Heinrich Heine Heine, Heinrich (Vol. 147) - Essay

Chaim Harry Heine


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Heinrich Heine 1797-1856

(Born Harry Heine) German poet, essayist, critic, journalist, editor, playwright, and novella, sketch, and travel writer.

The following entry presents criticism on Heine from 1982 to 2002. For additional information on Heine's career, see NCLC, Volumes 4 and 54.

A distinguished literary figure of nineteenth-century Europe, Heinrich Heine is best known for his Buch der Lieder (1827; Heinrich Heine's Book of Songs), a collection of love lyrics, many of which were later set to music by Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, and other composers. Heine was the first major poet to adopt a humorous, ironic tone, and this pervades his poetry, prose, and commentaries on politics, art, literature, and society.

Biographical Information

Heine was born in Düsseldorf on December 13, 1797, to Jewish parents Samson and Betty (van Geldern) Heine. Samson was unsuccessful in business, and the family was poor. Heine's early years were greatly influenced by Samson's brother Salomon, a successful, influential, and wealthy banker who financed Heine's university education. In 1819, Heine was sent to law school at the University of Bonn, where he showed a growing interest in literature and history and studied under the famous critic August Wilhelm Schlegel, who introduced him to the ideas of the German Romantic school. The following year, Heine transferred to the law school at the University of Göttingen, but he found the school's conservatism stultifying. After being suspended for participating in a duel with a fellow student, he was sent to the University of Berlin. During Heine's four semesters there, he encountered some of the eminent minds of the time, including the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and gained entree to Berlin's literary circles. His first books, Gedichte (1822; Poems) and Tragödien nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo (1823), were published during this time. At the behest of Uncle Salomon, who wanted his nephew to complete his law studies, Heine returned to the University of Göttingen. In the fall of 1824 he took a break from his studies, traveling for two months on foot through Germany's Harz Mountain region. The following year, he received his law degree, and shortly thereafter he changed his name from Harry to Heinrich and converted to Protestantism, a practical measure necessary to any future career because of the anti-Semitic laws of nineteenth-century Germany. Heine wrote an account of his Harz Mountain journey and for the next several years he traveled Europe and contemplated his career choices. He wrote and published sketches of these travels from 1826-31. Heinrich Heine's Book of Songs was published in 1827. Scholars generally agree that these poems of unrequited love were inspired by actual unrequited affections during Heine's youth, though some contend that the poems are actually Petrarchan exercises not based on personal experiences. The publication of Heinrich Heine's Book of Songs made Heine the most popular German poet of his day. In 1831, Heine immigrated to Paris, where he remained in self-imposed exile for most of his life. His writings of the next several years, unlike his early and late poetry, which were highly personal, were primarily concerned with politics, religion, society, art, and philosophy. In 1834, Heine met Crescence Mirat, a poor salesgirl, and they began living together in 1836. Heine wrote Heinrich Heine über Ludwig Börne (1840; Ludwig Borne: Recollections of a Revolutionist), a scathing biographical work, in response to unfavorable remarks by Börne, a recently deceased radical author. The work attacked Börne's personal life as well as political views, and insinuated that Börne was involved in a love triangle with a married woman. When the husband of Börne's lover challenged Heine to a duel in response to Heine's published accusations, Heine believed his life was at risk. Heine and Mirat quickly married, so that she would not be left destitute if he died. Heine survived the duel, held a week later, and suffered only a minor wound to his hip. During the next few years Heine wrote political poetry, culminating in the mock epics Deutschland: Ein Wintermarchen (1844; Germany: A Winter's Tale) and Atta Troll: Ein Sommernachtsraum (1847; Atta Troll). 1848 marked a turning point in Heine's life and writing. He had suffered since the mid-1830s from worsening symptoms of venereal disease. In the spring of 1848, his legs became completely paralyzed, and he became partially blind. Confined to what he called his matratzengruft, or “mattress-grave,” Heine was in constant pain, yet was intellectually alert and continued to write until his death in 1856. His Romanzero (1851; Romancero) and Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken (1869), poetry collections written during this period, contain vivid depictions of a man preparing for a death that the alternately fears and welcomes as a refuge.

Major Works

Heine's major early works deal primarily with personal subjects: unrequited love in Heinrich Heine's Book of Songs, and journeys through Europe in Reisebilder (1826-31; Pictures of Travel). Heinrich Heine's Book of Songs reflects the influence of Romanticism in its emphasis on love and despair as well as its pervasive tone of reverie—yet it also abounds with realism, scepticism, wit, and irony. Heine did not share the positive world view of such German Romantics as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, and he lacked their faith in the ability of modern poetry to overcome the alienation and anxiety of modern life. Heinrich Heine's Book of Songs represents Heine's rejection of the German Romantic tradition and marks the beginning of the post-Romantic movement in German literature. Pictures of Travel, containing sketches of Heine's travels in the Harz Mountains, the island of Nordenay in the North Sea, Italy, and England, is a record of his personal journeys that combines autobiography and self-analysis with descriptions of scenery and social commentary. After moving to Paris, Heine's writing became more political and philosophical. His Französische Zustände (1833; French Affairs) and De l'Allemagne (1835; Germany) were collections of essays designed to encourage understanding between his adopted nation of France and his homeland, Germany. The essays present the human side of historical figures, and disarm readers with humor rather than confront them with critical arguments. Heine's mock epics Germany: A Winter's Tale and Atta Troll are a mixture of history and political and literary satire, and are frequently described as defying generic classification. Heine's major later works return to the lyrical form of his earliest poetry. His Romanzero and Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken collections contain a direct, unveiled expression of feeling. With their self-mocking, ironic tone, these poems capture the full range of Heine's tenderness and sensitivity as well as the pain and terror he experienced in his final years.

Critical Reception

Heine was one of the most influential and popular poets of the nineteenth century, yet critical response to his work has varied widely over the years. His works have met with both admiration and disapproval in his native land, where his ruthless satires and radical pronouncements made him appear unpatriotic and subversive to his contemporaries. His religion consistently worked against him: he was ostracized as a Jew among Germans, yet when he converted to Protestantism, both Jews and Christians assailed him as an opportunist. All of Heine's works were banned in 1835 and he was at one time forbidden to return to Germany. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis tried to erase Heine from history, destroying his grave, banning his works, and when they found that they could not eliminate his famous “Die Lorelei” poem (from Heinrich Heine's Book of Songs) from the memory of the German people, they attributed it to an unknown author. Heine's reputation has fared better outside of Germany, but while the poetry is widely praised, his ironic and satiric writings have only recently met with critical acclaim. The complexity and variety of his views have often made him an outcast, because those who appreciate the politically militant poet of the 1840s in some cases resent the older, more conservative poet. The only part of Heine's work to be unconditionally accepted by all critical factions is Heinrich Heine's Book of Songs.

Principal Works

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Gedichte [Poems; published in The Poems of Heine, Complete] (poetry) 1822

*Tragodien nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo (plays and poetry) 1823

Reisebilder. 4 vols. [Pictures of Travel] (travel sketches) 1826-31

Buch der Lieder [Heinrich Heine's Book of Songs] (poetry) 1827

Kahldorf über den Adel in Briefen an den Grafen M. von Moltke [editor] (letters) 1831

Franzosische Zustande [French Affairs: Letters from Paris] (essays) 1833

Zur Geschichte der neuern schonen Literatur in Deutschland. 2 vols. [The Romantic School] (essay) 1833

§Der Salon. 4 vols. [The Salon; or, Letters on Art, Music, Popular Life and Politics] (essays) 1834-40

De l'Allemagne. 2 vols. [Germany] (essays) 1835

Shakespeares Madchen und Frauen [Heine on Shakespeare: A Translation of His Notes on Shakespeare's Heroines] (criticism) 1839

Heinrich Heine über Ludwig Borne [Ludwig Borne: Recollections of a Revolutionist] (criticism and fictional correspondence) 1840

Deutschland: Ein Wintermarchen [Germany: A Winter's Tale] (essay and poetry) 1844

Neue Gedichte [New Poems] (poetry) 1844

Atta Troll: Ein Sommernachtsraum [Atta Troll; published in Atta Troll and Other Poems] (poetry) 1847

Romanzero (poetry) [Romancero; published in The Works of Heinrich Heine] 1851

Die Verbannten Gotter [Gods in Exile] (novella) 1853

#Vermischte Schriften. 3 vols. (poetry, novella, ballet scenario, and essays) 1854

Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken (poetry) 1869

The Poems of Heine, Complete (poetry) 1878

Poems and Ballads (poetry) 1881

Memoiren (memoirs) 1884

Heinrich Heine's Familienleben [The Family Life of Heinrich Heine] (letters) 1892

The Works of Heinrich Heine. 12 vols. (poetry, unfinished novels, essays, criticism, travel sketches, and letters) 1892-1905

Briefe. 6 vols. (letters) 1950-51

Werke. 2 vols. (poetry, essays, travel sketches, plays, criticism) 1973-78

*Includes Almansor and William Ratcliff.

†Includes Die Heimkehr, Die Harzreise, Die Nordsee I, Die Nordsee II, Die Nordsee III, Ideen: Das Buch Le Grand, Briefe aus Berlin, Reise von München nach Genua, Die Bäder von Lucca, Nachträge, Die Stadt Lucca, and Englische Fragmente.

‡Also published as Die Romantische Schule, 1836.

§Includes Französische Maler: Gemäldeausstellung in Paris 1831, Gedichte, Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski, Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland, Frühlingslieder, Florentinische Nächte, Elementargeister, Der Rabbi von Bacharach, Gedichte, Über die französische Bühne, and Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland [Religion and Philosophy in Germany: A Fragment].

∥Also published as Die Gotter im Exil in Vermischte Schriften.

#Includes Geständnisse, Gedichte 1853 und 1854, Die Götter im Exil, Die Göttin Diana, and Lutezia.

Alfred Kazin (essay date 1982)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kazin, Alfred. Foreword to Heinrich Heine: Poetry and Prose, Robert C. Holub and Jost Hermand, pp. vii-xiii. New York: Continuum, 1982.

[In the following essay, a foreword to an edition of translated works by Heine, Kazin explores Heine's problematic omission from the modernist canon and the possible reasons for this exclusion.]

In life (1797-1856) Heinrich Heine was generally admitted to be a superbly gifted but “difficult” man. In death his being “difficult” was so obstinately and even vindictively remembered that Hitler, flushed with triumph when he occupied Paris, ordered that Heine's grave in Montmartre be destroyed. This may have seemed...

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Sander L. Gilman (essay date summer 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gilman, Sander L. “Freud Reads Heine Reads Freud.” Southern Humanities Review 24, no. 3 (summer 1990): 201-18.

[In the following essay, Gilman traces parallels between Heine's work and the theories of Sigmund Freud.]

Of all the creative writers whom Sigmund Freud read and quoted, none has quite as unique a place in his mental library as does Heinrich Heine. Although when Freud was asked in 1907 to compile a list of “good books,” he did not include any by Heine, he did include Heine as the only German author on his (admittedly short) list of “favorite” books.1 Freud neither quotes Heine more frequently than Goethe nor does...

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Robert C. Holub (essay date summer-fall 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Holub, Robert C. “Heinrich Heine on the Slave Trade: Cultural Repression and the Persistence of History.” The German Quarterly 65, no. 3-4 (summer-fall 1992): 328-39.

[In the following essay, Holub discusses Heine's denunciation of the slave trade in his poem “Das Sklavenschiff.”]

On 3 August 1492 Christopher Columbus, born Cristoforo Colombo, set sail from Spain on a voyage he presumed would take him to the coast of Asia. Since at that time the Julian calendar was in use, the actual date of the voyage was 24 July 1492, almost exactly five hundred years prior to the AATG convention that commemorated this event by making its theme European-American...

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Jeffrey L. Sammons (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sammons, Jeffrey L. “In the Freedom Stall Where the Boors Live Equally: Heine in America.” In The Fortunes of German Writers in America: Studies in Literary Reception, edited by Wolfgang Elfe, James Hardin, and Gunther Holst, pp. 41-68. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992.

[In the following essay, Sammons presents an overview of Heine's reception by American writers and critics.]

The topic of Heine in America, like, I assume, several others to be discussed at this conference, is a matter of three distinguishable if overlapping constituencies: immigrants and their descendants whose mother tongue is German; educated Americans whose mother...

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Gerhart Hoffmeister (essay date spring 1994)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hoffmeister, Gerhart. “The Poet on the Margin and in the Center: Heinrich Heine and the German Condition.” Michigan Germanic Studies 20, no. 1 (spring 1994): 18-32.

[In the following essay, Hoffmeister discusses Heine's marginalized place in German letters.]

Like an inverted Don Quixote, Heine rode onto the stage of European letters and politics driven by his “crazy” desire to instill “die Zukunft allzu frühzeitig in die Gegenwart,”1 a thankless task that earned him nothing but rejection, ostracism and severe pain. No wonder that, according to Theodor Adorno, Heine suffered from a “Wunde” partly self-inflicted, partly a symptom of...

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Roger F. Cook (essay date 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cook, Roger F. “‘Citronia’—‘Kennst du das Land … ?’: A Riddle of Sexuality and Desire.” Heine-Jahrbuch 35 (1996): 81-112.

[In the following essay, Cook discusses allusions to Goethe and Novalis in Heine's “Citronia,” and explores the poem's oblique use of metaphor.]


Das war in jener Kinderzeit,
Als ich noch trug ein Flügelkleid
Und in die Kinderschule ging,
Wo ich das Abc anfing—
Ich war das einzge kleine Bübchen
In jenem Vogelkäfigstübchen,
Ein Dutzend Mädchen allerliebst
Wie Vöglein haben dort gepiepst,
Gezwitschert und getiriliert,
Auch ganz erbärmlich buchstabiert.
Frau Hindermans im...

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Adrian Del Caro (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Del Caro, Adrian. “Sendung, Blendung, Nichtvollendung: Heine on Romantic Historiography.” Heine-Jahrbuch 36 (1997): 124-33.

[In the following essay, Del Caro examines Heine's stances on some tenets of Romanticism.]

