1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hauser, Kaspar

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6151941911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 13 — Hauser, Kaspar

HAUSER, KASPAR, a German youth whose life was remarkable from the circumstances of apparently inexplicable mystery in which it was involved. He appeared on the 26th of May 1828, in the streets of Nuremberg, dressed in the garb of a peasant, and with such a helpless and bewildered air that he attracted the attention of the passers-by. In his possession was found a letter purporting to be written by a poor labourer, stating that the boy was given into his custody on the 7th of October 1812, and that according to agreement he had instructed him in reading, writing, and the Christian religion, but that up to the time fixed for relinquishing his custody he had kept him in close confinement. Along with this letter was enclosed another purporting to be written by the boy’s mother, stating that he was born on the 30th of April 1812, that his name was Kaspar, and that his father, formerly a cavalry officer in the 6th regiment at Nuremberg, was dead. The appearance, bearing, and professions of the youth corresponded closely with these credentials. He showed a repugnance to all nourishment except bread and water, was seemingly ignorant of outward objects, wrote his name as Kaspar Hauser, and said that he wished to be a cavalry officer like his father. For some time he was detained in prison at Nuremberg as a vagrant, but on the 18th of July 1828 he was delivered over by the town authorities to the care of a schoolmaster, Professor Daumer, who undertook to be his guardian and to take the charge of his education. Further mysteries accumulated about Kaspar’s personality and conduct, not altogether unconnected with the vogue in Germany, at that time, of “animal magnetism,” “somnambulism,” and similar theories of the occult and strange. People associated him with all sorts of possibilities. On the 17th of October 1829 he was found to have received a wound in the forehead, which, according to his own statement, had been inflicted on him by a man with a blackened face. Having on this account been removed to the house of a magistrate and placed under close surveillance, he was visited by Earl Stanhope, who became so interested in his history that he sent him in 1832 to Ansbach to be educated under a certain Dr Meyer. After this he became clerk in the office of Paul John Anselm von Feuerbach, president of the court of appeal, who had begun to pay attention to his case in 1828; and his strange history was almost forgotten by the public when the interest in it was suddenly revived by his receiving a deep wound on his left breast, on the 14th of December 1833, and dying from it three or four days afterwards. He affirmed that the wound was inflicted by a stranger, but many believed it to be the work of his own hand, and that he did not intend it to be fatal, but only so severe as to give a sufficient colouring of truth to his story. The affair created a great sensation, and produced a long literary agitation. But the whole story remains somewhat mysterious. Lord Stanhope eventually became decidedly sceptical as to Kaspar’s stories, and ended by being accused of contriving his death!

In 1830 a pamphlet was published at Berlin, entitled Kaspar Hauser nicht unwahrscheinlich ein Betrüger; but the truthfulness of his statements was defended by Daumer, who published Mitteilungen über Kaspar Hauser (Nuremberg, 1832), and Enthüllungen über Kaspar Hauser (Frankfort, 1859); as well as Kaspar Hauser, sein Wesen, seine Unschuld, &c. (Regensburg, 1873), in answer to Meyer’s (a son of Kaspar’s tutor) Authentische Mitteilungen über Kaspar Hauser (Ansbach, 1872). Feuerbach awakened considerable psychological interest in the case by his pamphlet Kaspar Hauser, Beispiel eines Verbrechens am Seelenleben (Ansbach, 1832), and Earl Stanhope also took part in the discussion by publishing Materialien zur Geschichte K. Hausers (Heidelberg, 1836). The theory of Daumer and Feuerbach and other pamphleteers (finally presented in 1892 by Miss Elizabeth E. Evans in her Story of Kaspar Hauser from Authentic Records) was that the youth was the crown prince of Baden, the legitimate son of the grand-duke Charles of Baden, and that he had been kidnapped at Karlsruhe in October 1812 by minions of the countess of Hochberg (morganatic wife of the grand-duke) in order to secure the succession to her offspring; but this theory was answered in 1875 by the publication in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung of the official record of the baptism, post-mortem examination and burial of the heir supposed to have been kidnapped. See Kaspar Hauser und sein badisches Prinzentum (Heidelberg, 1876). In 1883 the story was again revived in a Regensburg pamphlet attacking, among other people, Dr Meyer; and the sons of the latter, who was dead, brought an action for libel, under the German law, to which no defence was made; all the copies of the pamphlet were ordered to be destroyed. The evidence has been subtly analyzed by Andrew Lang in his Historical Mysteries (1904), with results unfavourable to the “romantic” version of the story. Lang’s view is that possibly Kaspar was a sort of “ambulatory automatist,” an instance of a phenomenon, known by other cases to students of psychical abnormalities, of which the characteristics are a mania for straying away and the persistence of delusions as to identity; but he inclines to regard Kaspar as simply a “humbug.” The “authentic records” purporting to confirm the kidnapping story Lang stigmatizes as “worthless and impudent rubbish.” The evidence is in any case in complete confusion.