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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."