Letter 96

• 96. Caroline to Philipp Michaelis [?] in Göttingen: Marburg, 16 December 1789 [*]

[Marburg] 16 December 1789

|195| It is very important to me not to leave you without news from us — something you can doubtless conclude from the fact that I am writing you today, when in reality I am capable of thinking only about the great scare I have had with Röschen, which — I hope — we have successfully gotten through. The measles passed easily, except that she was already sick beforehand and remained so afterward — an extremely severe fever, presumably a chest fever, but accompanied by a great many impurities in her bowels — all this severely weakened the poor child. [1]

Yesterday evening, when her abdomen became hard and she became very afraid, I thought I had reason for the kind of fear the mere thought of which upset me more than I can even describe. I was more anxious than I have ever been — a condition I otherwise cannot endure for long — but it simply was not possible for me to overcome it. Were I to lose her, I would be even unhappier than I perhaps ever was before — and that conviction is even worse than the pain of the present — it is no different — my peace would be ruined forever. And if one has already had several such experiences, [2] one also sees the danger more closely — in short, initially I simply could not get hold of myself.

After taking the various remedies, she is much better, even though the night I spent with her was extremely fitful. They are assuring me, and I do also believe now, that the danger has completely passed. She is still conscious and is still quite lovable toward me, if extremely stubborn — but in a resolute way I much prefer to well-behaved but pleading weakness. You would find her small, round body much changed . . . no more convulsions, which made me tremble. She also still has a great deal of energy, and I am |196| fairly certain that — as the others tell me confidently — she is recovering. She is also speaking quite properly.

I myself have also been almost bedridden for a week now — my tooth ulcer was joined by severe head cramps and a bit of bilious fever; I, too, am not yet feeling well, and since you have been gone there have been very few days when I have even been able to go outside — which is why I have also essentially forgotten about the entire world, excepting my room and my valley, through which the river runs and a couple of ravens take friendly flight. [3]

I am very happy that Lotte is here even though I sometimes find it oppressive that others have to share my troubles. [4] I have enough to do trying to keep things from slipping out of control in my own small sphere — without such order, I would fall apart myself. All this is also the reason I have not yet written Therese — one of my wishes is that I might soon have the leisure time to do so. I think of her often — I am happy the little one has the name Clara [5] — when I had Therese baptized, I vacillated between the two names. I hope everything is still going well. You can write me again.

Madam La Roche is back now and has had enormous squabbles with Madam Brentano. [6] It is an accepted fact that you are in love with the niece [?]. When La Roche comes through again, he will have a hard time of it — everyone is against him. The gentlemen who were his enemies have now turned the ladies around as well and exploited the absence of the World Conqueror. [7] Lotte is enclosing an admonition. By the way, the letter in the Bible was from me. Rosa is quite lively just now.


[*] Addressee uncertain; attribution by Waitz (1871), 1:59, followed by Schmidt (1913), 1:195. Philipp Michaelis was now back in Göttingen to continue his medical studies (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):



[1] An illustration from a children’s book from 1810 portraying a mother giving such a child medication (anonymous, Erste Lehren und Bilder oder unterhaltende Verstandesbeschäftigungen für Kinder, auch für solche, welche noch nicht lesen [Vienna 1810], plate 44):


And a similarly seriously ill young girl like Röschen with perplexed adults (illustration by C. L. Desrais and L. Sailliar [1771]):



[2] Caroline’s husband, Franz Wilhelm Böhmer, had died in February 1788, and her subsequently born (20 July 1788) son, Johann Franz Wilhelm Böhmer, sometime that same autumn. Back.

[3] Caroline lived with her brother Fritz Michaelis at Reitgasse 14 in Marburg’s upper town just off the market square with the town hall (Kurfürstenthum Hessen: Niveau-Karte auf 112 Blättern, Karte 60: Marburg, ed. Kurfürstlich Hessischer Generalstab [Marburg n.d.]):



Here in a photo from ca. 1932; © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg):


Caroline’s room (in the back of the building) looked out over the valley through which the Lahn River flows (here in an 1842 painting by G. M. Mades):


Concerning this view as well as the personality of Fritz Michaelis, see the diary of Wilhelm von Humboldt on 22 September 1788 (Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 14, Tagebücher 1, ed. Albert Leitzmann [Berlin 1916], 21–22):

Michaelis is similarly a pleasant young man. He talks a lot, including about various interesting subjects, and in well-chosen, albeit sometimes a bit affected expressions. He tries to cast a certain element of elegance over everything he says, something that would doubtless be quite pleasing did it not degenerate, on the other hand, into a kind of long-windedness, which becomes quite unpleasant especially the longer one is around him. He was so polite and cordial around Crichton and me that we found it difficult to accept his sincerity.

I confess that generally I am not so fond of such a personality, though I can well imagine it might be quite pleasant for a stranger, and I do wish I could have spent more time around him. I was quite pleased even with his room, which is furnished with tasteful, dainty furniture, beautiful copper engravings, and especially with the magnificent landscape one can see from his windows.

Nor should I omit reference to one other part of his personality, namely, his enormously indulged — almost to the point of being ludicrous — Anglomania. One sees English books and engravings everywhere, and constant assessments such as “Only in England can one live happily,” “only in England does one have access to real theater,” “anyone who has not seen England has not seen anything,” etc.

I found him interesting enough in conversation, at the very least he does speak in a more original, freer manner, something extending not just to his opinions and ideas, but also to his choice of words. Unfortunately, precisely that is why he says a great many things that, after further reflection, he would probably want to take back. We spoke about [Franz Michael] Leuchsenring’s [1746–1827] marriage plans [with Adele Ephraim; he insisted she remain a Jew, which caused a falling out with Moses Mendelssohn], Michaelis greatly chiding Mendelssohn for being against it, and how he could simply see no problem with a Christian marrying a Jewess — a problem that, it seems to me, is quite obvious if one lives not in England or North America, as did Michaelis, but rather in Germany, and if one is acquainted with Berlin prejudices.

We also spoke about the religious edict [of Johann Christoph Wöllner in 1788]. Michaelis asked what people in Göttingen were saying about it. I responded that not everyone disapproved. “What?” he said, “but surely they are not praising it? Surely people in Göttingen have not lost their senses?” That evening I saw him at a ball, where he displeased me most. He was sweet and long-winded at the same time.

Here a view of the valley from the property at Reitgasse 14 after the house was razed in 1965 (© Bildarchiv Foto Marburg; Aufnahme-Nr. 193.919):


From the front, the house faced a street leading directly to the Market Square and the town hall (from the left in this illustration by Charles F. Flower on an early postcard):



[4] It is difficult to track Lotte Michaelis’s movements during 1789; she was apparently with Caroline in Marburg earlier that autumn (see Caroline’s letter to Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer on 24 October 1789 [letter 92]), had returned to Göttingen, then come back to Marburg. Back.

[5] Clara Forster, born 22 November 1789 in Mainz, second daughter (after Therese on 10 August 1786) of Therese and Georg Forster; the family had been in Mainz since 2 October 1788. Mainz is located on the Rhine River at its confluence with the Main River, 30 km east of Frankfurt (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):



[6] Maximiliane Brentano was living in Frankfurt at the time. Back.

[7] Uncertain allusion. Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott