“Caspar Hauser” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, October 1850; pp. 101-105)
In the year 1828, a great sensation was created throughout the civilized world, by the story of Caspar Hauser. This, as it appears, was in substance as follows:
On the twentieth of May, in the year above named, as a citizen of Nuremberg, in Bavaria, was proceeding along one of the streets, he happened to see a young man, in the dress of a peasant, who was standing like one intoxicated, attempting to move forward, yet appearing hardly to have command of his legs. On the approach of the citizen, this stranger held out to him a letter directed to a well-known and respectable military officer living in Nuremberg.
As the house of this person lay in the direction of the citizen’s walk, he took the youth thither with him. When the servant opened the door, the stranger put the letter into his hand, uttering some unintelligible words. The various questions which were asked as to his name, whence he came, &c., he seemed not to comprehend. He appeared excessively fatigued, staggered, as if exhausted, and pointed to his feet, shedding tears, apparently from pain. As he seemed to be suffering from hunger, a piece of meat was given to him, but scarcely had he tasted it, when he spat it out, and shuddered as if with abhorrence. He manifested the same aversion to beer. He ate some bread, and drank water, with signs of satisfaction.
Meanwhile, all attempts to gain any information from him were fruitless. To every question he answered with the same unintelligible jargon. He seemed to hear, without understanding, and to see, without perceiving. He shed many tears, and his whole language seemed to consist of moans and unintelligible sounds.
The letter to the officer above-mentioned contained no satisfactory information. It stated that the writer was a poor day-laborer, with a family of ten children; that the bearer had been left with him in October, 1812, and he had never since been suffered to leave his house; that he had received a Christian education, been baptized, &c. He was sent to this officer with the request that he might be taken care of till seventeen years old, and then be made a trooper, and placed in the sixth regiment, as his father had been of that corps. This letter was supposed, of course, to be designed to mislead, and no reliance was placed upon it.
The officer, suspecting some imposition, sent the stranger to the police. To all inquiries the latter replied as before, displaying a childish simplicity, and awkward dullness. He was continually whimpering, and pointing to his feet. While he had the size of a young man, his face had the expression of a child. When writing materials were placed before him, he took the pen with alacrity, and wrote Kaspar Hauser. This so contrasted with his previous signs of ignorance and dullness, as to excite suspicions of imposture, and he was therefore committed to a tower used for the confinement of rogues and vagabonds. In going to this place, he sank down, groaning, at every step.
The body of Caspar seemed perfectly formed, but his face bore a decided aspect of vulgarity. When in a state of tranquillity, it was either destitute of expression, or had a look of brutish indifference. The formation of his face, however, changed in expression and animation. His feet bore no marks of having been confined by shoes, and were finely formed; the soles were soft as the palms of his hands. His gait was a waddling, tottering progress, groping with his hands as he went, and often falling at the slightest impediment. He could not, for a long time, go up and down stairs without assistance. He used his hands with the greatest awkwardness. In all these respects, however, he rapidly improved.
Caspar Hauser soon ceased to be considered either an idiot or an imposter. The mildness, good nature, and obedience he displayed, precluded the idea that he had grown up with the beasts of the forest. Yet he was destitute of words, and seemed to be disgusted with most of the customs and habits of civilized life. All the circumstances combined to create a belief that he had been brought up in a state of complete imprisonment and seclusion, during the previous part of his existence.
He now became an object of general interest, and hundreds of persons came to see him. He could be persuaded to taste no other food than bread and water. Event he smell of most articles of food
was sufficient to make him shudder. When he first saw a lighted candle, he appeared greatly delighted, and unsuspectingly put his fingers into the blaze. When a mirror was shown him, he looked behind, to find the image it reflected. Like a child, he greedily reached for every glittering object, and cried when any thing he desired was denied him. His whole vocabulary seemed hardly to exceed a dozen words, and that of ross (horse) answered for all quadrupeds, such as horses, dogs, and cats. When, at length, a wooden horse was given him as a plaything, it seemed to effect a great change in him; his spirits revived, and his lethargy and indifference were dissipated. He would never eat or drink without first offering a portion to his horse.
His powers seemed now to be rapidly developed; he soon quitted his toy, and learned to ride the living horse, with astonishing rapidity. He, however, was greatly oppressed, as he acquired knowledge, at discovering how much inferior he was in knowledge to those around him, and this led him to express the wish that he could go back to the hole in which he had always been confined. From his repeated statements, now that he had learned to speak, it appeared that he had been, from his earliest recollections, confined in a narrow space, his legs extended forward upon the floor, and his body upright; and here, without light, and without the power of locomotion, he had remained for years. The date or period of his confinement he knew not, for in his dungeon there was no sunrise or sunset to mark the lapse of time. When he awoke from sleep, he found some bread and water at his side; but who ministered to his wants, he knew not; he never saw the face of his attendant, who never spoke to him, except in some unintelligible jargon. In his hole he had two wooden horses, and some ribbons, as toys—and these afforded him his only amusement. One day had passed as another; he had no dreams; time ran on, and life ebbed and flowed, with a dull and almost unconscious movement. After a time his keeper gave him a pencil, of which he learned the use; he was then partially taught to walk, and shortly after, was carried from his prison, a letter put into his hand, and he was left, as the beginning of our story finds him, in the streets of Nuremberg.
The journals were now filled with accounts of this mysterious young man. A suspicion was at last started that he was of high birth, and that important motives had led to the singular treatment he had received. He was himself haunted with the fear of assassination, from the idea that the circumstances which led to his incarceration, now that his story was known, might tempt his enemies to put a period to his life—thus seeking at once the removal of a hated object, and security against detection. His fears were at last partially realized; while he was under the care and protection of Professor Daumer, he was attacked and seriously wounded, by a blow upon the forehead.
After this event, Earl Stanhope, who happened to be in that part of Germany, caused him to be removed to An-
spach, where he was placed under the care of an able schoolmaster. Here his fears subsided; but in December, 1833, a stranger, wrapped in a large cloak, accosted him, under the pretence of having an important communication to make, and proposed a meeting. Caspar agreed, and they met in the palace-garden, alone. The stranger drew some papers from beneath his cloak, and while Caspar was examining them, the ruffian stabbed him in the region of the heart. The wound did not prove immediately fatal. He was able to return home, and relate what had happened. Messengers were sent in pursuit of the assassin, but in vain. Hauser lingered three or four days—that is, till the seventeenth of December, 1833, when he died. On dissection, it appeared that the knife had pierced to the heart, making an incision in its outer covering, and slightly cutting both the liver and the stomach. A reward of five thousand florins was offered by Lord Stanhope, for the discovery of the assassin, but without effect—nor was the mystery which involved Caspar’s story ever fully unravelled.
Such was the tale of this extraordinary individual, as it appeared a few years ago. Since that period, the facts in the case have been carefully sifted, and the result is a settled conviction that Hauser was an imposter; that the story of his confinement was a fabrication; that his pretended ignorance, his stupidity, his childishness, were but skillful acting to enforce his story; and, strange as it may appear, there is good reason to believe that the wounds he received, in both instances, were inflicted by himself. Such were the deliberate convictions of Earl Stanhope, and others, who investigated the facts on the spot, and with the best advantages for the discovery of the truth. Caspar’s motive for wounding himself, doubtless, was to revive the flagging interest of the public in his behalf—a source of excitement he had so long enjoyed as to feel unhappy without it. In the latter instance, he doubtless inflicted a severer wound than he intended, and thus put an undesigned period to his existence.
His story presents one of the most successful instances of imposture on record. It appears probable that he was aided in his imposition by the narrative of Fuerbach, one of the judges of Bavaria, who adopted some theory on the subject, which he supported with gross, though perhaps undesigned, misrepresentation. He published an interesting account of Hauser, in which he rather colored and exaggerated the facts, thus making the narrative far more wonderful than the reality would warrant. It was, doubtless, owing to these statements of Fuerbach, that an extraordinary interest in the case was everywhere exited; and it is highly probable that Hauser himself was encouraged to deeper and more extended duplicity, by the aid which the mistaken credulity of the judge afforded him, than he had at first meditated. He probably looked with surprise and wonder at the success of his trick, and marvelled at seeing himself suddenly converted from a poor German mechanic, as he doubtless was, into a prodigy and a hero—exciting a
sensation throughout the four quarters of the globe.
The whole story affords a good illustration of the folly of permitting the imagination to lead us in the investigation of facts, and the extended impositions that may flow from the want of exact and scrupulous veracity in a magistrate.