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||Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) - original name: Harry Heine; in full Christian Johann Heinrich Heine|
German poet of Jewish origin, whose lyrics have inspired such composers as Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Schumann. Heinrich Heine lived at a time of major social and political changes: the French Revolution (1789-99) and the Napoleonic wars deeply influenced thinking. Heine died in Paris, where he had lived from 1831 as one of the central figures of the literary scene. One of Heine's most famous poems is 'Die Lorelei', set to music by Silcher in 1837. It has become one of the most popular of German songs.
"I do not know what haunts me,
Heinrich Heine was born in Düsseldorf. His father was a tradesman, who during the French occupation found new prospects opening up for Jews. When his father's business failed, Heine was sent to Hamburg, where his rich banker uncle Salomon tried to encourage him into a commercial career, without success. Heine studied at the universities of Bonn, Berlin and Göttingen, but was more interested in literature than law, although he eventually took a degree in 1825. Heine's teacher in Berlin, the leading university in Germany, was G.W.F. Hegel, who delivered there his celebrated lectures on the philosophy of history, the philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and the history of philosophy. Though Heine hailed Hegel as "the greatest philosopher Germany has produced since Leibniz", he later satirized his own early enthusiasm by writing that, "Many a time, especially when the pains shift about agonisingly in my spinal column, I am twinged by the doubt whether man is really a two-legged god, as the late Professor Hegel assured me five and twenty years ago in Berlin." (in Heinrich Heine's Memoirs, from His Works, Letters, and Conversations, 1910)
In order to make possible a civil service career, closed to Jews at that time, Heine converted to Protestantism. He also changed his first name from Harry to the more Germanic Heinrich. However, he never practised or held a position in government service.
"You're so lovely as a flower,
Du bist wie eine Blume
Gedichte (1821), with which Heine made his debut as a poet, includes one of his most popular poems, 'Zwei Grenadiere', which reflected Heine's passion for Napoleon. Heine's one-sided infatuation with his cousins Amalie and Therese inspired him to write some of his loveliest lyrics. Buch der Lieder (1827) was Heine's first comprehensive collection of verse; some two-thirds of its poems had appeared in periodicals and his 1822, 1823 and 1826 anthologies. These early works show the influence of folk poetry, but the ironic touch separates Heine from the Romantic mainstream. His writing is always easy-going, his obvervations are meticulously formulated and ordered.
In 1827 Heine visited England, from where he returned disappointed and horrified by formality of behaviour and bourgeois materialism. Heine's summer trips produced the basis for his four volumes of Reisebilder (1826-31), a combination of autobiography, social criticism, and literary debate. In the third volume Heine satirized the poet August von Platen, who had attacked him on his Jewish origins. This act damaged Heine's reputation, and in 1831 he went to Paris as a journalist, to write newspaper articles about the development of democracy and capitalism in France. In 1834 he fell in love with Crecence Eugénie Mirat ("Mathilde" in his poems), an illiterate salesgirl, whom he married seven years later. Mathilde was a spendthrift but during Heine's eight-year-long illness she nursed him faithfully and tenderly. Heine wrote some poems for Mathilde, but they are not among his best.
In Paris Heine reported on French cultural and political affairs, wrote travel books and works on German literature and philosophy, besides publishing poetry. At that time, Paris was the cradle of new ideas: Victor Hugo had published Notre Dame de Paris, Balzac's and George Sand's first novels had appeared, Delacroix and Delaroche were the centers of art salons. Heine's critical views annoyed the German censors, and he had no chance of becoming a prophet in his own country. At the end of 1835 the Federal German Diet tried to enforce a nationwide ban on all his works. Soon Heine found himself surrounded by police spies, and his voluntary exile became a forced one. The poet once stated: "When the heroes go off the stage, the clowns come on."
After a visit to his home country Heine, in defiance of censors in Germany, published a long verse satire, Deutschland: Ein Wintermärchen (1844). This attack on reactionary circles, the political order of the Metternichtian system, was written during his months of friendship with the young Karl Marx. Near the end of the poem, the patron goddess of Hamburg, reveals a vision of Germany's future to the poet-narrator in a chamber pot. In the same year the Silesian weavers protested violently against intolerable working conditions and Heine sided with them in his poem: '"Doomed be the fatherland, false name, / Where nothing thrives but disgrace and shame, / Where flowers are crushed before they unfold, / Where the worm is quickened by rot and mold – We weave, we weave."' Friedrich Engels translated the poem into English, which later guaranteed that the poet became one of the most studied in Communist countries. Marx also read Heine's poems and corresponded with him, in spite of Heine’s saying, that "I agree we are all brothers, but I am the big brother and you are the little brothers." Heine's political views were inconsistent; he called himself a democrat, but admired Napoleon, and sometimes claimed to be a monarchist. He also attacked the deceased German dissident Ludwig Börne.
