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A Child Prodigy Celebrated by Kant and Telemann

Leben, Thaten, Reisen, und Tod eines sehr klugen und sehr artigen 4jährigen Kindes Christian Henrich Heineken aus Lübeck, beschrieben von seinem Lehrer Christian von Schöneich [The life, deeds, travels and death of the very clever and very well-behaved 4-year-old child Christian Henrich Heineken of Lübeck, described by his teacher].

Göttingen: Im Verlag der Wittwe Vandenhoek 1779. Octavo (19 × 12 cm). Later full pebbled cloth (ca. 1860), with gilt title to spine; [12], 227 pp. A fine copy, partially uncut and unopened.

Modestly billed here as the second edition, the present work is in fact a completely reworked telling of the remarkable life of the wunderkind Christian Heinrich Heineken (1721–1725), a child prodigy renowned for his extraordinary memory and intelligence. The author was most likely August Ludwig von Schlözer (1735–1809), the German Enlightenment-era historian, legal scholar, writer, philologist, and pedagogue, although he is nowhere credited. His preface declares the first edition of the book, a biography of the boy by his personal tutor, Christian von Schöneich, to have been overly convoluted and in much need of improvement. Von Schlözer states that the “subject of this narrative is indisputably one of the most noteworthy phenomena brought forth by psychology and pedagogy since the Creation of Adam. We have descriptions of many other child prodigies, but all fall far behind Heineken of Lübeck. I am not here concerned whether the child’s treatment, both physical and literary, has been reasonable and indeed responsible” (translated from the preface). Curiously, the preface also suggests that von Schlözer has adapted Heineken’s life story somewhat: while meant to be a truthful and engrossing tale for adult readers, the book was also intended to serve as a kind of manual for teaching world history to small children in a systematic fashion. Von Schlözer also corrected some of Heineken’s “errors” of which perhaps the most glaring is his anti-semitic reaction to a Jew while on a journey to Denmark.

Christian Heinrich Heineken, or Heinecken, was born in Lübeck, Germany as the son of Paul Heinecken, a painter and architect, and Catharina Elisabeth Heinecken, an artist and alchemist. His brother, Carl Heinrich von Heineken, became an art historian and collector. Christian Heinrich reportedly spoke fluent German at a mere ten months, and was able to explain images and to name any object in his surroundings. Soon he read the Pentateuch and the entire Old and New Testament in Latin, in addition to absorbing a large amount of geographical, historical, and scientific knowledge. At age 3 he purportedly authored a history of Denmark, which he was said to present to Frederick IV, King of Denmark, during a visit shortly before his death. Heineken died aged four of celiac disease, which was then unknown. The biography also details the boy’s suffering, as well as the exhaustion resulting from the near-constant need to perform and present his skills before learned or noble audiences.

Because of this high degree of exposure, however, Heineken’s exploits are relatively well documented. Several contemporary publications describe his abilities, and Immanuel Kant wrote an essay about the child calling him “ingenium praecox,” or “früh-kluges Wunderkind von ephemerischer Existenz” (a prematurely clever wunderkind of ephemeral existence) and referred to the “Abschweifung der Natur von ihrer Regel” (“a digression of nature from its laws”). The composer Georg Philipp Telemann wrote several poems on Heineken’s short life, including the text “Kind, dessen gleichen nie vorhin ein Tag gebahr!” (reproduced on the final page of the book). The original biography by Heineken’s teacher von Schöneich was published shortly after his death, in 1726.

See also: Ingrid Bodsch, Beethoven und andere Wunderkinder, p. 9, reproductions no. 3a and pp. 103ff.

Rare. As of June 2021, KVK and OCLC only show one copy in North America.

Book ID: 51288

Price: $2,500.00