The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Heine, Heinrich
HEINE, hī'nĕ, Heinrich, German poet: b. Düsseldorf, 13 Dec. 1797 (according to others, 1799); d. Paris, France, 17 Feb. 1856. His father, Samson Heine, of Hanover, was a merchant of honorable family which sprang from Bückeburg. He was good-natured but without marked intellectual gifts and of little business ability. The mother, Peira (Betty) van Geldern, came from one of the oldest and most prominent Jewish families on the Rhine. Her father, Gottschalk, was one of the first Jewish physicians who graduated as Med.D. from a German university; her brother, Joseph, was also a graduate. Her uncle, Simon van Geldern, was a strange, adventurous, enthusiastic man. He journeyed all through Europe, went to Jerusalem and returned from there to Germany after a varied and checkered experience. His diary of travel and other writings are still preserved. The fate of this strange relative made a deep impression on the mind of the mature and gifted boy, who first was sent to a private school and then to a lyceum in charge of priests until the year 1814. The greatest influence on his education was exercised by his intellectually gifted mother, who read Rousseau and Goethe and was an enthusiastic German patriot while his father was just as enthusiastic for Napoleon. Between these contrasts Heine in his youth, swayed constantly in both directions. The whole life of the poet can be described in one sentence: He was a German who was born of Jewish parents in a Roman Catholic city on the Rhine in the period of Napoleon's supremacy on the one hand and of flourishing romanticism on the other. In these words lies the entire biography of Heine, everything which uplifted and hampered, all his defects and excellences, and all the deep contrasts and dissonances with which his life was filled.
When he left the gymnasium, he was ready with his companions to volunteer in the struggle against Napoleon. His first poems glorify German custom and loyalty, German patriotism. But this spirit soon changed, and soon, like so many eminent Germans of the time, he became one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the emperor's heroic figure, whose fame then filled the entire world. His most ardent wish at that time was to study. But his parents, whose business was already in decline, could not gratify this desire; and even his rich uncle, the celebrated banker, Solomon Heine, in Hamburg, on whose bounty the whole family in reality lived, preferred to have the youth become a clever merchant. So his father in 1815 took him to the Frankfort Fair (Messe) and placed him there with the banking firm of M. G. Rindskopf. But the position was not long to Harry's taste nor was a grocery more endurable. After a short time he returned to Düsseldorf. The attempt was now made to have him settle in Hamburg first in his uncle's counting-house and then in an independent concern of his own, which was a branch of his father's business. But he showed little talent as a merchant and in 1815 his firm failed.
In the three gloomy years at Hamburg, however, Heine became a poet. Under the pseudonym “Sy Freudhold Riesenharf” appeared in those days in a Hamburg magazine his first ‘Traumbilder’ and poems. A luckless love for his rich uncle's fair daughter Amelia filled his heart and aroused those lamentations of deep sorrow which formed the basis of his poetry. The well known poem, “A youth loves a maiden, who chose another” contained almost literally his entire heart's romance. After it was shown that Heine had absolutely no mercantile ability, his uncle finally consented that he might study law.
In October 1819 he entered the University of Bonn, which had just been reopened. A fresh and stimulating spirit prevailed at this university both among teachers and pupils. Men like Angust Wilhelm v. Schlegel, who interested himself very much in the young poet; E. A. Arndt and others, belonged to the teaching staff. Among the students we find names like Wolfgang Menzel, Hoffmann v. Fallersleben, Hengstenberg, etc. His special friends were Friedrich Steinmann, J. B. Rousseau and Josef Neunzig. In the vacation, after the first year of study, Heine resided in the little town Beuel, near Bonn, and there he worked on his first tragedy, ‘Almansor,’ the plot of which was placed in the period of Moorish decline in Spain. In the poem, however, Heine wished to present a picture of the battles which Judaism in Germany had to endure. ‘Almansor’ is a lamentation of crushed and persecuted Judaism. From Bonn Heine went to Göttingen, whose faculty of law was quite famous at that time. But he did not enjoy its instruction very long, for he had to leave the university on account of a duel, and in February 1821 came to Berlin.
His choice of Berlin was fortunate for the young poet. A vigorous intellectual atmosphere prevailed in that era in the Prussian capital. Before everything else he was attracted by the best salon in which Rahel Varnhagen von Ense had her special circle, with a coterie of brilliant spirits. Both she and her husband quickly recognized the poetical power in Heine and admitted him to close intimacy. Her brother, Leopold Robert, who was also a poet, was exceedingly friendly to him, and his wife Friedricka aroused Heine's enthusiastic adoration in sonnets and songs. The second coterie which fascinated Heine was a round table of young poets who gathered in Lutter and Wegener's restaurant, made famous by Ludwig Devrient and E. T. A. Hoffman, which was to become the scene of more than one carouse. These men were Christian Dietrich Grabbe, Friedrich v. Uechtritz, Karl Köchy, L. Gustorf and others. A third circle formed the greatest possible contrast to the others and in this, perhaps, Heine felt more at home. It was a small body of young men who in a time of general apostasy from Judaism, assumed as their task the reform and development of Judaism which then was regarded as in its decline. At the head of these resolute workers stood Eduard Gans, the celebrated jurist; Moses Moser, a merchant, whom his friend Heine called a living epilogue to Lessing's ‘Nathan,’ and Leopold Zunt (q.v.), the immortal founder of that branch of critical research called the science of Judaism. Heine took the deepest interest in the labors, hopes and disappointments of this society. A monument of his love for the general cause which was abandoned by them, is embodied in his romance ‘The Rabbi of Bacharach,’ which was then begun but unfortunately remains a torso. In Berlin, too, the university fairly fascinated bim. In particular the philosopher Hegel (q.v.) made a deep impression on the young poet, whose first poems were issued by a Berlin firm in 1823 and aroused general interest, and he was termed a successor of Byron, the first poet of “Weltschmerz” in Germany. Varnhagen v. Ense and Karl Immermann, both famous writers of the time, showed special ardor in directing the public's attention to the young poet, the new star on the literary horizon, who was already arousing general comment by his ‘Tragedie’ (Almansor and Ratcliffe) as well as by his ‘Lyrical Intermezzo’ which appeared in a volume at the same publishers'. When Heine in 1824 went for a second time to Göttingen, in order to undergo his doctor's examination, he was already a well-known personality in literary circles. During this period of his second stay in Göttingen occurred an act on his part which is wholly unintelligible, judged by his previous labors, his writings and letters and which can only be explained by the sad conditions of the time — on 28 June 1825 at Heligenstadt, near Göttingen, he embraced the Protestant religion. Clearly this act was done only to promote his professional career, for his sympathies in increased degree remained on the side of his coreligionists. Heine regretted the step his entire life.
After his graduation as doctor of law he returned to Hamburg. But all his efforts to maintain his hold there or in Berlin were unavailing despite his baptism. The failure was due either to the prejudices of the time or to other drawbacks. So Heine devoted himself wholly to literature. Two years earlier he made a journey from Göttingen to the Harz Mountains, in the course of which he visited Goethe at Weimar, but met a rather cool reception. This journey he now described in his ‘Harzreise,’ which had many readers who were delighted with the new and fresh tone in which the varied and picturesque experiences were narrated. In the years 1826-31 Heine's rank as poet was firmly established. That period forms the crown of his life and activity — his high-water mark of achievement. The four volumes, ‘Reisebilder’ (‘Pictures of Travel’), published 1820-31, showed him from an entirely different point of view. His ‘Buch der Lieder’ (‘Book of Songs’) gave on the other hand a faithful picture of his lyrical skill, which also struck entirely new paths. Heine had emerged from romanticism. He knew its mysteries and magic spells. Close thereby, or rather far above it, stood the well of German popular poetry, out of whose depths he drew such wealth as no other German poet had accomplished. Goethe and Uhland, Brentano and Wilhelm Miller were not without their influence on the matter as well as the metrical form of his poems; yet he was original and his songs aroused a practical revolution in the world of German poesy.
The secret of his originality and of the marvelous influence which he exercised not only on his contemporaries, but also on every age, lies in the peculiar charm which characterizes these songs, as they sound the tenderest tones of the heart, and then in cutting dissonances shatter the sentimental quality which is at their basis, thus producing a humorous-poetical effect incomparable in its way. The subjectivity with which Heine wove his sorrows, whether trivial or serious, in the warp and woof of his verse, was something unheard of in the history of German poetry. There was as little hypocrisy in his feeling of sorrow (Weltschmerz) as in that of Lord Byron, but it was truer and deeper, because it was blended with the Jews' sorrow from gray antiquity. His pictures and thoughts, his Oriental sensuousness and his German sensitiveness, all this in its combination formed a poetical ensemble which was to destroy romanticism, with its fairyland of legends and to construct the poetry of a new age and a new generation. The verse included a mass of new poetical material; for instance, the description of the sea in the splendid-colored North Sea pictures. In marked contrast was the wonderful effect produced by the form of the poems, which, apparently somewhat careless, was really intentional and just adapted to elevate the mood. With his ‘Book of Songs’ Heine became at once the first German poet of his time. His prose writings exercised in those days a similar influence. Heine loosened the tongue of the modern man of culture; he taught him what and why he suffers. In an age which was gloomy, depressed and poor in deeds, he unfurled the banner of freedom and announced to the young generation the dawn of new days which had to come. While much in his ‘Pictures of Travel’ was of transient worth and importance for the history of civilization, of permanent value was the blending of humor and sentiment, wit, and earnest reflection, wherein following his great predecessors, men like Laurence Sterne, Jean Paul and others he created an entirely new genre. The modern Feuilleton rest wholly on Heine's prose. The “Young Germany” school which gave the death-stroke to romanticism in the 30's of the past century followed in his steps. His travel picture and sketch remained for decades a model for young German writers after which to pattern their prose.
