Saturday, February 22, 2014

Non-Fiction: Kaspar Hauser

This started out as a review of a book.  The story of a young man that appeared in 1828, approximately 16 years of age with a traumatic tale of a childhood spent in a dungeon.  Like many books, it led me to dig deeper and wow! What mysterious stuff I found.  So, this probably fits both the non-fiction & topic label.  I won't apologize for my insatiable curiosity, only ask for indulgence.

It's not a Disney Tale that's for sure.  The conclusion that the story is "forever a mystery" is probably the bottom line.  But I believe this statement made as part of a book review in the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1998 is a timely focus of what Kaspar Hauser can teach us:  These mysteries are linked with the confusion that often surrounds reports of child abuse: Did it really happen? If it did, to what extent are the person's current problems the result of the fact of that abuse? And to what extent can one rely on the accuracy of the individual's memory of abusive experiences? 

Often children's pleas for help are ignored, dismissed, and called lies.  If left to their own devices to survive, by the time they're adults, they frequently learn from these experiences a long list of post traumatic behaviors we can now find itemized with the click of a button.  Of course, in 1830 what was considered proper medical care and the needs of survivors of abuse is vastly different than now.  I realized as I read that the judiciary and educators of the day was no less overloaded then, than now.  Sadly, it also seemed those that might have protected a child with their last breath, had less patience for a victim growing facial hair that never satisfied his protectors no matter how many experiments, interrogations or lessons Kaspar endured.

We that observe from a distance of generations might take exception to the allegations of Schmidt Von Lubeck (quoted by Lord Stanhope) that the appeal is the romance of "Casper Hauser, an amiable and distinguished prince," that if the story had been simply, "Casper Hauser, a poorly sickly and wondering young man," no one would have been interested.  Maybe so, then and now, but I confess, as I dug about the accounts, extracts, narratives and pseudo documentation, all I could do was feel for the young man; for many children that will continue to be the object of conflict and torments even after they escape.

There appears to be (4) bodies of work translated in to English, or written in English, the generations have based their conclusions on.  That each disagrees with the other and frequently site the falsehoods, mistakes, deliberate blindness and absurdities of the others is rather annoying but to be expected.  Regardless of the good intentions and justifiable frustration of these caregivers, guardians, concerned citizens, et al my sympathy is all for Kaspar!  Like so many cases of parents and officials squabbling over child(ren), you are force fed first this version then that version until the child(ren) are completely immaterial to the vindication of the so-called adults.  I suspect it was as difficult for the young man as it was for me to find out who Kaspar really was among the literature below is not as easy as the titles might lead you to believe.

There are many times in any version below that you ache for Kaspar and the contradictions that must have assaulted him daily with regards to expected conduct, who he might be or might someday become if only he ____ .   When you realize there are but Five Years involved, you struggle with despair when considering how he was shuffled first here, then there; promised this, denied that; tantalized with hopes then called names, even having backs turned on him so he'd "learn what happens to liars."

As he lay dying from a wound to his heart, stomach and lung, they questioned him repeatedly and actually admonished him for giving confusing descriptions.  Even then it was demanded of him that he give them words, beg forgiveness and give it ... no one is recorded as giving him the least comfort of being glad to have known him and the repetitious complaint of his not giving his final deposition under oath just broke my heart.

After his death, the investigation concluded there had been "no murder" and all these years later, the accidental suicide theory, conspiracies of a noble family or three, and finger pointing goes on.  His epitaph says more about the society of the time and the character of the caregivers than it does of Kaspar.

