Letter 84

• 84. Caroline to Lotte Michaelis in Göttingen: Clausthal, 27 December 1787

[Clausthal] Thursday evening [27 December 1787]

|168| Your Ladyship is presumably still weary and tired from the plaisirs of the previous day. [1] I feel neither better nor worse than on any other day except for the entertainment the Amtmannin von Hohenweiler provided, [2] which was truly a festive occasion for me. A charming, captivating story with which I can find no fault except that toward the end, the meeting of various acquainted persons was too romantic [3] for the simple, artless beginning — though that probably derives from the very nature of things themselves insofar as the old woman did indeed have so many children, and each his own family, which quite naturally followed soon behind, and her house was the general meeting place. The fairy tale, which at the beginning seemed utterly extraneous, was subsequently employed and woven into the story quite well. I prefer it to Walter [4] and would like to know who the author is. [5]

I am just sorry I always have to devour such things alone. I only speak about and praise such things to Böhmer, but do not mention it to anyone outside the house, and reading something aloud with the Dahmes will for all eternity never come to anything. Since I found the old Amtmannin [6] so entertaining even by myself, think how it might have been had you, for example, read it to me aloud, all wrapped up in ourselves in a comfortable room with frightful wind and storm outside, perhaps a cup of tea as a pleasant diversion!

It is especially the fact that description and portrayal of that sort, when we read it in print, make such a completely different impression on us than does even the same reality, and that [one] so easily and gladly forgets oneself in the world portrayed thus for us. Absolutely nothing is as terrible, nothing as pleasant as our own powers of imagination perceive it. That is why facilely seductive, impure images desecrate the soul more |169| than does the deed itself, to mention but one example among thousands, and I have often thought that being murdered oneself could not be as horrific as the gruesome, horrific notion of such. [6a]

That notwithstanding, Auguste’s Christmas joy exceeded my expectation, and her gratitude was so sweet. She came into the illuminated room with outstretched arms and then loudly, naively rejoiced at every single item. [7] She guesses who had given her the doll, and says — “Let me also thank those aunts for having given it to me, and thank Grandmama [7a] ‘about it,'” which is the way she usually expresses it.

Presents were first distributed at the Dahmes, where she received bags, a pair of colorful shoes, and all sorts of other things, and then everyone came over here, where the doll then paraded around in the middle of the couch, the clothing pieces for the children to each side, and on the one side especially stood the tall highchair, on which Billy’s [8] trousers were affixed and hanging down and the rest of the stuff arranged such that it formed a sitting figure, and on the other side the round table with little Therese’s toys and sugar figurines, and again in the middle Auguste’s things with the utensils and pewter, the wagon and a small spinning wheel and bobbin symmetrically arranged on the ground and decorated with several small wax candles. The doll will probably end up being a cabinet piece [9] . . .


[1] Caroline uses the hybrid English-German construction “Ladyschaft” in the original; similarly plaisirs in French in original. Back.

[2] Benedikte Naubert, Die Amtmannin von Hohenweiler. Eine wirkliche Geschichte aus Familienpapieren gezogen, vom Verfasserd[es] Walter v[on] Montbarry (Leipzig 1787); Caroline had requested it in her earlier letter to Lotte (letter 83); see esp. note 4 there. Back.

[3] Or “novelistic,” Germ. romanhaft; see Caroline’s letter to Luise Stieler on 16 June 1780 (letter 16) with note 1; also Caroline’s letter to Julie von Studnitz on 31 January 1779 (letter 5), note 5. Back.

[4] Benedikte Naubert, Walter von Montbarry, Grossmeister des Tempelordens [also variously cited as Templerordens, Tempelherrordens], 2 vols. (Leipzig 1786) (Eng. trans. Walter de Monbary, Grand Master of the Knights Templars. An Historical Romance [London, 1803]). Back.

[5] Benedikte Naubert published all her novels anonymously until 1817. Back.

[6] Germ. Amtmannin, “bailiff’s wife,” both the title and protagonist of the novel. Back.

[6a] See April Alliston’s remarks in her introduction to Sophia Lee, The Recess; or, A Tale of Other Times, Eighteenth-Century Novels by Women, ed. April Alliston (Lexington 2000), xi:

The characteristically Gothic “terror” that [author] Hester Piozzi expected from [Sophia] Lee’s works was a feeling more of suspense than fright, a dread of the unrevealed and the unspeakable, much more than a shock at anything actually shown or told. Back.

[7] (1) M. Höfler, “Der Klassenbaum,” Zeitschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde 10 (1900), 319–24, here 323, fig. 2; (2) Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Hausliches Fest am Weihnachts Abend [1776–1800]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph.A1:439:




[7a] Either Madam Michaelis or Madam Böhmer. Back.

[8] Billy’s in English in original; perhaps one of the Dahme children named Wilhelm. Back.

[9]Contemporaneous Christmas scenes reflecting not only celebrations typical of the period, but also the essential setting, characters, and ambience of Caroline’s description in this letter (Joseph Kellner, Die Christbescherung oder der fröhliche Morgen [1780]; next 2 illustrations: Vertheilung der Geschenke für die Kinder [1776–1800]; Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1809: Der Liebe und Freundschaft gewidmet [Frankfurt], Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung):





Translation © 2011 Doug Stott