E.T.A. Hoffmann

Portrait: E. T. A. Hoffmann
Portrait of E. T. A. Hoffmann, possibly a self-portrait, about 1810-1820
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie, Inventory no. A II 920

E.T.A. Hoffmann

Romantic with a sharp tongue

I wish it to be borne in mind that what concerns us here is not a satirical work whose target is world trade and the events of our time, but rather the fantastical birth of a comic writer who perceptively reflects the form of real life, as if in a mirror, only in the abstraction of humour.

E. T. A. Hoffmann in his statement on the censorship of Meister Floh (Master Flea), 1822

E.T.A. Hoffmann, today remembered primarily as an author of fantastic fairy tales and novellas, was a lifelong sharp-tongued critic of the authoritarian Prussian state. After successful law studies and having just taken up a post in the civil service, he used a carnival procession in Posen (today Poznan) in 1802 to distribute caricatures of high-ranking city figures whilst under the protection of the masquerade. As punishment, he was banished to a region of negligible charm on he eastern fringes of the state.

As a multitalented artist, Hoffmann depicted the contemporary products of complacent philistinism in illustrations and literary works, for instance the social satire Klein-Zaches, genannt Zinnober (1819). Shortly before his early death in June 1922, he even found himself facing legal proceedings. One episode of his fairy tale Meister Floh (Master Flea) contained a scarcely disguised parody of the Berlin Chief of Police, Karl Albert von Kamptz, on whose orders the manuscript was seized. It appeared, only in censored form, in April 1822. Hoffmann defended himself against his superiors with a plea for the freedom of art and it did not go to trial. The full, uncensored version of Master Flea appeared for the first time in 1908.