Letter 61

• 61. Caroline to Lotte Michaelis in Göttingen: Clausthal, 18 October 1785

Clausthal, 18 October [17]85

|122| Were I to say that I was in fact quite calm during your silence — I would be denying the anxiety I did indeed feel in my heart; but I am not interested in tormenting you with such things. Only allow me to repeat once more, my dear Lotte, that you cannot be cautious enough. Even stronger reasons prompt me to entreat you in this regard. Even were I willing not to mistrust Meyer, that prospect so often disappears so quickly because of other reasons that I get completely discouraged.

From several chance conversations with Marianne, I heard that M[eyer] did indeed lose all his money and has a salary of only 300 rh. [1] He would, they say, not be able to marry for 8 or 9 years now. Anyone can already basically find this out; by the way, she never speaks badly of him, though always as if he were completely dependent on her family, which is sad enough. [2]

For heaven’s sake, avoid anything that might make this matter too public, do not mention him by name, and above all do not ever go back to the library, under any pretext, for people will interpret that to mean that you are going to him, and it will be in that light that the elder Heyne will view it, who — as I noticed on occasion — is indeed aware of it. [3] Will you hold it against me if I also remark that it says a lot to believe one does not see a certain someone in society whom one in fact does indeed see? And that it is already rather excessive to speak of “stolen glances”? That is in any case not the tone of friendship, and you must not give this name to your relationship.

My dear girl, you always demand that I treat you with extreme care and consideration, and I would be glad to do so if only I could. But when I see that your carelessness, your gullibility |123| cares about nothing but the pleasure of the moment, utterly without considering whether it be true or false, or whether the ground of your imagined happiness be based on a fleeting whim or serious intentions, or how things will end up if indeed nothing comes of it, how things will stand with you then, and amid all this you being so completely inconsiderate and unaware of your worried parents, of your father’s grief if, when he dies, he were to leave you behind with no prospects — then I cannot but straightaway warn you.

Could you but yet make our father happy, how grateful would I be to you! His situation is perhaps not the most pleasant these days; his income from students is falling, he is sickly, the least annoyance could easily throw him for a fall. [3a] This is no time for dallying with love, my dear sister, this is quite serious, and everything you say to me in praise of Meyer will inevitably disappear compared to even a single such observation if you have the heart to love your father and mother. I am frightfully alarmed when I imagine what your circumstances will be in the future as soon as this — like everything previous — turns out to be empty amusement; [4] you are now at the age when with each passing day it becomes harder and harder to be happy.

Were this story the first of this sort, then one would have to presuppose that the intentions of such a man were absolutely nothing other than for a lifelong alliance; but do you really think he knows nothing about what happened in the past? He cannot but know all of it; and even if he views it in the most favorable light, even if he values you and is fond of you, he will nonetheless think less severely about his own inclinations, and will at most imagine that he might satisfy them without obliging himself further and without the fear an upright man might have that it might damage the girl’s reputation.

Consider your position for just a single moment without your capricious self-blindness and ask yourself whether he |124| can possibly feel he owes any great consideration to a girl who but a year ago was still violently in love and in utter despair, [5] a girl who swore a thousand times over she could never even look at another man again with pleasure, who made all these lofty resolutions, was talking about death and virtue and on and on — and who now — is hastening toward his halfhearted feelings? Do you really think he knows nothing of this? You yourself made him aware of it at the beginning of your acquaintance, and you can be sure Therese did not keep silent about it. [6]

And one more thing, my dear: Had Therese known that he intends to as soon as he is able, she certainly would have told you so in the midst of her exhilaration at the time and would have written you about it afterward. He confessed to you once that she did not know everything — was he afraid to disclose it to her? And why did you advise me to be so cautious were I to write her about it? You want to believe everything, my dear, whereas he does not know what he wants, only excuses and wavering at every possible turn. [7] You are, both of you, afraid of getting to the bottom of things because you both basically sense it is all futile.

Will all my prattle be of any help at all even though you have already heard it so often before and still done neither more nor less than what your own heart has thought best? You will once again complain about me, put on a passionate front, praise him, insist on hope, and will slip away yet again by scampering over the surface of things.

How tired you make me, my dear Lotte! I am disinclined to tell you how I think of you day and night and am often just so sad. I truly love you, and you have to concede that it is no crime to lose patience when, on the one hand, you could alleviate our most grievous worries and, on the other, you nonetheless think of nothing but yourself. [8]

That Fritz does not entirely like him has no further influence on me. He, too, would like him were he not so excessively afraid for your honor. . . . Meister wrote me today for the |125| first time in his entire life and proclaimed his bliss to me.

Please do not be too angry with me, my dear Lotte. I am writing late at night, in Auguste’s room, and could you see her sleeping, you would forgive her mother.

