Letter 43

• 43. Johann Franz Wilhelm Böhmer to Caroline in Göttingen: Clausthal, 5 June 1784 [*]

Clausthal, 5 Jun[e] 1784

|90| Oh, dear, marvelous girl! how it pained me to have caused you such worry because of the complaints from Forster. I knew beforehand how the letter would pain you; how gladly would I have preferred not to mention even a word to you about it, for I was absolutely convinced you were innocent; but because of Trebra [1] and Forster, [2] I could not be silent. [Suspicion of an indiscretion.] [3]

But calm yourself now, my dear girl; you will not suffer innocently, |91| and rest assured that you have lost nothing of the love and respect the Trebra couple have for you, indeed, I have on this occasion discovered for the first time how much they really do love you.

I just received a letter from you in today’s mail. I am so happy to receive these letters from you! — I can hardly hold my quill; I was trembling all over, and my heart almost stopped under the violence of the emotions that assaulted it until a mighty torrent of tears broke through and brought blessed relief. Never before have I sensed the transience of all earthly joys as vividly as in these moments —

Caroline! You would be in heaven and you would have drawn my soul up to you. [4] Would anything else on earth have been left that might please me? From the highest peak of earthly bliss, which I soon thought I had reached, I would — had not God’s own fatherly hand held me — have at least been placed into a condition in which I would have been incapable of enjoying anything. Even in the case of this sad incident, I still revere his fatherly hand with childlike gratitude. O, may we live for him, precious girl! Through him and in him we will be eternally happy. . . .

If you are so keen on me staying another 6 days in Göttingen after the wedding, [5] I will have to alter my arrangements. I was thinking about spending Friday in Göttingen and being back in Clausthal on the Sunday after the wedding. [6] But if Herr Schlözer cannot give the ball in your honor on any other day but Saturday, [7] and if indeed there must be dancing, then I will probably come 2 days later and will if necessary have the measurements for my garment taken here and then have the wedding suit |92| made in Göttingen so it will be done by Sunday, which is when I would in that case be arriving in Göttingen. [8]

The day after tomorrow I will write to you with specific information. Today I have just not had the free time to think about it properly.

Although I had hoped to find your dear father completely healthy, today I hear much to my distress that he probably still has a long way to go before being completely well again. May heaven grant that on our day of joy he will be considerably [better].

I must close; it is getting too late. Sleep peacefully, dear Caroline.


[*] Although the background to this letter is not entirely clear, it seems that in April and May 1784, Georg Forster, while spending time in Clausthal on his way to Vilnius, where he had received a professorship, made incriminating statements concerning Caroline’s character. Forster had just become engaged on 18 April with Therese Heyne, whom he would marry in September 1785. These statements, deriving from Therese or not (see Brigitte Rossbeck, Zum Trotz glücklich: Caroline Schlegel-Schelling und die romantische Lebenskunst [Munich 2008], 47–48), seem to have prompted (1) a letter from Böhmer to Caroline (lost) and (2) a response from Caroline to Böhmer (lost) (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Der Schreiber in einer guten StellungKupfersammlung 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 lviii):


See in any case Therese Heyne’s letter to Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring on 6 June 1784 (letter 43a), where Therese indicates the nature of such criticism.

This present letter would then be the response to Caroline’s letter. The insinuations seem to have been of such a nature to have caused Caroline considerable, even suicidal anxiety (see below) (Adam Ludwig d’Argent, Ein Mann tröstet eine weinende Frau, eine weitere Frau steht wütend daneben; ca. [1768–1829]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. A: 91):


As a pendant to this letter’s obscure background, see also Therese Heyne’s letter to Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring from Göttingen later during this same month, namely, on 28 June 1784 (letter 43b). Back.

[1] Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich von Trebra, deputy mining official in Clausthal, non-local member of the Göttingen Society of Science, and a friend of Goethe’s from his time in Ilmenau; concerning his acquaintance with Goethe, see “Neue Mittheilungen 5: Lebensverhältnisse mit Ober-Berghauptmann von Trebra. 1813,” Goethe Jahrbuch 9, ed. Ludwig Geiger (1888), 11–20; 83 (notes), in which Trebra recalls the summer of 1776 in Ilmenau (Goethe was in Ilmenau with Karl August 18 July–14 August 1776 to assess the possibility of reopening the mines in Ilmenau); he similarly recalls climbing the Brocken with Goethe in September 1783 (during what is known as Goethe’s “second journey” to the Harz Mountains, 6 September–6 October 1783; they climbed the Brocken on 21 September). Back.

[2] Georg Forster visited Trebra and Madam von Trebra on 25 or 26 April 1784, being joined afterward by Franz Wilhelm Böhmer, with the latter of whom he also spent considerable time and even went on excursions. Back.

[3] Unclear reference, possibly but not necessarily the incident with the Göttingen students the previous year (see Therese Heyne to Luise Mejer on 1 March 1783 [letter 35a]). As stated above in the editorial note, see esp. also Therese Heyne to Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring on 28 June 1784 [letter 43b]). Erich Schmidt had access to the manuscript of this letter, since Georg Waitz (1871), 1:10, chose not to include any of the material between “be silent” and “I just received a letter,” whereas Schmidt did indeed include some of that text, albeit not the bracketed material about some “suspicion of an indiscretion.” Back.

[4] Presumably a reference to Caroline having spoken of suicide. Back.

[5] 15 June 1784 fell on a Tuesday, staying six more days would have them leaving Göttingen on Monday, 21 June; as it turned out, the couple would arrive in Clausthal at about 6:00 p.m. on 22 June 1784 (Neuer Passauerischer Schreibkalender auf das Jahr 1784 [Passau 1784]):



[6] Friday, 18 June; Sunday, 20 June 1784. Back.

[7] Saturday, 19 June 1784. Back.

[8] Sunday, 13 June before the wedding on Tuesday 15 June 1784. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott