Letter 9

• 9. Caroline to Julie von Studnitz in Gotha: Göttingen, 25 August 1779 (Fr.)

Göttingen, 25 August 1779

|17| . . . My father intends to take my younger brother to the Gymnasium in Gotha. He already has a fairly good idea of the school, but he will be going there himself to confirm things, though without anyone knowing his intentions, that he might hear only disinterested views concerning the school. I hope that on that occasion he will need his daughter’s opinion and approval. I can then see you and will be at the very pinnacle of joy. [1] . . .

The father of young Professor Forster (who has been here a fortnight now) will be giving a presentation on the life of Admiral Keppel, which I believe will be extremely interesting; the life of Dr. Dodd, who was hanged in England, is quite interesting and does great honor to both the heart and sentiments of young Forster, its author; it has not yet been |18| published, and he sent only a few copies here, including one to my father.

This past week I witnessed one of the saddest scenes, the funeral of a certain Baron de Reck, a young man who gave rise to the grandest hopes. There has been widespread lamenting and weeping for him. [1a] . . .

Among those who followed the coffin one could easily discern Monsieur de Grothaus, whom you have probably already seen at court in Gotha and who is perhaps there still. Is it not true that he is the handsomest man that was ever seen and that even the most romantic imagination could not imagine him any handsomer? Since I do believe you will find him fairly interesting, particularly his uniqueness, perhaps some news of him would not at all be disagreeable to you. He combines the grandest pride with the greatest reasons for being so proud. He possesses all possible advantages with respect to both mind and body, along with immense erudition, has traveled all over the world, and speaks almost every language; is it not a shame that with all that he is continually in danger of going mad? Everything seems to lead in that direction. [2]

First, madness is a family flaw; then also the very fear itself of becoming mad might cause him to do so. To distract himself he has given himself over to all sorts of vigorous physical exercise. His unbearable pride and conceit, his strongest passion, might be the only things capable of turning him around again. His company is anything but enjoyable, for he speaks only of himself. He will never be able to love someone else, having already exhausted that sentiment toward himself. He was born in the state of Hannover and in his earliest infancy was sent to England, where he was raised.

On his return home, he passed through Hamburg and went |19| to visit the insane asylum. One of the poor inmates there exhibited uneasiness on seeing him; he asked about the man afterward, and they told him it was “crazy old Grothaus.” It was his father, whom he had thought dead! [2a]

My dearest Julie, I will say nothing; you doubtless feel the same as I at this moment. — But then he arrives at his mother’s house and asks to see his brother, not finding him there. They tell him he is taking a short journey. A few days later he hears some noise upstairs, goes to see what it is and finds his brother in the same condition as his poor father. — —

But let us draw the curtain on that horrible scene. —

He [Grothaus] was anything but rich and did not even have enough to pursue his studies. A certain Monsieur de Busch [3] made it possible for him to study here; he returned to England thereafter, where he traveled with young Stanhope, currently Lord Chesterfield, from whom he has a pension of two or three hundred pounds sterling, and who showered him with gifts; among other things, he has a complete silver service in the most modern style; my uncle is keeping it for him. He entered the service of the king of England and lived here for a year; but, believing others to be more favored than he, he requested his leave and was granted it as Oberstlieutenant. [4]

That same day, he had his hair cut and then left for Berlin, where at first he did not please the king; but he did play an important role there as a volunteer and mediator between the king and the Crown Prince of Braunschweig, who had fallen out with each other. When peace was made, he left service and returned here, thereafter wandering about the world unstät and flüchtig. [5] My father was supposed to provide him with references in Constantinople, but he seems to have changed his plans.

For my father and brother he has a friendship surpassing perhaps anything he has ever felt of this type; the latter was his confidant, and he often told him that the cruel, oppressive thought of going mad one day never left him, and that this distressing image pursued him incessantly. —

During his last stay we were at the home of Madame Less. Charlotte happens to meet Madame Less’s landlord, Monsieur Grätzel, and Monsieur Grothaus is also there at just that time.

Without knowing her, he remarks that she greatly resembles his dear friend Michaelis, and then, having learned who she is, converses with her, telling her among other things: “Ah, if your father were mine, what thanks would I give to heaven! Never could I have more veneration for my own father than for this worthy man, nor more love for my own brother than for yours.” —

When she departed, he remarked to Grätzel, “What a little devil she is.” “Ah,” the latter replied, “you should see her older sister!” (Do you not own that I am in people’s good standing?) So he is quite curious to see someone worse than the devil himself, and wants to go up to see Madame Less in order to renew his acquaintance with me, for I have already spoken with him several times and even often danced with him, but he was thinking about more important things at the time than keeping alive the memory of so uninteresting a girl. [6] He is already on the staircase and will hardly allow himself to be kept from climbing it.

The next day I visited Madame Less and, descending the stairs, I meet Monsieur Grätzel and his wife. “No,” he says to me, “I am not letting you go; Grothaus is dining with us and wants to make your acquaintance, and I cannot give him a greater treat; I will send word to your family to let them know.” [7] His wife earnestly entreated me, but I refused to stay, perhaps out of vanity. I was not vain enough to believe myself capable of fulfilling |21| the great expectations that Monsieur Grätzel — as my sister Louise, who was present, quite innocently related to me — had of me, but neither so self-effacing as to want to give him the lie. . . .



[1] Caroline is hoping to accompany her father and brother to Gotha, where she herself had spent time in a boarding school for girls.

The Gymnasium in Gotha, the excellent secondary, academically oriented school intended, as was customary, for preparation for the university and administrative careers, had been founded in 1524 during the early part of the Reformation. It was housed at the time in the former Augustinian monastery alongside the Church of St. Augustine and located just beneath the residence castle (no. 13 on the map below; Matthäus Seutter and H. A. Koenig, Hochfürstliche Residentz Frieden und Hauptstadt Gotha [1730]):




[1a] Representative illustrations of a funeral at the time (Höltys Elegie auf ein Landmädchen [1794]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.985; scene from The Sorrows of Young Werther from Goethe’s Works, vol. 2, trans. G. Barrie [New York 1885], 352):




[2] Concerning Grothaus’s unusual character, see also Goethe’s account in his Campaign in France in the Year 1792, trans. Robert Farie (London 1849), 27–28:

On the morning of the 31st [of August 1792], I was lying in the sleeping carriage, certainly the driest, warmest, and most cheerful resting-place, half awake, when I heard something rustling on the leather curtains, and on opening them I perceived the Duke of Weimar, who introduced an unexpected stranger to me. I recognised at once the adventure-loving Grothhus, who, inclined here also to sustain his character as partisan, had arrived in order to undertake the hazardous office of summoning Verdun to surrender. In pursuance of which he had come to demand a staff trumpeter, who, rejoiced at this particular mark of distinction, was ordered instantly to undertake the charge. We saluted each other very heartily in remembrance of old frolics [ed. note: Goethe had met Grothaus in Weimar in 1779, the same year Caroline wrote the letter in which she mentions Grothaus], and Grothhus hastened to his task; which, when accomplished, was the cause of many a jest.

They described him as having ridden down the high road in front of the trumpeter, and with the hussars behind him; the Verdun people, however, in their character of Sansculottes, not knowing, or despising the law of nations, firing upon him; and as having tied a white handkerchief to the trumpet, and ordering it to be sounded always louder the farther they went; as having been met by a detachment, and led with blindfolded eyes alone into the fortress, where he made some fine speeches, but effected nothing, and so on to the like effect; whereby, according to the world’s way, they succeeded in throwing disparagement upon services performed, and diminishing the credit of him who had undertaken them. Back.

[2a] “Tollhaus” (“insane asylum”), Berlinischer Damen-Kalender auf das Jahr 1805; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[3] Not otherwise identified. Perhaps Friedrich August von dem Bussche? Back.

[4] Germ., “Lieutenant Colonel” (in German in original). Back.

[5] Germ., “vagrantly, unsettled, and in flight” (in German in original).

The disagreements between Berlin and Braunschweig involved Crown Prince Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand’s father’s attempts to get him to leave military service on the allied (Prussian) side during the Seven Years War. Back.

[6] Accounts of dancing, assemblies, balls, and redoutes (Fr., a masked assembly where there is dancing, gaming such as card playing, and other entertainment, though also the locale itself), important social entertainments during this period, recur numerous times in this correspondence (Der Freund des schönen Geschlechts: ein angenehm und nützlicher Taschenkalender für das Jahr 1808; dancers: Drittes Toiletten-Geschenk: Ein Jahrbuch für Damen [Leipzig 1807 and 1808]):






Young women such as Caroline had dance lessons from an early age. Here (1) a dance instructor from the early eighteenth century and (2) a young girl taking dance lessons from such an instructor, and (3) children playing at dancing outdoors (Christoff Weigel, Abbildung Der Gemein-Nützlichen Haupt-Stände Von denen Regenten Und ihren So in Friedens- als Kriegs-Zeiten zugeordneten Bedienten an biß auf alle Künstler und Handwercker nach Jedes Ambts- und Beruffs-Verrichtungen meist nach dem Leben gezeichnet und in Kupfer gebracht etc. [Regenspurg 1698], illustration following p. 178; second illustration: Philippe Canot, Le maître de danse [the dance instructor] [1745]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum JPLeBas AB 3.23; third illustration: Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, “Tänzer und Tänzerinnen. Der zuschauende Großvater,” Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate v.c; illustration of choreographed dance steps from Drittes Toiletten-Geschenk: Ein Jahrbuch für Damen [Leipzig 1807]):





Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki’s 1780 series of vignettes Occupations des dames appropriately includes a vignette, “La danse,” featuring a couple dancing at an evening social gathering; a second vignette by Chodowiecki, from 1778, “Der Tanz,” features a similar couple:


Ultimately such training was engaged in the frequent assemblies and balls held in towns and at court, here in an evening setting (Augustin de Saint-Aubin, Bal paré [1774]; repr. in Karl Storck, Der Tanz [Bielefeld, Leipzig 1903], illustration 107):


See W. H. Bruford, Germany in the Eighteenth Century: The Social Background of the Literary Revival (Cambridge 1935), 91–92:

Dancing was never more important as a social accomplishment than in the eighteenth century, and balls of every degree of magnificence and formalIty were frequent in all court towns. The usual German ball from the 70’s onwards (like the one in Werther, 1774, or Mozart’s Don Juan, 1787) included three types of dance, one French and stately, like the minuet, pavane, coranto or quadrille, one English and less formal, the ‘country dances’ in which couples arranged themselves face to face in two long lines (whence the name “contredanse”), and one German and still more individualistic and intimate, consisting almost entirely of waltzing.

Even dance programmes mirrored the influence of country on country and class on class, for the minuet was essentially of the court, while the waltz had descended from a vigorous peasant’s Ländler and only gradually made its way into good society [see below for illustration].

When Goethe was in Strassburg he found he must learn to waltz; he makes Werther and Lotte “revolve round each other like the spheres,” but they are the only couple in the party who can waltz well. It was many years before the waltz displaced the older stately dances, especially at court, where it was at first considered vulgar and rather shocking. The queen of Prussia averted her eyes when it was danced at a Berlin court ball for the first time (in 1794) and the young duke of Devonshire, when he saw English girls dance it, vowed he would never marry a girl who waltzed, though he had been charmed with it on the Continent. A similar remark had been put into the mouth of Werther thirty years before.

“Redoubts” were in great favour. At these masks were worn, with either “dominos” [loose cloaks] or fancy dress. In many court towns, especially in the Catholic south and west at carnival time, the young people of good society formed exclusive dancing clubs to supplement the regular balls.

The waltz in Die Leiden des jungen Werthers was the subject of an illustration by Thomas Rowlandson in 1806; passage anonymously trans. in The Sorrows of Young Werther: A German Story, new ed. [n.p. 1804], letter 10, p. 34):

We began; and at first amused ourselves with making every possible turn with our arms. How graceful and animated all her motions! When the waltz commenced, all the couples which were turning round at first jostled against each other. We very judiciously kept aloof till the awkward and clumsy had withdrawn; when we joined in there were but two couples left. I never in my life was so active; I was more than mortal. To fly with her like the wind, and lose sight of every other object! But I own to you I then determined, that the woman I loved, and to whom I had pretensions, should never do the waltz with any other man. You will understand this.



[7] Accounts of dining — also referenced as déjeuners, dîners, and soupers — another important social entertainment during this period, recur with frequency essentially equal to that of dancing. Here four engravings depicting gatherings typical of the sort Caroline mentions numerous times in these letters (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, 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], in order: “Die Abendgesellschaft bei Pastor Bocquet,” plate 76; “Die Mässigung im Ansehen und Glücke,” plate 47; third illustration: Chodowiecki, “Illustration zu der Geschichte des Blaise Gaulard,” [1775], Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum; Museumsnr./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.123; fourth illustration: Sophie verlässt ohne allen Grund plötzlich die Gesellschaft [1777], Herzog August Bibliothek Museumsnr./Signatur Uh 4° 47 145):





Translation © 2011 Doug Stott