Letter 2

• 2. Caroline to Julie von Studnitz in Gotha: Göttingen, 28 September 1778 (Fr.) [*]

Göttingen, 28 September 1778

|4| My dear and affectionate friend, how little you know your Caroline if you can possibly suspect her of insincerity in paying you compliments you so well deserve. How could you misjudge this heart that loves you so much? I never engage in flattery, I say exactly what I think and what I feel. [1] So quite naturally I was unable to keep locked inside myself the ardent friendship and high esteem I have for my Julie. And should she then reproach me for the outpourings of this heart that feels all these things for her? Of course not; nor does she do so, and her modesty in its own turn is but another element for which she is to be praised. Moreover, she combines that particular, rare quality with yet other qualities that alone would suffice to earn her the esteem, and indeed the friendship, of everyone.

Along with you I trembled in fear concerning the life of our dear duke. What misfortune for his country had it lost him. I find Reichard’s verses quite commendable and perhaps would like them even better were it not for the terrible prejudice I already harbor against that odious man. [1a] I almost believe our hatred is reciprocal; at least we certainly had a falling out during my last visit in Gotha. And yet there was a time when we got along quite well. He spoke of nothing but the theater, and Mlle. Michaelis [2] had her own good reasons for constantly focusing on that subject as well. His best piece is doubtless the poem to Madam on the occasion of her appearance at the redoute as Gabriele de Vergy. [3]

It has just been decided that my brother will be going to America, and he is quite eager to go. . .

|5| I am currently learning Italian, a language that is both quite easy and quite delightful. While it is true that English is more useful, it is also incomparably more difficult. But perhaps I will also learn it after I have learned Italian, for I do not really want to know how to speak that language, merely to understand it perfectly. I am translating the comedies of Goldoni, and my instructor almost never needs to explain anything to me. [4] What is most laborious is the pronunciation; it takes a while for one’s mouth to become accustomed to it. But these obstacles, too, I will combat like a second Hercules. You know how courageous I am; I fear neither real thunder nor that of the theater.

I will also read the Menschenfreuden, [5] since you have praised it so highly. But I in turn would also recommend a comedy to you: Le Comte de Walltron. [6] It was written by an actor in the Seyler company. It is truly quite nice and also very touching. I read it to my mother and my brother and my sisters a few [days] ago, and they all wept. . . .

Caroline Michaelis

30 September

. . . Ariadne was performed here as a concert. [7] No sets at all, just the music interspersed with recitation. A certain Monsieur Meyer performed the role of Theseus. You know how difficult it is for me to find such roles satisfying, but this gentleman declaimed marvelously. [8]


[*] The excerpted letters Caroline wrote to Julie von Studnitz in French were not included in the original edition of her correspondence published by Georg Waitz in 1871, but rather in “Aus Jugendbriefen Carolinens,” Preussische Jahrbücher 33 (1874) no. 3, 211–24; no. 4, 369–87; Waitz included excerpts later in Caroline und ihre Freunde: Mittheilungen aus Briefen (Leipzig 1882), 4–14. For Georg Waitz’s original introduction to Caroline’s letters to Julie von Studnitz, and for a contemporary assessment of her proficiency in French, see supplementary appendix 2.1. Concerning the character of Julie von Studnitz’s father, see supplementary appendix 2.2. Back.

[1] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki did a series of several vignettes in 1782 poking mild fun at excessive engagement in certain social gestures, including — not surprisingly — flattery (Complimentir-Narr [1782]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.519; illustration to Pater Abraham von Santa Clara, Centifolium Stultorum, Narrheiten):



[1a] Uncertain allusion to Ernst II’s illness in September 1788. On the other hand, the duke suffered a serious, even life-threatening illness after the death of the nine-year-old crown prince, Ernst, on 3 December 1779. The duke’s illness, which lasted eleven days, prompted widespread anxiety and apprehension among his subjects and perhaps H. A. O. Reichard to compose dedicatory verses for the duke. Reichard in any case recounts that the duke’s wife, Charlotte, gave him a jeweled ring as an expression of the duke’s appreciation for Reichard’s demonstrations of concern (Reichard, Selbstbiographie, 157–58).

