The Works of Heinrich Heine/Vol. 1
THE MEMOIRS OF HERR VON SCHNABELEWOPSKI
THE RABBI OF BACHARACH
SHAKESPEARE'S MAIDENS AND WOMEN
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN
CHARLES GODFREY LELAND
FIRST PRINTED, June 1891
SECOND IMPRESSION, February 1892
THIRD IMPRESSION, October 1903
FOURTH IMPRESSION, December 1905
It is much to say of a voluminous writer in prose as well as verse, that, though he may have left many a line which, for one reason or another, he might personally have wished to blot, he has left few that can be spared from the literature of the world. This may justly be said of Heine, but of how many others? Let us apply the same severe test to greater names than even Heine's. Take the man whose mission on the whole most nearly resembled his—Voltaire. Voltaire was in some sense the mouthpiece of his generation; he has through it produced the deepest effect on all generations to come; he has left immortal things behind him; but the project of a complete translation of Voltaire would kindle the enthusiasm of no publisher and no public. Take the greatest of German writers, Goethe, in whom we most cheerfully acknowledge a greater than Heine, but who is totally unable to stand the test indicated in his poetical works even, to say nothing of his prose. There are other poets of Heine's calibre of whose writings we would not lose a word; but Byron, Burns, and Shelley did not subject themselves to the test which Heine successfully underwent of writing undying things in prose: philosophy, and criticism, and even politics.
If we must account for this singular distinction, we should say that Heine, more than any of the great men we have named, except Shelley, was a poet by the grace of God, and that he carried the happy instinct of his verse into his prose. As a poet he was essentially a Volksdichter—the same sort of person, that is to say, as the unknown musicians whose Border Minstrelsies and Spanish Cancioneros are the envy and admiration of an artificial age. Every such writer, besides the moral endowment of feeling and the sensuous endowment of melody, is necessarily equipped with two intellectual gifts, perfect lucidity and perfect proportion. Imagine such a man to be at the same time a most original and accurate thinker, and to possess in the discussion of grave matters the ease and brightness and symmetry which have constituted his charm as a lyric poet, and it will be seen that his prose may be as well worth translating as his verse. To illustrate the meaning by an example on the contrary side, Wordsworth's prose style, though noble and dignified, is not the style of the immortal part of his poetry. If he had been able to discuss the principles of poetical composition and the Convention of Cintra in the style of "Lucy Gray," he would have been not merely a fine essayist, but an unique figure in literature. No one, manifestly, could achieve this without a special, an almost miraculous gift. Heine actually possessed this gift; and hence his prose disquisitions, descriptions, satires, and the rest, are as original in form as in substance. The same charm pervades all he wrote, and hence, whatever judgment may be passed on the moral characteristics of his work, from a literary point of view there is absolutely nothing in it which a translator is not justified in rendering—if he can. If the foreign reader fails to enjoy, the fault ia not in Heine, but in his own want of preliminary acquaintance with Heine's theme. Writing for a German public on themes of contemporary concern, Heine inevitably presupposes an amount of existing knowledge which the English reader will not always possess. It must be added, however—and this is one very good reason for translating him—that Heine affords a very potent stimulus towards the acquisition of knowledge. The reader of his "Romantic School," for instance, who may not have previously heard of Tieck and Novalis, must be a dull sort of person if he does not henceforth feel a curiosity respecting them.
A still more important aspect of Heine is his relation to the creeds and circumstances of his century, and his influence in shaping European thought. The reader who would wish to determine how far Heine will repay his attention in this respect is advised to consult the masterly criticism upon him in Matthew Arnold's essays. Mr. Arnold regards Heine as a great liberator, not a man of consummate achievement as a thinker, or one by any means to be implicitly followed or unreservedly extolled, but invaluable as a dissolvent, breaking up and abolishing opinions and habits which have become mere petrified formulas, and thus preparing the way for new things which he did not create and did not always rightly conceive. He liked to be called the German Aristophanes, but he was even more of a Socrates, whose mission, apart from his poetical gift, it was to make men consider whether they really meant what they said. It should be added that, perhaps in virtue of his supreme poetical endowment, his insight into the future was often startling; and that, if he has not solved the riddles of his time, no one has stated them so well. A complete translation of his works, then, seems as much the due of his intellectual significance aa of his matchless literary genius.