Letter 4

• 4. Caroline to Luise Stieler in Gotha: Göttingen, 7 October 1778

Göttingen, 7 Oct[ober] 1778

|7| Could I but express my heart’s emotions to you, my dearest, most precious friend! But I cannot. So why even begin, knowing as I do beforehand that I will never find the adequate words to express completely what my grateful heart feels for you! How considerately do you comfort me.

No, Luise, I can never be completely unhappy as long as you are my friend. Believe me, I am not some dreamer or rapturous enthusiast, my thoughts are always the result of reflections that I undertake with — if at all possible — a completely cool disposition. I am not at all satisfied with myself; my heart is so inconstant it cannot remain the same for even a single moment; you yourself must certainly already know that, since my letters always portray my entire soul for you.

I have genuine, steadfast trust in God, and I entreat him with such yearning to make me happy — but the wishes through which I might seek to be happy are all so disparate that, were he genuinely to fulfill them exactly according to my imagination, I would of necessity end up being unhappy. My dear Lord, you who know my heart, you who created me, please fulfill no wishes that are not pleasing to you, I am depending on you!

Only think how things would be for me did I not have as cheerful a temperament as I indeed do! Though I have many reasons to be glum, I forget them so easily, console myself as best I can, and let God take care of the rest. Is it not injury enough that my mother gives preference to my siblings over me? [1] And then my expectation that came to nothing, though I do intend to get over that pain most easily of all. [2] But having lost my good name, well, perhaps it is not so bad after all, and my own imagination merely makes my unhappiness worse, and yet at the very least I have become |8| the topic of conversation of the worse part of our town, and have become so through circumstances in which I was truly innocent, it merely being my own unthinking carelessness that got me into it. [3]

But I am not allowed to write about it; my mother has forbidden me to do so. You still know absolutely nothing about it. If ever I have a solitary bit of time when I do not have to fear being surprised, you shall learn of it, but until then let me entreat you not to take any notice of it. [4]

My brother arrived safely in London. But, Louise, not a word, not a single word about him in your last letter. Why not? Are you afraid you will feel sorry for him? You should have been so from the bottom of your heart rather than fear being so. Your silence betrays more than even the most loquacious concern could have.

He is going to America as a staff medical officer with the Hessians. The conditions are extremely advantageous, and when he returns he is assured of being taken care of for life. I am quite dismayed about all this, the apparent mortal danger that such service entails fills me with fear, and I know for certain that the kind, compassionate heart of my Louise will share my concern even if she chooses to express it only through her silence. Is that not true, my dearest? [5]

Although the matter is not entirely certain, it now depends only on his decision, and in that regard I have not much hope now that things might be undone. You know how he is. His resolute temperament shies away from no danger. Hence I fear Europe will be losing him. If only his life were not in danger. God protect him! . . .

Please extend my regards to your dear father a thousand fold; should he forget me, please do remind him of me again. Please also kiss dear your mother’s hand in my |9| name, and, in my stead, embrace your dear dear siblings. [6] And you, my dear Louise, what can, what shall I say to you that can express even the smallest bit of what I feel for you?

Caroline Michaelis


[1] Caroline never developed a comfortable relationship with her mother (Mutter und Tochter, Frauen Zimer Calender Auf das Jahr 1793 [Zürich], plate 2; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


At the same time, her father, Johann David Michaelis, while not an entirely absent father, was generally occupied in a different part of the house with his scholarly work (Briefwechsel der Familie des Kinderfreundes 10 [Reutlingen 1791], illustration following p. 108:)



[2] A reference to the law student Wilhelm Link, whose acquaintance Caroline had made in 1777 and with whom she had an unhappy relationship (Berlinischer Damen Kalender auf das Jahr 1802; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


Although no details are known, for the next two years Caroline continues to refer back to this relationship. Back.

[3] Nothing is known of this incident, though is not be the last of such; see Therese Heyne to Luise Mejer on 1 March 1783 (letter 35a) and Johann Franz Wilhelm Böhmer to Caroline on 5 June 1784 (letter 43). Neither, incidentally, were Caroline’s sisters, Lotte and Luise, strangers to scandal. Back.

[4] Because it was not unusual for mothers to monitor letters that their daughters wrote and received, Caroline’s fear of discovery is neither unusual nor unrealistic (Göttinger Taschen Calender für das Jahr 1791; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[5] References to Fritz Michaelis’s participation in and return from his service as a medic for Hessian soldiers in the American Revolutionary war recurs over the course of the next several letters. For a brief and general account of Hessian participation in the American Revolutionary War, see supplementary appendix 4.1. Back.

[6] Luise had two younger brothers — Adolph and Christian August — and at least one sister, about whom unfortunately nothing more is known. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott