Letter 69

• 69. Caroline to Lotte Michaelis in Göttingen: Clausthal, 4 April 1786

[Clausthal] toward 12:00
in the evening, 4 April [1786] [*]

|149| I cannot write you much, my dear, for we were at the Trebras’, [1] then I wrote to Mother, and you are now getting the last bit of energy remaining in my tired head and aching eyes.

If you really are the way you describe in your letter, then you are my dear Lotte and have my complete approval, both in your external conduct and in your inner efforts to be the way you must also appear. Precisely what I would not have dared expect of you, you in fact do, namely, give up illusory hopes without despairing. May heaven stand by you in your resolve.

You should remain free lest your courage be weakened. Much will come to your assistance — that you did not in fact love, and that everything was so extraordinarily distant and uncertain. |150| But, my dear, he now seems all the more pathetic to me. How stupid to begin Saturday that way! I hardly even recognize him anymore. He had a thankless role.

But if you continue thus, you deserve not reproach, but rather respect, respect that I will with joy be the first to accord you. Hence let yourself not be misled into believing you have already done much or enough simply because people admire you — giving in even a hair’s breadth would mean toppling everything and reducing yourself to the most common class.

Humbling his pride is worth the trouble precisely because it is so uncontrollably large. [2] What did the fellow want? Is he allowing himself to be guided now, or is this merely a peculiar whim?

Oh, Lotte, please see to it that you have nothing with which to reproach yourself so that I — I will one day have the enjoyment of examining him without inhibition. Indeed view it as an external drama, nor fear anything further. This cabal and this vacillation should truly not stand in your way.

Of course, you must go to the B.[öhmers’] every Saturday, not miss not even a single one! I honestly know not, my dear Lotte, whether you might dare give him an honest explanation. If you were certain it would not take you beyond your limits, then you could. Otherwise, of course, do not.

And even then I would prefer not including the following: “as long as I was able to contribute something to your happiness,” since it is in part too tender and in part excessively condescending. At some point you could insert something to the effect: Far be it from you to make any pretensions regarding his friendship that might make him uncomfortable. And then: It is all the same whether he comes or not, since you would be at Louise’s, as your friend, in any case, (and if possible also because of his pride:) that you had been coming to her place in any case long before he himself had.

I still do not entirely understand this person, but I do know I cannot stand him. One does not treat so contemptuously a |151| woman whom one loves, and one should not be a slave in such a way. Oh, I do not miss the gentleman, but I will be grateful to him nonetheless if he gives Lotte the opportunity to act with reason and dignity.

Many thanks for all the other entertaining things as well. I had a very enjoyable evening tonight with Herr von Stein. [3] My husband read Alcibiades — please, please, send part 4 with the messenger woman, and please, please — for I am poor! [4] Archenholz, Reisen durch England und Italien, or Briefe concerning these countries or whatever the title is. [5] But enough, it is allegedly quite entertaining and true, and we and the Dahmes would very much like to have it; you can probably get it from either the bookstore or the lending library. I would also very much like to have Jacobi’s Briefe über Spinozas Lehre from the bookstore. [6] That is one path for Dortchen, to whom I send my warmest regards. But now I must go to bed — I simply cannot write any more now — good night.

Your Caroline


[*] The identity of Lotte’s gentleman love interest referenced throughout this letter is uncertain. Perhaps Thomas Christian Tychsen? Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer? See Caroline’s previous letters to Lotte for background. Back.

[1] Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich von Trebra and his wife, Erdmuthe Eleonore, née von Gersdorf; at the time, Trebra was deputy mining administrator in Zellerfeld, adjacent to Clausthal (Karl Baedeker, Northern Germany as far as the Bavarian and Austrian Frontiers; Handbook for Travellers, 15th ed. [Leipzig 1910]):


The proximity of the two towns prompted Matthäus Merian to portray them in a single illustration together; excerpt here from Merian’s Bergstatt Clausthal Auf dem Hartz gelegen, Bergstatt Zellerfeld Auf dem Hartz (1650):



[2] Berlinischer Damen Kalender auf das Jahr 1800; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[3] Possibly Heinrich Friedrich Karl von Stein, who at the time was working in an administrative position in the Prussian ministry of mining and smelting, in which capacity he also accompanied the Prussian minister of mining on tours of inspection of mining facilities in Galicia, Silesia, Thuringia, and similar facilities in the Harz Mountains. Back.

[4] August Gottlieb Meissner’s four-volume novel, Alcibiades (Leipzig 1781–88), also mentioned in Caroline’s letter to Julie von Studnitz on 26–29 October 1781 (letter 26); see note 8 there.

Otherwise Caroline’s remark “please, please — for I am poor!” trenchantly reflects her having been accustomed to easily accessible reading material not only in Göttingen in general, but doubtless also — since childhood — in her father’s scholarly library (Schauplatz der Natur und der Künste, vol. 4 [Vienna 1776], plate 2):



[5] Johann Wilhelm Archenholz, England und Italien, 3 vols. (Leipzig 1785), was a great publishing success in Germany. See Caroline’s letter to Lotte on 28 May 1786 (letter 70), with note 6.

It was, however, condemned by Goethe, who writes to Johann Gottfried and Caroline Herder from Rome on 2–9 December 1786 (Weimarer Ausgabe IV:8:76):

I found Archenholz’s Italien by chance here. One cannot express how such rubbish shrivels when read at the very place described. As if one were to lay the book on coals, where it becomes browned and blackened, and its leaves curl and go up in smoke. He has seen all the things he writes about but possesses far too little real knowledge to support his high pretensions and contemptuous tone; and whether he praises or blames, he continually stumbles. Back.

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


The reference is to Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn (Breslau 1785), whose manuscript Jacobi had sent to his publisher at the end of the previous summer, in August 1785 (second illustration: frontispiece and title page with the three principles in the second edition of 1789):



The book’s accounts of conversations with Gotthold Ephraim Lessing concerning Spinoza and pantheism, reflected in letters sent to Dorothea Veit’s father, Moses Mendelssohn, aroused enormous interest during this period, and Caroline here seems to be well aware of the impact the book had made since the previous summer (see also her letter to Lotte from Clausthal in 1787 [letter 74], note 8). See Thomas McFarland, Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition (Oxford 1969), 82:

The contents of this oddly constructed volume are designed, as Jacobi says, to prove six main points: (1) Spinozism is atheism; (2) the Jewish Cabala is, as philosophy, a confused Spinozism; (3) the philosophy of Leibniz and Wolf is no less fatalistic than Spinozism, and in its implications is tantamount to Spinozism; (4) any consequent demonstration in philosophy leads to fatalism or Spinozism; (5) all our knowledge is a knowledge of likenesses, based on agreements upon the truth of things, expressible only in tautologies; anything proved must be grounded in some prior proof, and the chain of proofs itself is something revealed; (6) all human knowledge is based in faith.

However arguable the theoretical points in Jacobi’s exposition, its historical contentions were so traditional, as we have seen, that we might have anticipated an unmurmuring acceptance by the philosophical public. Yet such was not the case. Jacobi’s publication proved an epoch-marking event, for it brought into the open the underground current of Spinozist sympathy, where it rapidly revealed itself as having swollen to a Romantic tide.

That Caroline, twenty-two years old at the time and living an existence essentially isolated from any locus of contemporary scholarship, should express such an interest in these developments is noteworthy not least insofar as she would eventually become intimately associated with the early Romantic circle in Jena and would, moreover, fall in love with Schelling, who himself had been profoundly influenced by this publication (its second edition appeared in 1789) while in school with Hölderlin and Hegel at the Tübingen Stift and by his own continuing study of Spinoza.

In her chapter on Caroline in her memoirs, Caroline’s sister Luise Wiedemann notes that:

She [Caroline] was also especially proficient and learned in history, so much so, in fact, that the famous Schlözer — who thought extremely highly of her as a young girl, often inviting her to his house in the evening and then never failing to accompany her back home afterward personally with a servant carrying the lantern ahead — suggested that, like his own daughter, Dorothea, who afterward, at the 50th jubilee in Göttingen [1787], received her doctorate, — that Caroline, too, should devote herself wholly to scholarship, and especially history, indeed, even to give talks and presentations.

At the same time, Caroline was subject to the prejudices generally encountered by young women at the time and especially by young mothers who, distracted by an excessive interest in the traditionally male province of scholarly inquiry, invariably neglected their natural maternal and domestic responsibilities and destiny, often with disastrous consequences, as evident in the following illustration (“Die gelehrte Frau,” Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1803: Dem Edeln und Schönen der frohen Laune und der Philosophie des Lebens gewidmet [1803], plate 6; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):



Translation © 2011 Doug Stott