Letter 32

• 32. Caroline to Julie von Studnitz in Gotha: Göttingen, 4 June 1782 (Fr.)

Göttingen, 4 June 1782

|63| I have sat down, my dear friend, to ask you immediately about what you said concerning Rodney’s victory over Admiral Grasse. [1] This news has made our heads spin — along with those of our English friends here. There is nothing but joy and uproar everywhere here, Göttingen is London en miniature. The day the newspapers arrived, all the houses in which Englishmen lived were |64| illuminated for the evening, while they themselves sang in the streets to celebrate Rodney’s victories. Then they all gathered together to drown them in punch and to forget them the next day in sleep.

Today, in honor of the king’s birthday, they all appeared in the navy uniforms, like Rodney’s, blue and white with buttons à la Rodney, all of which arrived with the same mail that brought us the good news. Enclosed with this letter you yourself will receive the only button I was able to secure, and I would like to ask you to send it to Madame Schläger. Their servants are in new livery. This evening most of the town will be illuminated with blue lights, and there will be music everywhere.

The Prince of Nassau, a French colonel, is a bit offended by all this. [2] His tutor says he offered him the opportunity to illuminate as well, but he declined; he was here at our house yesterday to complain about it, and in the future intends to wear French buckles à la Cornwallis.

For me, however patriotic I may be, I yet feel only too much that I love my brother more than my king. That victory will considerably delay peace, peace that for some time now has been my sole source of hope. Hence I dare not partake of the joy myself, nor of any other till the moment that returns my brother to me. Adieu my most beloved friend.

at 10:00

Just this moment I returned from a walk through the streets. The illumination enables us all to see the king and Rodney praised everywhere in different forms and creates quite a charming spectacle. The crowds are enormous; everyone is out in the streets, walking about as if it were midday.

The English have assembled at the Crown Hotel, where, |65| with open windows, they are singing God save the king. [3] And every time they shout “hurrah!” the crowd follows suit, and the same shout then finds its way through all the other streets as well. You cannot imagine what a hubbub it was. And yet I was quite pleased by it all. I am no longer surprised by the English character when they act out such scenes so often. Were I not in Göttingen, I would love to be in London this evening.

The button I am sending you is already so worn that one can no longer see the silver in it. Those which the English themselves are wearing are of pure silver, but it is impossible to get one of them.


[1] In April 1782, the French admiral François de Grasse, with the same French fleet that had blockaded the British army at Yorktown (see Caroline’s letter to Julie von Studnitz on 2 March 1782 [letter 30], note 5), was defeated and taken prisoner by British admiral George Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes (9–12 April 1782), a group of islands between Guadeloupe and Dominica in the West Indies (map excerpt from Herman Moll, Atlas minor: or a new and curious set of sixty-two maps, in which are shewn all the empires, kingdoms, countries, states, in all the known parts of the earth; with their bounds, divisions, chief cities & towns, the whole composed & laid down agreeable to modern history [London 1729–36]):


The battle frustrated French and Spanish hopes of capturing Jamaica from the British. See Cecil H. Crofts, Britain on and Beyond the Sea: Being a Handbook to the Navy League Map of the World, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh, London 1901), 39–40:

The French Fleet under De Grasse, disregarding the force under Graves, had done enormous mischief to our [Britain’s] trade and possessions in the West Indies. That admiral had retaken St. Eustatia, and had also captured Essequibo, Demerara, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, and Tobago. All his efforts were now directed towards an attempt on Jamaica, and it seemed that the whole of our islands in the west would be lost.

His intention was frustrated by Rodney in his celebrated victory off Dominica on 12th April 1782. This victory is called by various names. The terms Rodney’s Victory, Battle of Dominica, Battle of Martinique, De Grasse’s Defeat, Battle of Guadeloupe, and Battle of the Saints, all refer to this action. It was fought in a large basin of water lying between the islands of Guadeloupe and Dominica, near a group called Les Saintes. He had returned to the West Indies, seeking his old enemy, and at last he found him. For some days after sighting each other, both sides manœuvred to get the wind with them, and when the British admiral had secured the position, he bore down on the foe. It was early morning when the battle began, and it lasted till nightfall.

[Early engraving of the Battle of the Saintes, 1782:]


Up to midday the fight was one of ship close to ship, each side pounding away as hard as she could. But at twelve o’clock there was a gap in the Frenchman’s lines. Rodney, signalling to the first half dozen of his ships to follow him in the Formidable pushed through the gap, engaging the enemy on the other side, thus placing half the enemy between two fires, while the other half was rendered useless.

[Map from A. T. Mahan, The Major Operations of the Navies in the War of American Independence (Boston 1913), following p. 210:]


His skilful tactics were eminently successful. In spite of most gallant behaviour on the part of De Grasse, who, attacked on both sides, maintained to the end a magnificent but hopeless struggle, the French were utterly defeated with tremendous losses.

This victory is memorable as being the first battle in which this breaking through the enemy’s line was employed, and also as being the turning-point of the war. The Ville de Paris, on which De Grasse had fought so splendidly, was captured with the admiral, five other great ships were taken, one was sunk, and the whole array broken up in flight. A few days later Hood captured two more men-of-war and two frigates, and the great enterprise against Jamaica was wrecked.Back.

Concerning the fate of Captain Lord Robert Manners at this battle, see Caroline’s undated letter in 1789 to Lotte Michaelis in Göttingen (letter 94), note 4. Back.

[2] Though nominally a French colonel, Heinrich of Nassau-Saarbrücken was but fourteen years old at the time. Back.

[3] In English in original. – The Crown Hotel (Hotel zur Krone), Weender-Strasse 41, was long the premier hotel in Göttingen; Goethe stayed there 6–12 June and 19 July–14 August 1801 (on his way to take the waters in Pyrmont after an extended illness, about which Caroline herself speaks at length in letters that year), and the students gave him an ovation on his first night there. Here in a late-nineteenth-century photograph (Stadtarchiv Göttingen):



Translation © 2011 Doug Stott