8750 Glarus, Switzerland
Heinrich Hössli (6 August 1784 in Glarus – 24 December 1864 in Winterthur), sometimes written as Hößli, was a Swiss hatter and author. His book Eros Die Männerliebe der Griechen (2 vols., 1836, 1838) surveyed references to same-sex love in ancient Greek literature and more recent research, and was one of the first works in the 19th century that defended love between men. Eros. Die Männerliebe der Griechen might seem an obscure and chaotic work, but it had a lively effect on later developments. It was an inspiration to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and a major source for Albert Moll’s influential study of 1891. Hössli, whose second son was homosexual, had been horrified by the torture and execution of a lawyer in Berne in 1817. Franz Desgouttes had murdered his young secretary, but the court’s unusual cruelty was clearly motivated by Desgouttes’s homosexual passion for his victim. Hössli asked the popular writer Heinrich Zschokke to write a novella on the subject but was disappointed with the result: Der Eros, ‘a conversation about love’, was a disquisition rather than a defence. Hössli decided to write his own Eros. His main ideas were that human laws were not the same as Nature’s laws, that ‘Greek love’ had been maligned by Christian propagandists, and that ‘sexual nature’ is not a matter of choice. But the real force of his book lay in the anthology of texts which presented homosexuality as something civilized and beautiful: Aristotle, Socrates, Horace, Saadi, etc. Hössli’s shopful of texts must have been a revelation to his readers. From a historical point of view, the book itself is probably less significant than the fact that a man who made hats for a living and had no obvious talent for writing spent several years and a lot of money trying to write and publish it.
Hössli was born on 6 August 1784 in Glarus in Switzerland, the oldest of 14 children, to hatter Hans Jakob Hössli (1758–1846) and Margreth Vogel (1757–1831). He learned his father's occupation in Bern. Back in Glarus he worked as hatter and also started a business in trading women's clothing. His hats for women were famous in the region. In 1811 he married Elisabeth Grebel, and had two sons, who emigrated to the United States. For most of his marriage his wife and sons lived in Zurich while he himself lived in Glarus.
One son disappeared; the other son, Johann Ulrich, who had corresponded with his father about his own homosexuality, died in a shipwreck in 1854 while returning to Switzerland. (There are indications in his writings that Hössli himself was also homosexual.) A successful businessman, Hössli was able to live a comfortable, if restless life, moving his residence many times. He died in Winterthur, Switzerland, on December 24, 1864.
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