VIP E.T.A. Hoffmann

E.T.A. Hoffmann (January 24, 1776 – June 25, 1822)

E.T.A. Hoffmann, whose stories became the “Tales of Hoffmann” in the Offenbach opera, was a Polish public official until Napoleon’s 1806 invasion. He turned to music and was appointed an orchestra conductor in Bamberg in 1807. In 1811 he fell in love with his 16-year-old music student, who soon married a banker. The incident is fictionalized in Hoffmann’s story “The Golden Flower Pot,” published in 1814.

The story opens on Ascension Day (Easter) when the student Anselmus crashes into an old woman’s apple cart, scattering her apples and costing him his purse. The hag calls after him (in translation) “You’ll end up in crystal!” or “Into glass you shall pass.” Thus rather than enjoying a beer at the bar as he’d planned, Anselmus sits under an elder tree and “filled a pipe with the health-tobacco which his friend Sub-Rector [assistant headmaster] Paulmann had given him.” The word used in the original is Sanitatsknaster, meaning health-tobacco box.

While lamenting his lot, “Anselmus’s self-communings were interrupted by a strange rushing, swishing sound which started in the grass just beside him.” [Like the aural phenomenon of a psychedelic experience?] He soon sees three little green and gold snakes who whisper to him. “An electric shock went through his entire body…everything around him began to stir, as if waking into joyful life.”

Anselmus’s friend and “health-tobacco” supplier Paulmann appears, and with the help of his 16-year-old daughter Veronica, re-grounds the young student. Paulmann soon sets him up with a job as a copyist to the mysterious archivist Lindhorst, who is said to study all kinds of occult sciences and to be something of an experimental chemist. Lindhorst takes him into a room “where the masters of the Bhagavadita are awaiting us.” In the room, “he could now perceive” sights, sounds and smells he’d formerly been unaware of.

Anselmus is then torn between the enchanted world of Serpentina and her father, and the more realistic Veronica, who seeks the help of the old woman in breaking the spell that has caught her suitor. The woman is said to “collect all the malign principles that dwell in harmful herbs & poisonous animals.” Lindhorst takes on his hag rival by animating a stove pot, and “had to beat a hasty retreat into the Sub-Rector’s pipe.” Anselmus stumbles in his work and as punishment is confined in a glass jar, just as the apple-woman predicted for him. The experience is described as “you are drowned in dazzling splendor; everything around you appears illuminated and beaming in rainbow hues.” (Or, as the Beatles put it, “looking through a glass onion.”)

Hoffmann wrote several books from 1813-1822 featuring his alter ego Kreisler and drew a sketch of Kreisler smoking a pipe (shown). Honore de Balzac wrote in Cousin Pons (1846-7): “[H]is religion never bordered on mania, as in the case of Hoffmann's Kreislers; he kept his enthusiasm to himself; his delight, like the paradise reached by opium or hashish, lay within his own soul.”

In My Cousin’s Corner Window, Hoffmann’s final manuscript, the author tells of a cousin confined to a wheelchair who spins fantastic tales without end. One day, the narrator writes, “I was not a little astonished to see in this window the well-known red cap which my cousin used to wear in happier time. Nor was that all!  As I came closer, I noticed that my cousin had put on his fine Warsaw dressing-gown and was smoking tobacco in the Turkish pipe he used on Sundays.”

“In the early 1800s a pipe filled with hemp and tobacco was known as a Sonntagspfeife (Sunday pipe),” writes Christian Ratsch in Marijuana Medicine.

Hoffman’s The Devil's Elixirs was a great influence on VIP Gérard de Nerval, among others, and his review of Beethoven’s 5th symphony was widely read. He wrote, “the magical power of music acts like the philosopher’s miraculous elixir, a few drops of which make any drink so much more wonderfully delicious…Beethoven’s music sets in motion the machinery of awe, of fear, of terror, of pain, and awakens that infinite yearning which is the essence of romanticism.”


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