Letter 54

• 54. Caroline to Lotte Michaelis in Göttingen: Saturday, Clausthal, 1785

Saturday [Clausthal, 1785]

|112| O mistress of the profitless arts — ill-disposed spirit, I implore you, send me no watchbands this time, but rather something to read in a Gothic font. I ask you for bread, and |113| you give me a stone. How can I laugh? The spiritus vanishes, and no power

can tie it down, or capture it,
light as aether does it slip away. [1] 

You are going to have to serve me up different fare. Please understand, you need to send me something from the bookstore, and next week the whole mess of it will be sent back at once. [2] Take this letter to Louise herself. [3]

Nonetheless let me thank you for your scrap of paper yesterday and in great haste commend both myself and my unborn infant to you.


[1] Verses after Gottfried August Bürger’s “Elegie. Als Molly sich losreissen wollte,” Gedichte (Göttingen 1789), 163–80, here 170, though Caroline conflates the verses. Here the title page of the volume:


In this particular poem, Bürger is speaking about his inability to express in verse the love he shares with his beloved despite his previous confidence in his poetic powers:

The spirit, as quickly winged
As that of an exotic spice,
Which, hermetically sealed though it be,
From its dungeon does break forth.
What power can tame it?
What power with tone and word
Tie it down or capture it? —
Light as aether does it slip away —. Back.

[2] Joseph Richter, Bildergalerie weltlicher Misbräuche: Ein Gegenstück zur Bildergalerie katholischer und klösterlicher Misbräuche (Frankfurt, Leipzig 1785), illustration preceding p. 149:


Caroline uses the German term Braß (Brass), which Erich Schmidt (1913), 1:683, glosses as “Braß, Praß (Prass): Wust (tangled mass, jumble) (see Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch s.v. Prasz: banquet, feast, revelling, merrymaking, gluttony; s.v. Wust: dung, refuse, filth, nonhomogenous accumulation). Karl August Böttiger, Litterarische Zustände und Zeitgenossen in Schilderungen aus Karl August Böttiger’s handschriftlichem Nachlasse, ed. K. W. Böttiger, 2 vols. (Leipzig 1838), 1:64, uses Praß (Prass) in the same sense of a “bunch of stuff, junk” that an acquaintance bought “by the ton.” Back.

[3] Luise Michaelis? Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott