Letter 75

• 75. Caroline to Lotte Michaelis in Göttingen: Clausthal, March 1787

[Clausthal] Wednesday after dinner [March 1787]

|157| Be glad for me today, for I was already able to go for a walk again. [1] As dreadful as the world looked the day before yesterday, it is just as beautiful today, full of sunshine and intimations of the coming god — though I do not really know what gender Spring is — so perhaps the goddess — for I certainly do not want to offend them, as you do — who considers only a little boy to be something really proper.

But never will you unkempt little girls deny your own nature, or the common rabble put away its initial prejudices. I would not give a farthing for a little boy except insofar as I condescendingly accommodate myself to the belief of others. And if it is a girl, then you shall be the one to choose the name, for she will receive a pleasingly sounding name even though her aunts and cousins and such all rise up and cry out against it, and even though the poor creature will be able to save itself only through the most effusive amiability from the prejudiced opinion attaching to both its gender and its name. But you wanted to give me a name for a boy; do so soon, otherwise out of sheer desperation I will call him Johann Georg — or David Ludwig.

It is unfortunate that you so often |158| do not respond to my questions; though they may well seem insignificant to you, do know that a truly Spartan weight rests on each of them, and that not a single one is superfluous — to take but one example: Should I have my white dresses ironed or not? . . . Are you unable to pick up anything that would cause a coup d’éclat [2] — even if only for the sake of magnanimously presenting oneself equal to the crowd? Sometime you need to send me a treatise on this with all the unbearable thoroughness of our old Madam Stisser [3] . . .

The little dressmakerwomen [4] just interrupted me . . . I am a bit crazy just now; I think all of you should be uncovering brand-spanking-new rarities that might provide new rélief for me here in this royal seat, for we are constantly gasping for novelty here the way one gasps for fresh air — and then none of you provides anything after all, and when I come myself, I usually find the old things, and yet also so much that is new that all of you have passed over in your referations [5]

In a word, absence is not presence, even if once a week one does bump heads with a kind spirit in the form of the old Harzbach messenger woman.

Crafty and clever, the way she condemns herself, taking the words right out of a person’s mouth to escape having to listen to the litany of complaints. For one does, after all, always have a certain soft spot for the sound of one’s own voice. Fine, but then she should act according to it . . .

Please give my warm regards to Louise Michaelis and tell her she ought to come. And have her bring something to read, something after the ideal of the Chévalier de Ravannes. Nothing else will do before and after childbirth. [6]

God, I was so low the first time, I who never read Ariosto with even the slightest emotion — as such is probably not possible in any case in translation; and instead skated smoothly over the grand array of heart- and |159| lance-breaking adventures, and now, with my highly strung imagination, I saw every giant and dragon, and heard them hissing, and could weep over the beautiful woman who offered her neck up to the sword, a neck she thought invulnerable. I would think it surely could not be quite so bad again amid the same travails, since this time I am, after all, armed beforehand, and those earlier times were everywhere a crisis of rapturous reason: [7] two words that do indeed fit together perfectly well even though it does not appear so. I am quite curious to see how things go for me this time.

Here comes Auguste: write to Aunt Lotte  Auta is good girl [8] — when I wrote “Auta,” she said: “Me Auta.” Lotte, I swear, you would delight in this child even into the very tips of her fingers. —

I would love to have the preface by Schlözer, [9] and perhaps — something else as well, just so the messenger woman does not entirely lose the appearance of a sweet pack-donkey. Madam Dahme is dissolving in grateful love.

Notes

[1] Caroline was approximately eight months pregnant with Sophie Therese Böhmer, who would be born on 23 April 1787 (Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1813: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet [Frankfurt]):

Parents_newborn

Back.

[2] Fr., here: “a great commotion, sensation.” Back.

[3] Presumably the wife of Christian Emmerich Stisser. Back.

[4] Women in English in original, but intended singular (Caroline uses it with singular adjectives). Back.

[5] “Reports,” from Germ. referieren, “to report on.” Back.

[6] Jacques de Varenne, Mémoires du Chevalier de Ravanne, page de Son Altesse le Duc Régent et Mousquetaire, 3 vols. (Liège 1740–41).

Varenne_Memoires_title

Concerning Caroline’s reading material during that pregnancy (or the present one; later she seems to have fogotten which), see her letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 30–31 August 1794 (letter 147), note 17; it may well be that Meyer responded to this present plea for such reading material by sending her Horace Walpole’s Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto. Back.

[7] That is, as on the occasion of Auguste’s birth two years earlier. Concerning Caroline’s initial experience with childbirth, see her letter to Luise Gotter on 22 June 1785 (letter 57), esp. with notes 2, 3, and 5.

Click on the image below to open a gallery of Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki’s 1772 illustrations to Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, including “lance-breaking adventures,” hissing giants and dragons, and the beautiful woman:

Ariosto_orlando_furioso_thumbnail

Back.

[8] Caroline guided Auguste’s hand in helping her with the lines “write to Aunt Lotte  Auta is good girl” (illustrations from from Johann Friedrich Cotta’s Taschenkalender auf das Jahr 1798 für Damen; Taschenkalender auf das Jahr 1803 für Damen, Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):

Auta_good_girl

Child_in_lap

Back.

[9] August Ludwig Schlözer’s prefaces in Ludwig Ernst, Herzog zu Braunschweig und Lüneburg, kaiserl. Königl. und des h. Römischen Reichs FeldMarschall &c. Ein Actenkmässiger Bericht von dem Verfaren gegen Dessen Person, so lange HöchstDerselbe, die erhabenen Posten als FeldMarschall, Vormund und Repräsentant des Herrn ErbStatthalters, Fürst Wilhelms V von Oranien, in der Republik der Vereinten Niederlande, bekleidet hat, 2 vols., (Göttingen 1786; 2nd ed. 1787; 3rd ed. 1787); Goedeke 6:277, no. 24: “The prefaces are signed by Schlözer.” Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott