Lebensbeschreibung (English Translation)

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English Translation
in Lebensbeschreibung (English Translation)
by Friderika Baldinger

This translation is copyrighted material, and is used by express permission of the translator.
Fair usage laws apply.
© 2000
Written by herself
Translated by Robert McFarland

Edited, and accompanied by a Preface by Sophie, the Widow von la Roche Offenbach:
Ulrich Weiß and Carl Ludwig Vrede

To the Baroness von Lühe born Fregin von Brandenstein

I have received a commission from one of the most meritorious men of our Germany, and I would like to share with you its completion. I know how much you enjoy observing the path which this or that person has trod in the field of knowledge; and that you take great pleasure in observing how neither obstacles nor hardships restrict the course of diligence--and how, in the end, beautiful zeal leads to new heights. You will hear with joy, as I did, that a husband said:
I have long wished to present another token of my highest admiration to the memory of my departed wife, and I believe that publicizing the story of her intellect, which she once wrote at my request, would be fitting. I turn it over to you. You were her friend; my wife loved you; write an introduction to it, and let it be printed.

All who know Councilor Baldinger also know that he is far from any hypocrisy and mere gallantry, rather, he is very genuine and frank. So, when this man holds his wife in high regard, one cannot suspect any flattery; and her friend, whom he treats with respect, truly can view herself with modest pride. It pleases me to say publicly, that I, in my correspondence with Madame Baldinger, came to marvel at her masculine spirit and character, and recognized in both of these traits the worthy friend of Kästner and Lichtenberg. The story of her intellect shows how much depends on natural ability, for the few means of assistance at her disposal were enough to lead her to greatness and strength of mind.

I think that this birthday present must have been priceless to her companion, for it attests so much veneration, love and thankfulness all at the same time. But how many proofs also lie therein, that diligence and stringent attentiveness make everything possible, and that the complaints: "I have had little opportunity to increase and expand my knowledge" are no satisfactory excuse for ignorance, because for those sincerely eager for knowledge, each glance and the slightest sound is educational, just as a plant utilizes every drop of dew. I also hope that these pages and the fame which Madame Baldinger received among intelligent persons will motivate many women to use every opportunity for the betterment and enrichment of their intellect. My precious Madame Lühe knows that Wieland says: One should not prepare the road to knowledge to be too even and accessible; it is very useful to the powers of the soul when they must struggle with obstacles.

I also truly believe that if one were to more exactly know the story of several of the great learned people, one would find that basic knowledge, like gold, must be extracted from hidden depths with excruciating effort. I would like to have attached excerpts from the letters of Madame Baldinger to the little introduction, and, of course, a selection of her thoughts would have served to embellish her memorial, but it was not easy to take things out of context, and these pages say enough. I will always regret that she died so early, that I do not have more of her exquisite letters--which, (as Kästner said of her mind) are animated by humor, enlightened by knowledge, and show the heart of this best mother and most priceless friend. Only one excerpt from the last of her letters. On the 23rd of November, 1785, she said so beautifully:

God would have to work miracles that I do not expect for myself, if these are not to be my dying strains, my swan's song to Sophie von la Roche. Accept my warm thanks for so much obliging friendship. I ask the friends that I have had in my life, and who have remained true to me in death, to judge me. I have tried to please God, and to live in this world according to my best knowledge and conscience, as I believed that one must live; and now I tread comforted the path that others fear. My good Kästner writes to me every mail day. This great man, who was never ashamed to be a Christian, feels my loss more than I would have believed. God grant to you the years that he takes from me. Believe me, the thought is dear to me that, when I no longer am here, you will keep me in your affectionate memory.

It seems to me, my noble, beloved von Lühe, that this strain of a dying woman is characteristic, and worthy of our veneration. As in the beautiful wish of old--may her ashes rest in peace after her soul has neared its destiny! Heaven grant me also this steadfast view regarding the end of my Path, as well as the loving remembrance of my Caroline von Lühe, whose spirit, virtue and the friendship of my heart will remain precious and dear to me until the last beat of my pulse. Sophie von la Roche
Dedicated to Councilor Baldinger
On his Birthday
the 18th of May, 1783

I wanted at first to have the enclosed text printed as a present to you, because at one time, it was fortunate enough to have pleased you. I changed my decision, though, partially because I did not know if you would want to read the dedication to you in print, and partially because I am a much too meaningless thing in this world, that I should expect anyone to read the printed story of the development of my intellect. Therefore, take from me affectionately this child of my mind, of which you are actually father through your own wisdom, and do with it as you will. It is said that God just as gladly accepts the offerings of the poor according to their intentions, as when the rich sacrifice from their abundance. Your poor wife has nothing more than her mind, and a heart that belongs to you as long as it shall beat. Be satisfied with these. God has created no one more loyal to you, of this you may be assured. I will do no more celebrating today, even though the 18th of May is the greatest occasion of the year for me; and if you wish, we will not bring up your birthday again this evening. You could attribute it to self-interest, that I ask God with ardent reverence especially today, but also every day, for the extension of your life, so precious to me, if you had not already known for so long that, more than the world's riches, my mortal happiness consists of your soul and your heart. Oh God! increase his years with good, lasting health, with uninterrupted satisfaction of heart, with all the twists of fate that may stand before us mortals, and shorten my days, if I live unworthy of you or of him.
Cassell, the 18th of May, 1783

