Krauß, Friedrich
Title page of "Nothschrei" (1852).
First name:
19th century
Field of expertise:
Place of birth:
Göppingen (DEU)
* 19.03.1791

additional material

Krauß 1822 - Englische und Deutsche Vorschriften
Biography print

German travelling salesman, mesmerist and 19th-century asylum inmate.


Friedrich Krauß (1791-1868) was born in Göppingen, a small town in southern Germany, and grew up in a Protestant family of tawers, together with two sisters. In 1852, at the age of 61, he published a more than 1,000-page volume titled Nothschrei eines Magnetisch Vergifteten [A Cry of Distress by a Victim of Magnetic Poisoning]. In 1867, shortly before his death, he released a follow-up volume, Nothgedrungene Fortsetzung meines Nothschrei [Forced Continuation of My Cry of Distress]. These writings have long been considered as documents of delusional experience and only recently analysed in terms of their historical context (Brückner 2016; Brückner & Jadi 2012; Hahn, Person & Pethes 2002). Six publications adding up to a total volume of ca. 1,500 printed pages can be attributed to Krauß.



Krauß’s grandfather was a civil servant at the municipal administration of Göppingen; his father died early. Krauß himself had a gift for languages, and at age seventeen, he found a post as a foreign language correspondent in Strasbourg, about 100 kms from home. After a brief intermezzo in Paris, he moved to Antwerp in 1814 to work as a chancery clerk for the maritime trader Daniël Thuret & Comp. He later reported that he had to write thirty to forty business letters per day and described himself as a “down-to-earth man” with “silvery blonde hair” and a “robust physique” (Krauß 1852: 200, 138, 186).


Soon after his arrival in Antwerp, Krauß started imagining himself entangled in a strange affair with a neighbour’s daughter (1852: 115 ff.). The young lady, who was around his age and from the wealthy Jewish van Asten family, had allegedly cast an eye on him, but Krauß claimed that he sternly rejected her advances. He soon became convinced that the van Asten father had hired a “magnetiser” from Strasbourg and used “magnetic forces” to deter his daughter from him. Also involved in this conspiracy, he believed, was Janeke Simon-Thomas, a junior copyist at the office who was purportedly courting the van Asten’s daughter. Krauß felt persecuted and “under magnetic influence” and, in 1815, became ill and suicidal (1852: 130 f.). He fled to London but soon returned to Antwerp for a new job in a bookstore and eventually became unable to work. In August 1816, Krauß consulted three doctors who, as he wrote, confirmed that he was “magnetised”.


Some months later, in autumn 1816, Krauß met Janeke Simon-Thomas in the street and attacked him. The police intervened and forcefully took him to the “Cellite convent”, probably a small institution on Antwerp’s Jezusstraat that was run by the Alexian Brothers (cf. Brückner 2016; Erlenmayer 1864: 4). Krauß later recalled that he was given a treatment of cold baths. He felt exposed to all of his enemies, who subjected him to a “general examination” lasting “forty horrible nights” (Krauß 1852: 133-146, 183 ff.). An escape attempt failed. He was released after eighteen months. In the spring of 1818, a doctor accompanied him back to his hometown of Göppingen.


Later that year, he consulted the renowned physician and poet Justinus Kerner (1786-1862) in Weinsberg. From 1819 onwards, Krauß was treated, as he later wrote, by the Heidelberg professor of medicine Franz Josef Schelver (1778–1843), who used “magnetic cures”. While in Heidelberg, he reportedly worked as a teacher for languages, bookkeeping, mercantile law, calligraphy and technical chemistry. In 1822, he published his first portfolio of calligraphies (Englische und Deutsche Vorschriften für Junge und Aeltere [English and German Style Sheets for the Young and Old]) and became a salesman travelling the southern and western regions of Germany. At the same time, Krauß relentlessly tried to call attention to his situation. He consulted numerous doctors, among them, for instance, the Paris-based founder of phrenology, Franz Josef Gall, and the Bonn psychiatrist Christian Friedrich Nasse (1852: 16 ff.). He also engaged in correspondence with fellow sufferers and filed countless petitions to the authorities.


In 1827, he was even granted an audience by the Dutch king. In 1836 and 1837, he published two shorter apologetic writings in French and, in 1849, a second portfolio of calligraphies (Vorlegeblaetter von Englischen Schriftzügen & Fractur [Style Sheets for English Lettering & Fractur]). His Nothschrei appeared in 1852 as an author’s edition. Two years later, in 1854, Dietrich Georg Kieser (1779-1862), a prominent advocate of Franz Anton Mesmer’s theory of “animal magnetism”, briefly reviewed Nothschrei in the Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medicin [General Journal for Psychiatry and Mental-Forensic Medicine]. Krauß reduced his professional activities in the mid-1860s. Despite high expenses for travelling and seeing doctors, he issued his sixth publication, Nothgedrungene Fortsetzung meines Nothschrei [Forced Continuation of My Cry of Distress], in 1867. Friedrich Krauß died in Stuttgart shortly thereafter, in November 1868, at the age of 77.


Mesmerist world of experience

Krauß consulted doctors and “counter magnetisers” all over Europe. His world of experience can only be understood against the backdrop of Mesmer’s theory of “animal magnetism”. Mesmer had presented his concept in Paris around 1775. In early nineteenth-century Germany, the theory was broadly discussed among Romanticist physicians, particularly under the influence of Mesmer’s follower de Puységur (“somnambulism”; cf. Gauld 1992; Schott 1985; Ellenberger 1970). The idea was that the magnetiser’s willpower, together with special technical devices (“magnetic vats”), could channel the “magnetic fluid” to use it as a cure. This would induce phenomena such as prophetic dreams, somnambulism, telepathy and cathartic crises. The concept was highly popular between 1815 and 1830 and was also adopted by some of the proponents of early German psychiatry. This was due to the writings of Kieser (1822) and Kerner (1829) in particular. Around 1850, however, the theory gradually lost its appeal – but still influenced the development of hypnotism in the 1870s (cf. Gauld 1992).


To Friedrich Krauß, the theory of mesmerism provided a socially acceptable pattern of interpretation for his condition. He saw himself as being persecuted, as an object in the hands of hostile powers (Krauß 1852: 323-332). He believed that the perpetrators were able to invade his body, read his mind and “smouldered” him with “fiery gases” at night. An illustrative case in point is a diary entry of 10 October 1864:

“Raid-like, blazing heat is driven up from the foot soles and these frissons of heat keep coming all night long with only few interruptions; whenever a new load of fire came on, I had to stretch away from that spot up to where they had advanced; thus starting from the legs, then on from the lower back and spine, finally from the chest; as soon as the fumes are driven further up and the blaze has been stoked anew, sweat breaks out from that spot. When the day broke, these gentlemen, finally satiated, took rest from the orgy, and after the fluid mass had evaporated bit by bit, I fell asleep from tiredness and exhaustion ...” (Krauß 1867: 95; our translation).


Krauß kept record of the imaginary voices of his persecutors and published their dialogues in his writings. However, inspite of his condition, he remained able to work most of the time, earned a sufficient income to care for himself, met with countless therapists, devoted himself to calligraphy – and wrote diaries, letters, petitions and his voluminous publications; this writing was most likely his most effective means of coping with his condition. Nonetheless, the way in which he presented his suffering suggests a self-contained consciousness, which many reviewers and readers have interpreted as delusional.


Reactions to Nothschrei

Justinus Kerner documented his encounter with Krauß in 1818 in his book Geschichter zweyer Somnambülen [History of Two Somnambulists], stating that Krauß seemed “most unhappy” but “fairly reasonable”, apart from his “idée fixe” (Kerner 1824: 420-426). He also suggested that the wrong treatment issued by Franz Josef Schelver in Heidelberg might have further aggravated his patient’s “faulty imagination”. In his review of Nothschrei, Dietrich Georg von Kieser (1854: 705) diagnosed Krauß with a form of “melancholia ... with acoustic hallucinations”. And in 1861, when Krauß was still alive, Wilhelm Griesinger referred to Nothschrei as a first-person account on a “systematically developed and dramatised delusion of physical and mental interference” (1861: 345). For the next 100 years, Nothschrei was only marginally mentioned in the relevant literature (cf. Brückner 2016; 2007: 251).


It was not until 1967 that the text was rediscovered by Heinz Ahlenstiel and Joachim Ernst Meyer. They conducted a biographical analysis, commented on the “vivid, unreflected and human manner” in which Krauß presented his suffering in Nothschrei but ultimately called the book one of the “great self-portrayals of a schizophrenic mind” (Ahlenstiel & Meyer 1967: 9, 26). Karl Leonhard (1968) also deemed Krauß a chronic schizophrenic. In 2002, Krauß’s world of experience was analysed for the first time in the historical context of early nineteenth-century experimental science and culture (Hahn 2002; Rieger 2002; Wunnicke 2002). More recent research focused on the so far neglected calligraphic work of Friedrich Krauß and critically assessed the previous instances of retroactive diagnoses (Brückner & Jadi 2012; cf. Brückner 2016).



The work of Friedrich Krauß offers various starting points for analysis, be it from a historical, a discursive, an aesthetic or a psychodynamic perspective. Although Nothschrei testifies to the inner isolation of its author, the book also reveals his various social resources as well as the limits of nineteenth-century scientific and medical knowledge. Nothschrei is a unique source on the history of psychiatry and medicine during the era of German Romanticism (cf. Brückner 2016; Gold & Gold 2014; Fuchs 2006). The book is thus on par with other, more prominent nineteenth-century first-person accounts of psychiatric experience, for instance, the report from Bethlem Hospital by the London tea broker and diplomat James Tilly Matthews (Haslam 1810) or the book Denkwürdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken [Memoirs of My Nervous Illness], written by the Dresden jurist Daniel Paul Schreber in 1903.



Ahlenstiel, H., J. E. Meyer (1967): Einleitung. In: H. Ahlenstiel, J. E. Meyer (eds.): Nothschrei eines Magnetisch-Vergifteten. Selbstschilderung eines Geisteskranken. Leverkusen: Bayer.

Brückner, B. (2016): Animal magnetism, psychiatry and subjective experience in nineteenth-century Germany: Friedrich Krauß and his Nothschrei. In: Medical History 60, (1), pp. 19-36.

Brückner, B., F. Jadi (2012): Friedrich Krauß als Kalligraph. Ein psychodynamischer und produktionsästhetischer Blick auf den Verfasser des Nothschrei eines Magnetisch-Vergifteten und sein Werk. In: Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Gesellschaft fur Geschichte der Nervenheilkunde 18, pp. 313-340.

Brückner, B. (2007): Delirium und Wahn. Geschichte, Selbstzeugnisse und Theorien von der Antike bis 1900. Vol. 2. 19. Jahrhundert – Deutschland. Hürtgenwald: Pressler.

Ellenberger, H.: The discovery of the unconscious. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Erlenmeyer, A. (1863): Uebersicht der öffentlichen und privaten Irren- und Idioten-Anstalten aller europäischen Staaten. Neuwied: Heuser.

Fuchs, T (2006): Being a psychomachine. On the phenomenology of the influencing-machine. In: T. Roske, B. Brand-Claussen (eds.): The air-loom and other dangerous influencing machines. Heidelberg: Wunderhorn, pp. 27-43.

Gauld, A. (1992): A history of hypnotism. Cambridge: University Press.

Gerabek, W. E. (2005): Schelver, Franz Joseph. In: H. G. Hockert (ed.): Neue Deutsche Biographie. Vol. 22. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 661- 662.

Gold, J., I. Gold (2014): Suspicious minds. How culture shapes madness. New York, NY: Free Press.

Griesinger, W. (1861): Die Pathologie und Therapie der psychischen Krankheiten für Aerzte und Studirende. 2nd edition, Stuttgart: Krabbe.

Grüsser, O.-J. (1987): Justinus Kerner 1786-1862. Arzt – Poet – Geisterseher. Berlin: Springer.

Hahn, T. (2002): ‘Government denies knowledge’ – Friedrich Krauß‘ Verschwörungstheorie und die Grenzen des Rechts. In: T. Hahn, J. Person, N. Pethes (eds.): Grenzgänge zwischen Wahn und Wissen. Frankfurt am Main: Campus, pp. 193-214.

Kerner, J. (1829): Die Seherin von Prevorst. Eröffnungen über das innere Leben des Menschen, und über das Hereinragen einer Geisterwelt in die unsrige. 2 vols. Stuttgart: Cotta.

Kerner, J. (1824): Geschichte zweyer Somnambulen. Karlsruhe: Braun.

Kieser, D. G.: (1822): System des Tellurismus oder Thierischen Magnetismus. Ein Handbuch für Naturforscher und Aerzte. 2 vols. Leipzig: Herbig.

Kieser, D. G. (1854): [Review]. In: Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medicin 11, (4), pp. 705-706.

Krauß, F. (1867): Nothgedrungene Fortsetzung meines Nothschrei gegen meine Vergiftung mit concentrirtem Lebensäther und gründliche Erklärung der maskirten Einwirkungsweise desselben auf Geist und Körper zum Scheinleben. Stuttgart: Author.

Krauß, F. (1852): Nothschrei eines Magnetisch-Vergifteten; Thatbestand, erklärt durch ungeschminkte Beschreibung des 36jährigen Hergangs, belegt mit allen Beweisen und Zeugnissen. Zur Belehrung und Warnung besonders für Familienväter und Geschäftsleute. Stuttgart: Author.

Krauß, F. (1849): Vorlegeblaetter von Englischen Schriftzügen & Fractur in grösserem Maßstabe zur gründlichen Einsichtnahme der Formen und Arten; mit einer leichtfasslichen, durchgreifenden Einleitung zum Selbstunterricht für Schulen, Künstler, Gewerbs- & Handels- Institute; zum Schilde & Aufschriftenmalen, als Wandtafeln, Schreibnormen und zu Chablonen etc. Stuttgart: Author.

Krauß, F. (1836): Appel du sieur Frédéric Krauss contre des influences magnétiques auxquelles il se croit en butte. Paris: Imprimerie Bellemain.

Krauß, F. (1837): Lettre de M. Frédéric Krauss sur le magnétisme et sur l'influence de certains magnétiseurs conjurés contre lui. Paris: d'Herhan et Bimont.

Krauß, F. (1822): Englische und Deutsche Vorschriften für Junge und Aeltere; mit den fasslichsten Einleitungen und allen Abartungen der Buchstaben. Heidelberg: Author.

Leonhard, K. (1968): Schizophrene mit typischen Defektzuständen nach ihren eigenen Schriftstücken. In: Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten und Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie 211, (1), pp. 9-14.

Matthews, J. T. (1810): [without a title]. In: J. Haslam: Illustrations of madness. London: Hayden, pp. 42-51 & 59-79.

Rieger, S. (2002): Psychopaths electrified – Die Wahnwege des Wissens im Nothschrei eines Magnetisch-Vergifteten. In: T. Hahn, J. Person, N. Pethes (eds.): Grenzgänge zwischen Wahn und Wissen. Frankfurt am Main: Campus, pp. 151-172.

Schott, H. (1985, ed.): Franz Anton Mesmer und die Geschichte des Mesmerismus. Stuttgart: Steiner.

Schreber, D. P. (1903): Denkwürdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken. Wiesbaden: focus 1973.

Wunnicke, C. (2002): ‘Auserwählt zum Aufbrauch’ – Der bürgerliche Wahnsinn des Friedrich Krauß. In: T. Hahn, J. Person, N. Pethes (eds.): Grenzgänge zwischen Wahn und Wissen. Frankfurt am Main: Campus, pp. 110-124.


Burkhart Brückner


Referencing format
Burkhart Brückner (2016): Krauß, Friedrich.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:16.07.2024)