Letter 43b

43b. Therese Heyne to Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring in Kassel: Göttingen, 28 June 1784 [*]

[Göttingen, 28 June 1784]

. . . I am pleased, good professor, that you raised the question concerning Michaelis. I wanted to speak with you about it when you were here, but we really did not have even a moment’s time for it. —

I already wrote Forster several weeks ago that Caroline Michaelis seemed completely informed about our relationship. [1] Caroline had various humble conjectures concerning us, all of which — I know not how — were in fact quite true. She wrote to her caro sposo in the Harz about them, [2] and he presented them to Forster, and Forster defended himself like a schoolboy who had stolen cherries (sauf le respect toutes les fois). [3]

So Caroline knows it, and although I never confessed it to her, I could not have denied it entirely without duplicity. The little bit her brother knew he probably learned before he made my acquaintance, or afterward, for he seemed to take an immediate interest in me with the kind of frankness one exhibits only toward a third party’s beloved. But I never told him of it, and would never do so in the first place. To entrust a secret is the greatest proof of friendship a young girl can give to a young man, but it is not one of the first steps toward friendship. —

This peculiar situation, however, lends to our relationship the casual, unforced element you yourself no doubt noticed. I am quite glad he is informed about it, for now I can enjoy the cordial company of this genuinely pleasant man without having to fear for either him or myself; [4] the only thing is that the Göttingen world already has me married to him; but this suspicion, one constituting a reproach toward neither him nor me, will likely do no harm, for since I am too honest to arouse Forster’s jealousy through silence concerning any of my acquaintances — I can certainly let this wash over me with little trouble. . . .


[*] Source: Forster’s Briefwechsel mit Sömmerring, 88–90; Therese Huber Briefe, 1:149–50. Dating according to Therese Huber Briefe, 1:553. Back.

[1] Therese Heyne had become engaged to Georg Forster on 18 April 1784; the engagement was to be kept secret, Forster receiving permission from Georgine Heyne, Therese’s stepmother, only later by letter. Her father, Christian Gottlob Heyne, initially opposed the relationship.

Forster himself had left Göttingen on 23 April 1784 to travel to Vilnius, where he had received a professorship. On the way, he visited various towns, including Clausthal, where he met with Caroline’s fiancé, Franz Wilhelm Böhmer. A connection may exist between this present letter and Böhmer’s curious letter to Caroline on 5 June 1784 (letter 43). Back.

[2] Caro sposo, Italian, “dear fiancé.”

Concerning the words “She wrote”: Although the text reads “I wrote,” Therese Huber Briefe, 554n23, cogently suggests that Therese Heyne may well mistakenly have written “I wrote” instead of “she [Caroline] wrote”; no letters from Therese to Franz Böhmer are extant in any case. Such is all the more likely considering what Therese goes on to write, and esp. considering Georg Forster’s almost identical words to Sömmerring on the same subject. Back.

[3] Fr., “with all due respect.” Concerning these letters, see Therese Huber Briefe, 1:554:

During his stay in Zellerfeld, Georg Forster often visited Franz Böhmer, with whom according to his [Forster’s] diary he also spoke at length about “matters of the heart” (30 April 1784); on 8 May he notes: “Dr. Böhmer read to me from Mlle. Michaelis’s letters, how she had always wished I would like to have Therese, and that we two belonged solely together. — She allegedly saw my silhouette at the Heyne house, and teased Therese about me.”

See esp. Forster to Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring on 17 June 1784 from Dresden after having left Clausthal (Forster’s Briefwechsel mit Sömmerring, 75):

You wrote me about Dr. Michaelis, but you have not yet told me how you found him. From what he confided in you, he seems to have changed not at all, i.e., is still the same old blowhard who likes to play himself up because of his influence among the ladies.

To disseminate publicly something like how Mlle. H[eyne] might well esteem her husband but certainly never love him is disgraceful and, I would wager, untrue. Whatever he knows about my liaison [the engagement] he can only have learned from his sister, who severely teased Therese when she saw she had my silhouette, and Therese defended herself quite clumsily.

So she [Caroline] writes about this straightaway to Dr. Böhmer, who read the letter aloud to me, and what I responded to him — without telling him directly how things actually stood — could not but easily confirm his suspicions.

Among other things, Therese once wrote me that even five years ago, when I was first in Göttingen, she was already quite interested in me, and that her most intimate friend at the time, namely, precisely this Caroline Michaelis, had vehemently encouraged her at the time to love me, something she did indeed enthusiastically do for two years without discerning any reciprocal love on my part.

That was essentially what was in the letter Caroline. M. wrote to Dr. Böhmer, adding that she still believed that I was just the right man for Therese. Madam Engelhardt, as well, alias Philippine Gatterer, told me once a long time ago that Therese was quite fond of me, and Dr. Böhmer said that apart from me everyone noticed five years ago, when I first came to the picknik, that Therese had for all practical purposes specially sought me out. Back.

[4] Goettinger Taschen Calender vom Jahr 1779; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



Translation © 2011 Doug Stott