 ‘Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious’

Anselm von Feurbach's 1832 book  This is where I began.  It is written by a legal scholar of the day, that was Kapar's guardian until his own death, published in Boston a year before Kaspar's death.  The full title of the book is what originally caught my eye in a list of books.  An Account of an Individual Kept in a Dungeon, Separated from all Communication with the World from Early Childhood to About age Seventeen Drawn Up from Legal Documents.  There are no legal documents in this book.  There is a lot of details that are incredible, some that I couldn't believe as I read them, others that were missing altogether and that's what began my digging.  The author is sited so frequently - as idiot or demon or fool, despite his many years of legal brilliance that he is *still* accredited for - that you just about can't skip this read.  It's quite like a protracted reality show, you can't believe your watching but you do. (more about Feuerbach on the Wiki)

Earl of Stanhope's Tracts  I read this next but I'd suggest you read it after reading the writing of his daughter below, incidents and occasions that Lord Stanhope refers to are found in her recounting.  It was published in 1836 in London, though many of the tracts are written in 1834, after the investigation and conclusions regarding Kaspar's death.  Lord Stanhope  makes many valid points.  However, he is so obviously defending his honor while confessing to be a dupe it is as irritating as you'd expect. It is good to keep in mind that Lord Stanhope was no stranger to familiar scandal and notoriety or what we would consider an abusive childhood.  He no doubt struggled with many of the same issues that Kaspar did.  His desire to help Kaspar undoubtedly stemmed from the help he received, the difference being Lord Stanhope's assistance was with him, not a distant guardian that came and went and was used like a stick to reward or chastise.   However, all that aside, this is worth wading through. (more about Lord Stanhope on the Wiki)

Duchess of Cleveland's True Story 1893 (that is: Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina (Stanhope) Powlett, Lord Stanhope's daughter)  Vested interest or not, I found this version easier to read and though her sympathy for Kaspar was limited, she did acknowledge this was tainted by all the hoopla that followed.  Writing from sixty years distance, there is still the feel that it happened last year.  Her focus, of course, is vindicating her father and others involved with Kaspar's care after a series of booklets, pamphlets and accusations regarding these men have been through the libel courts of Germany.  Her writing is eloquent without being maudlin and she does try to be fair; when she isn't, it's obvious.  I don't doubt she leaves many things out, certainly the statements that Kaspar had many friends that not only admired him but sought his advice doesn't quite mesh with the furtive, secretive, liar that is presented in the next sentence.  He was called a chameleon, perhaps they meant what we'd call moody, but that isn't all that bizarre in an adolescent, at least in my experience.  They rebel against dictates, play hooky, want what they want now with the least effort, and in time, with guidance, most grow up.  I take from this version that if Kaspar had a consistent caregiver that he could trust not to measure his progress by how it reflected on the caregiver's standing in society, he might well have had the time and tools to overcome and mature.  Alas, he remained a ward of a continent, not a foster child loved and wanted, so time and "monsters" overcame him instead.  (more about the Duchess of Cleveland)

The Story of Kaspar Hauser from Authentic Records by Elizabeth Evans This is an aggregation of all the wild theories and charges written by an American but in many cases word for word what was published in Britain and Germany that brought libel suits that were won.  It abounds with conspiracy theories, classic fairy-tale type villains and if it was labeled fiction I'd be impressed by the imagination of the author.  However, I have to admit, I simply couldn't finish this one.  I skimmed through to find the passages referred to by others, to grasp some of the "public opinion" feel of the thing but that's all I could take.  It is good example of the sensationalism in publishing of the time and in that respect, worth the download and time.
(Elizabeth Evans obit of 1911)

You can purchase Kaspar Hauser Speaks for Himself on amazon but I have not (though I really, really want to) because my purpose in this site is to focus on what we can find out there without expense of money - only time and sense enough to double check sources, facts and watch out for drive-by downloads.

There were other publications in German both by Dr. Meyer and Daumer.  The passionate essay linked below makes a valid point about the lack of German translation that doesn't have something to do with the Wars or Aftermath.

See also:
Kaspar Hauser Wiki Link 
Quick Summation of who is who in the Hauser Mystery in 2002
A Thesis concerning Kasper's Story portrayed in plays & films over the years
Very passionate (& partial) essay regarding Kasper Hauser
Equally passionate essay from Andrew Lang

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