Letter 93

• 93. Caroline to Lotte Michaelis in Göttingen: Marburg, Sunday morning 1789 [*]

[Marburg] Sunday morning [1789]

|186| Frau von Reck cannot escape us. [1] Madam Jung told me she has carried on a correspondence with her husband — which I would very much like to see and which, if I squander a few insincere words to that end, I will indeed probably see. The Jungs are expecting her to come through here. Then you will have gotten to know her.

|187| [Visits.] I just reread Wezel’s Gefahren der Empfindsamkeit. [2] I noticed that the strength of Germany’s two main authors of comical works is in fact found in melancholy portrayals — Wezel and Müller. There is something languisant [3] especially about Wezel that is also palpable even in Herrmann [4] despite some inimitable, truly ridiculous features. And Müller is too drawn out and moralistic to provoke laughter, which is much more difficult to provoke than are tears. [5] The ability to laugh is an innate talent — seriousness can be grafted in basically anywhere.

Wezel wrote with great purposiveness in his Wilhelmine Arend, and it is only in the case of the sick person, whom he intends to have cured, that his portrayal of the course of the illness is too detailed. A wrecked imagination draws new poison from such aids. [5a] But he did a very good job of demonstrating the greatest damage wrought by sentimentality — namely, the way it fetters us and allows the unfortunate person inexorably to sink in situations in which it is precisely the element of firm resolve that would in fact rescue us — the way the excessively excited fibration of nerves turns them into horrific tormenters — the way one must never want to feel, and what a horrible thing pangs of conscience are for an innocent heart, pangs generated merely by narrowness of mind.

Forgive me for not having anything better to write. I am also sending you a remarkable poem written by Jung to young Selchow. [6] Quite apart from its aesthetic beauty, it also exhibits an extremely naive beauty as well — or is it really beauty when, in a poem signed by students and with a lack of inhibition, as if we were all already in paradise, he reveals to the public an affair of the heart on the part of the deceased that yet glimmers in the ashes? Laura is allegedly Frau von Malsburg, whose heart occupied itself with the young man for lack of any better object. [7] |188| But show it to Tatter, and if the occasion arises also to Blumenbach, to whom you may also give my regards.

Stay well, dear soul.

Sunday 2:00

I will now write to Madam R[ecke], my dear Lotte, and inquire from Jung whether he knows anything more about her coming. Madam R[oche] surely was expecting her in Offenbach.


[*] As Caroline indicates in her letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer of 24 October 1789 (letter 92), Lotte Michaelis was with Caroline in Marburg during part of the autumn of 1789. It is not clear when she came or when she left. Otto Deneke, “Die Göttinger Lotte,” Nachrichten von der Graetzel-Gesellschaft zu Göttingen, 1 Göttingische Nebenstunden 2, ed. Otto Deneke, (Weihnachten 1925), 5, remarks merely that Caroline moved to Marburg in June 1789 and that Lotte followed close behind in the autumn. The two then visited Mainz together in the spring of 1790, where Lotte apparently remained longer than Caroline. Considering that in the initial paragraph Caroline speaks as if Lotte is about to come, the question arises whether these letters to Lotte (letters 93–95) may date to the summer of 1789. Back.

[1] The plan, which never materialized, was for Lotte to become a traveling companion for Elisa von der Recke, who visited Göttingen as early as 1784. On 17 December 1789, she wrote to Gottfried August Bürger in Göttingen: “Please give my regards to the charming Charlotte Michaelis” (Strodtmann, 3:315). Back.

[2] Johann Karl Wezel, Wilhelmine Arend, oder die Gefahren der Empfindsamkeit, 2 vols. (Dessau 1782). Here the title pages and frontispieces by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki:




[3] Fr., “languid, languishing, pining.” Back.

[4] Johann Karl Wezel, Herrmann und Ulrike, 4 vols. (Leipzig 1780). Back.

[5] During his lifetime, Johann Karl Wezel, who later did indeed sink irretrievably into melancholy, was viewed by many as a first-rate talent, and as far as intellect and imagination were concerned stood high above the (for Erich Schmidt [1913], 1:689: rather crude and coarse) hack Johann Gottwerth Müller von Itzehoe, author of Siegfried von Lindenberg (Hamburg 1779), whom even Georg Christoph Lichtenberg extolled as the “German Fielding.”

Here, by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, a boisterous scene from Siegfried von Lindenberg after the establishment of the “Lindenburg Scholarly Academy”; a scene in which Siegfried von Lindenberg points out to Elise von Wellenthal and her aunt the place where his favorite dog once caught a hare; and two additional scenes ([1 and 2] Gustav Könnecke, Bilderatlas zur Geschichte der deutschen Nationallitteratur, 2nd ed. [Marburg 1895], 328; [3] Will dir die schöne Silfies gesegnen [1783]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [4-260]; [4] Hör Er mahl, mein guter Mann [1783]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [4-262]):




[5a] Here a sickbed scene from the Taschenkalender auf das Jahr 1798 für Damen; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



[6] Johann Heinrich Jung (Jung-Stilling) is not otherwise known to have written a poem dedicated to the son of the (from 1783) Marburg university chancellor Johann Heinrich Christian von Selchow, the earlier Göttingen professor, who had lost his eldest son, Heinrich Ludwig Karl, on 17 December 1788. Back.

[7] A perhaps unfair remark, since Caroline mentions both Frau von Malsburg — Fritz Michaelis’s later wife — and her unnamed sister or relative in her letter to Philipp Michaelis in December 1789 (letter 97), in which she recounts how the two women stood by her side during the ordeal of Therese’s death.

This remark “whose heart occupied itself with the young man for lack of any better object” has been taken as a possible reason for her falling out with her brother Fritz; see her letter to her mother on 30 July 1791 (letter 104). Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott