Heine, Heinrich

views updated May 18 2018


HEINE, HEINRICH (originally Ḥayyim or Harry ; 1797–1856), German poet and writer. Though a celebrated romantic poet and a political writer, whose works provoked passionate discussion, Heine produced some of the greatest Jewish verse outside Hebrew or Yiddish. Heine's way of thinking was shaped by the contradictions between his Jewish origin and the intellectual tradition of the enlightenment and is characterized by a specific Jewish perspective on the significance and tradition of Scripture. During his early years his birthplace, Duesseldorf, was part of the Napoleonic Empire (1806–14). The rights of citizenship and equality before the law that the Jews enjoyed under French rule later found expression in works idealizing Napoleon and the achievements of the French Revolution. Although Heine, in childhood and later in his life, was spared the experience of direct persecution, he remained aware of the stigma of Jewishness. The disappointments that affected German liberalism and Rhenish Jewry after Napoleon's overthrow partly account for the conflicts and paradoxes that mark Heine's career.

The German Years (1797–1831)

Heine's ancestors on his father's side, long settled in northern Germany, included prosperous merchants and bankers. His mother came from a respected family of bankers and scholars who had lived in Duesseldorf since the mid-17th century. Heine's father, Samson Heine, was raised traditionally, but his family life was dominated by the secularized Judaism of his wife, Betty Heine (née Peira van Geldern). Heine received a religious education from a private Jewish school and after attending the regular school (1803–7), he was sent to the first Duesseldorf lycée. The founding principal of this institution, which had been established by the French government, Aegidius Jakob Schallmeyer, was an exponent of the late enlightenment in the Rhineland. In his early years Heine experienced the benefits of the assimilated status of the Jews under the French government. Although he was impressed and stimulated by what he heard about the Jewish tradition by his mother's late uncle, the traveler and adventurer Simon van *Geldern, who had visited the Holy Land, his knowledge of Judaism was fragmentary and superimposed on the ideas of the Enlightenment. In 1815 he left school and was sent first to Frankfurt and then later to Hamburg for training in business. In Hamburg he made further acquaintance with his father's family. His uncle Salomon *Heine was one of the wealthiest bankers in northern Germany. Some of Heine's early poems were inspired by a frustrated passion for Salomon's daughter Amalie. Some years later when he fell in love with her sister Therese, Salomon Heine again thwarted his nephew's aspirations. In 1818, after two years in his uncle's business, Harry Heine & Co was established as a branch of his father's Duesseldorf company. The business failed one year later, when his father went into bankruptcy because of the illness that eventually caused his death in 1828. Salomon Heine felt responsible for his nephew's further development and paid for his studies at the universities of Bonn, Berlin, and Goettingen (1819–25). In one way or another he helped him remain financially solvent for many years. In Berlin Heine became a disciple of the philosopher G.W.F. *Hegel, met some of the leading German writers and philosophers at the salons of Rahel (Levin) *Varnhagen von Ense and Elise von Hohenhausen, and published a well-received first verse collection, Gedichte (1822). He also joined the reformist *Verein fuer Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden, becoming its secretary in 1822 and enjoying the friendship of such cultured German Jews as Eduard *Gans, Moses *Moser, Leopold *Zunz, Immanuel *Wohlwill, and Ludwig *Markus. The wider Jewish knowledge that Heine gained in their company was later reflected in works like the fragmentary Der Rabbi von Bacharach (1840), which he began in 1824. Berlin Jewry's indifference to the cultural aims and activities of the Verein led to its collapse, and Heine was incensed and disillusioned by the subsequent apostasy of some of the leading members. After abandoning plans for a journalistic career in Paris, he finally surrendered to the pressure of his environment. He was baptized as a Lutheran in 1825, adopting the Christian name of Johann Christian Heinrich. Heine soon became ashamed of his conversion, which was solely intended to facilitate the gaining of his doctorate of law at Goettingen and the pursuit of his career as a civil servant or academic. He was mistaken, for the doors remained closed: to Jews he was a renegade, to Christians an insincere turncoat or dangerous radical. Although Heine spoke of the baptismal certificate as an "admission ticket (entrée billet) to European culture," it gave him no advantages and for the rest of his life he suffered from the stigma of a convert.

With the Reisebilder, published in four volumes (1826–31), Heine, at the end of the romantic period, introduced into German literature a new and sometimes alarming style, which made him a much acclaimed but at the same time controversial writer. These travel sketches combined the characteristic tone of the German Romantic Movement with the ideas that arose from the French Revolution. He satirized religious bigotry and political reaction and pointed to the necessity of constitutions that would provide for parliamentary government and civil liberty. Their publication led to numerous discussions and a ban on the four volumes in several German states. The most incisive disputes arose with the poet August Graf von Platen (1829) and the writer and critic Wolfgang Menzel (1836), both of whom resorted to antisemitic polemics, which were to prove persistent in public opinion and literary criticism up to the first half of the 20th century. It is an irony that Heine found himself a target of massive antisemitic attacks for the first time in public after his conversion. Besides the Reisebilder, the collection of his early lyrical works, the Buch der Lieder, which was published in 1827, made him one of the most celebrated lyrical poets of the time.

Failing to obtain a chair at the University of Munich in 1828, and fearing sterner police action and a boycott of his works, Heine left Germany. He settled in Paris in 1831, after the liberal July Revolution in France. Four years later, the publication of his works was temporarily suspended by the parliament of the German confederation. Except for two short visits to his family in 1843 and 1844, he never returned to his native country.

The French Years (1831–1856)

In Paris, during the 1830s and 1840s a place of exile for writers and intellectuals from various European countries, Heine found a more congenial atmosphere. He admired the achievements of the 1830 revolution and praised the French capital as a "New Jerusalem." Through his journalistic contributions to the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, the Morgenblatt fuer gebildete Staende, L'Europe littéraire, and the Revue des deux mondes during his first French decade, Heine became an intermediary between the cultural traditions of France and Germany. His writings on France (Ueber die franzoesische Buehne, Franzoesische Maler) and Germany (Die romantische Schule, Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland) were later collected in the four volumes of the Salon (1834–40). These works show that his view of German literature and philosophy was influenced not only by the thinking of Hegel and of Jewish emancipation but also by ideas derived from the Saint-Simonian movement, with which Heine came into contact during his early Paris years.

In the course of the 1830s he became the leading figure of a group of young German writers who were to be known in the history of German literature as Junges Deutschland ("Young Germany"). Yet he fell out with Ludwig *Boerne, the other prominent liberal German writer in Paris, who regarded him as a lukewarm revolutionary. Heine's views of his fellow exile, expressed after Boerne's death in Ludwig Boerne.Eine Denkschrift (1840), provoked enraged reactions by the liberal Germans writers of the time, for whom Boerne was an exponent of the republican idea. It is one of the paradoxical characteristics of antisemitism in 19th century Germany that in the course of the controversy even the conservative and nationalistic press, while rejecting Boerne's liberal ideas, accused Hei ne of being unprincipled and unscrupulous. The spreading of antisemitic stereotypes was thus employed to play off the two exponents of Jewish-German literature in the first half of the 19th century against each other. In response, Heine satirized the younger generation of political writers in the mock epic Atta Troll. Ein Sommernachtstraum (1843). His second mock epic, Deutschland. Ein Wintermaerchen, written in 1843 after a visit to Hamburg and satirizing reactionary German monarchies, made Heine again a target for nationalistic critics who decried him as frivolous and unpatriotic.

Heine's circle during his French years included numerous well-known writers and intellectuals of the time, such as Honoré Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Théophile Gautier, Ferdinand *Lassalle, George Sand, Alexandre *Weill, and Karl *Marx. Another of his acquaintances was James Mayer de *Rothschild. In 1841 he married a non-Jewess, Augustine Crescence Mirat ("Mathilde"), an illiterate Paris shop assistant he had been living with for seven years. Following the death of Salomon Heine in 1844, the poet experienced a serious struggle for a promised annuity, and obtained it only on condition that he refrain from publishing critical memoirs on the Heine family. From 1848 up to his death in 1856 Heine was confined to his "mattress-grave." He himself believed that he suffered from a spinal disease. As no contemporary diagnosis has been handed down, recent research speculates most frequently about venereal infection. In spite of his condition he continued to work as a writer. The late works – Romanzero (1851), Gedichte 1853 und 1854 (1854), Gestaendnisse (1854), Lutezia (1854) – poems, autobiographical reflections, and a compilation of his journalistic writings once more show the characteristic features of this style: they combine irony with pathetic metaphors emphasizing the tradition of German romanticism and the necessity of political and religious emancipation.

Heine and Jewish Tradition

Heine's Judaism has been a matter of controversial discussion. From a biographical point of view, one of the questions has been to what extent he saw himself as a Jew and as an exponent of Jewish culture in Germany. The problematic nature of this issue is due mainly to Heine's technique of blending biographical information and fictitious sketches in his works. Confronted with antisemitic attacks after the short period of Jewish emancipation under the French government, he began playing in his writing a confounding though fascinating game of hide-and-seek concerning his Jewish origin, which reveals his attempt to achieve a synthesis of European culture and Jewish tradition and in retrospect exposes the impossibility of his effort to become part of a Christian-dominated society.

The early tragedy Almansor (1823) is set in Grenada in medieval Spain and emphasizes the persecution of the Jews and Muslims under the reestablished reign of the Catholic kings. Within the historical setting of a drama, which refers to G.E. *Lessing's Nathan der Weise as well as to Heine's own situation in the early 1820s, the author reflected on the problem of Jewish identity within the Diaspora and the conflicts of apostasy. In the fragmentary novel Der Rabbi von Bacherach, which was drafted during his time as a member of the Verein fuer Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden in Berlin, and published in 1840 as a reaction to the *Damascus Affair, he identified himself quite obviously with the cynical, freethinking Don Isaac *Abrabanel, though at the same time stressing the beauty of traditional Jewish ceremonies. He fiercely condemned both French diplomatic intrigues in Syria and the passivity of many French Jews in his "Damascus Letters" for the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, but his articles were published anonymously. His book about Ludwig Boerne was not only a justification of his own political ideas; it was also a polyphonic attempt to show his life in Paris, his suffering abroad in the tradition of the exile of Babylon. In the late Romanzero he included the Hebraeische Melodien, a title consciously borrowed from Lord *Byron's Hebrew Melodies; Prinzessin Sabbat, a fairy-tale evocation of the Jew's transformation on the day of rest; Jehuda ben Halevy, in praise of the great Jewish-Spanish poet and philosopher, and the tragicomic Disputation. Romanzero also contained other poems reflecting Jewish themes, as did his earlier collections of verse.

Not only the works that obviously refer to Jewish topics deal with the problem of Jewish identity. Almost every piece of Heine's prose or verse reflects in one way or another the conflict of his Jewish origin. His modernist view of Judaism is poised between identification with the history of the Jewish people, the Jewish tradition of Scripture, and a feeling of strangeness and exclusion. In some of his writings he stressed the curse of Judaism: the Flying Dutchman in the fragmentary picaresque novel Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewobski (1834) is but a figuration of Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew. His early travel sketch Ideen. Das Buch Le Grand, which can be seen mainly as an attempt to rewrite romantic themes, plays with the Judaism of its author. Reflecting about the female figures in Shakespeare's dramatic works (Shakespeares Maedchen und Frauen, 1839), he gives Shylock, the Jew, a prominent position. Whereas in his early years Lessing, Shakespeare, Homer, and Cervantes became figurations of his own identity as a writer, in his last years Heine wrote a fragmentary poem, Jehuda ben Halevy, which points to the great Jewish poet as one of the ancestors of his writing.

One of the most controversial issues of Heine's Judaism has been the question of whether, in the years of the "mattress-grave," he returned to Jewish belief. When he published the epilogue to the Romancero, in which he quite frankly announced his return to a personal god, the reading public and the critics were shocked. Taking into consideration that the reproach of atheism has a long tradition within German literature and philosophy (Moses *Mendelssohn) and furthermore that one of the main features of Heine's writing is the idea of an emancipation of thought through an ironic and provoking style, and looking at his writings, which paradoxically stress the ideas of continuity and tradition rather than change, it seems as if Heine was always a man of faith – but faith without confession.


Up to the second half of the 20th century Heine remained one of the best-known and most controversial writers in German literature. In the first decades following his death the reading public, the critics, and the scholars emphasized the romantic tone of his early lyrical works and ignored his attempts to renew German romanticism by superimposing the poetical ideas of the romantics on the enlightened conceptions of political and religious emancipation. More than 13,000 recognized musical settings of his poetry supported this attempt. In the course of the decline of nationalism and chauvinism in the late 19th century, Heine's critics emphasized his Jewish descent and his sympathy for the achievements of the French revolution. Resorting to antisemitic stereotypes, critics like Heinrich von Treitschke and Adolf Bartels reviled him as a "Vaterlandsverraeter" (betrayer of his native country), both unprincipled and frivolous. One of the most influential voices in the early reception of his works was Karl *Kraus. In his essay Heine und die Folgen (1910) he pointed to the contrast between the depth of German thought and the frivolous French style, which in his view was introduced into German literature by Heine. It is one of the ironies of the reception of Heine's works that another Jewish writer perpetuated the stereotypes of earlier antisemitic judgments. Nevertheless Heine became one of the most influential German poets and writers. His works influenced Richard Wagner's Flying Dutchman and Tannhaeuser and inspired countless writers, including Matthew Arnold, George *Eliot, George B. Shaw, Charles Baudelaire, Friedrich *Nietzsche, Thomas *Mann, Giorgio *Bassani, Jorge Luis Borges, and Paul *Celan. Heine's influence has been traced in practically all of Western literature, and his poems have been translated into most languages, including English (by Humbert *Wolfe, Louis *Untermeyer, Hal Draper, and Terence J. Reed) and Hebrew (by David *Frishman and Yiẓḥak *Katznelson). Much of Heine's prose work has been translated into Hebrew by S. *Perlman. Outstanding among the works based on Heine's life is Israel *Zangwill's sketch "From a Mattress Grave" (in Dreamers of the Ghetto, 1898).

During the era of National Socialism in Germany (1933–45) Heine's writings were excluded from anthologies and schoolbooks, the publication of his works was suppressed, and on May 10, 1933, his works were burned together with the writings of many other Jewish-German writers and liberal thinkers. After the liberation of Germany in 1945 the East Germans proclaimed Heine an early socialist writer, whereas the West German reception stressed his works as part of the heritage of German culture that had not been abused for the ideological purposes of the Hitler regime.

As numerous editions and translations of his works, congresses, exhibitions, and monuments in Germany and many other countries throughout the world show, Heine has, 150 years after his death, been acknowledged not only as an outstanding poet and writer, but as the founding father of Jewish-German literature.

add. bibliography:

K. Briegleb, Bei den Wassern Babels (1997); K. Briegleb and I. Shedletzky (eds.), Das Jerusalemer Heine-Symposium (2001); R.F. Cook, By the Rivers of Babylon (1998); L. Feuchtwanger, Heinrich Heine's Rabbi von Bacherach (1907); M.H. Gelber (ed.), The Jewish Reception of Heinrich Heine (1992); W. Goetschel and N. Roemer (eds.), The Germanic Review: Heine's Judaism and Its Reception, 74:4 (1999); J. Hessing, Der Traum und der Tod (2005); G. Hoehn, Heine-Handbuch (2004); R.C. Holub, "Heine and the Dialectic of Jewish Emancipation," in: B. Kortlaender and S. Singh (eds.), Heinrich Heines dialektisches Denken (2004); H. Kircher, Heinrich Heine und das Judentum (1973); J.A. Kruse, Heines Hamburger Zeit (1972); E. Lutz, Der Verein fuer Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden (1997); M. Perraudin, "Irrationalismus und juedisches Schicksal," in: J.A. Kruse (ed.), Aufklaerung und Skepsis (1999); P. Peters (ed.), Prinzessin Sabbat. Ueber Juden und Judentum (1997); P. Peters, Heinrich Heine "Dichterjude" (1990); S.S. Prawer, Heine's Jewish Comedy (1983); I. Shedletzky (ed.), Heinrich Heine in Jerusalem (2005); S. Singh, Heinrich Heines Werk im Urteil seiner Zeitgenossen (2006); M. Werner and J.C. Hauschild, "Der Zweck des Lebens ist das Leben selbst" (1997); B. Witte, "Der Ursprung der deutsch-juedischen Literatur in Heinrich Heines Der Rabbi von Bacherach," in: E.G.L. Schrijver and F. Wiesemann (eds.), Die von Geldern Haggadah (1997).

[Godfrey Edmond Silverman /

Sikander Singh (2nd ed.)]

Heinrich Heine

views updated Jun 08 2018

Heinrich Heine

The German author Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) is best known for his lyric poems, a number of which are considered among the best in German literature. His essays on German literary, political, and philosophical thought contain remarkable and frequently prophetic insights.

The career of Heinrich Heine spans the later years of the German romantic movement and the era of the socially and politically conscious literary movement called Young Germany. His work reflects the influence of both schools, but an ingrained satirical sense and a sharp wit prevent his complete subscription to the tenets of either. He hoped to secularize romanticism in a "new (pagan) Hellenism," but his liberal political philosophy rejected contemporary reactionary German regimes as well as revolutionary "mob rule." His self-imposed exile from Germany after 1831 demonstrates his independence and isolation in a lifelong search for personal and national identity.

Heine was born on Dec. 13, 1797, in Düsseldorf. The son of middle-class Jewish parents, he was named Harry after an English friend of the family. His early education included training in both Hebrew and Jesuit schools, and at the insistence of his ambitious mother he was sent to Frankfurt and then to Hamburg to learn banking and business. But the dreamy youth proved unsuited to a life in trade, even with the support of his wealthy uncle Solomon in Hamburg. The principal legacy of Heine's Hamburg years was his unrequited love for his cousin Amalie (and later for her younger sister Therese); his double disappointment was the theme of many of his early lyrics.

University Years

With the financial support of his uncle, Heine entered the University of Bonn in 1819, planning to study law. Here A. W. von Schlegel, professor of literature and a cofounder of German romanticism, encouraged his literary bent. Heine was delighted by such attention but was alienated by the political conservatism of the university administration and by the anti-Semitism he encountered. In 1820 he removed to the University of Göttingen. Conditions there were even less appealing; his inevitable opposition to them soon led to his suspension, and he moved on to the University of Berlin. He attended the lectures of G. W. F. Hegel, and literary sponsors helped him to publish Gedichte (Poems) in 1822. These poems followed romantic conventions but were also marked by a novel use of language and imagery. Lyrisches Intermezzo (1823) and the lyric cycle Heimkehr (1826; Homecoming) show improved command of lyric form and frequently project the simplicity and directness of the folk song and the folk ballad. The dominant theme remains his unhappy love for Amalie and then, in the latter work, for Therese.

After an interlude at home, Heine, at the insistence of his uncle, returned to Göttingen. Upon Christian baptism (a necessary step for Jews who would handle Christian legal clients) he took the name Heinrich and received his law degree in July 1825.

His Travels

A journey on foot through the Harz Mountains and a vacation on the North Sea coast inspired the first volume of Heine's Reisebilder (1826; Travel Pictures), containing the Heimkehrcycle, Die Nordsee (lyrics which introduced sea themes into German literature and which are frequently considered Heine's finest achievement in the form), and Die Harzreise, an account of the Harz journey after the manner of the 18th-century English novelist Laurence Sterne. The freedom of form, which combined prose and poetry and was marked by many fanciful and philosophical digressions, proved congenial to the poet and popular with the public. Heine produced three further volumes in this vein, mirroring his reactions to subsequent travels and experiences in Germany, England (1827), and Italy (1828).

In 1827 Heine gathered together his best lyrics, publishing them as Buch der Lieder (Book of Songs), a collection that enjoyed immense popularity. No previous work had revealed so clearly his lyric range and versatility, wit, and unique mixture of sentiment and satire. The singing quality of his verse appealed to a number of 19th-century composers, including Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert, and Robert Schumann; many poems were given musical settings and remain staples of the concert stage.

Between 1828 and 1831 Heine sought in vain for a secure position. His attempt at political journalism in Munich failed in a few months; by attempting to avoid censurable writing, he succeeded only in stifling his unique gifts. Thereafter the prospects for a university professorship dissolved in the face of conservative opposition and intrigue, and by 1831 he was delighted to be able to emigrate to Paris, hoping for a more congenial atmosphere in the wake of the July Revolution of 1830.

Parisian Exile

Heine's "romantic" period was now virtually at an end, and he determined to devote his energies henceforth to the "realistic" demands of the times. His announced purpose as self-appointed German cultural ambassador was to interpret German thought to the French. The essays in De l'Allemagne (1835) exhibit his own free-wheeling analysis of current German religious, philosophical, and literary theory. The three principal essays are entitled Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland, Die Romantische Schule, and Elementargeister. A second edition included Heine's Geständnisse (Confessions).

In these essays Heine advocated a species of pantheism influenced by Saint-Simonianism. He urged the reestablishment of the fundamental German values that he professed to find in German folklore and the political realization of the revolutionary potential of contemporary German philosophy. In discussing German romanticism, Heine found its otherworldly "spiritualism" exaggerated and outmoded, and he advocated a renewed recognition of sensualistic claims and the joys of the here and now. (His last major blow against an outmoded romanticism, including its tendentious and patriotic wing, was delivered in 1843 in the delightful mock epic poem Atta Troll. ) The great variety of pieces published in several volumes under the title Der Salon (1834 and later) brought to the German public much of Heine's thought, including his reactions to his French experiences.

Later Years

Heine's middle and later poetry—Zeitgedichte (1832-1844; Poems of the Times), Romanzen (1839), Romanzero (1851), and Letzte Gedichte (1853; Last Poems)—reinforce the theme of secularization sounded so strongly in the essays. These works often reflect his pessimism and disillusionment at witnessing the rising tide of 19th-century materialism. In this period there is also a withdrawal from the paganism advocated in his earlier work, induced in some part by the sufferings of Heine's last 8 years, when a spinal affliction and progressive paralysis confined him to his bed. Near the end, it was necessary for him to prop an eyelid open with one hand while writing with the other and, eventually, to dictate his work. To the last he was faithfully cared for by his "Mathilde" (Crescencia Eugenie Mirat), a simple French girl whom he had married in 1841.

In this reduced state Heine acknowledged, but without a trace of self-pity, that he had become convinced of the existence of "one religion for the healthy, and an entirely different one for the sick" and that he no longer regarded himself "the freest German since Goethe."

Heine died on Feb. 17, 1856, and was buried, in accord with his wishes, in the cemetery of Montmartre in Paris.

Further Reading

An extensive selection of Heine's work and a biographical essay are in Frederic Ewen, ed., The Poetry and Prose of Heinrich Heine (1948). Although no single work is generally accepted as definitive, a selection of studies can provide a cross section of the varying treatments of Heine. Eliza M. Butler, Heinrich Heine: A Biography (1956), is a sensitive and enthusiastic appreciation of the manifold and frequently incompatible facets of Heine's personality and work. Max Brod, Heinrich Heine: The Artist in Revolt (1934; trans. 1956), stresses Heine's antiestablishment orientation and re-creates the 19th-century milieu through extensive quotations from Heine and his contemporaries. Heine's political attitudes and his relation to his Jewish heritage are examined in William Rose, Heinrich Heine: Two Studies of His Thought and Feeling (1956). Still useful is Ludwig Marcuse, Heinrich Heine: A Life between Past and Future (1932; trans. 1934).

The critical study by Barker Fairley, Heinrich Heine: An Interpretation (1954), deals with recurrent images and motifs in Heine's poetry and prose and postulates a theory of the unity in Heine's work. A recent study is Jeffrey L. Sammons, Heinrich Heine: The Elusive Poet (1969). Solomon Liptzin, The English Legend of Heinrich Heine (1954), attempts to elucidate the mystery of Heine's international appeal through the context of English criticism from pre-Victorian times to the present. Surveys which discuss Heine are August Closs, The Genius of the German Lyric (1938), and Hermann Boeschenstein, German Literature of the Nineteenth Century (1969). For historical background see Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany (2 vols., 1959-1964).

Additional Sources

Arnold, Matthew, Essays in criticis, London, Cambridge, Macmillan and co., 1865.

Brod, Max, Heinrich Heine: the artist in revolt, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976, 1957.

Butler, E. M. (Eliza Marian), Heinrich Heine, a biography, Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press 1970, 1956.

Fairley, Barker, Heinrich Heine: an interpretation, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977.

Heine, Heinrich, Confessions, Malibu, Calif.: J. Simon, 1981.

Heine, Heinrich, Memoirs, from his works, letters, and conversations, New York, Arno Press, 1973.

Hofrichter, Laura, Heinrich Heine, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987, 1963.

Kossoff, Philip, Valiant heart: a biography of Heinrich Heine, New York: Cornwall Books, 1983.

Pawel, Ernst, The poet dying: Heinrich Heine's last years in Paris, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995.

Robertson, Ritchie, Heine, New York: Grove Press, 1988.

Sammons, Jeffrey L., Heinrich Heine, Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 1991.

Sammons, Jeffrey L., Heinrich Heine: a modern biography, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Spencer, Hanna, Heinrich Heine, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982. □

Heine, Heinrich

views updated Jun 11 2018


HEINE, HEINRICH (1797–1856), German poet and political writer.

Heinrich Heine was born in Düsseldorf into a family of Jewish businessmen, of whom his father was the least effectual; his Uncle Salomon may have been the richest commoner in Germany and came to govern his nephew, who was vexed for the greater part of his life by a fortune unjustly in the hands of the investment banker rather than of the poet. Efforts to prepare Heine for a commercial career having proved unavailing, he was sent to study law, although his main interests were history and literature. As Jewish disabilities were restored after the fall of Napoleon I (r. 1804–1814/15), Heine had himself baptized in 1825 before taking his degree in Göttingen. He had been accumulating a body of poetry, published as Buch der Lieder (1827; Book of songs), mostly about unrequited love, loosely inspired by infatuations with Uncle Salomon's two daughters (and heiresses). The poems urbanize and ironize conventions of Romantic verse with dexterity in meter and rhythm, ingenious rhymes, and outrageous puns. Many were to go out into the world in thousands of musical settings. But at first the public was more interested in his prose works, beginning with Die Harzreise (1826; The Harz journey), included in the first of four volumes of Reisebilder (1826–1831; Travel pictures), amalgams of essay and imagination, fictionalized autobiography, and coded political resistance.

After briefly editing a Munich political journal and traveling in Italy, Heine's attention was riveted by the Revolutions of 1830 as an indication that the torpid world of the Metternichian restoration was turning again. In May 1831, he went to Paris to see for himself and was to remain there for the rest of

his life. With critical sympathy, Heine weighed the stability, revolutionary threats, and class stresses of the July monarchy in pungent newspaper articles on the painting salon of 1831, published as Französische Maler (1834; French painters); on political events during 1832, collected as Französische Zustände (1833; Conditions in France); and on politics and culture from 1840 to 1844, retrospectively revised as Lutezia (1851; Lutetia). He then tried to explain Germany in Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland (1835; On the history of religion and philosophy in Germany) and Die romantische Schule (1836; The Romantic school). These two works were combined for the French as De l'Allemagne (1835; On Germany), in opposition to the book of that name by Anne-Louise-Germaine de Staël (1766–1817), which Heine believed had given a false picture of a poetic, quietistic land; instead he declared Germany to be the true revolutionary nation, its philosophy potentially over-throwing God and Christianity, opening the possibility for this-worldly comfort and pleasure for all people. The central issue of Heine's politics, partly influenced by a temporary allegiance to the French Saint-Simonian movement, was the propagation of a neo-pagan sensualism or Hellenism against repressive, Judeo-Christian spiritualism or "Nazarenism."

During the mid-1840s, Heine associated for some months with Karl Marx (1818–1883) and published ferocious political verse in a second volume of poetry, Neue Gedichte (1844; New poems), as well as the mock-epics Deutschland: Ein Wintermärchen (1844; Germany: A winter's tale), a bitter verse commentary on a clandestine visit home in 1843, and Atta Troll: Ein Sommernachtstraum (1847; Atta Troll: A midsummer night's dream), a spoof of the competing political poets. But Heine's hopes were dashed by the Revolutions of 1848, which coincided with the breakdown of his long-threatened health, confining him in paralysis and pain to his "mattress-grave." He believed his disease to be venereal, but modern observers suspect a neural condition such as multiple sclerosis. Remaining alert and creative almost to his last hour, Heine revised some of his views, announcing a return to God on his own terms in his third volume of poetry, Romanzero (1851; Romancero).

Heine has been the most controversial figure in the history of German literature. His life and career were a series of quarrels and scandals, some the result of his own poor judgment. Insisting upon the superiority of his revolutionary vision, he fought tyranny and oppression while refusing common cause with the dissident liberals or with the Jewish emancipation movement. He was regarded by some as a Frenchified aesthete, lascivious and immoral, politically unreliable, contemptuous of the values of the nation. His poetry remained popular—nearly forty editions of collected works had appeared by the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933—but the opposition to him became stridently anti-Semitic, dramatized by tumults over monuments to him, the most elaborate of which, the Loreley Fountain, intended for Düsseldorf, wound up in the South Bronx, New York City. The modernist sensibility contributed to a devaluation of his poetry around 1900. But the 1960s witnessed a vigorous revival of Heine as a visionary uniting revolutionary purpose with gratification and plenitude, an intermediary link between Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) and Marx, a steadfast cosmopolitan democrat, a courageous opponent of capitalism and superstition, a deep philosopher and prophet. Editions, studies, and public demonstrations proliferated. This enthusiasm has been receding into a more analytic critical practice, but Heine remains for many a world-historical figure.

See alsoGermany; Marx, Karl; Revolutions of 1830; Revolutions of 1848.


Cook, Roger F., ed. A Companion to the Works of Heinrich Heine. Rochester, N.Y., 2002.

Höhn, Gerhard. Heine-Handbuch: Zeit, Person, Werk. 3rd rev. ed. Stuttgart, 2004.

Kruse, Joseph A. Heinrich Heine: Leben und Werk in Daten und Bildern. Frankfurt am Main, 1983.

Liedtke, Christian. Heinrich Heine. Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1997.

Mende, Fritz. Heinrich Heine: Chronik seines Lebens und Werkes. 2nd rev. ed. Berlin, 1981.

Peters, George F. The Poet as Provocateur: Heinrich Heine and His Critics. Rochester, N.Y., 2000.

Sammons, Jeffrey L. Heinrich Heine: A Modern Biography. Princeton, N.J., 1979.

Sternberger, Dolf. Heinrich Heine und die Abschaffung der Sünde. Hamburg, 1972.

Windfuhr, Manfred. Rätsel Heine: Autorprofil—Werk—Wirkung. Heidelberg, 1997.

Jeffrey L. Sammons

Heine, Heinrich

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Heine, Heinrich (1797–1856) German poet and prose writer. The Book of Songs (1827), a collection of verse, is his best-known work. It was followed by the four-volume satirical Pictures of Travel (1826–31). Schumann and Schubert both set his lyrics to music.

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