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The real Munchausen: "He never got over the deep annoyance"

Whether Munchausen actually only told his stories in the "most intimate circle" can of course no longer be established with certainty today, but it seems questionable. Munchausen expert Werner R. Schweizer came across a clue that the baron liked to live out his narrative passion in front of strangers in the 1960s. The German studies at the University of Nottingham discovered an instructive anecdote in the autobiography of the now almost completely forgotten writer and librarian Heinrich August Ottokar Reichard (1751–1828). According to this, during 1767, as a student in Göttingen, Reichard had dined several times with Münchhausen, "to whom his dexterity in lying has made world fame." On one of these occasions an officer who was passing through, who was also sitting at the table but did not know the baron, felt mocked by his excessively exaggerated stories, “and because on the other hand, Herr von Münchhausen, by frequently telling his own fairy tales like believed in a gospel, an exchange of words ensued ”. The dispute quickly picked up speed and, in Reichard's estimation, would have come to an end "in the exchange of bullets" if the foreign officer had not been informed discreetly and just in time about the baron's quirk.

Another indication that the purring of Münchhausen made the rounds outside of his immediate vicinity can be found in the »Gender History«. His father, the author reports, invited people to annual boar hunts from 1772 onwards and told him about it himself, “that when at the table in the lofty mood the hunters mouthed very full while listing their heroic deeds, others threw in a damper is: like Herr von Bodenwerder, after all, did quite different deeds ".

"... very cavalierement, with military emphasis and fire, but with the easy mood of the cosmopolitan"
(Albrecht Friedrich von Münchhausen)

Be that as it may - whether told in a familiar circle or in the inn: The baron's debauchery apparently met with a mostly grateful, steadily growing audience. The stories were passed on and ultimately found their way between book covers. As early as 1761, Rochus Friedrich zu Lynar (1708–1781), a German diplomat in the Danish service, put together a small volume with various stories under the title "Der Sonderling", three of which were apparently from the repertoire of the Baron von Münchhausen, although his name was not mentioned. Twenty years later, things got a little more specific: The Berlin magazine “Vade Mecum for Funny People” published 16 jokingly adventurous anecdotes by an anonymous author under the title “M-hs-nsche Histories” in 1781. The geologist and translator Rudolf Erich Raspe finally gives the full name. Between 1785 and 1789 he published a total of seven editions of his book "Baron Munchhausen's Narrative of His Marvelous Travels and Campaigns in Russia" in London - albeit anonymously. He had freely translated the pieces from the Vade Mecum and added two new anecdotes.

Anonymous authors, stolen stories

It wasn't Raspe's first act of self-service. The son of a mining clerk, born in Hanover in 1736, was appointed curator and professor of antiquities at the Collegium Carolingum in Kassel in 1767, where, among other things, he had the coin and art collection under his wing. What happened next, we want to take from the gender history again: “He was a significant genius, as his many and varied printed works prove, incidentally a depraved common man who had to flee from Kassel because he had stolen from those collections on a wanted poster was seized, but sprang up and made it to England. "

In 1786 the most famous collection of stories to date appeared: "Wonderful journeys by sea and land, campaigns and amusing adventures by Freiherr von Münchhausen: how he himself telling the same about the bottle in the circle of his friends" by Gottfried August Bürger (1747 -1794). The poet of "Leonore" did not want to see his name printed on the book cover either. For his part, Bürger had freely transferred, edited and considerably expanded the English template from Raspe.

It is unlikely that Bürger ever sat in the "grotto" at Bodenwerder and listened to the baron telling the story. How many of the dozen stories actually come from Jerome himself is unknown. The Swiss art historian Bernhard Wiebel, a proven Münchhausen expert, reported a few years ago in the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” that a member of the Münchhausen family estimated that no more than two or three were authentic. May it be more, it is certain that not all of Munich's boasting can be traced back to Münchhausen. Some of the anecdotes can be found in the ancient satirist Lukian (around 120 - after 180), others in book books from the 16th century.