Johann Michael Hudtwalcker (21 September 1747 – 14 December 1818) had «in decisive extent» (A.-Ch. Trepp) contributed to the expansion of the basics of the way of thinking in the Age of Enlightment in mercantile communities of Hamburg and northern Germany, and to a certain extent, the popularization of the ideas of poets and philosophers. He was a member of that group of proponents of the Enlightment, to whom the promotion of common public interest lied at heart as a practical implementation of ethical and moral goals.
Their concept of Enlightment had a significant component of Protestant influence. They wanted to help, and to educate people in order they could help themselves. However, they were also supposed to serve as models with their own behaviour, as Johann Michael Hudtwalcker stated after a lecture of Georg Heinrich Sieveking (1) on 7 November 1791 in patriotic community of Hamburg (2).
Johann Michael was born in 1747 as the son of Eldermen (3) Jacob Hinrich Hudtwalcker, 1710 – 1781 and Sarah Hudtwalcker, maiden name Ehlers. His father, the son of a cheesemonger (Johann Hudtwalcker, died in 1720) – after an apprenticeship under Meinert von Winthem (a merchant who was distributing herrings, fish oil and fish products) – he founded the company “Hudtwalcker & Co.” in Altona in April 1743. The company specialised in the trade of whale and fish oils.
In his childhood and adolescent years, Johann Michael received a solid education, which soon put him in a position to make his own decisions and to speak in public. At the age of twelve, he started to learn French. The knowledge of the English language was inevitable for the sons of Hamburg’s merchants, and his English teacher was a scribe at the Chamber of Commerce in Hamburg. After his confirmation, Johann Michael joined his father in the office and became more enthusiastic about his difficult job than about attending school, the Hamburg Johanneum.
Reading, to which he was encouraged, provided him access to literature through Gellert’s (4) and Hagedorn’s (5) handwritings. After 1760 Johann Michael Hudtwalcker belonged to the readership of Berlin’s «Letters on Literature» and the Leipzig “Library of Beautiful Sciences «. Thus, the young man was already familiar with the literary culture of his time and in his older age he took up the pen and left many socio-political writings and several poems behind him. On 21 June 1775 he married Elisabeth Moller, 1752 – 1804, with whom he had nine children.
After the death of his father in 1781, he led the trading house by himself. He was one of the founders of a literary association and a reading society in Hamburg. In 1783 he began to meet with scholars, lawyers and merchants at dinner parties, which evolved into the shaping of public opinion in the city state of Hamburg.
On 18 January 1788 Johann Michael was elected a Senator in the Council of the City of Hamburg. At the end of the «French period», and after the restoration of the old Hamburg constitution on 30 May 1814, he retired from his position as elderman (city council member) due to his age and bad health, and died four years later at the age of 72.
Hudtwalcker had shown his enlightened and social attitude, not only in public engagement, but also in on the field of poor relief. His attitude remained consistent even towards his own family.
Johann Michael Hudtwalcker, who had been complaining on the inadequate training of women in the 18th century, using his own mater as an example, treated his wife almost as an equal. He ensured her involvement in his reading, and in order to encourage her talent as a painter, he even travelled with her on her six week travel and visits to the most important German museums. Hudtwalcker emphasized the intellect of his wife and welcomed that she sought advise in books about parenting.
Peter Schumann, John Michael Hudtwalcker