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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 47.djvu/307

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[Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. ii. 547; Parochial Hist. of Cornwall, iv. 273, 279; C. S. Gilbert's Cornwall, ii. 246, 874–6; Vivian's Visitations of Cornwall; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Gent. Mag. 1811, i. 683; Polwhele's Biogr. Sketches, i. 17–9.]

W. P. C.

RASPE, RUDOLF ERIC (1737–1794), author of the original ‘Baron Munchausen,’ was born in Hanover of obscure parentage in 1737. From 1756 to 1760 he studied successively at the universities of Göttingen and Leipzig, and in 1762 he obtained a post as one of the clerks in the university library at Hanover. During the interval he seems to have acted as tutor to a young nobleman. In 1763 he contributed some Latin verses to the Leipzig ‘Nova Acta Eruditorum,’ and in the following year he was appointed secretary to the university library at Göttingen. While there, he worked at a translation of Leibnitz's philosophical works, which was issued at Göttingen in 1765. He followed up this laborious work by an ambitious allegorical poem on the age of chivalry, entitled ‘Hermin and Gunilde’ (1766), which was favourably received. About the same time he translated selections from Ossian, and published a treatise on ‘Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry,’ which first directed German attention to the rich storehouses of mediæval romance. In 1767 he became professor at the Collegium Carolinum in Cassel and keeper of the landgrave of Hesse's rich collection of antique gems and medals. He was shortly afterwards appointed librarian of Cassel, and in 1771 he married. He began writing on natural science, a subject for which he had shown aptitude while at Leipzig; and in 1769 a paper in the fifty-ninth volume of the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ arguing the previous existence of elephants, or mammoths, in the boreal regions of the globe, procured his election as an honorary fellow of the Royal Society in England. In 1772 he translated into German Algarotti's ‘Treatise on Architecture, Painting, and Opera Music,’ while at the same time he contributed papers on lithography, on musical instruments, and other subjects to learned periodicals in Germany. The variety and facility of Raspe's writing proclaimed him a journalist, and, after a short tour in Westphalia in 1773, he started a periodical called ‘The Cassel Spectator,’ with Mauvillon as his co-editor. In 1775 he travelled in Italy on a commission to collect articles of vertu for the landgrave. Soon after his return he began abstracting valuable coins from the cabinets entrusted to his care, and he disposed of his thefts for upwards of two thousand rix-dollars. When disclosure became imminent, he fled in the direction of Berlin, an advertisement being issued by the authorities of Cassel for the arrest of ‘Councillor Raspe, a long-faced man, with small eyes, crooked nose, red hair under his stumpy periwig, and a jerky gait.’ Vain of his personal appearance, he is said to have dressed extravagantly in scarlet and gold. He was captured at Klausthal in the Hartz mountains, but he escaped from the police and fled to Great Britain, where he spent the remaining nineteen years of his life.

He was already an excellent English scholar, so that when he reached London it was not unnatural that he should look to authorship for support. In 1776 he published a volume ‘On some German Volcanoes and their Productions’ (London, 8vo), and during the next two years he translated into English the then highly esteemed ‘Mineralogical Travels of Ferber’ in Italy and Hungary (London, 1776, 8vo), and also Baron Born's ‘Travels through the Bannat of Temeswar, Transylvania, and Hungary’ (London, 1777, 8vo), to which was added as an appendix Ferber's ‘Mineralogical History of Bohemia.’ In 1780 Horace Walpole wrote of him to Mason: ‘There is a Dutch sçavant come over here who is author of several pieces so learned that I do not even know their titles, but he has made a discovery in my way which you may be sure I believe, for it proves what I expected and hinted in my “Anecdotes of Painting,” that the use of oil-colours was known long before Van Eyck.’ Raspe, he went on to say, had discovered a manuscript of Theophilus, a German monk of the fourth century, who gave receipts for preparing colours with oil. Three months later he wrote: ‘Poor Raspe is arrested by his tailor. I have sent him a little money, and he hopes to recover his liberty, but I question whether he will be able to struggle on here.’ The essay on the origin of oil-painting, which is ‘clear and unpretending,’ was published by the good services of Walpole in April 1781. Raspe already spoke English as readily as French. He wrote it, says Walpole, ‘surprisingly well,’ and in this same year his linguistic attainments are attested by two moderately good prose translations; one of Lessing's ‘Nathan the Wise,’ and the other of Zachariæ's mock heroic, ‘Tabby in Elysium.’ He formed ambitious plans, but his disguise as a Dutch virtuoso did not prevent the bad name he had earned from dogging him to London. The Royal Society struck him off its rolls, in revenge for which step he is said to have threatened to publish a travesty of its proceedings. In 1785 he projected an archæological expedition into