Rudolf Erich Raspe - Encyclopedia

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RUDOLF ERICH RASPE (1737-1794), the original author of the Adventures of Baron Munchausen (see Munchausen), was born in Hanover in 1737, and studied at Gottingen and Leipzig. In 1762 he became a clerk in the university library at Hanover, and in 1764 secretary to the university library at Gottingen. He had become known as a versatile scholar and a student of natural history and antiquities, and he published some original poems and also translations, among the latter of Leibnitz's philosophical works and of Ossian's poems; he also wrote a treatise on Percy's Reliques. In 1767 he was appointed professor in Cassel, and subsequently librarian. He contributed in 1769 a zoological paper to the 59th volume of the Philosophical Transactions, which led to his being selected an honorary member of the Royal Society in London, and he wrote voluminously on all sorts of subjects. In 1774 he started a periodical called the Cassel Spectator. But having gone to Italy in 1775 to buy curios for the landgrave of Hesse, to whom he was keeper of the gems, he was found to have sold the landgrave's valuables for his own profit; and, on orders being issued for his arrest, he decamped to England. In London he employed his knowledge of English and his learning to secure a living by publishing books on various subjects, and English translations of German works, and there are allusions to him as "a Dutch savant" in 1780 in the writings of Horace Walpole, who gave him money and helped him to publish an Essay on the Origin of Oil-painting (1781). But he remained poor, and the Royal Society expunged his name off its list. He went to Cornwall in 1782, and till about 1788 was assay-master and storekeeper at the Dolcoath mine, where memories of his ingenuity remained to the middle of the 19th century. While there, he seems to have written the original version of Munchausen, which was subsequently elaborated by others. Between 1785 and 1790 he compiled a descriptive catalogue of James Tassie's collection of pastes and casts of gems, in two quarto volumes (1791) of laborious industry and bibliographical rarity. Raspe then went to Scotland, and in Caithness found a patron in Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, whose mineralogical proclivities he proceeded to impose upon by pretending to discover valuable and workable veins on his estates; but Raspe had "salted" the ground himself, and on the verge of exposure he absconded. He next betook himself to Ireland, but died at Muckross in 1794, when he was only beginning some mining operations in Donegal. His career is interesting because of his connexion with the famous book of stories of Baron Munchausen (q.v.). His authorship was not known in his lifetime, except to his friend Gottfried August Burger and possibly a few of his other intimates (such as Kastner and Lichtenburg) in his student days at Gottingen; and it was not till 1824, that the biographer of Burger (who had been credited with writing Munchausen instead of only translating it, as he did in 1786) revealed the truth about the book.

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