Master Flea

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Meister Flea with boots, gown and torch (illustration on the back cover of the 2nd edition from 1826)

Meister Flea - A fairy tale in seven adventures of two friends is a story by ETA Hoffmann . Although conceived as an art fairy tale, the first version appeared censored in 1822 and shortened by two chapters because it contained satirical allusions to a case that Hoffmann had previously investigated as a member of the "Immediat-Commission for the investigation of treasonous connections and other dangerous activities" in Prussia would have. The full text was not published until 1908.

History of origin

As early as August 1821, after Hoffmann had left the "Immediat Commission", he planned to write the fairy tale and announced this to his publisher Friedrich Wilmans in Frankfurt am Main . It was to appear as a Christmas story in the winter of 1821. The publication was delayed by several illnesses of Hoffmann. It was not until the beginning of November that he was able to send his publisher the first two chapters of the manuscript, but he had not made any copies. The first part of the story was not available to him when he wrote the other chapters and sent them to Frankfurt in four deliveries by March 1822. This later led to the opinion of contemporary critics that the story lacks cohesion in terms of content. Heinrich Heine even wrote: If the bookbinder had randomly mixed up the pages of the book, one would certainly not have noticed. However, it can be assumed that most of the critics of the 19th century only had the incomplete edition of the fairy tale, which was published in April 1822 after censorship and the initiation of investigations against ETA Hoffmann. The text passages deleted by the censors were only discovered in 1906 by Georg Ellinger in the Secret State Archives in Berlin and published by Hans von Müller in 1908, 86 years after Hoffmann's death.

ETA Hoffmann had to dictate the last chapters. A nerve disease increasingly paralyzed his body and led to a progressive decline in strength. On March 1, 1822, he sent the last chapter to his friend Julius Eduard Hitzig for review. He was afraid “that at the end one might want to note the weakness of the sick author.” Hoffmann was able to witness the appearance of his story and the first reviews. He died on June 25, 1822.

The Knarrpanti act

Although the story of Master Flea was dominated by fantastic elements and grotesque figures, the censors saw it as satire . This is mainly due to the beginnings of chapters four and five, the so-called "Knarrpanti plot". This subplot is also sometimes perceived in modern literary criticism as an addition that disrupts the “unity of the fairy tale”.

After the protagonist of the story, Peregrinus Tyß, got to know the "Master Flea", he was suddenly arrested at the request of the Privy Councilor Knarrpanti. He is accused of kidnapping a noble lady on Christmas Eve from a large company that had gathered at a wealthy banker. When it turns out that no noble lady is missing in the city, the Privy Councilor says, "once the criminal has been identified, the crime that has been committed would find itself".

Fairy tale and reality

ETA Hoffmann was alluding to a true case that had occurred a few months before working on Master Floh . In 1814 Hoffmann returned to the Prussian civil service, in 1816 he was appointed to the chamber judge and in 1819 he was appointed to the investigative commission “to investigate treasonous connections and other dangerous activities”. It was about the so-called demagogue persecution following the Karlovy Vary resolutions against members of the forbidden fraternities and the gymnastics movement. Hoffmann contradicted the ministerial director in the police ministry, Karl Albert von Kamptz , when he publicly declared Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (known as gymnastics father Jahn) to be convicted at an early stage and launched corresponding reports in the Berlin newspapers, although he could not be accused of any specific legal offense.

Kamptz presented the seized writings and diaries of students to the commission and said he could justify an indictment based on the resulting interpretation of their views and intentions. In the case of the imprisoned student Gustav Asverus, Kamptz saw it as extremely stressful that the young man once noted in his diary the sentence “I was lazy today”. Kamptz took the first part of the term “lazy murder” literally. It was clear to him that Asverus might have committed several murders and only been too lazy that day. ETA Hoffmann could not resist to literally take this sentence and its interpretation well known in the Immediat -ommission into his Meister Flea .

To this end, he constructed the arrest of the character Peregrinus Tyß for alleged kidnapping. From the Privy Councilor Knarrpanti, in whom the Police Director Kamptz later recognized himself, diaries are also presented as evidence of the kidnapping in the fifth adventure in Meister Floh . The representative of the City Council of Frankfurt, in which Hoffmann presented himself according to the later complaint of the Police Director Kamptz, finally rejects the allegations against Peregrinus.

In the fictional diaries of Peregrinus Tyß in Meister Floh , for example, it says: “ Today I saw Mozart's“ Abduction from the Seraglio ”for the twentieth time with the same delight. There is something great, something wonderful about this kidnapping. “Councilor Knarrpanti tears the second sentence out of context and presents it as evidence against the“ kidnapper ”Peregrinus. Further sentences in which Peregrinus uses the word “kidnapping” in a metaphorical sense are taken literally by Knarrpanti. Police director Kamptz later accused Hoffmann of having taken these sentences verbatim from the minutes of the Immediat -ommission and only replacing the word "freedom" in the minutes with the word "kidnapping" in his work Meister Floh .

Investigation against Hoffmann

Illustration for Master Flea by Aleksei Ilyich Kravchenko, 1922

Even before the work went to print, ETA Hoffmann had announced at the regulars' table in the Berlin wine house Lutter & Wegner on Gendarmenmarkt that his story Meister Floh would also contain humorous allusions to the events of the demagogue persecution. On January 10, 1822, the writer Varnhagen von Ense noted in his diary , which was later published: “ The judge of the chamber judge Hoffmann is writing a humorous book in which the whole demagogic story is made extremely ridiculous, almost literally from the minutes. "

During the time of the Restoration there were numerous informers and informers at social gatherings. The police director Karl Albert von Kamptz soon learned of Hoffmann's plans. As early as January 17, an agent traveled to the Senate of the Free City of Frankfurt am Main on behalf of the Interior and Police Minister and had the manuscript for Master Floh confiscated from Hoffmann's publishers, as some of the work cited process documents that violated official secrecy and offended the Prussian king. In fact, the “prince” who commissioned the court councilor Knarrpanti to investigate in the story is described as an insignificant and indebted ruler. It is said of this ruler that “of all the state institutions that he knew from history, he liked none better than the Secret State Inquisition, as it formerly took place in Venice.” If one assumes that Knarrpanti means Police Director Kamptz then its prince would be the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III. , been.

After Hoffmann himself had learned about the investigations that had been initiated against him, he tried to delete two passages in the manuscript, since “under certain circumstances they could cause great annoyance. “But it was already too late. Police director Kamptz wrote a report to the Minister of the Interior and the Police Friedrich von Schuckmann on January 31, 1822 , in which he states: “ The novel 'Meister Floh' given to the publisher by the judge Hoffmann of the Wilmanssche Buchhandlung is less of a portrayal of a coherent one a closed event rather than a vehicle to present and satirize the most diverse objects. "

Hoffmann had no choice but to defend his work. Although his defense is a statement in the disciplinary proceedings initiated against him, it still gives insight into the intentions of the poet. He closes the defense with the words, “Not to lose sight of the fact that here it is not about a satyrical work, which is accused of world trade and events of the time, but about the fantastic birth of a humorous writer who only explores the structures of real life the abstraction of humor as the speech is reflected in a mirror. "

The disciplinary proceedings never came to a conclusion, as ETA Hoffmann died soon after the publication of the Master Floh .


The story is divided into seven chapters, which ETA Hoffmann calls "Adventure".

First adventure

Peregrinus Tyß comes home after three years of wandering and learns that his parents died while he was away. His father, a wealthy businessman, left him a house with a large apartment in Frankfurt am Main. The shy, dreamy Peregrinus then lives a lonely life. Aline, the old, ugly housekeeper of his parents, takes care of everything and enables 36-year-old Peregrinus to live as if his childhood was not long over. He gives himself toys and children's books for Christmas. When he tries to unpack one of the Christmas presents, he finds it empty. The package must have been mixed up because Peregrinus is missing another one that contained tin figures. After playing with the presents for a while, Peregrinus packs up the toys again and, as he does every year, brings them to the children of a poor family, this time the bookbinder's Lämmerhirt.

When he is about to leave the bookbinder, Peregrinus meets a beautiful woman who pretends to have known him for a long time and brings him the missing package. On the way back, the mysterious woman, who calls herself Aline like his housekeeper and who seems well informed about the details of his lifestyle, lets him carry her into his house while pretending to be unconscious. There she demands the release of a prisoner who is said to be in Peregrinus' apartment. But Peregrinus has no idea who she is looking for. Then she runs out of the room and down the stairs.

Second adventure

The location of the second adventure is the house of the flea tamer Leuwenhoek. He runs a flea circus in Frankfurt, where you can watch the trained fleas, disguised as soldiers, jumping with a magnifying glass. However, the fleas have just escaped with their "master" and the audience now thinks the flea tamer is a cheat. George Pepusch, a friend of the flea tamer, learns that the beautiful Dörtje Elverdink, whom the flea tamer kept like a slave and used as an attraction for his show, has also disappeared. He confronts Leuwenhoek because he is in love with the beautiful Dörtje.

The flea tamer tells Pepusch that he himself is the microscope maker Antoni van Leeuwenhoek , who was buried in the old church in Delft in 1725 . However, he is in reality a magician and Dörtje Elverdink is the Princess Gamaheh, the daughter of King Sekakis and the Queen of Flowers. The princess had hidden from the leech prince, the greatest enemy of the flower queen, in Famagusta , but was tracked down and bitten by him. The genius Thetel killed the leech prince and put the princess as a speck of dust in a tulip. There she slept until a magician found her with his magnifying glass. He himself had been called to help and had succeeded in waking the princess and giving her back her natural size. Since then he has considered her his property and she accompanies him on his travels. In Germany, people call her Aline.

According to this story, George Pepusch claims that he is the thistle Zeherit on which the princess sank back then. He himself killed the leech prince with his quills, and no one other than the “master” brought them back to life after the two magicians had enlarged them. Pepusch calls the flea tamer a charlatan and destroys his microscopic apparatus.

Pepusch walks aimlessly through the nocturnal streets of Frankfurt when he suddenly sees Dörtje Elverdink through a brightly lit window. When he tries to climb over the bars to see her closer, he is discovered by the night watchman and put in custody as a supposed burglar.

Third adventure

In his bedroom, Peregrinus Tyß is woken up by a strange being who calls himself "Master Flea". This small, barely a span long figure is the head of all fleas. Master Flea can speak and is very well read. It rarely shows itself in a macroscopic form and usually cannot be perceived by the human eye without a magnifying glass. It turns out that it was in the apparently empty box that Peregrinus unpacked on Christmas Day.

Master Floh tells Peregrinus that the girl Aline, whom he brought to his house the previous day, is Princess Gamaheh, also called Dörtje Elverdink. He himself woke Princess Gamaheh from her sleep, but she then betrayed him to the flea tamer. He needs it in order to be able to exercise power over the people of the fleas. Princess Gamaheh is now looking for him and would leave no stone unturned to get him back. Peregrinus promises Master Flea not to be seduced by the princess and not to hand him over to her. Master Floh gives him the thought microscope, a small lens with which one can read people's true thoughts. This lens is thrown at his pupil by Master Flea as soon as Peregrinus snaps his fingers.

In the morning, Peregrinus learns from his housekeeper Aline that the princess has not yet left the house, but has stayed in the room of his tenant, old Mr Swammerdamm, who for the sake of brevity usually calls himself Swammer. A little later, Swammerdamm appears personally at Peregrinus to announce the presence of Dörtje. He is also a microscopist like his colleague Leuwenhoek. He claims to be identical to the natural scientist Jan Swammerdam, who died in Holland in 1680 . It turns out that Swammerdamm is the magician who discovered Princess Gamaheh sleeping in a tulip and called the flea tamer Leuwenhoek to help to free the princess from the tulip and from her sleep.

After Peregrinus said goodbye to Swammerdamm, representatives of the City Council of Frankfurt suddenly step in and tell Peregrinus that they have to arrest him and confiscate his papers. He has no choice but to follow them. Master Flea travels with us, sitting on Peregrinus' scarf.

Fourth adventure

In prison, Peregrinus meets the still arrested George Pepusch. The two know each other from Madras , where Peregrinus stopped for a long time on his journey. It turns out that the Privy Councilor Knarrpanti, who is looking for a kidnapped princess on behalf of a prince, is responsible for the arrest of Peregrinus. Knarrpanti heard of a rumor that a noble woman had been kidnapped from a large party given by a banker on Christmas Eve. Even if nobody knows who it could have been, since no woman in society is missing, Knarrpanti enforces the arrest of Peregrinus Tyß. He claims “that once the criminal is found out, the crime will find itself. “In addition, two witnesses saw Peregrinus carry a young woman into his home.

Peregrinus tells Pepusch what has happened in his house in the meantime. In the absence of evidence, he was released from prison shortly afterwards and vouched for Pepusch so that he could also be released.

With the help of Master Floh's glass, Peregrinus can take a walk to explore people's true thoughts. On his return to his house, he meets the flea tamer Leuwenhoek in front of Swammerdamm's room. A short time later, Pepusch and Swammerdamm also arrive. Leuwenhoek and Swammerdamm immediately pull out their binoculars and begin to duel with these instruments in the hallway of the house .

Pepusch leaves the house after failing to find Dörtje in Swammerdamm's room. But Peregrinus goes upstairs to his apartment, where Dörtje is waiting for him. The princess confesses her love to Peregrinus, but wants to obtain the extradition of Master Flea. Before that happens, Pepusch suddenly storms into the room. When the princess faints, Pepusch carries her away.

Fifth adventure

Peregrinus is interrogated again by Councilor Knarrpanti, who tries to find evidence in the confiscated letters and diary entries. In particular, he wants to know what Peregrinus was thinking when he kept writing about kidnappings, such as The Abduction from the Seraglio by Mozart or Jünger's Abduction . Peregrinus came up with the idea of ​​using the thought microscope with the Privy Councilor who, for his part, likes to research the thoughts of other people because he classifies thinking in itself as dangerous. Master Flea places the glass in Pergrinus' pupil, and Pergrinus sees that Knarrpanti does not think he is guilty at all, but only wants to deliver a perpetrator in order to distinguish himself. Peregrinus behaves accordingly and is released.

The housekeeper Aline tells Peregrinus that Princess Gamaheh, also known as Dörtje, who was kidnapped by Pepusch, is back in the house, in Swammerdamm's room. She visited the princess there and learned strange things from her about her family relationships. It is also very urgent that Peregrinus finally give the princess back the little creature that had escaped her. Peregrinus firmly rejects this and runs out of the house.

He takes refuge in nature, accompanied by Master Flea, who always sits on his clothes. Master Floh reveals to Peregrinus that he will play an essential role in deciding who the princess should belong to in the future. But before he can reveal more details, Pepusch suddenly jumps out of a bush. He hands Peregrinus a pistol and wants to duel with him. He immediately shoots Peregrinus with his own pistol, but only perforates his hat. Peregrinus purposely shoots in the air. Pepusch calls out that the princess is dying in Swammerdamm's apartment and hurries away.

Peregrinus makes his way to his house with Master Flea, where he sees the terminally ill princess in Swammerdamm's room. She assures him of her love and says that it is finally time to surrender the prisoner. Peregrinus wants to refuse this demand again in order not to break his promise, but Master Floh himself jumps on the sick princess.

Sixth adventure

In a wine house in Frankfurt you can admire two strange characters: one calls himself Douanier Egel, the other is the ballet master Legénie. But it is about the leech prince and the genius Thetel, who are already known from the story of Leuwenhoek in the second adventure. Both play an important role in the story of Princess Gamaheh. You have come to reappropriate the princess. The two get into an argument until the landlord throws them out of the wine house. In front of the house, however, they meet Pepusch, who wants to assault them. The landlord separates the arguing and urges Pepusch to come with him to the inn.

There Pepusch tells that he almost killed his friend Peregrinus and then put a bullet through his head out of desperation. When he shows the pistols as evidence, it turns out that they are just toy guns made of wood. The landlord can inform Pepusch that Peregrinus had only recently been to the restaurant. He had renounced Dörtje and was now on his way to the flea tamer Leuwenhoek to inquire about his horoscope and the future.

Leuwenhoek informs Peregrinus that he is carrying a talisman, a carbuncle that used to be deep in the earth. However, the power of the talisman would only become effective through a certain event. Through the mind microscope, Peregrinus can determine that Leuwenhoek himself does not know what event it could be.

Pepusch arrives at Leuwenhoek's house. The two friends Pepusch and Peregrinus are reconciled after Peregrinus has confirmed that he has definitely renounced Dörtje. Swammerdamm and Dörtje are added to this. Leuwenhoek and Swammerdamm immediately fight each other with their telescopes and give each other deadly glances. Peregrinus and Pepusch can just prevent them from hurting each other. Legelprinz and Thetel also interfere. The princess wants Peregrinus to marry her, but he resists her because of the promise to Pepusch and Master Floh.

Seventh adventure

Peregrinus finally renounces the princess. He meets Röschen Lämmerhirt, a young, pretty and pious girl, and falls in love with her. Master Flea disappears, and Peregrinus decides not to use the thought microscope any more, as it does not make anyone happy to see through the others. He realizes in the dream that he himself is the mighty King Sekakis, and his talisman, the carbuncle, is the love of roses.

Through the beam from his talisman, the wicked (the magicians, Thetel and Legelprinz) are destroyed and Pepusch and the princess are connected. Peregrinus marries Roses, Pepusch has his princess. But on the wedding night Pepusch and Dörtje disappeared. In the morning you will find a faded torch thistle in the garden, against which a faded tulip hugs.

Master Flea has to return to his people. On various occasions, but especially on Christmas Eve, he returns and brings the child of Peregrinus and Roses small gifts made by the sent fleas.

Reception history

Early reception

The publication of the story Meister Floh was preceded by the critics and readers' expectations that had been fueled by the censorship of the work and the disciplinary proceedings against Hoffmann. The first reviews in the Berlin daily newspapers were thoroughly benevolent. The critics speculated who could be meant by the figure of Master Flea and which contents could have aroused the suspicion of the censorship authority.

Individual evidence

  1. Heinrich Heine: Complete Writings. Vol. 2, Munich 1969, p. 66


  • ETA Hoffmann: Master Flea. Wilmans, Frankfurt (Main) 1822. ( Digitized and full text in the German text archive )
  • Petra Mayer: ETA Hoffmanns Meister Floh: A grotesque fairytale satire . Bachelor thesis at the Institute for Literary Studies at the University of Stuttgart, 2006. First publication in the Goethezeitportal (PDF; 3.7 MB), posted on November 23, 2006

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