Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1316

Heinrich Heine 1797-1856

Illustration of PDF document

Download Heinrich Heine Study Guide

Subscribe Now

(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

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 368

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)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2493

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 extravagant to many “internal émigrés” in Germany at the time. But Heine was a problem and embarrassment to many Germans in the “educated classes.”

Today opinion of Heine in Germany is more relaxed, more appreciative, but it is also distracted. Although the complexity of his character, the sharpness of his intellect, and the storminess of his life are hardly unknown, the real complaint against him now, especially in English-speaking countries where his early “romantic” poetry was once almost as popular as Longfellow's, is that he is not sufficiently “modern.” The early twentieth-century modernist revolution (which now dominates literary opinion in the universities) revived many long-dead dramatists as incompatible as Büchner and Ibsen; fiction writers as opposed as Flaubert and Dostoevsky; seventeenth-century poets like Donne, visionary contemporaries like Blake and Hölderlin.

Goethe never needed to be “revived”; his place seemed immovable; his fame stretched from his own capacious lifetime to the twentieth century, not only as the supreme figure in German literature but as a wisdom figure that somehow redeemed German history from its more hideous recent episodes. But Heine—Heine had notoriously escaped many honors during his lifetime, and even now escapes the currently necessary distinction of being considered not just “modern” but a modern, one of the elect ahead of his time.

So Heine, unlucky fellow, was still not considered “one of us”—one of us in self-conscious, superior taste. No doubt one reason for this was a certain embarrassment at having to reclaim, for purely patriotic and remorseful reasons, someone who had been excluded from German history and literature, positively expunged from the noble record of German Geist. Although such classics as “Die Lorelei” were enshrined in German memory and affection even during the Hitler years, such poems fared better than their author. They were included in schoolbooks but attributed to “author unknown.” To make amends after 1945 was not only necessary but easy. What was apparently not easy was how to fit the almost too-well-known Heine, the famously sentimental but also insurrectionary, bewilderingly contradictory Heine into the same modern canon that had no trouble accommodating Nietzsche, Kafka, Rilke.

The necessity of being “modern” has somehow been unquestioned in many Western literatures since T. S. Eliot in England, Paul Valéry in France seemed not only to establish the canon but pronounced the rules for belonging to it. No matter how far back he lived, a poet as venerable as Dante or Shakespeare was “modern” if he seemed to be talking to us of issues still unsettled, in language novel enough to provoke us still. The genius in each case had of course to be so unquestioned as to reach across the ages; only the absolutely first-rate need apply. But he/she had also to be so “complex,” “difficult,” “paradoxical,” that we in our complex and difficult age could feel that these figures, by eluding the conventional taste of their own time, had become contemporaries of ours.

Now the very fact that Heine was so dear to some sentimental nineteenth-century taste that the Nazis could not obliterate him entirely has been held against Heine. In England and America Heine was a well-loved Victorian poet. He was so popular that a representative American Victorian (and a great arbiter of taste), the novelist and poet William Dean Howells, sadly said of his own verses that he could not tell where Heine's influence left off. At a time when that perennial “modern,” Friedrich Nietzsche, said in praise of Heine that “he possessed that divine malice without which I cannot conceive perfection,” certain early songs of Heine from the Buch der Lieder were proffered in courtship like flowers and boxes of candy.

And of course Heine's “songs” were put to ravishing music by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, and Richard Strauss. People who do not even know that Heine wrote “Die Lorelei” know as melody Ich weiss nicht, was soll es bedeuten. Heine in fact became such a classic of song, of sweetness and musicality, that his verses set to music by the greatest of German lyric composers made many of his works household names, an inspiration to lovers, but even more, a secure resource to all those who liked to say “I do not know why it should be that I am so sad.”

The wonderful suppleness, the famous “inwardly expressive” genius of German lieder, no doubt rejoiced in all the wonderful opportunities that Heine's “heart laid bare” gave composers. The unembarrassed Schmerz could be irresistible. Schubert in “Der Atlas”:

Ich unglückseliger Atlas! Eine Welt,
Die ganze Welt der Schmerzen muss
          ich tragen.
(Unhappy Atlas that I am,
I must bear a world,
The whole world of sorrows.)

Schubert in “Das Fischermädchen” (The Fisher Maid):

Mein Herz gleicht ganz dem Meere,
Hat Sturm und Ebb und Flut.
(My heart is just like the sea:
It has its storms, its ebb, its flood.)

Mendelssohn in “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges” (On Wings of Song):

Dort wollen wir niedersinken
Unter dem Palmenbaum
Und Liebe und Ruhe trinken,
Und träumen seligen Traum.
(There we will sink down
Under the palm tree,
Drinking love and peace,
And dreaming a blessed dream.)

The equally well-known mischievousness, teasing, and surprise endings of so many of Heine's lyrics also lent him to the uses of a romanticism that vividly, even emphatically, knew how to rebound from aching Schmerz to mocking irony. Heine the sometimes too openly suffering love poet could also show himself the most derisive and painfully cutting satirist—often in the same poem or in the same sequence of poems—of love's self-centeredness and love's gushing trustfulness. Yet none of the poet's stabbing shifts of mood, his mordant wit, his fatalism—just the qualities that endeared Donne to Eliot and to the legion of Eliot's followers—managed to make Heine truly acceptable to self-conscious and exclusive modernist taste. It was as if Heine was almost too well known to need reclaiming.

Nor did the flightiness and even instability of Heine's views on mythology, religion, and politics endear him to twentieth-century taste. After all, Heine had condemned Christianity along with Judaism, because both formed the “Nazarene” personality that Heine disparaged in favor of the “Hellene.” Heine's fellow Jews have never really succeeded in claiming Heine for their own. He entered the Lutheran church because baptism was “the entrance ticket to European civilization,” but he hated himself for this, and in his last years, chained by spinal tuberculosis to his “mattress grave” in Paris, he wrote not just penitently but ecstatically of the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew liturgy. In one of his most famous last poems he celebrated the life and death of the great, “sweet,” medieval Hebrew poet of Spain, Judah Halevy, who in Jerusalem was slain by a “Saracen.” Heine, near death, sought to identify himself with this greatest of medieval Hebrew poets.

Nevertheless, Heine's early and very German devotion to the pagan gods was just as real, and productive, as his yearning before death to return to the personal God of the Jews. Nor, despite his many rejections as a Jew, did he ever quite drop a scoffing tone at Jewish customs and rituals. Many brilliant Jewish writers and intellectuals have been more influenced by the Christian culture in which they live than by the Jewish religion in which they were reared. Heine never got over Germany.

At the same time his fellow Germans have not been able entirely to claim him as one of theirs; or, since 1945, fully to reclaim him. Some ancient wounds are still throbbing in the German body politic; Heine is often regarded as just that—a wound, an affront. Heine as revolutionary was, however, as unpredictable and contradictory in his rebelliousness against “Old Germany” as in everything else. With the Jews as with the Christians, the Germans as with the French, Heine no sooner smelled out a consensus anywhere than he left it.

Still, so far as he was anything for most of his life, Heine was (like the Napoleon-worshiping Stendhal whom he so much resembles) a rebel against the established order. He lived out the last twenty-five years of his life in Paris as a political exile (where despite his chauvinistic dislike of French poetry he was admired, supported, and translated by French poets); he was condemned and proscribed by the Prussian government of the time. A certain hesitation among Germans in accepting him even today may be due to the fact that to Marx, Nietzsche, and other rebellious Germans who admired him, Heine seemed far ahead of his country and his time; he was an everlasting antagonist of propriety and self-satisfaction who made things even more difficult for himself by being as hard on his friends as he was on his many enemies. And Heine not only had enemies everywhere; he never gave up the privilege of mocking even his friends.

Yet Nietzsche, the most farseeing, the most intelligent, the most mercilessly keen of modern German minds, said that Heine

gave me the highest conception of the lyric poet. I seek in vain in all the realms [of time] for an equally sweet and passionate music. He possessed that divine malice without which I cannot conceive perfection. I estimate the value of human beings, of races, according to the necessity with which they cannot understand the god apart from the satyr. And how he handles his German! It will be said one day that Heine and I have been by far the first artists of the German language.

Even in the Victorian period, so ready to overemphasize the “sweet” Heine, Matthew Arnold, in what is probably the most penetrating appreciation of the poet in English, saw Heine's civic importance and quoted Heine's own words: “But lay on my coffin a sword; for I was a brave soldier in the Liberation War of humanity.” Arnold, echoing these words, honored Heine not as a hero, “but preeminently [as] a brilliant, a most effective soldier in the Liberation War of humanity.” By this Arnold meant not something political but what Goethe had said of himself: “If I were to say what I had really been to the Germans in general, and to the young German poets in particular, I should say I had been their liberator.” And what has “liberation,” so often a necessary function in what Heine called the “dark night of Germany,” a Germany so little affected by the great Paris revolution of 1830—what has it to do with the “modern,” with those “modern times” that Heine felt he belonged to with all his heart and soul and mind? Arnold identified Heine entirely with “the awakening of the modern spirit.”

Modern times find themselves with an immense system of institutions, established facts, accredited dogmas, customs, rules, which have come to them from times not modern. In this system their life has to be carried forward; yet they have a sense that this system is not of their own creation, that it by no means corresponds exactly with the wants of their actual life, that, for them, it is customary, not rational. The modern spirit is now awake almost everywhere. … To remove this want of correspondence is beginning to be the settled endeavor of most persons of good sense. Dissolvents of the old European system of dominant ideas and facts we must all be, all of us who have any power of working; what we have to study is that we may not be acrid dissolvents of it.

Of course Arnold as a proper English gentleman could not approve of Heine's disorderly manner of life. He complained that while “Heine had all the culture of Germany; in his head fermented all the ideas of modern Europe,” Heine in the end showed “want of moral balance, and of nobleness of soul and character.” So the greatest of Victorian critics (but a minor poet) revenged himself in the end for having to recognize, as a far greater poet than himself, one who was truly what Arnold also was not—“a brave soldier in the Liberation War of humanity.”

Yet Arnold saw Heine's greatness as a poet because, more than any other critic in English of his time, Arnold did have that fullness of historical grasp, that sense of the historical character of mankind, which Eliot defined as a criterion of greatness in his famous essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Eliot said that the “historical sense … we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and … the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.”

If this is “modernism,” along with Arnold's prophetic understanding that the modern spirit consists in knowing how much of the past does not correspond with our lives, then Heine is truly a “modern” poet and a herald indeed of the modern spirit. In one of his most haunting poems, “Wo?” (“Where?”), he wrote the “dream of a summer night.” In this dream, pale and weathered in the light of the moon, masonry lay about, remains of ancient glory, ruins of the Renaissance period. In an amazing dream through history, Heine went on to present Olympus, Adam and Eve, the destruction and fire of Troy, Paris and Helen, and Hector too; Moses and Aaron standing close by, Esther as well, Judith, Holofernes, and Haman; the god Amour, Phoebus Apollo, Vulcan and Venus, Pluto and Proserpina, Mercury, Bacchus the god, Priapus and Silenus; Balaam's ass, the temptation of Abraham, and Lot, who got drunk with his daughters.

And so on and on until this dream of history, this extraordinary procession that makes up history for a poet imbued with the mythological sense of things, ends with Balaam's ass braying, shouting down the gods and the saints. “And at last I myself cried out—and I woke up.” This lovely dream of history ends indeed on a prophetic note. Joyce was to say in Ulysses that “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Heine woke up, and is perhaps still trying to wake us up. He may just be one of us.

Sander L. Gilman (essay date summer 1990)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8331

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 Heine have as central a position in Freud's world of metaphors as do the Greeks. But Freud's reading of his “favorite” German writer, Heinrich Heine, reflects Freud's confrontation with the literary representation of the Jewish cultural voice in a way not paralleled by his reading of any other writer.

The reason for Freud's fascination with Heine's world of words is quite simple: Heinrich Heine was the exemplary cultural Jew for late-nineteenth-century Austria.2 And Sigmund Freud works out some of the implications of Heine's fin-de-siècle image as the touchstone for questions of Austrian-Jewish identity through his poetics of quotation. This poetics of quotation reflects Freud's reading of Heine as an encoded response to the “meaning” of Heine in Freud's time.3

Freud's reading of Heine was very much within the late-nineteenth-century image of Heine as the essential erotic and/or ironic writer.4 This image was used either as a club to attack Heine as the “Jewish” poet par excellence or as the means of glorifying the poet as not “Jewish” at all, but rather decadent, or European, or …, and here one can fill in the blank, anything but Jewish. Freud's reading of Heine falls within this view and as such forms a natural counter-reading to his Viennese Jewish contemporary Karl Kraus.5 Freud's counter-reading is not random. Both Kraus and Freud were Ostjuden transplanted into Vienna, but each attempted to acquire social status through different modes of self-definition—Kraus as a “writer” and Freud as a “scientist.” Freud's quite different perspective on things “erotic” and “Jewish” is to no little degree formed by his self-chosen professional identity as a “physician-scientist.” Freud presents a reading of Heine bound by the sense of “Jewish” identity present in this thought-collective, the shared assumption of nineteenth-century biological science that the biology of race was central to any definition of the human being.6 Thus the meaning associated with the erotic and the ironic or sexuality and humor (those global categories which span Heine's late-nineteenth-century image) can be clearly contextualized within the special discourse on race and disease held by late-nineteenth-century Jewish physicians. Sigmund Freud's reading is that of a late-nineteenth-century Austrian-Jewish physician highly attuned to the politics of his own science.

Sigmund Freud's reading of Heinrich Heine reveals the core contradiction of the late-nineteenth-century Jewish scientist-physician. It is how one can simultaneously be “subject” and “object,” how one can be the subject of scientific study at the same time that one has the role of the observer. For the Jewish physician in late-nineteenth-century Germany and Austria, the ability to enter into the sphere of “science” meant acknowledging the truth of the scientific project and its rhetoric. As fine an observer of European Jewry as Leopold von Sacher-Masoch makes this the centerpiece of his tale of Austrian Jewry included in his “ethnographic” account of European Jewry.7 In his story we observe the confrontation between the “scientific” Jewish physician and his primitive, miracle-working counterpart. Only science can win and religion must bow gracefully to its preëminence. Sacher-Masoch's tale of science and the Jews reflects the siren song of the Haskalah, which perhaps even more than the general Enlightenment saw science as the path of the escape from the darkness of the ghetto into the bright light of modern culture. It was a modern culture defined very much by D'Alembert's understanding of science and technology as the tools for the improvement of the common man. But science, especially applied science such as medicine, implied the ability to enter into the mainstream of the so-called “free” professions.8 It implied a type of social mobility increasingly available to Jews, especially in Austria, over the course of the nineteenth century.9 For the late-nineteenth-century Jewish scientist, especially those in the biological sciences, the path of social and cultural acceptance was complex. It entailed, more than in any other arena of endeavor, the acceptance of the contradiction between being “subject” and “object,” since one of the basic premises of nineteenth-century biological science was the primacy of racial difference.

For the physician-scientist the case became even more complex. It is not merely that there was a hierarchy of race, with each race higher (or lower) on a “great chain of being,” but that the very pattern of illness varied from group to group and marked the risk which each group faced in confronting life, especially “modern” civilized life. The Jewish physician was both the “observer” of this form of disease, and also, because he (and he was almost always male until the very late nineteenth century) entered into the competition of civilized society (i.e., the public sphere of medicine), precisely the potential “victim” of exactly these illnesses. The demands of “scientific objectivity” could, therefore, not be met by Jewish physicians, and they were forced to undertake complex psychological strategies to provide themselves with an “objective” observing voice.

Sigmund Freud attempts to resolve this problem of the identity of subject and object not within the context of the biology of race but of gender. And it is this movement from the rhetoric of race to the rhetoric of gender which marks Freud's citation of the “voice” of Heinrich Heine as the exemplary “Jewish” figure of the time. Drawing on earlier work published in 1925 and 1931, Freud wrote about the role of the scientist in resolving the question of gender in his comprehensive New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933 [1932]):

Today's lecture, too, should have no place in an introduction; but it may serve to give you an example of a detailed piece of analytic work, and I can say two things to recommend it. It brings forward nothing but observed facts, almost without any speculative additions, and it deals with a subject which has a claim on your interest second almost to no other. Throughout history people have knocked their heads against the riddle of the nature of femininity—

Häupter in Hieroglyphenmützen,
Häupter in Turban und schwarzem Barett,
Perückenhäupter und tausend andre
Arme, schwitzende Menschenhäupter. …

[Heads in hieroglyphic bonnets, / Heads in turbans and black birettas, / Heads in wigs and thousand other / Wretched, sweating heads of humans. …]

Nor will you have escaped worrying over this problem—those of you who are men; to those of you who are women this will not apply—you are yourselves the problem. When you meet a human being, the first distinction you make is ‘male or female?’ and you are accustomed to make the distinction with unhesitating certainty. Anatomical science shares your certainty at one point and not much further.10

For the anti-Semitic Aryan11 Austrian, as well as for the self-styled “Eastern Jew” longing to erase his origins, Heine's references would evoke quite a different set of associations. They would read the oriental turbans, Egyptian hieroglyphs, the sweat of ghetto poverty, the wigs of the shaved heads of orthodox Jewish brides, as hidden signs of racial, not merely sexual difference. This argument can be read as part of a rhetoric of race. First, let me translate this problem, which Freud articulates within the rhetoric of gender science, into the rhetoric of racial science: “There is an inherent biological difference between Jews and Aryans and this has a central role in defining you (my listener) and your culture.” The “you” which the “I” is addressing is clearly the Aryan reader, for the Jewish reader is understood as but part of the problem. The Aryan is the observer; the Jew the observed. Upon seeing someone on the street the first distinction “we” (the speaker and his listener as Aryans) make is to ask: “Jew or Aryan?” and that distinction can be made with certainty based on inherent assumptions about differences in anatomy. This biological distinction can be clearly and easily “seen” even through the mask of clothing or the veneer of civilization. As the German ethnologist Richard Andree observed concerning the conservative nature of the Jewish body and soul: “No other race but the Jews can be traced with such certainty backward for thousands of years, and no other race displays such a constancy of form, none resisted to such an extent the effects of time, as the Jews. Even when he adopts the language, dress, habits, and customs of the people among whom he lives, he still remains everywhere the same. All he adopts is but a cloak, under which the eternal Hebrew survives; he is the same in his facial features, in the structure of his body, his temperament, his character.”12

The false assumption in Freud's text is that the uniformity of the identity of all “males,” as opposed to all “females,” can be made in terms of the form of the genitalia.13 Freud continues his argument to show that this physiological determinant is central in any discussion of the nature of sexual difference. He identifies himself as a male in this text, quoting a male author (Heine), about the impossibility of “knowing” the truth about the “dark continent” of the feminine.14 The voice in Freud's text is that of a male and a participant in the central discourse about gender science of the scientific thought-collective. In my racial rereading, the voice would become that of the Aryan and part of the Aryan thought-collective. The fantasy of Freud's identification with the aggressor in my retelling of this passage as a passage about race seems to be vitiated when Freud transforms the problem of the relationship between the subject and the object into a question of sexual identity. The “male” is the “worrier” (read: subject) and the “female” is the “problem” (read: object). But this assumes that Freud's definition of the male body as uniform and constant is the norm within his fin-de-siècle scientific thought-collective.

There is an anatomical (read: sexual) distinction which sets the male Jew apart from other “males.” It is the practice of circumcision which defines the body of the male Jew, at least within the discourse of science. Freud replaces the racial perspective inherent in the science of his time with the perspective of gender. But the central problem is the impossibility which the Jewish male has as being both the “object” of study—inherently different in a way marked on his body—and the observer, neutral, identical in form and voice with all other disembodied voices of science. The Jewish male is not quite a “whole” male; he is different and his difference is what marks the entire category of the Jew.

We can find in the work of the Italian physician-scientist Paolo Mantegazza, one of Freud's and the fin-de-siècle's most often cited sources on sexual anatomy, a typical non-Jewish response to the nature of the Jewish, male body.15 Mantegazza's discussion of the Jews turns into an Enlightenment polemic against the perverse practices of that people out of their correct “space” and “time”:

Circumcision is a shame and an infamy; and I, who am not in the least anti-Semitic, who indeed have much esteem for the Israelites, I who demand of no living soul a profession of religious faith, insisting only upon the brotherhood of soap and water and of honesty, I shout and shall continue to shout at the Hebrews, until my last breath: Cease mutilating yourselves: cease imprinting upon your flesh an odious brand to distinguish you from other men; until you do this, you cannot pretend to be our equal. As it is, you, of your own accord, with the branding iron, from the first days of your lives, proceed to proclaim yourselves a race apart, one that cannot, and does not care to, mix with ours.16

It is circumcision which sets the (male) Jew apart. In his dissertation of 1897 Armand-Louis-Joseph Béraud notes that the Jews needed to circumcise their young males because of their inherently unhygienic nature, but also because the “climate in which they dwelt” otherwise encouraged the transmission of syphilis.17 The Jew in the Diaspora is out of time (having forgotten to vanish like the other ancient peoples); he is out of his correct space (where circumcision had validity). His Jewishness (as well as his disease) is inscribed on his phallus.

But what does circumcision mean for a Viennese Jewish scientist of the fin-de-siècle such as Sigmund Freud? The debates within and without the Jewish communities concerning the nature and implication of circumcision surfaced again in Germany during the 1840s. German Jews had become acculturated into German middle-class values and had come to question the absolute requirement of circumcision as a sign of their Jewish identity. Led by the radical reform rabbi Samuel Holdheim in Germany and responding to a Christian tradition which denigrated circumcision, the debate was carried out as much in the scientific press as in the religious one. There were four “traditional” views of the “meaning” of circumcision since the rise of Christianity.18 Following the writings of Paul, the first saw circumcision as inherently symbolic and, therefore, no longer valid after the rise of Christianity (this view was espoused by Eusebius and Origen); the second saw circumcision as a form of medical prophylaxis (as in the writing of Philo but also in the work of the central German commentator of the eighteenth century, Johann David Michaelis); the third saw it as a sign of a political identity (as in the work of the early-eighteenth-century theologian Johann Spencer); and the fourth as a remnant of the early Jewish idol or phallus worship (as in the work of the antiquarian Georg Friedrich Daumer—this view reappears quite often in the literature on Jewish ritual murder).

In the medical literature during the course of the fin-de-siècle two of these views dominated. They were the views which bracketed the images of “health” and “disease.” These views saw circumcision either as the source of disease19 or as a prophylaxis against disease.20 Mantegazza notes that “the hygienic value of circumcision has been exaggerated by the historians of Judaism. It is true enough that the circumcised are a little less disposed to masturbation and to venereal infection; but every day, we do have Jewish masturbators and Jewish syphilitics. Circumcision is a mark of racial distinction; … it is a sanguinary protest against universal brotherhood; and if it be true that Christ was circumcised, it is likewise true that he protested on the cross against any symbol which would tend to part men asunder.”21

The opposing view of circumcision in the scientific literature of the time saw circumcision as a mode of prevention which precluded the spread of sexually transmitted diseases because of the increased capacity for “cleanliness.” It is classified as an aspect of “hygiene,” the favorite word to critique or support the practice.22 This view is closely associated with the therapeutic use of circumcision throughout the nineteenth century as a means of “curing” the diseases caused by masturbation, with, of course, a similar split in the idea of efficacy: circumcision was either a cure for masturbation as it eliminated the stimulation of the prepuce and deadened the sensitivity of the penis or it was the source of Jewish male hypersexuality. Circumcision became the key to marking the Jewish body as different within the perimeters of “healthy” or “diseased” and Freud eventually responded to this label of difference.

Let us turn to Freud's discussion of the nature and meaning of circumcision in Moses and Monotheism (1939 [1934-1938]). Here circumcision becomes one of the signs which marks the Egyptian body. The Jews, in order to acquire the higher status of the Egyptian, incorporate the act of male infant circumcision into their newly evolving religious practices. Freud states the case in the following manner:

On no account must the Jews be inferior to them. He [Moses] wished to make them into a “holy nation,” as is expressly stated in the Biblical text, and as a mark of this consecration he introduced among them too the custom [circumcision] which made them at least the equals of the Egyptians. And he could only welcome it if they were to be isolated by such a sign and kept apart from the foreign peoples among whom their wanderings would lead them, just as the Egyptians themselves had kept apart from all foreigners.

Freud footnotes the following to document and explain his comments on the sexual self-selection and isolation of these newly defined Jews:

Herodotus, who visited Egypt about 450 B.C., enumerates in his account of his journey characteristics of the Egyptian people which exhibit an astonishing similarity to traits familiar to us in later Jewry: ‘They are altogether more religious in every respect than any other people, and differ from them too in a number of their customs. Thus they practise circumcision, which they were the first to introduce, and on grounds of cleanliness. … They look down in narrow-minded pride on other people, who are unclean and are not so close to the gods as they are’. … And, incidentally, who suggested to the Jewish poet Heine in the nineteenth century A.D. that he should complain of his religion as ‘the plague dragged along from the Nile valley, the unhealthy beliefs of Ancient Egypt’?23

The act of circumcision sets the Jewish male apart (in that he is no longer fully a male). This becomes part of the discourse of biological difference. For Freud, the symbolic context of the sexual organ—the difference in the biological construction of masculinity and femininity—is the basis for the basic symbolic language of difference:

In the antithesis between fire and water, which dominates the entire field of these myths, yet a third factor can be demonstrated in addition to the historical factor and the factor of symbolic phantasy. This is a physiological fact, which the poet Heine describes in the following lines:

Was dem Menschen dient zum Seichen
Damit schafft er Seinesgleichen.

[‘With what serves a man for pissing / he creates his like.’]

The sexual organ of the male has two functions; and there are those to whom this association is an annoyance. It serves for the evacuation of the bladder, and it carries out the act of love which sets the craving of the genital libido at rest.24

Here again it is the image of the “male” as a uniform category. The circumcised phallus has, as we have discussed, another function, at least within the scientific discourse of the nineteenth century: a prophylaxis against disease. Freud presents his discourse as a unified, univocal discourse of “male” sexual difference with reference to the poetry of Heinrich Heine.

In all of these cases, it is the poetry of Heine which links the ideas of sexual difference and the discourse of psychoanalysis. It is in the poetry of Heine that the “appropriate” words of difference are to be found which encapsulate, for Freud, the difference between subject and object, between the male body and that of the female. It is evident that in quoting Heine, especially in these contexts, Freud is not merely evoking any poetic voice of the nineteenth century. He is citing the exemplary Jewish (and therefore, erotic) writer of his time. Hidden within the poetics of quoting Heine is the distinction made by Freud's contemporaries between the Jewish body and the body of the Aryan. Freud's citation of Heinrich Heine in these contexts provides a key to reading Freud's repression of the implications of the biology of race. Heine is cited as an authority, a voice of culture which speaks to the universality of the truths which Freud presents. Freud merges Heine's voice into his own text. The confusion between the roles of “observer” and “observed” is eliminated. And Freud, like Heine, becomes a commentator. His role as the object of study, as the pathological specimen under the microscope, is eliminated.

It is within the “voice” of the poet, the texts cited by Freud, that the authority of culture is evoked. The ironic tension in Freud's reading of Heine is generated by the conflict between the universal claims of German culture and the parochial, “Jewish” role attributed to Heine.25 The shift from ironic observer to the object of analysis, from the “Aryan” to the “Jew,” is reflected when Freud confronts this transformation. The distanced, ironic poet who is at the same time the subject of his own poetry becomes for Freud the voice which marks the movement of the category of race into the category of gender.

But it is important to note that the representation of Heine is not only that of the “Jewish” and “erotic” poet, but also that of the “diseased” poet. There is rather a complex interrelationship between ideas of disease (Heine's image of the Jewish disease, Judaism, which Freud evokes in Moses and Monotheism), the nature of the Jewish (male) body and the discourse about all of these present within Freud's thought-collective. These representations are linked within Freud's work by the quotation of Heine's ironic voice in his texts, as from Freud's “favorite” work of Heine, the section of the Romanzero called “Lazarus,” which directly evokes Heine's own disease and decay. The image of Heine as an “ill” poet is linked in the nineteenth century to the idea of Heine as the syphilitic, as the unclean figure whose eroticism is spoiled by his dangerous, pathological state.26 The debate about the “meaning” of circumcision and its relationship to syphilis is evoked by the image of the dying Heine. Freud's quotation from Heine in Moses and Monotheism is taken from Heine's poem on the dedication of the Jewish Hospital in Hamburg, a hospital supported by Heine's uncle Solomon (with whom Freud was evidently related).27 Heine's image of the threefold Jewish disease—poverty, illness, and Jewishness—comes to reflect Heine's own status as the syphilitic Jew. For syphilis, like the leprosy which the Jews brought back from Egypt along with monotheism, is a marker of the sexual difference of the Jew.28 This image of the syphilitic becomes one with that of the poet. The association between the image of corruption, especially sexual corruption, and creativity dominates the late-nineteenth-century idea of the poetic.29

In his work Sigmund Freud evokes the image of disease as the concomitant to the image of the creative. He stresses the centrality of the link between the pathological and the creative which haunted the late nineteenth century:

A strong egoism is a protection against falling ill, but in the last resort we must begin to love in order not to fall ill, and we are bound to fall ill if, in consequence of frustration, we are unable to love. This follows somewhat on the lines of Heine's picture of the psychogenesis of the Creation:

Krankheit ist wohl der letzte Grund
Des ganzen Schöpferdrangs gewesen;
Erschaffend konnte ich genesen,
Erschaffend wurde ich gesund.

[Illness was no doubt the final cause / of the whole urge to create. / By creating, I could recover; / by creating, I became healthy.]

We have recognized our mental apparatus as being first and foremost a device designed for mastering excitations which would otherwise be felt as distressing or would have pathogenic effects.30

The link between the creative and the corrupt is found in Heine's “god-like” voice. Here, too, there is a rationale for the disassociation between the “subject” and the “object” of scientific study. In common discourse about Heine in contemporary, anti-Semitic commentators such as Adolf Bartels, there is the link between Heine's corrosive style and his racial identity.31 By implication this identity is manifest in Heine's corrupt and corrupting sexuality. This is clearly labeled as degenerate, as not real poetry, but rather a pathological sign of the Jewishness of the poet.

Freud attempts to undermine this association between “Jewish” creativity and disease in his own studies of creativity (from his study of Leonardo through to that of Schreber). In all of these cases, the wellspring of creativity is the pathology of sexuality, not of race, and none of his “subjects” are Jews. There is neither a study of Heine nor one of Spinoza. Freud manages to avoid this association completely, for he sees Heine not through the lens of the biology of race but rather as a Jewish anti-Jew, a fellow unbeliever:

Of what use to them is the mirage of wide acres in the moon, whose harvest no one has ever yet seen? As honest smallholders on this earth they will know how to cultivate their plot in such a way that it supports them. By withdrawing their expectations from the other world and concentrating all their liberated energies into their life on earth, they will probably succeed in achieving a state of things in which life will become tolerable for everyone and civilization no longer oppressive to anyone. Then, with one of our fellow-unbelievers, they will be able to say without regret: “Den Himmel überlassen wir / Den Engeln und den Spatzen.” [‘We leave Heaven / to the angels and the sparrows.’]32

The appropriate voice in this context is that of Heinrich Heine, who becomes here “one of our fellow-unbelievers.” The very term as well as the quotation is from Heine. Heine had coined it in his discussion of Spinoza. Freud's own oppositional position to religion is well known. Indeed, Peter Gay can evoke Freud's self-categorization as a “godless Jew.”33 This seems to be a contradiction until we understand that the term “Jew” is neither a religious nor a social label but a biological one for the late-nineteenth-century scientist. What Freud (and Gay) cannot do is to remove Freud from the category of the biological and, therefore, potentially diseased Jew. And here the fellow disbeliever, Heine, the diseased Jew, becomes the double of Freud. The disease which Heine is reputed to have (syphilis) is not the disease which Freud develops (cancer of the jaw), but the idea of the disease of Judaism, the biological definition of the Jew, as the shared disease of the Jews, links both.

Having set the context for the function which Heine's poetic citation performs in determining the link between sexuality and race in Freud's text, let us turn to a still more complicated reading of this association. It is one of the few quotations from Heine to serve as the focus for an analysis on Freud's part.34 This passage is to be found in his 1904 study of Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscious.

In the part of his Reisebilder entitled Die Bäder von Lucca [The Baths of Lucca] Heine introduces the delightful figure of the lottery-agent and extractor of corns, Hirsch-Hyacinth of Hamburg, who boasts to the poet of his relations with the wealthy Baron Rothschild, and finally says: ‘And, as true as God shall grant me all good things, Doctor, I sat beside Salomon Rothschild and he treated me quite as his equal—quite famillionairely.’35

This punning quotation delivered in Yiddish-accented German by the parvenu convert Hirsch-Hyacinth of Hamburg is, however, not our initial introduction of this text in Freud's study of humor. And it may be surprising to note that Freud evokes this joke not out of his own reading (and there are certainly sufficient examples of his own reading of Heine noted in this very volume) but because it is one of the central jokes—so central that it can be referred to without quoting it—in the psychological discourse about humor in the 1880s and '90s.36 Freud cites it from an 1896 essay by G. Heymans on Theodor Lipps' theory of the comic.37

Heymans refers to Lipps' use of this joke as an example of a meaningless error or malformation, which suddenly reveals itself as having a double meaning. It is the sudden awareness in the reader of the hidden double meaning which generates the comic response. This Kantian reading of the text goes against the initial reading of this passage by Lipps.38 For Lipps the form of an expression and its content are inherently bound together. The comic in Heine's text stems from the masking of this structural relationship and our sudden awareness of the external form of meaning as an absolute reflex of its content. The psychological power of this association remains for Lipps even when the external form (as in Heine's joke) becomes trivialized. What is striking is that Lipps, in his 1898 publication of his earlier essays on the theory of humor, can respond to Heymans without ever citing the passage from Heine. He comes to agree with Heymans, but places the moment of the awareness of the disparity between the “meaningless” word and its hidden meaning at a mid-point in the process toward the comic realization. The impact of the humor is the result of the hidden presence of the relationship between the form and the content of the expression, a relationship masked and then revealed by the pun. Lipps notes that “no one can doubt that Heine's joke is comic, only because we are aware or ‘understand’ that this word [“famillionairely”] should have this meaning, or more precisely, because it truly has, in our eyes, this meaning at that moment.”39 For Sigmund Freud, Theodor Lipps' study of the comic is the prime focus of his own work on humor. Indeed, except for his own publications, Lipps is the most frequently cited “authority” in Freud's study of the comic. Freud's own reading of the Heine passage incorporates Lipps' reading and departs from it.

What is striking is that when we closely read Lipps' entire study of the comic, as Freud did, our focus is not the Jewish lottery-agent Hirsch-Hyacinth whose mangled, Yiddish-tinged speech reveals him as a marginal Jew attempting to infiltrate Western cultural traditions. Lipps cites him and his discourse only in passing (unlike Freud, whose approach is truly a study of the Jewish joke constructed around material from and about Heine.40) And, indeed, in the book version of his essays, Lipps does not even reproduce in full Heine's punning reference to the Rothschilds. Rather there is quite another leitmotif in Lipps' work which Freud never mentions in his own study on humor. The “joke” or, in this case, the proverb, which ties Lipps' volume together is initially found early in his text and is used over and over again throughout it: “The peasant laughs about the black when he sees him for the first time.” Lipps' proverb stresses the role of the “subject” and the “object” in generating the comic.

Let me summarize Lipps' view of the nature of the comic as it is represented in this proverb. It is the awareness of sameness in difference, the hidden essence of the humanness of the black hidden within his different colored skin, which Lipps stresses. For Lipps, it is the color of the skin which gives the human being special value. It is not that this value is intrinsic to the color of the skin, but rather that society gives skin color value. “We” (Lipps and his educated reader) associate human form with white skin color. And, therefore, we assume the color of the black skin not only to be comic but also ugly. It is in the sudden awareness of the similarity between the black's body and its association with “our own body” which creates the comic. The disparity which creates humor is the awareness that what seems to be different (the essence of the body and its relationship to the idea of “humanness”) is indeed no different. Blacks are people just like—the peasant. But it is only the naïveté of the observer of the body of the black which creates this comic awareness. The observer who is directly amused by the body of the black is either a child or a primitive. But the true observer (Lipps) “knows” that the body of the black and the body of the Other are identical and is amused only by the peasant's laughter at the black.41

All of Lipps' comments about the aesthetics of blackness reflect his sense that these qualities are those of the “primitive” observer. The scientist is interested in the response of the observer and he is himself neutral in his response. At least, he does not find the body of the black comic. The “we” in Lipps' text distinguishes between the scientist-observer, who is neutral and objective, and the child-peasant, who is the object observed as it observes. This distance is clear in Lipps' writing.

When we turn to Freud's reading of Lipps, this metaphor of the biological basis for the comic, the perception of the body as the locus of difference, is displaced. It is not the body—either of the Jew or of the black—which is the seat of the idea of difference. Given the view in the scientific thought-collective in the nineteenth century that the Jew was black,42 Lipps' placing of the locus of the comic in an understanding of the black body as the object of the comic gaze has specific meaning for the Jewish reader. Just as the black is not quite a “whole” human being because of his black skin (in the eye of the child and the peasant), the male Jew is also not quite a whole human being because of his circumcision (in the eye of the scientist). The “damaged” Jewish phallus becomes the Jew. The relationship between the “body” and the “phallus” is not a post facto analogy. The thesis of the “body-as-phallus” within the symbolic language of psychoanalysis was put forth by Victor Tausk and was used by him to counter the rather simple reading of Heine's “Lorelei” presented by Hanns Sachs to the Wednesday night circle on February 15, 1911. In Tausk's reading the phallus is represented by the body of the boatman swallowed by the waves. This image “could convey the notion of the whole body engulfed by the organ of the superior female.”43 The link between the black and the Jew can be found throughout Viennese culture in Freud's day. The Austrian exile novelist Jakov Lind puts into the mouth of his father in the 1930s: “‘Vienna is Vienna and Jews are Jews. Black is black and Jew is Jew because we could not afford to be anything else.’”44 Freud's revision of this association is highly sublimated, but is also to be found in the joke book in the context of his reading of Heine (and Lichtenberg):

‘My Fellow-unbeliever Spinoza,’ says Heine. ‘We, by the ungrace of God, day-laborers, serfs, negroes, villeins …’ is how Lichtenberg begins a manifesto (which he carries no further) made by these unfortunates—who certainly have more right to this title than kings and princes have to its unmodified form.45

Freud separates the Jew and the black into two parallel textual worlds: the Jew Spinoza within the discourse of the Jew Heine; the black within the Enlightenment rhetoric of Lichtenberg. For Freud, the similarity between Jews, especially unbelieving Jews, and blacks as the object of study is eliminated through this device of citation. But for his thought-collective, Jews and blacks are identical because of their biology, which no subterfuge can alter. And Heine becomes the marker for this sense of a difference which should not be a difference. Heine, about whom one laughs, with whom one laughs, is seen as the epitome of both subject and object, both the means of analysis and the object of study.

Freud displaces the idea of the difference of the Jew into the realm of sexuality, evoking Hirsch-Hyacinth's essential Jewish voice in the joke discussed earlier in the text. But not the sexuality of the Jew. The question at the very center of the references to Heine is the placement of sexuality, deviant sexuality or the sexuality of difference outside of the world of the Jew as the object of study. In Heine's world this image is projected upon the figure of the arch-Aryan as anti-Semite, the image of the homosexual August, Count of Platen (1796-1835), as Freud notes:

Heine's Bäder von Lucca contains a regular wasp's nest of the most stinging allusions and makes the most ingenious use of this form of joke for polemical purposes (against Count Platen). Long before the reader can suspect what is afoot, there are foreshadowings of a particular theme, peculiarly ill-adapted for direct representation, by allusions to material of the most varied kind,—for instance, in Hirsch-Hyacinth's verbal contortions: ‘You are too stout and I am too thin; you have a good deal of imagination and I have all the more business sense; I am a practicus and you are a diarrheticus; in short you are my complete antipodex.’—‘Venus Urinia’—‘the stout Gudel von Dreckwall’ of Hamburg, and so on. In what follows, the events described by the author take a turn which seems at first merely to display his mischievous spirit but soon reveals its symbolic relation to his polemical purpose and at the same time shows itself as allusive. Eventually the attack on Platen bursts out, and thenceforward allusions to the theme (with which we have already been made acquainted) of the Count's love for men gushes out and overflows in every sentence of Heine's attack on his opponent's talents and character. For instance:

“Even though the Muses do not favour him, he has the Genius of Speech in his power, or rather he knows how to do violence to him. For he does not possess the free love of that Genius, he must unceasingly pursue this young man, too, and he knows how to capture only the outer forms, which, despite their lovely curves never speak nobly.”

“He is like the ostrich, which believes he is well-hidden if he sticks his head in the sand, so that only his behind can be seen. Our exalted bird would have done better to hide his behind in the sand and show us his head.”46

Here Freud moves with Heine from the Jew to the homosexual, from Hirsch-Hyacinth and his accented German to the gay poet Platen and his Romantic poetry, to locate the idea of the sexually different as the object of study. The voice is that of the observing poet Heine as Hirsch-Hyacinth, the covertly observed “object” the gay poet von Platen. What Freud “hears” in Heine's description of von Platen is a series of anal images, all of which refer to von Platen's homosexuality. The tables here are turned: it is the Jew (Heine-Freud) who sees the “pathology” of the Aryan, his homosexuality. (Heine's own homophobia47 is translated here into the reification of the early Freud's view [best expressed in his analysis of the Schreber autobiography] that homosexuality is a “disease” or at least, a pathological error in development.)

In a real way Heine's position in late-nineteenth-century thought parallels that of Freud within the scientific thought-collective of his time. And Freud sensed that doubling. He writes, calling upon Heine's Gods in Exile, to describe the “uncanny” nature of the double, the sense of sameness in the concept of difference:

But after having thus considered the manifest motivation of the figure of a ‘double,’ we have to admit that none of this helps us to understand the extraordinarily strong feeling of something uncanny that pervades the conception; and our knowledge of pathological mental processes enables us to add that nothing in this more superficial material could account for the urge towards defence which has caused the ego to project that material outward as something foreign to itself. When all is said and done, the quality of uncanniness can only come from the fact of the ‘double’ being a creation dating back to a very early mental stage, long since surmounted—a stage, incidentally, at which it wore a more friendly aspect. The ‘double’ has become a thing of terror, just as, after the collapse of their religion, the gods turned into demons.48

Heine's text functions for Freud as his own rhetorical double—the object of his study as well as the voice into which he can slip. What is uncanny in Freud's text is the regularity with which Heine's voice appears in this manner. Freud's poetics of quotations reveal themselves to be a politics of quotation. His appropriation of Heine's voice in the “scientific” context of psychoanalytic theory reveals itself to be a dialogue with the voice of the Jew within a discourse initially labeled as scientific but also understood by Freud and his thought-collective as Jewish as well. Heine remains for Freud the sign of the double bind of being both the authoritative voice of the observer and the ever suspect voice of the patient, a voice which remains one of the signs and symptoms of the disease from which both Heine and Freud suffered, their Jewishness.


  1. All of the Freud references are to Sigmund Freud, Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, edited and translated by J. Strachey, A. Freud, A. Strachey, and A. Tyson. 24 vols. (London: Hogarth, 1955-74), hereafter SE. Here “Contributions to a Questionnaire on Reading” (1907), 9:245: “You did not even ask for ‘favorite books,’ among which I should not have forgotten Milton's Paradise Lost and Heine's Lazarus.” For the general context see Ernst A. Ticho, “Der Einfluss der deutschsprachigen Kultur auf Freuds Denken,” Jahrbuch der Psychoanalyse 19 (1986), 36-53, and Renate Böschenstein, “Mythos als Wasserscheide. Die jüdische Komponente der Psychoanalyse: Beobachtungen zu ihrem Zusammenhang mit der Literatur des Jahrhundertbeginns,” in Hans Otto Horch and Horst Denkler, eds., Conditio Judaica: Judentum, Antisemitismus und deutschsprachige Literatur vom 18. Jahrhundert bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1989), 287-310.

  2. See Robert Wistrich, The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization Oxford University Press, 1989), 181.

  3. On the complexity of reading Freud reading see Avital Ronell, Dictations: On Haunted Writing (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1985) and on the general parallels which make Freud's reading of Heine more than superficial see the first-rate dissertation by Michael G. Levine, “Writing Between the Lines: Heine, Freud and the Effects of Self-Censorship,” diss., The Johns Hopkins University, 1986.

  4. On the overall history of Heine's reputation in the nineteenth century see Gerhard Höhn, Heine-Handbuch: Zeit, Person, Werk (Stuttgart Metzler, 1987).

  5. See my “Karl Kraus's Oscar Wilde: Race, Sex, and Difference,” Austrian Studies (Cambridge), forthcoming.

  6. William F. Bynum, “The Great Chain of Being after Forty Years: An Appraisal,” History of Science 13 (1975), 1-28.

  7. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, “Zwei Ärtze,” in his Jüdisches Leben in Wort und Bild (Mannheim: J. Bensheimer, 1892), 287-298. On the context see Hans Otto Horch, “Der Aussenseiter als ‘Judenraphael,’ Zu den Judengeschichten Leopolds von Sacher Masoch,” in Horch and Denkler, 258-286.

  8. See Monika Richarz, Der Eintritt der Juden in die akademische Berufe (Tübingen: Mohr, 1974).

  9. On the social history of the Jews in this context see George E. Berkley, Vienna and Its Jews: The Tragedy of Success, 1880-1980s (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Abt / Madison, 1988); William O. McCagg, Jr., A History of Habsburg Jews, 1670-1918 (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1989); Ivar Oxaal, Michael Pollak, Gerhard Botz, editors, Jews, Antisemitism and Culture in Vienna (London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987); Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, revised edition (London: Peter Halban, 1988); Steven Beller, Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938: A Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 189.

  10. SE, 22: 113.

  11. I am using the self-consciously ethnological term “Aryan” as the antithesis to “Jew” rather than the more evident term “Christian.” What I am stressing is the racial definition of the “Jew” in the nineteenth century. It is clear that the terms “Jew” and “Christian” take on racial as well as religious significance during this period.

  12. Richard Andree, Zur Volkskunde der Juden (Leipzig: Velhagen & Klasing, 1881), 24-25, cited by Maurice Fishberg, “Materials for the Physical Anthropology of the Eastern European Jew,” Memoires of the American Anthropological Association 1 (1905-1907), 6-7.

  13. On the background for this idea of the homologous structure of the genitalia see my Sexuality: An Illustrated History (New York: Wiley, 1989).

  14. SE 25: 212.

  15. On Mantegazza see Giovanni Landucci, Darwinismo a Firenze: Tra scienza e ideologia (1860-1900) (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1977), 107-128.

  16. The relevant passages in the German edition which Freud knew, Anthropologisch-kulturhistorische Studien über die Geschlechtsverhältnisse des Menschen (Jena: Hermann Costenoble, [1891]) are on pp. 132-137. All of the quotations from Mantegazza are from the English translation: Paolo Mantegazza, The Sexual Relations of Mankind, translated by Samuel Putnam (New York: Eugenics Publishing Co., 1938), here p. 99.

  17. Armand-Louis-Joseph Béraud, Étude de Pathologie Comparée: Essai sur la pathologie des sémites (Bordeaux: Paul Cassignol, 1897), 55.

  18. There is no comprehensive study of the German debates on circumcision. See J. Alkvist, “Geschichte der Circumcision,” Janus 30 (1926), 86-104; 152-71.

  19. See for example the discussion by Em. Kohn in the Mittheilung des Ärtzlichen Vereins in Wien 3 (1874), 169-172 (on the Jewish side) and Dr. Klein, “Die rituelle Circumcision, eine sanitätspolizeiliche Frage,” Allgemeine Medizinische Central-Zeitung 22 (1853), 368-369 (on the non-Jewish side).

  20. See the discussion by Dr. Bamberger, “Die Hygiene der Beschneidung,” in Max Grunwald, Die Hygiene der Juden. Im Anschluss an die internationale Hygiene-Ausstellung (Dresden: Verlag der historischen Abteilung der internationale Hygiene-Ausstellung, 1911), 103-112 (on the Jewish side) and W. Hammer, “Zur Beschneidungsfrage,” Zeitschrift für Bahnärzte 1 (1916), 254 (on the non-Jewish side).

  21. Mantegazza, 98-99.

  22. Alfons Labisch, “Die soziale Konstruktion der ‘Gesundheit’ und des ‘Homo Hygienicus,’” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Soziologie 3/4 (1986), 60-82.

  23. SE, 23: 30-31.

  24. SE, 22: 192-93.

  25. Heine's own awareness of this problem complicates this question. See Norbert Altenhofer, “Chiffre, Hieroglyphe, Palimpsest. Vorformen tiefhermeneutischer und intertextueller Interpretation im Werke Heines,” in Ulrich Nassen, editor, Texthermeneutik: Aktualität, Geschichte, Kritik (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1979), 149-93.

  26. See Manfred Windfuhr, Heinrich Heine: Revolution und Reflexion (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1976), 109 and Gerhard Höhn, Heine-Handbuch: Zeit, Person, Werk (Stuttgart Metzler, 1987), 114.

  27. Freud presents an image of Heine in the context of his family and relates this to Freud's own family to document the context of the Hirsch-Hyacinth “pun” which will be discussed later in this essay. What he does not note is that his wife's family, the Bernays, were also related to the Heines (See David Bakan, Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition [New York: Van Nostrand, 1958], 196). Thus the story about “family” is also a narrative which reflects the medical view that “inbreeding” (read: incest) was the source of madness among the Jews: “I recall a story told by an old aunt of my own, who had married into the Heine family, how one day, when she was an attractive young woman, she found sitting next her at the family dinner-table a person who struck her as uninviting and whom the rest of the company treated contemptuously. She herself felt no reason to be any more affable towards him. It was only many years later that she realized that this negligent and neglected cousin had been the poet Heinrich Heine. There is not a little evidence to show how much Heine suffered both in his youth and later from this rejection by his rich relations. It was from the soil of this subjective emotion that the ‘famillionairely’ joke sprang.” Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscious, SE 8: 141-42.

  28. See my Sexuality: An Illustrated History, 258-60.

  29. See Barbara Spackman, Decadent Genealogies: The Rhetoric of Sickness from Baudelaire to D'Annunzio (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1989).

  30. SE, 14: 85.

  31. This is clearest in Bartel's programmatic pamphlet on the nature of criticism: Kritker und Kritikaster: Pro domo et pro arte, mit einem Anhang: Das Judentum in der deutschen Literatur (Leipzig: Eduard Avenarius, 1903), see esp. 103-15.

  32. SE, 21: 50.

  33. See Peter Gay, A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis (New Haven: Yale University Press [in Association with Hebrew Union College Press, Cincinnati], 1987), as well as the discussions throughout Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time (New York: Norton, 1988).

  34. On Freud and humor see Elliott Oring, The Jokes of Sigmund Freud: A Study in Humor and Jewish Identity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984); on the role of Heine quotations in Freud's study of humor see Peter Brask, “Rebecca, er det mig so taler?” Kritik 36 (1975), 103-126.

  35. SE 8: 16.

  36. “Heymans (1896) explains how the effect of a joke comes about through bewilderment being succeeded by illumination. He illustrates his meaning by a brilliant joke of Heine's, who makes one of his characters, Hirsch-Hyacinth, the poor lottery-agent, boast that the great Baron Rothschild had treated him quite as his equal—quite ‘famillionairely.’ Here the word that is the vehicle of the joke appears at first sight simply to be a wrongly constructed word, something unintelligible, incomprehensible, puzzling. It accordingly bewilders. The comic effect is produced by the solution of this bewilderment, by understanding the word.” Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscious, SE, 8: 12-13.

  37. G. Heymans, “Ästhetische Unterschungen in Anschluss an die Lipp'sche Theorie des Komischen,” Zeitschrift für Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorgane 11 (1896), 31-43; 333-52.

  38. Theodor Lipps, “Psychologie der Komik,” Philosophische Monatsheft 25 (1889), 139.

  39. Theodor Lipps, Komik und Humor: Eine psychologisch-ästhetische Untersuchung (Hamburg / Leipzig: Leopold Voss, 1898), 95.

  40. See the following passages: Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscious, SE 8: 12-13, 16, 25, 36, 39, 41, 47-48, 50-51, 69, 77, 78-79, 85, 87, 90, 114-15, 141-42, 145, 211, 212.

  41. Lipps, Komik und Humor, 56, 58, 68, 70, 153, 158. On the function of the idea of Blackness and the body of the black as a marker within German aesthetic theory see my On Blackness without Blacks: Essays on the Image of the Black in Germany. Yale Afro-American Studies (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982).

  42. See my Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Madness (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 29-35.

  43. See the commentary with quotations by Mark Kanzer, “Pioneers of Applied Analysis: Vol. III of the Minutes,American Imago 32 (1975), 59-76, here 66.

  44. Jakov Lind, Counting My Steps: An Autobiography (London: Macmillan, 1969), 55.

  45. SE 8: 77.

  46. SE 8: 78-79.

  47. See Robert C. Holub, “Heine's Sexual Assaults: Towards a Theory of Total Polemic,” Monatshefte 73 (1981), 415-28.

  48. Freud, “The ‘Uncanny,’” SE 17: 236. On Freud and Heine see J. M. R. Damasmora, F. A. Jenner, S. E. Eacott, “On Heutoscopy or the Phenomenon of the Double: Case Presentation and Review of the Literature,” British Journal of Medical Psychology 53 (1980), 75-83.

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

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7712

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 relations.1 When, a little over two months later, Columbus set foot on an island in the Bahamas, probably San Salvador or Watlings, he inaugurated a connection between Europe and the so-called New World that would have profound effects on world history. In the Western World, particularly in the United States, the import of Columbus and his voyages has usually been reduced and subjected to a somewhat racist and certainly Eurocentric ideological hegemony. What most of us learned in school—both Europeans and Americans—and what was still considered the official position in celebrations in October of 1992 in the United States, is that Columbus was a valiant explorer who discovered a largely uninhabited hemisphere of the earth and opened it up to colonization and civilization from Europe. That Columbus was a greedy adventurer who bargained for ten percent of the proceeds from all future voyages along his route to India, that he was primarily interested therefore in enriching himself with gold and other treasures that would be stolen from the lands he reached, and that he was decisively wrong about so many geographical facts that even in his own day were widely known and scientifically confirmed—these features of his personality and beliefs have usually been neglected in his Eurocentric reception.2

The other great area that has been ignored in our haste to celebrate the connection between Europe and the “New World” is the import for non-Europeans of the so-called discovery. While Columbus's voyages opened up two continents for settlement, exploration, and raw materials for Europeans, and while the wealth found in the “New World” helped to fuel the industrial revolution of the Old World, the populations of the Third World were dragged into a state of affairs in which they suffered some of the most horrible treatment known to humankind. For most of the indigenous peoples of North and South America, the results of what should properly be called a European invasion of their territory were enslavement, genocide, and economic and spiritual depravity. Other indigenous peoples fared just as badly. Undoubtedly the most horrendous by-product of Columbus's voyages for Africa and Africans was the opening of the slave trade. Indeed, Columbus was himself the inaugurator of the transatlantic trade, although the direction in which he first transported slaves, from the West Indies back to Europe, would be a route seldom replicated in the subsequent four centuries. In the log from his first voyage, he notes that he will bring a dozen inhabitants of the islands back to Spain, but later speaks of only seven, adding: “should your Majesties command it, all the inhabitants could be taken away to Castile, or made slaves on the island. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”3 We can understand Columbus's suggestion better if we remember that the Portuguese, who had obtained the rights to exploit the West Coast of Africa, had been importing African slaves into Europe since the 1440s; Columbus, competing with the country that had rejected his services, wants to demonstrate to the Spanish crown that the West Indies are equally exploitable.

The subsequent suppression of the circumstances and impact of Columbus's voyages has had ramifications for almost everything that concerns Western history. Even the reading and evaluation of German literature has been affected by the repression of the darkest side of the European legacy. Paradoxically, this tendency also prevails when the legacy is itself thematized. In Heinrich Heine's “Das Sklavenschiff,” a poem that refers directly to the cruelty and hypocrisy of the slave trade, we encounter a model case of the manner in which literary scholarship unwittingly promulgates a tradition of repression. Although recognized by Heine experts as an exemplary piece of social satire, this late poem has nevertheless received less critical acclaim than other, less compelling, writings. Compared with “Die schlesischen Weber,” perhaps the only poem in Heine's oeuvre with which it compares as a direct social protest against injustice, it has not fared well at all. It is found less frequently in anthologies and collections of Heine's verse, and it has attracted the attention less often of scholars and critics.4 Part of the attraction of “Die schlesischen Weber” for Europeans has been its reference to exploitation in Germany. Since a good part of Heine's work before 1848 deals with German and European affairs, and since this poem makes reference to a well-known event in 1844, there is some superficial justification for the interest it has drawn. But this focus on Europe's subjugation of its own working class tends to obfuscate the very insights that were most important in Heine's later writings: the exportation of European hegemony and exploitation into all corners of the globe. Even among Marxist critics, the “opening of the Indian age,” as Peter Hacks's play dubs the post-Columbus era, has been judged Eurocentrically as an “advance” of capitalism over a decrepit feudal order, while the plight of the non-European world is virtually ignored.5 Heine's “Sklavenschiff,” along with other late poems such as “Vitzliputzli” and “Bimini,” recognized more directly the price that native peoples had to pay for these advances.6

The research that does exist on “Das Sklavenschiff” has tended to concentrate on two issues. The first is the source for Heine's poem. There seems to be a consensus—at least in the older research that concerned itself with such matters—that Jean Béranger's poem “Les Nègres et les marionettes,” either in the original French or in Chamisso's translation (“Die Neger und die Marionetten”), and Prosper Mérimée's short story “Tamango” served as Heine's inspiration.7 Because of Heine's familiarity with French literature and his proximity to both authors, it is not unlikely that he was familiar with both works. On closer examination, however, Heine's poem does not appear to be directly dependent on either of these French sources. Béranger's poem, which narrates in five strophes the obviously fictitious events aboard an anonymous slaver, is only superficially related to Heine's, and all similarities can be explained either with reference to generic norms or the historical record. For example, the fact that Béranger has the captain of the slaver speak at the beginning of his poem, and that he, like Heine's supercargo Mynher van Koek, is concerned about the deadly ennui killing off his slaves, are striking similarities only if we are ignorant of the tradition of anti-slave-trade poetry and historical fact. Several other poems on the slave trade, for example William Cowper's “Sweet Meat Has Sour Sauce” or John Greenleaf Whittier's “The Slave-Ships,” likewise begin with the words of a captain's persona,8 and the concern with keeping slaves alive is ubiquitous in all discussions. Indeed, the melancholia diagnosed by the doctor on Heine's slaver is not necessarily derived from “l'ennui” in Béranger's first strophe or the “humeur mélancolique” in the last stanza, since much of the literature on the slave trade makes direct reference to the depressed mental state of the captured Africans.9 One might add that deep depression and total apathy are understandable responses to the prospects of a life in bondage in a foreign land thousands of miles from friends and family. Similarly, Mérimée's story, which relates the embarkation, voyage, and mutiny aboard a slaver, contains nothing special that would relate it directly to Heine's poem. What has led some researchers, nonetheless, to postulate a connection, the forced dancing of the slaves on the deck of the ship, is a minor occurrence in Mérimée's tale, but more importantly, as I will show in a moment, nothing out of the ordinary in contemporary accounts.10

The second concern of most commentary on “Das Sklavenschiff” is to show how the poem fits into Heine's allegedly resigned and bitter worldview toward the end of his life. Discussions usually emphasize Heine's altered perspective on the world, the failure of the European revolutions, and his religious conversion, stressing in particular his pessimism about human nature in general. “Das Sklavenschiff” is then viewed as one in a series of poetic statements about the triumph of evil and foolishness and the concomitant degradation of human beings. Laura Hofrichter's remarks are typical in this regard. Placing “Das Sklavenschiff” together with “Der Philanthrop” and “Jung-Katerverein für Poesie-Musik,” she contends that all three poems—and undoubtedly others in Heine's late lyric collections—are similar in that they do not conceal suffering and pain with the veil of beauty.11 No doubt, there are connections between “Das Sklavenschiff” and other writings from Heine's later years, and it would be difficult not to recognize that in these works he repeatedly thematizes the ubiquity of inhumanity and pettiness in his contemporary world. But by embedding “Das Sklavenschiff” so firmly into this general framework of pessimism and despair, most commentators have missed precisely the specificity of “Das Sklavenschiff” to its topic. Unlike Béranger's poem, whose last strophe—untranslated in the Chamisso version—makes it apparent that the amused slaves are symbolic for all oppressed peoples,12 Heine's “Sklavenschiff” alludes to a series of facts and motifs that remove it from the realm of a general plaint and connect it with actual historical abuses.13 This poem is thus not only, and perhaps not primarily, a part of Heine's pessimism in the “mattress grave” but, more significantly, a part of his growing understanding of the problems inherent in a corrupt and capitalist European society. He does not proceed from a general picture of the world and use the slave ship as a microcosm for misery and suffering, as does his predecessor Béranger; rather, he proceeds from a quite detailed and precise knowledge of slaving that then confirms and reinforces aspects of his mature worldview.

In his letters, we find evidence that “Das Sklavenschiff” is less the consequence of a poetic tradition stretching from Cowper and Southey to Béranger and Whittier than the result of Heine's reading of travel literature about Africa and slaving. The most direct testimony occurs on 5 November 1851, when Heine writes to Georg Weerth, with whom he corresponded frequently about Europe and the New World: “… meistens lese ich jetzt Reisebeschreibungen, und seit zwey Monathen bin ich nicht aus Sengambien und Guinea herausgekommen. Der Überdruß, den mir die Weißen einflößen, ist wohl Schuld daran, daß ich mich in diese schwarze Welt versenke, die wirklich sehr amüsant ist. Diese schwarzen Negerkönige machen mir mehr Vergnügen, als unsre heimischen Landesväter, ob sie gleich ebenfalls von Menschenrechten wenig wissen und die Sclaverei als etwas Naturwüchsiges betrachten.”14 From the various texts Heine had at his disposal, he must have acquired a good sense for the dimensions and geography of the slave trade. The details in his poem exhibit in this regard a specificity that exceeds most other verse on this topic, which usually exhausts itself in general condemnations.15 What is unusual about Heine's poem is not, however, the emphasis on profit, something for which he has been frequently praised in secondary literature; almost every poem and narrative contain references to the market, to the slaves as commodities, to buying and selling of human beings, or to trading. The denunciation of the dehumanized practice of purchasing and transporting men, women, and children was widespread by Heine's time. The most important writings against the slave trade had, after all, been produced in the second half of the 18th century and during the first decade and a half of the 19th century. By the time Heine pens “Das Sklavenschiff,” officially condoned trading of slaves had been outlawed by all European nations for three decades. Indeed, the negative ethical force connected with the purchase of human labor in the form of direct ownership was effectively marshaled by Karl Marx in his comments on the ownership of human labor power. I believe it is probable that Marx utilized echoes from the widespread condemnation of slavery—the notion of the human being/the labor power of the human being as commodity—to censure capitalism by association.

More revealing in Heine's poem than the characterization of Africans as commodities is the cast of characters and the indirect references to national complicity with slaving. The very first line—“Der Supercargo Mynher van Koek”—identifies the commanding officer as a Dutchman.16 Heine had made various disparaging remarks about the Dutch in earlier works, but this reference is not merely an extension of his aversion to the narrow mercantilism he associated with the Netherlands. Rather, it reflects the fairly active role the Dutch played for at least a brief period of time in the slave trade.17 Indeed, during the latter half of the 17th century, the low countries had been one of the leaders in the sale of Africans to the “New World.” Heine had already made reference to the Dutch connection with the slave trade in Französische Zustände. It occurs in a “Zwischennote” written in October of 1832 and is situated in the context of his criticism of aristocratic privilege from his introduction to Kahldorf über den Adel. Heine is explaining with some irony that the aristocracy in Germany is not entirely devoid of liberal traits. To demonstrate the absurdity and inconsistency of their “liberalism”—and the “liberalism” of Dutch slave merchants as well—he compares the attitudes of Graf Moltke, the addressee of Kahldorf's correspondence, and Myn Heer van der Null, a Dutch merchant Heine claims to have met on his journeys through Holland:

Der Graf Moltke ist gewiß der festesten Meinung, daß der Sklavenhandel etwas Widerrechtliches und Schändliches ist, und er stimmt gewiß für dessen Abschaffung. Myn Heer van der Null hingegen, ein Sklavenhändler, den ich unter den Bohmchen zu Rotterdam kennen gelernt, ist durchaus überzeugt: der Sklavenhandel sei etwas ganz Natürliches und Anständiges, das Vorrecht der Geburt aber, das Erbprivilegium, der Adel, sei etwas Ungerechtes und Widersinniges, welches jeder honette Staat ganz abschaffen müsse.18

Although, as I stated above, the official slave trade had already been outlawed in all European states by 1820, it continued to flourish in illegality well into the second half of the century. One must therefore conclude that van der Null—or the person for whom this name stands—was engaged in an illegal activity. With regard to “Das Sklavenschiff,” this brief reference is important for two reasons: (1) It shows that Heine had some acquaintance with, or thoughts about, the slave trade well before his intensive reading of travelogues in the 1850s. Since the slave trade was a common target of condemnation in European liberal circles, it is possible that his reference here is simply the reflection of a general attitude drawn from the circles which he frequented. It is also possible, however, that Heine was familiar with the slave trade from more specific sources. A likely and possible source was Albert Hüne's two-volume work, Vollständige historisch-philosophische Darstellung aller Veränderungen des Negersclavenhandels.19 The author of this first comprehensive history of the slave trade, published in Göttingen in 1820, was a Privatdozent at the University of Göttingen, where Heine, of course, had studied in 1821 and again in 1824. (2) This passage connects the slave trade with a general pattern of injustice legitimized by a false appeal to nature. Significantly, in his letter to Weerth, Heine criticizes the African rulers for similarly justifying the abuse of human dignity and rights by having recourse to nature (“etwas Naturwüchsiges”). It is this unreflected acceptance of something as natural that thus connects the aristocracy, the slave traders, and the African kings.

In the course of the next twenty years, Myn Heer van der Null is transformed into Mynher van Koek and given command of a slaver that obtains Africans from a port near the Senegal river and delivers them to Rio de Janeiro. Both of these place designations also have a historical significance. The region around the Senegal river was the principal site of French slaving factories when the French were active in the slave trade, while Rio was a central international embarkation and disembarkation point during the first three quarters of the 19th century in a country that imported more Africans than any other country in the world.20 However, despite the specificity of nationalities and places, and despite Heine's alleged conversation with van der Null about his mercantile ventures, the voyage depicted in “Das Sklavenschiff” is not very realistic for the 1850s. By the middle of the last century, it would have been rare that a ship with a Dutch flag would carry slaves, and unlikely that six hundred of them would be loaded from the Senegal region.21 Heine's point here, it would seem, is not accuracy to any particular real voyage, but rather an attention to details that emphasize the European nature of the slave trade. Although Heine had occasionally criticized the Dutch in earlier works, his satire is aimed at a mentality that was pervasive throughout Europe for the previous three and a half centuries. Heine is not seeking to highlight the inhumanity of any single European nation. Significant for this poem, and for his later thought in general, is that he transcends the theme of nationalism, which had been a preoccupation of his for almost 30 years, and begins to frame issues of social injustice in more global terms.

Other details of the poem are similarly unrelated to any specific voyage, but nonetheless proximate to accounts that were readily available in the 19th century. Although the amount of profit that van Koek stands to make seems to be exaggerated—he states that he can make 800٪ if only half his cargo lives—the records we have indicate that profits could be substantial. Demand for slaves remained high throughout much of the 19th century; because risks were considerably greater after the slave trade was outlawed, and because the illegality of the trade reduced competition, merchants could often charge significantly higher prices for illegally transported slaves than for those shipped half a century before. With the absence of regulations concerning sanitation and care, conditions on board a slave ship worsened during the 19th century as avaricious traders—many “upstanding” merchants having deserted slaving—sought to maximize profits by transporting more slaves. The logbook of Captain Theophilus Conneau, which appeared in the same year as Heine's poem, indicates a profit of $41,719 from the sale of 217 slaves. (The ship sailed with 220.)22 Sample profits on the sale of slaves taken from the last years of legal trade indicate that owners netted between £ 25 and £ 65 per slave in voyages from the port of Liverpool.23 Although some recent scholarship has indicated that profits were modest,24 it is difficult to believe that owners would have entered the trade in such numbers, and that the trade would have prospered despite its prohibition for so many years, if the prospects of profit had not been considerable. Heine's supercargo may exaggerate, but the figures he calculates in his cabin are probably only a reflection of the common expectations of enormous profits.

Among the other details that Heine lifted from reports known to him were the descriptions of the surgeon van der Smissen. We might note first that it was common on voyages transporting slaves for a doctor to be present. Particularly during the era of legal slaving, many companies required a physician. Indeed, Rawley reports that “the Dutch appear commonly to have had surgeons aboard,” and that frequently serving on a slaver was something like an apprenticeship before employment in a hospital or at a university.25 Among the surgeon's duties was a daily report to the captain, such as the one van der Smissen gives to van Koek. Since surgeons were often paid according to the number of slaves that arrived healthy in the New World (which was called head money), they, too, had a stake in keeping their African cargo healthy. Van der Smissen's report of death and of the disposal of bodies, which are then eaten by sharks, is documented in several travel accounts, and the diagnosis of melancholia, which at least one doctor felt was the cause of dysentery, was, as noted above, frequent aboard slavers.26 Perhaps the most frequently noted characteristic of slave ships is alluded to in van der Smissen's brief explanation of why the slaves are themselves responsible for their own demise: “Ihr schlechter Odem hat die Luft / Im Schiffsraum so sehr verdorben” (l. 67-68). That the air emanating from the ship's storage cabin was bad, although obviously not due to the foul breath of the slaves, was well documented in many accounts. The report of Dr. Jose E. Cliffe, native of the United States, naturalized citizen of Brazil, who testified before the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1850, emphasizes the poor air quality. When asked about the high mortality, he attributed it in part “to the confinement and foul air.”27 Since temperatures in the hold reached 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and since bodily excrement and dead bodies were removed only periodically, the “fetid state of the atmosphere” is quite understandable. Indeed, one of the few accounts written by a slave, Olaudah Equiano's autobiography, mentions twice the “pestilential stench of a Guinea ship.”28 Ransford's monograph on the slave trade sums up the dominant attitude as follows: “Sailors said that a slave ship could be smelled a mile away at sea and nearly all accounts stress the fetid stench that wafted out of a slaver's hold and then hung about the ship like a sickening blanket.” Van der Smissen's comments, far from being a product of Heine's fantasy or a reflection of his own depressed state of mind in the “mattress grave,” are actually close to the written testimony available to him.

Undoubtedly, the element that has attracted greatest critical attention in Heine's poem is the dance of the slaves. The problem that van Koek and van der Smissen face is the rising rate of mortality among the slaves. We might recall that in Béranger's poem the same predicament is “solved” by amusing the slaves with a marionette show in which the victory of the black devil over Polichinelle raises their spirits. This staging of a Punch-and-Judy show on board ship appears to be a total invention on the part of Béranger, but it obviously fits in well with his allegorical message of pacifying the oppressed with glitter and false dreams. Because critics have assumed Heine's dependence on Béranger's poem, and have believed that Heine, like his French predecessor, was imparting a general message about evil or hegemonic relations in the world, the decision of the Dutch sailors to have the slaves dance has been viewed as a cruel variant of the marionette show. Most comment on these passages of the poem, which comprise a good deal of the second part, considers the dance to be a literary motif with high symbolic value. Brian Murdoch, whose knowledge of the slave trade appears to be drawn from poetry and from the Encyclopedia, considers the danse macabre to be one of Heine's “literary allusions that go beyond the historical context.” He likens it to Psalm 137 and concludes that in its wider context it is “an indictment of the human tendency to inhumanity and hypocrisy in general, or more philosophically … an indictment of the precarious nature of life itself.”29 Leonard Forster points to a literary relationship with Celan's “Todesfuge,” where, similarly, a group of captives is forced to dance.30 Indeed, Forster argues convincingly that there are also other significant parallels: for example, between the hypocritical character van Koek, concerned with the perfection of tulips, and the German guard, who writes to his blond-haired Margarethe.31 Jeffrey Sammons, who considers “Das Sklavenschiff” “the masterpiece of Heine's relatively few poems of this type,” relates the dance to Heine's “own theme of Dionysiac ambivalence and demonic anarchy,”32 thus divorcing to some extent the specific historical message from a literary embellishment.33 Finally, Hofrichter finds the tableau of the dancing slaves to be an appropriate use of a common motif:

Daß im “Sklavenschiff” ein Tanz den Höhenpunkt bildet, ist bezeichnend für die Rolle, die dem Bilde zukommt. Denn das Bild ist, in diesem Zyklus wie in allem anderen, untrennbar mit Heines Fühlen verschmolzen. Der zur lärmenden Musik von Steuermann, Koch, Schiffsjung und Doktor erzwungene Tanz ist ein Sinnbild für die fürchterliche Degradierung des Menschen, die Vergewaltigung des Besten in ihm, denn Tanz ist bei Heine immer mit dem Begriff des Künstlerischen, des Schöpferischen, des Lebensvollen verbunden.34

Only in selected works of more recent commentators—for example, in the structuralist interpretation by Karlheinz Fingerhut or the monograph on sexuality in Heine's poetry by Irene Guy—have I found a recognition of Heine's reliance on the actual history of slaving.35 If one were to summarize most previous observations on the dance of the slaves in Heine's “Sklavenschiff,” however, one would have to conclude that it is a literary motif that is drawn from a longer tradition in Heine's works, and thus unrelated to the historical subject thematized in the poem.

Critics are probably not incorrect in their remarks on the grotesque dance, and Heine does much to contribute to the hasty conclusion that this is purely a literary motif. His personification of the sharks, who are eagerly awaiting another serving of human flesh (although the mention of sharks devouring slaves thrown overboard, or who throw themselves overboard, is not unusual either),36 and the general bacchanalian atmosphere of lust and revelry suggest a fantastic and poetic origin for this scene. But the critical commentary on this surreal scene reveals simultaneously the Western repression of the real as it pertains to the history of Europe and the New World. Far from being a product of Heine's imagination, the image of slaves dancing aboard a slave ship could frequently be found in 18th- and 19th-century accounts. Fearing losses from death or illness, and wanting to maintain as healthy a commodity as possible, slave captains and their crew often permitted or compelled their captives to “exercise” on deck. The report of Captain Thomas Phillips concerning the voyage of the Hannibal in 1693 mentions these exercises as routine hygienic measures: “We often at sea, in the evenings, would let the slaves come up into the sun to air themselves, and make them jump and dance for an hour or two to our bag-pipes, harp, and fiddle, by which exercise to preserve them in health.”37 Dr. George Pinckard, who served aboard an English slaver in the last decade of the 18th century, offers a similar account:

Mirth and gaiety were promoted among them: they were roused to bodily exercise, and care was used to divert their minds from dwelling upon their change of state, and loss of home: and I may truly say, that a more general air of contentment reigned among them than could have been expected. While many were dancing and singing, and playing together, others were giving their assistance in working the ship.38

Oliver Ransford, citing Equiano's autobiographical writings, points to similar occurrences:

It was considered sensibly prophylactic to exercise the slaves while on deck by ‘dancing’ them to native drums and xylophones, their activity being encouraged by the whip. One captive (Equino) [sic] noted with surprise that before sailing ‘rude and uncouth instruments as are used in Africa’ were brought aboard and he only realized the reason for this a little later when he was made to dance to their music on the first day out.39

Indeed, one gets the impression that the practice of exercise through dancing was quite routine. Rawley, in summarizing the measures taken by the Dutch West Indies Company, explains that “with an eye more to business than to beneficence the company prescribed a healthful diet and a hygienic regimen for the slaves. … To ease their tensions, slaves were given tobacco and conducted in singing and dancing toward the end of the passage.”40 The striking image that appears in the second section of “Das Sklavenschiff” is thus neither exclusively literary in origin nor entirely divorced from the historical realities that form the core of the poem. Like most of the details Heine incorporates into his satirical poetic account of the slave trade, the image of the dancing slaves is founded in a thorough knowledge of actual procedures.

The critical reception of Heine's “Das Sklavenschiff” thus discloses a state of collective amnesia, a deficiency in historical consciousness that is unfortunately paradigmatic for our Eurocentric tradition. Reading the poem primarily as a literary product of an imaginative poetic mind, most critics (including myself) have previously underestimated the historical accuracy and the factual basis for Heine's creative endeavors. Temporal proximity obviously has something to do with Heine's familiarity with particulars of the slave trade. If we judge by the success abroad of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, to which Heine also alludes in his Geständnisse,41 there was a good deal of European interest, or at least curiosity, in the topic of slavery in general.42 In 1849, France outlawed slavery in its colonies, and many intellectuals followed closely debates on the slave trade and slavery in the legislative bodies of Europe and the United States. But over the past century and a half, the knowledge that Heine had obtained, perhaps from no single or specific source, seems to have become more remote from us. That his later poetry on the New World has usually been treated within the context of a purely literary tradition, and analyzed primarily for its imagery and its thematic consistency with his other works, indicates not only our historical distance from Heine but also, and more disturbingly, our repression of the dark side of a history that was still present to him. In some ways, the critical tradition—and here I include not only Heine criticism but literary and cultural studies in general—has moved in the opposite direction from the trajectory of an intellectual like Heine. While he expanded his worldview in his later years and became acutely aware of European responsibility for the evils of slavery, colonialism, and exploitation of indigenous peoples, since his death we, his interpreters, have tended to reduce more and more his contributions and our own focus to a narrow European, or even German, scale. As we start the second half of the millennium that was opened by Columbus's invasion of the “New World,” perhaps we can hope to recapture the historical insight that formed and informed Heine's late poem “Das Sklavenschiff,” and then proceed to a critique, correction, and rectification of the injustice Columbus's voyages initiated.


  1. The convention was held in Baden-Baden on 19-22 July. A shorter version of this paper was scheduled to be delivered on 22 July.

  2. It is noteworthy that in both Europe and the United States a number of publications devoted to Columbus and his voyages have sought to counter the dominant “popular” image. Unfortunately, in the United States these publications seem to have little impact.

  3. Cited from Hans Koning, Columbus: His Enterprise: Exploding the Myth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976) 51-53.

  4. Typical in this regard is Hans Kaufmann, who devotes seven pages to “Die schlesischen Weber” and mentions “Das Sklavenschiff” only once in passing. See Hans Kaufmann, Heinrich Heine: Geistige Entwicklung und künstlerisches Werk (Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau, 1976).

  5. For a non-Eurocentric view of the economic developments in the world, see Samir Amin, Eurocentrism, trans. Russell Moore (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1989).

  6. For an excellent interpretation of “Vitzliputzli” and of Heine in Latin America, see Susanne Zantop, “Lateinamerika in Heine—Heine in Lateinamerika: ‘das gesamte Kannibalencharivari’,” Heine-Jahrbuch 28 (1989): 72-87 and “Colonialism, Cannibalism, and Literary Incorporation: Heine in Mexico,” Heinrich Heine and the Occident: Multiple Identities, Multiple Receptions, ed. Peter Uwe Hohendahl and Sander L. Gilman (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1991) 110-38. For a discussion of “Bimini,” see Robert C. Holub, “Heine and Utopia,” Heine-Jahrbuch 27 (1988): 86-112 and “Heine and the New World,” Colloquia Germanica 22 (1989): 101-15.

  7. Béranger's poem is found in his Œuvres complètes, vol. 3 (Paris: Perrotin, 1834) 221-23. Chamisso's translation is more an adaptation than a direct rendition; only the first four stanzas were translated. See Chamissos Werke, ed. Hermann Tardel, vol. 2 (Leipzig: Bibliographisches Institut, n.d.) 141-42. Mérimée's short story appeared originally in 1820 and can be found in his collection Mosaïque (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1888) 59-100. See André Meyer, “Une Poésie de Heine et une nouvelle de Mérimée,” Revue germanique 15 (1909): 83-87 and Barker Fairley, Heinrich Heine: An Interpretation (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1954) 127: “for ‘Das Sklavenschiff’ he [Mérimée] was, with Tomango, probably the chief source.” Fairley's is an odd interpretation; he contends “that it is the sharks that give the poem its brutality,” thus deflecting attention, as Heine does not, from the real horrors of the slave trade.

  8. William Cowper, “Sweet Meat Has Sour Sauce or, The Slave-Trader in the Dumps,” The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, ed. H. S. Milford (London: Henry Frowde, 1905) 374 and John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Slave-Ships,” The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1876) 39-40.

  9. See Oliver Ransford, The Slave Trade: The Story of Transatlantic Slavery (London: John Murray, 1971) 88: “The captains were concerned too when the slaves went down with what was rather quaintly termed ‘fixed melancholy,’ especially as it could spread with alarming rapidity. In this condition the Negroes simply lost heart; they exhibited complete negativism and mutism, and lay about in an apathy which usually ended in death.”

  10. For a comparison of “Tomango” with Heine's poem, see Marian Musgrave, “Heinrich Heine's Anti-Slavery Thought,” Negro American Literature Forum 6 (1972): 91-93. In the commentary to “Das Sklavenschiff” in Heines Werke, ed. Stuart Atkins (Munich: Beck, 1978) 2: 1260, Stuart Atkins calls attention to an important pictorial representation of the slave trade, J. M. W. Turner's painting, “Slaves throwing overboard the dead and dying—Typhoon coming on,” which was displayed in the Royal Academy in London in 1840. Although the painting bears some remarkable similarities with Heine's poem—perhaps the most noticeable element being the presence of sharks around the slaver—we have no indication that Heine was familiar with it. Because the motifs that Heine used were common knowledge for those concerned with the slave trade, it is unnecessary to assume direct influence. It is just as likely that Turner and Heine merely drew from the same sources.

  11. Laura Hofrichter, Heinrich Heinrich Heine: Biographie seiner Dichtung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966) 174. Perhaps the most unusual interpretation is Gerhard Schmitz's in Über die ökonomischen Anschauungen in Heines Werken (Weimar: Arion, 1960). In contrast to most Western critics of that era, Schmitz recognizes the importance of the actual slave trade for Heine's poem, but blinded by Marx's comments on original accumulation of capital, he views “Das Sklavenschiff” as a comment on preindustrial Europe. There is nothing in the poem to indicate that Heine's setting is in the past; it is just as likely that he was making reference to the current abuses of the illegal slave trade as that he was commenting on the era of early slaving.

  12. Ainsi, voguant vers l'Amérique
    Où s'aggraveront leur destins,
    De leur humeur mélancolique
    Ils sont tirés par des pantins.
    Tout roi que la peur désenivre
    Nous prodigue aussi les joujoux.
    N'allez pas vous lasser de vivre:
    Bons esclaves, amusez-vous.
  13. Heine did use the slave trade as a general metaphor, as Béranger had done, in the 1820s in Die Reise von München nach Genua. With regard to the revolt of the people in Tyrol in 1809, he comments: “Tröstet Euch, arme Schelme! Ihr seid nicht die einzigen, denen etwas versprochen worden. Passiert es doch oft auf großen Sklavenschiffen, daß man bei großen Stürmen und wenn das Schiff in Gefahr gerät, zu den schwarzen Menschen seine Zuflucht nimmt, die unten im dunkeln Schiffsraum zusammengestaut liegen. Man bricht dann ihre eisernen Ketten, und verspricht heilig und teuer, ihnen die Freiheit zu schenken, wenn durch ihre Tätigkeit das Schiff gerettet werde. Die blöden Schwarzen jubeln nun hinauf ans Tageslicht, Hurra! sie eilen zu den Pumpen, stampfen aus Leibeskräften, helfen, wo nur zu helfen ist, klettern, springen, kappen die Masten, winden die Taue, kurz arbeiten so lange, bis die Gefahr vorüber ist. Alsdann werden sie, wie sich von selbst versteht, wieder nach dem Schiffsraum hinabgeführt, wieder ganz bequem angefesselt, und in ihrem dunkeln Elend machen sie demagogische Betrachtungen über Versprechungen von Seelenverkäufern, deren ganze Sorge, nach überstandener Gefahr, dahin geht, noch einige Seelen mehr einzutauschen.” Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Werke, ed. Klaus Briegleb (Munich: Hanser, 1968-1976) 2: 336. In contrast to the poem “Das Sklavenschiff,” Heine is using here a parallel between slaves/subjects and slave dealers/rulers that Béranger also used in his poem. It is quite possible therefore that Béranger, whose poem Heine may have read at this time in the original French, was the inspiration for this passage, but unlikely that “Das Sklavenschiff” contains anything more than a faint echo of Béranger's verses.

  14. Heinrich Heine, Säkularausgabe, (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1972) 23: 148. The tenor of the correspondence between Heine and Weerth is significant for Heine's later works. After the failure of the revolution, both poets appear to widen their horizons, looking beyond Germany and its petty problems. Weerth in particular expresses frequent discontent with Germany and fascination with the non-European world. In June of 1851, for example, he writes to Heine concerning the changing economic picture: “In Kalifornien ist ein mächtiges Reich entstanden in zwei Jahren. Die Produktion der Australischen Küsten ist in kurzer Zeit so sehr gesteigert, daß schon jezt die Wolle unsrer Antipoden das Produkt der adlichen Schafzüchter im Herzen von Sachsen und Schlesien zu verdrängen anfängt. … Dann beginnt der große Kampf; nicht der Kampf des Christenthums mit dem Heidenthum; der Welfen mit den Gibellinen, der Whigs mit den Torys; nein! es heißt: Kampf zwischen dem Golde des Ural und dem Golde Kaliforniens; Kampf zwischen russischem und amerikanischem Getreide; Kampf zwischen australischer und deutscher Wolle; Kampf zwischen der Baumwolle und dem Flachs; Kampf zwischen den westindischen Kolonien und der deutschen Runkelrübe!” Säkularausgabe 26: 296. Unfortunately, only one of Heine's letters to Weerth, the one cited here, has been preserved.

  15. This specificity was already pointed out in 1960 by Walter Prochaska in an essay entitled “‘Ich nahm den Toten die Eisen ab …’: Quellenmaterial für den Lehrer zu Heinrich Heines Gedicht ‘Das Sklavenschiff’,” Deutschunterricht (Berlin) 13 (1960): 584-91. Using two articles on the slave trade that appeared at the beginning of the 19th century, Prochaska shows in a limited but convincing way that Heine was familiar with many details of the trade. Prochaska's essay is not very well known and has obviously been slighted by those critics more concerned with Heine's “pessimism” and with demonstrating a consistency of motifs in Heine's writings.

  16. The poem was published in the collection Gedichte 1853 und 1854. Found in Sämtliche Schriften 6/1: 194-99; here, p. 194.

  17. For an overview and introduction to the Dutch slave trade, see Pieter C. Emmer, “The History of the Dutch Slave Trade: A Bibliographical Survey,” Journal of Economic History 32.3 (1972): 728-47; also Johannes Postma, “Morality in the Dutch Slave Trade, 1675-1795,” The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, ed. Henry A. Gemery and Jan S. Hogendorn (New York: Academic Press, 1979) 239-60.

  18. Heine, Sämtliche Schriften 3: 225-26.

  19. Albert Hüne, Vollständige historisch-philosophische Darstellung aller Veränderungen des Negersclavenhandels von dessen Ursprunge an bis zu seiner gänzlichen Aufhebung, 2 vols. (Göttingen: Johann Friedrich Römer, 1820). The complete title of this impressive early study indicates that its author was a bit too optimistic about the effects of the legal prohibition of the slave trade, which occurred in most European nations just shortly before Hüne started writing. Although I can find no evidence that Heine knew Hüne or read his work, this work seems to be as likely a source for Heine's knowledge of the slave trade as the essays cited by Prochaska or the various belletristic works that are usually mentioned in connection with “Das Sklavenschiff.”

  20. See An Exposition of the African Slave Trade from the Year 1840, to 1850, Inclusive (Philadelphia: Society of Friends, 1851; rpt. Detroit: Negro History Press, [1969]). The Society of Friends collected documents, among which was a report by Captain Ricketts, stating: “The Slave trade has recently increased on the east side of this coast [of Africa]. … A large quantity of the vessels, almost all of which go from Rio de Janeiro, escape without capture” (94). Summarizing various reports for the year 1849, the authors conclude that of the ships bound to Africa 56 sailed under the Brazilian flag, 32 under the US flag, 27 under Sardinia, 18 under France, 10 under Portugal, and two under Spain (112).

  21. Six hundred is rather at the high end for a cargo of slaves, although it is hardly out of the realm of possibility, particularly at the height of the illegal trade. To get an idea of what a typical shipment of slaves was we might consult the figures from the Liverpool trade, which are extremely well documented. From Liverpool, at least, almost all cargoes consisted of fewer than six hundred slaves. See Elizabeth Donnan, ed., Documents of the History of the Slave Trade to America, vol. II: The Eighteenth Century (New York: Octagon Books, 1969) 496-98, 545-46, 642-45.

  22. Captain Theophilus Conneau, A Slaver's Log Book or 20 Years' Residence in Africa (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976) 78-79.

  23. See Donnan II: 631.

  24. See James A. Rawley, The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History (New York: Norton, 1981) 265.

  25. Rawley 295.

  26. See Rawley 291.

  27. An Exposition 150.

  28. Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African (London, 1789; rpt. Coral Gables, Florida: Mnemosyne Publishing Co., 1989) 1: 62; “loathsomeness of the stench” (p. 75).

  29. Brian Murdoch, “Poetry, Satire and Slave-Ships: Some Parallels to Heine's ‘Sklavenschiff’,” Forum for Modern Language Studies 15 (1979): 323-35; here, p. 328.

  30. Leonard Forster, “A Note on Celan's Todesfuge and Heine's Das Sklavenschiff,German Life and Letters, N.S. 24.1 (1970-71): 95-96.

  31. What Forster does not mention are the frightening parallels between the actual conditions aboard the slave ships, described in detail by various participants and obviously well known to Heine, and the treatment of inmates at concentration and death camps during the Hitler era. Like most literary critics, he misses the point: Heine's poem, although obviously exaggerated to make a satirical effect, is closer to the sources than critics allow.

  32. Jeffrey L. Sammons, Heinrich Heine: A Modern Biography (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1979) 332-33.

  33. Sammons emphasizes the “demonic and amoral quality of music and dance” in “Das Sklavenschiff” as an extension of these themes in Heine's general oeuvre in Heinrich Heine: The Elusive Poet (New Haven: Yale UP, 1969) 405-06.

  34. Hofrichter 181. See also S. S. Prawer, Heine the Tragic Satirist: A Study of the Later Poetry 1827-1856 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1961) 244-45: “The central image of Das Sklavenschiff—the forced, hysterical dance of the negroes while the sharks are already waiting to devour them—recalls other images of ‘dancing over an abyss’ in Heine's work. … The sufferings of the slaves of Das Sklavenschiff are only a more lurid exemplification of the plight of all mankind.”

  35. See Karlheinz Fingerhut, “Strukturale Interpretation und die Tätigkeit des Rezipienten: Untersuchungen an Heinrich Heines ‘Das Sklavenschiff’,” Diskussion Deutsch 8 (1977): 281-304 and Irene Guy, Sexualität im Gedicht: Heinrich Heines Spätlyrik (Bonn: Bouvier, 1984) 247-57. Guy is not really exaggerating very much when she states that every detail of this ballad corresponds to reality (p. 248). With reference to van Koek, Fingerhut makes a similar point: “Über das Wiedererkennen der Redeweise van Koeks wird der zeitgenössische Leser also nicht mit einer fremden, sondern mit der geläufigen Sprachregelung der eigenen Gesellschaft konfrontiert” (p. 292). Both Guy and Fingerhut are less concerned about the Eurocentric attitude of critics, however, than about other matters: in Fingerhut's case, the structural system in the interpretation and reception of the poem; in Guy's case, the change in attitude toward sexuality that this poem signals. Guy's observations on the dance are perceptive with regard to Heine's oeuvre. She contends that the sensual and autonomous dance of earlier works is replaced in “Das Sklavenschiff” by a dance that entails “perverted liberation in a life of captivity” (p. 256). Guy thus recognizes the historical roots of the dance, but the logic of her study compels her to connect it ultimately with the literary motif of dance in Heine's oeuvre. For Fingerhut, the dance is important as a norm for the reader, who will recognize its connection with the actual slave trade. He thus fails to distinguish between the reader in 1854 and the readers/interpreters from later periods.

  36. William Snelgrave's account of the voyage of the Elizabeth, for example, contains the following gruesome tale of attempted escape: “In our way we saw two Negroes swimming from her [the ship], but before we could reach them with our Boats, some Sharks rose from the bottom, and tore them in Pieces.” Cited in Donnan II: 357.

  37. Cited in George Francis Dow, Slave Ships and Slaving (Salem, Mass.: Marine Research Society, 1927) 67.

  38. George Pinckard, Notes on the West Indies (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1806) 233.

  39. Ransford 90.

  40. Rawley 95.

  41. Sämtliche Schriften 6/1: 480-82.

  42. Heine's most extensive remarks on slavery occur in the second part of his Denkschrift for Ludwig Börne. There he praises the absence of an aristocracy in “America” and the equality of persons under the law, but notes that a few million people of color are “treated like dogs.” He then makes a rather peculiar comment, stating that slavery itself does not trouble him as much as the discrimination against free blacks and mulattoes and the religious hypocrisy of the other Americans. See Sämtliche Schriften 4: 38-39. Although it is not quite clear why Heine seems to prefer actual slavery to discrimination, one can imagine that he found slavery in the Southern states more in keeping with his image of America as a “gigantic prison of freedom” (ungeheures Freiheitsgefängnis) and thus perhaps less hypocritical than the pretense of equality in the Northern states.

Jeffrey L. Sammons (essay date 1992)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10235

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 tongue is English but who are well acquainted with German language and literature; and Americans deprived of these benefits for whom German writers must be mediated in English. Of these three constituencies, the first may well have been the largest, but it is also the least researched. A good many years ago the Heine authorities in Düsseldorf asked me whether I would be kind enough to locate the commentary on Heine in German-American periodicals. Since it was my understanding that there are some eight hundred German-language newspapers and magazines scattered in broken sets around the country, I declined the honor. I have still not done it, nor has anyone else. Whether it would be more than donkey work that would contribute further to our understanding of the German-Americans or of Heine is a good question. From what we do know we can make out the lineaments of the situation fairly clearly: Heine was a lively presence among German-Americans and the attitude toward him tended to run along the ideological fault lines of the German-American community.

The one study that has been made of literary materials in German-American periodicals, concerning nineteenth-century newspapers in St. Louis, suggests that an exhaustive search would yield an unmanageable quantity of material. In those papers Heine was discussed more than any other German author except Goethe and Schiller; many of his poems appeared, along with thirteen parodies, more than of any other poet. There are passages from his memoirs and from contemporary studies of Heine, anecdotes and gossip about his personal life. The quarrel about erecting a monument to him in Germany is closely followed, and the plan to erect the Heine Fountain in New York instead is noted.1 Heine's works were sold in America at least from the 1830s.2 In 1843 Heine was informed that Baron Wilhelm von Eichthal, who was editing a newspaper in New York, the German Express for European Conditions, Public and Social Life of Germany (Deutsche Schnellpost für Europäische Zustände, öffentliches und sociales Leben Deutschlands), wished to have contributions from him, though nothing came of it.3 Two unauthorized back-translations of the French version of The Gods in Exile (Die Götter im Exil) came out in New York and Philadelphia in 1833.4 In 1855 a Philadelphia publisher put out an edition of the Travel Pictures (Reisebilder).5 This led to one of the spectacular episodes in the early history of Heine's international reception: a Philadelphia pirate, John Weik, decided to put out a collected edition of Heine's works. Heine and his publisher had long discussed a collected edition but had not been able to come to an agreement, so that when the Weik edition was completed, it was the first collected edition of Heine to appear.6 His publisher Julius Campe was enraged and attempted to combat the edition with a price war but was unable to do so.7 This edition had gone into five printings by 1860 and by 1864 had sold eighteen thousand sets in the United States.8 It might be mentioned in passing that no work of Heine's sold that many copies in Germany during his lifetime, except probably the Book of Songs (Buch der Lieder) by the time it had reached its thirteenth edition at the end of his life; the circumstance suggests what Heine's success in Germany might have been if it had not been for the censorship. When in 1859 the winner of a Turner Society essay contest was awarded a set of Heine, it was probably the Philadelphia edition.9 In 1861 a seventh volume was added, containing a longish biography by Godfrid Becker. Like virtually all commentators before modern times, Becker deplored Heine's polemics against Platen and Börne but otherwise gave a generally positive account, comparing Heine at considerable length to Aristophanes.10 Becker was also an early propagator of what I shall call the victim topos. This is a device to explain Heine's almost universally assumed unreliability in moral, aesthetic, and, in some cases, political matters by the determinants of the oppressive time in which he lived. He was, writes Becker, “an intellectually large, temperamentally deep nature, receptive for everything beautiful, good and true, and he might really have become what he claimed to be with so much pomp,” but he was damaged by a sick society that thrust him into phantasy.11

When, toward the end of the century, there was a dispute, partly within the German-American community, concerning the erection in New York of the Lorelei Fountain, the Heine monument originally financed by the Empress Elisabeth and intended for Düsseldorf, the piano manufacturer Steinway intervened with a vigorous article, asserting that Heine was “incomparably the most popular of all German poets, not excepting Goethe or any other; ranking, by universal recognition, with the very first men of genius of all the world's ages” and that “considerations of aristocratic, political, and race animosity and sullenness, harbored against Heine because of the license of his pen and because of his Jewish birth, were exclusively accountable for the adverse decision.”12

Of course, if he had been so universally acknowledged, the dispute would not have arisen, and in fact there was substantial negative opinion about Heine among German-Americans, as there was in the homeland. An article that appeared in a German-American encyclopedia in 1871, in addition to being very inaccurate, deplores all of Heine's works after the 1830 revolution, accuses him of frivolity and of “raging invectives against Christianity” in his waning days.13 In 1899, then falsely believed to be the centenary of Heine's birth, a conservative pillar of the German-American community, H. A. Rattermann, made a speech in the German Literary Club of Cincinnati in which he praised Heine's lyrical poetry—indeed the evening concluded with “Lieder” performances—but refused to discuss his life in France, accusing him of false wit, crudeness, subjectivity, superficiality, nihilism, and lack of principle or patriotism.14

The most positive views of Heine are found, not surprisingly, on what today we would call the Left. In 1872 there appeared in Boston an imitation of Heine's most radical major work, Germany: A Winter's Tale (Deutschland: Ein Wintermärchen), subsequently published in several formats and smuggled into Europe, that depicts Heine as returning to life after the founding of the Reich and discovering to his amazement that Germany is not a republic with a president but a monarchy with a kaiser; he rages against the Prussians and the dissoluteness of the upper classes, calls for the guillotine, and predicts the uprising of the common people. The poem used to be ascribed to the German-American radical Karl Heinzen, who published it, but it is now known to be the work of a German radical, Otto Hörth.15 Another passionate admirer of Heine was the anarchist and radical freethinker Robert Reitzel. In his essay of 1895 he evaluates Heine as a religious as well as a political revolutionary who was the victim of his own sincerity. “He was imprudent or honest enough to present himself whole with all his inconsistencies, with all his foolishnesses and paradoxical ideas.” If Reitzel held anything against Heine, it was his baptism, which Reitzel defends on the grounds of insincerity but regards nevertheless as “dishonoring of himself and an example harmful to public morals.” Reitzel, who included the Jewish religion in his antireligious attitude, insisted that Heine was no friend of the Jews.16

As a figure on the boundary between the first and the second constituencies we might consider the Harvard professor Kuno Francke, around the turn of the century probably the most prestigious mediator of German literary culture in the U.S. In his Social Forces in German Literature, published in English in 1896, Francke develops an often-admiring but ambiguous view of Heine. Francke sees him as a true patriot and defends his doctrine of sensualist emancipation as “only a new form of that ideal of free humanity toward which all German culture from Luther to Goethe” strives. He praises the essay on religion and philosophy in Germany, compares Heine to Whitman, and ascribes to him “republican sympathies.” But Francke sees much of this virtue as more assertion than achievement. Heine “never placed his genius in the service of those ideals,” and his career was “poisoned by a fundamental falsehood,” his baptism; in addition, Francke like many other critics evaluates Heine's poetry by Goethean standards and finds it wanting. He also has a version of the victim topos. “Is it too much to say that of all the writers of his time Heine is the saddest example of the intellectual degeneration wrought by the political principles of the age of the Restoration?”17 However, in his edition of the German Classics, the most ambitious effort of its time to make major texts of the German canon available in English translation, he accorded considerable space to Heine; forty-seven poems and six prose pieces are preceded by a longish, although evaluatively qualified, biographical essay by William Guild Howard.18 But after World War I, when Francke's prestige and raison d'être had been grievously battered both by anti-German sentiment and German-American resentment of his moderation, he was wholly positive toward Heine in a book in German on cosmopolitanism, locating him in the development of the German idea of humanity, and, incidentally, taking his Jewishness to be a quite natural determinant of his enlightened views.19

The substantial amount of discourse on Heine in nineteenth-century America is embedded in the general interest in German literature and culture that governed American intellectual life for much of the century and up to World War I. Most of this discussion, however, is more quantitatively broad than deep, and some of it is fairly repetitious. A great deal of it is found in general essay-writing in histories of German literature, some designed for school use. It has been said that these histories were “small and unscholarly volumes. … They sacrificed thoroughness and comprehensiveness to pragmatism and leisurely appreciation” and “largely resemble lectures.”20 Evaluations were often dependent, though at a distance, upon contemporary German opinion. Thus they are mostly negative at the outset about Heine, since his reputation was at a low ebb at the time of his death and for about two decades afterward; it improved in the United States as it did in Germany later in the century. Partly this change resulted from improved information; one watershed was the appearance of Strodtmann's biography in 1867; a number of other German works were republished also in the U.S. One very remarkable event was the appearance in 1892 of an English translation of The Family Life of Heinrich Heine (Heinrich Heines Familienleben), edited by Heine's nephew Ludwig von Embden, in which it appears that Heine loved his mother, was kind to his sister, and affectionate to his wife. This news seems to have been received with astonishment and was constantly pointed out as a characteristic mitigating his sins.21 American opinion was also influenced by the British; in fact, at times it is difficult to separate the strands of American and British Heine reception.22 Especially important were George Eliot's famous essay “German Wit” of 1856, actually a review of Weik's Philadelphia edition,23 and an equally famous one by Matthew Arnold in 1862.24 Both of these were republished in the United States; especially Arnold's figured prominently in the discussion, although some commentators disputed the high rank in European literature that he assigns to Heine.25 Also affecting the level of understanding was William Sharp's level-headed, sometimes sardonic biography, published simultaneously in London, New York, and Toronto in 1888.26

Much of the American discussion, however, was also limited in significant ways. It is noticeably marked by the puritanical streak that long survived in American intellectual discourse. Virtually all commentators, unsurprisingly, took offense at Heine's polemics against Platen and Börne, but many also found him a frivolous scoffer in matters of religion and morals and unsound in politics. Consequently we find several variants of the victim topos. James K. Hosmer, for example, concludes his account in for him typically autobiographical, anecdotal form with a vignette of the Venus de Milo in the Louvre, visited in 1870. “May we not see in the statue a type of Heine's genius,—so shorn of strength, so stained and broken, yet, in the ruin of beauty and power so unparalleled?”27 Similarly, John Firman Coar ends his section with the remark, “One cannot read the Memoirs of Heine or his last poems and not feel the great sadness of a poet conscious of his failure.”28 Mention might be made here also of J. G. Robertson, who, though British, was the author of a history of German literature that was published also in the United States and, in the absence of a better one, was for decades the standard work. Robertson spoke of Heine's “satire and cynicism, which only expressed itself in petty personalities for want of worthier objects. Heine suffered by living in an age when there were no great causes to fight for,”29 a judgment that most modern Heine scholars would find incomprehensible.

Related to this gesture of rescuing Heine, so to speak, with the left hand, is what I will call the splitting topos. Very common in Heine reception in Germany as well, it simply divides Heine's corpus and often also his personality into a segment that can be appreciated and one that is ignored or disdained. Characteristic of this view is the tendency to see him as an unresolvably contradictory or incongruent phenomenon; rarely is any effort made to seek coherence in him, largely because he is assumed from the outset to have lacked integrity. In general this is a matter of restricting appreciation to the Book of Songs and the Travel Pictures, with occasional mention of The Romantic School and the essay on religion and philosophy. Thus William Hurlbut, who regarded Friedrich Wilhelm III as a “really excellent king” and was disgusted by the Young Germans, in 1849 found the first two Travel Pictures the most important work of Heine's and praised the Book of Songs, while suggesting that volumes three and four of the Travel Pictures are “to be read … by as few persons as possible” and referring to The Romantic School as “an entertaining abomination,” consigning Atta Troll and A Winter's Tale to oblivion, and detecting in the “lamentable” New Poems (Neue Gedichte) an “evil spirit.”30 Frederick H. Hedge also praises the Travel Pictures and Book of Songs but denies that Heine was a great poet and rejects Arnold's view, observing that a “mocker” cannot have “contributed most to the liberation of humanity.”31 A Chautauqua lecture course published in 1904 proposes to “elucidate what is best in Heine”; that turns out to be the Book of Songs, while Atta Troll and A Winter's Tale “cannot be regarded as German classics.”32

However, not all commentators split him in the same way. Coar, whose book is “an attempt to trace the elements of democratic thought in some characteristic forms of this literature,” insists that Heine was a democrat, while rejecting Atta Troll and A Winter's Tale as versified polemic, and concluding that “Heine, the man, was a democrat; Heine, the poet, was anything but a democrat.”33 Examples of splitting Heine could be multiplied almost endlessly.34 There were, to be sure, less ambiguously negative judgments. In 1856 Heine was described as “not a man to command approval or love. … He was possessed, like many other men of genius, with a gigantic selfishness. … No one can say that he did not deserve his fate.”35 And although Heine was depicted in a Chautauqua lecture course published in 1887 as “quite the most interesting and most striking literary figure that has risen among Germans since Goethe and Schiller,” his last years of suffering were a retribution for his “indulgence in ribald reviling regardless of truth”; at the end his features were rigidified in a sardonic grin; he was a “thinking skeleton” with a “half-crazed brain,” a shallow, lascivious character, “a blight rather than a blessing.”36

On the other hand, there were his defenders. A Countess de Bury, evidently the Scottish wife of the critic Henri Blaze de Bury, wrote a most vivacious and penetrating review of the French version of Lutetia, praising Heine's prophetic powers, his understanding of the July Monarchy, his estimation of Adolphe Thiers, and his unique sense of the potential of a military dictatorship.37 However, most of the positive treatments tend to appear somewhat later. One A. Parker in 1880 argued that Heine's “service in the war of liberation of humanity” was “truly a great service to posterity.”38 At least one commentator found occasion to point out in 1896 that Heine was an inspiration to socialists. “That Heine is esteemed by Socialists as the poet of revolt against established social institutions, is unknown to most. His fierce protests against injustice in Church and State are not found in the dainty blue and gold gift-editions of his Book of Songs; they live rather in the red tablets of the hearts of the struggling masses.” The curious essay concludes with the remark that a Chicago anarchist recited Heine's poem “The Weavers” (“Die schlesischen Weber”) on the night before he was hanged.39 It was 1913, however, before two Vassar professors stressed Heine's modernity: “Thus he is truly the first poet of modern life with its rude and hard antagonisms.”40 Beginning in 1886 and for decades afterwards Heine texts were repeatedly edited for American students learning German. Most commonly employed was The Harz Journey (Die Harzreise), though other selections from the Travel Pictures, usually Ideas: The Book of Le Grand (Ideen: Das Buch Le Grand), and some poems were sometimes offered. The Harz Journey text was often expurgated of its more offensive passages.41

Things become a little more interesting when we look at Heine's reception among writers. Longfellow, though he is often cited as one of the earliest American commentators on Heine, is not one of the more impressive and appears to be dependent on received German opinion; in 1842 he attacked Heine for blasphemy and atheism, lack of taste and refinement, and absence of sincerity and spirituality, and concludes that he is “not sufficiently in earnest to be a great poet.”42 Sachs has rightly said of this article that it “affords an excellent illustration of a man of talent and genius failing to understand the significance of Heine in the literature of Europe,” and he points out that Longfellow was privately influenced by Heine and that he cited The Romantic School as an authority.43 Mark Twain, who was clearly an admirer of Heine, ventured a translation of the “Lorelei” poem, having also undertaken a hilarious demolition of another, botched translation.44 Not surprisingly, Heine was greatly admired by Walt Whitman, who “especially emphasized Heine's contemporaneity, his freedom and fearlessness in applying ideas to life,” and his insistence “on the necessity for embodying and actually living the theories of the nineteenth century.”45 James Russell Lowell, Longfellow's successor as professor of modern languages at Harvard, tried his hand at translating Heine and alluded to Atta Troll in a poem of his own; he clearly admired Heine, though he was something of a splitter, referring to the sort of impropriety “which, if it makes Germans laugh, as we should be sorry to believe, makes other people hold their noses.”46 But the champion admirer among American writers was certainly William Dean Howells, who learned German in order to read Heine and became so much of a disciple stylistically that Lowell warned him to “sweat the Heine out of your bones.” Heine, wrote Howells, “dominated me longer than any one author that I have known”; “my literary liberation began with almost the earliest word from him”; “he undid my hands, which I had taken so much pains to tie behind my back.” Howells meant by this that Heine taught him that literature could be joined directly to life.47 He had some misgivings about Heine's more questionable side, but he was not a splitter: Heine “was not a very good Jew, but he asserted nobly the dignity of Judaism; he was a doubtful Christian, but he felt to the heart the beautifulness of Christ; he was a poor pattern of Protestantism, yet he was as far from being a Catholic as from being a pagan or a Puritan.” Moreover, Howells is the only American I have encountered to speculate in a surprisingly modern way on Heine's effect upon reader consciousness. “What Heine does for the reader, who is also a writer, is to help him find his own true nature, to teach him that form which is the farthest from formality; to reveal to him the secret of being himself.”48

Perhaps the oddest case of Heine reception among American writers is that of Ezra Pound, who published translations and adaptations of seven poems along with an ironic epistle in 1909. Pound did not know German well, though ignorance of a foreign language normally did not discourage him. How the anti-Semite and subsequent fascist collaborator came to be an admirer of a Jewish and politically radical poet is one of the incongruous puzzles of Heine reception. Pound himself indicates that he was attracted by Heine's opposition to “Philistia's pomp and Art's pomposities.”49 Peter Demetz has seen Pound's struggle with German literature as a symptom of allegiance to a kind of Goethean “world literature.”50 But I think that it is just a symptom of Pound's scavenging in the literary tradition, and, in the case of Heine, a consequence of splitting, since it is hard to imagine that Pound would have continued to admire Heine if he had been able to see him whole.

Pound's adaptations bring us to the topic of translation, the obvious link between the second constituency of readers competent in German and the third of those with little or no German. Translations of the poetry are legion. “Few, if any, German poets have exceeded Heinrich Heine's record of currency in English translation”; in the fifteen years after World War II he was “by far the most translated German poet of the past century.”51 According to Pochmann's count, Heine ranked eighth in frequency among German poets translated from 1830 to 1864, and third, behind Goethe and Uhland, from 1865 to 1899, the highest frequency falling in the years 1865 to 1879.52 The challenge of translating Heine's verse has continued to inspire efforts until the present day, and has not even been noticeably blunted by the appearance of Hal Draper's translation of Heine's complete poetical works.53 I consider this the definitive translation, though I should probably declare an interest, as I became a kind of silent partner in the enterprise prior to publication. Draper also made a collection, poem by poem, of every known English version; he turned this material over to me, and I transferred it to a translation center at the University of Texas, where it will be available for comparative and theoretical studies.54

The Englishing of Heine's prose proceeded more slowly. The first item to appear in the United States was a fragment of the Travel Pictures taken over from the Athenaeum in London in 1828.55 The first full work, and for nearly two decades the only one, to appear in American translation was the preliminary German version of the book that was to be called The Romantic School. It appeared in Boston in 1836 with the title Letters Auxiliary to the History of Modern Polite Literature in Germany in a translation by a New Hampshire banker named George Wallis Haven.56 The early appearance of this work may account for its prestige in the nineteenth century, for it had considerable influence and “really became a text book on German literature.”57 Whether this was altogether advantageous to the American reception of German Romanticism is another question; in any case, Gerhard Weiss thinks this work came to be displaced by Wolfgang Menzel's history of German literature.58 However, Weiss also points out that Heine, along with August Wilhelm Schlegel and Coleridge, helped to model in America a mode of criticism adequate to Romantic literature.59

The chief translator of Heine's prose was to be Charles Godfrey Leland. A kind of literary jack-of-all-trades, Leland's main claim to fame was a long series of low-comic ballads written under the name of “Hans Breitmann” in a German-English jargon. He began with Pictures of Travel, which came out in 1855 with the Philadelphia pirate of Heine's collected works in German. This work went into five editions by 1866 and nine by 1882; it had sold ten thousand copies by the time Leland began to bring out the complete prose works in 1891.60 Heine got wind of the success of this translation and was greatly pleased.61 Leland then attempted verse translations and brought out a version of the Book of Songs in New York in 1864. In the course of time he conceived the project of translating all of Heine's prose works. He began to publish the edition in London in 1891 and by 1905 had, with the aid of others, produced a twelve-volume edition of Heine in English, which was then published also in New York. In the following year he brought out with the New York firm of Croscup and Sterling a twenty-volume edition; though initially published for subscribers only, it became the standard English Heine and is, in fact, still in print. Although other translations of Heine's prose have been and continue to be sporadically undertaken, even today they are sometimes adaptations of Leland rather than fresh versions.62

This is unfortunate, for Leland was a more facile than gifted translator. As he launched into the project, he wrote to his friends, “I am translating all of Heine, a very congenial and easiest of easy tasks,” and “I thank God that it is extremely easy and congenial work.”63 In retrospect one wonders if the result might have been better if he had found the task more difficult. Even in his own time there was dissatisfaction with his work; many reviewers were disappointed and found it difficult to believe that the translation was the product of so experienced and prominent a literary figure.64 He bowdlerized the text in places, causing one British reviewer to remark that “Heine is inexpurgable, and squeamish people had best have nothing to do with him.”65 Leland's habit of footnoting the text with pedantic or censorious comments also irritated some readers, among them Howells.66 A twentieth-century reader has complained that “Leland as a commentator is frequently irritating, often absurd, and sometimes preposterous. His awkwardly ambitious attempt to supply a corrective to what he conceives to have been Heine's frequent lapses from good judgment and taste, as well as the poet's alleged defects of literary form, is the one thing that can fairly be urged against this generally competent edition.”67 Not only Leland's judgment but also his knowledge of Heine is by now wholly obsolete. It would be a great desideratum to be able to set beside Draper's complete poems a reasonably complete, modern edition of Heine's prose works in English. Such a project does not seem very likely at present, however.

As we move through the turn of the century closer to our own time, an increasing Jewish preoccupation with Heine becomes noticeable. Like other features of the American reception, this development appears to reflect a process taking place in the homeland. Initially, the German-Jewish attitude toward Heine had been quite negative. Prominent Jewish figures in German cultural life, such as Berthold Auerbach, rejected Heine as materialistic, degenerate, and unpatriotic.68 The leading proponent of Jewish emancipation, Gabriel Riesser, even tried to challenge Heine to a duel in the aftermath of his book on Ludwig Börne.69 In 1893 a rabbi was in the forefront of the agitation to prevent a monument to Heine from being erected in Mainz.70 Gradually, however, the attitude of Jewish cultural spokesmen to Heine improved, a sign, perhaps, of the increasing confidence and sense of belonging among assimilated German Jews.71 Gustav Karpeles was a lively admirer of Heine whose writings were also known in the United States. Major Jewish Heine scholars began to emerge such as Helene Herrmann and Erich Loewenthal (both of whom perished in the Holocaust). In time there was also a strain of Jewish appropriation of Heine.72 It culminated in Max Brod's effort of 1934 to remove Heine entirely from German literary history and place him in an imaginary sequence of Jewish writers.73

As far as I can see, Jewish commentators are not prominent in the American discussion in the nineteenth century, although what appear to be Jewish names occasionally turn up among the translators. There is one exception, however, who may be regarded as the pioneer of Jewish Heine reception in America: Emma Lazarus, who began to translate Heine at the age of fourteen, during the Civil War, and was much drawn to Heine's melancholy and his dichotomy of Hellene and Jew. In an essay of 1884 she wrote, “He was a Jew, with the mind and eyes of a Greek. A beauty-loving, myth-creating soul was imprisoned in a Hebrew frame; or rather, it was twinned, like the unfortunate Siamese, with another equally powerful soul,—proud, rebellious, oriental in its love of the vague, the mysterious, the grotesque, and tragic with the two-thousand-year old Passion of the Hebrews.”74 This is a quite original version of the victim topos, for she traces Heine's contradictions and dualities to this dichotomous heritage. “He was a changeling, the victim of one of Nature's most cruel tricks, and his legacy to the world bears on every page the mark of the grotesque caprice which had begotten him.”75 Lazarus herself seems to have been victimized somewhat by what has been called Heine's “Marrano pose,” for she asserts, “We must go back to the Hebrew poets of Palestine and Spain to find a parallel in literature for the magnificent imagery and voluptuous orientalism of the ‘Intermezzo.’ … His was a seed sprung from the golden branch that flourished in Hebrew-Spain between the years 1000 and 1600.”76 However, Lazarus does not wish to appropriate Heine for Judaism. “It would convey a false impression to insist unduly upon the Hebrew element in Heine's genius, or to deduce therefrom the notion that he was religiously at one with his people”; his was a “sympathy of race, not of mind,” and “the deluded Jew who takes up his work to chuckle over his witty sarcasms against Christianity will be grievously disappointed suddenly to receive a stinging blow full in the face from the same merciless hand.”77

In 1866 she published, at the age of seventeen, fifteen Heine translations in a volume of poems and in 1881 a volume of Heine's Poems and Ballads, incidentally the first book of Heine translations to be republished after World War II.78 Her own poetry exhibits many echoes of Heine. Sachs remarks perceptively, “Very curious is the link between that bitter, mocking, cynical spirit and the refined, gentle spirit of Emma Lazarus.”79 This contrast is best illustrated by her effort to continue the project Heine began with his poem “Donna Clara,” a poem in the Book of Songs, which was written at the time of his intensive Jewish studies in 1823 and images an elegant Sephardic gentleman masking his identity in order to seduce and then humiliate an anti-Semitic noblewoman.80 Heine wrote at the time that the poem was the first of a trilogy; in the second part the hero was to be scorned by his own child and in the third this child, having become a Dominican, was to have his brothers tortured to death.81 Heine never wrote these two poems, but Emma Lazarus did, under the titles “Don Pedrillo” and “Fra Pedro,” in unrhymed trochaic tetrameter, Heine's most supple meter but one that in English, I am afraid, calls up irrepressible echoes of Hiawatha.82 Emma Lazarus followed Heine's description literally; nevertheless, there is something incongruous about the succession, for Heine's poem is marked by a spirit of vengeance and defensive malice; Lazarus's poems by helpless submission to persecution without a note of protest or rebellion.83 Here lies one of the problems of Jewish and particularly American Jewish appropriation of Heine. His Jewish persona was militant, aggressive, rudely polemical toward Christian religion and gentile structures of oppression. Assertions that the Jewish Reform was an effort to establish “a little Protestant Christianity as a Jewish company, and they make a tallis out of the wool of the Lamb of God, a vest out of the feathers of the Holy Ghost, and underpants out of Christian love, and they will go bankrupt and their successors will be called: God, Christ & Co.,” or, about Felix Mendelssohn, “If I had the good fortune of being a grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, I would certainly not use my talent to set the pissing of the Lamb to music”84 were the last thing the Jews, seeking integration and tolerance, wanted to hear, either in Heine's own time or later, and thus this tone tends to be edited out of Jewish reception.

Another indication of the tendency to appropriate Heine is an article in The Jewish Encyclopedia in 1904, which is admittedly confined to “considering Heine in his relations to Judaism.” Here it is asserted that “His wit was essentially Jewish”; “the next eighteen years of his life [in Paris] were devoted in the main to a series of propagandist efforts which were Jewish in method if not in aim”; he was a mediator between France and Germany as the Spanish Jews had been between Christians and Moors; he had many Jewish acquaintances, and his brief stint as a student in Berlin with the Society for Culture and Science of the Jews “was deep enough to stamp his work with a Jewish note throughout his life”85—all highly debatable propositions. A somewhat different tone appears in Lewis Browne's biography, That Man Heine, of 1927. Browne, who had been a rabbi at the Free Synagogue in Newark, had left the rabbinate to devote himself full-time to writing. His biography was conceived out of a lively contempt for literary criticism and scholarship, and shows it;86 it is vivacious but not very precise or accurate. Virtually alone among Heine biographers, Browne finds him enduringly influenced by his Hebrew School experience, which steeped him in Biblical lore and made his soul “definitely that of a Jew.”87 Browne develops a version of the victim topos in explaining the Platen polemic. “Christian Germany was largely to blame for the chapter, the Christian Germany that had fretted and harried and badgered the Jewish Heine until he had gone half-mad with hate.” Browne's superintending thesis is that Heine was never able to belong to a community, even after his “return” to Judaism at the end of his life.88 Browne's interpretation of Heine should probably be seen in the light of his reading of the modern Jewish situation, which was that the Jews should be excluded, by force if necessary, from their traditional commercial and bureaucratic occupations and enabled to take up the same variety of trades and vocations as gentiles. He thought Stalin a particularly positive force in this endeavor but also invested hope in the settlements in Palestine.89

As in Germany, there were significant contributions to Heine scholarship from Jewish sources. An important one was Rabbi Israel Tabak's study of Heine's Jewish knowledge, a valuable beginning to an understanding of that question, for gentile German scholars found Judaic matters exotic and were often very uninformed about them.90 If Tabak makes too much of Heine's Biblical allusions—the stock in trade of any German-language writer—and adduces Talmudic parallels in unconvincing numbers, these are correctable faults and less important than his showing that Heine was often ignorant of or inaccurate about commonplace Jewish matters. Mention might also be made here of the Kohut-Rutra Collection that has made the study of Heine and his context so convenient at Yale. Rabbi George Alexander Kohut, who founded Yale's Judaica collection with the materials collected by his father, the Conservative rabbi Alexander Kohut, gave his collection of Heine books and manuscripts to Yale in the late 1920s, supplemented with a collection he purchased from the Munich dramatist Arthur Ernst Rutra, consisting largely of Heine's French editions as well as works of his contemporaries, especially Ludwig Börne and the Young Germans. These items, in many cases quite rare, have been of inestimable value to my own studies for many years.91

In 1937 there appeared what probably became the most influential book on Heine in America in modern times: Louis Untermeyer's biography, published together with a volume of poem translations.92 Untermeyer had been translating Heine's poems for a long time, at least since 1916. He had come to be known as the “American Heine,”93 and by 1937 he had produced a larger fraction of Heine's total poetic corpus than any other translator; this continued to be the case for forty-five years until the appearance of Draper's volume. It has been said recently that Untermeyer “tries to make Heine a little less cynical”;94 my own opinion, after having made a considerable number of comparisons, is that Draper's versions are regularly more vivacious as well as more faithful. The biography has a number of virtues; it is well informed for its time, properly skeptical about anecdotal traditions, and judicious in its evaluations; and it brings a poet's sensitivity to the texts. However, there is something of a tendency to appropriate Heine for Untermeyer's own standpoint of wholly secular Jewishness. Concerning Heine's Jewish activities and studies in Berlin Untermeyer remarks, not imperceptively, “It was wholeness that Heine wanted at twenty-five. He could bear the ‘dark inheritance,’ but not maladjustment; it was the sense of division which gripped him with secret terror.”95 The difficulty is, I think, that Untermeyer ascribes to Heine more of an undivided Jewish identity than he was actually able to achieve. He is said to be a “Jewish Jew,” in Thorstein Veblen's phrase, “a disturber of the intellectual peace”; he endeavored to unite nationalism and universalism, like Isaiah; he was not a Nazarene but an “emotional, quick-tempered, transplanted Oriental: the true Semite, never so sensitive as when he covers his heart with a cynical shrug or a coarse witticism”; he possessed a “particularly Jewish wit”; in his late “Hebrew Melodies” (“Hebräische Melodien”) “Background, diction and emotion are characteristically Jewish in the voluptuous use and celebration of the senses, in the hot colors and sharp flavors. … No Hebrew poet has ever been more unreasonably confident, more hand-in-hand with God.”96 In this last judgment Untermeyer's interpretive perspicacity seems to have broken down altogether. The biography ends with a long poem that Heine is imagined to have composed at the hour of his death and that ends with the Sch'ma Yisroel, a most improbable conceit.97

This Jewish appropriation of Heine was never without its implicit or explicit resistance. During World War II Sol Liptzin endeavored to balance Heine's character as “a product of his Jewish heredity and his German environment” and to distinguish his shifting attitude toward Jewish religion from his continuous sense of Jewish fellowship.98 After the Holocaust had intervened, an article in Commentary attacked efforts to claim Heine for Judaism on the grounds that he had been an “inauthentic Jew,” pursuing the illusion of a transcendence of Judaism in cosmopolitan humanism. His “return” to Judaism was not a choice for authenticity but a choice not to be inauthentic any longer. “You cannot choose not to be a Jew, you can only choose to be an authentic or inauthentic Jew.”99 Like all arguments of this kind, this one runs the risk of accepting and reifying the categories of the oppressor.

Among the publications objected to in this article was one edited by Hugo Bieber that had originally been called Confessio Judaica when it was published in Germany in 1925 and then was republished in New York under the title Jüdisches Manifest (Jewish Manifesto).100 This is simply a chronological compendium of Heine's writings and other utterances on Judaism. It is interesting to observe, however, that when Bieber was asked by the Jewish Publication Society of America to compile a biographical anthology in English, he did not retain this format but produced an entirely new book covering the whole of Heine's life. Overall it is balanced and perceptive. Bieber is critical of Heine's judgment as well as admiring of his struggle “for justice and freedom”; he devotes considerable space to Heine's Jewish interests and experience, but judiciously, observing, for example, that “he only gradually and with great difficulty attained to an independent judgment of Jewish history, in which, however, the traces of anti-Jewish influences never wholly disappeared”; and that “what allied him to Judaism without, however, uniting him with it, was his dislike for Christianity.”101 Bieber had earlier written an article in which he was quite critical of Jewish appropriations of Heine, and it may have been this insight that caused him to alter his biographical strategy.102

In my opinion, that era of Jewish interest represents the last chapter of significant Heine reception in America. For one thing, the Heine discussion came to be even more internationalized than it had been before with the presence on the American scene of works imported from abroad, not only Max Brod's biography, mentioned earlier, but also one of the several incarnations of Ludwig Marcuse's, which appeared in translation in 1933.103 There were also the popular biographies written in French by Antonia Vallentin and François Fejtö, originally appearing in 1934 and 1946 respectively and then republished most recently in 1970.104 Heine scholarship, which has increased its momentum decade by decade, is naturally international and in any case comes more and more to be restricted to academic consumption. While such things are difficult to measure, I believe that today there is no significant general reception of Heine in the United States outside the academic community. A contemporary enthusiast who has rediscovered him was moved to say, “Heine's very spirit is roaming among us,” but I think this is an optical illusion caused by the mass of scholarly publication.105 People generally associate nothing with his name except perhaps a memory of a musical setting. What little does appear in the public domain is often amateurish and trivial.106 Even within the academy I have found that nonspecialists know little about him, although, as I found out in the reviews of my biography, this ignorance does not always inhibit them from publishing their opinions. Most current American Heine scholarship, with the perhaps eccentric example of my own and that of one or two others, is totally derivative of German models and exhibits no particularly American note. There are no Heine texts edited for American students currently in print; my own effort to produce such a textbook was, I believe, the last, and the fiasco attending its publication appears in retrospect as a sign that the time for such things was past.107 In general this situation is a symptom of the total lack in our culture of interest in the German literary tradition of the past. That Heine was an exception to that tradition and in some ways a belligerent dissident from it can have no effect as long as the entire context with which he contended remains unapprehended. This may change in the future, but there are no signs that it will happen soon.

A malevolent observer might look upon this outcome as a fair recompense for Heine's contemptuous lack of interest in America, “that Freedom Stable where / All the boors live equally.”108 Nevertheless, he was gratified by what he heard of his American reputation, and he might have continued to be by much if not all of it for something like a century after his death.


  1. Erich P. Hofacker, German Literature as Reflected in the German-Language Press of St. Louis Prior to 1898 (St. Louis: Washington University, 1946), 53-62.

  2. See Robert E. Cazden, A Social History of the German Book Trade in America to the Civil War (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1984), 85.

  3. Gustav Kolb to Heine, mid-May 1843, Heinrich Heine Säkularausgabe, ed. Nationale Forschungs- und Gedenkstätten der klassischen deutschen Literatur in Weimar and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris (Berlin and Paris: Akademie-Verlag and Editions du CNRS, 1970-), 26:69. See also Heinrich Heine, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe der Werke, ed. Manfred Windfuhr et al. (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1973-), 13/1:382.

