August Heinrich Hoffmann ( 1798 – 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 brought him in touch with the budding student movement and awakened his interests in antiquarianism and patriotic conviviality. A meeting with Jacob in 1818 fixed his commitment to what would henceforth be his scholarly calling: German philology. In the same year he moved to University, where E.M. 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 , on the other a folkloristic interest in . 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 and long hairstyle à la that were fashionable in these circles as a marker of a commitment to the country’s native traditions, and in his (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 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 , where he specialized in library science and entered into relations with literati such as Gregor von (bibliophile, philologist and friend of the Grimms), and . An appointment followed as of (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 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 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 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 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 , 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 , Josef , Vuk , Pavol and František , 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 ’s edition of the Netherlandic 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 , 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 .
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 .
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 and its sister-language, German. Breathing the spirit of Arndt and his insistence that Flanders and Holland were fundamentally 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 became something of a fashion among , up to and including ’s “”. Hoffmann was also affiliated to many , such as de 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 ), 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 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 (“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.