Franz Xaver Kappus was an Austrian military officer, journalist, editor and writer who wrote poetry, short-stories, novels and screenplays. Kappus is known chiefly as the military academy cadet who wrote to Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) for advice in a series of letters from 1902 to 1908 that were assembled and published in the best-selling book Letters to a Young Poet (1929).
Franz Xaver Kappus was born on 17 May 1883 in Timișoara (also known as German: Temeschwar, Temeschburg or Temeswar, in Hungarian: Temesvár), in the Banat province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Banat region (now divided between Hungary, Serbia and Romania) was populated with a large population of ethnic Germans known as Banat Swabians or Danube Swabians of which Kappus' ancestry is derived. As a 19-year old officer cadet at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt, Lower Austria, Kappus write to Rainer Maria Rilke after learning that as a young man, Rilke, the son of an Austrian army officer, had studied at the academy's lower school at Sankt Pölten in the 1890s. Kappus corresponded with Rilke, then a popular poet at the beginning of his career, in a series of letters from 1902 to 1908 in which he sought Rilke's advice as to the quality of his poetry, and in deciding between a literary career or a career as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army.
Aside from his role in writing to Rilke and later publishing these letters, Kappus is largely forgotten by history. Despite the hesitancy he expressed in his letters to Rilke about pursuing a military career, he continued his military studies and served for 15 years as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army. During the course of his life, he worked as an newspaper editor and journalist, writing poems, humorous sketches, short-stories, novels, and adapted several works (including his own) into screenplays for films in the 1930s. However, Kappus did not achieve lasting fame. After World War I, he was the editor of several newspapers, including Kappus Deutsche Wacht (trans. "Kappus' German Watch"), later known as Banater Tagblatt (trans. "Banat Daily"), and other newspapers Temeswarer Zeitung (trans. "Timisoara Newspaper"), and the Swabische Volkspresse (trans. "Swabian People's Press"). After World War II, he founded the Freie Demokratische Partei (trans. "Free Democratic Party") affiliated with ideology of classical liberalism in Berlin.
Kappus died on 9 October 1966 in Berlin, Germany at the age of 82.