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Gaspard Hauser

Stephanie de Beauharnais passes her time trying to avoid her enemies’ traps, and giving five children to Grand-Duke Karl-Louis of Bade, who adores her – three daughters of marvellous health and three sons…  who die in infancy…

At the Palace, it is the wife of Grand-Duke Karl-Frederik who gives the orders.  When Stephanie enters this family, the Grand-Duke is seventy-eight years old.  Louise Geyer, his morganic wife, to whom he has given the title of Countess of Hochberg, has given him three sons who cannot succeed him.

But “the Hochberg”, as she is called, is madly cupid and ambitious.  Napoleon is not yet at Saint Helena when she obtains the legitimization of her sons.  Karl-Louis, who is weak, lets her…

The people of Bade, who don’t like the arrogant commoner, are asking questions.  Why did this little Prince, born in 1812, a real force of Nature, to whom Stephanie had given birth in great suffering, die so suddenly?  As well as her second son, four years later, who was just as vigorous?…

***

Gaspard Hauser

For Gaspard Hauser, the attempted murder of 1830 puts an end to his tranquillity.  It is bad enough that the Municipality of Nuremberg pays for him to do nothing, but if, now, he becomes the man by whom scandal arrives…!

Strange Lord Stanhope, who is in fact notoriously introverted, refuses to receive him.  He is entrusted to a certain Meyer, a brutal, suspicious teacher who holds him to be an imposter, to perfect his education.

His most constant protector, Feuerbach, dies, leaving him desperate.

***

On 14 December 1833, snow is falling heavily on the city.  As he does every day, Gaspard has gone for an outing, accompanied, this particular afternoon, by Pastor Fuhrmann whom he leaves, saying that he has a rendez-vous with a lady.

Half an hour later, he presents himself before Meyer, pale, ruffled, speaking with difficulty.  A stain of blood is spreading over his shirt.

He tells his host that a man had given him an appointment in the park at nightfall, to give him some decisive papers on his origin.

The stranger was dressed in a long cloak and a top-hat.  He held out a blue purse which he dropped.  While Gaspard was bending down to pick it up, the man knifed him and fled.

A few rare people file around Gaspard’s bed.  He is ordered to tell the truth.  He whispers:

“If only I knew who hurt me, I would willingly tell you!  Do you think that I gave myself the knife wound?  Ah!  Soon you will think differently!”

Two days after that, in the evening, he raises himself up on his bed and cries out in a pitiful voice:

“Mother!  Mother!…  Come!”

A few moments later, he calms down and murmurs:

“I am tired, very tired.  But I have such a big road to travel…”

He closes his eyes.  They think that he is asleep.  He is dead…

At the place where he was assassinated, there is still today a monument on which is engraved the following formula:

“Here an unknown man was killed by an unknown man.”

***

There have been hundreds of studies of Gaspard Hauser’s story.

Among the most serious of them can be cited those of Jean Mistler, Jacob Wassermann, Fritz Klee, or the articles of Alain Decaux and the admirable film of Werner Hertzog.

They opt for often contradictory theses, the first saying that Gaspard was an imposter.  Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, is of the opinion that an imposter of sixteen who manages to fool everyone for five years, while he is submitted to thorough medical and Police examinations, is not believable.

***

In the opinion of the Medecine of the time, as well as our psychoanalysts today, Gaspard was not at all mad, clinicly speaking.  His life is marked by no disturbing act, he is basically a peaceful being, preoccupied only with learning and finding the explanation of his origin…

***

 

Stephanie de Beauharnais, first cousin once removed of Empress Josephine, adopted daughter of Napoleon, and wife of the Grand Duke Karl-Louis of Bade.

The mystery of his origin has never been solved to everyone’s satisfaction.  Far from it.

It is certain, and has been proven, that he was not, as was said for a time, Napoleon’s son…

It would seem more plausible that he was that of Stephanie.  There are strong presumptions in favour of the hypothesis that her two male children had been poisoned, by order of the Hochberg.  Or rather that there had been a substitution in his cradle , in 1812, of the son of Karl and Stephanie by the cadaver of a child of low birth, who had even been believed to have been identified.

The little Prince would have been taken to Beuggen in the South of the Grand-Duchy where he was well treated at first.  In 1819, when one of the sons of the Grand-Duke mounted the throne, the child’s condition would have changed completely.  The Hochberg had obtained from the new sovereign, whose mistress she was, the promise that he would never marry and that the way to the throne would remain open for her own sons.

