Letter 63

• 63. Caroline to Luise Gotter in Gotha: Clausthal, 14 November 1785

Clausthal, 14 November 1785

|129| Letters are not much comfort — which is why I have remained silent until now, when I might hope to find my Louise more composed. [1] Had I been able to suffer with you, before your eyes, the way I have suffered absent from you, it would have transformed your own pain into melancholy — for you do indeed know the soothing power of friendship; its capacity for helping us bear things lightens the heavy burden on our own shoulders — but that healing balm disperses in the space now separating us. That is why your friend is coming to you only late, that she may tell you, with more composure, that the wounds of your own maternal heart also affected hers.

Even though your own grief, Louise, would always have been mine as well, |130| I have never felt anything as vividly as I have this loss, imagining as I now can the possibility of a similar loss for myself. Be confident of my sympathy, believe in my tears — tears I am still shedding, for I know the entire scope of your grief. Throw yourself with that grief into my arms, the arms of a mother who loves her child as she does her own soul, a soul whose entire happiness is that child — but rather than despairing in my arms, instead find support that might help you maintain your courage. I know that you suffered with steadfastness — I have tested my own and am permitted to hope it would not have wavered, hence I have double reason for requesting your devout surrender.

Ah, but neither have you lost everything. Gustav was not your only child; two remain, [2] and your maternal affection hovers not merely in a void. It is harsh that he was taken from you, he whose arrival in this life had given you perhaps the most joy; but should this joy not also be just as gratefully credited to the Creator of our destinies as is the pain itself? Did you not enjoy the former just as genuinely as you now suffer the latter? The latter has displaced the former — and soon the recollection of them both will be a disposition of the soul that memory alone perceives, for time

strews white lilies into the dark grave,
Breathing on our eyes, drying them forthwith,
Dispersing our tears to the far winds [3] 

The cause of both abides eternally, an immortal spirit for which you both rejoiced and suffered. Even in the larger sense, it seems to me that no melancholy is sweeter than that for the sake of a beloved deceased, and can any yearning ever be more full of hope? My dearest Louise, once one has seen loved ones such as this go on ahead of us, one cannot help but feel at home |131| in a land that is otherwise alien to even our most ardent powers of imagination.

Why your son’s existence in this world was merely a fleeting appearance — who would ponder such hidden providence? And who not come to peace even without such pondering if one be already convinced, in the innermost recesses of the soul, that God loves us just as paternally as we love the child in our arms? Reflection is utterly futile here and merely confuses our thinking; and confused thinking disheartens us.

I hope your health has not suffered amid these repeated onslaughts. [4] One probably did and must have done everything possible out of consideration for you, most precious woman.

My brother was with me right when I received the unexpectedly sad news; you know how deeply it had to affect him, for he himself had seen the little one, whereas I, even with my rightful claims to him, [5] was not so lucky. When I do come to see you someday, I will only be able to visit his grave. I never feel at home here in Clausthal except when I go to the cemetery, for there some of my favorites are already reposing whom I met here. [6]

You have probably heard from Wilhelmine that I had company here for a while. [7] I am now alone again for the first time in 5 weeks, and now the lonely winter is before me, though I will grow fond of it if it but keeps its word, for it has announced itself with pure, clean air, with serene sunshine and trees glittering like diamonds, and with a moderate covering of snow, which, however, the evening sun graces with the softest pink color, and above all with good health.

I confess that after things have been so hectic around us, it always takes me several days to become accustomed again to the solitude in which I suddenly find myself, since Böhmer has much too much business to attend to |132| to help me forget that solitude through his own presence. In the meantime, we have gotten to know each other and now get along all the better after minor arguments and such.

A week ago Blumenbach came to pick up Marianne and stayed with us for a day. The house was full of guests, since on that same evening a family moved in with us who were leaving Clausthal and to whom we had offered use of our house for their final days here. It was like having a bunch of students in the house. [8]

Marianne was sad to leave us. Therese was hoping a bit of distance between her and her parents’ house would do her good, and indeed her last request was that I take her in; [9] but I am not hopeful. Even if the example of our own calm happiness makes a salutary impression on her heart — which is often capable of such unspoiled, sensitive feelings — she will fall back into the same old patterns soon enough. No four-week absence is going to improve moods that are so deeply ingrained or address such unfortunate circumstances. Besides that, though, there is much good that can be said of Marianne; she has good sense just as does everyone with the name Heyne, and yet the guardian spirit of her family is holding sway over her as well. Although it is a spirit that tends to spoil happiness, I would hesitate to call it a demon.

The family I mentioned earlier only just left yesterday. [10] Although they lived here for 40 years, they had much in the way of unpleasantness to deal with recently. But it is an enormous discredit to the hearts of our inhabitants here that they let these people depart with the most hard-hearted indifference, and that we, the strangers in town, had to be their final place of refuge. Although they are tant soit peu [11] related to us and are old acquaintances of my parents, we ourselves knew them only a very short time. . . .

May peace and comfort be with your gentle soul, and in your heart a cordial remembrance of your friend,

Caroline Böhmer


[1] Caroline’s orthography will vary between “Louise” and “Luise,” though she seems to prefer the former; that said, scholars have traditionally referred to her as “Luise” Gotter.

