Letter 38

• 38. Caroline to Luise Gotter in Gotha: Göttingen, 30 September 1783

Göttingen, 30 Sept[ember] 1783

|75| . . . A few words in great haste, my dear.

Goethe was here, and finally I have seen him. [1] He spent two days here. On the first day, we were satisfied enough with just seeing him, since we never dreamed he would be paying such extensive visits; the following day, several gentlemen had already scheduled a small outing to the countryside so that we young ladies might be introduced to the most beautiful areas in the entire state of Hannover. We departed with heavy hearts, and not even the amiable sun in heaven was able to cheer us up. None of the beautiful things |76| we saw could make us forget him.

Although we did indulge in a bit of rapturous fervor, it was, of course, nothing really tragic. Among other things, I told myself we had traveled there to celebrate his very presence; since we were unable to get really close to him — that he might have become attached to us the way Werther did to the little place at the fountain — we decided to pay homage to him from a distance, as Werther did with Lotte when he threw himself on the terrace, his arms reaching out for her white garment — and it vanished. [2]

When we got home that evening, he had already been at the Böhmers and at our house, and our fathers were dining at the home of Professor Schlözer, where Goethe himself was. Whereupon great cries of woe arose.

Everyone is pleased with him. And all our straight-laced professors have come to view the author of Werther as an upright man worthy of the highest respect. [3]


[1] Goethe came through Göttingen with the young Fritz (Gottlob Friedrich Konstantin) von Stein, son of Charlotte von Stein, on the way back to Weimar after his second journey to the Harz Mountains. Amid “the most beautiful weather,” Goethe wrote to Charlotte on 28 September 1783 from Göttingen (Weimarer Ausgabe 4:6:202), “I have decided to visit all the professors; you can imagine how much walking that involves if one is to get around to all of them in a only a couple of days.” Back.

[2] The two passages (involving the fountain and terrace along with Werther’s hopeless love interest, Lotte) from Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Leipzig 1774; rev. ed. 1786) are found in the Weimarer Ausgabe I:19:48, 86 (for text see supplementary appendix 38.1). Back.

[3] Caroline, her companions, and the “straight-laced” Göttingen professors doubtless recalled that, as a matter of fact, Goethe had mentioned Caroline’s own father in The Sorrows of Young Werther, albeit in a less flattering context. Johann David Michaelis nonetheless seems to have taken the mention with sufficient humor to dine with Goethe at the house of August Ludwig Schlözer.

The mentions comes in book 2 (which begins immediately after the scene on the terrace Caroline mentions above) in Werther’s letter to his friend Wilhelm on 15 September. At issue is what Goethe considered the dangerous emergence of a more rationalist examination of the biblical canon at the hands of recent theologians, including Caroline’s father. See supplementary appendix 38.2. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott