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Jean Paul Richter

Vasari, who wrote the lives of the Italian painters, truly said, "It is
not by sleeping, but by working, waking, and laboring continually, that
proficiency is attained and reputation acquired." This was emphatically
true of Richter, as it is of every man or woman who wins a place in the
memory of men. The majority die after a commonplace life, and are never
heard of; they were probably satisfied to drift along the current, with
no especial purpose, save to eat, drink, and be merry.

Not so with the German boy, born in the cold Pine Mountains of Bavaria.
His home was a low, thatched building, made of beams of wood, filled in
with mortar, one part for the family, and the other for corn and goats.
This is still the custom in Switzerland, the poor caring as tenderly for
their dumb beasts as for their children. Jean Paul was born on the 21st
of March, 1763: "My life and the life of the spring began the same
month," he used to say in after years, and the thought of robin
red-breasts and spring flowers made the poor lad happy amid the deepest

His father was an under-pastor and organist in the little village of
Wunsiedel, and lived on a pitiful salary; but, generous to a fault, he
stripped off his own garments to clothe the poor, and sent the
schoolmaster a meal every day, because, if possible, he was poorer than
the preacher. In school, Jean Paul was a studious boy, almost envying
every one who said his lessons well, and fond of his teachers and mates;
but one of the boys having cut Paul's hand, the father at once took him
home and became his instructor. A painstaking and conscientious man, he
showed little aptness for his work, when he gave his boy, at nine years
of age, a Latin dictionary to commit to memory! For four solid hours in
the morning, and three in the afternoon, Paul and his brother learned
grammatical lessons and Latin verses of which they did not understand a
word. Still the boy grew more and more fond of books, and of
Nature,--made clocks with pendulums and wheels; a sun-dial, drawing his
figures on a wooden plate with ink; invented a new language from the
calendar signs of the almanac; and composed music on an old harpsichord
whose only tuning-hammer and tuning-master were the winds and the

When Paul was thirteen, the family moved to Schwarzenbach, where he made
the acquaintance of a young pastor, Vogel, who owned quite a valuable
library, and encouraged him to educate himself. Given free access to the
books, he began to read eagerly. Thinking that he should never own
volumes for himself, he made blank-books, of three hundred pages each,
from his father's sermon-paper, and began the almost interminable labor
of copying whatever he thought he should need in law, medicine,
philosophy, theology, natural history, and poetry. For nearly four years
he worked thus, till he had quite a library of his own, and a wealth of
information in his brain, which proved invaluable in the writing of
after years. Such a boy could not fail of success.

Paul's father, meantime, had become despondent over his debts, small
though they were, and died when his son was sixteen. The grandfather on
the mother's side dying soon after, Frau Richter became entitled by will
to his property. The remaining brothers and sisters at once went to law
about the matter, preferring to spend the estate in the courts rather
than have a favorite child enjoy it. Two years later, at eighteen, Paul
started for college at Leipzig, hoping that in this cultured city he
might teach while pursuing his own studies. Alas! scores had come with
the same hope, and there was no work to be obtained. He found himself
alone in a great city, poorly dressed, timid, sensitive, and without a
hand to help. Many boys had brought letters of introduction to the
professors, and thus of course received attention. He wrote to his
mother, "The most renowned, whose esteem would be useful to me, are
oppressed with business, surrounded by a multitude of respectable
people, and by a swarm of envious flatterers. If one would speak to a
professor without a special invitation, he incurs the suspicion of
vanity. But do not give up your hopes. I will overcome all these
difficulties. I shall receive some little help, and at length I shall
not need it." All honor to the brave boy who could write so
encouragingly in the midst of want and loneliness!

He longed to make the acquaintance of some learned people, but there was
no opportunity. Finally, getting deeper and deeper into debt, he wrote
to his mother, "As I have no longer any funds, I must continue to be
trusted. But what can I at last expect? I must eat, and I cannot
continue to be trusted. I cannot freeze, but where shall I get wood
without money? I can no longer take care of my health, for I have warm
food neither morning nor evening. It is now a long time since I asked
you for twenty-six dollars; when they come, I shall scarcely be able to
pay what I already owe. Perhaps the project I have in my head will
enable me to earn for you and myself." Poor lad! how many hearts have
ached from poverty just as did his. The mother was also in debt, but in
some way she managed to obtain the money; for what will a mother not do
for her child?

Paul worked on, but was soon in debt again. He could tell nobody but his
devoted mother: "I will not ask you for money to pay my victualler," he
wrote, "to whom I owe twenty-four dollars; nor my landlady to whom I am
indebted ten; or even for other debts, that amount to six dollars. For
these great sums I will ask no help, but for the following you must not
deny me your assistance. I must every week pay the washerwoman, who does
not trust. I must drink some milk every morning. I must have my boots
soled by the cobbler, who does not trust; my torn cap must be repaired
by the tailor, who does not trust; and I must give something to the
maid-servant, who of course does not trust. Eight dollars of Saxon money
will satisfy all, and then I shall need your help no longer."

He was keeping up courage, because he was writing a book! He told his
mother, with his high dreams of young authorship, that he should bring
home all his old shirts and stockings at vacation, for he should buy new
ones then! It is well that all the mountains seem easy to climb in
youth; when we are older, we come to know their actual height. The
mother discouraged authorship, and hoped her boy would become a
preacher; but his project was too dear to be given up. When his book of
satirical essays, called "Eulogy of Stupidity," was finished, it was
sent, with beating heart, to a publisher. In vain Paul awaited its
return. He hoped it would be ready at Michaelmas fair, but the publisher
"so long and so kindly patronized the book by letting it lie on his
desk, that the fair was half over before the manuscript was returned."
The boyish heart must have ached when the parcel came. He had not
learned, what most authors are familiar with, the heart sickness from
first rejected manuscripts. He had not learned, too, that fame is a hard
ladder to climb, and that a "friend at court" is often worth as much, or
more, than merit. Publishers are human, and cannot always see merit till
fame is won.

For a whole year Paul tried in vain to find a publisher. Then he said to
the manuscript, "Lie there in the corner together with school exercises,
for thou art no better. I will forget, for the world would certainly
have forgotten thee." Faint from lack of food, he says, "I undertook
again a wearisome work, and created in six months a brand-new satire."
This book was called the "Greenland Lawsuits," a queer title for a
collection of essays on theology, family pride, women, fops, and the

Paul had now gained courage by failure. Instead of writing a letter, he
went personally to every publisher in Leipzig, and offered his
manuscript, and every publisher refused it. Finally he sent it to Voss
of Berlin. On the last day of December, as he sat in his room, hungry,
and shivering because there was no fire in the stove, there was a knock
at the door, and a letter from Voss was handed in. He opened it hastily,
and found an offer of seventy dollars for the "Greenland Lawsuits."
Through his whole life he looked back to this as one of its supreme
moments. It was not a great sum, only three dollars a week for the six
months, but it was the first fruit of his brain given to the public. He
was now nineteen. What little property the mother had possessed had
wasted away in the lawsuits; one brother in his despair had drowned
himself, and another had entered the army; but Paul still had hope in
the future.

After a short vacation with his mother, he went back to Leipzig. The
second volume of the "Greenland Lawsuits" was now published, and for
this he received one hundred and twenty-six dollars,--nearly twice that
given for the first volume. This did not take with the public, and the
third volume was refused by every publisher. His money was gone. What
could he do? He would try, as some other authors had done, the plan of
writing letters to distinguished people, telling them his needs. He did
so, but received no answers. Then, spurred on by necessity, he took the
manuscript in his hand, and presented it himself at the doors of the
learned; but he was either not listened to, or repulsed on every
occasion. How one pities this lad of nineteen! How many wealthy men
might have aided him, but they did not! He wrote a few essays for
various periodicals, but these brought little money, and were seldom
wanted. His high hopes for a literary career began to vanish.

It was evident that he must give up college life, for he could not get
enough to eat. He had long discontinued his evening meal, making his
supper of a few dried prunes. His boarding-mistress was asking daily for
her dues. He could bear the privation and the disgrace no longer, and,
packing his satchel, and borrowing a coat from a college boy, that he
might not freeze, he stole away from Leipzig in the darkness of the
twilight, and went home to his disconsolate mother. Is it any wonder
that the poor are disconsolate? Is it any wonder that they regard the
wealthy as usually cold and indifferent to their welfare? Alas! that so
many of us have no wish to be our "brother's keeper."

Perhaps some of the professors and students wondered where the bright
lad had gone; but the world forgets easily. Frau Richter received her
college boy with a warm heart, but an empty purse. She was living with
her two children in one room, supporting them as best she could by
spinning, working far into the night. In this room, where cooking,
washing, cleaning, and spinning were all carried on, Paul placed his
little desk and began to write. Was the confusion trying to his
thoughts? Ah! necessity knows no law. He says, "I was like a prisoner,
without the prisoner's fare of bread and water, for I had only the
latter; and if a gulden found its way into the house, the jubilee was
such that the windows were nearly broken with joy." But with the
strength of a noble and heroic nature, he adds, "What is poverty that a
man should whine under it? It is but like the pain of piercing the ears
of a maiden, and you hang precious jewels in the wound."

The family were so needy, however, that they must look somewhere for
aid, and hesitatingly Paul applied to Vogel, the young pastor, who
loaned them twenty-five gulden. Very soon the boarding-mistress from
Leipzig appeared, having walked the whole way to Hof, and demanded her
pay. In his distress Paul sent her to another friend, Otto, who became
surety for the debt.

Richter now began to work harder than ever. His books of extracts were
invaluable, as were his hand-books of comical matters, touching
incidents, synonyms, etc. He made it a rule to write half a day, and
take long walks in the afternoon in the open air, thinking out the plans
for his books. Poor as he was, he was always cheerful, sustaining by his
letters any who were downhearted. One of his best friends, Herman, who
had become a physician through much struggle, died about this time,
broken on the wheel of poverty. Despite his own starving condition, Paul
sent him five dollars. Having an opportunity to teach French to the
brother of a Leipzig friend, he accepted; but at the end of three years,
through the disappointing character of the pupil, and the miserliness of
the father, Paul returned to his mother, broken in health and
dispirited. His heart ached for those who like himself were suffering,
and now he made a resolution that changed for life the course of his
writing. He would write satire no more. He said, "I will not pour into
the cup of humanity a single drop of gall." Henceforward love, and hope,
and tenderness, breathe upon his every page.

He now wrote ten essays on "What is Death?" asking the noble-hearted
Herder to send them to Weiland for his magazine, lest they be overlooked
in his mass of papers, if Richter, unaided, should venture to ask the
favor. They were overlooked for months; but finally Herder procured the
insertion of one essay in a different magazine, but Richter never
received any pay for it. Three years had passed, and all this time the
third volume of the "Greenland Lawsuits" had been journeying from one
publishing house to another. At last it was accepted, but little money
came from it.

Again he taught,--this time at Schwarzenbach, where he used to go to
school. Here his tenderness, his tact, and good cheer won the hearts of
the pupils. There was no memorizing of Latin dictionaries, but the exact
work of all was kept in a "red book" for parents to see. He instructed
them orally five hours a day, till they were eager for astronomy,
history, and biography. For four years he taught, "his schoolroom being
his Paradise," every Sunday walking to Hof to see his mother. Well might
he say, "To the man who has had a mother all women are sacred for her

Paul now determined to write a novel, and though he had little knowledge
of any sphere of life save that in which poverty held sway, he would put
his own heart into the work. The "Invisible Lodge" was written and sent
to the Counsellor of the town, asking, if the work pleased him, that he
would assist in its publication. At first Counsellor Moritz was annoyed
at the request; but as he read he became deeply interested, and said,
this is surely from Goethe, Herder, or Weiland. The book was soon
published, and two hundred and twenty-six dollars paid for it! The
moment Richter received the first instalment of seventy dollars, he
hastened to Hof, and there, late at night, found his mother spinning by
the light of the fire, and poured the whole of the gold into her lap.
The surprise, joy, and thanksgiving of the poor woman can well be
imagined. Her son immediately moved her into a small but more
comfortable home.

The new novel began to be talked about and widely read. Fame was really
coming. He began at once to work on "Hesperus," one of his most famous
productions, though when published he received only two hundred dollars
for the four volumes. Letters now came from scholars and famous people.
One admirer sent fifty Prussian dollars. What joy must have swelled the
heart of the poor schoolteacher! "Flower, Fruit, and Thorn Pieces"
followed shortly after, and Richter was indeed famous. Learned ladies of
Weimar wrote most enthusiastic thanks. With his reverence for woman,
and delight in her intellectual equality with man, these letters were
most inspiring. Request after request came for him to visit Weimar. Dare
he go and meet such people as Goethe, and Schiller, and Herder, and
Weiland, whom for twelve long years he had hoped sometime to look upon?
At last he started, and upon reaching Weimar, was made the lion of the
day. His warm heart, generous and unaffected nature, and brilliant and
well-stored mind made him admired by all. Herder said: "Heaven has sent
me a treasure in Richter. That I neither deserved nor expected. He is
all heart, all soul; an harmonious tone in the great golden harp of
humanity." Caroline Herder, his wife, a very gifted woman, was equally
his friend and helper. Noble and intellectual women gathered about him
to do him honor. Some fell in love with him; but he studied them closely
as models for future characters in his books, giving only an ardent
friendship in return. He was even invited to court, and gathered here
the scenes for his greatest work, "Titan." How grand all this seemed to
the poor man who had been hungering all his life for refined and
intellectual companionship! So rejoiced was he that he wrote home, "I
have lived twenty years in Weimar in a few days. I am happy, wholly
happy, not merely beyond all expectation, but beyond all description."

He was now thirty-four. The poor, patient mother had just died, but not
till she had heard the fame of her son spoken on every hand. After her
death, Paul found a faded manuscript in which she had kept the record of
those small gains in spinning into the midnight hours. He carried it
next his heart, saying, "If all other manuscripts are destroyed, yet
will I keep this, good mother." For weeks he was not able to write a
letter, or mention the loss of his parent.

His youngest brother, Samuel, a talented boy, was now ready for college;
so Jean Paul determined to make Leipzig his home while his brother
pursued his course. What changes the last few years had wrought! Then he
was stealing away from Leipzig in debt for his board, cold, hungry, and
desolate; now he was coming, the brilliant author whom everybody
delighted to honor. When we are in want, few are ready to help; when
above want, the world stands ready to lavish all upon us. After spending
some time in Leipzig, he visited Dresden to enjoy the culture of that
artistic city. During this visit, Samuel, who had become dissipated,
broke into his brother's desk, stole all his hard-earned money, and left
the city. He led a wandering life thereafter, dying in a hospital in
Silesia. Paul never saw him again, but sent him a yearly allowance, as
soon as he learned his abiding-place. What a noble character!

He now returned to Weimar, dedicating his "Titan" to the four daughters
of the Duke of Mecklenburg, one of whom became the mother of Emperor
William, the famous and beautiful Louise of Prussia. He visited her
later in Berlin, where he writes, "I have never been received in any
city with such idolatry. I have a watch-chain of the hair of three
sisters; and so much hair has been begged of me, that if I were to make
it a traffic, I could live as well from the outside of my head as from
what is inside of it."

In this city he met the woman who was to be hereafter the very centre of
his life. He had had a passing fancy for several, but never for one that
seemed fitted, all in all, to make his life complete. Caroline Myer, the
daughter of one of the most distinguished Prussian officers, was a
refined, intellectual, noble girl, with almost unlimited resources
within herself, devoted to her family and to every good. Paul had met
women who dressed more elegantly, who were more sparkling in
conversation, who were more beautiful, but they did not satisfy his
heart. In his thirty-eighth year he had found a character that seemed
perfection. He wrote, "Caroline has exactly that inexpressible love for
all beings that I have till now failed to find even in those who in
everything else possess the splendor and purity of the diamond. She
preserves in the full harmony of her love to me the middle and lower
tones of sympathy for every joy and sorrow in others."

Her love for Richter was nearly adoration. Several months after their
marriage she wrote her father, "Richter is the purest, the holiest, the
most godlike man that lives. Could others be admitted, as I am, to his
inmost emotions, how much more would they esteem him!" Richter also
wrote to his best friend, Otto, "Marriage has made me love her more
romantically, deeper, infinitely more than before." At the birth of
their first child, he wrote again to Otto, "You will be as transported
as I was when the nurse brought me, as out of a cloud, my second love,
with the blue eyes wide open, a beautiful, high brow, kiss-lipped,
heart-touching. God is near at the birth of every child."

On Caroline's first birthday after their marriage, he wrote, "I will be
to thee father and mother! Thou shalt be the happiest of human beings,
that I also may be happy."

"Titan," now ten years in progress, was published, and made a great
sensation. The literary world was indignant at the fate of "Linda," his
heroine, but all pronounced it a great book,--his masterpiece.

Soon after he removed to Bayreuth, and settled down to earnest work.
Almost every day he might be seen walking out into the country, where he
rented a room in a peasant's house for quiet and country air. Whenever
the day was pleasant he worked out of doors. A son had now been born to
him, and life seemed complete. Now he played with his home-treasures,
and now talked at table about some matter of art or science that all
might be instructed. He was especially fond of animals, having usually
a mouse, a tame spider, a tree-frog, and dogs. So good was he to his
canary birds that he never left the house without opening the door of
their cage that they might fly about and not be lonely. Often when he
wrote, they walked over his manuscript, scattering water from the vase
and mingling it with his ink.

His son Max, a boy of sixteen, had entered school at Munich. He was a
beautiful youth, conscientious, sensitive, devoted to study, and the
idol of the household. At first he wept whole nights from homesickness,
denying himself sufficient fire, food, and clothing, from a desire to
save expense to his parents. He was a fine scholar, but distrusted his
intellectual gifts. At the end of a year he came home, pale and worn,
and died at the age of nineteen.

To Richter this was a death-blow. He went on writing, while the tears
dropped upon his page. He could never bear the sight of a book his boy
had touched, and the word "philology," his son's favorite study, cut him
to the heart. At the end of three months he wrote to a friend, "My being
has suffered not merely a wound, but a complete cutting off of all joy.
My longing after him grows always more painful." Broken in health he
visited Dresden; but the end was near. The sight of the left eye at
first failed him, then the right, till he was left in complete darkness.
He still hoped to finish his autobiography, and the "Immortality of the
Soul," begun on the very day Max was buried; but this was denied him.
Once only did his sorrows overpower him, when pitifully looking toward
the window, he cried out as Ajax in the "Iliad":--

"Light! light only, then may the enemy come!"

The devoted wife and two daughters grew unspeakably dear to him. When
tired with thinking, he would seat himself at the piano, and play till
he, as well as those who heard him, would burst into tears. On the 14th
of November, 1825, he sat in his chamber, his youngest child climbing on
the back of his chair, and laying her face against her father's. It was
only noon, but thinking it was night, Richter said, "It is time to go to
rest." He was wheeled into his sleeping apartment, and some flowers laid
on the bed beside him. "My beautiful flowers! My lovely flowers!" he
said, as he folded his arms, and soon fell asleep. His wife sat beside
him, her eyes fixed on the face of the man she loved. About six the
doctor arrived. The breath came shorter, the face took on a heavenly
expression, and grew cold as marble. The end had come. He was buried by
torchlight, the unfinished manuscript of the "Immortality of the Soul"
being borne upon his coffin, while the students sung Klopstock's hymn,
"Thou shalt arise, my Soul." His more than one hundred volumes and his
noble, generous life are his monuments. He said, "I shall die without
having seen Switzerland or the ocean, but the ocean of eternity I shall
not fail to see."

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