Letter 8

• 8. Caroline to Julie von Studnitz in Gotha: Göttingen, 21 July 1779 (Fr.)

Göttingen, 21 July 1779

|14| I am sufficiently acquainted with my dear, affectionate Julie’s heart to be completely persuaded that she will forgive my silence once I explain the reasons for it. It was my mother’s illness; she suffered greatly, and you who yourself are such a loving daughter for your worthy mother, you can easily imagine my |15| situation.

My father happened to be in Pyrmont during precisely this time, [1] whence he returned a week ago rejuvenated and as healthy as if he were scarcely forty years old; he found my mother convalescing from a sickness consisting of a weakness of nerves. I pray to God that her recovery will continue the same. Were I to lose her now, when I need her advice most of all, I would be lost; my impetuous personality would cast me into an abyss of unhappiness. [1a] But the good Lord did not create us for such extreme unhappiness; he will preserve me, he whom I love so much and to whom I owe everything.

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, [1b] and were it up to me, I would flee and hide somewhere on earth where I could live peacefully incognito, in possession of your friendship.

It is not without reason that I speak thus, my dear Julie; forgive me my lamentations, but in fact I am not as happy as people perhaps think. Here a person must weigh each word lest one hear it the very next hour distorted in a truly frightening fashion, and one must take not even the slightest step that might raise suspicions. I can hardly imagine people being more suspicious than here in any case.

And finally one must not do anything without having considered and indeed reconsidered a thousand times the consequences of even the most indifferent action. And how ill that accords with my own vivacious, scatterbrained temperament! And even were one to profit by such foresight, one’s innocence is nonetheless oppressed; I have had that experience myself, and I never knew until that moment what consolation it is to have a good |16| conscience.

That, too, was the unique blessing remaining to me; I am now completely restored in public opinion, people are sorry for having offended me so cruelly, but I will nevertheless never forget what I suffered. [2] I assure you that I often thank God, from the bottom of my heart, for not having made me pretty; [3] when I am exposed to all this even now, how much worse would it be had he done so? —

I am sincere with you, my dear Julie, whom I love beyond all expression. I open my heart to you, and you, generous soul, share my sorrows, try to console me, and indeed you alone can succeed in doing so. I have already been reproached for viewing everything from the darkest side. I try to persuade myself that such really is the case, but yet it often happens that my melancholy is still stronger than my natural gaiety, and that it triumphs over all the reasons I put forward. I have found a friend here, Madam Less; she both corrects and consoles me. [3a]

Ah, if you but knew that excellent woman! She is thirty years old, she lost her only daughter some time ago. Her husband, the worthy Monsieur Less, married her without knowing her, though he did see some of her letters, and it is true that her style surpasses anything one can imagine. [4] She is from Strasbourg. There cannot possibly be a marriage happier than theirs; she has given me permission to call her mother; ah, could I but prove worthy of being called her daughter, I would be everything I ought to be. —

Julie, please excuse these outpourings of my heart, but can there be any doubt? do I not know you? and are you not the most affectionate and best friend?

My brother has apparently arrived in New York; people already claim to have seen |17| Admiral Arbuthnot’s flotilla off Long Island, [5] and I hope we will have news from him soon.

. . . Klinger’s Zwillinge was performed recently; [6] although it was a great success, it does not seem to me that it was particularly well chosen; most people do not understand what the author really wants, there being absolutely no regular plan discernible in it. It is too dreadful to be touching, and yet it is still beautiful and displays passionate genius. I read the third volume of Burgheim, [7] and it is true that I made a mistake with my own Weissagungen. [8] Nevertheless the book does not enjoy my complete approval; it has too much love and too little action. —

An hour ago we had one of the most terrible storms I have ever seen. [9] . . .


[1] Pyrmont, town in Lower Saxony on the River Emmer ca. 70 km from Göttingen and a popular spa resort that gained its reputation as a fashionable place for princely vacations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It did not receive the name “Bad” Pyrmont until 1914, whence the reference to it in these letters and on older maps as “Pyrmont” instead. References to its mineral water, which was viewed as having a salutary effect on various ailments, recurs in these letters. (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):


Here an illustration, contemporaneous with Caroline’s visit, of Pyrmont’s promenade (Heinrich Matthias Marcard, Beschreibung von Pyrmont, 2 vols. [Leipzig 1784], vol. 1, plate 4 following p. 323):


Here an illustration, similarly contemporaneous with Caroline’s visit, of Pyrmont’s square where the mineral-springs were accessible to the public (Heinrich Matthias Marcard, Beschreibung von Pyrmont, vol. 1, plate 3 following p. 323):



[1a] (1) Mutter und Tochter, from Frauen Zimer Calender Auf das Jahr 1793 (Zürich), plate 2; (2) illustration to Luise Brachmann, Der Zauber der Tugend; Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1819: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet (1812); Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:




[1b] 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:



[2] Caroline refers to this otherwise unknown episode in her earlier letter to Luise Stieler on 7 October 1778 (letter 4).

Caroline is in any case not exaggerating the peculiar precariousness of a young bourgeois women’s social position in a university town at the time. See the more detailed description by the anonymous author of the 1798 students’ guide to Jena Zeichnung der Universität Jena: Für Jünglinge welche diese Akademie besuchen wollen (Leipzig 1798), 144, which applies not merely to Jena, where Caroline herself, of course, would one day reside (illustrations: [1] Göttinger Taschen Calender im Jahr 1784; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung; [2] Taschenbuch für 1799 [Berlin]; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung; [3] [5] [6] Göttinger Taschen Calender Für das Iahr 1798; [4] Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.814):

No young girls are as subject to compulsive faultfinding as those born to parents associated with a university. Such a girl’s comportment demands considerable prudence.

If she behaves in a reserved manner toward sons of the muses [i.e. students], she is accused of being foolishly prideful. If she behaves cordially toward them, she is viewed as a coquette.


If she never appears at social gatherings, she is called a nun. If she appears often at such gatherings, she is viewed — in student slang — as a “street pony.”



If she reads a great deal, she is reproached and suspected of being a “sentimental.” If she does not read, she is considered stupid.


If she uses makeup, she is viewed as being on the make. If she does not use makeup, she is allegedly trying to imitate the character of Gurli.


In a word: essentially every aspect of such a girl’s behavior is immediately subject to biting gossip and distorted assessment.


Concerning similar perils to which young girls in the late eighteenth century were subject, see Caroline’s letter to Lotte Michaelis in 1786 (letter 72), note 3. Back.

[3] Luise Wiedemann, née Michaelis, remarks in her memoirs (Erinnerungen, chapter on Caroline, 77):

That she [Caroline] was not pretty, but was indeed intelligent and much admired and loved afterward, is demonstrated by the fact that my dear grandmother left her 1000 Reichsthaler because Caroline [would need to cultivate?] her intellect more than perhaps any young girl or young widow ever had — her intellect being really the [only] feature that could attract suitors — she [the grandmother] believing that otherwise she [Caroline] would go unnoticed and unsought because of her obvious lack of beauty. Back.

[3a] Goettinger Taschen Calender für das Jahr 1791; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[4] The (Erich Schmidt: gentle, tubercular) theologian Gottfried Less found a life companion in the young widow Dorothea Ümlin in 1774 during his recuperative journey to Switzerland and southern France; his stepdaughter had died in 1778. Back.

[5] Caroline is likely referring to Long Island, South Carolina, now the Isle of Palms alongside Sullivans Island outside Charleston, in connection with the siege of Charleston under General Henry Clinton in early 1780; see notes to her letter to Julie von Studnitz on 17 March 1780 (letter 12). Here in any case is a 1783 map of the United States of America showing the east coast, Charleston and Sullivans Island, and, to the northeast, New York’s Long Island (Die Vereinigten Staaten von Nord-America nach der von Wm Faden 1783 herausgegebenen Charte, in the Historisch-genealogischer Calender, oder Jahrbuch der merkwürdigsten neuen Weltbegebenheiten für 1784; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):


For a brief and general account of Hessian participation in the American Revolutionary War, see supplementary appendix 4.1. Back.

[6] Friedrich Maximilian Klinger’s tragedy Die Zwillinge. Ein Trauerspiel in fünf Aufzügen (Hamburg 1776), built around the theme of hostile brothers (Germ. Zwillinge, “twins”) . It is generally reckoned as a representative of the German Storm and Stress period. Back.

[7] Johann Martin Miller, Geschichte Karls von Burgheim und Emiliens von Rosenau. In Briefen. Von dem Verfasser des Sigwarts (Hamburg, Leipzig 1778–79); concerning Caroline’s “predictions” and a gallery of illustrations, see her letter to Julie von Studnitz on 23 May 1779 (letter 7). Back.

[8] Germ., “predictions”; in German in original. Back.

[9] Inclement weather plays a role in this correspondence primarily with respect to the problems it created for travelers (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, “Im Unwetter zwischen Körlin und Köslin,” Von Berlin nach Danzig: Eine Künstlerfahrt im jahre 1773, von Daniel Chodowiecki. 108 Lichtdrucke nach den originalen in der Staatl. akademie der künste in Berlin, mit erläuterndem text und einer einführung von Wolfgang von Oettingen [Leipzig 1923], plate 8; second illustration: anonymous 19th-century engraving):




Translation © 2011 Doug Stott