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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Wilhelm Hauff (1802–1827)

WILHELM HAUFF was born at Stuttgart, November 29th, 1802. His brief life was as happy as it was uneventful. He died at the age of twenty-five, and the period of his literary work was comprised within his last two years. This short time however sufficed to express his extraordinary genius, though the loss to literature by his early death cannot be estimated.

He was the son of August Friedrich Hauff, Government Secretary of Foreign Affairs. His father died when he was but seven years of age, and the education of the children devolved upon the mother, a woman of great intelligence, whose influence over her sensitive son was the result of a perfect understanding of his emotional nature. As a lad, Wilhelm Hauff showed very little indication of talent. His school career was far from brilliant, and it was only in the family circle that he gave evidence of his real abilities. He had absorbed Goethe and Schiller into his inmost fibre, and with his mother and sisters for an indulgent audience, he declaimed long passages from ‘Egmont’ and ‘Wallenstein.’ He roved at liberty in the library of his grandfather, which appears to have been a large miscellaneous collection from various languages and literatures, and the fantastic character of his imagination was early manifested by his love for weird tales and stories of adventure. His education was necessarily somewhat desultory, as his constitution was delicate, and periodical attacks of illness precluded any systematic or rigorous course.

In 1820 he entered the University of Tübingen, where, following the wishes of his mother rather than his own inclinations, he studied theology and in 1824 received his degree. In 1826 appeared his first volume of tales, ‘Das Märchen-Almanach’ (The Story Almanac). Two other volumes of the ‘Märchen-Almanach’ followed. This first little collection of stories, although overshadowed by his later works, nevertheless strikes the keynote of his peculiar fancy. Nowhere are more strikingly shown his dramatic power and his delicious humor. The success of this first effort encouraged him to devote himself wholly to literature. The first volume of ‘Mittheilungen aus den Memoiren des Satan’ (Communications from the Memoirs of Satan), a fragmentary production of much humor, published anonymously, appeared immediately after (1826), and in the same year followed ‘Der Mann im Mond, von H. Clauren’ (The Man in the Moon, by H. Clauren). This was originally intended as a caricature of the sentimentality of Clauren; but what was meant as a parody became a distinct imitation. As it was published under the name of Clauren, that aggrieved author had grounds for legal redress, and won the suit which he brought against Hauff. To some extent, however, the tables were turned by the amusing controversy which ensued, and in the lists of wit and satire Hauff came off victor.

‘Lichtenstein: Romantische Sage aus der Württembergischen Geschichte’ (Lichtenstein: A Romantic Tale from Würtemberg History: 1826), a so-called historical romance, none the worse from the fact that its history though always justified was pure fabrication, was received with great favor; and on the high tide of prosperity the young author set out for a tour through France, Belgium, and Germany. In 1827 he undertook the editorship of the Stuttgart Morgenblatt; and secure of the future through the powerful patronage of the publisher Cotta, he married a distant cousin of his own name, to whom he had long been attached. He spent the summer of 1827 in the Tyrol, where he was engaged upon another historical novel, which was to deal with the War of Freedom of 1809. This was never finished. In the autumn of the same year his health began to fail, and on October 18th, 1827, he died at Stuttgart.

Hauff’s powers of work were enormous, and he produced his stories in rapid succession. ‘Das Bild des Kaisers’ (The Portrait of the Emperor), a poetic piece of romance, and ‘Die Bettlerin vom Pont des Arts’ (The Beggar of the Pont des Arts), are masterpieces of their kind. Among the best of his productions must be ranked ‘Phantasien im Bremer Rathskeller’ (Phantasies in the Bremen Rathskeller: 1827). It is however most especially in the series of tales ‘The Caravan,’ ‘The Sheik of Alexandria,’ and ‘The Inn in Spessart,’ that Hauff’s high originality is best exemplified. He is pre-eminently a story-teller, and his pure and lucid style is the transparent medium for the expression of strikingly bold dramatic ideas. His wit is singularly delicate, yet penetrating, and he exercises a fascination over persons of all ages and conditions. The popularity which he at once attained is still unabated. His collected works continue to be issued in numerous editions, and his place in German literature seems now as assured as it has always been in the hearts of his countrymen.