Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman (often abbreviated E. T. A. Hoffman) was a painter, composer, and writer who lived from 1776–1822. Hoffman was born in Königsberg, Pressia, now called Kaliningrad, Russia. His father, Christoph Ludwig Hoffmann, was a lawyer, and his family through his mother, Lovisa Albertina Doerffer, contained more lawyers—so it's unsurprising that he spent much of his life working as a legal clerk.

His father and mother separated in 1788, and the young Hofman stayed with his mother, who lived with two aunts and an uncle: Johanna Sophie Doerffer, Charlotte Wilhelmine Doerffer, and Otto Wilhelm Doerffer.

Hoffman attended the Lutheran school Burgschule in Königsberg and quickly showed his artistic talents, especially in his piano playing. He was giving music lessons, but as time came for him to look for full employment, he moved to Glogau, where he worked as a legal clerk for his uncle Johann Ludwig Doerffer. In 1798, his uncle received a position in Berlin, and Hoffman moved there with him. As his first time living in a major city, this provided Hoffman the opportunity to begin more seriously pursuing his public artistic endeavors.

In 1800, he moved to the Prussian providential area of Poland, where he lived without family supervision and began to establish himself as what some considered morally lax. Caricatures he made of Prussian military officials eventually led to him being assigned to a position in Plock as something of an exile. During this period, he began writing in earnest, and in 1804 was able to obtain a position in Warsaw—which, like Berlin, gave him the opportunity to more seriously promote his art. Hoffman was familiar with Polish society by this point and was reasonably happy until the invasion of Warsaw by Napoleon led him and other Prussian bureaucrats to flee.

Between 1806 and 1813, Hoffman held a series of jobs, most of which were artistic ones because Napoleon's success eliminated the Prussian bureaucratic jobs he had previously held. He struggled to make ends meet and relied heavily on loans from friends during this period, but it was also during this period that he had his first major artistic success, the publication of Ritter Gluck. It was also in this period that he adapted the initial "A," short for Amadeus, in appreciation for Mozart.

By 1814, Napoleon was defeated, Hoffman was able to once again take a legal position in Berlin, and his art was continuing to be successful, with the Berlin Theater performing his opera Undine and his literary pieces starting to be sought after. Hofman wrote many masterpieces in this period, until his health began to decline in 1819, and he became the target of political repression. His political satire angered Prussian officials, but just as they began legal proceedings against him, he learned that his syphilis had become life-threatening, so they took no material action before his death in 1822.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access