Letter 155

• 155. Caroline to Luise Gotter in Gotha: Braunschweig, autumn 1795

[Braunschweig, autumn 1795]

[Beginning of the letter is missing.]

|370| Madam Ebert was here, and in the longest outfit I have ever seen her in. Her head and glowing cheeks were framed with the most profuse curls — her taille [1] and petticoat divided into two equal halves and her C[?] sash literally girded round about her hips. You cannot imagine what autumnal freshness the sight of her evoked — and everything she said and did completely commensurate with the way she looked. [2] The woman is worth gold itself, for she makes me laugh each and every time I see her.

We cannot be more satisfied as far as the Göttinger Musencalender is concerned; [3] have all of you already seen it? Note the attack on Reichard in the long thing call eine Satyre. [4] I am quite surprised this was allowed to be printed, considering that an extremely innocent prayer to reason was deleted even after the printing — I saw the quarter proofs here. Voss’s contains some splendid things. [5]

Our ex-friend Meyer can be intimated in neither the one nor the other. [6] From what I’ve heard, he has placed himself under Schiller’s flag. [7] But what will your husband have to say about Schiller’s most recent, violent production, a production that bursts all earthly covering, in the 9th issue of Die Horen? [8] You both probably already know that the stories of emigrés are by Goethe. [9] . . .

[Wilhelm Schlegel:]

Our miserly friend here is allowing an old friend only this tiny space in which to recall his memory for you. Hence he must make do with a beggar’s greeting: God bless you.


[1] Here in the sense of bodice. Back.

[2] “C[?]”: Schmidt (1913), 1:370, found this word illegible, Waitz (1871) does not include the letter in any case, and the manuscript seems to have been lost.

Caroline is presumably referring to an iteration of a period dress such as the following from this same year, 1795 (Göttinger Taschen Calendar Für das Iahr 1795; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[3] Caroline’s imprecise title is referring to what is generally known and cited as the Göttinger Musenalmanach; the actual title during this period was Musen / Almanach, here for 1796, though it appeared in the autumn of 1795. Here the title vignette and five of the six llustrations included in the issue (for the sixth, see next footnote); each illustration provides the text and pagination to which it is paired:





[4] Johann Daniel Falk, “Die Gebete. Eine Satyre. An meinen Freund, Karl Morgenstern,” Göttinger Musenalmanach (1796) (not 1797 as in Schmidt [1913], 1:709), 91–115, with an illustration (the latter with the subtitle “Ach Gott die Brust! / Die Brust” [“My God, my chest, my chest!”] from a line in Falk’s piece) by Johann August Nahl (the younger) and Ernst Ludwig Riepenhausen; reprinted in Johann Daniel Falk, Die heiligen Gräber zu Kom und Die Gebete. Zwei Satire (Leipzig 1796), 199–252 (albeit without the illustration):


Schmidt (1913), 1:709, remarks that no invective against Heinrich August Ottokar Reichard is really discernible in these “coarse Alexandrines.” If Caroline’s assessment is accurate, however, it seems the attack has been tightly cloaked in mythological figures or vague generalities familiar perhaps only to contemporaries.

In any event, Karl von Reinhard had taken over the editorship of the Göttinger Musenalmanach in 1794 after the death of the previous editor, Gottfried August Bürger’s (perhaps Erich Schmidt misread the name “Reinhard” for “Reichard” in Caroline’s letter).

See Hans [Johannes Theodor Gottlieb] Grantzow, “Geschichte des Göttinger und des Vossischen Musenalmanachs: (Kapitel I–IV)” (PhD diss., Berlin, 1908), 73–74: After finishing his studies in Göttingen in July 1775, the original editor of the Göttinger Musenalmanach (along with Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter), Heinrich Christian Boie, passed its editorship to Christian Friedrich Voss, who soon split with the previous Göttingen publisher, Johann Christian Dieterich (Lotte Michaelis’s father-in-law), and moved to Hamburg, taking the periodical with him. From 1776 till 1778, the Göttinger Musenalmanach was then directed by Leopold Friedrich Günther von Goeckingk, after which Voss, having encountered difficulties with his Hamburger periodical, invited Goeckingk to function as co-editor for his Hamburg version, which Goeckingk did from 1779 till 1788, though such eventually caused a definitive break in the summer of 1787 with Gottfried August Bürger, whom the publisher Dieterich had in the meantime enlisted as editor of the Göttingen periodical. Voss continued the periodical until 1800, though the number of contributors gradually dwindled, and Voss himself had to fill out issues with his own material. After Bürger’s death in 1794, Karl von Reinhard edited the periodical until 1804 (though not in 1803, when Sophie Mereau edited it). Back.

[5] Musen-Almanach fürs Jahr 1796, ed. by Johann Heinrich Voss (Hamburg 1796); here the frontispiece:



[6] Caroline’s poetic sensibility was quite accurate here; Meyer did not publish anything in either the Göttingen or the Hamburg Musenalmanach for 1796. In any event, her reference to Meyer as the “ex-friend” clearly indicates what may perhaps be called his “fallen status” among her friends. Back.

[7] Schiller had met Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer in the winter of 1794. In a letter from Berlin on 8 August 1795 (i.e., shortly before Caroline wrote this letter), Meyer enthusiastically agreed to participate in Schiller’s projects (Briefe an Schiller, ed. Ludwig von Urlichs [Stuttgart 1877] 234–35):

Herr von Humboldt has repeated to me what from the lips of the bookseller Michaelis I took to be a misunderstanding, namely, that your esteemed Sir desires contributions from me for your Musenalmanach. The rejection that Germany’s three preeminent critical tribunals [viz., periodicals] unanimously pronounced over my poetic works — works which, such as they are, I can never surpass or even attain again given my current age and cooler disposition — utterly persuaded me that I ought to abandon a path along which it was impossible for me to attain even a measure of indulgence. Factors related to personality were not involved in my reviewers’ assessment, and I in my own turn am not the sort of literary judge who adheres to the principle of tit for tat.

