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> The Hofmeister

The Hofmeister

“It cuts me to the quick when I see, in many noble houses, the Hofmeister sitting at his lordship’s table, humble and mute, not daring to enter the conversation or in any way being an equal to the others....”

“Es kann mir durch die Seele gehn, wenn ich den Hofmeister in manchem adeligen Hause demütig und stumm an der Tafel seiner gnädigen Herrschaft sitzen sehe, wo er es nicht wagt, sich in irgendein Gespräch zu mischen, sich auf irgendeine Weise der übrigen Gesellschaft gleichzustellen...”

— Adolf von Knigge, Über den Umgang mit Menschen (Hannover, 1788)

1. Kant as Hofmeister

2. Helping students find a position

3. The Hofmeister as Notetaker?

Tutors (Hofmeister for the aristocracy; Hauslehrer for everyone else) prepared children for life at the university, and wealthier families often had these tutors accompany their sons to the university. Typically they lived in the family home — they were “in service” (or had a Condition) with the family. Christian Jakob Kraus [bio], a student and later colleague and close friend of Kant, served for one year as Hofmeister to Archibald Nikolaus Gebhard Keyserling, a second-cousin of Heinrich Christian Keyserling [bio], with whom he was living. Archibald was six years younger than Kraus and matriculated at the university on 3 May 1777.[1] Kraus described his duties as follows:

I have to do nothing more with my young count than accompany him to Kant’s courses, then quiz him over them, and guide him in reading, which he does gladly enough anyway. I’m then free the entire afternoon, and after four o’clock I see nothing more of my young count, since there are social gatherings here every day. For this nominal effort I receive 200 Thaler a year and free room and board.

Ich habe mit meinem jungen Grafen nichts zu thun, als ihn in die Collegia des Kant zu begleiten, dann zu wiederholen, und ihn zum Lesen anzuführen, welches er ohnedem gerne thut. Den ganzen Nachmittag bin ich frei und von vier Uhr an bekomme ich meinen jungen Grafen nicht zu sehen, denn es ist tagtäglich Gesellschaft hier. Für diese meine geringe Mühe bekomme ich jährlich zweihundert Thaler und freie Station. [Letter to von Auerswald, 4 May 1777; qtd. in Voigt 1819, 62; qtd. in Krause 1881, 64]

By the mid-18th century, even many non-aristocratic families were able to hire tutors; and for someone in the countryside, it was often less expensive to hire a live-in tutor (often costing no more than 40-50 rthl. per year, above the expense of room and board) than to send one’s son to a Latin boarding school in the city.[2] These tutoring positions also provided a means for recent theology graduates to survive while waiting for their pastoral appointments, which often took years.

La Vopa notes that the majority of these tutors were badly underprepared and ill-suited for the job. They were tutoring, after all, because they were poor; and because they were poor, they generally suffered two defects: (1) they likely took only the bare minimum of courses at the university since that was all they could afford, and (2) they normally had little acquaintance with polite society and its manners, and thus were likely to strike their patrons as dull and boorish.[3] Indeed, a great many students would do little more than matriculate in Königsberg before poverty would force them into some paying job where they might save enough to return later to pursue their studies.[4]

As might be expected, Kant discussed the role of the teacher, and the proper form of instruction, in Rink’s edition of Kant’s On Pedagogy [writings]. Much of it reads like an instruction manual for the would-be Hofmeister, although in the end Kant comes down on the side of public education over home-tutoring, as he believes it better develops the children’s abilities as well as their sense of civic duties.[5] Kant also draws an interesting distinction between an instructor and a Hofmeister:

Guidance is directing the student in putting into practice what was learned. Hence arises the difference between the instructor, who merely teaches, and the Hofmeister, who guides. The former educates only for the school; the latter for life.[6]

Anführung ist die Leitung in der Ausübung desjenigen, was man gelehrt hat. Daher entsteht der Unterschied zwischen Informator, der blos ein Lehrer, und Hofmeister, der ein Führer ist. Jener erzieht blos für die Schule, dieser für das Leben.

[1] Bernoulli, in his travel memoire, mistakenly wrote that Kraus was the “Hofmeister of two young Counts von Keyserling” [1779, iii.28] — naturally implying the two sons of Countess Caroline — which Goldbeck then repeated [1781, i.169], and was spread widely in the literature.

[2] La Vopa [1988, 116]. Some tutors were paid rather less: Jung-Stilling recalls from his own experiences that, apart from room and board, he was paid only 5 rthl. per quarter in his first post as a private tutor [Fertig 1979, 62-64].

[3] La Vopa [1968, 117].

[4] Thus a report submitted by the university on 7 January 1778 (GStA XX. HA, EM 139b Nr. 25, Bd. 5, fol. 55-56), quoted in Stark [1995, 55]. There were any number of poor university students in Kant’s day who served for a time as a Hofmeister or house tutor, and then went on to distinguish themselves — Johann Joachim Spalding (1714-1804), Friedrich Samuel Bock (1716-1785), Johann Bernhard Basedow (1724-1790), Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788), Johann Georg Heinrich Feder (1740-1821), Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817), Joachim Heinrich Campe (1746-1818), Christian Jacob Kraus (1753-1807), Friedrich Gedike (1754-1803), Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), Johann Gottfried Karl Christian Kiesewetter (1766-1819), and Georg Hegel (1770-1831), to name just a few.

[5] Kant mentions the role of the Hofmeister in the introduction, in a discussion of public and private education (§22-25). Basedow discusses the role of the Hofmeister in his Methodenbuch (one of the texts used by Kant in his pedagogy lectures): see §6 (“Besonders vom Unterrichte in Sprachen”) and §2 (which he begins with the complaint that they generally don’t know enough Latin to be able to teach it).

[6] On Education, AA 9:452. This distinction between Informator and Hofmeister is also found in a brief work by A. F. Büsching, Unterricht für Informatoren und Hofmeister (1773).  Büsching writes that:

A tutor is primarily concerned with the lessons of the children, and with overseeing these. He might also participate in their upbringing, but this is mainly the concen of the parents, relations and guardians. A Hofmeister accompanies the boy or young man entrusted to him to the military academy, university, and on foreign travels. He is indeed not entirely, or not always free of the instruction of his charges, but his main occupation is to be their overseer, leader, advisor, friend, companion, teacher, helper and steward. [1773, 33-34]

Ein Informator beschäftigt sich vornemlich mit dem Unterricht der Kinder, und mit der Aussicht über dieselben. Er nimmt zwar auch an ihrer Erziehung Antheil, diese aber wird hauptsächlich von den Aeltern, Anverwandten und Vormündern besorget. Ein Hofmeister gehet mit dem ihm untergebenen Jüngling oder jungen Herrn auf Ritterakademien, hohe schulen und Reisen in auswärtige Lander. Er ist zwar nicht ganz, oder doch nicht allemal von der Unterweisung seines Untergebenen frey, seine Hauptgeschäft aber sind, der Ausseher, Anfuhrer, Rathgeber, Freund, Gesellschafter, Weisheitslehrer, Helfer und Haushalter des Untergebenen zu seyn.

Krause [1881, 84] quotes Christian Jacob Kraus’s letter of 4 July 1778 to his brother in which he discusses his financial troubles, noting that his only income at the time was from an hour of tutoring (Information) that paid him 5 rthl. each month.

Kant as Hofmeister [top]

Kant worked as a tutor for about six years, from 1748 to 1754,[1] in the area around Königsberg, with two families and a possible third: Andersch, von Hulsen, and Keyserling.


The first tutoring stint after leaving the university lasted three years — from c.1748-51[2] — in the home of the reformed preacher Daniel Andersch (or: Anders) (1701-1771) in the farming village of Judtschen (now the Russian town of Veselovka[3]; about 100 kilometers east of Königsberg, and in his day part of Lithuania) where Kant was responsible for the three youngest of the pastor’s five sons: Paul Benjamin (age 14; b. 4 Dec 1734), Timotheus (age 12; b. 27 Dec 1736), and Christian Eberhard (age 9; b. 29 Aug 1739).[4]

Von Hülsen

Plaque in Jarnołtowa

Kant next served — from c.1751-53[5] — at the home of nobleman Bernhard Friedrich von Hülsen in Arnsdorf (or “Groß-Arnsdorf”; now the Polish town of Jarnołtowo); approximately 125 kilometers southwest of Königsberg), with his three older sons Christoph Ludwig (age 14; b. 1737), Ernst Friedrich (age 11; b. 1740), and Georg Friedrich (age 7; b. 1744) — the youngest son, Bernhard Wilhelm (b. 1750), would have been too young for Kant’s instruction.[6] Georg Friedrich would later study at the university in Königsberg (matriculating on 8 Oct 1761) and live with Kant while being tutored [Rink 1805, 28 [text]; Vorländer 1924, i.69]; and see Kant’s letter, twenty-three years later, of 1 May 1784 to Georg Friedrich, where he offers suggestions for a Hofmeister for Georg Friedrich’s children [AA 10:388-89].


Schloß Capustigall

Schloß Rautenburg

A few sources — Borowski [text], Heilsberg [text], and Keyserling [text] — claim that Kant also served in the home of Count Keyserling [bio] at their Rautenburg estate (now: Bolshije Berezhki, Russia; about 75 km northeast of Königsberg, about 47 km north and a little west of Judtschen, and a full 200 km north-east of Groß-Arnsdorf, which would have been his last appointment), but that he did so is doubtful[7]; more likely this is a confusion with a better attested claim that Kant tutored children at the Capustigall estate of the Keyserling’s, which occurred after 1754 when Kant was back in Königsberg teaching at the university. The claim is that Kant was brought by horse-and-carriage a few times each week to Capustigall (located in the countryside around 17 km southwest of Königsberg, and taking about an hour to get there), and returned to Königsberg in the evening; see the accounts by Kraus [text] [8] and Dohna [text]. This would have been approximately the same time that he was supervising Georg Friedrich v. Hülsen and Joh. Joachim v. Brederlow at the university (both matriculated on 8 Oct 1761)[9], and who were living with Kant until 1762 —as mentioned by Rink [text].

[1] Three early sources — Mortzfeld [text], Jachmann [text], and Rink [text] — claim that Kant spent nine years as a tutor after he left his studies at Königsberg and before his return to teach at the university. Michelis [1933, 492], who counts the Andersch family among his ancestors, claims on the basis of family papers that Kant was in Judtschen in 1746, shortly after the death of his father — but he does not quote from the papers to indicate the actual evidence being used to support his claims.

Kant was presumably in Königsberg until fall 1748. As for a return date, the terminus ad quem is as early as August 1754, given a surviving letter from Kant to von Hülsen that is posted “Koenigsberg: d. 10 Aug: 1754” — although it is highly plausible that he had returned in May or June, since he was publishing articles in the local newspaper: “Rotation of the Earth” [writings] in the June 8 and June 15 issues and “Age of the Earth” [writings] in the August 10 through September 14 issues.

For overviews of this Hofmeisterzeit, see Vorländer [1924, i.63-73], Waschkies [1987, 19-33], and Kuehn [2001, 95-99]. Haagen [1911] provides a thorough discussion of Kant’s position with Pastor Andersch, and Fromm [1898a, 152-55] offers a close discussion of the claim regarding Kant’s tutoring with the Keyserlings.

[2] See Menzer’s note to Kant’s letter of 23 Aug 1749 [AA 13:2] and Weisskopf [1970, 17-18]. Haagen [1911, 539-44; see also Vorländer 1924, i.67-68] notes that the earliest Kant would have arrived was summer 1747, since the two older boys left for the Joachimsthal Gymnasium in Berlin with their previous Hofmeister (a theology candidate named Rochholz or Rocholl) in July 1737, and the reasoning in the previous note suggests fall 1748. The first trace of Kant’s presence in Judtschen is a baptismal record dated 27 October 1748 of Kant serving as witness to the baptism of Samuel Challet, son of the local schoolmaster; the other witness was Pastor Andersch’s wife. The latest Kant could have stayed would be December 1751, when a theology student appears in his place in the church registry. Wald suggested a three-year stay with Pastor Andersch, for which he must have had some evidence [text].

[3] Judtschen was renamed “Kanthausen” in 1937 in honor of Kant’s residence there [Grunert 1962, 339] — but in 1946, with the post-war Soviet occupation of the area, was given the Russian name “Veselovka.”

[4] The two older sons were Ernst Daniel (b. 30 Apr 1731) and Karl Samuel (b. 17 Dec 1732)[Haagen 1911, 531; followed by Vorländer 1924, i.68]. Haagen's thorough research is based on local church records and family papers, as well as government and university archives. The literature is rather mixed on these details, but Haagen appears to be the most reliable. Warda [1901, 404], working with fewer records, believed that Ernst Daniel Anders was the only son whom Kant tutored. Michelis [1933, 492-93], who was working from his father’s papers, conflicts with the information given in Haagen [1911]: the names and ages (for the year 1746) of the three sons are given as Ernst Daniel (15 yrs.), Timotheus (14 yrs.), and Karl Samuel (12 yrs.).

Ernst Daniel (1731-1802) later matriculated at Frankfurt on 12 Aug 1750, and then at Königsberg on 21 Mar 1753, and eventually settled in Königsberg as the pastor of the Reformed Church, where he lived for nearly forty years. Theodor von Schön [bio] lived with him during the 1788/89 academic year while studying at the university. Karl Samuel attended medical school in Berlin. Paul Benjamin left for the Joachimsthal Gymnasium three years later, matriculating on 30 July 1750. He later served as an officer in the military, then settled in London for some twenty years as a merchant; it is unknown if he ever re-settled in Germany or had further contact with Kant. Timotheus (1736-1818) later became a grain merchant on the Kneiphof Langgasse in Königsberg, and died there as a Kommerzienrat. Christian Eberhard apparently died young; he disappears from the records.

Cf. Menzer’s note to Kant’s letter of 10 Aug 1754 [AA 13:2].

[5] The plaque reads: "Active as a private teacher in this place around 1750, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the world-famous philosopher from Königsberg. Groß Arnsdorf 1994." (image from www.ostpreussen.net).

[6] Names and dates are from Menzer’s editorial note to Kant’s letter of 10 Aug 1754 to the von Hülsens [AA 13:2] — Kant wrote to them upon his return to Königsberg, sending textbooks and pictures for the children [#3, AA 10:2]. Warda [1901, 404] claims the children were Ernst Ludwig (1740-1810), Georg Friedrich (1744-1820) and Bernhard Wilhelm (1750-1818), noting that Bernhard would be too little to have received instruction. Kant appears to have stayed in Arnsdorf until 1753, about three years.

[7] Kant’s biographer of his later years, Ehregott Andreas Christoph Wasianski [bio], remains wholly silent about Kant’s activities as a Hofmeister in his biography [1804], but responds to Wald’s query with the claim that Kant had positions with Andersch and von Hülsen [text]. His silence regarding Keyserling seems significant. Count Alexander Keyserling (1815-1891), a great-grandson of Countess Caroline, claimed that Kant served as a tutor at the Rautenburg estate until 1755, “perhaps for several years” [Taube 1894, 68]. Schubert repeats the claim that Kant served as a tutor to the Keyserlings, but implies that he was doing this at their palace in Königsberg [1842, 32]:

Finally Kant served as a tutor in the family of Count Kayserling zu Rautenburg, who lived most of the year in Königsberg.

Zuletzt trat er als Hauslehrer in die Familie des Grafen Kayserling zu Rautenburg ein, der den grössten Theil des Jahres sich in Königsberg aufhielt.

This would have been impossible prior to 1755, however, which was the year that the Count bought the palace in Königsberg. In his account of Kant’s early years as a Privatdocent, Schubert mentions the tutoring at Capustigall [1842, 37]:

During his first years as an instructor, Kant would spend his free vacation weeks at the Capustigall castle some two miles distant from Königsberg, where he would give instruction to the young Counts [all brothers] Friedrich Ludwig II [b. 14 Apr 1741], Friedrich Karl [= Karl Friedrich Ernst, b. 5 May 1743], and Wilhelm Franz [b. 5 Dec 1744] von Truchsess-Waldburg.

In solchen freien Wochen hielt er sich während der ersten Docenten-Jahre bisweilen auf dem zwei Meilen von Königsberg entfernten gräflichen Schlosse Capustigall auf, um dort die jungen Grafen Friedrich Ludwig, Friedrich Karl und Wilhelm Franz von Truchsess-Waldburg zu unterrichten.

These three brothers were sons of Countess Caroline Keyserling’s brother, who owned Capustigall.  The same story is repeated by Kraus, with some variations, at Reicke [1860, 59]. See also Warda [1901, 405]:

There was no time after his stay in Arnsdorf for Kant to have resided as a tutor at Count Keyserling’s house in Rautenburg, and the biographers’ corresponding reports of this must be received with considerable doubt.

Für einen Aufenthalt Kants als Hauslehrer in dem Gräflich Keyserlingschen Hause zu Rautenburg nach der Zeit in Arnsdorf bleibt hiernach kein Raum, und die betreffenden Nachrichten der Biographen werden zunächst mit großem Zweifel entegegenzunehmen sein.

[8] Kraus was a former student and later colleague of Kant’s who as a student lived for a few years in the Keyserling Palace in Königsberg, originally as a tutor for a second-cousin of Heinrich’s. As such, he would seem to be a well-positioned informant on this matter.

[9] Erler [1911-12, ii.480]: “Hülsen de Geo. Frdr., eq. Boruss.” and “Frederlow de Joh. Joachim., eq. Boruss.”.

Helping students find a position [top]

University professors helped their students find positions, serving as clearinghouses and matching requests for tutors with students they knew.[1] Kant was sometimes asked for help finding a good Hofmeister (letter from Wielkes, 15 November 1779, #154; Letter from v. Thile, 18 May 1790, #431), and Kant wrote numerous letters on behalf of current and former students. Four such letters were addressed to Kriegsrat Johann Carl Linck (1755-1821, Königsberg) on behalf of four different students:

• 5 August 1784 (#234; AA 10:395) Kant wrote to procure a position for a student by the name of Schütz, to work for Carl Wilhelm von Brausen. Schütz was attending one of Kant’s classes but was currently in the countryside during the summer vacation, and who “through diligence and skill has distinguished himself from many others.”

• 15 February 1793 (#560; AA 11:412): Kant recommended a Pomeranian student by the name of Krüger (“my former, so far as I know, well-mannered auditor”) to serve as Hofmeister for Major Otto Georg von Stutterheim.

• 15 April 1793 (#569, AA 11:423-24): Kant wrote on behalf of “Magister Jacobi, who recently began an institute here for young people wanting to learn business, but for lack of demand has given it up.”

• 30 August 1793 (#587, AA 11:447): Kant wrote on behalf of a theology student named Boehnke, the brother of a Königsberg merchant and a former auditor of Kant’s, who was seeking a position in Königsberg.

Kant helped an early student of his, Ludwig Ernst Borowski [bio], find a position tutoring the young sons of General von Knoblauch in the late 1750s,[2] and in the 70s recommended his future-colleague, Kraus for a position.[3] In a letter of 1 May 1784 to Georg Friedrich von Hülsen (#229; AA 10:388), Kant suggests several students to serve as a Hofmeister (the letter indicates that von Hülsen had asked Kant to help him with this).[4]

Of course, Kant recommended his students for positions other than as a private tutor, as well. For instance, his former amanuensis Lehmann [bio] was seeking a post at the Gymnasium in Stettin to teach mathematics, philosophy, and Latin, for which Kant wrote a letter (to Johann Heinrich Ludwig Meierotto; c.August 1797; #767, AA 12:188). Kant also helped his students obtain scholarships; see the Student Finances page.

[1] La Vopa [1968, 127-28].

[2] Vorländer [1918, 14].

[3] Cf. Voigt's biography of Kraus: “... in order to improve [Kraus’s] position, Kant recommended him in 1774 to direct the young Baron von Schlippenbach of Kurland, for which he was assured a very handsome fee” [um seine Lage zu verbessern empfahl er ihn im J. 1774 zur Führung des jungen Barons von Schlippenbach aus Kurland, wofür ihm ein sehr ansehnliches Honorar zugesichert wurde] [1819, 28-29].

[4] G. F. von Hülsen (1744-1820) was one of Kant's own students when he served as a Hofmeister at their estate near Arnsdorf in the early 1750’s.

The Hofmeister as Notetaker? [top]

While often ill-paid (in the August 30 letter above, Kant notes that Boehnke’s salary in his current Hofmeister position was 120 rthl. per year), the role of the Hofmeister could be lucrative, and might include the side-benefit of being able to continue one's own studies while accompanying the sons of wealthier families to the university. In this capacity, the Hofmeister’s duties were to accompany and oversee, rather than to teach. One example of this connected with Kant’s lecture notes is Karl Gottlieb Fischer (1745-1801), who matriculated at the university in Königsberg on 7 October 1763. There he made friends with Herder and attended Kant’s lectures on physical geography and theoretical physics (according to his obituary), which “he heard with great diligence and attentiveness, taking notes and completing them in the Repetition.”[1] In the fall of 1769 he accepted a position as Hofmeister, then lived a while with his father in Thorn, accepted a pastoral position in the fall of 1772, and the following spring became the tutor of the single son of a widowed Countess Dohna, Karl Ludwig Alexander zu Dohna, whom he accompanied back to the university. Dohna matriculated on 18 October 1774, and Fischer was able to attend “once more Kant’s philosophy lectures.”[2] During this time Fischer lived in the Dohna house in Königsberg, retaining his position until 1777, when the young Count finished his studies.

We can well imagine these tutors being used to take notes for their charges, or perhaps help them rework their notes into a fair copy when back home. Another son from the Dohna dynasty, Count Heinrich Ludwig Adolph zu Dohna-Wundlacken [bio], matriculated at Königsberg on June 15, 1791, attended a good many of Kant’s lectures and left behind fairly well-worked out notes, especially remarkable because he would enter the day and hour throughout the notes. We have his notes from Kant’s anthropology lectures (WS 1791/2, his first semester at the university), physical geography and logic the next semester (SS 1792), and metaphysics in his third semester (WS 1792/93). The fact that these notes are not all in the same hand suggest that a tutor might have helped write them or at least copy them out.

[1] Schlichtegroll, Nekrolog [1803, 238], as qtd. in Stark [1995, 59].

[2] Schlichtegroll [1803, 244].