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Hoffmann von Fallersleben, August Heinrich

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    Hoffmann von Fallersleben, August Heinrich
    Hoffmann von Fallersleben, August Heinrich

    August Heinrich Hoffmann (Fallersleben 1798 – Corvey 1874) was born into the bourgeoisie of a small town in the Electorate of Brunswick, the name of which he appended to his own. As a schoolboy he published his first poems. His studies in Jena brought him in touch with the budding student movement and awakened his interests in antiquarianism and patriotic conviviality. A meeting with Jacob Grimm in 1818 fixed his commitment to what would henceforth be his scholarly calling: German philology. In the same year he moved to Bonn University, where E.M. Arndt was teaching at the time (though, suspicious to the reactionary authorities because of his association with national populism, he would soon be suspended). Hoffmann pursued his interest in “Germanistik” in the typical two-track mode of Grimm: on the one hand the antiquarian study of ancient texts, on the other a folkloristic interest in popular culture. He began, accordingly, to scour the libraries for ancient manuscripts and the countryside for living folk songs. As for the latter, his Lüneburg background inspired an abiding interest in the Low German dialects of the Rhineland, the Low Countries and northern/eastern Germany. Meanwhile his convivial association with the Burschenschaften (student fraternities, under political suspicion because of their radicalism) continued; he adopted the “old German” dress and long hairstyle à la Dürer that were fashionable in these circles as a marker of a commitment to the country’s native traditions, and in his verse (Lieder und Romanzen, 1821) celebrated  the usual Romantic-national and student values: wine, cheer, comely maidens, the pleasures of the countryside and the love of the fatherland. The diction was homely and platitudinous, bespeaking both Hoffmann’s cheerful lack of self-criticism and his commitment to folk song and its naive spontaneity.

    Hoffmann’s career as a Germanist was marked by his remarkable flair for archival discoveries. In 1821 he edited important fragments of an early medieval biblical epic by the 9th-century poet-monk Otfrid von Weissenburg and moved to Berlin, where he specialized in library science and entered into relations with literati such as Gregor von Meusebach (bibliophile, philologist and friend of the Grimms), Savigny and Uhland. An appointment followed as university librarian of Breslau (Wrocław), capital of Prussian Silesia, where a university had been re-founded on Humboldtian principles, including a philological institute. At Breslau, where he was hoping to succeed Büsching as the chair of German philology, Hoffmann pursued his interests in popular culture, ancient texts and patriotic conviviality: he collected local folk poetry; published Althochdeutsche Glossen in 1829 and Fundgruben für Geschichte deutscher Sprache und Literatur in 1830 (an additional volume following in 1837), and led a Schiller commemoration in the same year. More importantly, he undertook study trips to various cities to hunt for lost manuscripts. An interest in the medieval literature of the Low Countries had already inspired his visit to Leiden in 1821, where a discovery of some material in the university library there earned him a doctorate, but his Grimm- and Arndt-style national-philological enthusiasm had failed to meet with a matching response. Even so, Hoffmann decided to earn his professorial teaching rights in Breslau with an inventorizing survey of the material gleaned in Leiden. De antiquioribus belgarum litteris appeared in 1830 and opened the way for Hoffmann’s professorial appointment (leading to a full professorship in 1835); published as the pilot volume of Hoffmann’s series Horae belgicae, it announced the intense association with Flanders – the Netherlandic-speaking northern half of Belgium – that was to develop later in the 1830s. Meanwhile, Hoffmann published a volume of Holländische Volkslieder in 1832.

    The Belgian secession was greeted with mistrust by the Germanists from the Grimm circle, who deplored it as a further weakening of the – already lukewarm – national spirit in the northern Netherlands and a sign of growing French influence in the southern half. Hoffmann, who like Arndt would have preferred to see all of the Low Countries united with Germany-at-large, turned his attention to Vienna instead, where, on archival research trips in the mid-1830s he (again) discovered MS material (published as the second volume of Fundgruben in 1837) and made the acquaintance of the Court Librarian Jernej Kopitar, who introduced him to his circle of Pan-Slavically inspired philologists from various parts of the Habsburg Empire. Kopitar’s Stammtisch in Vienna, where Hoffmann met Austro-Slavists like František Palacký, Josef Jungmann, Vuk Karadžić, Pavol Šafárik and František Čelakovský, seemed to him a Parnassus of the modern awakening nations, and appealed both to his penchant for conviviality and his increasing Vormärz-style nationalism.

    Meanwhile, Hoffmann, like Grimm, had greeted with delight the appearance, in Flanders, of Jan Frans Willems’s edition of the Netherlandic Reynard the Fox fable, the manuscript of which had come to light just after Grimm had published his Reinhart Fuchs edition and Hoffmann his Low-German Reineke de Vos (1834). The edition bolstered the case for a Germanic Urtext (against the French claims to the seniority of their Roman de Renart) and indicated that Germanistik of the Grimm school, disappointed in their Dutch colleagues and mistrustful of Belgium, could in fact find like-minded collaborators in Flanders. Further inspired by clues that a long-lost 9th-century text (the Ludwigslied) might be found in the environs of Gent, Hoffmann travelled from Vienna to Flanders, where he made the acquaintance of Willems, discovered (true to form) the lost manuscript (co-edited with Willems as Elnonensia, 1837), immersed himself in the urban conviviality of Gent’s social life and began his association with the budding Flemish Movement.

    In the following years, the edition series Horae Belgicae was enriched by successive new editions, most of them based on the large Van Hulthem Codex acquired in 1832 by the government of independent Belgium. These volumes  (especially Floris ende Blancefloer and Caerl ende Elegast, both 1836, and Lantsloot ende die scone Sandrijn/Renout van Montalbaen, 1837) mark the first boost from Grimm-style philology and textual scholarship for the as-yet largely dormant field of Netherlandic medievalism.

    Conversely, Hoffmann instilled his Vormärz nationalism (mixing, in equal measure, resistance against the reactionary elite and a chauvinist celebration of the cherished fatherland) into the Flemish Movement. The introduction to Horae Belgicae vol. 6 (an edition of late-medieval profane plays and farces) contained an explosive preface “Vlaemsch und französisch in Belgien” denouncing the monopoly of the French language in Belgium’s public sphere and advocating instead the solidarity between Flemish and its sister-language, German. Breathing the spirit of Arndt and his insistence that Flanders and Holland were fundamentally Germanic, i.e. German areas, the intervention marked the beginning of a decade of strong links between the Flemish Movement and the German Vormärz, which, although they subsided after 1848, still reverberated among Pan-German annexationists and Flemish collaborators during the country’s occupation in the two successive World Wars. Hoffmann, for his part, remained a cherished figure for the Flemish Movement for the rest of his life. His poems in a pastiche language of quasi-medieval, archaizing Netherlandic became something of a fashion among Flemish versifiers, up to and including Rodenbach’s “Blueshank”. Hoffmann was also affiliated to many Flemish cultural-activist associations, such as de Coussemaker’s Société des Flamands de France.

    After 1840, Hoffmann’s philological career was broken following the publication of his subversive-satirical volume of Unpolitische Lieder, testifying to his continuing spirit of anti-aristocratic populist nationalism. The Prussian government dismissed him from his post in Breslau, and banished him from the Prussian territory (although he was amnestied in 1848). Until he found refuge in an appointment as private librarian in Corvey in 1860 (on the recommendation of, among others, Franz Liszt), Hoffmann led a wandering life, admired by radicals and students in the heady years leading up to 1848, but shunned by his former colleagues as a political embarrassment. A visit to the Grimms in Berlin, where a students’ birthday serenade for Wilhelm was highjacked by Hoffmann to look like a demonstration of political solidarity in his favour, caused the brothers to publicly wash their hands of him. While staying on British-controlled Helgoland in 1841, Hoffmann wrote a song of nostalgia for the ideal, aspirational “Germany” to which his dreams and homesickness went out. Combining trite sentimentality, national chauvinism and a desire for social justice in equal measure, the Lied der Deutschen (“Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”) became his most lasting work; a nationalistic favourite in the century following its creation, its third stanza is now the national anthem of the German Federal Republic. In the national-triumphalist climate of 1871, the ageing Hoffmann was publicly honoured in Göttingen and Hamburg.

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    A visualization of Hoffmann von Fallersleben’s correspondence network is online at ERNiE under the “Letters” tab; or click here.

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    Article version
  • Behr, Hans-Joachim; Blume, Herbert; Rohse, Eberhard (eds.); August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben 1798-1998: Festschrift zum 200. Geburtstag (Bielefeld: Verlag für Regionalgeschichte, 1999).

    Deprez, Ada; Briefwisseling van Jan Frans Willems en Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1836-1843) (Gent: Seminarie voor Nederlandse Literatuurstudie van de Rijksuniversiteit te Gent, 1963).

    Dunk, Hermann Walther von der; Der deutsche Vormärz und Belgien, 1830-1848 (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1966).

    Gaedertz, Karl Theodor (ed.); Briefwechsel von Jakob Grimm und Hoffman-Fallersleben mit Hendrik van Wyn: Nebst anderen Briefen zur deutschen Literatur (Bremen: Müller, 1888).

    Hafner, Stanislaus; “August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben und Bartholomäus Kopitar”, Die Welt der Slaven, 2 (1957), 183-200.

    Hoffmann von Fallersleben, August Heinrich; Gesammelte Werke (8 vols; 7-8 containing the autobiography “Mein Leben”; Berlin: Fontane, 1890-93).

    Leerssen, Joep; De bronnen van het vaderland: Taal, literatuur en de afbakening van Nederland 1806-1890 (2nd ed.; Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2011).

    Leerssen, Joep; “Viral nationalism: Romantic intellectuals on the move in 19th-century Europe”, Nations and nationalism, 17.2 (2011), 257-271.

    Nelde, Peter H.; Flandern in der Sicht Hoffmanns von Fallersleben: Eine Untersuchung im Rahmen deutsch-flämischer Beziehungen im 19. Jahrhundert (Wilrijk: Oranje-Verlag, 1967).

    Nelde, Peter H.; Versuch einer Völkerverständigung: Hoffmann von Fallersleben und Flandern (Wolfsburg: Die Hoffmann von Fallersleben Gesellschaft, 1979).

    Poettgens, Erika; Hoffmann von Fallersleben und die Lande niederländischer Zunge: Briefwechsel, Beziehungsgeflechte, Bildlichkeit (2 vols; Münster: Waxmann, 2014).

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    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Leerssen, Joep, 2022. "Hoffmann von Fallersleben, August Heinrich", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 20-04-2022, consulted 23-05-2024.