Try as much as possible to cheer Mama up, since she seems to be rather depressed because of Father’s sickliness. [9]

If you would be so kind, please send me 8 cubits of blond à 1 gr. per cubit. [10] Adieu, dear Lotte.

Your Caroline


[1] Caroline presumably spoke with Marianne Heyne during her, Caroline’s, recent visit to Göttingen with Auguste.

Although Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer’s father, the senior postmaster in Harburg near Hamburg, had died at a relatively young age, he had left his widow and eleven children a not inconsiderable sum from which the family could have lived fairly comfortably. Elise Campe, Erinnerungen, 1:48, picks up the thread (illustration: (J. E. Gailer, Neuer Orbis Pictus für die Jugend oder Schauplatz der Natur, der Kunst und des Menschenlebens [Stuttgart 1832], plate 231):

A year after Meyer’s departure from Hamburg, his mother experienced an extremely depressing turn of fate; the fairly wealthy woman had entrusted a large portion of her money to a family friend, believing it to be completely secure, when suddenly the friend got into severe financial difficulty and departed for America along with the widow’s money, never to be heard from again.

Meyer, who had in any case not had an easy time finding a secure position since his Göttingen university days, was rescued by Christian Gottlob Heyne, who secured for Meyer, with whom he was familiar as an earlier student, a position as third librarian at the university library with free room and a salary of 300 Thaler per year.


Meyer occupied the position from early 1785 till the autumn of 1788. The library was housed in the Church of St. Paul, which was still used for worship until 1803, after which it was devoted solely to the library collections, the official university worship services then being moved to the Church of St. Nicolai (here the exterior ca. 1800, illustration by Johann Christian Eberlein, and the grand reading room ca. 1820, attributed to Friedrich Besemann):



Meyer also earned extra money as a private lecturer in philosophy and German literature. (See also Eckart Klessmann, Universitätsmamsellen. Fünf aufgeklärte Frauen zwischen Rokoko, Revolution und Romantik [Frankfurt 2008], 126.) He had, however, already previously traveled extensively in Europe and would continue to do so.

His financial situation improved considerably when his younger brother, Friedrich Albrecht Anton Meyer, died in 1795, and Meyer was no longer so dependent on literary and redactional work to make a living and, for a price of 40,000 Thaler in 1796, was able to buy the estate Bramstedt in Bad Bramsted, 41 km north of Hamburg, where he lived the rest of his life, never marrying. He died on 1 September 1840. Back.

[2] As mentioned above, Christian Gottlob Heyne had secured Meyer his current position and as director of the library was, moreover, his professional superior. Back.

[3] Caroline’s implication, of course, is clear (Almanac de Poche pour l’Année 1756 [perhaps the French edition of the Genealogischer Schreib- und Postkalender (Berlin 1756)]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


That said, Lotte does at some point seem to have developed a questionable reputation among students. See the following limerick that was familiar enough among Göttingen students to have been mentioned in letters (cited in Klaus Hübner, Sie haben zu Göttingen studieret?: Karl Julius Weber und Jules Huret über Göttingen. Ein Lesebuch [2020], 90; illustration: Göttinger Taschen Calender Für das Jahr 1793; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


In Göttingen sprach Frau Michaelis
Ihren Töchtern vom Ehegeheimnis.
Carolin' tat erbeben
Die Luis' ward' verlegen
Sprach die Lotte: "Ja, ja,  ich weiß es!"


Approximate English:

In Göttingen did Frau Michaelis explain
Marriage's secret to her daughters blow by blow;
While Caroline quaked with nervous fear,
And Luise quietly blushed "Oh, dear!"
Said Lotte, "I already know!" Back.

[3a] Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, scene from the play Die Indianer in England by August von Kotzebue (1790); Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.864:



[4] “Amusement” presumably in French (rather than English, which Caroline uses much less frequently in letters) in original. Back.

[5] The reference seems to be to the otherwise unidentified gentleman “Herr W.”; concerning Lotte’s love-sickness, see also Caroline’s lengthy letter to her on 12 October 1784 (letter 50) along with note 1 there. Back.

[6] Göttinger Taschen Calender vom Jahr 1789; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[7] Göttinger Taschen Calender vom Jahr 1790; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[8] Göttinger Taschen Calender für das Jahr 1794; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[9] Göttinger Taschen Calender Für das Iahr 1794; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[10] “Blond,” a type of unbleached silk lace that could be dyed. “Cubit” here for Germ. Elle, a linear measurement that varied widely and was not officially fixed until 1871; the Leipzig Elle = .6856 m, the Hannover Elle = ca. .6 m, but the French Elle = 1.19 m (Therese Huber Briefe, 1:461).

Dorothea Veit comments later on Caroline’s talent as a seamstress, also pointing out how she even updates her own clothes; see Dorothea’s letter to to Schleiermacher on 11 October 1799 (letter 247c): “Because she 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.” Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott