Letter 27

• 27. Caroline to Luise Gotter in Gotha: Göttingen, late October 1781

[Göttingen, late October 1781]

[Beginning of letter is missing]

|55| . . . Now that you have become acquainted with Schlözer and his daughter, what do you think about this journey, and about her strange education? [1] It simply puzzles me that a man with such exquisite, penetrating, comprehensive understanding sometimes acts with such little attention to reason. It is true enough that Dortchen has infinite talent and intelligence, but precisely that is her misfortune, for she can expect neither true happiness nor respect with these character traits and with her father’s bizarre projects, which will only goad her into the worst sort of vanity. A more refined woman is appreciated only for what she is as precisely such a woman. [2]

I saw a vivid example of this assertion in the person of the Princess von Gallizin, who recently visited here. She was a princess, very learned and knowledgeable, and yet despite all that was still the object of ridicule and was anything but respected. Dortchen is going to become another Gallizin, especially since her father is quite rich and can implement all his plans.

And now this journey, which will subject both father and daughter to the most extreme dangers; and to a country like Italy, a young girl, and though she still be only a child, without female supervision! And her father, considering that the trip will take them through countries where he has everything to fear from the revenge of the Jesuits, whom he has genuinely harmed in his periodical, not to speak of all the other dangers; and he knows full well he is not even permitted to travel through Switzerland.

He published something in the last issue of Lichtenberg’s Magazin about Waser’s death that could well cause a revolution in Switzerland, and the Swiss living here in Göttingen have become so infuriated with him that I was glad he had already left when the |56| article first appeared. [3] All his friends, and foremost among them my father, have often enough remonstrated these things to him; but he is deaf. His own wit, his cutting, precise wit misleads him; he is absolutely incapable of repressing even a single satirical thought, and be it ever so severe. And yet he certainly does have a good character. —

Nicolai was also here, [4] and it was he himself who told me he stayed an extra day to see you perform. I find his appearance quite pleasing, but I think more of his understanding than of his heart; I liked his son very much indeed. They had dinner with us.

The excerpt of the piece by Goethe — for which I am very grateful to you — makes me quite anxious to see the performance itself, which admittedly will have to be more interesting than the simple outline if it is to have the honor of pleasing me. Would it not be possible for you to send me some of it, since you doubtless already know your own role. [5]

It is simply too bad that Goethe, who can write such wonderful, breathtakingly beautiful things, chooses such peculiar subjects; and yet I would call neither his Werther nor Stella nor “Die Geschwister” “unnatural”; [6] it is so romantic, [7] and yet is also totally a part of nature if one can but insert oneself into it with a bit of imagination. —

Tell your good husband that Meyer performed the role of the Earl of Essex here beautifully, indeed, in a fashion defying description. [8] He was idolized here, and there was simply no end to the admiration; then again, it is a role so completely suited to him.

A thousand times I wished your husband could have been here. Second, tell him also that I was recently quite pleased to discover that he knows a certain Count Lichnovsky and Herr von Berg, both of whom are the most excellent, uncorrupted individuals. Berg has departed on a journey. No one thought he would ever see his fatherland again, but his health is getting better. The poor count, whom I find interesting especially because of his open, unaffected personality and his artless, absolutely unpretentious understanding, is so frail that people are quite worried about him. He greatly esteems your dear husband even though he only saw him for a short time, and very much wishes to see Gotha again. . . .


[1] From October 1781 till April 1782, August Ludwig Schlözer traveled to Italy with his eleven-year-old daughter, Dorothea. Back.

[2] Concerning the expression “more refined woman” (Germ. Frauenzimmer), see the editorial note to Friedrich Schlegel’s letter to Wilhelm Schlegel on 6 March 1798 (letter 198).

As seen in her next remarks, Caroline is reacting largely to the period understanding of women as being unsuited especially for scholarly pursuits and the acquisition of knowledge beyond, broadly understood, that which transcends traditional household and family management.

As evident in the following illustration, such “learned” or “scholarly women” inevitably, thus the thinking, neglected precisely their household and family, often with disastrous consequences (“Die gelehrte Frau,” Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1803: Dem Edeln und Schönen der frohen Laune und der Philosophie des Lebens gewidmet [1803], plate 6; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[3] A difficult personality, Johann Heinrich Waser was from 1770 pastor at the Filial Church in Riesbach (Zürich). After uncovering irregularities in the municipal government, he was inclined to overstep his own authority in ferreting out transgressions and was eventually dismissed.

His urge for vengeance prompted further steps on his part, including insisting on a reversal of his condemnation and dismissal, and the publishing of several articles containing pertinent statistics concerning Zürich’s political and economic conditions in Schlözer’s periodical Briefwechsel meist historischen und politischen Inhalts, though he asked Schlözer to maintain certain conditions of anonymity. After arresting him in 1780 for having alleged, without evidence, the poisoning of the communion cup, officials discovered materials stolen from the state archives (one of the most important hidden in the maid’s bed straw), some of which he was intending to send to Vienna.

After he was recaptured trying to flee, a letter from Schlözer was found in his pocket implying Waser had sent even more incriminating materials to Göttingen to be published. Zürich officials had the Hannover administration issue a warning to Schlözer, who agreed in writing not to publish anything further without consent from Zürich; he also inquired whether that concession might lessen Waser’s punishment, since Waser allegedly never sent materials Schlözer thought to be treasonous.

In an attempt to save his own life, Waser insisted he had sent an autobiography to Schlözer containing more incriminating material against Zürich and with the instructions to publish it only after his — Waser’s — death. Schlözer denied in writing having received such. Moreover, Waser had been implicated in having been involved in the alleged poisoning of the chalice in 1776 in Zürich through which several parishoners had become ill. He was tried, sentenced to death, and beheaded on 27 May 1780, a form of capital punishment by no means uncommon at the time; here an excerpt of from a contemporaneous (1774) illustration of various forms of capital punishment by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki (Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate xxxiv):


Concerning Johann Caspar Lavater’s correspondence with Schlözer in the affair, see Gerold Meyer von Knonau, “Lavater als Bürger Zürichs und der Schweiz,” in Johann Caspar Lavater, 1741–1801. Denkschrift zur hundertsten Wiederkehr seines Todestages, ed. Stiftung von Schnyder von Wartensee (Zürich 1902), 77–80 (text see supplementary appendix 27.1).

Lengthy essays were published in 1781, including Wilhelm Gottlieb Becker, “Über Wasern und seinen Process. An Herrn Kanonikus Gleim,” Göttingisches Magazin der Wissenschaften und Litteratur, vol. 2, no. 1 (1781), 153–229, who essentially thought Waser’s death sentence justified, and Schlözer’s rejoinder (to which Caroline is here referring) in late autumn 1781, “Herrn Professor Schlözers vorläufige zerstreute Anmerkungen zu Herrn Beckers Schreiben über Wasern und dessen Process,” Göttingisches Magazin der Wissenschaften und Litteratur, vol. 2, no. 2 (1781), 72–93. Back.

[4] For Caroline’s other impressions of Christoph Friedrich Nicolai’s visit to her family in 1781, see her letter to Julie von Studnitz on 29 October 1781 (letter 26). Back.

[5] Concerning the performance of Die Geschwister in Gotha on 17 September 1781, see Caroline’s letter to Julie von Studnitz on 29 October 1781 (letter 26) with note 7. Back.

[6] Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Leipzig 1774; rev. ed. 1786); Stella. Ein Schauspiel für Liebende (Berlin 1776); Die Geschwister (first published Leipzig 1787). Back.

[7] Germ. romanhaft; see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 16 June 1780 (letter 16), note 1. Back.

[8] Concerning the play The Earl of Essex, see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 13 July 1781 (letter 24) with note 4. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott