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Kaspar Hauser

Kaspar Hauser (April 30, 1812 (?) – December 17, 1833) was a mysterious foundling in 19th century Germany. A now discredited theory linked him with the princely German House of Baden.

Life

First appearance

On May 26, 1828, a teenage boy appeared in the streets of Nuremberg, Germany. He would barely talk, but he carried a letter with him addressed to the captain of the 4th squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment, Captain von Wessenig. It was dated "From the Bavarian border / The place is not named [sic] / 1828". The anonymous author said that the boy was given into his custody, as an infant, on the 7th October 1812, and that he had instructed him in reading, writing, and the Christian religion but had never let him "take a single step out of my house". The letter stated that the boy would now like to be a cavalryman; thus, the captain should take him in or hang him. There was another short letter enclosed, purporting to be from his mother to his prior caretaker. This letter was found to have been written by the same hand as the other one. It stated that he was born on April 30, 1812, and that his father, a cavalryman of the 6th regiment, was dead.

Shoemaker Weickmann took the boy to the house of Captain von Wessenig, where he would only repeat, "I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was," and "Horse! Horse!" Further demands elicited only tears, or the obstinate proclamation of "Don't know". He was taken to a police station, where he would write a name: Kaspar Hauser. He showed that he was familiar with money, could say some prayers, and read a bit, but he answered few questions, and his vocabulary appeared to be quite limited.

Vestner Gate Tower

He spent the following two months in Vestner Gate Tower in the care of a jailor, Andreas Hiltel. Despite what many later accounts would say, he was in good physical condition and could walk well; for example, he climbed over ninety steps to his room. He was of a "healthy facial complexion and approximately sixteen years old, but appeared to be mentally retarded. Mayor Binder, however, claimed that the boy had an excellent memory and was learning quickly. Various curious people visited him, to his apparent delight. He refused all food except bread and water. . At first it was assumed that he had been raised like a half-wild human in forests, but during many conversations with Mayor Binder, Hauser told a different version of his past life, which he later also wrote down in more detail. According to this story he had, for as long as he could think back, spent his life always totally alone in a darkened cell about two meters long, one meter wide, and one and a half high, with only a straw bed to sleep on and a horse carved out of wood for a toy.

He claimed that he had found bread and water next to his bed each morning. Periodically the water would taste bitter, and had been apparently drugged: drinking this would cause him to sleep more heavily than usual, and when he had awakened his straw had been changed, and his hair and nails had been cut. Hauser claimed that the first human being he ever had had contact with had been a mysterious man who had visited him not long before his release, always taking great care not to reveal his face to him. This man, Hauser told, had taught him to write his name by leading his hand. After having learned to stand and to walk he had been brought next to Nuremberg. Furthermore, the stranger allegedly had taught him to say the phrase "I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was" (in Bavarian dialect), but Hauser claimed that he had not understood what these words meant.

This tale, still famous today, aroused great curiosity and made him an object of international attention. Rumors arose that he was of princely parentage, possibly of Baden origin, but there were also claims that he was an impostor. It is nowadays consensus among serious researchers that Hauser's account cannot possibly be true. As Psychiatrist Karl Leonhard explained: "If he had been living since childhood under the conditions he describes, he would not have developed beyond the condition of an idiot; indeed he would not have remained alive long. His tale is so full of absurdities that it is astonishing that it was ever believed and is even today still believed by many people.

Further life in Nuremberg

Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, president of the Bavarian court of appeals, began to investigate the case. Hauser was given to the care of Friedrich Daumer, a schoolmaster and speculative philosopher, who taught him various subjects and thereby discovered his talent for drawing. He appeared to flourish in this environment. Daumer also subjected him to homeopathic treatments and magnetic experiments. As Feuerbach told the story, "When Professor Daumer held the north pole towards him, Caspar put his hand to the pit of his stomach, and, drawing his waistcoat in an outward direction, said that it drew him thus; and that a current of air seemed to proceed from him. The south pole affected him less powerfully; and he said that it blew upon him.

On October 17, 1829, Hauser did not come to the midday meal, but was found bleeding from a cut wound on the forehead, in the cellar of Daumer's house. He asserted that while sitting on the privy he had been attacked and wounded by a hooded man who had also threatened him with the words: "You still have to die ere you leave the city of Nuremberg." Hauser said that by the voice he had recognized the man as the one who had brought him to Nuremberg. As was obvious from his blood trail, Hauser had at first fled to the first floor where his room was, but then instead of moving on to his caretakers, he had returned downstairs, and had climbed through a trap door into the cellar. Alarmed officials called for a police escort and transferred him to the care of Johann Biberbach, one of the municipal authorities. The alleged attack on Hauser also fueled rumors about his possible descent from the House of Baden. Hauser's critics are of the opinion that he had inflicted the wound on himself with a razor, which he then had brought back to his room before he betook himself to the cellar. He might have done so to arouse pity and thus escape chiding for a recent quarrel with Daumer, who had come to believe that the boy had a tendency to lie.

On April 3, 1830, a pistol shot went off in Hauser's room at the Biberbachs' house. His escort hurriedly entered the room and found him bleeding from a wound to the right side of his head. Hauser quickly revived and stated that he had climbed on a chair to get some books, the chair had fallen, and while trying to hold on to something he had accidentally torn down the pistol hanging on the wall, causing the shot to go off. There are doubts whether the (benign) wound had actually been caused by the shot, and some authors associate the incident with a preceding quarrel where, again, Hauser had been reproached for lying. In any case, the occurrence led the municipal authorities to come to another decision on Hauser, whose initially good relationship with the Biberbach family had soured. In May 1830, he was transferred to the house of Baron von Tucher, who later also complained about Hauser's exorbitant vanity and lies. Perhaps the sharpest judgment passed on Hauser was the one by Mrs. Biberbach, who commented on his "horrendous mendacity", his "art of dissimulation", and called him "full of vanity and spite".

Lord Stanhope

A British nobleman, Lord Stanhope, took an interest in Hauser and gained custody of him late in 1831. He spent a great deal to attempt to clarify Hauser's origin. In particular he paid for two visits to Hungary, as Hauser seemed to remember some Hungarian words. Stanhope later declared that the complete failure of these inquiries had led him to doubt Hauser's credibility. In December 1831, he transferred Hauser to Ansbach, to the care of a schoolmaster named Johann Georg Meyer, and in January 1832 Stanhope left Hauser for good. The lord continued to pay for Hauser's living expenses, but never made good on his promise that he would take him to England. After Hauser's death, Stanhope published a book in which he presented all known evidence against Hauser, taking it as his duty "to confess in public that I have been deceived. Followers of Hauser suspect Stanhope of ulterior motives and connections to the House of Baden, but academic historiography defends him as a philanthropist, a pious man, and a seeker of truth.

Life and death in Ansbach

Schoolmaster Meyer, strict and pedantic as he was, disliked Hauser's many excuses and apparent lies, and thus their relationship was quite strained. In late 1832, Hauser was given employment as a copier in the local law office. Still hoping that Stanhope would take him to England, he was much dissatisfied with his situation, which deteriorated further when his patron Anselm von Feuerbach died in May 1833. This certainly was a grievous loss to him. (Some authors, however, point out that Feuerbach had, by the end of his life, apparently stopped believing in Hauser; at least he had written a note, to be found in his legacy, which read: "Caspar Hauser is a smart scheming codger, a rogue, a good-for-nothing that ought to be killed.)

On December 9, 1833, Hauser had a serious argument with Meyer. Lord Stanhope was expected to visit Ansbach at Christmas, and Meyer said that he did not know how he would face him.

Death

Five days later, on December 14, 1833, Hauser came home with a deep wound in his left breast. He said that he had been lured to the Ansbach Court Garden and that a stranger had stabbed him there while giving him a bag. When Policeman Herrlein searched the Court Garden he found a small violet purse containing a penciled note in "Spiegelschrift" (mirror writing). The message read, in German: "Hauser will be able to tell you quite precisely how I look and from where I am. To save Hauser the effort, I want to tell you myself from where I come _ _ . I come from from _ _ _ the Bavarian border _ _ On the river _ _ _ _ _ I even want to tell you the name: M. L. Ö." The wound in Hauser's chest proved to be fatal, and he died on December 17, 1833.

Inconsistencies in Hauser's account led the Ansbach court of enquiry to suspect that Hauser stabbed himself and invented a tale about being attacked. The note in the purse that was found in the Court Garden contained one spelling error and one grammatical error, both of which were typical for Hauser — who, on his deathbed, kept muttering incoherences about "writing with pencil." Although he had been very eager that the purse would be found, he did not ask for its contents. The note itself was folded in a specific triangular form — just the way Hauser used to fold his letters, according to Mrs. Meyer. Forensic doctors agreed that the wound could indeed be self-inflicted. Many authors believe that he had wounded himself in a bid to revive public interest in his story and to convince Stanhope to fulfill his promise to take him to England, but that he stabbed himself more deeply than he had planned.

Burial

Kaspar Hauser was buried in a country graveyard; his headstone reads, "Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious." A monument to him was later erected in the Court Garden which reads Hic occultus occulto occisus est: "Here a mysterious one was killed in a mysterious manner."

The "prince legend"

According to contemporary rumors – probably current as early as 1829 – Kaspar Hauser was the hereditary prince of Baden who was born on September 29, 1812, and who, according to known history, had died on October 16, 1812. It was alleged that this prince had been switched with a dying baby, and had subsequently surfaced 16 years later as Kaspar Hauser in Nuremberg. In this case, his parents would have been Karl, Grand Duke of Baden and Stéphanie de Beauharnais, cousin-by-marriage of Napoleon I of France. Because Karl had no male progeny, his successor was his uncle Ludwig who was later succeeded by his half-brother Leopold. Leopold's mother, the Countess von Hochberg, was the alleged culprit of the boy's captivity. The Countess was supposed to have disguised herself as a ghost, the "White Lady", when kidnapping the prince. Her motive evidently would have been to secure the succession for her sons. After Hauser's death, it was claimed further that he had been murdered, again because of his being the prince.

In 1876, Otto Mittelstädt presented overwhelming evidence against this theory, based on the official documents about the prince's emergency baptism, autopsy and burial. Andrew Lang summarizes the results in his Historical Mysteries: "It is true that the Grand Duchess was too ill to be permitted to see her dead baby, in 1812, but the baby's father, grandmother, and aunt, with the ten Court physicians, the nurses and others, must have seen it, in death, and it is too absurd to suppose, on no authority, that they were all parties to the White Lady's plot. Furthermore, letters of the Grand Duke's mother, published in 1951, give detailed accounts of the child's birth, illness and death, strongly corroborating the evidence against the alleged switch of babies.

DNA analyses

In November 1996 the German magazine Der Spiegel reported an attempt to genetically match a blood sample from pants assumed to have been Kaspar Hauser's. This analysis was made in laboratories of Forensic Science Service in Birmingham and in the LMU Institute of Legal Medicine at the University of Munich. Comparisons with the members of the royal family proved that the blood examined could not possibly stem from the hereditary prince of Baden.

In 2002, the Institute for Forensic Medicine of the University of Münster analyzed hair and body cells from locks of hair and items of clothing that also belonged to Kaspar Hauser. The analysts took from the items used in the test six different DNA samples, all of which turned out to be identical. They differed substantially, however, from the blood sample examined in 1996, whose authenticity is therefore questionable. The new DNA samples were compared to a DNA segment of Astrid von Medinger, a descendant in the female line of the hereditary prince's mother, Stéphanie de Beauharnais. The sequences were not identical but the deviation observed is not large enough to exclude a relationship, as the difference could be caused by a mutation. (The mitochondrial DNA, which was examined, is passed only through the female line and thus cannot change except through mutation.) On the other hand, the relatively high agreement does by no means prove the alleged relationship, as the "Hauser samples" showed a pattern that is common among the German population. The House of Baden continues to be silent on the matter of Kaspar Hauser and does not allow any medical examination of the remains of Stéphanie de Beauharnais or of the child that has been buried as her son in the family vault at Pforzheim.

The letter to von Wessenig

What follows, is a shortened version of the letter addressed to Captain von Wessenig:

From the Bavarian border, the place is not named, 1828

Honoured Captain,
I send you a lad who wishes to serve his king in the Army. He was brought to me on October 7th, 1812. I am but a poor laborer with children of my own to rear. His mother asked me to bring up the boy, and so I thought I would rear him as my own son. Since then, I have never let him go one step outside the house, so no one knows where he was reared. He, himself, does not know the name of the place or where it is.
You may question him, Honoured Captain, but he will not be able to tell you where I live. I brought him out at night. He cannot find his way back. He has not a penny, for I have nothing myself. If you do not keep him, you must strike him dead or hang him.

The other, enclosed letter, which purported to be written by the boy's mother mentioned in the first letter, read as follows:

This child has been baptized. His name is Kaspar; you must give him his second name yourself. I ask you to take care of him. His father was a cavalry soldier. When he is seventeen, take him to Nuremberg, to the Sixth Cavalry Regiment: his father belonged to it. I beg you to keep him until he is seventeen. He was born on April 30th, 1812. I am a poor girl; I can't take care of him. His father is dead.

Medical reports

Dr. Heidenreich, one of the physicians present at the autopsy, claimed that the brain of Kaspar Hauser was notable for small cortical size and few, non-distinct cortical gyri — indicating to some that he suffered from cortical atrophy or, as G. Hesse argued, from epilepsy. But it is doubtful that Heidenreich was right. Dr. Albert, who conducted the autopsy and wrote the official report, disagreed; according to him, Hauser's brain did not show any anomalies. The physician P. J. Keuler showed in a 1997 study that Heidenreich was an adherent to phrenology and may have been misled by phrenologic ideas when considering the autopsy of Hauser's brain. Psychiatrist Karl Leonhard also rejected the views of both Heidenreich and Hesse. He came to the following conclusion: "Kaspar Hauser was, as other authors already opined, a pathological swindler. In addition to his hysterical make-up he probably had the persistence of a paranoid personality since he was able to play his role so imperturbably. From many reports on his behavior one can recognize the hysterical as well as the paranoid trend of his personality.

Cultural references

Literature

Kaspar Hauser inspired the French poet Paul Verlaine to write the poem Gaspard Hauser chante, published in his book Sagesse (1880). Kaspar Hauser is also referred to in Herman Melville's unifinished novella Billy Budd (begun in 1886).

Perhaps the most influential fictional treatment of Kasper Hauser was Jakob Wassermann's 1908 novel Caspar Hauser oder Die Trägheit des Herzens ("Caspar Hauser or the Inertia of the Heart"), which was largely responsible for its popularization in Germany.

In the mid-20th century, Kaspar Hauser was referred to in several works of science fiction or fantasy literature: Eric Frank Russell, in his 1943 novel Sinister Barrier, described Kaspar Hauser as a person who originated from a non-human laboratory. Fredric Brown, in his 1949 short story Come and Go Mad, offered another theory about "Casper Hauser". Robert A. Heinlein, in his 1963 Glory Road, referred to "Kaspar Hausers" as an analogue to persons popping in and out of metaphysical planes. Harlan Ellison, in his 1967 story The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World, suggested that Hauser had been plucked out of time and later murdered by a female sadist named Juliette.

In 1963, Marianne Hauser gave a fictional account of Kaspar Hauser's life in her novel Prince Ishmael.

In 1967, the Austrian playwright Peter Handke published his play Kaspar.

Paul Auster, in his 1985 novel City of Glass, compares the situation of one of its character to Kaspar Hauser.

Kaspar Hauser is also referred to in Katharine Neville's novel The Magic Circle (1998), in Steven Millhauser's short story Kaspar Hauser Speaks (published in The Knife Thrower and Other Stories, 1998) and Jeffrey Eugenides's novel Middlesex (2002) and Lucie Brock-Broido's poem Self-Portrait as Kaspar Hauser (published in Trouble in Mind, 2004). Canadian artist Diane Obomsawin tells the story of Kaspar Hauser in her 2007 graphic novel Kaspar.

Film and television

In 1974, the German filmmaker Werner Herzog made Hauser's story into the film, Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle ("Every Man for Himself and God Against All"). In English the film was either known by that translation, or by the title The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.

In 1993, the German-Austrian co-production Kaspar Hauser – Verbrechen am Seelenleben eines Menschen ("Kaspar Hauser - Crimes against a man's soul"), directed by Peter Sehr, espoused the "Prince of Baden" theory.

In the 1966 film Fahrenheit 451, the protagonist Guy Montag discreetely puts a copy of a book entitled Gaspard Hauser into his bag before the rest of the books in that residence are torched.

In the American TV series Smallville, in the first season (2001) Clark Kent finds a boy who does not to remember who he was or where he came from, except his name. Chloe refers to the boy as a "modern day Kasper Hauser".

In the Japanese horror movie Marebito (2004), the protagonist Masuoka refers to a girl he found chained up underground as his "little Kaspar Hauser".

Music

Musical references to Kaspar Hauser include:

Non-fiction

Anthroposophists have written several books on Kaspar Hauser. One in particular, a detailed work by Peter Tradowsky, addresses the mysteries surrounding Kaspar Hauser's life from the anthroposophical point of view. His analysis delves into the occult significance of the individuality he sees as incarnated in Kaspar Hauser.

Another book on Kaspar Hauser is Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson's Lost Prince: The Unsolved Mystery of Kaspar Hauser (1996).

References

  • Duchess of Cleveland: "The True Story of Kaspar Hauser from Official Documents", Macmillan, London, 1893.
  • Andrew Lang: The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser (in: Historical Mysteries, 1905)
  • Ivo Striedinger: Hauser Kaspar, der „rätselhafte Findling“, in: Lebensläufe aus Franken, III. vol., 1927, pp. 199–215
  • Ivo Striedinger: Neues Schrifttum über Kaspar Hauser, in: Zeitschrift für bayerische Landesgeschichte, 6. Jg. 1933, pp. 415–484
  • Jean Mistler: Gaspard Hauser, un drame de la personnalité, Fayard 1971 [ISBN 978-2213593616]
  • Martin Kitchen: Kaspar Hauser: Europe's Child, Palgrave MacMillan 2001 [ISBN 0-333-96214-1]

Contemporary sources

Footnotes

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