Luise and Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter’s son, Gustav, born in March 1785, had died on 19 September. The Gotter’s daughter Pauline had just died on 15 August; see Caroline’s letter to Luise on 1 (3?) September 1785 (letter 60). Concerning child mortality, see esp. Caroline’s earlier letter to Luise Gotter on 22 June 1785 (letter 57), note 2.

Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter published a four-line necrologue, “Gustav,” in his Gedichte, vol. 1 (Gotha 1787), 216:

Gustav 1785

The cup of life he tasted, bitter found,
Thus gently closed his eyes once more.
To me do grant, dear God, on my decease,
Such surfeit of life, such surfeit of peace!

(Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Totes Kind [1774–75]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [1-56]):


See also Gotter’s “An Madam Ettinger. 1785,” Gedichte, 1:217–18) (the expression “malevolent air” [böse Luft] in the first line is glossed in a note: “The author’s young daughters [Cäcilie, born 1781, and Julie, born 1782] were still sick with the same fever that had already carried off his one-year-old son”; Madam Ettinger was the wife of Gotter’s publisher, Carl Wilhelm Ettinger):

To Madam Ettinger 1785

May my offering's fragrance,
O beloved friend, undefiled by malevolent air,
Hover about you at your celebration,
And my wishes, despite the chasm
Long separating us, resound in your soul!
Today, alas, Gustav was to babble merrily to you —
But the grave did devour that dream.
May your lot be all the more comely!
May contentment late be granted you,
And to all your children: untroubled air. Back.

[2] The Gotters’ two remaining children were Cäcilie and Julie. Back.

[3] “J. C. Unzers Rede am königlichen Geburtsfeste, den 29sten Jan. 1784: An Seine Königliche Hoheit Friedrich, Kronprinzen von Dänemark, Norwegen u[sw],” Deutsches Museum (1784) 1 (January–June), 398–416, here 400–401 (this section of the speech addresses “time”):

Of all the gods and goddesses,
The most compassionate is time,
Which reigns almighty far and wide,
Yet never do we sense its power's end, nor its begin. . . .
In its outstretched arms
Does every creature seek, and find, merciful compassion.
And though alongside pride and luck
you may long and quickly and grandly stride,
And take the gentle hand of hope,
When then these do all forsake you in arid sand,
Yet does time approach, with gentle hand,
Lifting the trodden from his distress,
Softly sets you down and says: do rest, do rest!
The day is nigh that will free you at last.
And though it not possessions bring,
Yet does it lift you far from suffering.
And when at dawn you feel your strength and might,
Yet then accomplish nothing more from early morn till night,
And hope deceive you all day long,
When at evening then both heart and soul do fail,
It then draws nigh in early twilight, near,
Drives the day away, brings rest to you,
Removes your aching tears of love,
Strews white lilies into the dark grave,
Breathing on our eyes, drying them forthwith,
Dispersing our tears to the far winds! Back.

[4] As mentioned above, Luise’s youngest daughter, Pauline (born 1781) had also just died on 15 August 1785. Back.

[5] As Gustav’s godmother; see Caroline to Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter on 7 April 1785 (letter 55). Back.

[6] Perhaps among others the children of Georg Christoph Dahme; see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 22 June 1785 (letter 57).

The old cemetery in Clausthal was located at the northern edge of town not far from Caroline’s house. Its chapel, like Caroline and her husband’s residence, burned down during one of Clausthal’s numerous fires over the years.

Here a town map showing the Church of the Holy Spirit on Market Square at left, Caroline’s residence in the southwest corner of Market Square, and the old cemetery outlined at top center-right with cross icons (Bebauungsplan Clausthal-Zellerfeld [1923–35]):



[7] See Caroline to Lotte Michaelis on 9 November 1785 (letter 62). Back.

[8] In her letter to Lotte Michaelis on 9 November 1785 (letter 62), Caroline had remarked: “I still know not whether I like this peace and quiet after so much noise and clamor.”

The family of Christian Emmerich Stisser had stayed with Caroline and her husband 7–13 November 1785; see the more extensive report in Caroline’s letter to Lotte Michaelis on 9 November 1785 (letter 62). Caroline had hitherto been living a relatively quiet life in Clausthal and was unaccustomed to what was apparently a full house (Almanach und Taschenbuch zum geselligen Vergnügen für 1798; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


Caroline was familiar with the many and varied complaints about students in university towns. In her letter to Julie von Studnitz on 21 July 1779 (letter 8), Caroline laments: “Believe me, my dear friend, you have good reason to give thanks to God that you were not born in a university town. It is the most dangerous place for a girl.” University students’ generally unruly and even lewd behavior, which included drinking, carousing, and wenching, was proverbial. Click on the following image to open a gallery of representative illustrations of German university students on their less-than-best behavior:



[9] Concerning Therese’s concerns, see Caroline’s letter to Lotte Michaelis on 9 November 1785 (letter 62), note 6. Back.

[10] See note 8 above. Back.

[11] Fr. “ever so little.” Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott