Originally published in Weird Tales, by E. T. W. Hoffmann; a new translation from the German with a biographical memoir by J. T. Bealby, B.A., formerly scholar of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in two volumes. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1885
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Like many others whose pens have been employed in authorship, the subject of this notice, Ernst Theodor Wilhelm2 Hoffmann, led a very chequered life, the various facts and incidents of which throw a good deal of light upon his writings.
Hoffmann was born at Königsberg in Prussia on the 24th January, 1776.3 His parents were very ill-assorted, and led such an unhappy life that they parted in young Ernst’s third year. His father, who was in the legal profession, was a man of considerable talent and of acute intellect, but irregular and wild in his habits and given to reprehensible practices. His mother, on the contrary, the daughter of Consistorialrath Dörffer, had been trained up on the strictest moral principles, and to habits of orderliness and propriety; and to her regard for outward conformity to old-established forms and conventional routine was added a weak and ailing condition of body, which made her for the most part a confirmed invalid. When, in 1782, the elder Hoffmann was promoted to the dignity of judge and transferred to a criminal court at Insterburg (Prussia), Ernst was taken into the house of his maternal grandmother; and his father appears never to have troubled himself further either about him or his elder brother, who afterwards took to evil ways. The brothers in all probability never met again, though an unfinished letter, dated 10th July, 1817, found amongst Hoffmann’s papers after his death, was evidently written to his brother in reply to one received from him requesting pecuniary assistance.
In his grandmother’s house young Hoffmann spent his boyhood and youth. The members of the household were four, the grandmother, her son, her two daughters, of whom one was the boy’s invalid mother. The old lady, owing to her great age, was also virtually an invalid; so that both she and her daughter scarcely ever left their room, and hence their influence upon young Ernst’s education and training was practically nil. His uncle, however, after an abortive attempt to follow the law, had settled down to a quiet vegetative sort of existence, which he regulated strictly according to fixed rules and methodical procedure; and these he imposed more or less upon the household. Justizrath Otto (or Ottchen, as his mother continued to call him to her life’s end), though acting as a dead weight upon his high-spirited, quick-witted nephew’s intellectual development, by his efforts to mould him to his own course of life and his own unpliant habits of thought, nevertheless planted certain seeds in the boy’s mind which proved of permanent service to him throughout all his subsequent career. To this precise and order-loving uncle he owed his first thorough grounding in the elements of music, and also his persevering industry and sense of method and precision. As uncle and nephew shared the same sitting-room and the same sleeping-chamber, and as the former would never suffer any departure from the established routine of things, the boy Ernst began not only to look forward to the one afternoon a week when Otto went out to make his calls, but also to study narrowly his uncle’s habits, and to play upon his weaknesses and turn them to his own advantage, so that by the time he was twelve years old he was quite an adept at mystifying the staid old gentleman. His aunt, an unmarried lady, was cheerful, witty, and full of pleasant gaiety; she was the only one who understood and appreciated her clever nephew; indeed she was so fond of him, and humoured him to such an extent, that she is said to have spoiled him. It was to her he poured out all his childish troubles and all his boyish confidences and weaknesses. Her love he repaid with faithful affection, and he has memorialised it in a touching way in the character of “Tante Füsschen” in Kater Murr (Pt. I.), where also other biographical details of this period may be read. Of his poor mother, feeble in body and in mind alike, Hoffmann only spoke unwillingly, but always with deep respect mingled with sadness.
Two other persons must be mentioned as having exercised a lasting influence upon his early life. One of these was an old great-uncle, Justizrath Vöthöry, brother of both his grandmothers, and a gentleman of Hungarian origin. This excellent man was retired from all business, with the exception that he continued to act as justiciary for the estates of certain well-tried friends. He used to visit the various properties at stated seasons of the year, and was always a welcome guest; for this “hero of olden times in dressing-gown and slippers,” as Wilibald Alexis called him, was the V—— who figures so genially in Das Majorat (“The Entail”). The old gentleman once took his great-nephew with him on one of these trips, and to it we are indebted for this master-piece of Hoffmann. The other person who gave a bent to young Ernst’s mind was Dr. Wannowski, the head of the German Reformed School in Königsberg, where the boy was sent in his sixth or seventh year. Wannowski, who possessed the faculty of awakening slumbering talent in his pupils, and attracting them to himself, enjoyed the friendship and intercourse of Kant, Hippel (the elder), Scheffner, Hamann, and others, and might perhaps lay claim to be called a Prussian Dr. Arnold, owing to the many illustrious pupils he turned out.
During the first seven years of his school-days, young Hoffmann was in nowise distinguished above his school-fellows either for industry or for quickness of parts. But when he reached his thirteenth or fourteenth year, his taste for both music and painting was awakened. His liking for these two arts was so genuine and sincere, and consequently his progress in them so rapid, that he came to be looked upon as a child-wonder. He would sit down at a piano and play improvisations and other compositions of his own creation, to the astonishment of all who heard him, for his performances, though somewhat fantastic, were not wanting in talent and originality, and his diminutive stature made him appear some years younger than he really was. In drawing he early showed a decided inclination for caricature, and in this his quickness of perception and accuracy in reproduction proved of permanent service to him. Later he endeavoured to improve himself both in theory and in practice in higher styles also: in the former by diligent study of Winckelmann, and in the latter by copying the models of the art treasures of Herculaneum preserved in the Royal Library.
In his eleventh year Hoffmann made the acquaintance of Theodor von Hippel, nephew of T. G. Hippel, author of Die Lebensläufe in aufsteigender Linie, a boy one month older than himself. The acquaintance ripened into a warm fast friendship when the two boys recognised each other again at the same school, and they continued faithful devoted friends until the day of Hoffmann’s death. What tended principally to knit them together was the similarity and yet difference in their bringing up and family relations. Both grew up without the society of brothers or sisters or playfellows; but whilst Hoffmann was a son of the town, Hippel’s early days had been spent in the country. In another respect, too, they presented a striking contrast in behaviour; Hoffmann’s chief delight was to mystify and tease his uncle Otto, but Hippel was most scrupulous in paying to all the proper meed of respect which he conceived he owed them. Once when Hippel reproached his friend about his behaviour towards his uncle, young Hoffmann replied, “But think what relatives fate has blessed me with! If I only had a father and an uncle like yours such things would never come into my head.” This saying is significant for the understanding of the early stages of Hoffmann’s intellectual development.
The bonds of inclination and natural liking were drawn still closer by an idea of uncle Otto’s. It was arranged that young Hippel should spend the Wednesday afternoons (when the Justizrath went out to make his round of visits amongst his acquaintances), along with his friend in studying together, principally the classics. And Saturday afternoons were also to be devoted to the same duties whenever practicable. But, as might very well be expected, the classics soon gave way to other books, such as Rousseau’s Confessions and Wiegleb’s Natürliche Magie;4 and these in turn were forced to yield to such pastimes as music, drawing, mummeries, boyish games, masquerades, and even more pretentious adventures out in the garden, such as mimic chivalric contests, construction of underground passages, &c. The boys also discovered common ground in their desire to cultivate their minds by poetry and other reading. The last two years at school were most beneficial and productive in shaping Hoffmann’s mind; he acquired a taste for classics and excited the attention of his teachers by his artistic talents, his graphic powers of representation being noticeable even at this early age. During this time also he cultivated the acquaintance of the painter Matuszewski, whom he introduces by name in his tale Der Artushof (“Arthur’s Hall”).
When sixteen or seventeen years old Hoffmann conceived his first boyish affection, which only deserves mention as giving occasion to a frequent utterance of his at this time, that illustrates one of the most striking sides of his character. It appears that the young lady who was the object of his fancied passion either refused to notice his homage or else laughed it to scorn, for he remarked to his friend with great warmth of feeling, “Since I can’t interest her with a pleasing exterior, I wish I were a perfect image of ugliness, so that I might strike her attention, and so make her at least look at me.”
The beginning of Hoffmann’s university career — he matriculated at Königsberg on 27th March, 1792 — offers nothing of special interest. He decided to study jurisprudence. In making this decision he was doubtless influenced by the family connections and the traditional calling of the male members of the family. As already remarked, his father, his uncle, and his great-uncle had all followed the profession of law, and he had another uncle Dörffer in the same profession, who occupied a position of some influence at Glogau in Silesia. But it is also certain that he was determined to this decision — it cannot be called choice — from the desire to make himself independent of the family in Königsberg as soon as he could contrive to do so, in order that he might free himself from the shackles and galling unpleasantness of the untoward relations in life to which he was there subject. But he was devoted heart and soul to art — to music and painting. As the studies of the two friends, Hoffmann and Hippel, were different, they necessarily did not see so much of each other as previously; but once a week during the winter months they devoted a night to mutual outpourings of the things that were in them — the aspirations, hopes, dreams, and plans for the future, &c., such as imaginative youths are wont to cherish and indulge in. These meetings were strictly confined to their two selves; no third was admitted. Their rules were one bottle of wine for the whole evening, and the conversation to be carried on in rhymed verses; and Hoffmann we find looking back upon these hours with glad remembrance even in the full flush of his manhood and fame: even on his last sad birthday, a few months before his death, he dwells upon them with fond delight.
Whilst, however, devoting himself enthusiastically to the pursuit of art, he did not neglect his more serious studies. He made good and steady progress in the knowledge of law; and he also gave lessons in music. It was whilst officiating in this latter capacity that his heart was stirred by its first serious passion — a passion which left an indelible impress upon all his future life. He fell in love with a charming girl, who had a fine taste and true sentiment in art matters, but who was separated from her admirer by an impassable barrier of rank; but although her social position was far above Hoffmann’s, yet she returned warmly his pure and ardent affection. Hoffmann, however, never disguised from himself the hopelessness of his love; and the fact that it was so hopeless embittered all the rest of his time in Königsberg, until he left it in June, 1796, for a legal appointment at Great Glogau in Silesia.
As these years seem to have been mainly instrumental in forming his character and shaping its outlines and giving depth and strength to its chief features, it is desirable to dwell for a moment upon the principal currents which at this time poured their influences upon him. By nature of a genial and gay temperament, gifted with an acute perception, which he had further trained in sharpness and accuracy, endowed with no small share of talent and with an ardent love for art, ambitious, vain in some respects, full of high spirits, and with a keen sense of humour, and not devoid of originality, he was daily chafed and galled in the depressing atmosphere of his home relations. He felt how illogical was the rigid methodicity, how unreasonable the arbitrary routine, how absurd the restrictions and restraints of his uncle’s household regulations; he was eager to be quit of them, to turn his back upon them; he was anxious to find a congenial field for his powers-~a field where he could turn his accomplishments and genius to good account. The only way in which he could hope to do so at present, at least for some years to come, was by pursuing a legal career, and law he had no inclination for. He says, in a letter to Hippel, dated 25th Nov., 1795, “If it depended upon myself alone I should be a musical composer, and I have hopes that I could do something great in that line; as for the one I have now chosen, I shall be a bungler in it as long as I live.” He gradually came to live upon a strained and barely tolerable footing with his uncle, since as he grew older his tricks and ironical behaviour towards little Otto assumed a more pronounced character, and stirred up in the old gentleman’s mind feelings of suspicion against his unmanageable nephew. In these circumstances we may easily discern the germs of a dissatisfaction not only with his lot in life but also with himself.
Next came the fact of his hopeless love which has just been mentioned. And another and no less potent cause which tended to deepen and intensify this spirit of inward dissatisfaction was the delay that occurred between his passing his entrance examination into the legal profession in July, 1795, and his appointment to a definite post of active duty in June, 1796. To be compelled to wear out his independent, ambitious heart in forced inactivity must have been galling in the extreme, especially when it is remembered how eagerly he was longing to shake himself free from the relations amidst which he had grown up, and his no less earnest desire to get beyond the reach of the passion, or at any rate the object of the passion, that was gnawing at his very heart-strings. To an energetic spirit, longing for a useful sphere of activity, hardly anything can be more fruitful as a source of unhappiness than enforced idleness. And this sentiment Hoffmann gives frequent utterance to in his letters at this period.
During these same months he cultivated his mind by the perusal of the works of such writers as Jean Paul, Schiller, and Goethe, the intellectual giants upon whom the eyes of Germany were at that time fixed in wonder. But this course of reading, instead of counteracting, rather encouraged a native leaning towards poetic dreaming and sentimentality. In a letter to Hippel, dated 10th Jan., 1796, he even says, “I cannot possibly demand that she [the lady he loved] should love me to the same unmeasured extent of passionate devotion that has turned my head — and this torments me. . . . I can never leave her; she might weep for me for twenty-four hours and then forget me — I should never forget her.” There was yet another cause or series of causes which cooperated with those mentioned above to increase the distracted and agitated condition of his heart. It has been already stated more than once that he was a diligent student of music and painting. These formed his recreation from the severe and dry study of law-books; but to these two arts he now added the fascination of literary composition, and wrote two novels, which he entitled Cornaro and Der Geheimnissvolle. The former was rejected by a publisher, who had at first held out some hopes of being able to accept it, on the ground that its author was unknown. Besides this, the productions of his brush failed to sell. Hence fresh sources of disappointment and vexation.