From then on, Gaspard became an object of blackmail, directed against the Grand-Duke, if he forgot his promise.  The surveillance around the child then tightened, and he was finally placed under the surveillance of a certain Richter, a guard in a castle where Gaspard occupied an attic.  Out of fear of seeing him run away, Richter locked him up in a prison cell, but only for a few weeks.  Terrified by his responsibility, Richter would have finally ridden himself of him in the way that we have seen.

The problem is that this thesis reposes on a series of hypotheses…  some of which are more than hazardous.

***

All the explanations given do not, in Louis Pauwels’ opinion, take enough into account Gaspard’s attitude, when he is discovered in Nuremberg.  All the testimonies agree that he is a completely disorientated being, totally untouched in intelligence, in sensitivity, even in behaviour…

He didn’t master language at all, had no experience of the most common objects, but it only took him a few months to learn to read, to speak, to play music.  The latest Science proves that a being maintained until his sixteenth year in this state of ignorance is condemned to definitive idiocy.  He hadn’t remained in either an attic or a prison cell either, for he would have rapidly died.

Louis Pauwels thinks that Gaspard’s brain was already “formed”, “programmed” as we say today.  That it was enough to give it an initial jolt for this intelligence, catapulted amongst men, to start functioning and to achieve adult performances of an above-average intelligence…

Gaspard was not a simulator and he didn’t commit suicide.  He was more likely the product of a mad scholar, a golem, one of those robots to whom life is temporarily given by attaching a verse from the Bible onto their foreheads.  A being who came from somewhere else, in any case, which was also confirmed by the first medical examinations.

The doctors were astounded to note that his skin was that of a very young girl and that the skin on the soles of his feet was so soft and so smooth that Gaspard must have really taken his first “human” steps in Nuremberg.

***

What killed him, was the incomprehension of men, the unsurmountable laziness of their hearts.  It is certain that Gaspard disturbed people, that he was different, totally unintelligible to his fellow men.

It takes less than that to throw the first stone…

Paul Verlaine, moved by what had happened to the mysterious adolescent, wrote “Pauvre Gaspard Hauser”.

Louis Pauwels thinks that the poet Verlaine had the best intuition of who Gaspard Hauser was.  In a ballad which was dedicated to him, he puts these words in his mouth [my apologies to those who love Verlaine – I am about to try to translate him into English]:

“I came, calm orphan

Rich only by my tranquil eyes

Towards the men of the big cities…

Was I born too early or too late?

What am I doing in this world?

Oh!  All of you, my suffering is deep

Pray for the poor Gaspard!”

***

Poetry is more and more indispensable to objective knowledge, as is shown by what is happening in the greatest American technological institutes which employ poets to contribute to the explanation and the representation of certain phenomena which are still inexplicable.

Louis Pauwels says that if you want a last argument, this one totally rational, know that the forensic doctors who practised Gaspard’s autopsy discovered that he didn’t have a human heart.  Or rather that he had a totally inverted heart, as far as it’s position and its circulatory flow are concerned…

***

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Gaspard Hauser

On the following days, as Gaspard Hauser becomes accustomed to the little room that has been prepared for him in the West Tower, memories start coming back to him.

And these memories are quite astounding.

As far back as they go, they remind him only of the cold of an underground gaol lit by an inaccessible ventilation opening.  He still thinks to be wearing the short pants of humid leather that are never changed, to smell the straw of his plank bed, the roughness of which, through a simple unbleached shirt, has doubtless definitively curved his spine.  A basin, at the foot of his bed, mysteriously emptied at night, a jug of water and a piece of bread, are the only things that are familiar to this troglodyte.  And then there is the “Black Man” as he calls him, the Argus of his den, half torturer, half teacher, of whom he speaks in fear and who, in the last weeks of his reclusion, taught him to write his name and to mumble:  “I want to be a cavalier.”.  A few days before his liberation, he also taught him to walk, by pushing him and carrying him in his cavern.

Finally, on the Monday of Pentecost 1828, after having made him traverse a vast forest near Nuremberg, supporting him when he is too tired, the “Black Man” points to the faraway towers of the city, and says to him, before disappearing into the bushes:

“Go towards this great village.”

A few hours later, Gaspard comes across the two cobblers.

What do the good people of Nuremberg make of this extraordinary, romanesque story?

Most of them are convinced of its veracity, because of the impression of total frankness that its hero communicates.

Very few people who visit his room during the first months, to look at him as if he were a side-show in a fair, in an attempt to recognize him, have any doubts before his limpid eyes and that totally candid air.

