahr 1794 (Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[9] “The two sisters Gelbke and Grabstich,” apparently quite inimically inclined toward Caroline, mentioned in Caroline’s letters to Meyer on 16 March and 30–31 August 1794 (letters 143, 147) and in her letter to Franz Oberthür on 21 September 1794 (letter 148) (Leipziger Taschenbuch für Frauenzimmer zum Nutzen und Vergnügen auf das Jahr 1798; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[10] Gottfried August Bürger was lying ill with tuberculosis in Göttingen and would die not quite a month later, on 8 June 1794. Back.

[11] Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter’s plays Vasthi. Ein Lustspiel in einem Akte and Esther. Ein Schauspiel in sechs Akten (see Caroline’s letter to Meyer on 24 October 1789 [letter 92] with note 8), along with the Muhmen [or Basen]. Ein Lustspiel in drey Akten (the latter after Francesco Riccoboni, Les Caquets. Comédie en trois actes et en prose [Paris 1761]), appeared as Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter’s Schauspiele (vol. 1: Die stolze Vasthi; vol. 2: Esther; vol. 3: Die Basen) (Leipzig: Göschen, 1795). Wilhelm Schlegel praised the first two while qualifying his assessment of the third in an extensive review in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1796) 13 (Tuesday, 12 January 1796) 97–103 (Sämmtliche Werke 10:91–98) (text see supplementary appendix 144.1). Back.

[12] Fr., “I will succumb to it,” though Caroline may be spelling phonetically, in fact meaning succomberais, “I would succumb to it.” Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott