The Works of Heinrich Heine/Vol. 7/Letter 2

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The Works of Heinrich Heine  (1893)  by Heinrich Heine, translated by Charles Godfrey Leland
Letter 2: Lafayette and the Republicans


Paris, January 19, 1832.

The Temps remarks to-day that the Allgemeine Zeitung now publishes articles which are hostile to the royal family, and that the German censorship, which does not permit the least remark levelled at absolute monarchs, does not manifest the least regard for a citizen-king. And yet the Temps is the shrewdest and cleverest journal in the world! It attains its object with a few mild words much more readily than others with the most blustering warfare. Its crafty wink is well understood, and I know at least one Liberal writer who does not consider it honourable to use under the permission of the censorship such inimical language of a citizen-king as would not be allowed when applied to an absolute monarch. But for that let Louis Philippe do us in return one single favour—which is to remain a citizen-king. For it is because he is becoming every day more and more like an absolute king that we must complain of him. He is certainly perfectly honourable as a man, an estimable father of a family, a tender spouse and a thrifty, but it is vexatious to see how he allows all the trees of liberty to be felled and stripped of their beautiful foliage that they may be sawed into beams to support the tottering house of Orleans. For that, and that only, the Liberal press blames him, and the spirits of truth, in order to make war on him, even condescend to lie. It is melancholy and lamentable that through such tactics even the family of the King must suffer, although they are as innocent as they are amiable. As regards this, the German Liberal press, less clever but much kinder than its French elder sister, is guilty of no cruelties. "You should at least have pity on the King," lately cried the good-tempered Journal des Débats. "Pity on Louis Philippe!" replied the Tribune. "This man asks for fifteen millions and our pity! Did he have pity on Italy, on Poland?"—et cetera.[1]

I saw within a few days the infant orphans of Menotti, who was hung in Modena. Nor is it long since I saw Señora Luisa de Torrijos, a poor deathly-pale lady, who quickly returned to Paris when she learned on the Spanish frontier the news of the execution of her husband and of his fifty-two companions in misfortune. Ah! I really pity Louis Philippe.

La Tribune, the organ of the openly declared Republican party, is pitiless as regards its royal enemy, and every day preaches the Republic. The National, the most reckless and independent journal in France, has recently chimed in to the same air in a most surprising manner. And terrible as an echo from the bloodiest days of the Convention sounded the speeches of those chiefs of the Société des Amis du Peuple who were placed last week before the court of assizes, "accused of having conspired against the existing Government in order to overthrow it and establish a republic." They were acquitted by the jury, because they proved that they had in no way conspired, but simply uttered their convictions publicly. "Yes, we desire the overthrow of this feeble Government, we wish for a republic." Such was the refrain of all their speeches before the tribunal.

While on one side the serious Republicans draw the sword and growl with words of thunder, the Figaro flashes lightning, and laughs and swings its light lash most effectually. It is inexhaustible in clever sayings as to "the best republic," a phrase with which poor Lafayette is mocked, because he, as is well known, once embraced Louis Philippe before the Hôtel de Ville and cried, "Vous êtes la meilleure république!" The Figaro recently remarked that we of course now require no republic, since we have seen the best. And it also said as cruelly, in reference to the debates on the civil list, that "la meilleure république coute quinze millions."[2]

The Republican party will never forgive Lafayette his blunder in supporting a king. They reproach him with this, that he knew Louis Philippe[3] long enough not to be aware beforehand what was to be expected of him. Lafayette is now ill—malade de chagrin—heart-sick. Ah! the greatest heart of two worlds must feel bitterly the royal trickery. It was all in vain that he in the very beginning continually insisted on the Programme de l'Hôtel de Ville, on the republican institutions with which the monarchy should be surrounded, and on similar promises. But he was out-cried by the doctrinaire gossips and chatterers, who proved from the English history of 1688 that people in Paris in July 1830 had fought simply to maintain La Charte, and that all their sacrifices and battles had no other object save to replace the elder line of the Bourbons by the younger, just as all was finished in England by putting the House of Orange in place of the Stuarts. Thiers, who does not think with this party, though he speaks according to their meaning, has of late given them a good push forward.[4] This indifferentist of the deepest kind, who knows so admirably how to keep time in the clearness, intelligence, and illustration of his style, this Goethe of politics,[5] is certainly at present the most powerful defender of the system of Périer, and, in fact, with his pamphlet against Chateaubriand he well nigh annihilated that Don Quixote of Legitimacy, who sat so pathetically on his winged Rosinante,[6] whose sword was more shining than sharp, and who only shot with costly pearls, instead of good piercing leaden bullets.

In their irritation at the lamentable turn which events have taken, many of the enthusiasts for freedom go so far as to slander Lafayette. How far a man can go astray in this direction is shown by the pamphlet of Belmontet, which is also an attack on that by Chateaubriand, and in which the Republic is advocated with frank freedom. I would here cite the bitter passages against Lafayette contained in this work, were they not on one side too spiteful, and on the other connected with a defence of the Republic which is not suitable to this journal. I therefore refer the reader to the pamphlet itself, and especially to a chapter in it entitled "The Republic." One may there see how even the noblest men may be led astray by evil fortune.

I will not here find fault with the brilliant delusion of the possibility of a republic in France. A royalist by inborn inclination, I have become more so in France from conviction. For I am convinced that the French could never tolerate any republic, neither (according to) the constitution of Athens nor of Sparta, and least of all that of North America. The Athenians were the student-youths of mankind; their constitution was a kind of academic freedom, and it would be mere folly to seek to introduce it in this our matured age, to again revive it in our grey-haired Europe. And how could we put up with that of Sparta, that great and tiresome manufactory of patriotism, that soldiers' barrack of republican virtue, that sublimely bad kitchen of equality, in which black broth was so vilely cooked that Attic wits declared it made men despise life and defy death in battle? How could such a constitution flourish in the very foyer or focus of gourmands, in the fatherland of Véry, of Véfour, and of Carême? This latter would certainly have thrown himself, like Vatel, on his sword, as a Brutus of cookery and as the last gastronome. Indeed, had Robespierre only introduced Spartan cookery, the guillotine would have been quite superfluous, for then the last aristocrats would have died of terror, or emigrated as soon as possible. Poor Robespierre! you would introduce stern republicanism to Paris—to a city in which one hundred and fifty thousand milliners and dressmakers, and as many barbers and perfumers, exercise their smiling, curling, and sweet-smelling industries![7]

The monotony, the want of colour, and the petty domestic citizens' life (Spiessburgerei) of America would be even more intolerable in the home of a love of spectacles (Schaulust), vanity, fashion, and novelties. Indeed, the disease of self-distinction flourishes nowhere so much as in France. Perhaps, with the exception of August Wilhelm Schlegel, there is not a woman in Germany so fond of gay ribbons as the French; even the heroes of July, who fought for freedom and equality, afterwards wore blue ribbons to distinguish themselves from the rest of the people.[8] Yet, if I on this account doubt the success of a republic in Europe, it still cannot be denied that everything is leading to one; that the republican respect for law in place of veneration of royal personages is showing itself among the better classes, and that the Opposition, just as it played at comedy for fifteen years with a king, is now continuing the same game, and that a republic may be for a short time, at least, the end of the song. The Carlists wish for this as they regard it as a necessary phase in politics which will enable them to attain the absolute royalty of the elder branch. Therefore they now bear themselves like the most zealous republicans. Even Chateaubriand praises the Republic, calls himself a Republican from inclination, fraternises with Marrast, and receives the accolade from Beranger. The Gazette—the hypocritical Gazette de France[9]—now yearns for republican state forms, universal franchise, primary meetings, et cetera. It is amusing to see how these disguised priestlings now play the bully-braggart[10] in the language of Sans-culottism, how fiercely they coquet with the red Jacobin cap, yet are ever and anon afflicted with the thought that they might forgetfully have put on in its place the red cap of a prelate; they take for an instant from their heads their borrowed covering and show the tonsure unto all the world. Such men as these now believe that they may insult Lafayette, and it serves as an agreeable relaxation from the sour republicanism which they have assumed.

But let deluded friends and hypocritical enemies say what they will, Lafayette is, after Robespierre,[11] the purest character of the French Revolution, and, next to Napoleon, its most popular hero. Napoleon and Lafayette are the two names which now bloom most beautifully in France. Truly their fame is each of different kind. The latter fought for peace, not victory, the former rather for the laurel wreath than for that of oak leaves. It would indeed be ridiculous to measure the greatness of the two heroes with the same meter, and put one on the pedestal of the other, even as it would be absurd to set the statue of Lafayette on the Vendôme column—that monument made of the cannon conquered on so many fields of battle, the sight of which, as Barbier sings, no French mother can endure.[12] On this bronze column place Napoleon, the man of iron, here as in life standing on his fame, earned by cannon (Kanonenruhm), rising in terrible isolation to the clouds, so that every ambitious soldier, when he beholds him, the unattainable one, there on high, may have his heart humbled and healed of the vain love of celebrity, and thus this colossal column of metal, as a lightning conductor of conquering heroism, will establish the most peaceable profit in Europe.[13]

Lafayette has raised for himself a better column than that of the Place Vendôme, and a better monumental image than one of metal or marble. Where is there marble as pure as the heart of old Lafayette, or metal as firm as his fidelity? It is true that he was always one-sided or partial (einseitig), but one-sided like the magnetic needle, which always points to the north, and never once in change to south or west. So he has for forty years said the same thing, and pointed constantly to North America. He is the one who opened the Revolution with the declaration of the rights of man; to this hour he perseveres in this belief, without which there is no salvation, and no health to be hoped for—the one-sided man with his one-sided heavenly region of freedom.[14] He is indeed no genius, as was Napoleon, in whose head the eagles of inspiration built their nests, while the serpent's calculation entwined in his heart; but then he was never intimidated by eagles nor seduced by serpents. As a young man he was wise as a greybeard, as a greybeard fiery as a youth, a protector of the people against the wiles of the great, a protector of the great against the rage of the people, compassionating yet combating, never arrogant and never discouraged, equally firm and mild, Lafayette ever remained the same; and so, in his one-sidedness and perfect uniformity, he ever remained standing in the same spot from the days of Marie Antoinette to the present hour. And, as a trusty Eckhart of liberty, so he still stands leaning on his sword[15] before the entrance to the Tuileries, warning the world against that seductive Venusberg, whose magic tones sing so enticingly, and from whose sweet snares the poor wretches who are once entangled in them can never escape.

It is certainly true that the dead Napoleon is more beloved by the French than is the living Lafayette. This is perhaps because he is dead, which is to me the most delightful thing connected with him, for were he alive, I should be obliged to help him to fight.[16] The world out of France has no idea of how much the French people are still devoted to Napoleon. Therefore the discontented, when they determine on a decided and daring course, will begin by proclaiming the young Napoleon, in order to secure the sympathy of the masses. Napoleon is, for the French, a magic word which electrifies and benumbs them.[17] There sleep a thousand cannon in this name, even as in the column of the Place Vendôme, and the Tuileries will tremble should these cannon once awake. As the Jews never idly uttered the name of their God, so Napoleon is here very seldom called by his, and people speak of him as l'homme, "the man." But his picture is seen everywhere, in engravings and plaster casts, metal and wood, and everywhere. On all boulevards and carrefours are orators who praise and popular minstrels who sing him—the Man—and his deeds. Yesterday evening, while returning home, I came into a dark and lonely lane, in which there stood a child some three years old, who, by a candle stuck into the earth, sang an old song praising the Emperor. As I threw him a sou on the handkerchief spread out, something moved by me, also begging for another. It was an old soldier, who could also sing a song of the glory of the great Emperor, for this glory had cost him both legs. The poor man did not beg in the name of God, but implored with most believing fervour, "Au nom de Napoléon, donnez-moi un sou." So this name is the deepest word of adjuration among the people. Napoleon is its god, its cultus, its religion, and this religion will, by and by, become tiresome, like every other. Lafayette, on the contrary, is venerated more as a man or as a guardian angel. He, too, lives in picture and in song, but less heroically, and—honourably confessed—it had a comic effect on me when I last year, on the 28th July, heard in the song of La Parisienne the words—

"Lafayette aux cheveux blancs,"[18]

while I saw him in person standing near me in his brown wig. It was the Place de Bastile; the man was on his own right ground, and still I needs must laugh unto myself. It may be that such a comic contradiction brings him humanly somewhat nearer to our hearts. His good-nature, his bonhomie, acts even on children, and they perhaps understand his greatness better than do the great. And here I will tell a little story about a beggar which will show the characteristic contrast between the glory of Lafayette and that of Napoleon. I was lately standing at a street corner before the Pantheon, and contemplating that beautiful building, as is my custom, when a little Auvergnat came begging for a sou, and I gave him half-a-franc to be rid of him. But he approached me more familiarly with the words, "Est-ce que vous connaissez le général Lafayette?" and as I assented to this strange question, the proudest satisfaction appeared on the naïve and dirty face of the pretty boy, and with serio-comic expression he said, "Il est de mon pays," for he naturally believed that any man who was generous enough to give him ten sous must be, of course, an admirer of Lafayette, and judged me worthy that he should present himself as a compatriot of that great man.

