Krafft-Ebing, Professor Richard Freiherr von

  • Krafft-Ebing, Richard Freiherr von, 1840-1902
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


Papers of Richard von Krafft-Ebing, German-born neurologist and clinical psychiatrist, best known as the author of Psychopathia sexualis (1886), the first scientific study of sexual deviation. The papers largely comprise clinical case histories which Krafft-Ebing amassed during his professional career with a view to working on them in retirement. In the event he died very shortly after retiring from practice and resigning his chair of Psychiatry at Vienna.

As a result, the case histories remained in an undigested state, and more resemble the raw research materials that they in fact are than an ordered series of cases, although some have been arranged into thematic bundles (neurasthenia, hysteria, mania, dementia etc). Some two-thirds of the histories are in Krafft-Ebing's hand, the remainder written by assistants or other clinicians; many were evidently extracted from hospital case records. There are many subsidiary documents among them, such as referral letters, statistical abstracts and letters and reports from patients themselves, often prompted by reading Psychopathia sexualis. There is also a bundle of patient cards from Kraft-Ebing's sanatorium at Mariagrün, Graz, 1886-92.

Many of Krafft-Ebing's manuscript notes are associated with case histories. Others are organised thematically (neurasthenia, hypnosis, electrotherapy etc), or are extracts from works by other specialists. Likewise the correspondence in the collection often relates to particular recorded cases, but there are separate groups of letters to and from family, friends, colleagues, publishers and university officials: these include some 43 letters by Krafft-Ebing to his grandfather, Anton Mittermaier, a lawyer, 1864-66, and photocopies of letters to his parents written from Italy, 1869-70. There is also a file of letters from members of the German Imperial family.

The collection includes a large quantity of printed material, mainly off-prints of articles by Krafft-Ebing and others in the professional and specialist literature, as well as monographs. Many of the former especially are difficult to find in library collections in the English-speaking world. There are also press cuttings, mainly relating to Krafft-Ebing and his work, apparently collected by his son, Hans, after his death. In addition there are several groups of personal/family items, including carte de visite photographs of colleagues, diplomas and certificates, and other personalia.

The material is mainly in German, but also includes items in French, Russian, English and Italian.



Physical description

24 boxes


The collection is organised as follows:

A. Case histories

B. Manuscripts and notes

C. Correspondence

D. Printed materials

E. Diplomas, photographs and other personalia

F. Lecture notes taken Johannes (Hans) Krafft-Ebing.

This arrangement is entirely artificial and has no relationship to any structure that Krafft-Ebing himself may have had in mind. The papers as received were in no obvious order. It is clear that for Krafft-Ebing all documentation was subservient to the case histories, so that letters, notes and extracts were often mobilised in their support: where this association occurred it has not been disturbed in cataloguing, and consequently letters, notes, extracts, photographs etc. can be found among the case histories, and conversely extracts from case histories are sometimes found with correspondence, notwithstanding the arrangement listed above. In other words, the arrangement provides only a broad guide to contents and formats, and should not be regarded as prescriptive.

Acquisition note

The papers were purchased from George Robert Minkoff Rare Books, Alford, Massachusetts, acting for Krafft-Ebing's descendants, in November 1998. Accession number 351028 in paper register.

Biographical note

Richard von Krafft-Ebing was born in Mannheim, Germany, on 14 August 1840; his father was a civil servant of the Grand Duchy of Baden. Krafft-Ebing went to school and university at Heidelberg, where he studied Medicine. His maternal grandfather, Anton Mittermaier, held the chair of Criminal Law there and is considered to have had a significant effect on his grandson's choice of specialisation. After qualifying in 1863, Krafft-Ebing obtained the post of assistant physician at the Illenau asylum near Baden Baden. He was to remain in regular contact with this institution for the remainder of his life, and particularly with two of his former colleagues there, Heinrich Schüle and Wilhelm Erb. After leaving Illenau in 1869, Krafft-Ebing practised as a nerve doctor in Baden Baden, and after military service in the Franco-Prussian War, as director of a local electrotherapeutic institute. Following a brief period as adjunct professor of Psychiatry at the university of Strasbourg in 1872, Krafft-Ebing was appointed to his first post in the Austrian domains, as medical superintendent of Feldhof, the newly established mental asylum of the province of Styria, and to an associated adjunct chair of Psychiatry at the university of Graz.

In 1880 Krafft-Ebing resigned the asylum post to concentrate on teaching and research. He was already a profilic author, specialising in forensic psychiatry, and his first major work, Lehrbuch der gerichtlichen Psychopathologie (1875) was the first textbook in the German-speaking world to concentrate on the interface between psychiatry and the law. With his three-volume Lehrbuch der Psychiatrie auf klinischer Grundlage (1879-80) he established his reputation as a leader in clinical psychiatry. In 1882 Krafft-Ebing was made full professor and five years later Neurology was added to his chair. In 1889 he obtained one of the chairs of Psychiatry at Vienna; then in 1892 he succeeded Theodor Meynert in the second chair, which was associated with a small psychiatric clinic in the university's general hospital. At the same time Krafft-Ebing became president of the Verein für Psychiatrie und forensische Pyschologie, the leading professional organisation for psychiatrists in Austria.

In 1886 Krafft-Ebing published Psychopathia sexualis, the work for which he would become best known. In effect this was a catalogue of case histories of abnormal sexual fantasies and practices drawn from numerous sources. Although intended as a manual for the medical and legal professions it soon gained a wider readership, and as one edition followed another more and longer case histories were included, and a greater proportion of the cases described were Krafft-Ebing's own. To some extent the book itself generated the case histories, as patients read it and were moved to correspond with its author, and sometimes visit him. The work ultimately ran to 17 German-language editions, and was translated into at least 5 foreign languages (earliest English edition 1892).

In addition to his institutional roles, Krafft-Ebing practiced privately. In 1886 he founded a sanatorium in the suburbs of Graz, Mariagrün, for wealthy patients suffering from a range of nervous disorders, especially neurasthenia. It was in this private sphere that Krafft-Ebing found greater professional and scientific satisfaction, and he resigned his chair at Vienna in early 1902 to concentrate on writing and the sanatorium in Graz. However, his health was not good and he died on 22 December 1902, aged sixty-two, just after completing the 12th edition of Psychopathia sexualis.

Location of duplicates

Several photographs from the collection can be viewed in Wellcome Collection's image database (L0028607-L0028609, L0031640-31643).

Ownership note

In 1894 Krafft-Ebing wrote to a friend: "my plan has been, and still is, to retire in two years, and to exploit a little more my accumulated treasures (about 1500 case histories)". These case histories form the core of this collection. In the event, Krafft-Ebing did not retire till early 1902 and died shortly afterwards. He undoubtedly used some of the cases in the collection to illustrate later editions of Psychopathia sexualis, though it is impossible to know how many are represented in print without extensive research. Equally clearly there are many cases here which were not published, or published only in part. After Krafft-Ebing's death the collection remained largely untouched and was soon forgotten by all but the Krafft-Ebing family. It remained in the family home in Graz until its transfer to the Wellcome Library in 1998.

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