Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Strange Case of Kaspar Hauser, Article in Chamber's Journal 1879

The Strange Case of Kaspar Hauser, Article in Chamber's Journal 1879

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On the evening of Whitmonday some fifty years ago, a citizen of Nuremberg happened to be loitering near his door in an unfrequented part of the town, when he observed a short distance off an ungainly looking young man standing in a singular posture, having the appearance of one intoxicated, and apparently making attempts to move forward without having the power either to stand upright or to control the movement of his limbs.

The citizen approached the stranger, who immediately thrust into his hands a letter — a letter addressed to the captain of one of the regiments then quartered in Nuremberg. The citizen attempted to question the strange youth; but in reply to his queries could only elicit a repetition of some unintelligible jargon, and therefore conducted him to the guard-room of the regiment. Here the captain's orderly took charge of the unknown, and led him to his master's house. The captain happened to be from home at the time; and as the stranger could give no account of himself in answer to the numerous questions with which he was assailed, and as he did not appear to understand anything that was said to him, he was taken for a kind of savage; and after much consultation on the part of the servants as to his disposal, he was shut up in a stable, to await the return of the captain. The contents of his pockets created the greatest surprise. They consisted of coloured rags, a key, a paper of gold sand, a small horn rosary, and a few religious tracts.

The poor fellow was so much fatigued that his attempts to walk resulted in an unsteady stagger; his feet were bruised and bleeding; and he appeared to be suffering intensely from the effects of hunger and thirst. Some meat was offered to him; but on tasting it he immediately spat it out in disgust. Beer too was given him; but on tasting a few drops of it he rejected it as he had done the meat. Some bread and a glass of water, however, afforded him much satisfaction, and he swallowed them eagerly. After refreshing himself in this manner, he threw himself on some straw in the stable, and almost instantly fell into a deep sleep. He was still asleep when the captain returned home, although several hours had elapsed. Attempts were made to awaken him, but for some time without success. They lifted him from the ground and tried to place him upon his feet; but in spite of all their exertions, the youth slept on, and seemed more like one dead or in a trance, than a living being merely asleep. At last, however, "his eyes slowly opened, and as if struck with the glittering colour of the captain's uniform, he immediately commenced to utter the same jargon he had used to the bewilderment of the good citizen who had discovered him.

The captain knew nothing of the stranger, and no particulars could be ascertained from the letter of which he was the bearer. This letter did not give any clue to the name or previous home of the youth. It was not even addressed to any person by name, and from its style and orthography, seemed to have been intended to pass for the production of some illiterate peasant. The writer merely stated that he was a poor workman with a large family, which he could ill support; that the mother of the stranger had placed him under his care when quite young; that the boy wished to be a soldier, as his father had been. No name was signed at the end of the letter, which closed with this inhuman sentence: 'If you do not keep him, you may kill him or hang him up in the chimney.'

The captain was in a great dilemma with regard to the disposal of the charge that had been imposed upon him in so sudden and unexpected a manner; but at last, when every attempt at questioning had failed, the unknown was taken to the police station. Here they could make nothing of him. The usual interrogations as to who he was, whence he came, what was his business, &c., elicited no intelligible answer, and the authorities were much perplexed to know what to do with him. His tears, the state of his feet, and his childish and apparently harmless demeanour, excited the pity of those who saw him. Opinions as to his real nature were divided. Some considered him an idiot, others thought him a savage. Not a few affected to believe that under this appearance of simplicity some cunning deceit might be concealed.

At the suggestion of one of the officials, pen, ink, and paper were put before him, and signs were made that he should use them. At this the stranger manifested considerable pleasure; and taking up the pen, to the infinite astonishment it must be confessed of all present, he wrote in bold legible characters the words 'Kaspar Hauser.' Here, however, he stopped. All attempts to make him understand that they wanted him to write down the name of the place whence he came, failed; and as a last resource, he was committed to the prison where rogues and vagabonds were usually confined. On being conducted to his cell, he immediately sank on his straw-bed in a deep sleep. Such was Kaspar Hausert first introduction to the world.

At this time, Kaspar was about sixteen or seventeen years old, and four feet nine inches in height His chin and lips were thinly covered with down; his wisdom-teeth, as they are called, had not yet come, nor did they make their appearance until about three years later. His hair, which was a light-brown colour, was very fine, and curled in ringlets. The structure of his body, which was stout and broad-shouldered, showed perfect symmetry without any visible defect His hands were small aud beautifully shaped. The soles of his feet were as soft as the palms of his hands, and from their appearance, had never before either been used for walking or confined in a shoe. His face, particularly when in a state of tranquillity, was almost without any expression whatever. He appeared to have little or no idea of the use of his limbs. His attempts at walking were most ludicrous, for they resembled the first toddlings of an infant. He was wholly destitute of words and ideas, and shewed a complete ignorance of the most common objects of nature and the ordinary usages of daily life. In fact, the whole of the circumstances connected with the unfortunate youth were for some considerable time a dark mystery, that baffled even the wisest in their attempts to fathom. He appeared to resemble an inhabitant of some other planet, miraculously and suddenly transferred to the earth, rather than one belonging to the same race of men who now exist.

