Biography of Heinrich Hoffmann
Heinrich Hoffmann was a German psychiatrist, who also wrote some short works including Der Struwwelpeter, an illustrated book portraying children misbehaving.
Early Life and Education
Hoffmann was born in Frankfurt on Main to an architect father, Philipp Hoffmann, who was responsible for the city's streets and waterways. Hoffmann's mother died when he was a baby. His father later married her sister, Antoinette Lausberg, who was a loving and more than adequate mother to him. Lazy and easily distracted, Hoffmann at first struggled at school, but became a successful student after conforming to the strict discipline imposed by his demanding father. At university in Heidelberg, he immersed himself into the corps student culture. His zest for dueling was small, but owing to his sociability, good humour and wit, Hoffmann soon became the center of many social circles, a pattern that would later repeat itself in his hometown. His progress in his medical studies was slow because of the many distractions. To flee these he left Heidelberg for Halle, where he concentrated on his studies under Professor Peter Krukenberg, the founder of a charity clinic. His first brush with medical practice coincided with a cholera outbreak in Halle. After getting his medical degree, he intended to spend a year in Paris (funded by the Frankfurt Bethmann bank) to improve his knowledge of surgery. But due to the deteriorating health of his father, he had to return home early.
Career as a Writer
Hoffmann published poems and a satirical comedy before, in 1845, a publisher friend persuaded him to have a collection of illustrated children's verses printed which Hoffmann had done as Christmas present for his son. The book, later called Struwwelpeter after one of its anti-heroes, became popular with the public and had to be reprinted regularly; many foreign translations followed. "Struwwelpeter" was not perceived as cruel or overly moral by Hoffmann's contemporaries. The original title, "Funny stories and droll pictures", indicates that entertainment was at least partly the author's intention.
After the book's success, Hoffmann felt persuaded to write other children's books, of which only the first, König Nussknacker oder der arme Reinhold, became popular.
He also kept on writing satires and (often comic) poems for adults. His satires show his strong skepticism towards all kinds of ideology and his distaste for religious, philosophical or political bigotry. Even in Germany, he is today largely remembered for his Struwwelpeter.
Hoffmann from early on had liberal leanings, meaning he supported German unity under a constitutional monarchy, democratic elections, freedom of the press, and equal rights for all male citizens including Jews (whose emancipation had suffered setbacks in many German states after "liberation" from Napoleonic rule). As a member of the city's legislative assembly he was (according to his own testimony) instrumental in opening the sessions to the public. His sense of equality was such that he founded a club ("Bürgerverein") which expressly invited (male) members of all walks of life, including the uneducated and Jewish citizens. Also, he left his freemason's lodge after antisemitic tendencies took hold there. Seized with patriotic-democratic sentiment during the early days of the German 1848 revolution, he became a member of the Frankfurt preliminary national assembly that prepared the elections, but was soon disillusioned by the divisive and dogmatic, unproductive discussions that followed.
Pro-bono public activities
Hoffmann, a popular and well-connected figure in his hometown, became an active member of several non-political public bodies during his lifetime. Among them were the administration of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut (Städel Institute of Art) and the Mozart Foundation (who funded Max Bruch, among others).
He wrote under the following names:
Polykarpus Gastfenger (The given name is the German version of that of a Christian martyr; the surname sounds like "Gastfänger", which could be translated as "guest-catcher".)
Heulalius von Heulenburg
Heinrich Hoffmann-Donner (The second half of the compound surname is the maiden name of his wife Therese. It would mean "thunder" as a common noun, or a name for the Germanic thunder-god Thor.)
Heinrich Kinderlieb (The surname means roughly "child-friendly"/"nice to children")
Peter Struwwel (This name reverses the order of the components of "Struwwelpeter".)
Zwiebel (As a common noun, this would mean "onion")
In Frankfurt there is a Heinrich-Hoffmann-Museum.
He is the subject of the historical novel, 98 Reasons for Being.
He and his book Der Struwwelpeter is mentioned in The Office episode "Take Your Daughter to Work Day".
One of the short stories contained within Der Struwwelpeter, "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher" or "The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb" is the loose basis for the song "Scissor Man" by the British band XTC. The story involves a little boy whose punishment for sucking his thumbs is getting them cut off by the tailor. The song was more popularly covered by Primus.
Struwwelpeter's statue stands in the center of Frankfurt am Main, in Hoffman's honour.
Heinrich Hoffmann's Works:
König Nussknacker oder der arme Reinhold
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Heinrich Hoffmann Poems
The Story Of Fidgety Philip
'Let me see if Philip can Be a little gentleman; Let me see if he is able To sit still for once at table:'
The Story Of Johnny Head-In-Air
As he trudged along to school, It was always Johnny's rule To be looking at the sky
The Story Of Augustus Who Would Not Have...
Augustus was a chubby lad; Fat, ruddy cheeks Augustus had; And everybody saw with joy The plump and heart, healthy boy,
The Story Of Little Suck-A-Thumb
One day Mamma said 'Conrad dear, I must go out and leave you here. But mind now, Conrad, what I say, Don't suck your thumb while I'm away.
The Story Of Flying Robert
When the rain comes tumbling down In the country or the town, All good little girls and boys Stay at home and mind their toys.
Just look at him! there he stands, With his nasty hair and hands. See! his nails are never cut; They are grimed as black as soot;
The Story Of The Inky Boys
As he had often done before, The woolly-headed Black-a-moor One nice fine summer's day went out To see the shops, and walk about;
I never saw a girl or boy So prone as Sophie to destroy Whate'er she laid her hands upon, Though tough as wood, or hard as stone;
Here is cruel Frederick, see! A horrid wicked boy was he; He caught the flies, poor little things, And then tore off their tiny wings,
'Oh, why are you always so bitterly crying? You surely will make yourself blind. What reason on earth for such sobbing and sighing, I pray, can you possibly find?
Merry Stories And Funny Pictures
When the children have been good, That is, be it understood, Good at meal-times, good at play, Good all night and good all day—
The Story Of Romping Polly
'I pray you now, my little child,' Thus once a kind old lady Spoke to her niece in accents mild, 'Do try to be more steady.
The Little Glutton
Oh! how this Mary loved to eat,- It was her chief delight; She would have something, sour or sweet, To munch from morn till night.
Betsy would never wash herself When from her bed she rose, But just as quickly as she could She hurried on her clothes.
I never saw a girl or boy
So prone as Sophie to destroy
Whate'er she laid her hands upon,
Though tough as wood, or hard as stone;
With Sophie it was all the same,
No matter who the thing might claim,
No matter were it choice or rare,
For naught did the destroyer care.
Her playthings shared the common lot;