Caroline never managed to establish a good relationship with H. A. O. Reichard, theater director, librarian, and Kriegsrath in Gotha. Although he was an extremely active man of letters, contributing considerably to the development of the stage, he was also a petty person. His wife, Amalie Reichard, later similarly emerges as one of Caroline’s adversaries. Back.

[2] I.e., Caroline herself. Back.

[3] Gabrielle von Vergy, an unpublished adaptation, reduced to three acts, of an (thus Erich Schmidt) inferior tragedy by Pierre-Laurent Buirette de Belloy, Gabrielle de Vergy, tragédie (Paris 1770), which Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter did in Wetzlar for Abel Seyler’s company. The material involves the Castellan Raoul de Coucy:

Before his own death, Coucy charges his squire with extracting his heart and sending it to his beloved lady, Gabrielle de Vergy, who is, however, the wife of Count de Faiel. The squire completes his mission but is surprised by Faiel, who takes revenge by tricking his wife into eating Coucy’s heart. Learning too late what she has done, she swears never to eat again and dies of hunger. Here the French actress Rose Vestris (stage name of Françoise-Rose Gourgaud [1743–1804]) as Gabrielle de Vergy, who played the role in Paris in 1777; it is perhaps noteworthy in this present context (Gotter’s adaptation) that the illustration is glossed in German as “romantic clothing” (anonymous, Romantische Kleidung [dated ca. 1751–1850]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 1972):


Reichard had once been infatuated with the amateur actress Louise Grimm and she with him. The two — she a married woman, he a single young man — had appeared together in amateur productions, usually as love interests playing opposite each other. During a walk they had taken together with several other people, Reichard bought and immediately freed two birds a young boy was callously leading on leashes and trying to sell. Louise Grimm secretly slipped him a billet in appreciation for the humane gesture, but her husband, with whom she lived in an arranged and loveless marriage, was informed of the billet and went into a rage.

The amateur theater was dissolved and the town became engulfed in gossip against the two. Louise’s husband finally kept her in home isolation, allegedly “as prescribed by her physician.” She and Reichard never spoke again and did not see each other until two years later, when she appeared at a masked ball dressed as the character Gabriele de Vergy.

The poem Caroline is referencing is “An eine Dame die auf einer Maskerade als Gabrielle von Vergy erschien,” Göttinger Musenalmanach (1776), 48–50 (Couhy is the character that plays opposite Gabriele in the play):

Finally! Idol of my soul!
Eternally precious "Gabriele,"
Finally does "Coucy" you find!
He who, eternally from you separated,
And from your gaze did so timidly shrink,
Now in a single room with you,
With all his senses you does perceive!
Ah! so close to her whom he loves,
And yet such a stranger!
The air that surrounds you
Does your Coucy, too, breathe in;
The dance from which you warmly glow,
He, too, dances in your midst;
And when you swiftly pass by in turn,
He senses your clothes breeze past,
Beholds your bosom's lilt,
Your blue eyes' life,
Your cheeks aglow and full!

Alas! in these her clothes
You but resemble Gabriele:
She who, from envy sundered, forgot
Not the oath of that first love;
Wallowed not in Coucy's wounds;
Turned not her countenance:
But felt what he felt,
To love faithfully was her call.
Slipped away from him as does sleep from me.
His wish, too, was but the grave,
Nor with bitter scorn
Did she at his grief gaze down;
Nor Parade before his moist gaze
With handsome dandies
Whose sighs and oaths and charms
Blow away like dust in the storm.
Why, alas, are such Gabrieles
Solely the creations of poets?
Why have such souls
Never adorned our wretched earth?

See similarly Leopold Friedrich Günther von Göckingk to Gottfried August Bürger on 31 October 1775 (Strodtmann, 1:254): “The piece on page 48 is by Reichard in Gotha, the best thing he has ever done.” Back.