The young man is given a sort of preceptor, the excellent Professor Daumer, in whose home he is soon placed, and the bourgmeister of the city, Herr Binder, goes to work with great generosity to facilitate anything that could contribute to the return of Gaspard to the society of men.  He has his theory on the child, assuring that he had been the victim of a kidnapping, and he sends out, urbi et orbi, notices to obtain information from all who have any knowledge of the kidnapping of a baby between 1810 and 1814.

He receives a pile of letters,  messages, testimonies, which suscitate a lot of others.  The progress of Gaspard, who now speaks fluently, and even prettily plays the clavecin, exacerbates the interest of the scholarly and grand worlds, which are sorting through the Gotha, hunting for an imitator of Louis XVII who could perhaps be “Europe’s orphan”.  Which is what the journalists and shopkeepers of the old continent are now calling him.

For, with the favourable conclusions of Feuerbach, President of the Royal Court of Justice and the most eminent criminologist of his time, along with the request from a great English aristocrat, Lord Stanhope, who wants to take Gaspard to England to give him a princely education, there are now, throughout Europe, innumerable subscribers to gazettes whom the story of Gaspard Hauser deeply moves.

Two years go by in this way, which the civilized world of the time uses to embroider on the myth of the good savage, incarnated by Gaspard.

Gaspard Hauser

The inhabitants of Nuremberg have become gradually used to the young man’s presence.  He is a model young man, discrete, affable and rather solitary.  His days are spent in outings to the city’s Orangerie, in philosophical conversations with Pastor Fuhrmann, in diverse reading, thanks to which he avidly reconstitutes this world which was missing to him for such a long time.

And then, one evening, he who is so punctual, is late for dinner.

Anguish takes hold of his tutor who starts to search for him in the garden and the surrounding streets.  Finally, he is discovered, lying on the last steps of the cellar.  He has a big wound on his forehead.

While he is being transported onto a bed, he regains consciousness and murmurs:

“The Black Man…  The Black Man…  the chimneysweep…”

Gaspard has been aggressed by a mysterious man, dressed in a black cape.  He saw his face in black too and that is why he thought he recognized a chimneysweep.

The “Black Man” had told him that he had to die, before hitting him.

News of the attempted murder spreads throughout Nuremberg and, from there, throughout the whole kingdom.

President Feuerbach exults and, before the ampleur of the controversy, Louis I of Bavaria, himself, orders an investigation with 500 florins reward “to whomever would provide information, a simple clue”.

Gaspard’s wound is not very serious.  Some therefore conclude that he is only a simulator…

Why this interest from the King, himself, in an affair which is, after all, a simple Police matter?

Of course, there is talk about an exceptional incident which has overflowed Bavaria’s borders.

There are also stories, and even a solidly argued thesis now, about Gaspard’s princely origin…  The great Feuerbach is the most zealous defender of this thesis, which the aggression by the “Black Man” permits to establish, according to him, more solidly than ever…

***

Stephanie de Beauharnais, first cousin once removed of Empress Josephine, adopted daughter of Napoleon, and wife of the Grand Duke Karl-Louis of Bade.

Stephanie de Beauharnais came into the world as, in Paris, the walls of the Bastille are collapsing.  The daughter of a first cousin to General de Beauharnais, Empress Josephine’s first husband, her early childhood is filled with flights and privations.

When Napoleon, on the eve of mounting the throne, learns of the existence of this cousin who is living obscurely, he becomes indignant and decides to adopt her as his daughter.

Soon she is a Highness, ranked above all the other Princesses, and even above Napoleon’s sisters.  The Emperor, putting in place a matrimonial politic which had so well succeeded with other sovereigns, intends to see her marry the Crown Prince of Bade.

He so wants her to sit on this throne that, when his nieces bully the young girl about etiquette, he sits her on his knee, telling her in front of the entourage:

“Come!  No-one will make you get up from here!…”

What a disappointment when the fiance appears at Court!

Karl-Louis of Bade has a rather ungracious face and, as well, he is not at all fashionably dressed.

With his powders and his long wig a marteaux, he looks as if he has escaped from the Old Regime.  And sad-faced as well.

He agrees to have his hair cut like Napoleon’s hussards.  Stephanie finds him even uglier.

The mariage takes place with a pomp which has to surpass, the Emperor says, that of the kings, and soon, pretty Stephanie enters the Grand-Ducal Palace of Karlsruhe – four hundred bedrooms lined up under the lugubrious Lead Tower, a poor man’s Versailles, with even less comfort – and what plotting goes on there!

***

To be continued.

Gaspard Hauser, as he appeared to the two cobblers.

On this Monday of Pentecost 1828, all is calm is Nuremberg, where two cobblers are returning home, drunk from all the beer that they have consumed.  At the precise moment when the bell of the old cathedral finishes ringing its five chimes, the two companions suddenly stop.  In front of them, leaning against a house which is already in the shadow of the two cathedral towers, they can see a very strange creature…  One of them, Weichmann, firstly asks himself if it is not an old mannequin that a junk collector has placed there to signal his business.  The other, Beck, follows the person who is now dragging himself ahead of them, looking more and more tired.  He catches up to him and sees a young man around fifteen, covered in mud, with bushy hair under his old flat hat, and wearing scarecrow clothes.  When he sees the two men, he jumps and turns a bewildered face towards them.  Moved, as much by the beer as by this spectacle, Beck asks the child if he is ill and where he comes from.  His only answer is a painful sigh.  Beck shakes him by the arm before thinking to search his pockets.  He takes out a crushed letter which he holds out to Weichmann.  It is addressed to Captain von Wessnich, Commander of the 4th Light Horse Squadron, at Nuremberg.

Beck asks whether the Captain is related to the boy and receives a grunt in reply.  Weichmann is beginning to find this meeting a nuisance.  Beck decides that they can’t leave the child there and proposes to take him to the officer’s home.

Only the Captain’s wife is at home.  A good woman, who comforts the child, sits him down on a chair and asks him all sorts of questions…  He endlessly replies in such strange German that the woman takes a long time to understand what he means:

“I want to be a cavalier.”

She renounces questioning him because he appears so tired, and gives him a piece of roast meat, with a glass of beer.  The adolescent turns his head away in disgust.  On the other hand, he accepts some dry bread and swallows several glasses of water.

Nuremberg, where on 26 May 1828, two cobblers saw an unknown adolescent staggering down the street.

It is clear to see that it is mostly sleep that he needs and Frau von Wessnich decides to take him to the stable.  The child lets himself fall into the straw and immediately goes into a deep sleep.

The Captain soon returns home and reads the letter, which says this:

“Honoured Captain, I send you a boy who wants to serve the King in the Army.  He was left at my home on 7 October 1812.  I am only a working-man, employed by the day.  I have ten children of my own;  I have enough to do to raise them.  The mother abandoned this child to me.  But I don’t know who she was and I didn’t contact the Police;  I raised him as a Christian.  Since 1812, he has not been outside the house.  No-one knows where he has been raised and he, himself, does not know the name of the town, nor where my house is;  you can question him about it as much as you want, he will not be able to answer you.  I taught him to read and write a bit, and when he is asked what he wants to do, he says that he wants to be a soldier like his father.  I have taken him as far as Neumarkt;  he has to make the rest of the way alone.

Good Captain, don’t beat him to make him say where he has come from, since he doesn’t know.  I took him away at night, and he will not be able to find his way back,  If you don’t want to keep him, you can kill him or hang him in your fireplace.”

A note written on the same type of paper, coming from the child’s mother, it says, indicates:

“The little one has been baptised under the name of Gaspard.  Give him a Surname and deign to take care of him, whoever finds him.  When he is seventeen, send him to Nuremberg, to the 6th Cavalry Regiment, his father was a soldier there.  He was born on 30 April 1812.  I am an unfortunate girl and cannot keep him.  His father is dead.”

These letters, written in the same hand by someone who has made an awkward attempt at disguising his writing, seem to be fakes.  The Captain, who doesn’t want to be taken advantage of, goes to shake the sleeper.  Here is our vagabond at the Post of Police where he is again assailed with questions.  Once more, he says his litany, then pulls his head into his oversized jacket, with an infinitely distressed air.  He looks so pitiful that the public servants renounce tormenting him any more.  One of them however slips a pencil into his hand.  He is mocked by his colleagues who say that this miserable child can’t know how to write since he doesn’t even know how to speak!…  We’ll see tomorrow!  Just put the poor dog in one of the city’s towers and let him sleep!

But as soon as he sees the pencil, the child appears to be delighted.  He takes it and slowly writes with great application these two words:  Gaspard Hauser.  It’s probably his name, decide the policemen, who notice that, although the letters are not well drawn, like those traced by children in kindergarten, the name is perfectly spelt.  Unfortunately, Gaspard’s science stops there and, when he is asked to write also where he comes from, he mumbles lamentably.

What is Gaspard Hauser’s physical aspect?  He is fairly tall, he has fine skin, a fair complexion, very blue eyes and his hair is so blond that it appears silvery.  Above all, there is something in his allure that appears to be perplexity, hesitancy, constraint, as if he has just, at that moment, fallen from another planet…

To be continued.

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