Despite his popularity, however, Heine could never attain a life of entire self-reliance in the conditions of his age. His steady dependence on his rich uncle, who let his nephew feel his power, embittered his stay in Hamburg. Accordingly in 1827 he accepted the offer of Cotta, the publisher, to assume the editorship of the Munich Political Annals. But he continued at this work only one winter; then he undertook a journey to Italy, which he described in his incomparable fashion in his ‘Pictures of Travel.’ He expected to receive on his return a professorship at the Munich University, which the Bavarian Minister Eduard v. Schenck desired to secure for him from the king; but owing to the intrigues of the clericals all efforts in Heine's behalf were unavailing. In 1828 he was recalled from his Italian trip by the news of his father's death — a man whom Heine had most tenderly loved. The following years were occupied in violent attacks on the poet August v. Platen and his followers, whom Heine regarded as his worst foes, besides literary labors and traveling. When the intelligence of the July Revolution in Paris reached him, the poet could no longer endure the home atmosphere, while the powerful Austrian Chancellor, Mettenich, who found refreshing youth “in the melancholy waters of his lyric,” warned him that he was not entirely secure from persecution. It was on a May day in 1831 when Heine forsook his fatherland, of course of his own accord, but in the firm conviction that sooner or later he would suffer the fate of all those who were leaders of freedom in Germany.
In Paris Heine labored from the very start at the great task of his life — to promote an understanding between the French and the Germans. His correspondence in the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, his book on ‘The Romantic School,’ his contributions to ‘The History of Religion and Philosophy in German,’ are devoted to this great purpose. The first appeared in 1832 as ‘French Conditions’; the others — with literary sketches, reflections on the drama and art, poems, etc., as ‘Salon’ (4 vols., 1832-36). The persecution which the German Diet set in motion against the “Young Germany” school of writers, leading to the ban against their works, was an act of mediævalism which affected the poet deeply. His only compensation was his recognition in his fatherland, the esteem in which he was held in France and the love of a beautiful young Frenchwoman, Mathilde Creszentia Mirat, whom he married in 1841, after having lived with her many years. Despite many storms and although his wife had no idea of her husband's eminence, the marriage was a happy one. The heavy material burden which she obliged Heine to assume forced him in 1836 to receive from the French government, when Guizot was head of the Ministry, a pension of 4,800 francs — a charity which France at that time bestowed on all prominent fugitives. It is to be understood, however, that Heine incurred thereby no obligation to praise or defend the political administration. Nevertheless, later he was violently attacked for this step.
The death of his rich uncle from whom he received an annual sum of 4,000 francs threw him into a terrible state. He was not mentioned in the will, and anxiety was added lest his cousin Carl Heine would refuse the further payment of his stipend unless he would submit his writings to a rigid censure by the family. Violent conflicts followed that cost the poet his rest and his health, which last had long been undermined. A severe nervous trouble had tortured him from his youth, and now as added illness came paralysis of the eye. In 1843-44 Heine visited his old mother in Hamburg. The poetical description of his journey in the winter tale ‘Germany,’ which appeared in 1846 with his ‘New Poems,’ and the epic poem ‘Atta Troll,’ which was issued in 1837, showed an entirely new line of poetical genius; for both these satirical epics are pearls of poesy. Since 1848 Heine was practically chained to his bed of illness — his famous “mattress grave.” He bore his sufferings, however, with true heroism; his intellectual power was not weakened. But a great religious change took place which led him back through the Bible to belief in God and to the memories of his race. The two great works of the last period of his life, ‘Romancero’ (1851) and ‘Confessions’ (in ‘Lutetia,’ 3 vols., 1854), are proofs of this great change, both in poetry and prose. Once more did the poet reveal himself to his admirers in agonizing strains of sorrow, in classical ballads, in Hebrew melodies, in profound lamentations of vivid effectiveness. Once more steps the great writer before us, and in prose of the loftiest beauty and strength he seeks to answer the most vital questions of our human existence.