[4] Illustrations from various of Goldoni’s plays appear later in this correspondence (illustration from Il festino, in Carlo Goldoni, Opere complete, vol. 11, Commedie die Carlo Goldoni [Venice 1911], 23):



[5] Christian Friedrich Sintenis, Menschenfreuden aus meinem Garten vor Z[erbst] (Frankfurt, Leizpig 1778). Caroline reports to Julie von Studnitz on 5 February 1780 (letter 11) that she had indeed finished the book. Here the title page:


Concerning the content of this book, see the anonymous review in the Journal für Prediger 10 (1779), 110–14:

In this threefold publication [two additional volumes with similar titles followed the first], which actually exhibits no specific plan and consists instead of rhapsodies on all sorts of subjects in nature, domestic and social life, and religion, Herr Sintensis has indisputably brought to expression a great deal that is true and excellent, and has done so in what is not at all an ordinary style.

It is true that erratic jumps are evident in the author’s sequence of thought, and that considerable affectation and an inclination toward imitation — particularly of the genuinely original Claudiusian style — colors the languages of this book, and yet a just assessment does grant that the author has a unique style of his own, exhibits an often quite effective element of naiveté, and writes with a clarity of expression and inner warmth of emotion that in many sections is not so much the result of an overheated imagination as simply the language of nature.

In any event, the primary goal of the first two publications is to awaken joy and interest in all the good things God has given us in this life. The author goes to considerable lengths in detailing these good things and rarely lets an episode in life go unnoticed, not even the most ordinary, and in the process often captivates readers’ attention by this or that new idea or by describing things from a new perspective. We would thus wish that the publications be used in helping depressed or melancholy persons who otherwise might be inclined to read books written in such a tone as to nourish rather than assuage such morally detrimental moods. . . .

In this reviewer’s opinion, one of the author’s primary shortcomings is that he lacks control over his language, which results in his speaking sometimes to the lower classes of people, sometimes to the lofty poets among us. May he forgive me for suggesting that this erratic style does nothing to enhance or strengthen our emotions. . . .

Frequently this stylistic carelessness prompts Herr Sintenis to speak in a less dignified fashion about God and religion than one perhaps ought. I would rather not point out that in several passages he does visibly declare his inclination for the most recent systems of Christian teaching, something that admittedly quite dampens the tone of some of the truths one might otherwise thereby express.

Yet even given what he understands by Christianity itself, he should have avoided all the belletristic flirtations that for some time now have become fashionable also in more modest poetry and that put religion in a less than appropriate light. Reverence, reverence toward God and our Savior — we cannot preach this virtue enough from our pulpits. Without it, what one calls “love” turns into a mere play on words or deleterious rapturous enthusiasm. As much some passages do indeed sweep us along, just as much do others make us want to put the book down. Back.

[6] Der Graf von Walltron, oder, Die Subordination. Ein Originaltrauerspiel in fünf Aufzügen (Frankfurt, Leipzig 1776), a “hollow military tragedy” (according to Erich Schmidt [1913], 1:672) by the actor Heinrich Ferdinand Möller, subsequently revived by Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer. Here the title page to the first edition:



[7] The lyrical monodrama by Johann Christian Brandes, with music by Georg Anton Benda, Ariadne auf Naxos. Ein Drama mit musikalischen Accompagnements (Leipzig 1775). The melodrama had premiered in Gotha on Thursday, 27 January 1775, being performed thereafter “several times and to considerable acclaim” (Paul von Ebart, “Georg Benda,” Blätter für Haus- und Kirchenmusik, ed. Ernst Rabich, vol. VI [1902] no. 1, 24 ); hence though Caroline may not have attended any of the Gotha performances herself, she was doubtless already familiar with the play, as was Julie von Studnitz. Here the first page of Benda’s piano excerpt (Georg Benda, Klavierauszug von Ariadne auf Naxos, einem Duodrama [Leipzig 1778]):


Concerning the relationship between this play and Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter’s Medea. Ein Drama mit musicalischen Accompagnements (Hamburg 1776), for which Benda also composed the music, see Lotte Michaelis’s letter to Caroline in November 1785 (letter 64) with note 11. Back.

[8] Theater Kalender, auf das Jahr 1793 (Gotha); Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



Translation © 2011 Doug Stott