Letter 6

• 6. Caroline to Julie von Studnitz in Gotha: Göttingen, 1 May 1779 (Fr.)

Göttingen, 1 May 1779

. . . |10| My brother has been on the high seas since 19 April. The name of his vessel is Europa. The admiral |11| offered him a place on his own ship, saying he believed they would spend their time together quite well. Pray with me for my beloved brother’s safety. Ah, if only you knew him, you would forgive me, you would excuse my enthusiasm for him. He took leave of us all, in a letter, perhaps for ever! Ah, my Julie, what a frightening thought!

He sent me Keppel’s silhouette. It is an extremely lovely print with different colors, surrounded by laurels. I erected an altar for him in my room, on my sewing table, where one can see the portrait of Keppel, and a blue bow with his name [1] . . .

The news about the dismissed actors greatly surprised me, but I do not feel sorry for you. It may well be that Gotha will gain more than it loses. I always believed that the duke would not be firm enough to resist all the overwhelming requests that people brought him from every quarter, but I now certainly see that I was mistaken. [2]

As far as this Boek is concerned, I have totally changed my opinion of him. How could I have misjudged that self-importance, the principle trait of his character? I assure you, my dear Julie, that I am often astonished at the prejudice I had for him. How blind we can be sometimes! so much so that not only do we not see, but we do not even want to see.

Monsieur Forster is here to distract himself a bit, since he is quite melancholy, and I believe he has reason to be. [3] His fate is not among the most pleasant. His father causes him considerable anxiety, he did not get justice in London, he has not been compensated for his voyage, and Lord Sendwich [Sandwich] made the king hate him. He has an appointment in Halle, but his creditors will not let him leave England |12| unless the king of Prussia pays his debts for him. [4] Such circumstances are, of course, quite sad for a son who is as sensitive as Forster . . .

Your Caroline


[1] Young girls learned at least the rudiments of sewing at a young age (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, “Kind,” Göttingen Taschenkalender [1799]):


Chodowiecki did a series of vignettes in 1780 with the title Occupations des dames; one of those vignettes, “sewing,” features four women at the sort of sewing table common at the time; a second, from 1784, a single woman sewing alone:



Dorothea Veit mentions in a letter to Schleiermacher on 11 October 1799 (letter 247c) that because Caroline “makes all her own clothes, she is able to change what she wears quite often and without great cost, and always appears fresh and dainty, and all her clothes also look very good on her” (representative illustration: Georg Friedrich Schmidt, Die Frau des Künstlers, Dorothea Louise Schmidt, nähend [1753]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur GFSchmidt V 3.5240):


Concerning the period during which Caroline mentions Admiral Augustus Keppel here and in her letter to Julie von Studnitz on 25 August 1779 (letter 9) (1778–79), see Encyclopedia Britannica (1911) s.v.:

As a member of Parliament with pronounced Whig leanings, he was in constant hostility with the King’s Friends. In common with them he was prepared to believe that the king’s ministers, and in particular Lord Sandwich, then First Lord of the Admiralty, were capable of any villainy.

When therefore he was appointed to command the Western Squadron, the main fleet prepared against France in 1778, he went to sea predisposed to think that the First Lord would be glad for him to be defeated. It was a further misfortune that when Keppel hoisted his flag one of his subordinate admirals should have been Sir Hugh Palliser (1723–96), who was a member of the Admiralty Board, a member of parliament, and in Keppel’s opinion, which was generally shared, jointly responsible with his colleagues for the bad state of the Royal Navy.

When, therefore, the battle which Keppel fought with the French on 27 July 1778 (the First Battle of Ushant) ended in a highly unsatisfactory manner, owing mainly to his own unintelligent management, but partly through the failure of Sir Hugh Palliser to obey orders, he became convinced that he had been deliberately betrayed.

Though he praised Sir Hugh in his public despatch he attacked him in private, and the Whig press, with the unquestionable aid of Keppel’s friends, began a campaign of calumny to which the ministerial papers answered in the same style, each side accusing the other of deliberate treason: The result was a scandalous series of scenes in parliament and of courts martial.

Keppel was first tried and acquitted 1779, and then Palliser was also tried and acquitted. Keppel was ordered to strike his flag in March 1779. Back.

[2] Caroline is referring to the deteriorating relationship between the actors in the Gotha theater troupe, on the one hand, and the director, H. A. O. Reichard, on the other, of which she seems surprisingly well-informed (see also her letter to Julie von Studnitz on 31 January 1779 [letter 5] and on 28 September 1778 [letter 2] concerning her dislike for Reichard; illustrations: Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1819: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet 1819; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung; on the general situation, see August Beck, Ernst der Zweite, Herzog zu Sachsen-Gotha und Altenburg als Pfleger und Beschützer der Wissenschaft und Kunst [Gotha 1854], 338–49):

Although Duke Ernst II of Gotha was initially supportive of the theater there, even arranging proper burials for deceased actors who, as actors, might otherwise have been denied such, in late March 1778 the actors’ representative Conrad Dietrich Ekhof sent a missive to the senior director outlining various complaints and grievances on the part of the actors, primarily, it seems, against the director H. A. O. Reichard, whose heavy-handed management of especially the actors themselves had finally become unbearable.

Grievances included summary dismissals of actors who were reluctant to take on a role they considered beyond their ability or for whose preparation they were given insufficient time; the impossibility for actors even to question choice of repertoire or the quality of various pieces; harsh terms, including physical arrest, for actors whose spouse had been dismissed and who wished to request such themselves and refused to enter the theater; and especially the secretive manner in which Reichard harbored grievances of his own against the actors.


After Ekhof died during the summer of 1778, things seemed to be going well under his replacement when suddenly, on 18 March 1779, the entire company was informed that the duke had decided to disband the theater at Michaelis 1779 (29 September) and that their last pay would be issued on 1 October 1779. Although the real reason for the duke’s sudden decision remains unknown (he had even renewed various actors’ contracts shortly beforehand), a more serious turn in his own outlook (the theater was not universally acknowledged as a salutary institution), the increasing quarrels, presumptions, petty gossip and spats, disagreements, arguments, pranks that were perpetrated on stage, and especially the lewdness and flexible morals of some of the company’s members prompted his disinclination not so much toward the theater itself as toward its members.


Although the actors sent an entreaty to the duke on 1 May 1779 (the day Caroline is here writing) trying to effect a change of heart, it came to nothing, and the duke, though allowing this or that company to give sporadic performances over the next several years, never overcame his disinclination toward such companies. Back.

[3] Georg Forster was burdened by the London debts of his father, Johann Reinhold Forster. Back.

[4] Concerning Reinhold Forster’s predicament in England during this period and his anticipated redemption by Prussian sources, see ADB 7:170–71:

The years surrounding Forster’s journey round the world constituted the fleeting pinnacle of his life. Although he was initially well received in England by both the court and society, and was celebrated by learned circles both there and abroad, he had to be primarily concerned with deriving some sort of external profit from the scholarly results of that journey; in precisely this context, however, he was to suffer bitter disappointment anew.

After publishing with his son, hardly four months after his return and in an overly hasty and therefore inferior edition, the Characteres generum [Characteres generum Plantarum: quas in Itinere ad insulas maris Australis (London 1776)] of the plants discovered during the journey, he quickly turned to the task of producing a description of the journey itself, which, though initially verbally commissioned to him alone by the admiralty, in April 1776 was contractually assigned to him together with Cook.

Immediately, however, conflicts arose, deriving in all likelihood equally from the unreliability and perhaps also the nationalist narrow-mindedness of the British ministers and from Forster’s own imprudent stubbornness and inconsiderate volatility. First he was forbidden from publishing any narrative in the traditional sense, being instructed instead to supply solely philosophical observations, and finally he was even denied his half of the profit initially due him from the expensive copper engravings that were to accompany the overall work.

Forster circumvented the initial ploy by having his son take his place; although the travelogue published in English in March (A Voyage Round the World etc.) [A voyage round the world, in His Britannic Majesty’s sloop, Resolution, commanded by Capt. James Cook, during the years 1772, 3, 4, and 5, 2 vols. (London 1777)] is literarily and stylistically the work of Georg Forster, its actual content derives nonetheless from Reinhold Forster, whose exhaustive diaries the son hastily recast (to preempt Cook’s agents) and enhanced here and there with his own, emotionally youthful reflections.

[Here the frontispiece — “A Chart of the Southern Hemisphere” — to vol. 1 (1777):]


A year later, Reinhold Forster himself published his own Observations on Physical Geography, Natural History, and Ethic Philosophy [London 1778], in which on the model of Bergmann’s schema he provided an overview of the geophysical findings of his voyage; this conceptually rich piece, however, produced as it was under the pressure of distress and embitterment, by no means provides a completely exhaustive expression of Forster’s significance for the history of geography and scientific journeys as sketched above [earlier in the article].

Under the sad circumstances of his life at the time, however, the two Forsters never found the opportunity for the anticipated publication of the specific descriptions of the new fauna and flora they observed during the journey; Georg only later occasionally provided fragments of their phytological findings, and Reinhold’s zoological discoveries were not published until 1844 by the Berlin Academy. —

In the meantime, while the scholar’s global reputation increased, his private and moral existence was close to collapse. Whereas in the autumn of 1776 he had been able to take a trip to Paris in the futile hope of making literary contacts, from the beginning of 1777 he was held in custody in London by his creditors, and from autumn 1778 in Paddington Green near London.

Defiantly insisting on his rights, he was sometimes violently enraged and at other times passively indifferent, all the while watching both himself and his long-suffering family slip into the most abject misery; but even though his daughters, given the family’s wretched condition, did not dare venture out, Reinhold Forster himself, unable to resist his old inclinations, continued to buy books on borrowed money, only to have them — and the rest of his possessions — quickly confiscated to pay off debts.

At the same time his demands to Lord Sandwich were increasing to a sum of 20–30,000 Thaler, his own debts were growing daily to over a thousand pounds. Given the assertions of his contemporaries, one can hardly doubt that he spent time in debtor’s prison, and something his son’s rather complicated denials ([Friedrich Wilhelm] Strieder IV) [Grundlage zu einer Hessischen Gelehrten und Schriftsteller Geschichte, vol. 4 (Göttingen 1784), 153–54] sooner confirm than disprove, though unpublished letters do suggest that this worst of all fates in fact affected him at most only temporarily, approximately during the year 1779 [ed. note: i.e., during the period Caroline is writing]; in general he was under the personal protection of the Prussian envoy, just as he was similarly hoping to be redeemed primarily by Prussia.

The Bavarian War of Succession, however, delayed such, and it was only the personal negotiations conducted by Georg Forster in February 1779 with Minister [Karl Abraham Baron] von Zedlitz that finally brought about his liberating appointment in Halle. That Reinhold Forster did not arrive in Halle until July 1780, however, was a result of the difficulty the Prussian state itself had, given its own tight finances, in settling his outstanding accounts; indeed, ultimately the redemption of Forster from his London debts and obligations succeeded only through a collection of donations to which the lesser German princes, especially the Duke of Braunschweig and, through the latter, members of the German Freemason lodges contributed through a sense of national obligation.

Because Forster’s position was that he was originally only seeking that which was due him rather than alms, he reluctantly and rather crossly accepted the liberating gift. Forster resolutely declined the professorship of eloquence and Greek initially conceived for him in Halle, and became professor of natural history and mineralogy instead, and as such became a Doctor of Philosophy, Geheimrath, and as the occasional overseer of the botanical garden also part of the medical faculty. Hence up till his death, nearly eighteen years, he was one of the more renowned members of the university in Halle, albeit not one of its more useful. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott