I was born in Calw in the Black Forest on July 2, 1877. My father, a Baltic German, came from Estonia; my mother was the daughter of a Swabian and a French Swiss. My father’s father was a doctor, my mother’s father a missionary and Indologist. My father, too, had been a missionary in India for a short while, and my mother had spent several years of her youth in India and had done missionary work there.
My childhood in Calw was interrupted by several years of living in Basle (1880-86). My family had been composed of different nationalities; to this was now added the experience of growing up among two different peoples, in two countries with their different dialects.
I spent most of my school years in boarding schools in Wuerttemberg and some time in the theological seminary of the monastery at Maulbronn. I was a good learner, good at Latin though only fair at Greek, but I was not a very manageable boy, and it was only with difficulty that I fitted into the framework of a pietist education that aimed at subduing and breaking the individual personality. From the age of twelve I wanted to be a poet, and since there was no normal or official road, I had a hard time deciding what to do after leaving school. I left the seminary and grammar school, became an apprentice to a mechanic, and at the age of nineteen I worked in book and antique shops in Tübingen and Basle. Late in 1899 a tiny volume of my poems appeared in print, followed by other small publications that remained equally unnoticed, until in 1904 the novel Peter Camenzind, written in Basle and set in Switzerland, had a quick success. I gave up selling books, married a woman from Basle, the mother of my sons, and moved to the country. At that time a rural life, far from the cities and civilization, was my aim. Since then I have always lived in the country, first, until 1912, in Gaienhofen on Lake Constance, later near Bern, and finally in Montagnola near Lugano, where I am still living.
Soon after I settled in Switzerland in 1912, the First World War broke out, and each year brought me more and more into conflict with German nationalism; ever since my first shy protests against mass suggestion and violence I have been exposed to continuous attacks and floods of abusive letters from Germany. The hatred of the official Germany, culminating under Hitler, was compensated for by the following I won among the young generation that thought in international and pacifist terms, by the friendship of Romain Rolland, which lasted until his death, as well as by the sympathy of men who thought like me even in countries as remote as India and Japan. In Germany I have been acknowledged again since the fall of Hitler, but my works, partly suppressed by the Nazis and partly destroyed by the war; have not yet been republished there.
In 1923, I resigned German and acquired Swiss citizenship. After the dissolution of my first marriage I lived alone for many years, then I married again. Faithful friends have put a house in Montagnola at my disposal.
Until 1914 I loved to travel; I often went to Italy and once spent a few months in India. Since then I have almost entirely abandoned travelling, and I have not been outside of Switzerland for over ten years.
I survived the years of the Hitler regime and the Second World War through the eleven years of work that I spent on the Glasperlenspiel (1943) [Magister Ludi], a novel in two volumes. Since the completion of that long book, an eye disease and increasing sicknesses of old age have prevented me from engaging in larger projects.
Of the Western philosophers, I have been influenced most by Plato, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche as well as the historian Jacob Burckhardt. But they did not influence me as much as Indian and, later, Chinese philosophy. I have always been on familiar and friendly terms with the fine arts, but my relationship to music has been more intimate and fruitful. It is found in most of my writings. My most characteristic books in my view are the poems (collected edition, Zürich, 1942), the stories Knulp (1915), Demian (1919), Siddhartha (1922), Der Steppenwolf (1927) [Steppenwolf], Narziss und Goldmund. (1930), Die Morgenlandfahrt (1932) [The Journey to the East], and Das Glasperlenspiel (1943) [Magister Ludi]. The volume Gedenkblätter (1937, enlarged ed. 1962) [Reminiscences] contains a good many autobiographical things. My essays on political topics have recently been published in Zürich under the title Krieg und Frieden (1946) [War and Peace].
I ask you, gentlemen, to be contented with this very sketchy outline; the state of my health does not permit me to be more comprehensive.
Biographical note on Hermann Hesse
Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) received the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt in 1946 and the Peace Prize of the German Booksellers in 1955. A complete edition of his works in six volumes appeared in 1952; a seventh volume (1957) contains essays and miscellaneous writings. Beschwörungen (1955) [Evocations], a volume of late prose, and his correspondence with Romain Rolland (1954) were published separately.
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.
Hermann Hesse died on August 9, 1962.
Their work and discoveries range from paleogenomics and click chemistry to documenting war crimes.
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