That which Bürger received from me at the time [for the Göttinger Musenalmanach] involved merely the strayings of a rather casual hand that occasionally did fail in loyalty to what the mind originally intended. With Bürger’s death, my own participation in tilling the fields of Parnassus — never particularly intense in any case — also expired. And even now, when I do occasionally sing, I do so with half-closed lips.

Nonetheless, you are soliciting, and I will provide. It is all I have, and is little enough. You doubtless are unfamiliar with my previous Lieder, or with the sentence of the judges on my songs. Now your own examination will bring down on me your condemnation as well. It is just as well that I do satisfy your request that I may also forever smother such; or perhaps the collector needs a tasteful garland — to satisfy the law of variety — of scentless flowers.

The enclosure contains those with no importunate pretensions. It is up to you to select a single one, or make use of none. You will, I hope, not conclude the presence of an inferior mind from inferior verses; I myself will think all the more highly of your own inventory the less I am in a position to enhance the same.

Please extend my regards to your wife, and to the families of Messieurs Schütz, Hufeland, and Mereau, as well as to Herr Professor Woltmann.

Your devoted,

In a letter to Schiller on 25 August 1795, Wilhelm von Humboldt quickly assessed Meyer’s posturing here (Der Briefwechsel zwischen Friedrich Schiller und Wilhelm von Humboldt, ed. Siegfried Seidel [Berlin 1962], 109): “Meyer doubtless sent you his best material again, though I confess I do not quite understand ‘Biondina.’ ‘Die Boten’ is quite nice. But what do you think about the letter itself? That is what I call not being able to stop for sheer vanity” (not surprisingly, von Humboldt did not include this final sentence in his own edition of his correspondence with Schiller, Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Wilhelm v. Humboldt [Stuttgart, Tübingen 1830], 166).

Friedrich Wilhelm Basilius von Ramdohr provides a severe assessment of Meyer in a letter to Anna Henriette Schütz in Jena on 29 December 1794, shortly after Meyer’s visit (Christian Gottfried Schütz: Darstellung seines Lebens, Charakters und Verdienstes; nebst einer Auswahl aus seinem litterarischen Briefwechsel mit den berühmtesten Gelehrten und Dichtern seiner Zeit, ed. Friedrich Karl Julius Schütz, 2 vols. [Halle 1834–35], 2:341):

Meyer impressed you? My dear lady, Meyer is a bad person. It was Meyer who first seduced Madam Forster, née Heyne [Ramdohr had studied in Göttingen under Christian Gottlob Heyne] by thinking he could move her to transgress against the first laws of her gender. Pathetic man! He enjoyed, and then was indelicate enough to speak about those joys in verse with whose background everyone was familiar, joys that . . . I know that an attack of vanity and sensuality, that especially passion can carry us away into violating the rights of property, but to seduce a defenseless heart by first extirpating all sense of shame and duty in it, and then to gloat in one’s victory — let Herr Meyer view me as a weak sheep’s head — but I despise him!

Meyer did, however, contribute to Schiller’s Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1796 with the poems “Die Boten” (123), “Biondina” (131–33), “Der Weltgeist” (156–57), “Phantasie, nach Shakespeare” (170), and “Mathilde” (180–82), and to the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1797 with the poem “Königin Kobold” (63–65).

Friedrich Schlegel, “An den Herausgeber Deutschlands, Schillers Musen-Allmanach betreffend,” Deutschland 2 (1796) no. 6, III, 348–60; reprinted in Jugendschriften 2:5, remarks that “Meyer’s wonderfully sweet dalliances, by contrast, unite the most subtle feeling with the most sophisticated cultivation. His best pieces are ‘Biondina’ and ‘Die Boten’; his piece ‘Weltgeist’ seems to lack the warmth and energy commensurate with the material.” Back.

[8] Schiller, “Das Reich der Schatten,” Die Horen 3, 9 (1795), 1–10; after several instances of misunderstanding, it was renamed “Das Ideal und das Leben.” Wilhelm von Humboldt writes to Schiller on 13 November 1795 (not 13 September as in Schmidt [1913], 1:709) that “the fate of the ‘Reich der Schatten’ could have been predicted. Given the current disposition of readers, it can appeal to only extremely few; moreover, it will either delight or completely displease” (Der Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Wilhelm v. Humboldt, ed. Wilhelm von Humboldt [Stuttgart, Tübingen 1830], 294; same wording in later editions).

For a translation of the text of Schiller’s poem (a “production that bursts all earthly covering”), see supplementary appendix 155.1. Back.

[9] Published anonymously, “Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten,” Die Horen (1795) vol. 1, no. 1, 49–78; vol. 1, no. 2, 1–28; vol. 2, no. 4, 41–67; vol. 3, no. 7, 50–76; vol. 3, no. 9, 45–52; vol. 4, no. 10, 108–52; a novella with seven stories narrated by three characters, all of whom are refugees from revolutionary France in 1793. English trans. by Jan van Heurck as Conversations of German Refugees, Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years: Or, the Renunciants, The Collected Works 10, ed. Jane K. Brown, trans. Jan van Heurck and Krishna Winston (Princeton 1989), 13–92. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott