Sep 7, 2012

Johann Mayrhofer's Real Date of Birth

Opinions concerning the quality of the work of the Austrian poet Johann Baptist Mayrhofer (1787–1836) may be divided, but one thing is a fact: among all the poems Franz Schubert set to music, Mayrhofer's rank second only to Goethe in numbers and some of the results of this particular cooperation, such as "Nachtstück" or "Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren", belong to the greatest achievements in the art of Lieder. Mayrhofer's fascinating and somewhat tragic life has repeatedly been the object of scholarly studies, and I have delved into this particular topic myself in an article titled "Dokumente zur Biographie Johann Mayrhofers", in: Schubert durch die Brille 25, (Tutzing: Schneider, 2000), 21-50.

With the exception of Josef Bindtner, all authors who have written on Mayrhofer agree on 3 November 1787 as Mayrhofer's date of birth: from Ernst von Feuchtersleben in his 1843 edition of Mayrhofer's poems to Constant Wurzbach von Tannenberg in his Lexikon; from Anton Schlossar in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Valerie Hanus in the Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon, and Walburga Litschauer in Neue Deutsche Biographie, to Gerrit Waidelich in Bärenreiter's 2012 Schubert Liedlexikon. The source that is curiously at odds with this long-held information is a commemorative plaque on Mayrhofer's birthplace in the Upper Austrian town of Steyr.

What is the reason for this odd discrepancy of almost two weeks? It turns out that Mayrhofer's baptismal entry in the records of the Stadtpfarre Steyr was never consulted by any of the above-mentioned authors, and that the date 22 October given on the plaque on the house Pfarrgasse 12 is correct. The false date "3 November 1787" was put into existence by Mayrhofer's friend Ernst von Feuchtersleben in his "Biografische Skizze" in the Beilage zu den Sonntags-Blättern of 15 October 1843.

Feuchtersleben had obviously received flawed information from somebody in Steyr. This anonymous researcher (or Feuchtersleben himself) only checked a separate index (begun in 1785) and not the Taufbuch proper. In this index he came across the following wrong entry (which in the meantime has been corrected with pencil).

The original entry in the baptismal register is of course very clear and it shows that Mayrhofer was indeed born on 22 October 1787, at 9 p.m., son of the court procurator Mathias Remigius Mayrhofer and his wife Magdalena, née Heitzinger.

The entry concerning the baptism of Johann Baptist Mayrhofer (Stadtpfarre Steyr, Tom. 8, 16). Susan Youens's claim that the confusion about the poet's birthday "was apparently caused by two different baptismal registers" is false.

As can be seen in the above document, the wrong date "3ten November" belongs to the following entry referring to Maria Josepha Widal whose name in the index analogously stands beside the date of Mayrhofer's birth: 

Mayrhofer's godfather was Johann Baptist Göppel (1763–1827), apothecary and owner of the renowned Löwenapotheke in Steyr. This may be seen as a kind of omen, since in his later life Mayrhofer was known as a notorious hypochondriac. On 8 September 1818, Franz Schubert wrote: "Lieber Mayrhofer [...] Höre auf zu Kränkeln, wenigstens zu mediciniren, so gibt sich das andere von selbst." ("Dear Mayrhofer [...] stop ailing, at least medicating, then the other will be resolved by itself".)

Seal and signature of Mayrhofer ("k.k. B.[ücher] R.[evisor] als erbet.[ener] Zeuge.") as witness in the 1815 marriage papers of his friend Heinrich Joseph Hölzl (A-Wsa, Mag. ZG, A3, 365/1815)

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2012

Updated: 27 January 2021

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