The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Der arme Heinrich

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Der arme Heinrich
Edition of 1920. See also Der arme Heinrich on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

DER ARME HEINRICH, a courtly epic, written by the Middle High German poet Hartmann von Aue in the decade between 1190 and 1200. Its source is an unknown Latin work, probably the family chronicle of the lords of Aue to whose family Hartmann belonged. Differing from most of the knights of his time, he proudly boasted that he was able to read books, i.e., Latin books. He tells us, moreover, that he began to interpret a tale he found in writing. The poem relates the touching story of how Prince Henry was cured of the dread disease of leprosy by the devotion and sacrifice of a little girl. In the midst of worldly honors the prince had been suddenly smitten by leprosy, and, forsaken by all his courtiers and friends, took refuge in the house of one of his tenant farmers, whose little 12-year-old daughter cared for him tenderly. Henry in return soon became fond of her, gsve her many presents, and called her in jest “his little wife.” Learning one day that her master could be cured by the blood of an innocent maid she determined to sacrifice herself. After much difficulty she obtained her parent's consent, and made the journey with the prince to Salerno. Henry, touched by her devotion and by her wondrous beauty, as she lay stripped upon the surgeon's table awaiting the fatal knife, refused to accept the sacrifice. On their homeward journey, however, his skin was restored to its former purity, and he rewarded the maid's devotion by making her his wife. Thee monkish origin of the piece is shown by the fact that this 12-year-old girl is prompted to her sacrifice mainly by the nope of winning heaven, and talks like a learned monk on the wickedness of this world and the raptures of heavenly bliss. The subject is a repulsive one, but with delicate tact Hartmann avoided all descriptions of the loathsome disease, and, as the poet Uhland once said, cast over the old legend so soft and subdued a light that it is one of the most charming tales of the Middle Ages. In modern times it has been worked up in English by Longfellow in his ‘Golden Legend’ and by Rosetti in ‘Henry the Leper.’ Many German writers have attempted to modernize the legend, the most important of whom are Gerhard Hauptmann in a verse drama and Ricarda Huch in a prose tale. Consult Tarbell, H., ‘Der arme Heinrich in der neueren Dichtung.’ The best German editions are those of Wackernagel-Toischer (Basel 1885); Bech (3d ed., 1891), and Paul, H. (2d ed., 1893). A good English edition is that of J. G. Robertson (London 1895).

Daniel B. Shumway.