The country folk have also for Lafayette the most affectionate respect, and all the more because he chiefly busies himself with agriculture. From this result the freshness and simplicity which might be lost in constant city life. In this he is like one of those great Republicans of earlier days who planted their own cabbages, but who in time of need hastened from the plough to the battle or the tribune, and after combat and victory returned to their rural work. On the estate where Lafayette passes the pleasant portion of the year, he is generally surrounded by aspiring young men and pretty girls. There hospitality, be it of heart or of table, rules supreme;[19] there is much laughing and dancing; there is the court of the sovereign people; there any one may be presented who is the son of his own works and has never made mésalliance with falsehood, and Lafayette is the master of ceremonies. The name of this country place is Lagrange, and it is very charming, especially when the hero of two worlds relates to the young people his adventures, when he appears like an epoch surrounded by the garlands of an idyll.[20]

But it is in the real middle-class more than any other, that is, among tradespeople and small shopkeepers, that there is the most veneration for Lafayette. They simply worship him. Lafayette establishing order is their idol. They adore him as a kind of Providence on horseback, an armed tutelary patron of public peace and security, as a genius of freedom, who also takes care in the battle for freedom that nothing is stolen and that everybody keeps his little property. The great army of public order, as Casimir Périer called the National Guard, the well-fed heroes in great bearskin caps into which small shopmen's heads are stuck, are drunk with delight when they speak of Lafayette, their old general, their Napoleon of peace. Truly he is the Napoleon of the small citizens, of those brave folk who are bien solvables,—good for their money—those uncle tailors and cousin glovemakers who are indeed too busy by day to think of Lafayette, but who praise him afterwards in the evening with double enthusiasm, so that one may say that it is about 11 P.M., when the shops are shut, that his fame is in full bloom.

I have just before used the word "master of ceremonies." I now recall that Wolfgang Menzel has in his witty trifling called Lafayette a master of ceremonies to Liberty.[21] This was when the former spoke in the Literaturblatt of the triumphal march of the former across the United States, and of the deputations, addresses, and solemn discourses which ensued on such occasions. Other much less witty folk wrongly imagine that Lafayette is only an old man who is kept for show or used as a machine. But they need only hear him once speak in public to learn that he is not a mere flag which is followed or sworn by, but that he is in person the gonfalonière in whose hands is the good banner, the oriflamme of the people. Lafayette is perhaps the most significant and influential speaker in the Chamber of Deputies. When he speaks, he always hits the nail, and his nailed-up enemies, on the head.[22]

When it is needed, when one of the great questions of humanity is discussed, then Lafayette ever rises, eager for strife as a youth. Only the body is weak and tottering, broken by age and battles of his time, like a hacked and dented old iron armour, and it is touching when he totters under it to the tribune and has reached his old post, to see how he draws a deep breath and smiles. This smile, the deportment, and the whole being of the man while speaking on the tribune, are indescribable. There is in it all so much that is winsome and yet so much delicate irony, that one is enchained or enchanted as by a marvellous curiosity and a sweet strange enigma. We know not if these are the refined manners of a French marquis or the straightforward simplicity of an American citizen. All that is best in the ancien régime, the chivalresque courtesy and tact, are here marvellously fused with what is best in the modern bourgeoisie, love of freedom, simplicity, and honour. Nothing is more interesting than when mention is made in the Chamber of the first days of the Revolution, and some one in doctrinaire fashion tears some historical fact from its true connection and turns it to his own account in speech. Then Lafayette destroys with a few words the erroneous deduction by illustrating or correcting the true sense of such an event by citing the circumstances relating to it. Even Thiers must in such a case strike sail, and the great historiographer of the Revolution bows before the outburst of its great and living monument, General Lafayette.

There sits in the Chamber just before the tribune a man old as the hills (ein steinalter Mann), with shining silver hair falling at length over his black clothing. His body is girt with a very broad tricoloured scarf, and he is the old messenger who has always filled that office in the Chamber since the beginning of the Revolution, and who in this post has been present in universal history since the days of the first National Assembly till the juste milieu. I am told that he often speaks of Robespierre, whom he calls le bon Monsieur de Robespierre. During the Restoration the old man suffered from colic, but since he has wound the tricoloured scarf round his waist he finds himself well again. His only trouble now in the dull and lazy times of the juste milieu is drowsiness. I even once saw him fall asleep while Mauguin was speaking. Indeed, the man has, doubtless, in his time heard better than Mauguin, who is, however, one of the best orators of the Opposition, though he is not found to be very startling (hefting) or effective by one qui a beaucoup connu ce bon Monsieur de Robespierre—who has well known good Monsieur de Robespierre. But when Lafayette speaks, then the old messenger awakes from his twilight drowsiness, he seems to be stirred up like unto an old war-horse of hussars when he hears the sound of a trumpet—there rise within him sweet memories of youth, and he nods delightedly with his silver-white head.

  1. This last passage is omitted in the French version. Translator.
  2. This passage is wanting in the French version.—Translator.
  3. French version "Par la connaissance personelle des hommes."—Translator.
  4. "Hat ihr in der letzten Zeit zwar nicht geringen Vorschub geleistet." I know of no word which translates this so accurately as the Yankee "given them a good boost up." French—"un bon coup d'épaule."
  5. French version—"Cet esprit, à la fois lucide et profond, qui sait garder une mesure si admirable dans la charté," &c.
  6. Omitted in the French version.
  7. French version—"Ville où cent cinquante mille modistes, parfumeuses, et coiffeurs exercent leur riante, odorante et frisante industrie."
  8. Our author here argues a very large estate from very small premises. The Germans, as Hood remarks, are as fond of the pomps and vanities of this wicked world as anybody in it, and the Americans rather more so. Among the latter, the members of widely spread agrarian associations call themselves "Knights," in order to assume, in name at least, something of an air of chivalry and aristocracy; and one Governor once appointed eighteen hundred aides-de-camp, every one with the rank of "Colonel," quorum unus fui. Yet many of these knights and colonels died in battle in defence of Republicanism, or live earnestly devoted to it.
  9. In the French version—"La bonne Gazette de France."
  10. Bramarbasieren, from Bramarbas, a bully in a Danish play.
  11. These words, nächst Robespierre, are omitted in the French version, and they do not, indeed, harmonise very well with Heine's recent expressions of devotion to monarchy.—Translator.
  12. This citation from Barbier is omitted in later French editions. In the next passage the French version varies a little from the German, viz., "Sur la colonne d'airain mettez Napoléon, l'homme d'airain, poste ici, comme dans la vie, par les trophées de sa gloire militaire."—Translator.
  13. This singular sentence is given as follows in the French version: "Et qu'ainsi cette colossale aguille de métal devienne pour l'Europe l'instrument le plus benin de la pacification de l'esprit guerrier, le paratonnere préservateur de l'heroïsme conquerant." A lightning rod of conquering heroism founding or establishing peaceful profit in Europe, combined with a "brass Napoleon" as part of the apparatus, is indeed a fine bold simile.—Translator.
  14. French version—"Cet homme invariable, avec son invariable point cardinal de la liberté."
  15. The faithful Eckhart, an old warrior, who, according to German legends, stands before the Venusberg and warns wayfarers against the sirens who tempt them to enter. Vide Heine's "Doctor Faust." A German proverb says of a true friend to the world, "He's like the faithful Eckhart, who warns everybody."
  16. This passage is omitted in the later French editions.
  17. During the few preceding passages our author manifests most strikingly his peculiar characteristic of alternating weakness and folly with wisdom and strength. Thus, his feeble-funny remarks as to republicanism and his Hibernian mixtures of metaphors are succeeded by the eulogy of Lafayette—a masterpiece of appreciation—and this deeply shrewd and prophetic remark, that the decisive blow to the monarchy would come from the young Napoleon, which it did indeed, though it was not the young man whom Heine had in view.—Translator.
  18. French version—"Lafayette en cheveux blancs."
  19. German "Umringt von strebenden jünglingen;" French—"Entouré de jeunes gens au noble cœur." Of the hospitality here alluded to I am well assured. I heard long ago, of a fellow-countryman who, when in Paris, packed his trunk, and, without any letter of introduction to Lafayette, went to Lagrange, sent up his card to the General as "an American," was received civilly, and stayed a week. I mention this not for gossip's sake, but as illustrating Heine's remark to the effect that an unbounded hospitality prevailed at Lagrange.—Translator.
  20. This last paragraph is omitted in the French version.
  21. It was the most natural thing in the world that the public should have this impression. Could I have remembered what occurred when I was an infant in arms, I too should be justified in entertaining it. I was one month old, and, as General Lafayette was riding by en grande procession, my nurse held me up at the window, declaring that I too should see the great man. And the great man seeing this, with a smile, and some remark which is not recorded, courteously bowed to me. He was, indeed, the first person who ever paid me this formal compliment! As a boy, Lafayette seems to me from pictures as reviewing the National Guard, repressing disorder, and always on horseback, but in one place. Napoleon, on the contrary, appeared to be always on a spirited charger rearing upon its hind-legs on the Alps in a most perilous position. Hence my youthful associations with the two names, which agree admirably with all which Heine has here written.—Translator.
  22. To nail a man up, American and German to settle or silence him; German vernagelt sein, to be a blockhead. Original: "Wenn er spricht, trifft er immer den Nagel auf den Kopf, und seine vernagelten Feinde auf die Köpfe."—Translator.
Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.