Ulrich Bräker

Painting: Ulrich Bräker
Portrait of Ulrich Bräker, oil, circa 1793; the original is in the Toggenburger Heimatmuseum in Lichtensteig.
Toggenburger Heimatmuseum Lichtensteig / Wikimedia Commons

Ulrich Bräker

A reading farmer in Switzerland

oh, the ecstasy that I feel – those lonely hours, conversing with so many friends – great, noble souls from every clime of our part of the world – reading their thoughts – such a rare pleasure.

Ulrich Bräker, Selbstgespräch, diary entry from 6 March 1787

The day worker, farmer and cotton maker, Ulrich Bräker, from the Toggenburg district in the East of Switzerland, had a special passion: reading and communicating his conception of the world and reading culture. Contained in his autobiography and the diaries he maintained from 1768 onwards, were Bäker’s intellectual ideas that he refined in parallel to the humble agricultural reality of his day-to-day life. With the help of Johann Wilhelm Ambühl, the minister of his local community, his writings found their way into the publication portfolio of the respected Zurich publisher and historian Hans Heinrich Füssli.

 In 1780 Bräker composed a set of commentaries on the works of Shakespeare. For Lichtensteig‘s essentially bourgeois reading society, which brought the author into contact with popular literature and a group of literature enthusiasts with whom he could share ideas, Bäker remained something of an enigma; a writer who rapidly achieved notoriety despite the poverty of his living conditions and a man who had to argue with his wife every time he wished to make use of a reading light.