My Dear Hugo!

Hugo Fabry

Lucky charm: Hugo wore a tie-pin like this one, shaped as a horseshoe, in the handsome potrait showing him before he fell ill. Source:

After telling you a lot about my four-times-great-grandmother, Fanny, I’d like to talk about her husband, Hugo, who was born in 1830. He remarried after his wife passed away, I don’t know the exact date, but he was probably in his early 50s. His second wife was called Christine, and with her he had another child, Fritz, 13 years after Fanny had given birth to the youngest of their six children. Though I wasn’t that fascinated with Hugo and Christine as I had been with Fanny, this has changed greatly since I poked around in an archive and got my hands on Hugo’s medical file. He was a patient in a psychiatric hospital for the last two years of his life until he passed away in 1896. Next to the clinical reports, I found items of persona correspondence, a letter from Christine to her husband and one he intended to send to her as well as letters the family wrote to the director of the hospital and Hugo’s doctor. To read about Hugo’s state of health was touching enough, but the personal writings revealed much about how my ancestors actually lived. Especially Christine tells a lot about her living conditions. I’ve grown to respect her greatly for all of the achievement she proved to be capable of. She was the person discovering, five years before she accompanied him to the hospital, that her husband’s character was changing. At times, Hugo cried or was agitated and became more and more unable to fullfil his work in a tax commissionership sufficiently – so he was retired. The file contained a great deal of information about Hugo’s state of health and his decline, but I especially remember one short, summarising passage, which I would like to share with you:

As far as known, no mental illness inherited. Developed normally, also was a good student. Married twice, happy marriage, economised. Approximately five years ago, the wife noticed the change of her husband’s character. He became snappish about trifles, upset, cried; headaches, insomnia occurred. He became more and more incapable of performing his tasks as an assistant in a tax commissionership leading to him having to retire in 1891. His condition worsened steadily. Currently, he is apathetic, occasionally aroused and then becomes violent; has in this condition repeatedly attempted suicide. Doesn’t get along with his toilette that well anymore. Coordination disorder, increased patellar reflex, slow reaction of the pupil, paralytic language disorder, facial nerve paralysis, twitching of facial musculature.

Hospital Hofheim
The psychiatric hospital Hugo stayed in. This pictured shows the facilities in 1854, but they must have looked similar when he stayed there. Source:

I’m not an expert on these sort of things, but to me it looks as if Hugo might have had a strokelet which went by unnoticed, but had sincere consequences. It affected his speaking abilities and restricted him physically, probably leading to the development of an depression as well. He couldn’t do his job the way he used to and maybe felt useless and disabled. Also, his wife and a child had died previously, which might have occured more often these days but must have been an utterly hurtful experience nevertheless. Physical and mental instability may have mutally influenced each other and therefore both increased towards Hugo’s final years. He sometimes had phases when he became aggressive, such a situation occured on January 18 in 1896. The supervisor wrote about his patient:

bose 2
Hugo’s uncle (shown here in his younger years) supported him financially.

Was in a bad mood today and explained, crying, he’d hit his wife in the face when she would visit him, she had taken him here to get rid of him, he asks for a holiday of 3 days to visit his uncle in D., the latter should give her [the wife] a tongue-lashing.

Next to an empty piece of paper, Hugo intended to send a little note to his wife. On the envelope he wrote: “Asking for two of my new handkerchiefs”.

Hugo himself had attempted to write a letter to his wife Christine on 2 January but it wasn’t sent to her. I don’t know if Hugo’s mood changed very quickly (which might have been likely) or if his behaviour was the reaction to the fact that the letter never reached his wife and she therefore couldn’t send him an answer. He wrote as follows:

[unreadable] … there is no news of you and I ask you for it! Uncle in D. doesn’t answer me as usual, so I’m left alone. […] Therefore be so kind and let me know something. I lack pen, ink, paper and everything one needs for writing. I don’t want to write too much. Yours, Hugo who wishes you all the best.

To me, these are lines written by an affectionate husband and father, but a broken man. He was ill and exhausted; often preferred it to stay in his room instead of taking the air. The uncle from D. is mentioned several times both by Christine and Hugo and the medical file also contained a letter he wrote. I didn’t fully understand the situation, but he probably supported the family financially and acted as a sort of warden for his older sister’s son, though it’s surely not the proper term. I did a bit of research and it turned out he was a director of forests, a wealthy man who wrote books and dressed very primly. In a letter Christine wrote to Hugo in 1895, she told a lot about her situation in life and the daily challenges she had to deal with. Reading this, I started to hold her in great esteem. There was love in this letter, love and distress.

My dear Hugo! Because I am unable to see you in person, I have to write to you. Fritz and me intended to visit you for Christmas, but God decided otherwise. Dear Hugo, you must not think we forgot you.

Then she described how their son, Fritz, a boy of about 13, hurt his eye when setting up a mouse trap. Because of the open wound the eye developed a cataract and he had to undergo surgery. What a terrible shock it must have been. She wrote: “Who counts the tears, who knows the pain of a mother!”. Christine hoped the doctor was right when telling her that the boy wouldn’t see that well in the beginning, but was very likely to regain proper sight. She went on as follows:

Brief Christine Fabry 19.01.1895, Teil 1
With husband and child both in hospital, Christine was extremely challenged. She told Hugo about it in a letter, but still found the most encouraging words.

Just think what a Christmas the poor child has! Dear Hugo, be contented, all of us don’t have a proper Christmas, maybe better days will come […] I hope to be able to press Fritz close to my heart again in a fortnight, 3 weeks. You will get better as well and return to us, just be patient, put yourself in my place, I’m only writing to all the world and still have to sustain myself for my duties. We’ll visit you as soon as possible, write to me but let me write to you. Margarethe and Emil [one of his daughters from his first marriage] will come soon if they haven’t visited you yet. Uncle B. would have liked to come, but he’s too anxious to travel [he was 83 years of age]. The director and Doctor M. will expect him and I unfortunate woman am at my wit’s end about the bills. Please tell Doctur M. to approach Uncle B. and the authority. […] You only have one pair of trousers over there and here are a jacket and another pair, I don’t know what to do. Hopefully, you will be able to go out once in a while, just like you did here, and have a glass of beer. I end hoping that everything will end well. Fritz and me greet and kiss you warmly. Christine

I thought about the way Christine imagined her husband’s life to be like. She obviously was convinced that he could leave the institution to go to the pub and have a drink. From what I read, Hugo was only able to take the air in the yard and later he refused to do even that, because he got weaker and weaker. There were some violent outbreaks from time to time; once he kicked a fellow ward in the shin until he was seriously wounded. Hugo often cried, for example when he thought he had lost his glasses. He was confused and often asked the doctor to examine him, for example his tongue. There are many remarkable quotes, one of which I’d like to share. It’s an entry from 21 December 1895:

Said today, the doctor should examine him, he was ill. As the doctor, while he was telling him this, listened to another ward, he reluctantly walked away and said: “If you don’t want to attend to me, I can just kick the bucket anyway”. When the doctor examined him and didn’t find anything – he had complained about his tongue – he said: “Mr H. had told me that I was ill and when Mr H. sees it, you as a doctor have to see it, too!”.

Hugo didn’t give up on his tongue complaint and repeatedly asked the doctor about it. I’m not sure if there might have been a sort of neuralgia. Maybe, the paresis also affected his tongue. Otherwise, I was wondering if that Mr H. told Hugo about his mental illness and he simply tried to cope with it and somehow, probably even unconciously, wanted to reduce it to some physical defect. He could also have had phantom pain – sometimes patients of depression complain about causeless backache as well. When walking in the yard, he moved in circles, pulling his left leg behind. He had a severe coordination disorder and fell down at times. His paresis got worse and confined him to his bed. Being unable to eat, he was fed. On 28 September 1896, he passed away. Though I was shocked by the plain record in his file, I want to share it with you. These were different times. I just hope that dear Hugo wasn’t treated so very badly. After all, his wife enabled him to stay with his family as long as possible.

EPSON scanner image
Suffering from paresis and probably post-stroke depression, Hugo was ravaged by disease.

Died this morning at 6:45, after he had already not taken in anything yesterday, had stared constantly and his arms and legs had been completely cold.

6 thoughts on “My Dear Hugo!

  1. Parkinson’s Disease can cause depression, facial paralysis (mask), movement disorders, etc. The only thing that would be curious is his handwriting. I don’t know what the date was on the note he had written but I would expect it to be affected a bit more. Maybe he had CJD from eating squirrel brain. Or Huntington’s. Or frontal lobe dementia. Or a brain tumor. Very well written! How exciting to find all of that correspondance!


    1. He wrote that letter about eight months before he died, so I’m wondering about the handwriting as well. But they wrote he couldn’t eat on his own later on which could on the other hand indicate Parkinson’s.
      And I just discovered something quite thrilling: they tested him, and even though he couldn’t even give his birthday, he was much more correct when writing. I’ve no idea what this could mean, would you come to any conclusions? And he complained about his tongue so clearly. And then, his temporary aggressions, then anxiety and crying, his attempts of taking his life.
      Thank you so much for your reply. I’m glad that someone takes an interest in dear Hugo.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s