The true story book/The Story of Kaspar Hauser

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illustrator: H. J. Ford


ON May 28, 1828, the town of Nuremberg in Bavaria, presented a singularly deserted appearance, as it was Whit-Monday, and most of the inhabitants were spending their holiday in the country. A cobbler, who lived in Umschlitt Square, was an exception to the general rule, but towards four o'clock he, too, thought that he would take a stroll outside the city walls. When he came out of his door his curiosity was excited by a strange figure, which was leaning, as

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if unable to support itself, against a wall near, and uttering a moaning sound. The figure was that of a young man of about seventeen, dressed in a grey riding suit, and wearing a pair of dilapidated boots; he held a letter in one hand.

The cobbler's curiosity led him to approach the strange figure, which moaned some incoherent sounds, and held out the letter in its hand. This was addressed 'To the Captain of the 4th squadron of the 6th regiment of dragoons now stationed at Nuremberg'; and, as he lived quite near, the cobbler thought the surest way of gratifying his own curiosity was to take the stranger there. The poor creature stumbled and shuffled along behind his guide, and reached the captain's house quite worn out. The captain was not at home, but his servant, pitying the sufferings of the stranger, gave him a sack of straw to lie on in the stable, and brought him some bread and meat and beer. The meat and the beer he would not touch, but ate the bread greedily and drank some water; he then fell fast asleep. Towards eight o'clock the captain came home, and was told of his strange visitor, and of the letter he had brought with him. This letter was written in a feigned hand, and said that the writer, a poor labourer with ten children, had received the boy in 1812, and had kept him shut up in his house for sixteen years, not allowing him to see or know anything; that he could keep him no longer, and so sent him to the captain, who could make a soldier of him, hang him, or put him up the chimney, just as he chose. He added that the boy knew nothing and could tell nothing, but was quick at learning. Enclosed was a letter giving the date of the boy's birth (April 30, 1812), and purporting to be written by the mother; but the writing, paper, and ink all showed that the two letters were by the same person.

The captain could make nothing of this mysterious letter, but went to the stable, where he found the stranger still asleep. After many pushes, kicks, and thumps he awoke. When asked his name and where he came from, he made some sounds, which were at last understood to be, 'Want to be a soldier, as father was;' 'Don't know,' and 'Horse home.' These sentences he repeated over and over again like a parrot, and at last the captain decided to send his new recruit to the police office. Here he was asked his name, where he came from, &c., &c., but the result of the police inspector's questioning was the same: the stranger repeated his three sentences, and at last, in despair of getting any sensible reply from him, he was put into a cell in the west tower of the prison where vagrants were kept. This cell he shared with another prisoner, a butcher boy, who was ordered to watch him carefully, as the police naturally suspected him of being an impostor. He slept soundly through the night and woke at sunrise. He spent the greater part of the day sitting on the floor taking no notice of anything, but at last the gaoler gave him a sheet of paper and a pencil to play with. These he seized with pleasure and carried them off to a seat; nor did he stop writing until he had covered the paper with letters and syllables, arranged just as they would be in a copy-book. Among the letters were three complete words, 'Kaspar Hauser,' and 'reiter' (horse soldier). 'Kaspar Hauser '

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was evidently his name, though he did not recognise it when called by it.

The news of the strange arrival spread through the city. The guard-house, where he spent part of the day, was thronged by a curious crowd, anxious to see this strange creature, who looked at things without seeing them, who could not bear a strong light, who loathed any food but bread and water, and who, parrot-like, repeated a couple of phrases which he evidently did not understand, and one word, 'horse,' to which he seemed to attach some meaning. What they saw was a youth of about seventeen, with fair hair and blue eyes, the lower part of his face slightly projecting like a monkey's. He was four feet nine inches in height, broad-shouldered, with tiny hands and delicate little feet, which had never worn shoes nor been put to their natural use, for the soles were as soft as a baby's. He was dressed in grey riding-breeches, a round jacket, which had been made out of a frock-coat by cutting off the skirts, and wore a round felt hat bound with red leather. In his pockets were some rags, some tracts, a rosary, and a paper of gold sand.

Everyone who saw him and watched him came to the same conclusion, that his mind was that of a child of two or three, while his body was nearly grown up; and yet he was not half-witted, because he immediately began to pick up words and phrases, had a wonderful memory, and never forgot a face he had once seen, or the name which belonged to it. During the next two or three weeks he spent part of every day in the guard-room; part with the family of the gaoler, whose children taught him to talk and to walk as they did their own baby sister. He was not afraid of anything; swords were whirled round his head without his paying any attention to them; he stretched out his hand to the flame of a lighted candle, and cried when it burnt him, and when he saw his face in a looking-glass, looked behind it for the other person. He was particularly pleased when anything bright or glittering was given to him. Whenever this happened he called out 'Horse, horse,' and made signs as if he wanted to hang it on to the neck of something. At last one of the policemen gave him a wooden horse, when his happiness was complete, and he spent hours sitting on the floor playing with this horse and the dozens of horses which were given to him by his visitors as soon as they heard of his liking for them.

Six or seven weeks passed in this way, and all this time the town council were discussing what they would do with him. At last they decided to adopt him as the 'Child of Nuremberg,' and to have him properly cared for and taught, so that, if possible, something of his past might be learned. He was taken away from the prison and put under the charge of Professor Daumer, whose interest in the youth led him to undertake the difficult task of developing his mind so that it might fit his body. The burgomaster issued a notice to the inhabitants that in future they would not be allowed to see Kaspar Hauser at all hours of the day, and that the police had orders to interfere if the curiosity of visitors led them to annoy Dr. Daumer and his household. He entered Dr. Daumer's house on July 18, 1828, and during the next five months made such astonishing progress that the delight of his teacher knew no bounds. In order to satisfy public curiosity the burgomaster published, in July, a short account of Hauser's previous life, gleaned from him by careful questioning. It was to this effect:—

'He neither knows who he is nor where he came from, for it was only at Nuremberg that he came into the world. He always lived in a hole, where he sat on straw on the ground; he never heard a sound, nor saw any vivid light. He awoke and he slept, and awoke again; when he awoke he found a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water beside him. Sometimes the water tasted nasty and then he fell asleep again, and when he woke up found he had a clean shirt on; he never saw the face of the man who came to him. He had two wooden horses and some ribbons to play with; was never ill, never unhappy in his hole; once only the man struck him with a stick for making too much noise with his horses. One day the man came into his room and put a table over his feet; something white lay on the table, and on this the man made black marks with a pencil which he put into his fingers. This the man did several times, and when he was gone Kaspar imitated what he had done. At last he taught him to stand and to walk, and finally carried him out of his hole. Of what happened next Kaspar had no very clear idea, until he found himself in Nuremberg with the letter in his hand.'

At first sight this story seems quite impossible, but it is borne out by two or three things. Kaspar's legs were deformed in just such a way as would happen in the case of a person who had spent years sitting on the ground; he never walked properly to the end, and had great difficulty in getting upstairs. His feet showed no signs of use, except the blisters made by his boots and his walk to Nuremberg; he could see in the dark easily and disliked light; and finally, for several months after he came to Nuremberg, he refused to eat anything but bread and water, and was, in fact, made quite ill by the smell of meat, beer, wine, or milk.

For the first four months of his stay with Daumer, his senses of sight, taste, hearing, and smell were very acute. He had got past the stage in which he disliked light, and could now see much further than most people by day, without, however, losing his power of seeing in the dark; at the same time he could not distinguish between a thing and a picture of that thing, and could not for a long time judge distances at all, for he saw everything flat. His favourite colours were red and yellow; black and green he particularly disliked; everything ugly was called green. He could not be persuaded that a ball did not roll because it wished to do so, or that his top did not spin of its own accord. For a long time he saw no reason why annuals should not behave like human beings, and was much annoyed because the cat refused to sit up at table and to eat with its paws, blaming its disobedience in not doing as it was told. He further thought that a cow which had lain down in the road would do well to go home to bed if it were tired. His sense of smell was very keen, painfully so, in fact, for he was made quite ill by the smell of the dye in his clothes, the smell of paper, and of many other things which other people do not notice at all; while the smell of a sweep a hundred yards off on the other side of the road upset him for a week. On the other hand, he could distinguish the leaves of trees by their smell.

By November he had made sufficient progress to make it possible for Dr. Daumer to teach him other things besides the use of his senses: he was encouraged to write letters and essays, to use his hands in every way, to draw, to make paper-models, to dig in the garden, where he had a little plot of ground with his name in mustard and cress; in fact, to use his lately acquired knowledge. The great difficulty was to persuade him to eat anything but bread and water, but by slow degrees he learned to eat different forms of farinaceous food, gruel, bread and milk, rice, &c., into which a little gravy and meat was gradually introduced. By the following May he could eat meat without being made ill by it, but never drank anything but water, except at breakfast, when he had chocolate.

For the next eleven months he lived a happy, simple life with his friend and tutor, who mentions, however, that the intense acuteness of his senses was gradually passing away, but that he had still the charming, obedient, child-like nature which had won all hearts. In the summer, public interest was aroused by the news that Kaspar Hauser was writing his life, and the paper was eagerly looked forward to. All went well until October 17, when Kaspar was discovered senseless in a cellar under Dr. Daumer's house, with a wound in his forehead. He was carried upstairs and put to bed, when he kept on moaning, 'Man! man!—tell mother (Mrs. Daumer)—tell professor—man beat me—black sweep.' For some days he was too ill to give any account of his wound, but at last said, that he had gone downstairs and was suddenly attacked by a man with a black face,[1] who hit him on tho head; that he fell down, and when he got up the man was gone; that he went to look for Mrs. Daumer, and, as he could not find her, finally hid in tho cellar to be quite safe. After this murderous attack it was no longer safe to leave him in Dr. Daumer's house, so when well again he was removed to the house of one of the magistrates, and constantly guarded by two policemen, without whom he never went out. He was not very happy here, and after some months was put under the charge of Herr von Tucher (June 1830), with whom he remained for eighteen months. At first the arrangement answered admirably; he was happy in his new home, his only trouble being that he was sent to the grammar school and put into one of the upper forms, where he had to learn Latin, a task which proved too hard for his brain. By this time his face had quite lost the brutish character it had when he came to Nuremberg, and its expression was pleasant, though rather sad. Unfortunately for himself, he was one of the sights of Nuremberg, was always introduced to any stranger of distinction who came to the town, and attracted even more attention than the kangaroo; so that even his warmest friends were obliged to admit that he was rather spoiled.

At the beginning of 1831, an Englishman, Lord Stanhope, came to Nuremberg, saw the foundling, was curiously interested in him, and wished to adopt him. Kaspar was very much flattered, and drew unfavourable comparisons between this Englishman who thought nothing too good for him, and his guardians, who were thinking of apprenticing him to a bookbinder. Lord Stanhope's kindness turned his head, and Herr von Tucher, after repeated remonstrances, resigned his guardianship in December 1831. With the full consent of the town council of Nuremberg, Lord Stanhope removed Ivaspar to Ansbach, and placed him under the care of Dr. Mayer. It was generally supposed that this was only preparatory to taking him to England. Ample funds were provided for his maintenance, but the journey to England was again and again put off; and at last there were signs that Lord Stanhope was not quite satisfied with his new plaything. So much had been said about Kaspar's cleverness, that his new teachers were disappointed to find that his acquirements were about those of a boy of eight. They accused him of laziness and of deceit; and he, finding himself suspected and closely questioned as to everything he did, took refuge in falsehood. At last a government clerkship of the lowest class was procured for him, but great complaints were made of his inattention to his duties (mainly copying); he was unhappy, and, when on a visit to Nuremberg in the summer, made plans for the happy time when he should be able to come back and live with his friends there. For the people of Ansbach, though making him one of the shows of the place, do not seem to have had that perfect belief in him shown by his earlier friends; while his new guardians expected a great deal too much from him. His chief friend in Ansbach was the clergyman who had prepared him for confirmation, who noticed, in November 1833, that he was very much depressed; but this passed away. On the afternoon of December 14, Kaspar came to call on the clergyman's wife, and was particularly happy and bright. Three hours afterwards he staggered into his tutor's house, holding his hand to his side, gasping out 'Garden—man—stabbed—give purse—let it drop—come—' and dragged the astonished Dr. Mayer off to a public garden, where a little purse was found on the ground. In it was a piece of paper, on which was written backwards in pencil these lines: 'I come from the Bavarian frontier. I will even tell you my name, " M. L. O."

Kaspar was taken home and put to bed, when it was discovered that there was a deep stab in his left side. For some hours he was too ill to be questioned, but on the 15th he was able to tell his story. On the 14th, as he was coming out of the government buildings to go home to dinner, he was accosted by a man who premised to tell him who his parents were, if he would come to a spot in the public gardens. He refused, as he was going home to dinner, but made an appointment for that afternoon. After dinner he called on the clergyman's wife, and then went to the gardens, where he found the man waiting for him. The man led him to the Uz monument, which was at a little distance from the main path, and shut in by trees. Here he made him take a solemn oath of secrecy and handed him the little purse, which Kaspar, in his hurry to seize it, let drop. As he stooped to pick it up he was stabbed, and when he lifted himself up the stranger was gone. Then he ran home.

For two days he was not supposed to be in any danger, but fever set in: the doctors gave no hope of his recovery, and on the 17th he died.

His death caused great excitement, not only in Ansbach and Nuremberg, but throughout all Germany. The question as to whether he was an impostor or not was hotly debated; those who favoured the former theory insisting that he had killed himself accidentally when he only meant to wound himself and so excite sympathy. Some of the doctors declared, however, that that was quite impossible, for the wound was meant to kill, and could only have been self-inflicted by a left-handed person of great strength, for it had pierced through a padded coat. A large reward (1.200l.) was offered for the capture of the assassin, but in vain; and the spot of the murder was marked by an inscription in Latin:





(Here the Mystery was mysteriously murdered).

The same idea is repeated on his tombstone. 'Here lies K. H. the riddle of the age. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious.'

His death was the signal for a violent paper-war between his friends and his enemies. It raged hotly for years; but his friends have never succeeded in proving who he was; why, after having been shut up for so long, he was at last set free; or why his death was, after all, necessary; while his enemies have utterly failed to prove that he was an impostor.[2]

  1. Probably the man had tied a piece of black crape over his face as a mask.
  2. This is rather a picturesque than a critical story of Kaspar Hauser. The evidence of the men who first met him shows that he could then speak quite rationally. The curious will find a brief but useful account of him in the Duchess of Cleveland's 'Kaspar Hauser' (Macmillan;. 1893.,)