Possessing what was arguably Europe's worst digestion and worst pair of eyes, the physical and soon to be mental wreck Friedrich Nietzsche quipped in »Ecce homo«: »Der deutsche Geist ist eine Indigestion, er wird mit Nichts fertig.«1 Under this precarious omen we are now prepared to explore three of Heine's favorite ideas as they typify romantic historiography; I have provided the second idea, namely Blendung, as the bridge...

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Russell A. Berman (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Berman, Russell A. “How to Think about Germany: Nationality, Gender, and Obsession in Heine's ‘Night Thoughts.’” In Gender and Germanness: Cultural Productions of Nation, Patricia Herminghouse and Magda Mueller, pp. 66-81. Providence: Berghahn Books, 1997.

[In the following essay, Berman discusses how Heine's innovative “Night Thoughts” pushes the reader to abandon antiquated notions of self and society in favor of “a focus on the possibility of human action and innovation.”]

I he conceptual redefinition of literary studies as “Cultural Studies,” of which “German Studies” has come to represent one particular variant, appears to have...

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Robert C. Holub (essay date fall 1999)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Holub, Robert C. “Heine's Conversion: Reflections from the ‘Matratzengruft.’” The Germanic Review 74, no. 4 (fall 1999): 283-92.

[In the following essay, Holub examines Heine's conversion to Protestantism as it relates to his Confessions.]

Heine's Confessions [Geständnisse], one of the last works he published before his death, is an unusual text in both intention and composition. Originally conceived as a new introduction to an earlier work, De l'Allemagne, which had appeared in the mid-1830s, it moves through several generic styles and perspectives, never settling on any one mode of presentation. In the foreword to the work Heine...

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Hinrich C. Seeba (essay date 1999)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Seeba, Hinrich C. “‘Keine Systematie’: Heine in Berlin and the Origin of the Urban Gaze.” In Heinrich Heine's Contested Identities: Politics, Religion, and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Germany, edited by Jost Hermand and Robert C. Holub, pp. 89-108. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.

[In the following essay, Seeba credits Heine with a crucial role in developing the “urban gaze” that would emerge in later literature.]

Few critics commenting on contested identities and the modern crisis of identity formation can avoid quoting Heinrich Heine's ironically pompous dictum in The Baths of Lucca (1829) that “the great schism of the world” (“der...

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John Pizer (essay date 2002)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pizer, John. “Heine's Unique Relationship to Goethe's Weltliteratur Paradigm.” Heine-Jahrbuch 41 (2002): 18-36.

[In the following essay, Pizer discusses Heine's application of Goethe's theory of a “world literature.”]

Transnational trends in the marketing, reception, and even writing of literature since the collapse of Soviet Communism have focused a great deal of scholarly attention on Goethe's conceptualization of Weltliteratur because his disparate formulations of this paradigm seem to anticipate such literary globalization. Revitalized interest in world literature as Goethe understood it can be traced back to Fritz Strich's monograph...

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Gerhard Höhn (essay date 2002)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Höhn, Gerhard. “Eternal Return or Indiscernible Progress? Heine's Conception of History after 1848.” In A Companion to the Works of Heinrich Heine, edited by Roger F. Cook, pp. 169-200. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2002.

[In the following essay, Höhn traces Heine's changed worldview following the events of 1848 in Europe.]

“Werden die Angelegenheiten dieser Welt wirklich gelenkt von einem vernünftigen Gedanken, von der denkenden Vernunft? Oder regiert sie nur ein lachender Gamin, der Gott-Zufall?”1

(B 5: 214)

Heine posed this question in March of 1848 after witnessing a...

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Thomas Pfau (essay date 2002)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pfau, Thomas. “Nachtigallenwahnsinn and Rabbinismus: Heine's Literary Provocation to German-Jewish Cultural Identity.” In Romantic Poetry, edited by Angela Esterhammer, pp. 443-60. Philadelphia, Penn.: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2002.

[In the following essay, Pfau poses questions about Heine in relation to contemporary critics' definitions of Romanticism.]

A persistent question about Romanticism centers on the continuity or discontinuity between Romanticism and our own critical present. Have we moved decisively beyond the historical and rhetorical parameters of the period in question, or are contemporary, critical reflections on...

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Further Reading

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)


Heine in England and America: A Bibliographical Check-List, edited by Armin Arnold. London: Linden Press, 1959, 80 p.

Lists criticism and translations of Heine's works.


Heinrich Heine: A Biographical Anthology, edited by Hugo Bieber. Philadelphia, Penn.: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1956, 452 p.

Presents a collection of Heine's letters and essays and relates them to the events in his life.

Brod, Max. Heinrich Heine: The Artist in Revolt, translated by Joseph Witriol. New York: New York University Press, 1957, 355 p.


(The entire section is 759 words.)