Hoffmann , Ernst Theodor Wilhelm (Amadeus), a German author, born in Konigsberg, Jan. 24, 1776, died in Berlin, July 24, 1822. He manifested an early taste for music and drawing, studied law at the university of his native place, graduated in 1795, and in 1796 began practice at Glogau. He was soon afterward appointed referendary to the superior court of Berlin, and in 1800 was named assessor of the province of Posen; but having drawn a number of caricatures containing allusions to the "scandalous chronicle" of the city of Posen, the minister, instead of signing his appointment as councillor, sent him to Plock (1802). Before his departure Hoffmann married a young Polish lady, who shared his exile. While at Plock he wrote much, composed masses and a grand sonata, and copied in pen drawing all the vases of the Hamilton collection. In 1803 he was appointed counsellor of the regency at Warsaw, where his life became a strange mixture of legal duties and theatrical management, his clients visiting him behind the scenes, where he was painting or training musicians.
The entry of the French army reducing him to poverty, he wandered to Berlin and Bamberg, and was finally invited by Rochlitz, his future biographer, to write for the newspaper which the latter then edited at Leipsic. His sufferings at this period were great and varied. He lost his daughter, saw his wife shockingly maimed by an accident, and had his system shaken by a nervous fever. But during eight years he was always busy, passing his nights in revels, and his days as editor, leader of an orchestra, translator, designing machinist, fresco painter, or church singer, and finally became, with Holbein, director of the theatre of Bamberg. In 1816 he was appointed counsellor of the court of appeal, and soon became famous for his musical compositions. His means were now abundant, and his eccentricities and dissipations were redoubled. He was sought by the first society, but took refuge in wine cellars among wild companions. To render his dissipation less gross and public, his literary friends formed a club known as the Serapionsbruder, and the results of their meetings were written by Hoffmann in the form of a collection of articles bearing the same name, which contains his best tales (4 vols., Berlin, 1819-'21; with a supplementary volume, 1825). One of his most characteristic books, all of which are marked by an extraordinary exuberance of fancy and replete with grotesque caricature, is Die Elix-ire des Teufels (Berlin, 1816). Toward the close of his life he was afflicted with a painful disease; but he dictated a number of curious books, among which is Lebensansichten des Katers Murr, occasioned by the death of a favorite cat.
There is a complete edition of his works in 12 vols. (Berlin, 1857).