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British Industrial History

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Rudolf Erich Raspe

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Rudolf Erich Raspe (1737-1794) was born in Hannover, Hanover.

He studied philology and natural sciences at the universities of Göttingen and Leipzig, and worked as a librarian in university libraries (1762-1766).

Raspe then moved to Kassel where he became a teacher at Collegium Carolinum, and custodian of the collection of gems and coins owned by the landgraf of Hesse-Kassel.

For his knowledge of ancient English poetry, Raspe acquired much academic fame, and in 1769 he was elected to the Royal Society after publishing a paper on the bones and teeth of elephants and other animals found in North America and various boreal regions of the world. He also wrote articles on mineralogy, geology, lithography and musical instruments.

In 1771 he married.

Raspe's carefree life-style led him into troubles. Advertisements were issued for the arrest of the Councillor Raspe, and in 1775 he fled first to Holland and then to England – he was found to have been selling the precious gems and medals in his care to pay his debts.

In 1776 he published a book on German Volcanoes. His 'Essay on the Origin of Oil Painting' was published through the help of Horace Walpole in 1781.

After he was dismissed from the Royal Society, he found work as a mining expert for Sir John Sinclair.

By 1783 Raspe had been in Cornwall for some time, visiting mines, inspecting their machinery, and buying mineral specimens. He then appeared at Cosgarne House, near Chacewater mine in Cornwall, the local headquarters of Boulton and Watt.

Raspe lived in Redruth for several years as an associate of that firm, eventually becoming its assay master. In October 1783 a German periodical essay, thought to be by him, provided eyewitness accounts of the Cornish mining industry and its steam engines[1].

During this period Raspe produced "Baron Münchhausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia" (1786), which was published anonymously. As his source he used Münchhausen's hunting stories, which had appeared in Berlin in the magazine Vade Mecum für lustige Leute (1781 -1783). Some of tales were created by Raspe himself – they also show the influence of Swift's Gulliver's Travels. It is assumed that Raspe had known the fabulous Baron when he was living in Göttingen - at least he had had been acquainted with his kinsman.

1786 the Boulton and Watt assay office in Cornwall was closed - Raspe returned to London,

Raspe's career in England came to a sorry end: he had to flee again in 1791, under suspicion that he was swindling his employer. This time he had planted opulent ores on a promising mining property.

Raspe headed to Ireland, where he died of a fever in Muckross, County Kerry.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Biography of Rudolf Erich Raspe, ODNB
  • [1] Pegasos (Finland)