The story of Caspar Hauser furnishes on of the most singular passages in biographical history. It is now thirty—five years since this remarkable being made his appearance upon the stage, and excited the deepest interest in Europe. The known facts of his life I propose to relate as briefly as possible.
On the 26th of May, 1828, a man named Weichmann, a shoemaker, a citizen of Nuremberg, in Bavaria, when walking out of his house, located on the borders of the town, saw a young man, at a little distance, in the garb of a peasant. His singular movements attracted attention, as he seemed to stand upright with great effort, and walked like an intoxicated person, not having the power to govern his legs. The lad, apparently about seventeen years of age, held a letter in his hand, written in German, which he handed to Weichmann. It was directed to a cavalry officer in the town, to whose house, as it lay in the direction the shoemaker was walking, he took the youth. The letter gave no definite information concerning the bearer. It said he had been left at the writer’s door on the 7th of October, 1812, when six months old; that the writer was a poor day—laborer, with a family of ten children; and that the boy had been kept in such close confinement that no one even knew of his existence. The writer discouraged all attempts to get further information than he had communicated; said he found it difficult to maintain him longer, and had brought him to Nuremberg to be consigned to the captain’s protection. Appended to the letter was a postscript in Latin, purporting to come from the mother, but, as was afterwards proved, was by the same writer. This told when the child was baptized, pleaded poverty as an excuse for abandoning it, and contained a request that the lad should be joined to a cavalry regiment.
When Weichmann and the youth reached the cavalry officer’s house, a servant met them at the door.—The youth stepped forward with the letter extended in his hand and uttered the following unintelligible words: “Ac sechterrc mocht ih wahn, wie mei Volta wahn is.” The meaning seems to be: “I will be a rider, (cavalry man) as my father was.” To all questions, however, as to who he was, what he wanted, and whence he came, he seemed vacant, and only answered by a repetition of the words quoted. He had nothing on his person but a pocket handkerchief, with his initials marked in red, and some Roman Catholic prayer books.
He appeared greatly fatigued, and kept pointing to his feet. His movements were such that it can hardly be said he walked, but merely staggered. As he seemed hungry he was given a piece of meat. He had no sooner put it in his mouth than the muscles of his face were seized with convulsive spasms, and he spat it quickly out. Some beer was given to him with the same result, but he partook greedily of bread and water. Meantime, all attempts to gain any information concerning his person or anything were fruitless.—He seemed to understand nothing that he heard; his sight was a vacant stare; his language moans and unintelligible sounds; and his whole manner like that of a child two or three years of age. By some he was regarded as a savage; by others as an idiot or lunatic escaped from confinement. Being taken to the guard—room under the protection of the police, he showed the same unconsciousness of all that transpired about him, and exhibited no intelligence whatever until pen and paper were given him, when he wrote several times distinctly—“KASPAR HAUSER.”
Suspicion now arose that he might be an imposter. From the guard room he was taken to a tower kept for rogues and vagabonds. Here he was visited by hundreds of persons. It was soon found that there was no reason to regard him as either an idiot or an impostor, and his mildness and good nature as well as his physical weakness refuted the supposition that he had grown up in the forests. Yet he was so destitute of words and ideas; so unacquainted with the commonest objects,—he showed such abhorrence or indifference to all the customs of civilized life, and evinced such extraordinary peculiarities, mental and moral, it could not be doubtful he had been incarcerated in some close place of confinement during his whole previous existence. In the tower he could be persuaded to take no other food than bread and water. Even the smell of common articles of food made him shudder, and the least drop of wine or coffee put clandestinely with his water, gave him cold sweats, or caused vomiting or headache. The first time he saw a candle burning he was greatly delighted, and put his fingers in the flame, but quickly drew them back crying. Cuts and trusts with a sabre were made at him to see their effect, but he would not wink or appear in the least to suspect harm. He would walk up to a looking glass and grasp at his own image; then look behind it to find the person concealed. Like a child he wished every glittering object he saw, crying when he could not obtain them. He played with trinkets of various sorts; but his chief delight was a wooden horse.
All his physical senses were acute to an extraordinary degree. Walking with Prof. Danmer one day, to whose residence he was removed from the tower, he heard, at a great distance, the footsteps of several persons and these persons he distinguished from each other by their walk. Hearing a drum once at a military parade, he was so affected as to be thrown into convulsions. His sense of smell caused him great pain; he could not bear the odor of the most delicate flowers, and the flower gardens and tobacco fields rendered his walks and rides very unpleasant. In things that were perfectly scentless to others he detected a strong odor. The smell of fresh meat was the most horrible to him. Darkness and night did not prevent him from seeing. Indeed, he saw better by twilight than in day time. He once read after sunset the number of a house one hundred and eighty paces distant. He could see to walk in the darkest places, and distinguish blue from green in the darkest night. He had no notion whatever of perspective. The landscape appeared one mass of colors jumbled together. Men and horses were all on one plane, and looked precisely like the pictures of them which were among his playthings.
All this abnormal sensitiveness, however, left him gradually after his removal from the tower, and as he advanced in knowledge and acquaintance with the outdoor world. He even conquered his repugnance to civilized food, and was brought to eat meat of all kinds, except pork. His connexion with Prof. Danmar, and intercourse with others soon made him feel his own deficiencies, and the thirst for knowledge became a passion. One fine summer night in August, 1829, Prof. D. showed him, for the first time, the starry heavens. His transport and astonishment passed all description. He called it the finest sight he ever saw, and asked eagerly who had placed those beautiful candles in the sky, who lights them, and who puts them out.
When he had mustered a sufficient command of language, he was enabled to give some information of his previous existence. The following is the substance of his account: He had always lived in a hole, (he called it a cage,) a small, low apartment where the light never entered, and a sound was never heard. He could never lie down with his whole body extended; but waking or sleeping he sat upright with his legs stretched out. Whenever he awake from sleep he found a loaf and a pitcher of water by his side. Sometimes the water contained a bitter infusion, probably opium and when this was the case he was compelled to fall asleep,—and afterwards awakening he found that he had a clean shirt on, and his nails had been cut. In this place he never saw the face of a human being—not even of the man who brought him bread and water, and who never spoke to him except to utter the “reuta wahn,” &c., which he so unmeaningly repeated at Nuremberg. But he was given two wooden horses and some ribbons with which he amused himself. He had never been sick nor felt the want of anything, and never had dreams until he lived with Professor D., when he regarded them as real appearances. The man with whom he had always been never did him any harm but once, when he struck him for making too much noise. One day this man came up behind so as not to be seen, and gave him a pencil and paper, and showed him how to make marks. Another time he came to teach him to stand and walk. Finally he came and carried him out of his prison. He put a letter in his hand, and left him where he was found. He fainted on being brought into the light and air, and could tell no incident in his journey worth mentioning.
On the 17th of October, 1829, an attempt was made to assassinate him in the house of Professor Danmer. He escaped with a small wound on his forehead. The perpetrator of the deed was never discovered. Caspar was soon after adopted by Earl Stanhope and removed to Anspach. Here he lived several years; but a fate as relentless as that of the Greek tragedy followed him. On the 14th Dec., 1833 he was accosted by a stranger wrapped in a large cloak under pretence of having some important communication to make. Caspar met the person, by appointment, in the afternoon in the Palace Garden; and the stranger, while showing him some papers, stabbed him twice near the heart with a dagger drawn from underneath his cloak. He was able to get home, but died on the night of the 17th from his wounds. Heavy rewards were offered by the Government and by Earl Stanhope for the discovery of the assassin; but he was never found.
The theories adduced concerning him are various.—Fuerbach, who had the best opportunity to know him, and who has given the subject the most diligent study, brings forward evidence to prove that he was the son of the Grand Duchess Stephanie, of Baden,—murdered that another branch of the family might accede to the Duchy. And the circumstances adduced give his supposition a strong air of probability. Stanhope and Merker regard him as an impostor; Erchricht considers him an idiot till he got to Nuremberg, where, as his mind developed, he was transformed into an impostor; but Danmer, Fuhrmann, Meirer and Binder believe in his honesty and integrity. Danmer thinks he was the heir to some great English title and estate and was removed to make way for some other person. In this he implicated Stanhope. [New York Ledger.
[This copy is a reprint that appeared in one of the Portland, Maine, newspapers. The original title for this article is, “Caspar Hauser—Was He An Impostor?,” and was written by Joel Benton. Published Date: Saturday, February 7, 1863; Paper: New York Ledger (New York, NY); Volume: XVIII; Issue: 49; Page: 4.—Ron Hughes.]