Letter 64

• 64. Lotte Michaelis to Caroline in Clausthal: Göttingen, November 1785 [*]

[Göttingen, (15?) November 1785]

|133| This most acute anxiety and sadness I suffer cannot bring itself to write, nor utter even a single word, for it fears that even the slightest utterance will prompt again all those tears one would so prefer to keep to oneself — such was my condition a week ago —

I returned home from Madam Less’s, where I had heard Mademoiselle Paradis, and still had a bit of that peculiar dizziness music always causes in me — Breuer accompanied me home — as we passed by the Dieterichs’ house, I asked him in which room he lived — he told me about all the rooms — also remarking that — ”Professor Meyer, who lives upstairs there, is extremely ill just now, they brought him home unconscious from the library” — I almost fainted [1] . . .

The next morning I wept, then ran to the Böhmers’ at 8:00 and heard the news — namely, that M[eyer]’s condition had worsened, I learned his from Madam Böhmer — with laments, with verses she had composed on the occasion — I was like a block of ice when I heard the news . . . [enquiries from Georg and Dortchen] [2] Böhmer told Louise [3] that when he mentioned my name, M[eyer] squeezed his hand and put his other to his mouth, as if he wanted to blow me a kiss. — He is allegedly quite an impatient soul now, and will remain so until he is able to go out again.

My precious dear, I am now so light, so happy — I do not even want to think of the past few days. He lives — he loves me — I will see him again soon — I entreated heaven to let him live even were he to live but for me — He lives! otherwise sooner die — we understand each other . . .

I received news from Louise some four times during the day. The dear girl — she loves [4] — I need only speak about these things the way Julius speaks to the abbess [5] — and she is sympathetic — understands me — weeping whenever I |134| weep — whenever I wept — but now no more tears — tears of gratitude — of joy, those, too, have flowed, but those one forgets soon enough, those of grief only after time. . . . This expression from Werther’s Sorrows — “the broad embrace of death” — this passage alone [was able to] calm me again — something I did not comprehend myself — but now I understand. [6] Do not be impatient — let me have my say — past sorrow also seeks to be unburdened from my heart. When will I see him again? . . .

I spent the entire morning yesterday, from 9:00 till 12:00, with Louise listening to Mademoiselle Paradis, who is quite fond of us both and is a dear girl herself with tremendous spirit despite her blindness; she does not sing particularly well, but does so with so much expression, of the sort only those who otherwise lack one of the senses can have. Pfeffel had commended her to Madam Less — Madam Less is quite enchanted with her — Bürger was ecstatic when he heard her sing the “Tralirum larum leyer,” saying it was a pebble set in gold. [7] She plays quite beautifully, especially a cantata by Pfeffel [8] . . .

She is traveling with her mother and a certain gentleman, the latter to ensure that, as is appropriate, they do have a male companion with them. Her mother is a good, extremely open woman, pleasing to all, and is quite fond of me, she calls me simply “you dear heart,” she told Madam Less that I was “a dear love, has a soft heart, something one can see in her eyes.” Therese Paradis knows me by the name of “the Kneeling Girl,” since in my usual manner I knelt down before her, she felt me — Madam Less told her that — it was I who was kneeling — she kissed me and sang me a song about a young girl — one that was quite appropriate . . .

I signed her album, and had to sign it “the Kneeling Girl.” [8a] She taught Louise a song with which Louise, too, intends to receive Meyer,


Blessed the man, and ever blessed he,
Who that which is dear can readily see etc. [9] 

. . . Yesterday evening we were at Madam Meiners’s [10] . . . first Louise played Ariadne and I recited, then Mademoiselle Paradis played Medea, and I recited this one, too — and not badly at all, for it was the last one Meyer taught me [11] . . .

For a while many of the guests sat around us on the floor to give us the impression of being in a meadow — Mademoiselle Par[adis] was the nightingale — Then suddenly Mademoiselle Par[adis] began to play and to sing a song that always drives me crazy for at least an hour afterward — and as soon as I heard it, I jumped up, ran over to her — Louise right behind me — and now she began to laugh and said she had arranged with Gerwin and Madam Less to sing exactly this song, and they had bet I would leap up from the ground as soon as I heard it! [12] . . .

On Sunday we announced ourselves for a visit with Bürger and his wife, [13] but they did not receive us — I really wish they would have, and if Meyer had been well it certainly would have happened — for he really wished it as well. The next time I am at a concert, M[eyer] wants to introduce him to me — Bürger has a dainty, good little wife, I saw her and spoke with her on Wednesday at Mademoiselle Paradis’s concert, which was remarkably full . . . everyone was interested in her — on Tuesday a violin virtouose by the name of Eck, who allegedly plays magnificently, gave a concert, but there were only 40 gentlemen there — and he quipped that in the future he would advertise himself as the blind Eck.

. . . My correspondence with you has its own unique character — exactly like a discussion, my Caroline needs to know everything I’m thinking about, everything that interests me, pleases me, in rhyme or prose, funny or sad, whenever I hear or read something beautiful, my first thought is “you must describe that for Caroline” — the only thing |136| I regrettably cannot share with you — that cannot be related — is the way Meyer reads aloud — the way his declamation portrays everything so completely naturally.

I just now also remembered that Madam Böhmer wrote some verses about old Stisser and the crooked chamber pot [14] . . . [Lotte’s poem of praise to Madam Böhmer and response.] This following impromptu is about Meyer’s assemblée clothes:

Cousin Meyer a garment has,
Th’ colors have no name.
“Aye! Aye! À la zebra,”
quipped one witty dame. [15]

And thus it goes whenever we are together, one right after the other — it just seems to come to us, even the Pale Youth, as we call him, Kayser, [16] composes verses of this sort, such as

Wischen [17] left and Lotte right,
Evil marauders in my sight!

Nor does he receive his breakfast until he has composed his verse — Whenever I want to compose a fiery, spirited poem, I merely have to lie down flat on the floor — we are, all of us, utterly possessed by a certain foolishness.

Read on in this scrap of paper as long as you like, only do not be impatient — I know of a time when I could easily write 12 sheets and had no reason to fear your impatience precisely because I could not imagine how one could become bored as long as a certain name kept popping up.



[*] As Erich Schmidt remarks, (1913), 1:683, here Lotte Michaelis’s “flighty temperament” comes to expression with passages from a hastily written letter of five sheets; its dating and positioning here are suggested by Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter’s recommendation of the Mannheim violinist Johann Friedrich Eck to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 5 November 1785 (that Meyer was in Göttingen at the time is attested not least by Lotte Michaelis’s letter here) (Elise Campe, Erinnerungen 1:143):

Gotha, 5 November 1785

With all the assurances of an old friend, dearest Meyer, I am taking the liberty to recommend to you the bearer of this letter — Herr Eck, a young virtuoso from Mannheim reputed to be an excellent violinist and moreover someone who out of gratitude will perhaps babble on to you more than you really want about the theater in Mannheim.

The presence of the blind Austrian musician and singer Theresia Paradis in Göttingen is also attested on 14 November 1785 by the entry Hedwig Achenwall, daughter of the Göttinger professor Gottfried Achenwall, wrote in her album on 14 November 1785 (Marion Fürst, Maria Theresia Paradis: Mozarts berühmte Zeitgenossin, Europäische Komponistinnen [Cologne, Weimar, Vienna 2005], 124).

In this present letter (to whose now lost manuscript Erich Schmidt yet had access), Lotte includes poems composed for Theresia Paradies by Gottfried Konrad Pfeffel, Johann Caspar Lavater, Gottfried August Bürger (the four album verses incorporated into his Gedichte [Göttingen 1789]), Madam Böhmer, and Lotte herself. See Gottfried August Bürger, Gedichte, vol. 2 (Vienna 1789), 231 (also cited in Ludwig August Frankl, Maria Theresia von Paradis’ Biographie [Linz 1876], 29):

To the blind virtuoso Mlle. Paradies

Let not your fate prompt ill reproach!
Though be you robbed of Phoebus' golden ray,
A thousand times over his lyre's sweet approach,
The golden, does you yet repay.

Pfeffel’s contribution is included below in the notes to the text. Back.

[1] Herr Breuer is unidentified; presumably a Göttingen student.

Meyer was lying ill in the house of the publisher Johann Christian Dietrich (Genealogischer Calender auf das Jahr 1785 [Berlin]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


Ironically, the publisher would later vehemently oppose his son’s wishes to marry Lotte, though eventually he gave in, and Lotte married Heinrich Dieterich. See Caroline’s letter to Philipp Michaelis on 22 June 1791 (letter 102), note 1.

In the meantime, not surprisingly, the age of sentimentalism attests numerous literary examples of women fainting (see also below); here illustrations by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki. In the first, a woman’s companion tries to steady her as she suddenly pales and begins to slump; in the second, the woman has already fainted (Als ich dich auf einmal erblassen sah [1787]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki DChodowiecki AB 3.486; Ach Anton! — Das einzige Kind; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Uh 4° 47 [67]):



[2] Bracketed summary from Erich Schmidt (1913), 1:133; presumably Georg Wilhelm Böhmer, at the time a private lecturer in Göttingen, and Dorothea Schlözer. Back.

[3] Presumably Georg Wilhelm Böhmer and Louise Böhmer. Back.

[4] Louise Böhmer was engaged to Georg Jacob Friedrich Meister, whom she would marry in 1786 (Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1813: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet [Frankfurt]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



[5] Johann Anton Leisewitz, Julius von Tarent. Ein Trauerspiel (1774; published Leipzig 1776), 31–33, act 2, scene 1 (see also Caroline to Luise Gotter on 12 January 1781 [letter 21], note 16). See the plot summary of Julius von Tarent in the introduction to Schiller, Die Braut von Messina oder die feindlichen Brüder, ed. Arthur H. Palmer and Jay Glover Eldridge (New York 1901), xvi–xvii:

Julius, hereditary Prince of Tarent (Taranto), has the warmest and purest affection for Blanca. Guido, his younger brother, from envy determines to wrest her from him. To avoid trouble their father, Prince Constantin, has Blanca become a nun, and attempts to turn the attention of Julius to his cousin Cäcilia, who, however, as the friend and confidante of Blanca, refuses him her love. After a month has thus passed by, Julius has an interview with Blanca in the convent, and plans to carry her off on the following morning.

The birthday of the aged Prince gives occasion for an attempted reconciliation; Guido craftily agrees to give up all claims to Blanca if Julius will do the same, but this his love will not permit him to do. At his refusal Guido becomes furious and makes dire threats, which confirm Julius in his determination to remove Blanca from the convent at once. Guido learns of these arrangements, and in a rage of jealousy hastening to the spot, stabs his brother to the heart. Only when too late does he feel remorse for the deed. The aged father is crushed with grief, but swears revenge upon the murderer.

Blanca, learning of the death of Julius, escapes from the convent and finds her way to her dead lover, where she passionately expresses her grief, till reason mercifully leaves her, and she is led away, doubtless soon to find an early grave. Guido presents himself, a despairing man, to his father, and receives at length the latter’s pardon, but at the same time justice impels the Prince in ancient Roman fashion to be his son’s executioner. The broken old man gives over his rule to the King of Naples and becomes a Carthusian monk.

The female love interest, Blanka, for whose love Julius and Guido von Tarent are vying, is thus sent to a convent and forbidden to speak to either, thereby precluding either from taking her as his wife and thus also precluding violence between them. The scene with the abbess is framed by Julius’s attempt to seek Blanka out in the convent, sure he will be able to persuade her to leave merely by meeting with her (he is successful). First, however, he must convince the abbess to bring her out:

Julius (enters, speaks to nun): Call the abbess — (nun exits) — I must see her, and even were an angel with a flaming sword standing guard before her cell (Abbess enters) — I want to speak with Sister Blanka.

Abbess: Gracious Sire, you know of your father’s prohibition.

Julius: Mother Superior, my father is seventy-six years old today, and I am his hereditary prince.

Abbess: I understand — but I know my obligations, and I will give your son the same response under similar circumstances.

Julius: You are to be responsible to me for her — Nun or not! — What is older, the rule of nature or the rule of the Augustinians? — I intend to take her into my chamber, even if she had become a saint and were wearing a halo instead of a bridal wreath, and even if the priest had pronounced the bans over us into the thousandth generation instead of a blessing! In this hall I intend to rend her veil, that I swear to you by my princely honor!

Abbess: I am permitted nothing but to feel sorry for you.

Julius: As I said, you will be held liable. And if at the time you well know I find that the pressure and toil here deepened even a single line in her face — and believe, me, I will know how to distinguish between that and what are the effect of sadness — I will destroy — listen and take note, Mother Superior! — I will destroy your convent all the way down to the altar, and your patron saint will smile, if a saint she truly be!

Abbess: Gracious Sire, we are but sheep, but we do have a shepherd.

Julius (paces back and forth several times): How long have you yourself been in this convent?

Abbess: Nineteen years?

Julius: And what separated you from the world — devotion or these walls? Did you never love? Were you sooner a nun than a woman?

Abbess: Alas, Prince, leave me be. (She weeps.) For nineteen years I have wept, and still these tears!

Julius: Tell me if I am not right: he himself wept at these iron bars, and he is dead, is he not?

Abbess: Ah, my Ricardo! — (After a pause.) You are to see Blanka. (Closes the outer door and exits.)

Not surprisingly, in the next scene, when Julius does indeed speak with Blanka and disclose his plan to her, the emotional encounter concludes with Blanka fainting (similar situational illustration — a man seeks out his beloved in a convent — by Georg Friedrich Schmidt, Sprechzimmer eines Nonnenklosters [ca. 1740–50]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur GFSchmidt AB 3.140):


Blanka. You must leave me now. — Listen, the bell for hora sounds.

Julius. But you must first give me a remembrance of your present situation: (He takes the rosary from her side.) Pledge of cloistered love, how I will treasure it! — You may redeem it solely for your first morning kiss on our wedding day, and then it shall become your most exquisite wedding jewelry.

Blanka. My wedding day has already taken place —

Julius. Tear off your veil, Blanka! — I intend to wage the grand battle with heaven itself — I know that you love me, but I must now hear it from your lips, I adjure you in the name of those days of joy that have passed but will return, assure me of your love yet again. (He kisses her.)

Blanka. Abbess — help me — (She faints.)

Julius. She loves me! Back.

[6] Goethe, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Leipzig 1774; rev. ed. 1786), letter of 12 August; Werther and Albert are discussing human nature, Werther making veiled references to his own condition in recounting the story of a young girl who drowned herself out of despair after being forsaken by her lover (text supplementary appendix 64.1). Back.

[7] Gottfried August Bürger’s poem “Ständchen,” set to music by Friedrich Wilhelm Weiss, Göttinger Musenalmanach (1776), 154; the poem was then published in Bürger’s Gedichte (Göttingen 1778) 195; the first of six stanzas read (trans. Martha Woodmansee, The Author, Art, and the Market: Rereading the History of Aesthetics [New York 1994], 69):

Trallyrum larum, hear me!
Trallyrum larum, softly!
Trallyrum larum, that is what I am,
Sweet darling, your faithful one!
Open up the bright sunshine
In your two little peeping eyes.

Here set to music (K. E. Schneider, Das musikalische Lied in geschichtlicher Entwickelung: Dritte Periode: das strophische Stimmungslied [Leipzig 1865], 233–34):



[8] Gottfried Konrad Pfeffel published a metrical cantata on Maria Theresia Paradis’s blindness, “Auf die Blindheit des Fräulein von Paradis,” in both German and English in the Journal von und für Deutschland, ed. Leopold Friedrich Günter von Goeckingk, vol. 3, no. 8 (1786) 96–98. That issue opens with a biographical sketch of Paradis, “Biographische Nachrichten von dem Fräulein Therese von Paradis, aus Wien” (93–95), followed by Pfeffels metrical cantata (complete English text see supplementary appendix 64.2). Back.

[8a] The artist Wilhelm Kaulbach later stylizes a similar scene from Wilhelm Meister in which the character of Mignon sings to her companions as an angel (The Goethe Gallery: From the Original Drawings of Wilhelm Kaulbach [Boston 1881], 55):


In his account of entries in Maria Theresia von Paradis’s album in Göttingen, Ludwig August Frankl, Maria Theresia von Paradis’ Biographie (Linz 1876), misidentifies Lotte on p. 29 as “the spouse of the poet Michaelis” but does note that her entry on 17 November 1785 read as follows: “The heart [or soul] is where it loves.” This line, which appears in various iterations in mystical literature, is attributed variously to Saint Augustine and Saint Bernard. Latin: “Anima est ubi amat, non ubi animat,” the soul is where it loves, not where it lives,” a sentiment also attributed to the late-14th-century Middle English meditation The Cloud of Unknowing. Back.

[9] The third in a cycle of twelve songs Maria Theresia Paradis composed during her travels between 1784 and 1786 and then published as Zwölf Lieder Auf Ihrer Reise in Musik Gesetzt, Widmet Der Besten Edelsten Fürstin Louise Verwittweten Herzogin Zu Sachsen-Meynungen Gebohrnen Prinzessin Zu Stollber-Geudern Ihrer Gnädigen Gönnerin Als Ein Geringes Zeichen Ihrer Tiefsten Verehrung Maria Theresia Paradis. (Gesang, Klavier) (Leipzig 1786), here: 4–5, a collection still performed occasionally today (this and the following reproductions: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Musiksammlung, Signatur: MS14975-qu.4°).


This particular song, in F major, uses text from Johann Martin Miller, Siegwart, eine Klostergeschichte (Leipzig 1776) (see Caroline to Julie von Studnitz on 23[–28] May 1779 [letter 7]). Besides three texts from Miller’s novel, Paradis also used texts from Sophie von La Roche and Friedrich Gottlob Klopstock (see Marion Fürst, Maria Theresia Paradis: Mozarts berühmte Zeitgenossin, Europäische Komponistinnen [Cologne, Weimar, Vienna 2005], 240, 360). Miller’s poem here, “Wohl und Weh. Minnelied,” was written in 1772 and also published in Miller’s Gedichte (Ulm 1783), 138:


Blessed the man, and ever blessed he,
Who that which is dear can readily see,
Who, with blissful kisses,
May enclose it in his arms!
Blessed the man, and ever blessed he,
Who that which is dear can readily see!

But woe to the man so poor be he,
Who that which is dear cannot see,
Who, as I, in fetters of love
Must in foreign lands so grieve!
Woe, and ever woe be he,
Who that which is dear cannot see! Back.

[10] The entry by Luise Friederike Meiners’s sister Hedwig Achenwall in Maria Theresia Paradis’s album on 14 November 1785 may suggest that Lotte is writing on 15 November 1785. Back.

[11] Two pieces in the extremely popular genre of melodrama, in which text is recited with musical accompaniment rather than sung: Ariade auf Naxos (composed 1772; published Leipzig 1775), libretto by Johann Christian Brandes (composed for his wife, Charlotte, who had no musical training, and based on a cantata by Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg), music by Georg Benda (premiered 27 January 1775 in Gotha), and, inspired by that piece (and composed for Madam Brandes’s rival, Friederike Seyler), Medea (Gotha 1775), libretto by Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter (husband of Caroline’s friend Luise Gotter), music by Georg Benda (premiered 1 May 1775 in Gotha). Here the title page of Ariadne auf Naxos in an edition of 1779 and the of Medea in the edition of 1775:



The two pieces unleashed a veritable flood of imitators (see Rudolf Schlösser, Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter, 218–23; also Hermann Abert, W. A. Mozart, trans. Stewart Spencer, ed. Cliff Eisen [New Haven 2007] 590). Mozart writes to his father from Mannheim on 12 November 1778 concerning these two pieces (The Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1769–1791), 2 vols., trans. from the collection of Ludwig Nohl (Mozarts Briefe [Salzburg 1865]) by Lady Wallace [New York 1866], 275):

I have often wished to write this style of drama [a “duodrama”]. I forget if I wrote to you about it the first time that I was here. Twice at that time I saw a similar piece performed, which afforded me the greatest pleasure; in fact, nothing ever surprised me so much, for I had always imagined that a thing of this kind would make no effect. Of course you know that there is no singing in it, but merely recitation, to which the music is a sort of obligato recitativo. At intervals there is speaking while the music goes on, which produces the most striking effect. What I saw was Benda’s Medea. He also wrote another, Ariadne auf Naxos, and both are truly admirable. You are aware that of all the Lutheran Capellmeisters Benda was always my favorite, and I like those two works of his so much that I constantly carry them about with me. Back.

[12] Gerwin is otherwise unidentified. — Here a photograph of a wax bust of Maria Theresia von Paradis purportedly made during her tour of Germany at this time (allegedly from the inventory of the Viennese museum Magazin):



[13] After his first wife’s death, Bürger had married his sister-in-law, Auguste Leonhart, the “Molly” of his poems, on 17 June 1785; she would die the next year in childbirth. Back.

[14] See Caroline’s story about the chamber pot in her letter to Lotte on 9 November 1785 (letter 62). Note also the chamber pot beneath the bed in the illustration in note 1 above. Back.

[15] See Philippe Séguy, “Costume in the Age of Napoleon,” in The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire, 1789–1815, ed. Katell Le Bourhis (New York 1989), 52 (illustration ibid.):

In contrast [to the fashion of the Ancien Régime], the new patriots of France sported clothing of all colors. . . . the redingote [fitted frock coat], often striped, was often made of blue cloth with polished steel buttons, or of purple cloth with a sky-blue collar — it was a true fashion for parrots.


[Illustration:] A man’s redingote of striped silk with a sky-blue taffeta lining. French, c. 1785–95 (Musée des Arts de la Mode, Paris, Collection U.F.A.C.). Striped silk became fashionable for men toward the end of the Louis XVI period and remained the rage for at least a decade, until about 1795.

See also Sébastien Mercier, “Diversités,” Tableau de Paris 10 (1788), Chapitre dcccviii, 108–112, here 108–9:

The zebra from the cabinet of the king has become the current fashion model; all the fabrics are now striped, all the frock coats and vests resemble the skin of this beautiful onager. Men both young and old are now seen in stripes from head to foot; indeed, even their leggings are striped.

Contemporary reproduction of this fashion style modeled in the Wittumspalais in Weimar (tailor/model C. Tanner; photo by F. Robardey; courtesy Sabine Schierhoff):


Concerning Meyer’s continued predilection for stripes, see Luise Wiedemann’s letter to Caroline on September 1805 (letter 396), with note 13 there.

Later in life, reflecting on her visit to Weimar in 1801 with Caroline, Luise Wiedemann remarks in her memoirs (Erinnerungen, p. 40) how at a tea at Goethe’s she noticed how this particular fashion had even been adopted by, of all people, a consistory councilor:

Not to forget the rather corpulent Böttiger, almost throwing himself down at the feet of Madam von Imhoff. He in his striped silk coat — and a consistory councilor!

A not uncommon literary topos at the time ([1] Étienne Fessard, Hubert-François Gravelot, Mann, vor einer Frau kniend [1749]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 712b; [2] anonymous, Ein Mann kniet vor einer sitzenden Frau nieder um ihre Hand zu küssen [ca. 1776–1800]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. Res. A: 439):



[16] Otherwise unidentified. Back.

[17] “Wischen,” short for “Luischen” (Louise with diminutive), as in Caroline’s letter to Lotte Michaelis in early 1786 (letter 65). Back.