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for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

Heinrich Hoffmann (1809-1894) - pseudonyms Reimerich Kinderlieb, Heinrich Kinderlieb, Peter Struwwel, Heulalius von Heulenburg, Polykarpus Gastfenger, and Zwiebel


German physician and writer who is best known for Der Struwwelpeter (1845, Shockhead Peter or Slovenly Peter), the story of a boy, who had bad manners. Hoffmann's didactic tales were written against all today's politically correct principles – relying on "black pedagogy" (schwarze pedagogik) they were meant to scare children when they behave badly and break the rules of their parents. By the late 1990s, Der Struwwelpeter had been translated into over 100 different languages. It has deeply influenced children's literature. 

See this frowsy "cratur"
Pah! it's Struwwelpeter
On his fingers rusty,
On his tow-head musty,
Scissors seldom come;
Lets his talons grow a year,
Hardly ever combs his hair,

Do any loathe him? Some!
They hail him "Modern satyr –
Disgusting Struwwelpeter."

('Struwwelpeter' in Slovenly Peter, freely translated into English by Mark Twain, 1935)

Heinrich Hoffmann was born in Frankfurt am Main, the son Philipp Jacob Hoffmann, an architect and urban engineer, and Marianne Caroline (Lausberg) Hoffmann; she died one year after his birth. Philipp Jacob contributed in the building of the first modern sewage system in Frankfurt. After the death of his wife, he married her sister.

Although literature was the young Heinrich's first interest, on his father's request he  acquired a degree in medicine. After studies at universities of Heidelberg and Halle, he graduated in 1833. Hoffmann spent then some time in Paris as an intern at a hospital, and then returned to his birth town, where he worked as a general practitioner in a free clinic and helped to establish a clinic for the poor. In addition to making a career in medicine,Hoffmann wrote poems and songs for all kinds of gatherings and events and joined a club called "Tutti Frutti," which organized lectures and readings. In 1840 he married Therese Donner, the daughter of a hat manufacturer.

Between 1844 and 1851 Hoffmann taugh anatomy. From 1851 until his retirement in 1888 he was the director of the state mental hospital in Frankfurt am Main. During these 37 year he improved the psychiatric treatment of the patients, and started raising fund for a new hospital, which was built between 1859 and 1864 outside the city. For a period he was a member of Freemasons but resigned because of their anti-Jewish opinions.

At the age of 33 Hoffmann published his first book, Gedichte. His next work, Die Mondzügler, was a play that mocked Hegel's philosophy. The story of Slovenly Peter was born in 1844, when Hoffmann wanted to buy a book for his three-year-old son Carl as a Christmas gift, but did not find anything suitable. So he bought a notebook, and composed five stories in verse which he illustrated ('Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich,' 'Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben,' 'Die Geschichte vom wilden Jäger,' 'Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar'). At the end of the notebook he drew a picture of Slovenly Peter or Peter the Slob, who did not want to comb his hair and cut his nails. He had used the character before when dealing with his small patients, who behaved in inappropriate ways. The contemporary children's books Hoffmann described as "altogether to enlightened and rational, falsely naive, unchildlike, untruthful, artificial".

When Hoffmann's friends and patients, reading the book in the waiting room, encouraged him to publish the work, it came out in 1845 under the title Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder mit 15 schön kolorirten Tafeln für Kinder von 3-6 Jahren under the pseudonym Reimerich Kinderlieb. The name Struwwelpeter was no original part of the title, but added for the third German edition. In the original edition the anarchist hero appeared anonymously at the back of the book. It was not until the fifth edition, when the work was printed under Hoffmann's own name.

Maurice Sendak, one of the most famous children's books illustrators, have stated about Struwwelpeter's drawings that graphically it is one of the most beautiful books in the world. "One might complain about the cutting off of fingers, and the choking to death, and being burned alive, and might well have a case there – but, aesthetically, for an artist growing up it was a good book to look at and a lot of my early books were affected strongly by the German illustrators." ('Questions to an Artist Who Is Also an Author: A Conversation between Maurice Sendak and Virginia Haviland' by Virginia Haviland, in Conversations with Maurice Sendak, edited by Peter C. Kunze, 2016, p. 30) Hoffmann illustrated himself the first edition, under the influence of a Russian children's book, Stepka-Rastrepka (1849). Many considered Hoffmann's pictures better. The first edition of 1,500 copies was sold out within a few weeks. Hoffmann's story was soon translated into several languages – among others into Finnish in 1869. In the second edition of 1846, Hoffmann added two tales ('Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug' and 'Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp') and in the fifth edition two more ('Die Geschichte von Hanns Guck-in-die Luft' and 'Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert'). Struwwelpeter was moved to the front of the book.

The depiction of "the civilizing process" of children in Der Struwwelpeter is educational in the best tradition of macabre humour: thumbs are cut away with big scissors for sucking one's thumbs, small faults are punished by death, and in the story of 'Little Pauline' a girl who plays with matches burns into ashes. It has been claimed that Pauline's story was based on a true incident. "So she burnt with all her clothes, / And arms and hands, and eyes and nose; / Till she had nothing more to lose / Except her little scarlet shoes; And nothing else but these were found / Among her ashes on the ground." Suppen-Kaspar refuses to touch his soup and screams: "O take the nasty soup away! / I won't have any soup today." Eventually he wastes away, dying on the fifth day. In his autobiography (published in 1923) Hoffmann wrote: "The warnings – Don't get dirty! Be careful with matches and leave them alone! Behave yourself! –  are empty words for the children. But the portrayal of the dirty slob, the burning dress, the inattentive child who has an accident – these scenes explain themselves just through the looking that also brings about the teaching." (Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter by Jack Zipes, 2001, p. 153)

Hoffmann's view of children's behavior was not exactly in tune with the prevailing cult of innocence, which had been adopted from the writings of Rousseau. Thus Hoffmann's work undermined doctrines of children's psychology, but it was not until Freud, when the myth of innocence was completely destroyed. The Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren continued Hoffmann's anarchistic tradition in children's books, but her world famous Pippi Longstockings is unconventional in a positive way.

Hoffmann's Slovenly Peter has also offered much ideas for political satire or parody. It has been speculated that one of Hoffmann's models for his troublemaker was Karl Marx. Under the name Peter Struwwel he published in the revolutionary year of 1848 Handbüchlein für Wühler (Little handbook for disturbers). During World War II appeared Struwwelhitler, a nazi story book by Doktor Schrecklichkeit by Robert and Philip Spence (ca 1942). In the 1960s in Germany Slovenly Peter was a rioting student in Der Struwwelpeter neu frisiert oder lästige Ge-schichten und dolle Bilder für Bürger bis 100 Jahre by Eckart and Rainer Hachfeld (1969). The Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been called as Straw Peter Syndrom, although Slovenly Peter is not actually hyperactive. Additional symptoms were described in two other tales: 'The Story of Johnny Look-in-the Air' mentions inattention and 'The Story of Cruel Frederick' describes dissocial behaviour. Attention deficits and hyperacticity are depicted in 'The Story of Fidgety Philip.'

Hoffmann also published poetry, humor, and satire, several other stories for children, and writings on medicine and psychiatry. Besuch bei Frau Sonne was drawn in 1871-72 but this work did not appear until 1924. Hoffmann's König Nußknacker und der arme Reinhold (1851) has been very popular in Germany; it was the author's own favorite work. Im Himmel auf der Erde (1858) repeated the didactic Struwwelpeter formula. Prinz Grünewald und Perlenfein mit ihrem lieben Eselein (1871) had a happy ending. Hoffmann died on September 20, 1894. His last years of life Hoffmann largely spent on writing his autobiography, and traveling and delivering lectures. Hoffmann's son Carl died at age 27 in Peru of yellow fever.

Mark Twain's English-language version of Struwwelpeter from 1891 was not published until 1935 by Harper and Brothers. Twain made the translation while visiting Germany with his family. "It was Dr. Hoffmann's opinion that the charm of the book lay not in the subjects or the pictures, but wholly in the jingle," Twain said in his introduction. "That may be true, for rhymes that jingle felicitously are very dear to a child's ear. In this translation I have done my best to fetch the jingle along." ('Mark Twain as Translator from the German' by Dixon Wecter, in On Mark Twain, edited by Louis J. Budd and Edwin H. Cady, 1987, p. 35) 

For further reading: Struwwelpeter: Humor Or Horror?: 160 Years Later by Barbara Smith Chalou (2007); Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter by Jack David Zipes (2000); 'Introduction: Struwwelpeter and the Comical Crucifixion of the Child' by Jack Zipes, in Struwwelpeter: Fearful Stories and Vile Pictures to Instruct Good Little Folks by Heinrich Hoffmann (1999); Das "Irrenschloss" des Heinrich Hoffmann by Helmut Siefert (1998); Heinrich Hoffmann und Der Struwwelpeter: eine Bibliographie der Sekundaerliteratur, ed. by Walter Sauer (1998); Heinrich Hoffmann by Roland Hoede (1994); Der Struwwelperter polyglott, publ. by Walter Sauer (1984); Struwwelpeter-Hoffmann: Texte, Bilder, Dokumentation, Katalog, ed. by G.H. Herzog & H. Siefert (1978); Dr Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter by M.L. Könneker (1977); Der Struwwelpeter, un analogue graphique et narratif des machines de tortures et de persécution pédagogiques au XIXème siècle, ed. by Boris Eizykman (1979); Psykoanalytische Schriften zur Literatur und Kunst by Georg Groddeck (1964); Der Struwwelpeter und andere Original-Manuskripte des Struwwelpeter-Hoffmann, ed. by F. Wilhelm Arntz (1954); Der Struwwelpeter und Sein Vater by G.A.E. Bogeng (1939); "Struwwelpeter-Hoffmann" erzählt aus seinem Leben, ed. by Eduard Hessenberg (1926) - Museum: Heinrich-Hoffmann-Museum: Schubertstrasse 20, 6000 Frankfurt am Main. In Finnish: Suomalaisista lähteistä parhaimpiin kuuluu Jörö-Jukka ja sen historia, toim. Markus Brummer-Korvekontion (1991)

Selected works:

  • Gedichte, 1842
  • Die Mondzügler: Eine Komödie der Gegenwart 1843
  • Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder für Kinder von 3–6 Jahren, 1845 (as Der Struwwelpeter,..., 1847)
    - Slovenly Peter; Or, Pleasant Stories and Funny Pictures (tr. 1848) / Slovenly Peter (translated by Annis Lee Furness, 1918) / Slovenly Peter (Struwwelpeter), Or, Happy Tales and Funny Pictures (translated by Mark Twain; 1935) / Struwwelpeter: Fearful Stories and Vile Pictures to Instruct Good Little Folks (illustrated by Sarita Vendetta; introduction by Jack Zipes, 1999) / Struwwelpeter 2000 (translated by Colin Blyth, 2000) / Shock-Headed Peter in Latin, English, German (translated into English anonymously, 2002)
    - Lasten joulu-tauluja eli opettavaisia juttuja kuvinensa (1869) / Jörö-Jukka eli hupaisia tarinoita ja lystikkäitä kuvia 3-6 -vuotiaille lapsille (suom. A. Korhonen, 1922) / Jörö Jukka eli iloisia juttuja ja hullunkurisia kuvia (suom. Lauri Pohjanpää, 1922) / Jörö Jukka: maailman kuuluisin kuvakirja (suom. 1922) / Jörö Jukka eli opettavaisia juttuja kuvinensa (suom. 1930)
  • Humoristische Studien, 1847
  • Handbüchlein für Wühler oder kurzgefasste Anleitung in wenigen Tagen ein Volksmann zu werden, 1848 (under the pseudonym Peter Struwwel, Demagog)
  • König Nußknacker und der arme Reinhold, 1851
    - King Nutcracker and Poor Reynold, in Slovenly Peter; Or, Pleasant Stories and Funny Pictures (ca. 1860)
    - Kuningas Pähkinänrouhija ja köyhä Reino (suom. A Korhonen, 1923)
  • Das Breviarium der Ehe, 1853
  • Bastian der Faulpelz, 1854
  • Im Himmel auf der Erde, 1858
  • Beobachtungen und Erfahrungen über Seelenstörung und Epilepsie in der Irren-Anstalt zu Frankfurt am Main 1851 bis 1858, 1859 (in Schriften zur Psychiatre, ed. H. Siefert)
  • Prinz Grünewald und Perlenfein mit ihrem lieben Eselein, 1871
    - Prince Greenwood and Pearl-of-Price, with Their Good Donkey, Kind and Wise! (translated by M. Despard, 1874)
    - Prinss’ Grünewald ja Helmikki ja rakas aasi Lemmikki (suom. Veikko Pihlajamäki, 2004)
  • Besuch bei Frau Sonne, 1924
    - The Mountain-Bounder (English versions by Jack Prelutsky, 1967)
  • Struwwelpeter-Hoffmann erzählt sein Leben, 1926 (edited by  E. Hessenberg)
  • Humoristische Studien und Satiren, 1986 (edited by G. H. Herzog and Helmut Siefert)
  • Gesammelte Gedichte, Zeichnungen und Karikaturen, 1987 (edited by G. H. Herzog, Helmut Siefert and Marion Herzog-Hoinkis)
  • Struwwelpeter 2000: The Original German Verse and 1861 Illustrations of Der Struwwelpeter, 2000 (with translations into English by Colin Blyth; and with additional illustrations by Georgina Blyth Roche and Valerie Blyth) 
  • Dukatenbilder, 2009 (edited by Marion Herzog-Hoinkis and Rainer Hessenberg)

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