The only food he could be prevailed upon to take was bread and water. For all other kinds of meat and drink he showed the greatest aversion. Even the smell of them was sufficient to make him shudder; and the least drop of wine, or tea, or coffee occasioned him cold sweats, or caused him to be seized with vomiting or violent headache. Among the few intelligible words, to most of which he appeared to attach no meaning whatever, that now and then escaped his lips, the one most frequently used was 'Ross' (horse); from this circumstance the idea of bringing him a wooden toy-horse occurred to some of the police officials. At the sight of this plaything Kaspar, who hitherto had treated everything and every one with stolid indifference, suddenly roused up. He seated himself on the ground by the side of his toy, stroked it, patted it, kept his eyes continually fixed on it, and finally endeavoured to decorate it with all the various trifling presents which benevolent visitors from time to time had given him. For hours he would sit by the side of his horse playing with it, taking no notice of anything that was going on around him. Several toy-horses were now given to him, and for each of them he manifested the same affection he had shown for the first one he received. Even at meal-time he would not be separated from his favourites; and before eating his bread or drinking his water, he tried hard to induce his horses to partake. His plan was to hold his bread to the mouth of each horse in turn, and after that to dip the mouth of each horse in the water. One of the horses happened to be made of plaster of Paris, and the constant wetting had the effect of softening the lips, and by degrees part of the mouth crumbled off. This circumstance caused Kaspar the most intense sorrow, nor would he be comforted until one of the officials had mended his toy for him.

In a very short time after his arrival at the prison, Kaspar was no longer considered as an ordinary prisoner, but rather as a forsaken and neglected child, who needed only care and education to render him like other human beings. The governor of the prison admitted him to his family table, where, although he would not yet eat the same food as the others had, he still learned to sit properly, and in some measure to conform to the ordinary rules of decent society. Kaspar was pleased to have the governor's children as playmates, while they on their part were delighted at the idea of having a playfellow bigger than themselves, and yet with the gentleness and simplicity of a child.

About a fortnight after Kaspar's arrival in Nuremberg, he was providentially favoured with a visit from a certain Professor Daumer, an intelligent young scholar, who forthwith devoted himself to the peculiar and most interesting task of training the virgin mind of the unfortunate youth. The Burgomaster, Herr Binder, also took a very deep interest in Kaspar, and frequently had him brought to his house, where he was encouraged and assisted in his attempts to learn to converse; and where, by carefully avoiding all the puzzling restrictions of legal forms and questionings, the young man was by degrees, as he advanced in his knowledge of words, induced to try and recall some of the incidents in his early life. At the same time the police were still busy with their investigations; but the clue they had to work upon being so slight, they made but slow progress in unravelling the tangled thread of the mystery which surrounded this strange specimen of humanity.

Little by little, however, Kaspar's mind became enlightened, and as his power of expression and his vocabulary increased, he began putting together, bit by bit as it were, those of the incidents of his past life which struck him most forcibly. The account he gave of himself was as follows: 'He neither knows who he is nor where his home is. It was only at Nuremberg that he came into the world. Here he learned for the first time that besides himself and one man who had always had the care of him, there existed other men or other creatures. As long as he could recollect, he had lived in a hole (or small low room, which he sometimes calls a cage), where he had always sat upon the ground, with bare feet, and clothed only in a shirt and a pair of trousers. In his apartment he had never heard a sound, whether produced by a man, by an animal, or by anything else. He never saw the heavens, nor did there ever appear a brightening (daylight) such as at Nuremberg. Whenever he awoke from sleep he found a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water beside him. Sometimes this water had a bad taste; and whenever this was the case, he could no longer keep his eyes open, but was compelled to fall asleep. When he awoke he found that he had a clean shirt on and that his nails had been cut. He never saw the face of the man who brought him his bread and water. In his room he had two wooden horses and some ribbons. With these he always amused himself as long as he was awake. How long he lived in this state he knew not, for he had no knowledge of time. The man who acted as his keeper had, while he was in his little room, taught him to write, standing behind him during each lesson, in order that the face of the teacher might not be seen, and guiding his hand. In this manner he learned to write his name, and also some of the usual words and copies that are used in elementary instruction. After a time his keeper taught him to stand upright The method employed for this purpose was very singular. The keeper caught him firmly round the breast from behind, placed his own feet behind his (Kaspar's) feet and lifted them as in stepping forward. Finally the man appeared once again, placed his (Kaspar's) hands over his shoulders, tied them fast, and carried him on his back out of the room. The journey must have lasted several days at least, for he remembered having eaten and slept several times. He never saw the face of his keeper even now, for as he either led or carried him along, the man directed him (Kaspar) to keep his face directed towards the ground. During this time the keeper attempted to teach him to walk, and also instructed him to say the same jargon he had used when he was first observed hy the citizen of Nuremberg. Not long before he was discovered the keeper put on him the clothes in which he was found. Then suddenly thrusting the letter into his hands, the keeper vanished. After this the citizen found him almost immediately, and conducted him to the guard-room.'

This account, given almost in Kaspar's own words, will go far towards explaining how it happened that the youth's mind was in such a dark state; but it helps very little to show who Kaspar Hauser really was, or whence he came, or in fact any real particulars of his actual history. That a great crime had been committed by some one, was very evident. Many conjectures were hazarded, and it was only after very considerable and protracted search that it was possible to arrive at any satisfactory conclusions. Link by link the chain of evidence-—circumstantial only, it must be admitted-—was put together; and finally it was on all sides generally believed that Kaspar Hauser was the product of an illicit alliance. A priest, who was said to be his father, took charge of the child from the moment of his birth, and in time shut him up in some out-of-the-way subterranean vault in the convent where he resided. Here it was that Kaspar, totally secluded from all human observation and knowledge save that of the priest, passed seventeen long years; and here probably he would have remained, had not circumstances compelled the priest to leave the convent; when, having no other convenient place of concealment available, he released the poor fellow and left him to his fate.

The incident mentioned by Kaspar in his account of himself relating to the bad taste in his water, which caused him to fall into a deep sleep, was explained a short time after he had given the narrative to his friends. It occurred to one of them that the priest might have mixed a drop or two of laudanum with the water, with the view of inducing a stupor while the boy's clothes were being changed. One day a small dose of laudanum was put in his glass of water without Kaspar's knowledge. On tasting the water, he recognised the flavour at once, and unhesitatingly affirmed that the glass contained some of the stuff he used to have given him during his imprisonment when a change of clothes became necessary. This circumstance clearly proved the truth of the conjecture.

The accounts that are recorded of the growth of Kaspar's mind are most interesting. Incidents that to an ordinary person would appear of no moment, had a strange and inexplicable effect on him. For instance, as an experiment he was brought into contact with a female somnambulist. Her presence affected him in the most extraordinary manner. He was seized with violent pain and sudden disgust. He describes the interview in his own words as follows: 'As I came into the room and the door of the diseased person was opened, I felt a sudden dragging on both sides of my breast, as if some one wished to pull me into the room. As I went in and proceeded towards the sick person, a very strong breath blew upon me, and when I had her at my back it blew upon me from behind, and the pulling I felt before in my breast I now felt in my shoulders. The sick person seated herself and said that she was ill. I also said that I was unwell, and that I mostly sit down. Now a violent beating of my heart came on me, and there was a heat in all my body. This condition lasted until the next morning, then I had a headache again and a twittering in all my limbs, still not so violent.' The somnambulist, curiously enough, was affected almost in the same manner.

On another occasion a spider let itself down from the ceiling on Kaspar's head. Directly it touched him he felt a chill and an excessive degree of cold on his forehead, without knowing the cause. Suddenly putting up his hand to his face, he crushed the spider on his under-lip. 'Hereupon he felt, for more than a quarter of an hour, a burning pain, which passed away with a tremor. When he retired to bed the burning sensation returned. During the night the lip swelled, and there rose on it several small bladders, out of which there was a discharge of white matter in the morning. The chill occasioned by the spider was of long continuance.

But it was not only by the sight of and contact with living creatures that Kaspar was visibly affected; for we are told that one day he happened to see a particularly fine flower, and on his attempting to pluck it, the same feeling as that caused by the spider came upon him. On another occasion, after eating a ripe grape he immediately became strangely affected, and was compelled to sleep off the effects of the, to him, potent juice.

Although for a long time Kaspar's body was considerably in advance of his mind, yet by degrees he began to overcome many of his peculiarities. Still he could never forget the hardships he had suffered, and the fact of his being inclined to brood over them tended to retard his mental progress.

About four years after his first appearance in Nuremberg, Kaspar was fortunate enough to come under the notice of Lord Stanhope. This nobleman conceived the idea of adopting the strange youth, and having prevailed upon the inhabitants of Nuremberg, who looked upon Kaspar as their adopted son, to give him up, he placed him under a tutor at Auspach previous to removing him to England. But unhappily these benevolent intentions were frustrated, for the same mystery which shrouded his birth hung over his death. On the 14th of December 1833, Kaspar Hauser, while returning from his official duties at mid-day, was accosted in the streets by a person who promised to impart to him the secret of his origin, if he would meet him in the park of Auspach Castle. Without informing his protectors of this circumstance, Hauser imprudently kept the appointment. The stranger was at his post; he took Kaspar aside, and, without speaking a word, plunged a dagger into his breast, and instantly disappeared. Hauser had sufficient strength left to reach the residence of his new tutor, into whose apartment he rushed, and had just breath enough to utter two or three indistinct words, when he immediately fainted, and, after relating the circumstances of his assassination, died on the 17th of the same month. Every expedient which the police could invent was adopted to discover the murderer, but without success. The secret, which it cost so much crime to preserve, has never been divulged.

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