Through all this, however, even in his darkest moods and most desperate moments, he was upheld by the feelings and sentiments associated with his friendship for his unshaken friend Hippel. To him he poured out all his troubles in a series of letters,5 which gave a most graphic account of his mental condition at this period. He led a very retired life, hardly seeing anybody; he calls himself an anchorite, and states he was living apart from all the world, seeking to find food for contemplation and reflection in his own self. He also fostered, perhaps unconscious to himself, high poetic aspirations, and also those extravagant dreams of friendship which were so fashionable in the days of “Posa” and “Werther” and Wieland; “his heart was never more susceptible to what is good,” and “his bosom never swelled with nobler thoughts,” he says in one of his letters. Then he goes on to describe the “flat, stale, and unprofitable” surroundings in the midst of which he was confined. “Round about me here it is icy cold, as in Nova Zembla, whilst I am burning and being consumed by the fiery breath within me,” he says in another place. The violence of his inner conflict, of his heart-torture and unhappiness, finds vent in a wild burst in the letter before quoted of 10th Jan., 1796 (and also in others). He says:—
“Many a time I think it’s all over with me, and if it were not for my uncle’s little musical evenings. I don’t know what really would become of me. . . . Let me stay here and eat my heart out. . . . Nothing can be made of me, that you will see quite well. . . . I am ruined for everything; I have been cheated in everything, and in a most exasperating way.” . . . Again, “If I thought it possible that this frantic imp, my fancy, at which I laugh right sardonically in my calmer moments, could ever strain the fibres of my brain or could touch the feelers of my emotional power, I should wish to cry with Shakespeare’s Falstaff, ‘I would it were bedtime, and all well;’” . . . and “I am accused by the Santa Hermandad of my own conscience.” And in another letter he unbares the root of all his troubles in the exclamation, “Oh! that I had a mother like you.”
Tearing himself away from his lady-love with a violent wrench, Hoffmann left Königsberg in a sort of “dazed or intoxicated state,” his heart bleeding with the anguish of parting. He arrived at Glogau on 15th June, and met with a very friendly reception from his uncle and his uncle’s family, which consisted of his wife and a son and two daughters. But though they appear to have exerted themselves to make the unhappy youth comfortable, his heart and mind were too much occupied with the dear one he had left behind for him to derive full benefit from their kind and well-meant attentions. In the first letter he wrote to his friend from his new home he says, “As Hamlet advised his mother, I have thrown away the worser part of my heart to live the purer with the other half. . . . Am I happy, you ask? I was never more unhappy.” In other letters, written some months later, he writes, “I am tired of railing against Destiny and myself. . . . There are moments in which I despair of all that is good, in which I feel it has been enjoined upon me to work against everything that makes a vaunt of specious happiness.” But he took no manful and resolute steps to battle against his unhappy state; he continued to correspond with the lady of his affections, to gaze upon her portrait, to write to his friend about her, and to dwell upon the past, the hours he had spent in her society. His relatives, though treating him with all kindness, would seem to have endeavoured to reason him out of his passion, since after he had been some months in Glogau, he complains that those who had at first been all love and sympathy were now cold and reserved towards him; he was misunderstood; he was tormented with ennui, and looked with contempt (partly amused and partly bitter) upon the childish follies and fopperies, the trifling and dandling with serious feelings and affections, of the folks amongst whom he lived, who spent their time in “hunting after flies and bonmots.” During these months, however, and during the course of the two years he spent in Silesia, he penetrated deeper into the secret constitution of his own nature than he ever did before or after: we find him confessing to his hot passionate disposition and his quickness to take offence, and making mention of the change that had taken place in him since the days of his early friendship with Hippel — he was become hypochondriacal, dissatisfied with himself, ready to kick against destiny, and prone to assume a defiant attitude towards her and to blame her and call her to account for her treatment of him; then again he was melancholy and sad and sentimental, using in his letters expressions built up after Jean Paul’s style, and indulging in gushing protestations of unalterable friendship. But then this was the age of exaggerated friendships. His humour and joviality did not, however, altogether desert him; he made himself a welcome guest of an evening, and carried out amusing pranks with his merry cousins.
In the spring of 1797 Hoffmann accompanied his uncle on a journey to Königsberg, where he again saw the young girl he loved, but only to open up again all the anguish of the wounds that had never yet fully healed. On his return to Glogau things continued much as they were previous to his visit to his native town.
Of his two favourite arts, painting seems to have occupied him more than music just at this period. Probably this was due to the influence of the painter Molinari, whose acquaintance he made before he had been six months in Glogau; and besides this man, whom he styles a “child of misfortune” like himself, he also enjoyed the society of Holbein, dramatic poet and actor; of Julius von Voss, a well-known writer; and of the Countess Lichtenau, formerly favourite of Frederick William II. of Prussia, but at that time a sort of prisoner in the garrison at Glogau.6 The serious study of law he also prosecuted most assiduously, and to such good purpose that in June, 1798, he was able to surmount successfully his second or “referendary” examination. But for this earnest and persevering labour there was a special incitement — a particular cause. However contradictory it may sound, he was already engaged in another love affair; this time with the lady who afterwards became his wife, Maria Thekla Michaelina Rorer, of Polish extraction. The beginning of his intimacy with her dates, strange to say, from the early part of the year 1797, just previous to his journey to Königsberg with his uncle. Soon after passing his “referendary” examination, he was moved to the Supreme Court at Berlin, as a consequence of the promotion of his uncle to be geheimer Obertribunalsrath in the capital. But before proceeding to Berlin to take up his residence there, Hoffmann made a tour through the Silesian mountains, partly with an eccentric friend of his uncle’s and partly alone, finishing up the trip by an inspection of the art treasures of Dresden, where he was specially struck with works by Correggio and Battoni (mentioned in Der Sandmann, &c.) and Raphael. One very remarkable incident which happened to him during this trip must not be passed over in silence. He was induced to play at faro at a certain place where he stopped, and though he was perfectly unskilled in the game, yet he had such an extraordinary run of good luck, that he rose from the table with what was for him a small fortune. Next morning the event made so deep and powerful an impression upon his excitable temperament — his mind was so awed by the magnitude of his winnings — that he vowed never to touch a card again so long as he lived; and this vow he faithfully kept. In the tale Spielerglück (“Gambler’s Luck”) we find the incident recorded in the experiences of Baron Siegfried; and in the third volume of the Serapionsbrüder (Part VI.) he relates some of the very amusing eccentricities of his travelling companion, which are too long to be given here.
We next find Hoffmann in Berlin, where, whilst the impressions which he had brought back with him from his excursion were still fresh upon his mind, he began to revel in the enjoyment of the picture-galleries and other opportunities for cultivating his taste in art. Here he saw really how little his own skill in painting was developed; he threw away colours, and took up drawing again like a beginner. His position in a professional regard now took a more favourable turn. Freiherr von Schleinitz, the first president of the court to which Hoffmann was attached, was a friend of Hippel’s; and both he and the genial good-hearted second president Von Kircheisen noticed and encouraged his talents. In consequence, he laboured at his duties and studies with such zeal that he succeeded in passing his third and last examination, the so-called examen rigorosum, and so qualifying for the position of judge in the highest courts of Prussia, in the summer of 1799. He was recommended for an appointment as councillor in a provincial supreme court; but before proceeding to the dignity of councillor it was obligatory upon him to serve a probationary year as assessor. He was accordingly sent down to the newly-acquired Polish provinces (South Prussia, as they were called), to the town of Posen, where work was plentiful and talented and energetic workers were in demand. Before leaving the capital he had the pleasure of seeing his friend Hippel, who spent two happy months with him, living the past over again, visiting Potsdam, Dessau, Leipsic, Dresden, &c., and discussing the journey to Italy, which through all his life Hoffmann continued to dream of as an ideal plan to be some time consummated, but which unfortunately never was consummated. Hippel accompanied his friend to Posen.
The Polish provinces were fraught with great danger for any young man who was not possessed of exceptional firmness and sound moral principles. For a young lawyer, the work was severe and exacting, but the emoluments were large. Time, however, failed to allow of cultivating the higher sources of enjoyment; hence all hastened to make the most of it by throwing themselves into the lower. Drinking was a habit of the country; and the drink that was drunk was of the strongest kinds, the fiery wines of Hungary and strong liquors. There reigned also a deplorable laxity of morals; and the graceful Polish women were very seductive. That Hoffmann followed the example of his colleagues, and plunged into the giddy whirlpool of miscalled pleasure, will perhaps appear natural when we take into consideration the sources of discontent that had for some time been fermenting in his spirit. Having been submitted to the trammels of unreasonable constraint, it need not be wondered at that his passionate restless nature should be enticed by the temptations to which he was now so suddenly and unreservedly exposed, that he forgot all his higher strivings and cast his better purposes to the winds, and drank greedily of the pleasures of life which his newly-won freedom brought in so easy and seductive a form within his reach. He candidly states, “for some months a conflict of feelings, principles, &c., which are directly contradictory the one to the other, has been raging within me; I wished to stifle all recollection, and become what schoolmasters, preachers, uncles, and aunts call profligate.” There was none in the circles which he frequented to encourage him in his desire to reach out after better things, to live himself into “the poetry of life,” as Hitzig expresses it; and hence he fell into the mire of demoralisation, and his fall was the greater since he set about it with deliberate intent.
He was at length so far carried away by the delirious whirl into which he had been caught as to engage in a piece of wanton folly that threw him back upon his career by some years, just as he was about to plant his foot securely upon the path leading to the summits of his profession. Beguiled by his striking talent for caricature, he designed and executed a series of sketches, satirising in an exquisitely witty and humorous style various situations and characters and well-known relations of Posen society. The inscriptions appended to the caricatures were not less skilfully done than were the caricatures themselves. No rank of society was spared, and hardly any person of consequence in the town. One of his friends, who afterwards became his brother-inlaw, distributed the leaves at a masked ball in the disguise of an Italian hawker of pictures, cleverly contriving to place each individual sketch in the hands of the person to whom it would most likely be most welcome. Hence for several minutes universal glee at the excellent jest! But when they came to compare notes, i.e., the presents they had received, the merriment gave way to hot indignation. The author of the outrage was very speedily guessed at, since there was only one person in Posen with proved ability enough to wield the pencil so as to produce such striking likenesses — unfortunate Hoffmann! That very same night it is said that a man of high rank, General von Zastrow, deeply incensed at several of the pieces in which he himself played a ridiculous rôle, sent off an express courier to Berlin with a report of the whole affair. The consequence of the thoughtless trick was that Hoffmann’s patent as councillor to the government at Posen, which lay all ready for signing, was exchanged for one appointing him to the town of Plock (on the R. Vistula). Thither he went early in 1802, accompanied by his wife, whose maiden name was “Rorer, or rather Trzczynska, a Poless by birth, daughter of the former town-councillor T. of Posen, twenty-two years old, of medium stature and good figure, with dark-brown hair and dark blue eyes,” as he himself describes her. He had taken the step of marriage in face of the earnest dissuasion of his uncle Otto, in the last months of his residence in Posen. But previous to this, late in the autumn of 1801, he had paid another visit to Königsberg, meeting on his return journey his friend Hippel; and together they saw Elbing and Dantzic. To this latter visit we owe the story of Der Artushof (“Arthur’s Hall”), published in 1817. Hippel, be it remarked, was disagreeably struck by the change in his friend: Hoffmann gave himself up to an unhealthy degree, to wild and extravagant gaiety, and disclosed a liking for what was low and lewd.
In Plock Hoffmann spent two years. This was a quiet, stagnant place, where, according to his own account, he “was buried alive,” and “walked in a morass covered with low thorny shrubs which lacerated his feet;” he “thought of Yorick and the imprisoned starling;” and he should have given way to despair had not the bitter experiences which he was made to drain to the lees been sweetened by the affection of his dear good wife, who gave him strength for the present and encouraged him to hope for the future. Owing to the external circumstances in the midst of which he was fixed, he again turned his attention seriously to music and painting, and also to authorship. He wrote short essays, composed masses, vespers, and sonatas, and translated Italian canzonets, &c. Scherz, List, und Rache, a Singspiel of Goethe’s, he had already set to music in Posen. During these two years he led a more strictly domestic life, and spent more of his time out of the hours of official duty in his own house, than he ever did afterwards. Here also, as almost everywhere throughout his life he was zealous and industrious in discharging the duties of his position. At length, just as he was beginning to settle down and feel contented with his lot in Plock, his friends in Berlin succeeded in securing his removal (1804) to a better and more congenial sphere of activity in Warsaw. After once more visiting Königsberg in February, 1804, and then spending several days with Hippel on his estate at Leistenau (province Marienwerder, East Prussia), he eventually proceeded to his new post in Poland in the spring of that same year.
One illustrative and very characteristic anecdote of this period deserves mention. In a letter to Hippel, dated “Plock, 3rd October, 1803,” Hoffmann writes, “My uncle in Berlin will never do much more to recommend me, for he has become ‘a grave man,’ as Mercutio says in Shakespeare;7 he died on the night of 24–25th September of inflammation of the lungs.” But in his diary of October 1 he writes, in allusion to the same sad event, “My tears did not flow, nor did fear and grief draw from me any loud lamentations; but the image of the man whom I loved and honoured is constantly before my eyes; it never leaves me. The whole day through my mind has been in a tumult; my nerves are so excited that the least little noise makes me start.” Thus he could jest in the midst of pain; and it is a type of the man’s character.
Warsaw, in notable contrast to other places in the Polish provinces, possessed many things calculated to excite and engage the attention of an active mind, of a mind so eager for knowledge and so keenly alive to all that was especially interesting and extraordinary as was Hoffmann’s. The new scene of his labours cannot be better described than in the words of Hitzig and of Hoffmann himself. The former says the city had
“Streets of magnificent breadth, consisting of palaces in the finest Italian style and of wooden huts which threaten every moment to tumble together about the ears of their indwellers; in these edifices Asiatic sumptuousness most closely mingled with Greenland filth; a populace incessantly on the stir, forming, as in a procession of maskers, the most startling contrasts — long-bearded Jews, and monks clad in the garb of every order, closely veiled nuns of the strictest rules and unapproachable reserve, and troops of young Polesses dressed in the gayest-coloured silk mantles conversing to each other across the spacious squares, venerable old Polish gentlemen with moustaches, caftan, pass (girdle), sabre, and yellow or red boots, the coming generation in the most matchless of Parisian fashions, Turks and Greeks, Russians, Italians, and Frenchmen in a constantly varying crowd; besides this an almost inconceivably tolerant police, who never interfered to prevent any popular enjoyment, so that the streets and squares were always swarming with ‘punch-and-judy’ shows, dancing-bears, camels, and apes, whilst the occupants of the most elegant equipage equally with the common porter stopped to stare at them open-mouthed; further, a theatre conducted in the national language, a thoroughly good French troupe, an Italian opera, German comedians, who were at least ready to undertake almost anything, ‘routs’ of a quite original but extremely attractive kind, and resorts of pilgrims in the immediate vicinity of the town — was there not something for an eye like Hoffmann’s to see and for a hand like Hoffmann’s to sketch?”8
Thus far Hitzig. Hoffmann writes on May 14, 1804:—
“Yesterday . . . I resolved to enjoy myself; I threw away my deeds and sat down to the piano to compose a sonata, but soon found myself in the situation of Hogarth’s Musicien enragé (Wrathful Musician). Immediately underneath my window there arose certain differences between three women selling meal, two wheelbarrow-men, and one sailor; each of the parties pleaded its cause with a good deal of violent demonstration before the tribunal of the hunchback, who stands with a stall under the door-way below. Whilst this was going on the bells of the parish church, of the Bennonites, and of the Dominican church (all close to me) began to clang; in the churchyard of the last named (right opposite to me) the hopeful catechumens were hammering away on two old kettle-drums, with which all the dogs of the neighbourhood, spurred by the strong powers of instinct, joined with a chorus of barkings and howlings — at that moment too Wambach and his musical band of Janissaries trotted gaily past to the merry strains of their own music — meeting them out of [another] street came a herd of swine. A tremendous friction in the middle of the street — seven swine were ridden over! Terrific squealing! — Oh! — oh! a tutti invented for the torture of the damned! Here I threw aside my pen and paper, pulled on my top-boots, and ran away out of the wild mad tumult through the Cracow suburb — through the ‘new world’— down the hill. A sacred Grove received me in its shade; I was in Lazienki.9 Ay, truly, the pleasant palace swims upon the mirror-like lake like a virgin swan. Zephyrs come wafted through the blossoming trees loaded with voluptuous delight. How pleasant to stroll through the thickly foliaged walks! That is the place for an amiable Epicurean to live in. What! why this man with the white nose galloping10 along here through the dark-leaved trees must be the ‘Commendatore’ in Don Juan. Ah! John Sobieski! Pink fecit — male fecit. Oh! what a state of things! He is riding over writhing prostrate slaves, who are stretching up their withered arms to the rearing horse — an ugly sight! What! is it possible? Great Sobieski — as a Roman with wonçi11 has girt a Polish sabre about his waist, and it is made — of wood — ridiculous! . . . You ask me, my dear friend, how I like Warsaw. A motley world! too noisy — too wild — too harum-scarum — everything topsy-turvey! Where can I find time to write, to sketch, to compose music? The king ought to give up Lasienki to me; there one could live nicely, if you like!”12
The first few months of his residence in this “new world,” as it appeared to immigrants from the “old land” of Prussia, Hoffmann spent in familiarising himself with the novelty and strangeness of the place, in wondering at and admiring the motley scenes which daily met his view; and doubtless his acute perceptive faculties gleaned a valuable harvest of notes for use on future occasions, both for his pencil and his pen. About the end of June he formed the acquaintance of J. E. Hitzig, who came down to Warsaw with the rank of assessor in the administrative college in which Hoffmann held that of councillor. The crust of formal courtesy and commonplaces was broken through by Hitzig’s pithy answer, to a question asking his opinion about some newly-arrived colleague, that he was “a man in buckram.” The borrowed words of Falstaff banished Hoffmann’s reserve, and caused his sombre face to light up with joy and his tongue to pour out a brilliant gush of talk. This new-made friend, who had previously (1800, 1801) lived in Warsaw, where he began his career, introduced Hoffmann into a pleasant and intellectual set of men, amongst whom was Zacharias Werner, author of Söhne des Thales, Das Kreuz an der Ostsee,13 &c. Hitzig had spent the interval from 1801 in Berlin, where he had kept fully abreast of the newest productions in literature and art, whilst Hoffmann had been living, partly a rude and riotous life, and partly a solitary and monkish one, at Posen and Plock. Hence the one had plenty to communicate and the other great eagerness to listen, especially as the little he had begun to hear roused anew his slumbering better feelings, and whetted with a keen edge his native desire for self-improvement through art and literature.
In the following year, 1805, one of the Prussian administrative officials, an enthusiast in music, conceived the idea of establishing a club or society for the purpose of amusement and mutual instruction in his favourite art, and for the purpose also of training singers of both sexes. Hoffmann’s interest was enlisted in the scheme; and things proceeded at an energetic rate, the first concert being successful beyond expectation. With this encouragement the society was induced to go to work on a larger and more pretentious scale. The Miniszeki Palace, injured by fire, was bought for the seat of the new academy; and then Hoffmann threw himself into the plans of the society with all his soul, working indefatigably in preparing architectural designs, and later in decorating the halls and corridors. During all the mild days of the spring of 1806 he was never to be met with at home. If not in the government office, he was invariably to be found perched up on a high scaffolding in the new musical Ressource, painter’s jacket on and surrounded by a crowd of colour-pots, amongst which was sure to be a bottle of Hungarian or Italian wine; there he painted and thence he conversed with his friends below. If, on occasion, parties requiring the services of Councillor Hoffmann came to look for him at the new Ressource, whither they had been directed from his own house, they were greatly surprised to see him drop nimbly to the floor from before an elaborate wall-painting of ancient Egyptian gods, mixed up with caricature figures and animal-like fragments of modems (his friends with tails, wings, etc.), hastily wash his hands, trot along in front of them to his place of business, and in a brief space of time turn out some complicated legal instrument with which it would defy the sharpest critic to find anything amiss.
So absorbed was he in this work, and in that of directing at the evening performances and composing music for them, that he hardly knew anything of the dark thunder-cloud of war that was gathering in the West until the news of the fateful battle of Jena came; but upon these music enthusiasts in Warsaw even this intelligence made no perceptible impression. Their concerts and practisings and meetings went on uninterruptedly just as before, until one fine day the advanced guard of the Russian army rode into the streets of the former Polish capital. Soon after the Russian general had taken up his quarters in Praga, close to Warsaw, there appeared on the other side of the town the pioneers of the great army of Napoleon. The Prussians and Russians withdrew from the town. Milhaud arrived with the main body of Murat’s forces; in Napoleon’s name the Prussian Government was dissolved, and its officials were superseded by native Poles. Hence Hoffmann was left without employment. He and his colleagues divided the contents of the treasury between them to prevent its falling into the hands of the French; this secured them from want for the present. Careless about the future, and revelling in the luxury of untrammelled freedom, Hoffmann was now perfectly happy. The excitement was like rich wine to his brilliant fancy; he never had enough of it. He spent all the livelong day in running about seeing and hearing the many remarkable things to be both seen and heard. And the little, restless, energetic man was like quicksilver; he was everywhere. He specially loved to frequent the theatres, where, before the curtain rose, conversations might be heard carried on in ten or a dozen living tongues at once. Pushing his way through the motley throng, he penetrated to every part of the house, busy gathering all sorts of rich observations, and storing up a most varied assortment of experiences; and nothing escaped his falcon eye or remained unnoticed by his keen perception. Many and exquisite were the humorous anecdotes he picked up, the gestures he copied, the tricks and eccentricities he caught, the extraordinary characters he understood and fathomed at a glance; and these experiences he afterwards retailed to his friends, to their unbounded delight.
But amid all the tumult of the French occupation of the city, the evenings at the Musical Ressource still went on the same as ever. Hoffmann indeed, in order to escape the burdens of billeting as well as from motives of economy, took up his residence in one of the attics of the Ressource, where, though somewhat straitened for accommodation (for he had his wife, a niece aged about twelve, and a little baby daughter with him), he was as happy and contented as he well could be. He had the rich library of the Ressource at command, and his own piano stood in one of its rooms; and “that was all he wanted to make him forget the French and the future.” Early in 1807, he took advantage of a favourable opportunity and sent his wife and the two children to her friends in Posen; Hitzig also, and his family, and most other friends, left Warsaw in March of that year: thus Hoffmann was left almost alone. Soon afterwards he was attacked by a grave nervous disorder, but successfully nursed through it by the one or two friends who still remained in the city. On recovering, he wished to go to Vienna, with the view of beginning an artistic career, and was only prevented from carrying out his design by want of money to defray the expenses of the journey. He was in great distress, and even began to despond, until finally in the summer he contrived to get to Posen, and thence to Berlin, where he arrived some time in July.
In Berlin, however, his prospects did not improve. He failed to find employment for his talents: nobody could be got to purchase his sketches or sit to him for a portrait; an attempt to interest Iffland, the actor and dramatist, in him failed; and no publisher could be found for his musical productions. Everything he was willing to do came to nothing. Then came other misfortunes. His ready-money, consisting of six Louis d’or, was stolen from him; news reached him of the death of his dearly-loved daughter Cecily when two years old, and of the illness of his wife. He was on the point of despair, when it suddenly occurred to him to advertise for the post of musical director in a theatre. This had the desired effect of eventually securing him the post he wished, in the theatre at Bamberg which was conducted under the auspices of Count von Soden; but the engagement was not to commence until October, 1808. The intervening months were months of hard struggle for Hoffmann; he says he was almost in the extremities of want, and should have lacked the bare necessaries of life had he not succeeded in disposing of some minor productions in music and painting for a couple of Louis d’or received in advance. In the summer of 1808, he at last fetched his wife from Posen, and then repaired to Bamberg (1st September).
To these years in Warsaw and Berlin belong three operas and other minor musical pieces (including music for Werner’s tragedy Das Kreuz an der Ostsee), several productions of his pencil and brush, but no literary works. Here at the end of what may be termed the first act in E. T. W. Hoffmann’s chequered life we may pause a moment And the pause we may turn to account by quoting a description of his personal appearance and some peculiarities of habit.
“Hoffmann was very short of stature, of yellowish complexion; and he had dark, almost black hair, growing down low upon his forehead, gray eyes which had nothing remarkable about them when they were at rest, but which assumed an uncommonly humorous and cunning expression when he blinked them, as he often did. His nose was thin and of the Roman type, and his mouth tightly closed.
“Notwithstanding his agility, his body seemed to be capable of endurance, for in contrast with his size his breast was high and his shoulders broad.
“During the earlier part of his life his dress was sufficiently elegant, without falling into foppery. The only thing he set great and special store by was his whiskers, which he carefully cut so as to form a point against the corners of his mouth. . . .
“What particularly struck the eye in his exterior was his extraordinary vivacity of movement, which rose to the highest pitch when he began to narrate anything. His manners at receiving and parting from people — repeated quick short bendings of the neck without moving the head — had a good deal that appeared to partake of the nature of caricature, and might very readily have been taken for irony had not the impression made by his singular gestures on such occasions been softened by his cordial warmth of manner.
“He spoke with incredible quickness and in a somewhat hoarse voice, so that he was always very difficult to understand, especially during the last years of his life, when he had lost some of his front teeth. When relating he always spoke in quite short sentences; but when the conversation turned upon art matters and he got enthusiastic — against which, however, he seemed to guard himself — he employed long and finely rounded periods. If he were reading any of his own compositions aloud — whether literary or official — he hurried over the unimportant parts at such a rate that his listeners had hard work to follow him; but those places which are called ‘strong touches’ in a picture he emphasised with almost comic pathos; he screwed up his mouth as he read, and looked round to see if his listeners caught the points, so that he often upset both his own and their equilibrium. Owing to this habit he was conscious that he did not read well, and was always uncommonly pleased if anybody else would relieve him of the task; this, however, was a ticklish thing to do, especially in the case of MSS. copy, for every word read falsely or every hesitating glance upon a word to make sure what it was went like a knife to his heart, and this effect he could not conceal. As a singer he was a fine powerful tenor.”14
To Bamberg Hoffmann went with high hopes of being able to realise the dreams of his life; but his fond expectations were doomed to the bitterest disappointment. His post he barely retained two months. The theatre circumstances were on an exact par with those described in Wilhelm Meister (videatur the name Melina, &c.). Hoffmann’s style of directing gave offence to the Bamberg public on the very first evening; Count von Soden had placed the management of the theatre in the hands of a certain Cuno, whose affairs were so embarrassed that he never, or only seldom, paid his officials, and finally became insolvent in February, 1809. The disappointed director, embittered against the public by his failure to recommend himself to them, supported himself and his wife by composing the incidental music for the various pieces given at the theatre, at a small monthly salary (of which he received but little), and by giving music lessons in many of the best families of the town. But the war approaching that district of Germany caused many of these families to leave the place; and Hoffmann began to be in embarrassed circumstances. Then he wrote an extremely droll letter to Rochlitz, the editor of the Musicalische Zeitung at Leipsic, was taken on as a contributor, and continued to work for this magazine all the time he was in Bamberg — producing mostly reviews and criticisms of musical works, and writing fugitive pieces of musical interest. He also composed several pieces of music of various descriptions independently of those which he wrote for the theatre. Nor was his brush idle, for he received several commissions for large family pictures. Thus things went on until the summer of 1809, when a brighter cloud dawned upon him for a time. One fine summer evening he made the acquaintance of Kunz, a bookseller, publisher, and wine-dealer, at the pleasure-resort of Bug (close to Bamberg) in a characteristic manner. Kunz, an honest, jovial, good-natured giant, not lacking humour and gifted with a remarkable talent for mimicry and imitation, became little Hoffmann’s fast friend — nay, his only real friend — during the whole of the time the latter remained in Bamberg. They were almost inseparable, associated in all amusements and diversions: they spent many long winter evenings together in pouring out their hearts and experiences to each other in mutual confidences, and many long summer evenings at the “Rose,” where according to German custom a throng of visitors gathered to spend the hours between closing business and going to bed. In July, 1810, Holbein, Hoffmann’s Glogau friend, came to undertake the management of the Bamberg theatre. This, of course, could not fail to be of advantage to Hoffmann, who, though he did not resume his post of musical director, yet received a permanent engagement to act in a multitude of departments: he was musical composer, architect, scene-painter, part comptroller of the financial arrangements, and director of the repertoire, &c. Under Holbein’s management the theatre rose to a flourishing level; classic operas and good plays15 were introduced with success, to which the versatile talents of Hoffmann largely contributed. In the evenings the choice spirits of Bamberg, mostly of theatrical and artistic connection, used to assemble in the “Rose,” where Hoffmann was the soul of the party, his genius, wit, irony, and drollery being inexhaustible. Whilst sending out flashes of sarcastic wit or gleams of exquisite humour, he would clench a droll or clever description by quickly embodying his thoughts and words in impromptu sketches, which were handed round to the company. Music and singing, often by the actors and actresses, also added to the entertainment of the evening. Mine host of the “Rose” saw his company increased by some scores of visitors when it was known that the inimitable sharp-eyed little music-director was going to be present; and he used to send across (Hoffmann lived the other side of the street only) during the day to inquire if he intended being there in the evening. But on the whole, Hoffmann was more generally feared than loved, or even respected, by the main body of the townsfolk. His vanity was openly displayed; he must lead the conversation, and everybody else must fall in with his humour and his whim, or they might expect some marked rudeness from his bitter tongue; and the fellow had a confoundedly sharp tongue, and no less sharp a pen and pencil. The most wonderful things were said about him in the town, and to those not intimate with him or who did not know him personally, he was a man to be gazed at from a distance; it was hardly safe to seek his acquaintance, although his talk was said to be something extraordinary, and his gestures and grimaces irresistibly diverting, yet he could also launch stinging barbs and on occasion utter insulting sarcasms. In fact the outside public were wont to regard him as invested with a nimbus of wonder, or even as a sort of dæmonic being. Though these evenings were beyond all conception gay and festive, Hoffmann seldom drank to excess. Of course he drank a good deal: he had acquired the habit, as remarked, at Posen, but he was not a common drinker, who drinks for the drink’s sake. It was the exhilaration it gave to his spirits and the fire it gave to his mind and brilliant parts that he found attractive in the habit.16 Excursions were also made into the country, particularly to Bug; and here, as at Warsaw, the restless “quicksilver” man was everywhere.
In March, 1811, he was fortunate to be introduced to Von Weber the musician, whose regard for his musical talents continued undiminished until his death; and in the same month Hoffmann paid a visit to Jean Paul at Bayreuth, and had from him a fairly cordial reception. Towards the end of the year came the intelligence that his uncle Otto Dörffer of Königsberg had died, leaving him heir to his property. But the sum Hoffmann received barely sufficed, if indeed it did suffice, to pay his debts. These had been accumulated first by Hoffmann’s own want of prudence — when he had money in his purse he spent it merrily without a thought about the morrow — and secondly, by the frequent illness of his wife, the simple, homely, unassuming, good-natured creature with whom he always lived on happy terms in spite of his own unpardonable vagaries. Curiously enough, he used to labour under the odd delusion that she was gifted with keen critical taste and was an intellectual woman, though this was far from being the truth, according to the express evidence of his bosom-friend Kunz.
Amongst Hoffmann’s pupils was a young girl of sixteen, Julia M——; this was his favourite pupil. For her he came to conceive an overmastering passion; but whether it was more of the imagination or of the heart it would appear difficult to decide with absolute certainty. He did not know himself; “he preferred to remain a riddle to himself, a riddle which he always dreaded to have solved;” and he demanded from his friend Kunz that he should look upon him as a “sacred inexplicable hieroglyph.” The girl, who was pretty and amiable, of good understanding, and of child-like deportment towards her music-master, never for a single moment dreamt of such a thing as his passion for her, and so of course she never consciously encouraged it in any way. She did not even show any signs of possessing a dreamy or poetic temperament, or seem to be inclined to sentimentality, so that Hoffmann’s extraordinary infatuation can only be explained as a “fixed insanity.” At any rate, it powerfully affected his mind, and left an indelible trace upon him almost down to his dying day. The day on which her betrothal to a stupid, weak-minded man, a man in all respects unworthy of her, was celebrated at the pleasure-resort of Pommersfelden (four hours from Bamberg), was one which shook Hoffmann’s storm-tossed soul to its profoundest depths. He had hated himself for his weakness, and yet could not or would not manfully resolve to break through it. Now he was compelled to do so, and in a way that was galling to the utmost degree. Her marriage turned out an unhappy one; and eight years later, that is two years before his death, hearing she was in great trouble, he sent many kind messages to her through a mutual friend. These relations are detailed with striking truth and fidelity in the Nachricht von den neusten Schicksalen des Hundes Berganza, published in the Fantasiestücke in Callot’s Manier (1814–15). Perhaps, if we sufficiently compare the descriptions which he gives of various heroines in his tales (all of which were written after this time),17 and bear in mind the common characteristic running through them all, namely, that he puts them before us more as individual pictures than as developments of character, giving us purely objective sketches of them after the manner of a painter — if we compare these descriptions with what we know of Hoffmann’s mind and character, his restless, brilliant imagination, and the taint of sensuousness that helped to mar its purity, his keen eye for beauty in form and colour, his strong talent for seeing the things with which he came in contact through an unmistakable veil of either love or hatred, we may perhaps hazard the opinion, without risk of going far wrong, that it was his imagination — the imagination that made up such a large part of the man — that was principally concerned in this remarkable passion; if his heart was also touched, as it would undoubtedly appear to have been, the road to it must no less undoubtedly have been found through his imagination.
Early in 1812 Hoffmann was invited to a banquet at the monastery of the Capuchins; and the visit made an extraordinary impression upon him. All during dinner he could not keep his eyes off a gray-haired old monk with a fine antique head, genuine Italian face, strong-marked features, and long snow-white beard. On being introduced to Father Cyrillus he asked him innumerable questions about the secrets of monastic life, especially about those things of which “we profane have only dim guesses, no clear conceptions.” They got into a poetic and exalted frame of mind, and rose just as it was getting dusk to inspect the chapel and crypt, and other objects of interest. In the crypt Hoffmann was powerfully agitated: he reverently doffed his hat, his wine-heated face became terribly pale, and he visibly showed that he was held in the thraldom of supernatural awe. When Father Cyrillus went on to point out the spot where his own mortal remains should rest, and to indulge in certain pious exhortations to them (Hoffmann and Kunz) to shed a tear upon his grave if they should come there again in after years, Hoffmann lost control of himself; he stood like a marble pillar, his face and eyes set, his hair standing on end, unable to utter a word.18 Then making a gesture upwards he hurried out of the crypt with hasty uncertain steps. The impressions made upon him by this visit, and the observations he gathered, he employed in the Elixiere des Teufels and Kater Murr (pt. II.), the meeting between Kapellmeister Kreisler and Father Hilarius, as well as the description of the monastery and its situation in the latter, being invested with a fine poetic flavour.
The scene in the crypt points to another side of Hoffmann’s character, or rather personality, which hitherto has not been alluded to. In fact, it does not seem, as far as can be gathered from the biographical sources, that it began to be strongly developed until the Bamberg period. We have seen how that early in life he conceived a decided antipathy to the prosaic and the commonplace, and his career up to this point furnishes abundant evidence that he hated with a genuine hatred to keep in the ruts of custom and conventionality, as if bound to do so because such was prescribed by custom and conventionality. His sentiments he never concealed, and his actions harmonised, almost without exception, strictly with his sentiments; for one of his most striking and instructive characteristics was the remarkable fearlessness which he displayed no less in his actual conduct than in his habits of thought. Affectation was far from him; thorough genuineness was stamped upon all he did, showing unmistakably that it came direct from the man himself. In fact it might be said, with special significance, that his inner and his outer life — the in other cases invisible life of the soul and the visible life in action — were perfectly correlated, if not one and indivisibly the same. Being then thus honest with himself,19 and detesting as he did all that was commonplace and wearying, fiat and stale and dull, it is no wonder that he should tend to fall into the opposite extreme, and should delight in the unusual, the singular, the extraordinary. Further, when we remember his fine imaginative powers, his inimitable humour, his vanity, his poetic cast of mind, his bitterness against the public for not appreciating his musical talents, and his consequent fits of fierce defiance and satiric gloom, there is still less cause for wonder when we find this propensity for seeking the uncommon and the marvellous deepening and developing in time into an unconquerable penchant for what was grotesque and eccentric, for what was fantastic, unnatural, ghostly, and horrible. He loved to occupy his fancy most with the extremes of human action, and to dive down into the most secret and unexplored recesses of human nature to bring back thence some wild startling trait that scarce any other imagination save his own would have discovered. If he ever studied human nature at all, it was along the border-lands of rationality; those misty shadowy states, such as insanity, monomania, and hypochondriacal somnambulism, where the soul hardly knows itself and loses touch of reality and almost of self-consciousness. These and the like mysterious states of being exercised a strange fascination upon his spirit. He was constantly pursued by the idea that some secret and dreadful calamity would happen to him, and his mind was often haunted by images of awful form and by “doubles” of himself and others. He even believed he saw visions with his own bodily eyes, and no expostulations of his friends could drive this belief out of his head. Not only when he was engaged in writing, but even in the midst of an ordinary conversation, at supper, or whilst drinking a social glass of wine or rum, he would suddenly exclaim, “See there — there — that ugly little pigmy — see what capers he cuts. Pray don’t incommode yourself, my little man. You are at liberty to listen to us as much as you please. Will you not approach nearer? You are welcome.” (Here, and occasionally, he would accompany his words with violent muscular contortions of the face.) “Pray what will you take? Oh! don’t go, my good little fellow.” All this, or similar disconnected phrases, he used to utter with his eyes fixed and riveted upon the place where he affirmed he saw the vision; and if his word was doubted or he was laughed at as a stupid foolish man, he would knit his brows and with great earnestness reiterate his assertions and appeal to his wife to support him, saying, “I often see them, don’t I, Mischa” (Misza, Mischa, short form for the Polish name Michaelina)?
This side of Hoffmann’s individuality is not only one of the most characteristic of him, it is necessary to grasp it in order to understand his written works. These remarks will also serve to make more intelligible the sensation aroused in Hoffmann the evening he was at the Capuchin monastery. It is in the Elixiere des Teufels that these noteworthy traits find in most respects their fullest expression.
To return to the historical narrative. The story Meister Martin and the unfinished Der Feind owe their origin to a visit which Hoffmann paid to Erlangen and Nuremberg in March, 1812. In the same year he also devoted some attention to sport, and learned to use a sportsman’s rifle; but his imagination was always swifter than his rifle-charge. A sitting sparrow he did at length contrive to hit, but a flying one, or a hare, or even a deer, he never could succeed in knocking over, that is to say the real animals. Clods of earth and tufts of grass which his imagination conjured into game he could sometimes hit, but no living animal would ever be likely to approach near him, for his quick restless movements and mercurial gestures were a standing impediment to any game ever coming within shot of him unless actually driven close past his “stand,” and then his excitement either made him fire too soon or else miss. Nevertheless, he enjoyed these sporting excursions, in his own eccentric fashion, immensely.20
During the summer Hoffmann took up his residence for four weeks in the picturesque ruins of the castle of Altenburg, in the immediate neighbourhood of Bamberg, where, whilst living a hermit’s life in company with his spouse, he painted one of the towers with frescoes illustrative of incidents in the life of Count Adalbert von Babenberg, whose residence the castle had formerly been. But he also occupied himself with literary schemes; it was in this retreat that he wrote certain sketches designed to form parts of a work which long occupied his mind, but which never came to anything, namely, the Lichte Stunden eines wahnsinnigen Musikers (Rational Intervals of a Crack-brained Musician). In this he purposed to develop his opinions on the theory of music and the principles of harmony. The fragments were afterwards revised and appeared as the Kreisleriana in the Fantasiestücke.
In the next month, July, his star of adversity was again to be in the ascendant. Holbein severed his connection with the theatre, and Hoffmann lost his fixed income. Things grew darker and darker for him, until he was almost reduced to actual want; at any rate he came to be in very embarrassed circumstances. Singular to say, however, under all this cloud of adversity he maintained a shining face and a light heart behind it. This was peculiar to him; Rochlitz says “he belonged to the large class of men who can bear ill fortune better than good fortune.” During this time of distress, which was a repetition of his dark days in Berlin in 1807–8, he displayed a remarkable activity in his usual pursuits. His criticism of Don Juan, and exposition of the problem of Mozart’s great opera, for which Hoffmann cherished a profound and almost extravagant admiration, owes its origin to this period.21 An anecdote in relation to this will also illustrate his true passionate admiration of art. Kunz lost a child, for which he grieved sadly; two days afterwards Hoffmann advised him to go with him to see Don Juan at night, declaring it would assuage his grief and soothe and comfort his heart. Of course Kunz looked upon the idea as preposterous. Nevertheless Hoffmann would not be denied; he exerted all his arts of persuasion to induce his friend to go. At last Kunz did go; on the way to the theatre Hoffmann discoursed of the opera in such a sensible, acute, and touching way, and so poetically and with especial reference to his friend’s loss, and afterwards in the theatre he expressed his sympathy in such kind and delicate lines, whilst tears of genuine feeling stood in his eyes, that his friend was obliged to admit, “This music of the spheres, which I had heard at least a dozen times before, exerted a greater power over me than all the dictates of reason or the consolations of friends.”
In February, 1813, the struggling exdirector received an altogether unexpected letter from Joseph Seconda, offering him the post of music-director to his opera company at Dresden; and on April 21, 1813, Hoffmann’s residence in Bamberg, which may be regarded as the turning-point in his life, came to an end. Four days later he arrived at his destination without encountering any very serious adventure on the road, although it swarmed most of the way with scouting Bashkirs, Cossacks, Prussian hussars, and Russian dragoons, and was thickly lined with heavy guns and munition-waggons — massing for the battle of Lützen (May 2). On arriving at Dresden Hoffmann found quite unexpectedly his friend Hippel, and with him spent several right happy days. Then he was summoned by Seconda to join him at Leipsic, for Seconda seems to have spent his time between this town and Dresden. But the journey was postponed until May 20th, owing to the proximity of the contending forces and the consequent unsettled state of the country. In the intervals several sharp skirmishes between the Russians and French took place in and close around Dresden. As might be expected, Hoffmann could not check his irrepressible desire to be in the thick of the excitement; on May 9th he was standing close beside one of the town gates when a ball struck against a wall near him and in the rebound hit him on the shin; he quietly stooped down and picked up the flattened “coin,” and preserved it as a memento, “being quite satisfied with that one memento, unselfishly not asking for any more,” as he wrote. Even during these troubled restless days he worked at the Fantasiestücke. On the way to Leipsic happened a startling occurrence, which probably served as the prototype for the catastrophe at the end of Das Majorat (The Entail). The coach was upset and a newly married Countess was taken up dead; Hoffmann’s own wife also received a severe wound on the head. Seconda’s troupe only remained in Leipsic a few weeks longer; permission was given him to play in the Court theatre at Dresden; hence on 24th June we find Hoffmann on his way back to Dresden, and deriving in his characteristic fashion much amusement from a waggon heavily laden with theatrical appurtenances, living and non-living, something in the style of the carriage scene in Die Fermate.
The return, however, was a return into the very hottest scene of the struggle between the Allies and Napoleon. On August 26th and 27th the fight raged furiously around the walls of Dresden; the quarter in which Hoffmann was living was shelled; the people in the house “bivouaced” under the stone stairs, trembling with fear and anxiety. Hoffmann, however, could not bear to hide away, so he slipped out by a back door and went to join one of his theatrical friends. Looking out of his window they watched the damage done by the shells, and saw one burst in the market-place below, crushing a soldier’s head, tearing open the body of a passing citizen, and seriously wounding three other people not far away. Keller the actor, in his start of apprehension, let his glass fall out of his hand; “I,” says Hoffmann, “drank mine empty and cried, ‘What is life? Not able to bear a little bit of hot iron? Poor weak human nature! God give me calmness and courage in the midst of danger! We can get over it all better so.’” Then he returned to the anxious party under the steps, taking them wine and rum — the latter was Hoffmann’s favourite drink. His presence brought the unfailing good spirits and humour which hardly ever deserted him, even under the darkest cloud of adversity. On the 29th he visited the battle-field and saw its cruel sights and its horrors. But other horrors were in store for the inhabitants of the city; for the next few weeks Dresden was besieged, and her citizens suffered from famine and pestilence and all the other usual terrible concomitants of a siege.
Hoffmann’s literary activity through all these weeks of turmoil was something astonishing. Whilst the thunders of cannon were making “the ground to tremble and the windows to shake,” and the shells were bursting around him and the sharp crack and dull ping of bullets were incessantly striking upon his ear, this extraordinary man sat unconcerned amidst it all, absorbed in literary or musical composition, either writing his Goldener Topf (or Der Dichter und der Componist or Der Magnetiseur) or working out his opera Undine, which was begun in Bamberg in 1812. Even when suffering from the dysentery which raged in the place, his intellectual activity went on without being impaired. In a letter to Kunz of date Sept 8th of this year he writes, “I am, as you will observe, unwearied in cultivating the fine arts, and if tomorrow or the day after I am not blown into the air by a Prussian or Russian or Austrian shell, you will find me fat and well-favoured from art enjoyments of every sort.”
It was through Kunz’s intervention that the Introduction prefixed to the Fantasiestücke was obtained from Jean Paul, and that against Hoffmann’s own wish, for all introductions except those which stand as prolegomena before a scientific work he hated — when a well-known writer prefixed an introduction before the work of an unknown as a sort of attestation, it seemed to him like “an incendiary letter which the young author takes into his hand in order to go and beg for applause with it.” Another short passage from one of his letters to Kunz of this same summer may here be quoted as illustrating a trait in his character:—
“So far about business; and now the earnest request that you will keep in mind and constantly before your eyes who and what I am, and let our business even be inspired with that spirit of cheerfulness and good-humour which always marked our intercourse with each other, and even in money matters prevented the dead, stiff, frosty mercantile style from coming to the surface. I am sure it was quite foreign to both of us, and could only excite in us such fear as we feel when set upon by an angry ‘wauwau,’ at which afterwards we can only laugh to each other.”
This unwillingness, nay almost repugnance to look at things from their serious side, was quite characteristic of him. “But these are odiosa” was a frequent phrase in his mouth.
On 9th December Seconda and his opera company once more repaired to Leipsic, and Hoffmann of course along with them. There on New Year’s Day he was struck down by a severe attack of inflammation in the chest, aggravated by gout, in consequence of a violent cold caught in the theatre; the case was so severe and grave that his life was at times in danger. “Podagrists are generally visited by an especial humour — brilliant fancies; this comforts me; I experience the truth of it, since often when I feel the sharpest pangs I write con amore,” he states in a letter to Kunz (24th March). And during his illness one of his friends “found him in one of the meanest rooms in one of the meanest inns, sitting on a wretched bed, but ill protected against the cold, and with his feet drawn up by gout.” A board was lying in front of him, and he appeared to be busy doing something upon it. “God bless me!” exclaimed his friend, “whatever are you doing?” “Making caricatures,” replied Hoffmann laughing —“caricatures of the cursed Frenchman; I am inventing them, drawing them, and colouring them.” He also wrote about this time the Vision auf dem Schlachtfelde bei Dresden and other pieces, and finished his Undine; further, whilst in this distressing condition, he began the Elixiere des Teufels, the first volume of which was completed in less than a month. This work he intended to be an illustration, or illustrative exposition of his own notions, of “a man who even at his birth was an object of contention between the powers divine and demoniacal, and his tortuous wonderful life was intended to exhibit in a clear and distinct light those secret and mysterious combinations between the human spirit and all those Higher Principles which are concealed in all Nature, and only flash out now and again — and these flashes we call chance.” That he succeeded in his purpose cannot be maintained. His own individuality was too strong for him: he failed to handle his subject from a sufficiently independent standpoint. He was not the artist creating a work that was quite outside himself; he was rather the silk-worm spinning his entangling threads round about himself. The book can scarcely be read without shuddering; the dark maze of humane motion and human weakness — a mingling of poetry, sentimentality, rollicking humour, wild remorse, stern gloom, blind delusion, dark insanity, over all which is thrown a veil steeped in the fantastic and the horrible — all this detracts from the artistic merits of the work, but invests it with a corresponding proportion of interest as a revealer of some of the deepest secrets and hidden phases of the human soul, if one only has the courage to wade through it. The dreamy mystifications and the wild insanity and mystic passion of Brother Medardus are not unrelieved by scenes and characters which bear the stamp of bright poetic beauty and rich comic humour (e.g., the character of the Abbess of the Cistercian convent, the jäger, the description of the monastery, the scenes with Mr. Ewson and Belcampo alias Schönfeld).
For some reason which cannot be quite made out for certain, either in consequence of his continued illness or because of a quarrel with Seconda, Hoffmann found himself once more adrift in the world without an anchor to hold fast by in February, 1814. In striking contrast with his treatment by the Bamberg public, his talents as director whilst with Seconda’s company were fully and adequately appreciated, both by the artistes and the orchestra, as well as by the general public. This may have been due to two causes; first, the actors and actresses were not embarrassed by his directing from the pianoforte instead of with the violin as those in Bamberg were, and in the second place his criticisms and essays on musical subjects in Rochlitz’s Musicalische Zeitung had gained him a certain reputation as an authority in musical matters. After having refused the offer of a post as music-director in his native city of Königsberg in February (1814), he was agreeably surprised by Hippel’s promise to secure his return into official life. Accordingly towards the end of September in that same year he set out for Berlin.
Here ends what may be termed the second act of this very unsettled, eventful life. That this wandering aside from the career he first started upon — viz., that of law and public life to tread the thorny precarious path of art was fraught with greater consequences than can be estimated upon the unfortunate man’s character, will be evident from what has been already stated. These dark years were those mainly instrumental in stifling the good germs that had once been in him, and yet more did they result in encouraging and bringing out prominently all his less praiseworthy qualities. As his works and his life are so intimately interwoven, and as his works were nearly all written subsequent to this disastrous period, it seemed desirable to dwell somewhat upon the events and circumstances of the earlier part of his life. With the view of showing that Hoffmann himself fully understood the nature and tendency of his existence in Bamberg, the following passages are quoted from a letter written to Dr. Speyer in that town in July, 1813:—
“I felt in my own mind perfectly convinced that I must get out of Bamberg as soon as possible if I was not to be ruined altogether. Call vividly to mind what my life in Bamberg was from the first moment of my arrival, and you will allow that everything cooperated like an hostile demoniacal power to thrust me forcibly from the path I had chosen, or rather from art, to which I had devoted my entire existence, my very self with all my activities and energies. My position under Cuno, and even all those unbargained-for duties which were thrown upon me by Holbein, notwithstanding their many seductive attractions, but above all those scenes with —— which I shall never forget and never overcome, the old man’s miserable stupid platitudes, which yet in another respect had a pernicious influence, those wretched, terrible scenes with —— and last of all with — — whom I always thought a parvenu ill-bred imp — in a word, everything that went against all effort and doing and work in the higher life, in which a man raises himself on alert wing above the stinking morass of his miserable crust-begging life, engendered within me an inward dissension — an inward strife, which much sooner than any external commotion around me would have caused me to perish. Every harsh and undeserved indignity I had to suffer only increased my secret rancour, and whilst accustoming myself more and more to wine as a stimulant and so stirring up the fire to make it bum more merrily, I heeded not that this was the only way by which good could come out of the ruinous evil. In these few words, in this brief statement, I hope you will find the key to many things which may have appeared to you contradictory, if not enigmatical But transeant cum ceteris.”22
Again, it can scarcely be doubted that we have a description of his own state when he writes in the Elixiere (Part II.), “I am what I appear to be, and do not appear as what I really am; to myself an unsolvable riddle, I am at variance with my own self.”
The change of residence to Berlin did little to improve Hoffmann’s circumstances. During the first ten months he was, according to the conditions imposed, labouring to make himself acquainted with the changes that had taken place in legal procedure, and to fit himself for entering the service of the state again and resuming his interrupted career; but he received no compensation for his pains; he had to support himself as best he could by the fruits of his pen. On July 1, 1815, he was appointed to a clerkship in the department of the Minister of Justice, which post he exchanged on 1st May, 1816, for that of Councillor in the Supreme Court, being also restored to all his rights of seniority as though no break had ever taken place in his official career. The duties attaching to this office he continued to discharge with his accustomed diligence and skill until promoted in the autumn of 1821 to be a member of the Senate of Higher Appeal in the same court. Notwithstanding his sad and disappointing experiences, and the tempestuous times of his “martyr years” at Bamberg, he was not yet disgusted with the life of an artist. His hopes were not yet alienated from the calling that hovered before his mind as an ideal for so many years. Whilst battling, with somewhat less of reckless high spirits and humour, against the embarrassments and pecuniary difficulties which he had to encounter during these ten months, he was also dreaming of an appointment as Kapellmeister (orchestral director) or as musical composer to a theatre. He says upon this point in a letter to Hippel, of date March 12, 1815, “I cannot anyhow cease to interest myself in art; and had I not to care for a dearly beloved wife, and were it not my duty to try and procure her a comfortable life after what she has gone through with me, I would rather become a music schoolmaster again than let myself be stamped in the juristic fulling-mill.”23 After more than one disappointment in his efforts to secure permanent and remunerative employment, in which efforts he was assisted by his influential friend Hippel, he became a clerk, as already stated, in the department of the Minister of Justice.
In his social relations Hoffmann was more fortunate. He now enjoyed the close companionship of Hitzig again, and through Hitzig was introduced into a select circle which counted amongst its members such men as Fouqué (author of Undine), Chamisso (of Peter Schlemihl fame), Contessa, Koreff, Tieck, Bernhardi, Devrient, and others. The harassing tumultuous days he had passed through during the last eight years had now begun to make him gentler and more modest; his character was more tempered, and his behaviour more subdued. His good-nature too took such a prominent place in the qualities he displayed that Hitzig’s children were quite delighted with their father’s newly arrived friend; for them Hoffmann wrote the pleasant little fairy tale Nussknacker und Mäusekönig (Nutcracker and the King of the Mice). Before the end of 1815 he had finished the second part of the Elixiere des Teufels, to which he himself attached no value, since its connection with the first part was broken; its author’s ideas had got into another track; feelings and circumstances were changed. Still less than Schiller with Don Carlos. did Hoffmann succeed in making an artificial junction between the two parts of his work atone for its breach of artistic unity; he even said later of the first part, “I ought not to have had it printed.” Besides this second part of the Elixiere, he also wrote the concluding pieces of the Fantasiestücke, namely, Die Abenteuer der Sylvesternacht, which owes its existence to Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl and to Chamisso himself, who is portrayed in the work; and also Die Correspondenz des Kapellmeisters Kreisler mit dem Baron Wallborn, that is Hoffmann himself and Baron von Fouqué. With the latter Hoffmann spent a happy fortnight in 1815 at his seat of Nennhausen near Rathenow; Hitzig was also of the party. In August of the following year the opera Undine was put upon the stage. Though Fouqué‘s libretto did not pass without some adverse criticism, all voices were unanimous in praise of the music. Von Weber the musician especially expressed himself warmly in admiration of it, affirming that it was “one of the most talented productions of recent times;” and he especially singled out for attention its truth, its smooth-flowing melodies, and its instrumentation; it was “in truth one gush” of music. The opera was repeated more than a score of times, when unfortunately the theatre was burnt down, and Hoffmann, who lived immediately adjoining it, was almost burnt out of house and home at the same time.
Through the success of this opera as well as through that of his Fantasiestücke, Hoffmann found himself celebrated. He was invited as the hero of the evening to the fashionable tea circles of Berlin, where ignorant or half-educated dilettanti affected an interest in art matters, that was over-strained and wanting in sincerity when it was not ridiculous. For what was there the man could not do? He wrote books about which all Germany was talking, he could improvise on the pianoforte, compose operas, sketch caricatures, and streams of wit gushed from him so soon as he opened his mouth. The homage showered upon him at these gatherings flattered Hoffmann’s vanity for a time, but he soon saw the motives for which he was asked to be present — to amuse the guests with his wit, to accompany the daughter or lady of the house on the piano, to discuss art matters in a becoming way now with an old grandmother, now with a grave professor, to tell diverting anecdotes, to tickle the lazy minds of those who listened with some spicy satire upon their enemies — in fact to be made a useful show of. Quickly fathoming these motives, Hoffmann proved himself readily equal to the occasion: as soon as he began to get bored, which very frequently was the case, he made the most hideous grimaces, and when he saw the company were preparing to draw something from him by way of criticism which they could carry further and perhaps repeat again as springing from their own acute judgment, he began to talk the most arrant nonsense he could think of, or to fire off some of his stinging sarcasms steeped in the bitterness of gall, till there were none but blank and embarrassed faces around him — everybody thinking the man was mad; but he went away delighted at the consternation he had been instrumental in causing. The givers of fashionable teas soon ceased to invite Hoffmann to their entertainments, but they had already sufficiently sown the seeds of fresh mischief in him.
To have more money in his pockets than he just required for the immediate wants of the moment was always fatal to him, and no less so was the excitement attendant upon the giddy whirl of pleasure and social popularity, or what stood for such. These were rocks of danger upon which he always struck. The former led him to indulge in his reprehensible habit of drinking, and the latter soon made him upset all the systems of order and regulation. Day he turned into night and night into day. He shunned for the most part the society of Hitzig and his circle of friends, with their stimulating discussions that cultivated the mind whilst unfolding and developing the feelings, and frequented a low wine-shop and the common coarse company that was to be met with there. Hence during nearly all the rest of his life, that is, from 1816 to 1821, he spent his mornings in the discharge of his official duties at the Supreme Court (two mornings a week, Monday and Thursday), or in writing; the afternoons he generally slept, or in summer took a walk; and the evenings and nights always found him in the wine-shop of his choice; and he never liked to leave it until morning came, nor did any other engagements prevent him from putting in an appearance at his habitual haunt, even though it were past midnight before he were free. As already remarked, however, it was not to sit and drink like a sot that he gave way to this degrading habit, but to get himself “exalted” as he called it, and then when he was duly “exalted” came the firework display of wit and glowing fancy, going on hour after hour without rest or interruption for the space of five or six hours at once. If his tongue was not the medium through which he discharged the creations of his teeming imagination, his eagle eye was spying out all that was ridiculous or strikingly extraordinary, or even what was possessed of a touch of pathos or deep feeling, or he employed his hand in sketching and drawing inimitable caricatures. He never sat idle and silent, and drank steadily and stolidly as so many confirmed drinkers do. Hitzig, who was deeply grieved at this downward course of his friend and at the estrangement it had brought about between them, contrived to draw him away from his demoralising companions of the wine-shop for at least one night a week. On that evening there was a small gathering at Hoffmann’s house, moderation being strictly enjoined as one of the chief regulations of the meeting. This small circle, which consisted of Hoffmann, Hitzig, Contessa, and Koreff,24 and an occasional friend or two whom one of them introduced, called itself “The Serapion Brethren,” this title being adopted from the fact that the first meeting was held on the night of the anniversary of that saint, according to Frau Hoffmann’s Polish almanac. It is interesting to remark that amongst these occasional guests figures the great Danish poet Oehlenschläger in the year 1816. In a letter written to Hoffmann on March 26th, 1821, recommending a young fellow-countryman to him, Oehlenschläger says, “Dip him also a little in the magic sea of your humour, respected friend, and teach him how a man can be a philosopher and seer of the world under the ironical mantle of the mad-house, and what is more an amiable man as well;” and he subscribes himself, “A. Oehlenschläger, Serapion Brother.”
In 1817 was published the collection of tales called Die Nachtstücke, embracing Der Sandmann (The Sand-man) and Das Majorat (The Entail), which reproduce personages and experiences belonging to the years in Königsberg; Die Jesuitenkirche and Das steinerne Herz, going back to his life in Glogau; Das Gelübde, built upon a story related by his wife as connected with her native town of Posen; Das Sanctus, which was suggested by an incident in Berlin soon after Hoffmann’s arrival there; and das öde Haus, this last due to the way in which he was incessantly haunted by the appearance of a closed house in the Unter den Linden. These were mostly written in 1816 and 1817; and to them he added Ignas Denner, which possesses some merit, but is of too gloomy and darkly unpleasant a cast to be attractive to English readers; it was written during the first days in Dresden, just after his emancipation from the Bamberg thraldom. Whilst in it he gives free rein to sombre melancholy, and dips his pen in “midnight blackness,” in Berganza, written about the same time, he has poured out the cynical bitterness and scathing scorn which was then undoubtedly gnawing at his heart. Der Sandmann, though embodying reminiscences of its author’s youth, also contains material derived from an incident which took place during a visit of Hoffmann’s to Fouqué‘s country-seat near Ratenow, and Nathanael was recognised by Fouqué as meant for himself. Das Majorat is, as already stated, a lasting memorial to his old great-uncle, Vöthöry; the moral backbone of the story — the evil destiny attaching to the successors of a man whose ambition aimed at founding a powerful family by an act of injustice to his youngest son — reminds the reader forcibly of the purpose that runs through Hawthorne’s House with the Seven Gables. Of the in many respects admirable story Das Gelübde — it is to be regretted that it is marred by the dangerous nature of the subject;25 it is else poetically treated and invested with a spirit of weird mysticism that would have made it rank higher than what it does. The others in the collection are of lesser merit.
The next year 1818 saw no important work from Hoffmann’s pen; but in 1819 appeared Die seltsame Leiden eines Theaterdirekters, a book written in the form of a dialogue, which was due to the example of his favourite, Diderot’s “Rameau’s Nephew” (by Goethe), and which conveys a tolerably faithful account of Hoffmann’s experiences in the capacity indicated whilst in the town on the Regnitz, and indeed is useful as illustrating the condition of the German stage generally at that period. This was followed by a kind of fairy tale, Klein Zaches genannt Zinnober; as this book was generally believed to be a local satire upon persons and circumstances well known, it entailed many severe strictures and much unpleasantness upon its writer. The truth about it seems to be this: the idea — that of a sort of ugly kobold of the Handy Andy type — was suggested by a sudden fancy during an attack of fever, and in a moment of semi-delirium. On recovering his health again, Hoffmann set to work in his impetuous and hasty way, and worked out the idea in probably less than a fortnight. Similarly his Meister Floh, one of the last and weakest caricatures he wrote, was likely to have entailed disagreeable consequences upon him, had not his last illness come before any authoritative steps could be taken. For he had made use of incidents which came to his knowledge in the official discharge of his duties, and which were of such a character that they ought to have been guarded as inviolable secrets; and he further employed certain phrases which he took from confidential papers that likewise came into his hands in consequence of his public position. In extenuation of his fault, or perhaps in explanation of it, be it remarked that his conduct does not appear to have been actuated by premeditated or deliberate malice, but to have sprung solely from his recklessness and want of prudence: the ridiculous appealed to his sense of humour so irresistibly that nothing was sacred against it, and so nothing was safe from it.
In the summer of 1819 Hoffmann was ordered by his physician to visit the Silesian baths; and he derived excellent benefit from the prescription, coming home stronger and in a more healthful frame of mind than his friends had seen him for a long time. Soon after his return he was appointed on the commission selected to inquire into those secret societies and other suspicious political organisations which were particularly active about this time (Burschenschaften, Landsmannschaften in their political aspect). Towards the end of the year he published the first two volumes of the Serapionsbrüder, the third volume following in 1820 and the fourth in 1821. These volumes contain all his tales that had appeared in various magazines and serial publications, together with others now first published, and are linked together by a running commentary, or rather they are set into it as into a framework; the Serapion Society are represented as meeting at stated intervals, when one or more of the members relate a tale. The discussions which precede and follow the tales are full of sage remarks about art and art-matters and other ripe practical wisdom, and contain perhaps more matured thought than anything else that proceeded from Hoffmann’s pen. Of these numerous stories the best have been selected for translation in these two volumes, namely, Der Artushof (Arthur’s Hall), Die Fermate (The Fermata), Doge und Dogaresse (Doge and Dogess), Meister Martin der Küfner und seine Gesellen (Master Martin the Cooper and his Journey men ), Das Fräulein von Scudéri (Mademoiselle de Scudéri), Spieler Glück (Gambler’s Luck), and Signor Formica. The remaining twelve tales call for no special mention, except perhaps Nussknacker, which has been already alluded to, Das fremde Kind, a curious mixture of reality and fairyland, and Der Zusammenhang der Dinge, which is not devoid of interest. Several of the things in this collection suggest comparison with Poe’s writings for weirdness and bizarre imaginative power, though of course there are wide differences between the styles of the two writers.
In March, 1820, came a letter of good wishes from Beethoven, whose music Hoffmann greatly admired; hence the letter was a source of much real pleasure to him. Spontini, the well-known writer of operas, came to Berlin in the summer of the same year and was received by Hoffmann with every mark of respect. It was indeed maintained that the composer of Undine showed an unworthy servility in the way in which he publicly acknowledged Spontini’s talent. Whether this is true would appear doubtful; servility was not one of the author’s failings, though vanity was. By Spontini’s ministering to his vanity Hoffmann may have been provoked to return him the compliment in his own coin, but it is hardly likely that he went so far as to flatter against his own conviction or against his better judgment. Of his longer and more ambitious works the one which he ranked highest in merit was Lebensansichten des Katers Murr, nebst Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler, the first volume of which appeared in 1820 and the second in 1822. In respect of literary form and execution, as well as of artistic worth, this is undoubtedly Hoffmann’s most finished production (i.e. of his longer works). It contains a good deal of genial, keen, and subtle satire, conveyed in the doings of Murr the tom-cat; and it is also a useful source for early biographical details, both of facts and of mental development and opinions, contained in the “waste-paper leaves” (treating of Kreisler), inserted at frequent intervals between those which carry on the life and adventures of Murr. The third volume, which was all ready and completed in the author’s head, and only wanted writing down, never came to the birth. The first two volumes present to us a personification of Hoffmann’s humoristic self, and the third was to culminate in Kreisler’s insanity, a result brought about by the disappointments and baffling experiences he encountered in life — Hoffmann’s own career, that is; and the whole was to conclude with the Lichte Stunden eines wahnsinnigen Musikers — a work which had been occupying his mind ever since he was in Bamberg, and which had not yet been executed. In 1821 was published one of his weakest things, a fairy tale, Prinzessin Brambilla, which is greatly wanting in clearness of conception, though he himself ranked it highly.
The excesses in which Hoffmann had for so long indulged brought at last, as may easily be conceived, their own inevitable retribution. The first herald of the approaching physical troubles was the death (November 30, 1821) of the sagacious cat who was the real hero of Kater Murr. Hoffmann was much cut up by the death of his favourite, which he described to Hitzig with truly touching pathos.26 Soon after this he was suddenly stricken down by disease — tabes dorsalis; his body gradually died, beginning at the feet and moving up to the brain, a process which lasted several weeks. But from the autumn of 1821 to April, 1822, he was cheered by the daily visits of the beloved friend of his youth, Hippel, who had come up to Berlin for that space of time. Hoffmann celebrated his 46th birthday with this true friend, and with Hitzig and others less dear. Hoffmann and Hippel were dwelling fondly upon the days of their youth and reviving old recollections, when mention was made of death and dying. Hitzig remarked in substance that “life was not the highest of all goods;” this caused the suffering Hoffmann to reply with passionate emphasis, such as he did not give way to on any other occasion during the course of the evening, “No, no — let me live, live — let me only live, no matter in what condition.” “There was something awful,” says Hitzig, “in the way in which these words burst from his lips.” And his wish was fulfilled in terrible wise; one limb after the other failed to perform its office; his feet and hands and certain parts of his inner organism became quite dead. On the day before he died he was virtually a corpse as far as his neck; and so he was full of hope that he should soon be well again, since he “felt no more pain then.” Even in this truly pitiable and helpless condition his imagination continued to pour forth a stream of the most whimsical and humorous fancies, and his cheerfulness was even greater than in the days of sound health. Hippel’s departure in April was a hard blow to him. About four weeks before his death he underwent the sharp operation of being burned on each side of the spine with red-hot irons. When Hitzig entered the room after the terrible operation was over, Hoffmann cried, “Can you smell the flavour of roast meat?” and he said that whilst the doctors were burning him, the thought entered his mind that the “Minister of Police was having him leaded lest he should slip out as contraband;"— he was shrivelled up to a mummy almost, so that, owing to his small size as well, a woman could carry him in her arms. Though his body was thus a perfect wreck, his mental powers were as brilliant and keen as ever; and when his hands proved useless to him, he engaged the services of an amanuensis and went on dictating until almost the very hour of his death. In fact, the last thing he spoke about was a direction for his writer to read to him the passages where he had broken off in Der Feind; then he turned his face to the wall; the fatal rattle was heard in his throat; and all Hoffmann’s earthly troubles were over (June 25, 1822).
It is very remarkable that the works dictated by this extraordinary man on his deathbed show an almost total departure from the style of most of his previous tales. He no longer records his own experiences — the events and occurrences, the sentiments and thoughts, that were peculiarly his own — but he writes from a purely objective standpoint, and creates. Of most of his other works it may be said that they are he; but of these it can only be said they are his in the sense that they owed their origin to him. Meister Johannes Wacht, one of these, is translated in Vol. II. The scene is laid in Bamberg, and the characters of the story were also said to be faithful portraits of actual people in Bamberg; yet we look in vain to find anything like Hoffmann himself in it. Des Vetters Eckfenster, though hardly a tale, is yet one of the best things Hoffmann has written. Those who know Émile Souvestre’s Un Philosophe sous les Toits would find in this thing of Hoffmann’s dying days something to their taste; it is a running commentary on personages seen in the market from the writer’s own window, and each little scene brings before us a true and lifelike character in a few weighty and well-chosen words. Die Genesung, a mere sketch, arose out of the dying man’s pathetic longing to see the green of the woods and the meadows. Der Feind, a fragment full of promise, is a tale of old Nuremberg of the days of Albrecht Dürer, who figures in it. Before being deprived of the use of his hands he had written several other short tales, amongst which may be mentioned Die Doppeltgänger, as being a favourite theme with Hoffmann, and Der Elementargeist, a weird, entrancing story. In Die Räuber he gives us a weak version of Schiller’s celebrated work.
In Hoffmann we have an instance of a man who nearly all his life long failed to get himself placed amid the circumstances in the midst of which it was his one burning wish to be placed. He never found his right calling. He is a man ruined by circumstances (zerfahren). He was not wanting in warm natural feeling, as is proved by his close and faithful friendships with Hippel, Hitzig, and Kunz; and more than one instance of spontaneous kindness and of winning amiability are preserved by his biographer.27 In youth his mind and heart were full of noble thoughts and aspirations, and he was sincerely desirous to educate himself up to better things. We see it in “May it never happen to me that my heart is not readily receptive of every communication from without, as well as for every feeling within, for the head must never injure the heart, nor must the heart ever run away with the head, that is my idea of culture,” and “an excitable heart and a restless nature will never let us be quite happy, but will have a beneficial influence upon our education, upon our striving after greater perfection.” His poetic temperament, and such like poetic tendencies, found no responsive sympathy amongst his relatives. Being thrust back upon himself and then having his feelings centred, when at length they did meet with sympathetic appreciation, in such a way as could only bring disappointment and unhappiness, he was early made a fit instrument for circumstances to play upon, and sorely was he buffeted by them through all the years from going to Posen right down until the day of his death. But this result must also be traced partly to the want of a parent’s loving, watchful eye. In those years which are the most important for moulding a boy’s character he was practically left to go his own way. True, his uncle Otto held him down to habits of industry and order; but he did nothing to encourage the boy’s better and higher nature, or guide it sympathetically along the paths where it was striving to find its own way. Hoffmann had no high idea of the moral dignity of man, and at times even seemed to have but little conception of it. The relations upon which he lived with his uncle Otto and the history of his own father prevented this sense of moral worth from being planted in his mind. The germ which bore fruit in his love for extremes, for what was extraordinary and quite out of the common beaten track of life, was probably engendered in the following way. Not finding the sympathy he needed in his efforts after a better life, he turned in upon himself and began to despise the petty details of everyday existence; and several passages in his letters clearly go to show that his unhappiness and discontent were largely due to the fact of his overlooking the real enjoyment to be derived from the small occurrences and events of every day, which rightly viewed are capable of affording such a large fund of real contentment. In a letter to Hippel early in 1815, he himself states, “For my shattered life I have really only myself to blame; I ought to have shown more resolution and less levity in my earlier years. When a youth, when a boy, I ought to have devoted myself entirely to Art and never to have thought of anything else. But of course something also was due to perverse education.” It must not be supposed, however, from the above that he was deficient in firmness or strength of will. The perseverance with which he worked through his early examinations, as well as the energy and zeal he brought to bear upon his official duties, contradict such supposition. Specific instances might also be quoted did space permit; it will be enough to recall his resolve never to gamble. It is stated that he avowed his intention to amend his ways if he recovered from his last fatal illness. The real key to his wayward character lies in the fact just alluded to, that he had no conception of the supreme importance of moral worth. This was the backbone wanting in his character; and for this reason we fail to detect any steady sterling course of action through all the vicissitudes of his life. If he had a ruling motive it was capricious humour; at any rate it swayed him more than anything else. On one day he would laugh at what had annoyed him on the day preceding, or be delighted today at what he had greeted yesterday with irony. Nobody knew better than himself how he was tyrannised over by his changeable moods. “My capricious humour (Laune) is the first weather-prophet I know, and if I had the good-will and were bored I could make an almanac,” is one of his expressions; and another runs, “You know that my capricious humour is often Maître de Flaisir.” Besides being thus the creature of caprice, he was also impulsive, impetuous, and wont to act with impassioned haste. These qualities were revealed in his restless vivacious eyes, in his movements and gestures, and even broke out in extraordinary grimaces, as already remarked. And just in the same fervid eager way he often seized upon an idea or a pleasing fancy, till it took complete possession of him; he could not rid himself of it. With this was combined his remarkable quickness of perception and comprehension; a single gesture or phrase was often sufficient to enable him to grasp a character. What he hated above all things was dulness — ennui; this never failed to provoke his keenest irony and bitterest sarcasms. In his last years he even became cynical and rugged and vulgar, in which we may of course trace the influence of his tavern associates. It is to his credit that he did not sink into Byronic misanthropy and bitter self-lacerating scorn, or even into Heine’s irreverence and persiflage.
An old German poet says, “Seht das Loos der Menschheit — Heute Freude, Morgen Leid;"28 but with Hoffmann joy and pain were frequently more closely allied than this even: whilst the jest was on his lips the sting would be in his heart. In this, as well as in several other features of his stormy career, he did indeed resemble his countryman Heine. One of the necessities of his nature was human society — not simply society, however, but people who could appreciate him, who could fall in with his moods, and either follow intelligently when he led, or lend him a stimulating and helping hand to keep the ball of wit and jollity rolling. An illustration of this is found in the fact that he “did not love the society of women. If he could not mystify them, or draw them into the circle of his fantasies, or discover in them any decided talent for comicality, he preferred the society of men.” Amongst women, however, after those of the class just named, he was most interested in young and pretty girls, being attracted by the charm of their fresh beauty, not by the charm of their mind. Learned women he hated.
Hoffmann was, as already observed, the child of extremes. These were revealed not only in his life and action, but also in his writings; for his writings are the man. Indeed German critics have said that his works, particularly the Fantasiestücke, are “lyrics in prose.” What they mean by this phrase is chiefly that the things he wrote exhibit subjective phrases of his nature, and are disconnected, or rather not connected, not balanced parts of a systematic whole. This is true so far as it is true that Hoffmann never did complete a long work, except the Elixiere, and this work, as there has been occasion to point out, consists of two disjointed parts. One of the things that strike us most in reading his books is the peculiar mixture of the real and the unreal, of matters appertaining to actual life and of fantasies born only of the imagination. Very often the imagination would be called by most people a diseased imagination; but it is not always so, sometimes it is the poet’s imagination. Hence, from this blending or close alternation of reality with what is not of the earth — hence came his love for fairy tales, tales in which we meet with kobolds, imps, witches, little monsters of all kinds — the spirits and apparitions in fact which used to haunt his excited fancy in such a strange way. Several of these are poetic creatures, whom he handles in a light, graceful, and pleasing style (Goldener Topf, Nussknacker, Das fremde Kind, &c.); others, on the other hand, are drawn in horrible and unearthly colours and awaken the sentiments of awe and dread. What he loved especially to dwell upon was the “night side of natural science,” the puzzling relations between the psychic and the physical principles both in man and in Nature. Hence such states as somnambulism, magnetism, dreams, dark forebodings of the terrible, inhuman passions, and such things as automata and vampyres, had for him an insuperable attraction. Insanity was a mystery that haunted his thoughts for years: it figures largely in Die Elixiere and Der Sandmann; and in the third part of Kater Murr it was his intention to represent Kreisler’s battle with adverse circumstances as culminating in insanity. Handling these, and states and situations equally hideous, fantastic, and grotesque, with extraordinary clearness and precision both of thought and of language, considering the often misty nature of the subjects he treats of, and pouring upon the vivid pictures he conjures up the brightness of his wit and the exuberant gaiety and grace of his fancy, he succeeds in creating scenes, situations, and characters which seem verily instinct with real life. This end was attained principally by the true genius he displayed in perception, apprehension, and description. His graphic descriptive power is that which mainly procured him his wide-reaching fame during his own lifetime, not only in Germany but also in France, and is that which principally gives to his works whatever permanent value they may possess. With a painter’s eye he grasps a character or a scene by a few of its more prominent and essential features, and with a painter’s hand and eye he sketches them in a few telling strokes. The reader must not look to find in Hoffmann any clever or subtle analysis of the deeper motives that work towards the development of character; all that Hoffmann can give him will be talented pictures. He himself lays down his canon of literary spirit in the introduction to the first volume of the Serapionsbrüder —
“Vain are an author’s efforts to bring us to believe in what he does not believe in himself, in what he cannot believe in, since he has not made it his own by seeing it (erschauen). What else are the characters of such an author, who, to borrow the old phrase, is no true seer, but deceitful marionettes, painfully glued together out of alien materials? . . . At least let each one of us [the Brethren] strive earnestly and truly to grasp the image that has arisen in his mind in all its features, its colours, its lights and its shades, and then when he feels himself really enkindled by them let him proceed to embody them in an external description.”
Hoffmann has mostly succeeded in acting up to his canon and has written in its spirit; and in so far true genius cannot be denied him. And he possessed in no less eminent a degree the true art of the born story-teller. The interest seldom if ever flags; and the curious anomalies of men and of men-creatures (Mensch–Thiere), whom he mingles amongst his winning heroines and his delightful satiric characters, oftener than not quite enthrall the mind or afford it true enjoyment as the case may be, and this they do in spite of the fact that, owing to their own nature, they frequently stand outside the ordinary sphere of human sympathies. Of course it may readily be conceived that the danger which he was liable to fall into was want of clearness in conception and sentiment, but he has avoided this rock for the most part with wonderful skill. One of his latest productions, Prinzessin Brambilla, is the one where this fault is most markedly conspicuous; nor is the Elixiere free from it.
German critics have not failed to notice the sweet grace and winning loveliness which hover about the characters of most of his heroines. They are nearly all presented in colours impregnated with real poetic beauty; see, for instance, Seraphina (Das Majorat), Annunciata (Doge), Madelon and Mdlle. de Scudéry (Scudéri), Rose (Meister Martin), Cecily (Berganza), and others.
Carlyle, whose brief and for the most part truthful essay upon Hoffmann (in vol. ii. of his German Romance, 1829) appears to have been based largely upon others’ opinions rather than upon first-hand acquaintance with his author, says that in him “there are the materials of a glorious poet, but no poet has been fashioned out of them.” And when we seek for poetic elements in Hoffmann’s works, we are not altogether disappointed. We have just stated that his heroines are creations of a poet’s fancy; and in the scene between Father Hilarius and Kreisler in Kater Murr, and in the passages and characters already alluded to in Die Elixiere, in the sunny cheerful Märchen — Der goldene Topf (which Hoffmann calls his “poetic masterpiece”), in Das Gelübde, Nussknacker, &c., we enter the world of higher imagination. Again, whilst in Doge und Dogaresse we are arrested by the poetic charm of the island life of the Lagune in the golden days of Venice’s splendour, in Meister Martin we are no less, perhaps still more impressed by the rich romantic beauty of life in the old mediæval town of Nuremberg. In Die Scudéri we are made acquainted with the cold glittering court of Louis XIV. through the lovable character of Mdlle. de Scudéry; and whilst on the one hand following with deep interest the fate of Brusson and his love, on the other we are led to contrast the subtilty of the plot with the fine analytic power of Poe in The Murders in the Rue Morgue. When visiting with Hoffmann the weird castle of Das Majorat, we are made to hear the cold shrill blasts of the Baltic whistling past our ears, and to feel the storm and the sea-spray dashing in our faces. These four tales are unquestionably the best that Hoffmann has written; to them must be added Meister Wachte, on account of its excellent characterisation of the hero. In striking contrast with the majority of the things he has written, these five tales show him when he is most objective; in them he has wielded his powers with more wise restraint than in any of the others, and introduced less of his strange fantastic caricatures. Next after these tales must be named, though on a lower level, and simply because they best illustrate his peculiar genius, the two books of Kater Murr, the fairy tale Der goldene Topf, and Des Vetters Eckfenster, In the works here named we have the best fruits of Hoffmann’s pen. And if instead of asking in the mistaken spirit of competition which is now so much in vogue. What is Hoffmann’s position in literature? we ask rather, Has he written anything that deserves to be read? we shall have already had our answer. The works here singled out are worthy of being preserved and read; and of them Das Majorat and Meister Martin are perhaps entitled to be called the best, though some German critics have mentioned Meister Wacht along with the former as having a claim to the first rank.
It is now time to take a glance at Hoffmann’s satiric power. This was launched principally against two classes of society; the one is that of which his uncle Otto was a type, the man who is unreasonably obstinate in defence of the conventionalities of life, and no less so in their steady observance: the second class was that whose representatives aroused Hoffmann’s ire so greatly at Bamberg and Berlin “tea-circles,” or “tea-sings”— those who coquetted with art in an unworthy or frivolous manner. Against this latter class his irony and satiric wrath were especially fierce, as may be read in Berganza, Die Irrungen, the Kreisleriana, Kater Murr, Signor Formica, &c. Perhaps the most amusing, for quiet humour, of the former class is Die Brautwahl. The force of his satiric power lay in the skilful use of sudden contrast. Hence it plays more frequently upon or near the surface, and lacks the depth and pathos of true humour; but it is idle to expect from a man what he hasn’t got.
In so far as this author had any serious philosophical belief, it would appear to have been that man was a slave of Chance, or Fate, or Destiny, or whatever it may be called. Sometimes he is the plaything of circumstances; sometimes a defenceless victim under “Fate’s brazen hand,” or of “that Eternal Power which rules over us.” The real significance of life is summoned up in the statement that it is a struggle between contending powers of good and evil, against both of which man is equally helpless. He believed that whenever any good fell to a man’s lot there was always some evil lurking in ambush behind it, or, to borrow his own expressive phrase, “the Devil must put his tail upon everything.” His further views are here quoted from Der Magnetiseur:—
“We are knitted with all things without us, with all Nature, in such close ties, both psychic and physical, that the severance from them would, if it were indeed possible, destroy our own existence. Our so-called intensive life is conditioned by the extensive; the former is only a reflex of the latter, in which the figures and images received, as if reflected in a concave mirror, often appear in changed relations that are wonderful and singularly strange, notwithstanding that these caricatures again And their real originals in life. I boldly maintain, that no man has ever thought or dreamt anything the elements of which were not to be found in Nature; nohow can he get out of her.”
Was this the cause or the result of the visions he used to see?
From his conception of strife between good and evil as interpreting the significance of existence arose that dissonance which lies at the root of nearly all his most characteristic works — that sense of want, that failure to find final satisfaction which may be only too readily detected. For the conflict within himself he knew no real mediatory: he was baffled to discover a higher category in which to unite the conflicting principles. Religion he never willingly talked about; hence it could not give him the satisfaction he lacked. He thought he found it in Art, however; since for Art he battled with all the strength of his genius, and in the sacred mission of Art he believed with all his soul. He has many enthusiastic bursts on the subject, agreeing in some respects with the views laid down by Schiller in his Aesthetische Erziehung des Menschen:—
“They alone are true artists who devote themselves with undivided love and enthusiasm to their goddess; to them alone is true Art revealed. . . . There is no Art which is not sacred. . . . The sacred purpose of all Art is apprehension of Nature in that deepest sense of the word which enkindles in the soul an ardent striving after the higher life. . . . I do not ask about the artistes life; but his work must be pure, in the highest degree respectable, and if possible religious. It has no need, therefore, to have any so-called moral tendency; nay, it ought not to have such. The truly beautiful is itself moral, only in another form. . . . Art is eternally clear. The mists of ignorance are as inimical to her as the life-destroying carbonic acid gas of immorality. Art is the highest perfection of human power. Heart and Understanding are her common parents.”
Music was his favourite art. It first taught him to feel; and not only was it his unfailing solace in hours of trouble, but it brought him messages of deeper import: it disclosed to him glimpses of another world — it was the “language of heaven.” Here again a passage from his own works expresses his opinions upon this point better than any other pen can express them:—
“No art, I believe, affords such strong evidence of the spiritual in man as music, and there is no art that requires so exclusively means that are — purely intellectual and ætherial. The intuition of what is Highest and Holiest — of the Intelligent Power which enkindles the spark of life in all Nature — is audibly expressed in musical sound; hence music and song are the utterance of the fullest perfection of existence — praise of the Creator! Agreeably to its real essential nature, therefore, music is religious cultus; and its origin is to be sought for and found, simply and solely, in religion, in the Church.”29
Treating of Hoffmann’s position with respect to music, Wilibald Alexis says, “We do not know any other man who has expressed in words such a real true enthusiasm for an art [as Hoffmann for music]; and specialists assure us that few have thoroughly grasped the nature of music so admirably.”
As far as a foreigner may presume to judge of Hoffmann’s language and literary style, it would appear to be chiefly distinguished by strong grace, ease, naturalness, and nervous vigour. German critics acknowledge its charms, calling it a model of clearness and masterly skill and elegance. Perhaps its beauties are best seen, that is in a more chastened form, in Kater Murr. Repetitions, however, and exaggerations in description of sentiment tend, at times, to mar the reader’s pleasure. Signs of haste, too, are not wanting, as Carlyle pointed out. This was chiefly due to the very large number of commissions he received from publishers and others, who keenly competed for the productions of his pen. At the date of his death he had as many commissions on hand as would, if he accepted them all, have kept him fully employed for several years.
To those who love a good story, well told, the five specially mentioned may be recommended; and for those who desire to explore the dark by-paths (Irrwege) of the human spirit, to penetrate to some of its rarest comers, and to know all its ins and outs, as well as for those who aim at studying German literature, Hoffmann is a writer who ought to be read at greater length.
1 The chief sources for this biographical notice have been E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Leben und Nachlass, von J. G. Hitzig, herausg. von Micheline Hoffmann, geb. Rorer, 5 vols., Stuttgart, 1839; Erinnerungen aus meinem Leben, von Z. Funck [C. Kunz, Leipsic, 1836; and various minor essays and papers.]
2 Later in life he adopted the name of “Amadeus” instead of “Wilhelm,” out of admiration for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the great musician (see Erinng., pp. 77–80).
3 Another account (see H. Döring’s article “Hoffmann,” in Ersch und Gruber’s Allgem. Encyk.) states 21st Jan., 1778. The date in the text is the one, however, that is generally accepted, and now without question; it is the one confirmed by Hoffmann himself (cf. Letter 15 in Leben).
4 These two books, together with Schubert’s Symbolik des Traums, were favourites with him throughout life. In his youth he was a most diligent student of the new literature of his native country; English he also read to a large extent, Shakespearian quotations being very frequent in his letters; and we find the names of Sterne, Swift, Smollett, &c. Later in life he hardly read anything unless it were exceptionally good, and then only when recommended to do so by his friends. Political papers he never read, and scarcely ever criticisms on his own works.
5 That is, after Hippel had completed his academic career, and left Königsberg.
6 That is, after the king’s death in 1797. She afterwards married the Holbein here mentioned.
7 Romeo and Juliet, iii. 9.
8 Leben, iii. pp. 231–233.
9 A suburb or park of Warsaw, beneath the tall beeches of which Hoffmann loved to lie dreaming, or sketch from Nature.
10 An equestrian statue of John Sobieski, the deliverer of Vienna from the Turks.
11 Polish for “moustaches.”
12 Leben, iii. pp. 251–254.
13 A very comic incident, of which Hoffmann himself was the hero, took place on the occasion of Werner’s reading his new tragedy Das Kreuz an der Ostsee to a select circle of friends. Unfortunately it cannot be compressed into sufficiently short space to be quoted here. Hoffmann relates it in Die Serapionsbrüder, vol. iv., after Signor Formica.
14 Leben, v. pp. 18–20; cf. also Erinnerungen p. 1, &c., where Kunz details the circumstances under which he was introduced to Hoffmann.
15 Several of Calderon’s, mainly at Hoffmann’s suggestion and by his assistance; the “Worship of the Cross” was particularly successful in the Catholic town of Bamberg.
16 Kunz tells us how they used to go down into the cellar, sit astride of the cask, and drink, and sich des heitern Lebens freuen with genial and sprightly sallies; and his picture has no faint smack of Auerbach’s Keller (Faust). See Leben, v. p. 177, note.
17 Compare Nanni in Meister Wacht, Clara in Der Sandmann, Rose in Meister Martin, Cecily in Berganza, &c.
18 See Erinnerungen, pp. 60 sq.
19 See Leben, iv. p. 95, v. p. 27; Erinnerungen, pp. 28–31.
20 These adventures are described in one of the most humorous chapters (iv.) of the Erinnerungen.
21 It is treated of in Don Juan and in Die Fremdenloge, in the Fantasiestücke. A recent critic has declared that this essay will always have value in connection with the stage-representation of the problem of Don Juan (cf. Die Gegenwart, 24th May, 1884).
22 Leben, vol. iv. pp. 58, 59.
23 Leben, vol. iv. p. 140.
24 Contessa and Koreff are strikingly portrayed in the Serapionsbrüder (vol. ii.), the former as “Sylvester,” the latter as “Vincenz.”
25 The sexual relations are handled in a mystical, sensuous way; something of the same kind of treatment occurs again in Das Elementargeist.
26 Leben, vol. iv. pp. 118–120.
27 Leben, iii. pp. 120–123; iv. p. 60.
28 “Behold the lot of mankind — joy today, tomorrow grief,” Walther von Eschenbach’s Parzival, ii. 103, ll. 23, 24.
29 Serapionsbrüder, vol. ii., Introduction to part iv.
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