On 17 Feb. 1856 he died after much suffering. He rests at Montmartre, next lo his wife. His grave is adorned with a monument, the work of the sculptor Hasselriis. An artistic memorial was erected by an enthusiastic admirer, the late Empress Elizabeth of Austria, at her country palace Achilleion, near Corfu in the Ionian Sea, with its classic memories. The continued efforts, however, made to place a memorial to the poet in his home on the Rhine have so far been fruitless, and have but led to bitterest conflicts between clericals and anti-Semites on the one side and the large body of his admirers on the other. It is not without significance that the Lorelei fountain, which could find no lodgment in Germany, has been placed in New York, the metropolis of the United States, a country where Charles G. Leland's translation of the ‘Pictures of Travel’ appeared in 1855, and where the poet's works have appeared in numerous editions and translations. The poet's body of admirers grows from day to day, and with this vast congregation of thoughtful men and women in every land the history of literature, judging without prejudice, gladly recognizes Heine as the greatest German lyric poet, after Goethe, and as one who is and will remain among the most illustrious poets in the world's literature
Bibliography. — Although the first collected edition of Heine's works by A. Strodtmann (22 vols., Hamburg 1861-66) was not brought out until some time after his death, there have been published very many other editions since then. Of these the most important are by G. Karpeles (Hamburg 1885 and Berlin 1893) and by E. Elster (Leipzig 1887-90). There have been almost innumerable editions of his separate works. A very large number of his poems have been set to music, not only by German composers, but also by composers in many other countries. Almost equally as numerous are the translations of his works into different languages, especially into English and French. Of his collected works the most important translations are ‘Oeuvres Complètes’ (14 vols., Paris 1852-68) and ‘The Works of Heinrich Heine’ (13 vols., New York 1892-1905). There are also a number of English translations of his poems, the most recent and in many respects the best and most careful being that by Louis Untermeyer (New York 1917). Both books and magazine articles on Heine's work and life have been written in vast numbers in many languages. A very careful and exhaustive bibliography of these is to be found in Goedeke, K., ‘Grundriss der Deutschen Dichtung’ (Vol. VIII, Dresden 1908) which also contains a very complete list of editions and translations. Consult Amiot, C. G., ‘Henri Heine et la Guerre Actuelle’ (in Revue Hebdomodaire, Vol, VI, p. 214, Paris 1916); Arnold, Matthew, ‘Essays in Criticism’ (1st series, New York 1883); Bartels, A., ‘Heinrich Heine’ (Dresden 1906); Bienenstock, M., ‘Das Judische Element in Heines Werken’ (Leipzig 1910); Brandes, G., ‘Main Currents in 19th Century Literature’ (6 vols., New York 1906); Brauweiler, E., ‘Heines Prosa’ (in Litterarhistorische Gesellschaft Bonn, Schriften N. F., Vol IX, Berlin 1915); Dowden, E., ‘Essays, Modern and Elizabethan’ (New York 1910); Eliot, George, ‘Essays’ (London 1884); Embden, L. van, ‘Heinrich Heines Familienleben’ (Hamburg 1892); Frank, M. M., ‘When Heine was Twenty-one’ (in ‘Short Plays about Famous Authors,’ New York 19l5); Fürst, R., ‘Heinrich Heines Leben, Werke und Briefe’ (Leipzig 1910); Howells. W. D., ‘My Literary Passions’ (New York 1895); Karpeles, G., ‘Heinrich Heine’ (Leipzig 1899); Keiter, H., ‘Heinrich Heine’ (Köln 1906); Lichtenberger, H., ‘Henri Heine Penseur’ (Paris 1905); Plotke, G. J., ‘Heinrich Heine als Dichter des Judentums’ (Dresden 1913); Reu, H., ‘Heine und die Biebel’ (Munich 1908); Sachs H. B., ‘Heine in America’ (in Americana Germanica, No. XXIII, Philadelphia 1916); Samuel, H. B., ‘Modernities’ (New York 1914); Selden, C., ‘Les derniers jours de Henri Heine’ (Paris 1884); Stigand, W., ‘Life, Work and Opinions of Heinrich Heine’ (2 vols., London 1875); Stork, C. W., ‘Heine and Tennyson’ (in Haverford Essays, p. 153, Haverford 1909); Treitschke, H. von, ‘History of Germany in the 19th Century’ (4 vols., New York 1915-18); Vacano, S., ‘Heine und Sterne’ (Berlin 1907); Walter, H., ‘Heine, the Political Refugee’ (in McGill University Magazine, Vol. XVI, p. 484, Montreal 1917).