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The New International Encyclopædia/Heine, Heinrich

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HEINE, hī'ne, Heinrich (1797-1856). The greatest lyric poet of modern Germany, born in Düsseldorf, December 13, 1797 (some authorities, 1799). He was called by himself the last of the Romanticists, and by Matthew Arnold the continuator of Goethe, and was the only writer of primary importance in German literature since Goethe's death. “Your grandfather,” he says he was told, “was a little Jew, and had a big beard.” He had shrewd sons, for all of them won a competence, and Heine's uncle Salomon became one of the wealthiest bankers of Hamburg. His father had but small part in his life. His mother (named von Geldern), to whom he showed a constant devotion till his death, gave to his fantastic and romantic nature a joy of life and a spirit of naturalism that make him akin to Goethe. He was a precocious boy, educated in a desultory way by Roman Catholic monks and French ‘philosophes,’ with the result that he became a skeptic before he had any faith to lose. He seems to have suffered little from race prejudice in youth, and for that he was grateful to France and to Napoleon, for whom he retained a kind of hero-worship, and so had little sympathy with the War of Liberation (1813-14), that ‘contracted the heart so that men learned to hate what was foreign and in ceasing to be citizens of the world became only narrowly German.’ No reproach belongs to him that he found small inspiration to patriotism in the thirty years that followed Waterloo.

While preparing himself to become a merchant and learning English, French, and Italian, he began to write poetry under the inspiration of a child-love for ‘Veronica,’ probably also the ‘Reseda’ of early poems. He conceived a passing affection, too, for an executioner's daughter, Josepha, the subject of several poems, of his “Dream Pictures,” and of the most exquisite passage in his memoirs. She was, he says, his ‘love's purgatory’ before he fell into love's hell in his unrequited affection for his cousin Amalie at Hamburg, whither he went in 1816. He tried to set up a business there in 1818, but he liked neither the business nor the city. For Amalie, under the names Ottilie, Maria, Clara, Evelina, Agnes, Juliana, he voiced his passion in many beautiful songs, and it has since been made the subject of two novels, Zianirtza's Heinrich Heine der Liederdichter (1864). and Dietz's Heinrich Heines erste Liebe (1870). He failed in business, and at the expense of his uncle and Amalie's father, who aided him generously through life, he went in 1819 to study law at Bonn, where he came under the influence of A. W. Schlegel, and the Romantic School, in so far as it stood for the reawakening of the poetic spirit of the Middle Ages. He shared with them also a gift of irony, though in him this sprang from the incompatibility of two elements in his nature, a Greek joy of life inherited from his mother, and fostered by the influence of Goethe, and a congenital Hebrew earnestness. There was never harmony between these antinomies of his character, and from their jarring came a mocking spirit that he possessed in higher degree than any writer of the century. At Bonn under this new influence Heine wrote more lyrics and had begun a tragedy, Almansor, when he left Bonn for Göttingen, and being soon suspended from the university there for participation in a frustrated duel he went to Berlin, where he came under the philosophic influence of Hegel and associated with Grabbe, Immermann, Willibald Alexis, Gans, Moser, Zunz, Chamisso, Fouqué, and particularly with Varnhagen and his Rahel, who led him to a juster appreciation of Goethe, though he never became one of his unqualified admirers.

In Berlin, Heine's genius found warm appreciation. He essayed journalism, and in 1822 published a volume of poems (Gedichte), which for delicacy, fancy, conciseness, originality, and depth of lyric expression had no equal in Germany. A second volume (1823) contained the Lyrisches Intermezzo, which served to carry off two tragedies, Almansor and Ratcliff, his sole dramatic efforts. The Intermezzo is more bitter, reckless, sensual, than the Poems, but contains some of his most perfect lyrics. At home, Heine tells us, his mother read it and did not like it; his sister tolerated it; his brothers did not understand it, and his father did not read it at all. In 1823 a visit to the North Sea inspired Heimkehr, which with the later North Sea cycle (Nordsee) are Germany's best poems of the sea, worthy to rank with the best of Byron or Shelley. The year 1824 brought him to Göttingen again, and in June, 1825, he submitted to baptism that he might obtain an advocate's license. “I assure you,” he writes to a friend, “if the law had allowed stealing silver spoons instead, I should not have been baptized.” This dishonor, forced on him by the State, makes a melancholy close to a brilliant university career. During the second stay at Göttingen Heine made the tour of the Harz Mountains and wrote the Harzreise (1826), the best known of his prose works. After taking his degree he revisited the North Sea and wrote Norderncy, incorporated with the Harzreise in the Reisebilder (Pictures of Travel), which later embraced also Das Buch Le Grand and Die Büder von Lucca. Such light, easy, sparkling prose, such graceful, daring, bubbling wit, had never yet been known in Germany, and the Reisebilder remains an unapproached model. Heine in this field has never been equaled save by himself, and he has not always maintained the level of the Harzreise. The Buch Le Grand, written in 1820, was revolutionary in tendency and in its admiration for Napoleon. Heine thought it safer to abide its publication in England (1827). It was enthusiastically received and generally prohibited by the police. It was graceful, grotesque, cynical, naïve; it had a brilliancy, a vigor, a keenness of scorn, a fire of enthusiasm that have seldom been surpassed. Heine made but a short stay in England, which was not congenial to him. He said, “The ocean would have swallowed it long ago if he had not been afraid it would make him seasick.” He admired, however, the liberty of England. In September, 1827, he was again in Hamburg, seeing through the press his collected lyrics, the now famous Buch der Lieder. Thence he went to Munich, tried journalism, hoped in vain for a Government post, and in July, 1828, went disappointed to Italy, a journey that he describes after his manner in Die Büder von Lucca — brilliant, witty, entertaining, immoral, coarse, revolutionary, and atheistic. After this Prussia was closed to him; influential men had been made his mortal enemies wantonly, and in the case of the poet Platen Heine's enmity assumed an utterly indefensible shape. Having been recalled to Hamburg by his father's death, Heine went in 1829 to Helgoland, where he gave himself up for two months to the fascination of the sea. He returned to his family in Hamburg famous throughout Germany as the author of the Reisebilder, the third volume of which appeared early in 1830, but as much feared as admired, and fiercely attacked on the part of those whom his reckless satire had wounded. Prussia, where the government had prohibited the circulation of the third volume of the Reisebilder, was now closed to him, and the thought of a professorship, which he had long cherished, had to be abandoned. He turned his thoughts to Paris. The news of the French Revolution of 1830 reached him in Helgoland, where he spent the summer of that year, and filled him with enthusiasm. May, 1831, saw Heine in Paris, which remained his home till death.

Heine's first years in Paris were busied with journalism and dreary feuds with German Liberals. He soon found himself at home in the French capital, and enjoyed the society of Madame Récamier, Balzac, Dumas, George Sand, Béranger, Thiers, Chopin, Liszt, Berlioz, and many lesser celebrities. He considered it his mission to draw Germany and France closer together, and wrote a series of papers on French conditions for the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, which he republished in French. But not a few of his letters to the German press, even his art critiques, fell under the censor's pencil. In 1833, however, his acute critical study, Die romantische Schule, established his fame in France and opened to him the great Revue des Deux Mondes, in which he printed his History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany since Luther, a work of brilliant suggestiveness, which afterwards appeared in Heine's own German version as Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland. The satiric Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski, half autobiographic, belong to this time. The scandal caused by his irregular life was checked by his “conscience-marriage” with Mathilde Mirat (1834). They were legally married in 1841, and remained closely attached till the poet's death. He had provided for her and she lived till 1883. Financial embarrassments now led Heine to seek a pension from the French Government. Though he had always criticised his patrons freely, the fact was bitterly remembered against him when it became known in 1848. From 1834 to 1842 his literary work is comparatively unimportant. A fragment of a novel, Florentinische Nächte, an essay on German mythology, and a slanderous attack on his fellow exile and journalistic critic Börne, may be merely mentioned. But in 1842 he wrote Atta Troll (Hamburg, 1847), a brilliant poetic satire on German politicians and on the Romantic School, and in 1843 a brief visit to Germany evoked Neue Gedichte and Deutschland, ein Wintermärchen (1844) keenly satiric, which became immensely popular. Disease now laid an unrelaxing hand on him. His eyes were affected, then his vocal cords, then his spine. The death of his patron, Salomon Heine, and the disgraceful meanness of his heir added to his sufferings. But these years of patiently borne sufferings show Heine in a nobler light than any in which he had yet appeared. In sleepless nights he composed wonderful songs on his ‘mattress-grave.’ His legs were paralyzed; to see he was obliged to hold up an eyelid with an emaciated finger; his hearing was weak. It was, he said, “a grave without rest, death without the privileges of the departed.” But it brought a deeper, almost a spiritual earnestness into his life. He “returned to God like a Prodigal Son, after tending swine with the Hegelians.” In this mood he wrote the poems of Romancero (1851), so tender, so melodious, so exquisite in fancy, that it seems almost past belief that they should have been the product of the sleepless nights of a bedridden sufferer; humorous pieces, like “The White Elephant,” fierce political songs. like “The Weaver's Marseillaise,” and the weird “Lazarus Cycle,” written under the very shadow of death. Never had Heine been so many-sided as now. He continued to work as long as he could hear and speak. Many friends cheered him, among them, as poems testify, the talented Camille Selden and his ‘little fairy,’ the motherly Caroline Jaubert. Two miscellaneous volumes, headed by Geständnisse, appeared in 1854. His Memoirs, of which some parts have been published, occupied him to the eve of his death. His last words were, “Paper and pencil.” He died February 17, 1856, and was buried in Montmartre Cemetery, without religious service. Heine was essentially a realist, a revolutionary reformer, but never a blinded partisan. He speaks for a restless, questioning, dissatisfied age that has lost for the moment its ethical moorings. He is the most delicate and graceful song-writer and incomparably the wittiest, clearest, and keenest satirist of Germany, and so he is read with delight by an introspective and critical generation.

Heine's Works appeared in twenty-one volumes (1861-63) and in twenty volumes (l865). They have been often reëdited. Translations of the Poems by E. A. Bowring are in Bohn's library. There is an American translation of the Pictures of Travel and a version of the Works (incomplete) by Leland. Wit, Wisdom, and Pathos of Heinrich Heine, by J. Snodgrass (London, 1888), is a collection of excerpts. The best English critique of Heine is in Matthew Arnold's Essays. There is an English Life, Work, and Opinions of Heinrich Heine, by Stigand (London, 1876). The most complete German biography is by Strodtmann (3d ed., Berlin, 1884). Consult also those by Prölss (Stuttgart, 1886); Karpeles (Berlin, 1888); also his Heine. Aus seinem Leben und aus seiner Zeit (Leipzig, 1899). Keiter (Cologne, 1891), besides Brandes, Das junge Deutschland (Leipzig, 1890), and id., Die Litteratur des 19. Jahrhunderts, vol. vi. (ib., 1891); Zetz, Heine in Frankreich (Zurich, 1895); Mietzki, Heinrich Heine als Dichter und Mensch (Berlin, 1895); Nassen, Heinrich Heines Familienleben (Fulda, 1895); Kaufmann, Heines Liebesleben (Zurich, 1898); id., Heines Charakter (ib., 1901); Steinmann, Heinrich Heine; Denkwürdigkeiten und Ergebnisse aus meinem Zusammenleben mit ihm (Prague, 17857); Hüffer, Aus dem Leben Heinrich Heines (Berlin, 1878); Franzos, Heines Geburtstag (Berlin, 1900).