Heine's efforts as a novelist mostly failed. Der Rabbi von Bacherach, which he began in 1824, was published in part in 1840. Florentinische Nächte was rejected by his publisher. One of the passages in the satirical novel Aus den Memoiren des Herren von Schnabelewopski (1833, The Memoirs of Herrn von Schnabelewopski ), an imitation of Tristram Shandy, inspired Wagner's opera The Flying Dutchman (1843, Der Fliegende Hollander). In this multi-layered fictional memoir a young Polish recalls his life in Germany and the Netherlands. Heine's ironic twist in the folk legend of the Dutchman was "Mrs. Flying Dutchman", who breaks the curse of eternal wandering.
Heine's uncle died in 1844 and left him a small pension; he
also accepted a pension from the French government. After 1844 he
suffered financial reversals and a physical deterioration. According to
some suppositions he suffered either from congenital neuropathy or
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) – "...it
is a very horrible illness which racks me night and day, and has
considerably shaken not only my nervous system but my philosophy," said
From 1848 until his death Heine lay paralyzed, partly blind and heavily sedated on his "mattress grave", but wrote one of his finest collection of verse, Romanzero(1851). Heine's closest friend was his publisher, Julius Campe (1792-1867), whom he both praised and berated. The proposal for the title of Romanzero came from Campe, who promoted the collection with great success. Engels saw Heine in January 1848 and said, “Heine ist am Kaputtgehen. Vor vierzehn Tagen war ich bei ihm, da lag er im Bett und hatte einen Nervenanfall gehabt. Gestern war er auf, aber höchst elend. Er kann keine drei Schritte mehr gehen, er schleicht an den Mauern sich stützend von Fauteuil bis ans Bett und vice versa. Dazu Lärm in seinem Hause, der ihn verrückt macht."
During his last years Heine was interested in combining elements of Christianity and aesthetic paganism. When he earlier had contradicted "sensualism" and "spiritualism", he now dichotomized what he called "Nazarenism" and "Hellenism". Like Marx, he saw that religion is "the opium of the people", especially Christianity is part of the conspiracy, which keeps people in misery and superstitious ignorance.
Heine's last romantic affair was with Camilla Selden, an
Austrian woman, whom he called "Mouche". His poems for Camilla are
among his best love lyrics. Without lapsing into self- pity, he
faced his physical affliction with such poems as
'Morphine', 'Ich seh im Stundenglase schon', 'Es kommt der Tod',
and 'Der Scheidende'. Heine died in Paris on February 17, 1856. His
verse influenced the young Rilke, Wilhelm Busch, and Frank Wedekind,
and a number of other aspiring poets.
Heine's brother Maximilian burned five or six hundred pages of
autobiography, which possibly contained offensive comments about his
family, most likely about his wealthy Uncle Salomon. Long after his
Heine’s work continued to stirr controversy in Germany, and proposals
to erect his statue led to riots. The statue stands now in Bronx, New
York. Because of Heine's Jewish background, the Nazis insisted that the
poet's songs should be marked "author unknown" in poetry collections.
Heine himself was prone to virulent outbursts of anti-Semitism.
Heine's poetry ranged from romantic lyrics about frustrated or bittersweet love to sharp political satire, but he didn't have high hopes that his words would change anything: "You cant' catch rats with syllogisms, / They nimbly jump your finest sophism." (in 'The Migratory Rats') The “last king of Romanticism” had a love-hate relationship with German Romanticism but he produced some of its purest examples in poetry.
For further reading: Heinrich Heine and Giacomo Leopardi by Delia Fabbroni-Giannotti Nisbet (2000); Heinrich Heine's Contested Identities, ed. by Jost Hermand and Robert C. Holub (1999); The Poet As Provocateur by George F. Peters (1999); By the Rivers of Babylon by Roger F. Cook (1998); The Feminine in Heine's Life and Oeuvre by Diana Lynn Justis (1997); The Poet Dying by Ernst Pawel (1995); Heinrich Heine: Poetry & Politics by Nigel Reeves (1994); Mehr Als Ein Liberaler Uber Heinrich Heine by Jost Hermand (1991); Exiles and Ironists: Essays on the Kinship of Heine and Laforgue by Ursula Franklin (1989); Heinrich Heine: Poetry in Context by Michael Perraudin (1989); Der Grosse Heide Nr. 2: Heinrich Heine and the Levels of His Goethe Reception by George F. Peters (1989); Heinrich Heine by Laura Hofrichter (1987); Coal-Smoke and Englishmen by Siegbert Saloman Prawer (1984); Valiant Heart: A Biography of Heinrich Heine by Philip Kossoff (1983); Heinrich Heine by Barker Fairley (1977); Heine the Elusive Poet by Jeffrey L. Sammons (1969); Heine the Tragic Satirist by S.S. Prawer (1961); The Artist in Revolt by Max Brod (1957); Heine: Ein Lesebuch für unsere Zeit by Walther Victor (1955); The Poetry and Prose of Heinrich Heine, ed. by Frederic Ewen (1948); Heine by Louis Untermeyer (1937); Heine: A Life Between Love and Hate by Ludwig Marcuse (1933)