Notes    Kaspar Hauser

Kaspar Hauser

A strange boy was found in Nürnberg, Germany on Whit Monday of 1828.  He was about 16 years old and wore the rough clothes of a peasant; people who talked to him thought him to be either drunk or dumb.  He carried a letter to the captain of the 4. squadron of the 6. cavalry regiment.  A shoemaker took the boy to the captain's house, where the boy repeatedly said, ``Ein Reiter will ich werden, wie mein Vater einer war'' (I want to be a rider like my father).

At the police station, the boy answered all questions with ``woiß nit'' (dunno). He seemed to be stuck on the level of a three­ or four year old, yet, when given paper and pencil, he wrote the name ``Kaspar Hauser.''  He was taken into custody.

Parts of the unsigned letter read:

Hochwohlgebohner Hr. Rittmeister!  Ich schücke ihner ein Knaben der möchte seinen König getreu dienen.  Verlangte Er, dieser Knabe ist mir gelegt worden 1812 den 7 Ocktober, und ich selber ein armer Taglöhner, ich Habe auch selber 10 Kinder, ich habe selber genug zu thun daß ich mich fortbringe ... habe ihm Zeit 1812 Keinen Schritt weit aus dem Haus gelaßen ... wenn sie ihm nicht Kalten so müßen Sie im abschlagen oder in Raufang auf henggen.
(Honorable Sir capatain! I am sending you a boy, who wants to serve his king. ... this boy has been given to me October 7th of 1812, and me a poor day laborer, I also have 10 children myself, I have enough to worry that I get along ... have not let him leave the house since 1812... if you don't keep him you'll have to beat him to death or hang him in the chimney. [Thanks to Georg Essl for assistance with the translation.])

The custodian took Kaspar into his house and watched him.  Kaspar was healthy, but his feet were soft like those of a small child.  He had an innocent smile, but that was all his face would express, and he did not know how to use his fingers at all.  When he tried to walk, he stumbled like a toddler.

Kasper learned to talk in broken sentences.  He could only eat bread and water; other food would not stay with him.  He was not ashamed when the custodian's wife bathed him, and did not seem to be aware of the difference between men and women at all.

The custodian concluded that the boy was not a cheat, that there was some secret surrounding him.  Finally, thanks to the interest of one Dr. Daumer who taught him, Kaspar advanced enough to shed at least some light upon his own past.

Before coming to Nürnberg, he had only ever seen one other human.  As far as he could remember, he had lived in a dark ``Behältnis'' (container), about two meters long, one meter wide, and one and a half high.  There was a straw bed for sleeping; he had worn a shirt and leather trousers.  He found water and bread next to his bed every morning.  Sometimes the water tasted bitter; then he slept, and when he awoke again, someone had changed his clothes and cut his nails.  There was never any light in his container.

One day, a man came in and taught him to write ``Kaspar Hauser'' and to say ``Ein Reiter will ich werden, wie mein Vater einer war.''  When the man carried him outside, the boy fainted from the light and the air.  Next he remembered he was walking through Nürnberg.

People from all over Europe became interested in the boy.  Lawyers, doctors, government officials visited him.  Because of his striking resemblance with members of the Grand Duke of Baden's family, he was connected to them around 1830.  Around the time when Kaspar was born, two heirs to the throne of the Grand Duke had died as infants.

Soon after the death of the current Duke in March 1830 the British Lord Stanhope, supposedly a friend of the successor, Grand Duke Leopold, gained custody of Kaspar.

He publicly declared that Kaspar was Hungarian and had no ties to the family of the Duke.  He also tried to convince others to change their statements and say they'd taken Kaspar for a fraud.  But the German jurist Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach concluded that Kaspar's freedom had taken away from him because of greed; that Kaspar was a legitimate son of the Grand Duke, and that he had been removed to allow someone else to succeed the principal.

When Feuerbach died in 1833, rumors said he had been poisoned because he had found proof for Kaspar's principal heritage.  No such proof was ever shown.  One afternoon in December 1833, Kaspar Hauser was lured into the Ansbacher Hofgarten with the promise of obtaining information about his birth.  The man he met there knifed him into the breast.  Kaspar made it back home, but died three days later.

People told each other that the Grand Duchess Stephanie of Baden, Kaspar's supposed mother, had cried bitterly upon hearing of his death.  Her husband, Karl Friedrich, was the last of the direct principal line; since he had no children, succession fell to the Countess von Hochberg, the second wife of Karl Friedrich.

Rumors say that the Countess Hochberg had exchanged the first child of Stephanie for the dead child of a peasant; Kaspar Hauser was handed to one Major Hennenhofer, and he, in turn, passed it to a former soldier.  Major Hennenhofer, it is said, has admitted all that when he was questioned by Grand Duke Leopold.

The circumstantial evidence seems to support this story, but there is no proof.  When Hennenhofer did, all his private notes were destroyed.

Translated roughly from ``Unglaublich, aber wahr'' (Strange but true), DAS BESTE Verlag, Stuttgart, 1989, a sensationalist, not very interesting, and frequently wrong book.

Night vision

Recently, I encountered another reference to Kaspar Hauser in Oliver Sacks' new book, "An Anthropologist on Mars." In a footnote, Sacks compares a color-blind painter's fondness of dusk and night to that of Kaspar Hauser, as described by Feuerbach.

Incidentally, ``Night Vision'' is also the title of a song by Suzanne Vega on ``Solitude Standing,'' the same album that contains ``Wooden Horse (Caspar Hauser's Song).''