My dear Baldinger!
Since, at the request of a friend, I must attempt to write about the development of my intellect, you wish to have it printed for yourself and our children. I was rightly reluctant, because I thought it to be unimportant, and I still consider it so. However, should I deny myself joy, by leaving even one of your wishes unfulfilled, when it is possible for me to fulfill it? Allow me therefore to give this document some worth by dedicating it to you. Accept it as a birthday present, that God may return to you many blessings after I no longer am. Accept also my heartfelt thanks for all of the friendship, love and loyalty which you have shown in such great measure from our first acquaintance until now. Few women are so indebted to their husbands as I am indebted to you. May my readers consider this, if they wish to attribute this obedience to you to mere vanity on my part. Be convinced that my devotion to you will only cease with my life--from your wife.

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I am supposed to record the story of my intellect? As if I had so much intellect that it would be worth the effort to trace its path. I will not give it to you as such; rather as an article concerning my education, as far as this had an effect on my character as a whole. My father died before I came to know him. If intellect were inheritable, I could have inherited some from this (according to all descriptions) very wise and knowledgeable man. Perhaps he left me the ability to perceive the intellect of others and to make use of such. I, for my part, however, do not believe in an inheritance of this nature. My mother was the most righteous woman that I have ever known, but as concerns intellect, she was a woman who never distinguished herself in any manner. She reared me according to her beliefs, devout and in a christian manner. But all of her teachings could be summed up in the following: you must be devout and chaste. I must thank the impression that these important teachings had on me for my entire happiness. One will notice, however, without my reminders, that they could not have had any influence on my intellect. My mother lost her entire fortune through the war, and therefore she had nothing at her disposal with which to rear me. Experience shows how much power of spirit is won from such desperate circumstances. I recognized only too painfully that many of my own kind had it much better than I did. The disregard of foolish people who preferred these others to me, caused me to retreat to my room to avoid being despised. But I thus lost any advantage which the intellect can extract from a knowledge of human beings, and because of this, I am often astounded at myself, since I do not know how it was possible that I could have won favor with people, for I knew so little about how to win their favor. My father's sister, the wife of a tasteless old doctor, lived in my hometown. She had a great deal of understanding, and a sense of humor. I as an orphan and as her brother's daughter, was the object of her attention, partially out of pity and partially out of duty, also because she had no children of her own, and I was pleasant and understood her ideas and could laugh with her about them. She could have had an influence upon my mind if her own intellect had been better developed, but she had never read anything intelligent, and the times in which she was young were not the most conducive to the development of women. She therefore read everything which her tasteless husband happend to have: Discourses in the Realm of the Dead, Spook stories, the "Lame Messenger" (an 18th century "People Magazine"), etc., for she liked to read. However, her husband did receive all the scholarly newspapers, and I often got a slap on the hand when I would grab for them under his arm. I first went for the articles by the scholars of Göttingen, for they seemed to me to be the most advantageous, and they stood out because of their clean printing-paper. (Back then the Göttingers still believed in that.) The articles concerning so many of the small details about learned people, their promotions, obituaries, etc., had a special effect on me. I compared these bits of news with the articles in the "Lame Messenger" about kings and emperors, and thus developed my first respect for scholarliness, since learned men received as much honor as the potentates of the earth. I wished so dearly to become learned, and I was annoyed by the fact that my gender excluded me from it. "Well, at least you can become intelligent," I thought, "and you get that way from books--you will read diligently." But where would I get the books that would make me intelligent? In a trade city, there are none. I could already read quite proficiently, and had been able to since before I should have--I think I was able to in my third year!--which was always considered by my mother to be a miracle. With her we often prayed and read out of the Bible. This was my calling, because I excelled at it, and I read with sensitivity. A ridiculous circumstance developed out of this, which led to an increase of this ability. My mother's brother was a Pietist, a rich miser who piously cheated everyone with whom he dealt. He actually lived in Halle and counted himself among the most pious sect of those famous "Head-hangers." This man also lived half a year with us, because he wanted to consolidate his wealth in Thüringen, and wished in Halle (to the glory of God) to cheat his poor relatives, so that he could inherit the rich orphanage. This man did nothing but pray. We had to read a set number of chapters out of the Bible every day, and each of us got a penny a chapter for it. The maids and my sister always fell asleep by the third chapter, but I was so encouraged by my uncle's constant applause and the many pennies, that I read until my uncle himself told me to be quiet. This helped my reading capabilities greatly. With another uncle I read everything that was put in front of me, and was greatly admired when I could read the difficult names of the old Emperors without much difficulty. Many an evening I sat by the sickbed of Madame Baase and read, and wished I could read something better, if I could have had it. Then my brother came from the University. I had hardly even known him, for he had been away at school six years, but he had written to me sometimes, and he liked my childish letters. He forbade me to use printed letters as a model, since that would ruin me. I was just supposed to write whatever came to my mind. From his letters, the first gleam of intellect flashed into my head, or rather, I perceived what many a scholar has never noticed--namely, that I as yet knew nothing. How I anticipated the arrival of my brother, who wanted to bring daylight into my dark brain! He finally came, and it would be useless to try to describe how deeply we loved one another--one heart and one soul. I have my eternally beloved brother to thank for the beginning of all my knowledge, even all my happiness, and I would have been able to have more, if my good mother had not believed that the reading of books, besides the Bible or a Hymnal, is a mortal sin, and slothful for a young lady. How often my love for reading was made bitter; sometimes the books were closed for me, and I was banished to the spinning wheel. Since I could read so proficiently, I would lay my book on my left knee, and spin with my right hand. But when the yarn became tangled, it would start up again--"it did that" so they said, "because she didn't use her left hand and is always reading." I should have learned French, piano and such from my brother, but all of this was rejected as slothfulness for a young lady at a time when one is not yet to be engaged in such lofty matters. In the end I could not even stay too long with him in his room when I was sent to him, for it was thought that I was being ruined by him, and I would never get a professor (in my condition, the latter was, of course, really not possible--but I also did not want a husband). These little unpleasantnesses endowed me with all the more value to my brother. He began to study me, and said to me once:
Young lady, you are more noticed than you believe, but I ask you, for God's sake, if you ever should marry, do not settle for anyone less than a learned and especially, a very intelligent man--for if you are superior to him in this aspect, you will be the unhappiest creature that I could imagine.
I did not then understand what he intended by this, until I subsequently became more notorious, due to my stubbornness, my tendency to scoff at everything, and my will always to be free and independent from the entire world. I began to find a large part of humanity to be intolerable, especially men who were not learned. I had it in my head that men must by all means be smarter than women, because they usurp authority over us. I found that only the fewest had the right to do this out of superiority of mind. This made me malevolent toward an entire gender, which I, a foolish girl, judged only according to the circles in which I lived. I am referring to this circumstance in order to describe the complete condition of the development of my intellect at that time. I lived an extremely lonely life, because I found even less entertainment among the wives of the men that I have described. However, there lived in my hometown, one single wise man who had come there shortly before as a preacher. Music first bonded him with my brother, and out of this musical acquaintance developed a closer relationship, a friendship of the soul. I will not try to describe this man who, among all of my living and deceased friends, always will be the most venerated, next to my Baldinger. Deepest scholarliness, hard-earned knowledge, the greatest intellect and the most noble heart must be designed by a Master's hand, and henceforth I will thus recognize my friend Kranichfeld, who is, in terms of my own intellect, my spiritual father. His counsel has led me from that moment on, through the tumultuous course of my life. Without him I would not be what I am: the wife of a learned and wise man, who is satisfied with me. Notwithstanding his forboding visage, even then my young heart was taken in by his intellect. I loved to be nowhere more than in his company--I sought it out, whenever I could, and gained advantages that have been useful to me through the most important part of my life. He would often laugh as I sat next to him in a cloud of tobacco smoke and listened with joy as he spoke to others, while the remainder of the feminine company became annoyed at the constant book-gabble. My eagerness to please the man finally drew him to me, and he became my friend. He visited me almost daily, after my brother had left, for my brother had asked him to do this, and had said to me: I should never do anything without the counsel of this man. One of the first books that my friend lent to me was the Observer. I was amazed by the book, for I had never read anything more beautiful in my life. Last year I tried to read the book again, but could not. Thus is my present behaviour different than it was then. My brother wrote to me very often. I received, not only letters, but also small essays from him, at least according to the external form. I still read these letters with rapture, and may God reward with eternal joy the efforts that he spent on me while still in Torgau. Our correspondence was interrupted by his death, and my soul received the first wound that the loss of a friend leaves behind. The wound was all the more painful for me, for I had never known that kind of pain. I was not to be comforted, and was in danger of losing my senses--so unspeakable was my mourning for him. I sought to become more stupid than I was for I had lost the benefit which I owed to my now refined intellect. I saw my family mourn for him, my mother lamented the loss of the only staff of her old age, but none was as frantic as I, for none knew him as I did. I did not read any book for a long time, I even cursed reading, and my intellect lay fallow for quite a while, if I may thus express myself. My dear Kranichfeld did more for me than can be expected of the strongest of friendships, and had indescribable patience with my spiritual affliction. I owe my gradual recovery to his efforts, but I remained melancholy and many joys passed by me unenjoyed and unnoticed. My mischievous fiery youth was transformed into a quiet seriousness, unusual for my age; because of this, I was thought to be older than I really was, and intelligent people spoke with me as if I were their equal in age and experience. I found that this pleased me, and I tried to truly earn the respect for which I previously had only chance to thank. I lived in this manner in my hometown another three years, and I became recognized--sometimes misjudged, after I was understood. I did not ever wish to marry, because all physical love seemed repulsive to me. I had all the prerequisites of a Saint--I was devout, and a virgin, a religious enthusiast, except that I could not work miracles--according to all the rules, I would have had to strive for that, so that there would have been something to report about me. My brother had escorted my sister, who had married. Thus I lived all alone with my good mother, and followed my inclinations as I had never before lived for anything. I was allowed to read as much as I wanted, and I read what I had--what my friend could get for me. But even this joy was made bitter by worries about subsistence; I had to accustom myself to work that neither my spirit nor my body could bear. On top of this, my mother was always ill, and I even neared death myself a few times. Regardless of this, I often had the opportunity to make my fortune through marriage, if one can make her fortune by selling her body for the rest of her life to men she cannot love, just so she can have food and drink. The good counsel of my sainted brother was always before my eyes, and in my own mind: I would make that man, as well as myself, unhappy through a marriage, if I could not have the necessary respect for his intellect. My family, who could not ignore my situation, was very reproachful because of this, but I did not pay attention to them, for I thought too honestly to build my happiness upon the misery of an otherwise good man, who simply was not suited for me. This was my situation as I was called to go to my sister, who was expecting and was very ill. Here I accidentally met one of the best men--my dear Baldinger, who (I don't know how I earned it) very quickly formed such a good opinion of me, that he subsequently did me the honor of offering himself as my husband. This suit from a learned, reasonable and at the same time honest man was too much of a compliment to my heart and intellect, for me to have soured his conquest. I would have considered myself lucky even if I were to starve in his company (our prospects at that time did not appear much better than that). We loved one another without a formal engagement, and married without even exchanging rings. I do not believe the soul needs this ceremony. Not many loving couples have married with more honesty; since a multitude of letters, which we provisionally wrote to each other mostly contained a list of our individual weaknesses. Since the more lofty inclinations of my soul have always retained predominance over the lower ones, I do not know if, viewing me as a wife, he has always had things according to his wishes. I have tried to correct my mistakes by further cultivating my mind; have set friendship in the place of basal love, and I still believe that there can be no friendship more noble than ours, for it is based on reciprocal respect. And I have this man, whom I respect above all else, to whom I am so obliged, to thank for all the development of the powers of my soul. He has cultivated my understanding, he has improved my will and my heart. I have read a great deal in his company, and have enjoyed excerpts from more than a thousand books through his discussions. My love for the sciences has grown as I have come to know them better. I believe I would have become a scholar, if Providence had not destined me for the cooking pot, and I still maintain that even in womanly duties one can use the men's understanding out of their books. Six childbirths have helped not a little in the growth of my knowledge--for I have most often begun to read again moments after I have come from the hands of the midwife. And each of these six recovery weeks, in which I could read uninterrupted, were for the most part convalescence for my soul, of course at the cost of my eyes, which were still too weak to focus on print and letters. Because I have accustomed myself always to think, I have always been fully conscious during even the greatest anguish--that which even the Bible declares to be such. I have never shuddered at death when in danger, I also never prayed when it drew near--for I think it indecent to suddenly become pious when it is time to die. I have always tried to live so that I need not fear any evil, even when I die--for at some point I must. Of course I do not wish to die while conscious, since one feels the physical pains too much, and my body is extremely sensitive. I do not know whether it does me any good to be praised by friends because of my intellect. I think that even the stupidest people, if they were to follow with me step by step to the heights where even Kästner and Lichtenberg became my friends, would gain from both of them, in terms of intellect. Does it really deserve admiration that I have become bearable through such good company? Besides these two, I have gotten to know many a worthy man, and each one has profited me without knowing it. My receptive soul is only too prone to gather treasures, and often I may adorn myself with foreign feathers without realizing it, because they may have unobtrusively mixed themselves in among my own. If someone has kept so much knowledge and humor from Kästner in her writing desk, can she remain a simpleton? As a woman, I have become tolerable; how insignificant I would be as a man!
Bibliographic Information
Sophie von la Roche Offenbach
Robert McFarland