Letter 51

• 51. Caroline to Lotte Michaelis in Göttingen: Clausthal, autumn 1784

[Clausthal, autumn 1784]


Now, now! let us not throw out in wrath
The baby with the bath! [1]

So, out with Lottchen! And straightaway! Can you not just stand up straight on both legs and simply put one foot in front of the other?

[Requests.] If I cannot get all these things, I really will simply die. So please have pity, I am in a great hurry (you know how this passage seems to me? [2] like the “Deer’s Love Song” of the Turks in the letters of Lady Montaigu; you can read it, Mother has a copy) [3] . . .

Farewell, thou most beautiful of angels,
Do remain graciously inclined toward me —
Yet not overly confident
on this stem will I lean.
But send whatever be requested above,
and everywhere, always will your praise I sing.

What stuff all that is. Halloo, halloo, loo, loo, poor Tom’s a-cold. Pillicock sat on Pillicock-hill. [4]


[1] Beginning of Gottfried August Bürger, “Antwort An Göckingk,” Göttinger Musenalmanach (1777), 191–96; also in Gedichte (Göttingen 1778), 252–58 (in both instances preceded by Leopold Friedrich Günther von Göckingk’s poem “An Bürger, / in Wöllmershausen,” 188–90). Here the frontispiece and several illustrations by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki to that volume Gedichte of 1778; Caroline takes a considerable literary and personal interest in Bürger during the next several years, and especially toward the unsettled and difficult end of his life in 1794:




In the present situation, Göckingk humorously chides Bürger for wasting time “making verses” (approximate translations):

Damned verse making!
What mess have you made?
Turned into a cuckold
Our life's only May?
Father Bürger! tell me now,
Are we not fools, and all of us, just now
For losing beautiful May this way
Through self-made torment along the way? . . .
For what do we gain with such rhyme ill-bred? . . .
Hence, friend Bürger, be no fool, I said,
And do drink straight'way in writing's stead!"

To which Bürger responds in his initial verse:

"Now, now! let us not throw out in wrath
The baby with the bath!
Such a poor child he,
And such great shame for all to see! . . .
Behold the gifts from rhyming well
That you yourself so sorely eschew!
Surely such be worth all the quills
One must in the process chew and chew?" Back.

[2] “Passage” in English or French in original. Back.

[3] Erich Schmidt (1913), 1:683, suggests that Caroline’s allusion is to certain Turkish verse piece that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu cited and translated in a letter from Pera to a certain Lady Rich on 16 March 1717 (Schmidt gives the date as 1718). That text is found in The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, vol. 1, ed. Lord Wharncliffe (Philadelphia 1837), 301–2 (Schmidt cites the edition of 1893, 1:350). Schmidt points out that the poem has nothing to do with deer and that Caroline may have been thinking of the lines “Have pity on my passion! . . . I die — come quickly.” These verses, however, seem more ill-suited still, not only having nothing to do with deer but also not really corresponding in any clearly discernible way to Caroline’s citation or situation in this letter.

Caroline seems not to have Montagu’s book at hand, advising Lotte instead to fetch her mother’s copy. As is often the case, Caroline is instead citing from memory, this time, it seems, in a more broadly paraphrased fashion that an actual citation. To wit, a different Turkish love song (rather than merely verses) in the same volume fits Caroline’s paraphrased translation better and does indeed mention a deer/stag. For the texts of these two passages, see supplementary appendix 51.1. Back.

[4] This concluding citation, which Caroline delivers in German, is a conflation from Shakespeare’s King Lear, act 3, scene 4 (Shakespeare Complete Works, ed. W. J. Craig [London 1966], 926); Caroline was presumably aware that “Pillicock” was an obsolete sixteenth-century term for a penis and “Pillicock-hill” for the female genitalia (illustration: The Plays of Shakespeare, Cassell’s Illustrated Shakespeare 3, Tragedies, illustrated by H. C. Selous, ed. Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke [London 1864], 497):

Lear. Didst thou give all to thy daughters? And art thou come to this?

Edgar: Who gives anything to poor Tom?


whom the foul fiend hath led through fire and through flame, through ford and whirlpool o’er bog and quagmire; that hath laid knives under his pillow, and halters in his pew; set ratsbane by his porridge; made him proud of heart, to ride on a bay trotting-horse over four-inched bridges, to course his own shadow for a traitor. Bless thy five wits! Tom’s a-cold. O! do de, do de, do de. Bless thee from whirlwinds, starblasting, and taking! Do poor Tom some charity, whom the foul fiend vexes. There could I have him now, and there, and there again, and there.

Lear: What! have his daughters brought him to this pass?
Couldst thou save nothing? Didst thou give them all?

Fool: Nay, he reserved a blanket, else we had been all shamed.

Lear: Now all the plagues that in the pendulous air
Hang fated o’er men’s faults light on thy daughters!

Kent: He hath no daughters, sir.

Lear: Death, traitor! nothing could have subdu’d nature
To such lowness, but his unkind daughters.
Is it the fashion that discarded fathers
Should have thus little mercy on their flesh?
Judicious punishment! ’twas this flesh begot
Those pelican daughters.

Edgar: Pillicock sat on Pillicock-hill:
Halloo, halloo, loo, loo!

Fool: This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott