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Prussian Provincial Newspapers

Published by the Society for the Rescue of Neglected Children in Königsberg for the Benefit of the Institution

Volume Seven
Königsberg 1832

Obituary of Robert Motherby

The feelings of pain surrounding the death of a dear one are often mixed with another feeling that is foreign to us when a full and healthy life is suddenly taken away, but fills us with the most bitter melancholy when a long-suffering and sickened body, whose spirit and innermost being was related to us, returns to dust. If it is true that life, considered in the highest and purest sense, is the very thing that most urgently consoles us about death, then we will be able to bear up in the thought that life gave that strong man what it could offer up to the last hour; that he performed his duty without inhibition until the moment he was called to his eternal home: so too, we must find sufficient cause to still the pain in the fact that here at this grave, the holy hours of the most fruitful blessing, the hours of most animated activity and pure enjoyment are presented to us like silent messengers of peace, from whose joyful proximity the memory of isolated moments of pain must retreat. The cheerfulness and the light of the high summer days soften even the darkness of their nights. Therefore, why should not a blessed, cheerful life also cast its refreshing and comforting glimmer even on the night of the grave? And shall we ever have to complain about the lack of such comforting pleasures in the life of one who is truly healthy and fully developed in his inner capacities? Such a person, no matter how short his life has been, will know how to find the treasures of life, no matter the struggles and effort involved.


It is certainly a different matter when a long-suffering and frail person must pay nature’s debt; then we mourn not only for  death, but also for a much embittered and withered life; it is as if the morbid mood of his life also exerts a destructive influence on our pain for his death, making it more difficult to heal and satisfy than any other mourning of a death. The feeling surrounding the death of a vital man, no matter how much stronger it may rise for having met us unprepared, nevertheless ultimately finds an easier means of consolation precisely in the good whose loss we bemoan, namely in the life of the fallen and the very content of that life. We can certainly accept living with happy reflections on the strong, cheerful figure, and there are moments in which this figure suddenly seems to appear among us in all its freshness of life; but the memory of the ailing friend remains always accompanied by an oppressive, embittered melancholy. And when we wish to speak with the silent, grieving shadow, it seems to turn a deep, melancholy eye on us, such that we must fall silent and ourselves feel trapped in the horror of death itself.

I am unable to bear such thoughts as I undertake to announce in these pages the death of a splendid man, R o b e r t   M o t h e r b y. Even if what I have written does not apply to the present case in all its poignancy, it is nevertheless true in a milder sense.

The external circumstances of the gentleman in question may have little meaning for complete strangers, but they nevertheless clearly show that he was able to exert the energy of his character and truly put it to the test in the liveliest manner. These circumstances have indeed often enough burdened a heart with heavy sorrows, and for these reasons alone, one may take the liberty to briefly recall them to memory for the dear friends of the departed.

Had the deceased been permitted to fulfill his own purpose and choose the lonely and simple status of a scholar, this account certainly could have been made much briefer.

Robert Motherby was born on April 27, 1781 in Königsberg. His father, of the same name and of Scottish heritage, was universally loved and honored as a man with a tremendously good heart, spirit, and humor. His initial domestic education under the eyes of his knowledgeable and sensitive father must have been well suited for quickly awakening the young boy’s spirit to brisk activity and promoting the development of his mind. The pleasant external circumstances of the wealthy and respected merchant, whose house was a model of fine manners and witty society, and which enjoyed the society of outstanding men of the time such as Kant and Hippel, also favored the first efforts for such an education. Our Robert is yet again proof that the earliest impressions we experience in our father’s home should be considered as the most enduring for the entire life. Paternal esteem was immersed in the purest, most tender form of love, and thus the warmth and kindness of the child's heart was also preserved. In a thoroughly decent and noble environment, in which the child's tender feelings were universally spared, a sense of decency and humanity was easily awakened and became a lasting part of his character. Because even his youthful attention was spontaneously drawn to the liveliest and most knowledgeable types of conversation, he was certainly already drawn to the initial thirst for knowledge of the most noble occupation and repulsed by injurious distractions. Even as a grown man, Motherby preserved the highest sense of  goodness and purity of heart; a genial disposition and goodwill were the result of his nature, and his heart was open for the most good-natured impulses; at no moment in his life did he deny uprightness and humanity, and the manner in which he indefatigably worked with the most intense thirst for knowledge and perseverance will be illustrated in the following.

Even as a small child, he distinguished himself through droll ideas and genuine, quiet humor, which because of his nature arose only from the most benevolent feelings and never knowingly harmed another. Even the epigrams that he presented to me in writing were completely free of any hurtful acrimony.

It was a great good fortune for our friend Motherby that he combined these fortunate assets with persistence and endurance, since from his youth he was so physically weak and extremely bilious that this physical quality remained a source of suffering for him throughout his life; all the more so, since he had been led into a career that, according to his own frequent assurances, he never desired and for which he did not feel suited. Another person might have soon perished and been internally consumed, whereas Motherby, precisely when the outer happiness of life appeared to turn its face from him completely and his health suffered ever more due to the storms of his fate, knew how to master his circumstances through his extraordinary internal strength and, even at an advanced age, was capable of truly reflecting his own natural purpose through word and speech. His time of testing began after he had completed his schooling in Marienburg under the current Mr. G.R.R. Jachmann; and just as he himself did not happily discuss the following days, so our account should also pass quickly over this time. The modest and eager boy obeyed the will of his father, who had determined that he should become a merchant, even though this was contrary to his own disposition. Here, however, we must not forget that the study of modern languages, toward which the need for a basic commercial education and favorable domestic relationships guided him, subsequently became a livelihood for him and his greatest pleasure; what at the time was intended only as a means for higher achievements in adverse circumstances later became the focus of his most strenuous mental endeavors.

After first being a trainee in his father’s company office and then receiving his further commercial education in Memel, he was employed for a long time by the firm of Bartels and Strebelow in Elbing and, following the death of that firm's director, conducted a business journey to England for the company.  He spoke frequently and happily about this journey; even in the last years of his life, his detailed diaries from that time gave him great pleasure and were useful in that they gave him the opportunity to relive that time in his memory; indeed, because he was perfectly acquainted with the English customs and language, his personality and manner of life were increasingly aligned with that national character.

Following his return from England, Motherby established himself in Königsberg in 1807, and was married (1810) to Demoiselle Wilhelmine Bartels. Adverse circumstances forced him to give up his commercial business in 1815, however. He undertook a journey to Arnsberg in Westphalia in 1816, although he returned to Königsberg the following year and established himself there once again as a merchant in 1818. Those undertakings for which we lack the determination and inclination are seldom favored by fortune; and thus Motherby was forced to withdraw from commercial activities forever by 1819.

From then on, Motherby was forced to rely upon his own strength and the resources provided by his own skill and knowledge. Every burdensome shackle that had until then restricted him and obstructed his true vocation was finally stripped away, and when he was given the freedom to dedicate himself entirely and without diversion to a deeper study of modern languages, for which he had a natural calling, he was longer be confounded by worries about satisfying his external needs.

He began giving instruction in modern languages, and many grateful students, whom he truly promoted in their knowledge, have praised his methods with admiring recognition. Although his time was in great demand and his walks through the city for hours in storm and adverse weather wore down his already weakened health and exhausted him more and more, the remaining period of his life was a continual offering to science. Even when his narrow and pale face clearly showed signs of exhaustion, he was always amenable to an exciting and elucidating conversation; he would use the few minutes he had between his teaching sessions to clamber up many flights of stairs with a wheezing breast to clarify a scientific doubt in conversation with a friend or to enter into a literary exchange. Restless energy, constant perseverance, deep, well-planned thought, and a mind rich in helpful sources of knowledge all allowed him to exert dominion over his intellectual world. No matter how much he might be pulled away by arduous and tiring professional activities, these attributes enabled him to promote the ripest fruits of his spirit within a short time. Thus he was able to first produce the dictionary of the Scottish dialect, the republication of which was one of the author’s innermost desires. The first printing of this thoroughly original text unfortunately led to a conflict with another distant scholar, who expressed his dissatisfaction with the presentation of a work he had intended to produce himself. It soon turned out, however, that this other lexical undertaking, the publication of which now appeared to be hindered, was intended for a very scholarly audience. Motherby's work, which was more general in nature, therefore would not hinder its dissemination.

Our friend soon calmed down about an indignation which at least should never have become known. This work was soon followed by the English language exercises; both were received with the most appreciative response among the public, which may also be said of “The True History of Romeo and Juliet, Translated from the Italian of della Scala.” The Baltic Sea newspapers also delivered the splendid translation “of the judgment of an English critic concerning Jean Paul and his writings.” Several of the aforementioned works had already brought Motherby to the attention of the scholarly public, and the “Royal German Society” therefore elected him as an ordinary member in 1830. He was constantly involved in this society, and the second volume of the Society's writings contains two essays penned by Motherby that truly attest to his refined mind and his linguistic genius. The fact that they provide enlightening evidence for this has also recently been stated in a most appreciative manner by critical publications. These were the first mature samples of his studies and, to our painful regret, they were simultaneously to be the last. The first of these essays concerns the Scottish poet Burns and the Scottish dialect. Burns, with his flirtations and sweet rhapsodies, was our friend’s favorite poet. Even during the last long illness that he suffered here in Königsberg, he spent his free hours translating a cheerfully wistful song by the Scottish Bard. This was to be his last work. –

The second of the aforementioned essays is entitled “Concerning Learning and Teaching of Modern Languages with Interspersed Comments on Speech and Language in General.” This work can be considered in particular as a legacy for the students of the deceased because in this text, which is full of most refined and incisive linguistic observations, Motherby truly invested the entire capital of experience and insights on language and its study that he had collected over many years with great and sincere effort.

In his interactions, Robert Motherby was always kind, spirited, instructive, and yet extremely modest and accommodating; even when full of joy he was quiet and withdrawn, but among close friends he was lively and engaged; his manner of speaking exuded warm feeling when the conversation centered on topics that were close to his heart or which had attracted him in his research. Even in general, however, his face radiated a cheerful wistfulness and his beautiful, spirited, and melancholy eye gazed full of love and goodwill. The innocent entertainments he found in conversations with his family and like-minded friends were never able to divert him entirely from his beloved research; he enjoyed discussing his findings in quiet conversation.

This was how Robert Motherby was and why he was inexpressibly dear to me. An extended illness brought him to the edge of the grave in the summer of 1832; aided by the last flares of his dying strength and the medical skill of his brother, who was dear to him above all else, he appeared to recover once again; indeed, he pleasantly spoke of undertakings that were to occupy him in the coming winter. But the ominous and distressing site of the sunken, languid form did not raise the foreboding spirits of his friends; they did not interrupt him when he told them of his hopes because the last words of a dying person are indeed holy, and we have almost no words with which to reply. Following a dark and bleary day, the sun emerged once more in the evening and transfigured the pale cheek of a dying man, never to rise for him again. He died on August 1, 1832 on a convalescent journey to friends and relatives in Memel, far from those close to his heart, his wife and siblings.

In him died a heart that had suffered many woes, but which had also enjoyed many divine joys foreign to the common people. He had now come to know the hidden secrets denied to mortal eye. In our thoughts on the departed, we turn now to heaven for comfort, where we believe that all tears will be dried and past sorrows only a forgotten dream.

Caesar von Lengerke.


Translation: Terence Coe

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