Anima Longa, Vita Brevis

«This life is far too short for our soul,» the then 22 year old Johann Wolfgang Goethe said in a speech in 1771. As his contemporary, Margarethe Elisabeth (1748 – 1794) was born the second out of totally ten children in the marriage between Jacob Hinrich Hudtwalcker (1710 – 1781) (not Heinrich Jacob as written in the following texts) and Sara Elisabeth Ehlers (1728 – 1799). Their first born, and Margarethe’s older brother, was Johann Michael (1747 – 1804). He was later on was to continue the family business as the 2nd generation running the company, and also became a well-known Senator of the city of Hamburg.

The story of Margarethe has become known thanks to the achievements of the German historians Rita Bake and Birgit Kiupel. The research and material presented in their book Margaret E. Milow: “Ich will aber nicht murren” has attracted widespread attention to the life of this remarkable woman. It is a story of the youthful and unhappy love affair with an enamour unacceptable to her parents, foremost her father, followed by her opposition to them and the quiet world of the bourgeois they represented. Although her opposition may indeed seem innocent today, the mere fact of raising ones voice against the undisputable parental wisdom was then unheard of. It was something one just did not do, especially not girls or young women. Their destiny was to be married off early, preferably to someone on equal or higher social terms, or to face life as spinsters, the eternal laughing stocks who had failed in their sole mission: marriage and childbirth. Margarethe’s youthful fling was followed by a more acceptable marriage and the role as a mother, before she in her full bloom had to come to terms with the horrible sufferings of breast cancer, not to mention being at the mercy of the doctors and the medical treatment available then.

The texts on these pages offers insights and interpretations of a life lived with strong feelings, empathic intensity and a strive bound to clash with the rules of established conformity of her age. These are the days long before the age of entertainment. There’s not much around in terms of modern distractions. No fancy electronic gadgets to cover up your lack of purpose. No telephones, television, computers, railways and cars. No high speed roads to take you anywhere when you get bored. No fast food chains and digital alarm clock to tell you when to wake up. Yet one better watch out. There’s a stirring on the water, a sign in the skies. See through the dust of trivialities and get down to what’s important and what’s not. Because the days are numbered and already slipping fast beyond the horizon. Disappearing like smoke into a void of etiquette, sociable acceptable conduct and the hallow shadows of hours wrapped up in idleness and silent despair. Unless the soul takes command and turns life into a tool conquering the shades of oblivion gathering speed at the steadily approaching night, you’ll be searching blindfolded for the key.

Back in the days of Margarethe, the commercial media had not killed every meaning of every word. Her story is not intended for the big headlines anyhow. Written by the light of a candle, it’s a story of being up to things, coming to terms them. It’s a story of a very special kind of courage, and thereby also of hope; the fight of an open and reflective mind capable of raising above circumstances, and the limitations of the time one lives in. Her life too short, her soul continues to speak trough the centuries.

 John Michael Hudtwalcker, October 2006
Texts used by kind permission of the copyright owners: Institut für Volkskunde, University of Hamburg, Germany.
English translations by Noricom AS, Oslo, Norway.
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