Heine was the oldest son of a Jewish merchant and a mother from a respected academic family. In 1825 he received a doctorate in law, one of the two German professions legally open to Jews—the other was medicine. It was mainly because of such discrimination that Heine converted to Christianity in 1825 and changed his first name from Harry to Heinrich. In 1831 he left Germany, mainly for political reasons, and settled in Paris, where he pursued his preferred career as a poet, journalist, and essayist, but he continued to write in German and for a German audience. From the 1840’s on he suffered from the paralysis which rendered him completely bedridden after 1848.
Heine’s prose and journalistic articles—even his popular poetry—represent a prime example of censorship in Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century, for virtually every one of his texts was censored in one way or another. From the 1830’s on he was the most prominent author of the Young Germany movement, which vigorously opposed the political repression of the Metternich era (1815-1848). After the Congress of Vienna (1815) the Austrian chancellor Clemens von Metternich became the most influential figure of the newly founded German Confederation, a league of thirty-nine German states dominated by Prussia and Austria. In 1819 Metternich persuaded the confederation to sign the Karlsbad Decrees, which required that every book of less than 320 pages be subject to censorship prior to publication. (It was...
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