1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Munchausen, Baron

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For works with similar titles, see Münchausen, Hieronymus Karl Friedrich.

MUNCHAUSEN, Baron. This name is famous in literary history on account of the amusingly mendacious stories known as the Adventures of Baron Munchausen. In 1785 a little shilling book of 49 pages was published in London (as we know from the Critical Review for December 1785), called Baron Munchausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia. No copy is known to exist, but a second edition (apparently identical) was printed at Oxford early in 1786. The publisher of both these editions was a certain Smith, and he then sold it to another bookseller named Kearsley, who brought out in 1786 an enlarged edition (the additions to which were stated in the 7th edition not to be by the original author), with illustrations under the title of Gulliver Reviv'd: the Singular Travels, Campaigns, Voyages, and Sporting Adventures of Baron Munnikhouson, commonly pronounced Munchausen; as he relates them over a bottle when surrounded by his friends. Four editions rapidly succeeded, and a free German translation by the poet Gottfried August Bürger, from the fifth edition, was printed at Göttingen in 1786. The seventh English edition (1793), which is the usual text, has the moral sub-title, Or the Vice of Lying properly exposed, and had further new additions. In 1792 a Sequel appeared, dedicated to James Bruce, the African traveller, whose Travels to Discover the Nile (1790) had led to incredulity and ridicule. As time went on Munchausen increased in popularity and was translated into many languages. Continuations were published, and new illustrations provided (e.g. by T. Rowlandson, 1809; A. Crowquill, 1859; A. Cruikshank, 1869; the French artist Richard, 1878; Gustave Doré, 1862; W. Strang and J. B. Clark, 1895). The theme of Baron Munchausen, the "drawer of the long-bow" par excellence, has become part of the common stock of the world's story-telling.

The original author was at first unknown, and until 1824 he was generally identified with Bürger, who made the German translation of 1786. But Bürger's biographer, Karl von Reinhard, in the Berlin Gesellschafter of November 1824, set the matter at rest by stating that the real author was Rudolf Erich Raspe (q.v.). Raspe had apparently become acquainted at Göttingen with Hieronymus Karl Friedrich, Freiherr von Münchhausen, of Bodenwerder in Hanover. This Freiherr von Münchhausen (1720-1797) had been in the Russian service and served against the Turks, and on retiring in 1760 he lived on his estates at Bodenwerder and used to amuse himself and his friends, and puzzle the quidnuncs and the dull-witted, by relating extraordinary instances of his prowess as soldier and sportsman. His stories became a byword among his circle, and Raspe, when hard up for a living in London, utilized the suggestion for his little brochure. But his narrative owed much also to such sources, known to Raspe, as Heinrich Bebel's Facetiae bebelianae (1508), J. P. Lange's Deliciae academicae (1665), a section of which is called Mendacia ridicula', Castiglione's' Cortegiano (1528), the Travels of the Finkenritter, attributed to Lorenz von Lauterbach in the 16th century, and other works of this sort. Raspe can only be held responsible for the nucleus of the book; the additions were made by booksellers' hacks, from such sources as Lucian's Vera historia, or the Voyages imaginaires (1787), while suggestions were taken from Baron de Tott's Memoirs (Eng. trans. 1785), the contemporary aeronautical feats of Montgolfier and Blanchard, and any topical "sensations" of the moment, such as Bruce's explorations in Africa. Munchausen is thus a medley, as we have it, a classical instance of the fantastical mendacious literary genre.

See the introduction by T. Seccombe to Lawrence and Bullen's edition of 1895. Adolf Ellisen, whose father visited Freiherr von Munchhausen in 1795 and found him very uncommunicative, brought out a German edition in 1849, with a valuable essay on pseudology in general. There is useful material in Carl Muller-Fraureuth's Die deutschen Lügendichtungen auf Münchhausen (1881) and in Griesbach's edition of Bürger's translation (1890).