  4. Heine, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Windfuhr, 9:1031-33.

  5. Cazden, A Social History of the German Book Trade, 302, 309.

  6. A pirated edition had been begun in Amsterdam a year earlier, but the Philadelphia edition was completed sooner. See Cazden, A Social History of the German Book Trade, 334, n. 55; see also Walter Wadepuhl, “Zur amerikanischen Gesamtausgabe von Heines Werken,” in Wadepuhl, Heine-Studien (Weimar: Arion, 1956), 174-80.

  7. Julius Campe to Heine, 14 April, 10 June 1855, Heinrich Heine Säkularausgabe 27:301, 330-31.

  8. Cazden, A Social History of the German Book Trade, 312. The edition was also exported to Europe, where, despite Campe's protests, it sold fifteen hundred sets.

  9. Carl Wittke, Refugees of Revolution: The German Forty-Eighters in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1952), 155.

  10. Heine, Sämtliche Werke (Philadelphia: Köhler, 1865), 7: lxxiv, cxiii, cxiii-cxxx. John Weik had gone out of business by this time and the edition had passed into other hands.

  11. Heine, Sämtliche Werke (Philadelphia), 7: clxiv-clxv.

  12. William Steinway, “The Heine-Fountain Controversy,” Forum 20 (Sept. 1895-Feb. 1896): 740.

  13. Deutsch-amerikanisches Conversations-Lexicon, ed. Alexander J. Schem (New York: Gerhard, 1871), 5:239-40. The article may have been lifted from a German encyclopedia; it refers to Strodtmann's but not to Weik's American edition and also to an otherwise obscure Italian critical work. It is odd, however, that the Brockhaus contained an article five years earlier that, while not much friendlier, is much more accurate in regard to facts: Allgemeine deutsche Real-Encyklopädie für die gebildeten Stände: Conversations-Lexikon (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1866), 7:765-66.

  14. H. A. Rattermann, “Heinrich Heine als Dichter,” Gesammelte ausgewählte Werke (Cincinnati: Selbstverlag des Verfassers, 1906-12), 9:399-428. Rattermann, who named his son “Friedrich Schiller,” was an “anti-slavery democrat,” that is, an opponent of Lincoln and the Civil War and a supporter of Douglas, an opponent of religious freethinking and of women teaching school, indeed of American women in general, whom he regarded as a major source of corruption in the nation. See Sister Mary Edmund Spanheimer, Heinrich Armin Rattermann: German-American Author, Poet, and Historian 1832-1923 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1937), 21, 34-35, 40, 50.

  15. Ein neues Wintermärchen; Besuch im neuen deutschen Reich der Gottesfurcht und der frommen Sitte (Boston: Expedition des “Pionier,” 1872). The Yale Library also has a miniature, sold for five cents, with the imprint “Herausgegeben vom Verein zur Verbreitung radikaler Prinzipien.” The work is ascribed to Heinzen by Carl Wittke, Against the Current: The Life of Karl Heinzen (1809-80) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1945), 279, n. 11, among other sources, but see Gerhard Friesen, “Heine II,” Heinrich Heine: Dimensionen seines Wirkens: Ein internationales Heine-Symposium, ed. Raymond Immerwahr and Hanna Spencer (Bonn: Bouvier, 1979), 96-113.

  16. Robert Reitzel, “Stunden der Andacht mit Heinrich Heine,” Des armen Teufels gesammelte Schriften (Detroit: Reitzel Klub, 1913), 2:203-4, 227-28, 226-27. For Reitzel's argument that the contempt in which the Jews are held is their own fault because of their clannishness and holding to religious forms in which no modern man believes, see 231. Reitzel's Heine essay is dated 23 May 1895 by Adolf Eduard Zucker, Robert Reitzel (Philadelphia: America Germanica Press, 1917), 60. Zucker, incidentally, is much concerned to distinguish Reitzel from Heine: “There is never the filth with which Heine in very poor taste interlarded his most beautiful works. Moreover, we find that Reitzel takes his lifework seriously, and unlike Heine, does not feel moved to mock his works by ironical conclusions. As a character Reitzel stands far above Heine” (54-55).

  17. Kuno Francke, Social Forces in German Literature: A Study in the History of Civilization (New York: Holt, 1896), 519, 521, 522, 525, 523, 526-27.

  18. The German Classics, ed. Kuno Francke (New York: The German Publication Society, 1914), 6:1-212.

  19. Kuno Francke, Weltbürgertum in der deutschen Literatur von Herder his Nietzsche (Berlin: Weidmann, 1928), 81-82. On Francke's position, see my essay, “Heine as Weltbürger? A Skeptical Inquiry,” Modern Language Notes 101 (1986): 612-13; also in Sammons, Imagination and History: Selected Papers on Nineteenth-Century German Literature (New York, Bern, Frankfurt am Main, and Paris: Peter Lang, 1988), 100-101.

  20. Richard Spuler, “Germanistik” in America: The Reception of German Classicism, 1870-1905 (Stuttgart: Heinz, 1982), 77.

  21. The point was made even earlier by James K. Hosmer, A Short History of German Literature, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: G. I. Jones, 1879), 539. See for example John Firman Coar, Studies in German Literature of the Nineteenth Century (New York: Macmillan, 1903), 168; H. B. Sachs, Heine in America (New York: Appleton, 1916), 12; and Charles Godfrey Leland in his introduction to his translation of Embden's book, cited by Sachs, 28.

  22. Note, for example, that Sol Liptzin's study, The English Legend of Heinrich Heine (New York: Bloch, 1954), tends to conflate the American with the English reception as it goes along.

  23. [George Eliot], “German Wit: Heinrich Heine,” Westminster and Quarterly Review n.s. 9 (1856): 1-33.

  24. Matthew Arnold, “Heinrich Heine,” Cornhill Magazine 8 (1862): 233-49.

  25. On this evolution and the influence of Eliot and Arnold, see Henry A. Pochmann, German Culture in America: Philosophical and Literary Influences 1600-1900 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957), 334.

  26. William Sharp, Life of Heinrich Heine (London: Walter Scott; New York: Thomas Whittaker; Toronto: W. J. Gage, 1888).

  27. Hosmer, A Short History of German Literature, 545.

  28. Coar, Studies in German Literature, 192.

  29. John G. Robertson, A History of German Literature (New York: Putnam's; Edinburgh and London: Blackwood, 1902), 510. Robertson's history has been revised and republished several times; it should long since have been retired, but no one has undertaken the task on modern principles. Its most recent version is the sixth edition, ed. Dorothy Reich et al. (London: House & Maxwell, 1970); the segment concerning Heine has undergone some augmentation but is very similar to the original.

  30. [William Hurlbut], [review of Travel Pictures, De l'Allemagne, Book of Songs, Atta Troll, The Salon I-IV, and New Poems], North American Review 69 (July-October 1849): 217, 223, 240-41, 232, 238, 239-40, 246. The essay makes a very odd impression with its alteration of fascination and horror. Despite its severe criticisms, it shows an increased knowledge of Heine. It has been called “the first fundamental closure of American Heine criticism” and estimated “in its comprehensive layout, its thoroughness exhibited over long stretches” as “despite its religious limitations, the greatest achievement of American Heine criticism up to that point” by Gerhard Weiss, “Die Aufnahme Heinrich Heines in Grossbritannien und den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika (1828-1856): Eine Studie zur Rezeption des Menschen und Prosakünstlers” (Ph.D. diss., Mainz, 1955), 196.

  31. Frederick Henry Hedge, Hours with German Classics (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1887), 513, 518, 503. In his bulky anthology Prose Writers of Germany (New York: Francis; London: Sampson Low, 1855), Hedge did not include a single Heine text.

  32. Richard Hochdoerfer, Introductory Studies in German Literature (Chautauqua: Chautauqua Press, 1904), 189, 200, 199. Hochdoerfer was professor of German at Wittenberg College.

  33. Coar, Studies in German Literature, vii, 161, 185, 192.

  34. See the comment on this by Martin Henry Haertel, German Literature in American Magazines 1846 to 1880 (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1908), 87.

  35. [George Ripley], “The Last Years of Heinrich Heine,” Putnam's Monthly Magazine 8 (July 1856-January 1857): 526. The article is a longish review of Alfred Meissner's memoir of Heine. For an evaluation, see Weiss, “Die Aufnahme Heinrich Heines,” 307-9.

  36. William Cleaver Wilkinson, Classic German Course in English (New York: Chautauqua Press, 1887), 297, 298-99, 318.

  37. [Review of Lutèce], North American Review 83 (July-October 1856): 287-316. The author is identified and the essay commented upon by Weiss, “Die Aufnahme Heinrich Heines,” 301-6. See also Heine, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Windfuhr, 13/2:1879-82. I am grateful to Dr. Volkmar Hansen of the Heinrich-Heine-Institut, Düsseldorf, for making information on this point available to me.

  38. In Lippincott's Magazine, as paraphrased by Sachs, Heine in America, 50.

  39. Marion Mills Miller, “Heinrich Heine,” The Bachelor of Arts 2 (1895-96): 789-90. This convoluted essay manages to put Heine in a neo-Romantic light and associate him with Gautier's theory of art, make injudicious remarks about the cosmopolitanism, i.e., incapacity for patriotism, of the Jews, and call attention to Heine's constituency on the Left. The Chicago anarchist was George Engel, hanged in 1887 for his participation in the Haymarket Riot. I have not been able to find confirmation of this story, but another of the anarchists, Michael Schwab, who was condemned but later pardoned, quoted the poem in his autobiographical sketch. See Philip S. Foner, ed., The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs (New York: Humanities Press, 1969), 111-12.

  40. Lilian L. Stroebe and Marian P. Whitney, Geschichte der Deutschen Literatur (New York: Holt, 1913), 196.

  41. John Hargrove Tatum, The Reception of German Literature in U.S. German Texts, 1864-1918 (New York, Bern, Frankfurt am Main, and Paris: Peter Lang, 1988), 89-92. Some forty-five text editions are listed on 245-370.

  42. Henry W. Longfellow, “German Writers: Heinrich Heine,” Graham's Magazine 20 (1842): 134-37.

  43. Sachs, Heine in America, 14-18. The most judicious analysis of Longfellow's Heine commentary will be found in Weiss, “Die Aufnahme Heinrich Heines,” 112-13, 133-42, 169-72.

  44. Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, Volume 1, Chapter 16, “An Ancient Legend of the Rhine,” Author's National Edition (New York and London: Harper, [1920]), 3:119-29.

  45. Pochmann, German Culture in America, 466-67. See also Sachs, Heine in America, 71-72.

  46. James Russell Lowell, “The Dancing Bear,” in The Complete Works (Boston and New York: no pub. [Fireside Edition], 1910), Poems 4:184-85; “Lessing,” Writings (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1896), 2:170.

  47. William Dean Howells, My Literary Passions (New York and London: Harper and Bros., 1895), 125-30. For examples of poems of Howells quite evidently influenced by or, one should say, imitating Heine, see Sachs, Heine in America, 172-81.

  48. [William Dean Howells], “Editor's Easy Chair,” Harper's Monthly Magazine 107 (1903): 483.

  49. Ezra Pound, Personae (New York: New Directions, 1926), 46.

  50. Peter Demetz, “Ezra Pound's German Studies,” Germanic Review 31 (1956): 279-92.

  51. W. LaMarr Kopp, German Literature in the United States 1945-1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967), 67.

  52. Pochmann, German Culture in America, 329-35.

  53. Hal Draper, trans., The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine: A Modern English Version (Boston: Suhrkamp/Insel, 1982).

  54. A first result of the study of these materials is André Lefevere, “Why the Real Heine Can't Stand up in/to Translation: Rewriting as the Way to Literary Influence,” New Comparison, no. 1 (Summer, 1986): 83-92. Oddly, Lefevere makes no acknowledgment of Draper's collection.

  55. Scott Holland Goodnight, “German Literature in American Magazines Prior to 1846” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1907), 162.

  56. On Haven and the reception of this work, see Heine, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Windfuhr, 8/2:1106-9.

  57. Sachs, Heine in America, 75.

  58. Weiss, “Die Aufnahme Heinrich Heines,” 94-95.

  59. Weiss, “Die Aufnahme Heinrich Heines,” 111.

  60. Sachs, Heine in America, 81; Heine, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Windfuhr, 7/2:577. See also Weiss, “Die Aufnahme Heinrich Heines,” 255-71. Weiss found twelve reviews bound in a printing of 1858 (260-64).

  61. Heine to Michel Lévy, 4 October 1855, Heinrich Heine Säkularausgabe 23:461.

  62. For example, Heinrich Heine, Ideas: The Book Le Grand, in Poetry and Prose, ed. Jost Hermand and Robert C. Holub, The German Library, vol. 32 (New York: Continuum, 1982); History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, ed. Paul Lawrence Rose ([Townsville]: Department of History, James Cook University of North Queensland, 1982).

  63. Leland to E. R. Pennell, November 1890; to David MacRitchie, 8 April 1891, in Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Charles Godfrey Leland: A Biography (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1906), 2:339, 345.

  64. Sachs, Heine in America, 82-84.

  65. R. M'Lintock, review of the first volume of Leland's edition, Academy 40 (July-December, 1891): 257; M'Lintock is very critical of the quality of the translation as well.

  66. [Howells], “Editor's Easy Chair,” 482. In the same place Howells complained of “a certain heaviness” in Leland's style.

  67. Michael Monahan, Heinrich Heine: Romance and Tragedy of the Poet's Life (New York: Nicholas L. Brown, 1924), 198.

  68. See especially Auerbach's early essay, published around the midpoint of Heine's career, Das Judenthum und die neueste Literatur: Kritischer Versuch (Stuttgart: Brodhag, 1836).

  69. Jakob Venedey to Heine, 17 August 1841; Heine to Venedey, 19 August 1841, Heinrich Heine Säkularausgabe 25:334-35; 21:413-15.

  70. Ludwig Marcuse, Heine: Melancholiker, Streiter in Marx, Epikureer (Rothenburg ob der Tauber: J. P. Peter, Gebr. Holstein, 1970), 455.

  71. See Hans Otto Horch, Auf der Suche nach der jüdischen Erzählliteratur: Die Literaturkritik der ‘Allgemeinen Zeitung des Judentums’ (1837-1922) (Frankfurt am Main, Bern, and New York: Peter Lang, 1985), 104-15 and passim.

  72. See the essay on this in my Heinrich Heine: The Elusive Poet (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1969), 446-65.

  73. Max Brod, Heinrich Heine: The Artist in Revolt (New York: Vallentine, Mitchell, 1957), esp. 218-22.

  74. Emma Lazarus, “The Poet Heine,” The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine 29, n.s. 7 (November 1884-April 1885): 210-11.

  75. Lazarus, “The Poet Heine,” 211.

  76. Lazarus, “The Poet Heine,” 212, 215. Her father was probably of Sephardic background; see Dan Vogel, Emma Lazarus (Boston: Twayne, 1980), 13. See also Philipp F. Veit, “Heine: The Marrano Pose,” Monatshefte 66 (1974): 145-56. This work is one of the most illuminating essays on Heine's self-understanding; it has been almost totally ignored.

  77. Lazarus, “The Poet Heine,” 216.

  78. Emma Lazarus, Poems and Translations, printed privately in 1866, then in the following year in New York by Hurd and Houghton; Heine, Poems and Ballads (New York: Worthington, 1881; republished with illustrations by Fritz Kredel, New York: Hartsdale, 1947). See Aaron Kramer, “The Link Between Heine and Emma Lazarus,” Publication of the American Jewish Historical Society 45 (1955/56): 248-57, and Kopp, German Literature in the United States, 69-70.

  79. Sachs, Heine in America, 117.

  80. Heine, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Windfuhr, 1/1:312-19.

  81. Heine to Moses Moser, 6 November 1823, Heinrich Heine Säkularausgabe 20:122.

  82. The Poems of Emma Lazarus (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1888), 2:213-22.

  83. Vogel, Emma Lazarus, 119, disagrees, finding the force of the poems in irony. The contrast with Heine's direct assault upon the sensibilities of the reader remains, however.

  84. Heine to Immanuel Wohlwill, 1 April 1823; to Ferdinand Lassalle, 11 February 1846, Heinrich Heine Säkularausgabe, 20:72; 22:194.

  85. [Joseph Jacobs], “Heine, Heinrich,” The Jewish Encyclopedia 6 (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1904): 327-30.

  86. So Browne tells us in The Final Stanza: A Hitherto Unpublished Chapter of “That Man Heine” (San Francisco: The Book Club of California, 1929), iii-iv.

  87. Lewis Browne with Elsa Weihl, That Man Heine (New York: Macmillan, 1927), 13. Oddly, this notion is revived in the most recent Jewish-oriented publication, containing translations of the Rabbi, the essay on Shylock, and the Hebrew Melodies, where support is claimed from an admittedly idealized painting of a cheder by Moritz Oppenheim made three-quarters of a century later. Jewish Stories and Hebrew Melodies by Heinrich Heine, ed. Elizabeth Petuchowski (Masterworks of Modern Jewish Writing Series, New York: Markus Wiener, 1987), 5-6.

  88. Browne, That Man Heine, 189, 368.

  89. Lewis Browne, How Odd of God (New York: Macmillan, 1934), 228-37.

  90. Israel Tabak, Judaic Lore in Heine: The Heritage of a Poet (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1948). Today German scholars once again seem to be out of touch with common Jewish matters of the sort that an American simply picks up from the environment.

  91. On the Kohut-Rutra Collection, see Carl F. Schreiber, “The Kohut Collection of Heineana,” Yale University Library Gazette 6, no. 3 (1932): 49-53; and Hermann J. Weigand, “Heine Manuscripts at Yale: Their Contribution Concerning Him as Man and Artist,” Studies in Philology 34 (1937): 65-90.

  92. Louis Untermeyer, Heinrich Heine: Paradox and Poet. The Life; Heinrich Heine, Paradox and Poet: The Poems (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1937).

  93. Kopp, German Literature in the United States, 70.

  94. Lefevere, “Why the Real Heine Can't Stand Up,” 86.

  95. Untermeyer, The Life, 93.

  96. Untermeyer, The Life, 292, 293, 294, 303, 337-38.

  97. Untermeyer, The Life, 379-84.

  98. Solomon Liptzin, Germany's Stepchildren (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1944), 68, 72.

  99. Martin Greenberg, “Heinrich Heine: Flight and Return. The Fallacy of Being Only a Human Being,” Commentary 7 (Jan.-June 1949): 225-31.

  100. Hugo Bieber, Heinrich Heine: Confessio Judaica (Berlin: Welt-Verlag, 1925); Judisches Manifest (New York: Mary S. Rosenberg, 1946). The new edition is augmented with materials Bieber found when editing Heine's conversations: Heinrich Heine: Gespräche, Briefe, Tagebücher, Berichte seiner Zeitgenossen (Berlin: Welt-Verlag, 1926). This publication had the misfortune of appearing at the same time as H. H. Houben, Gespräche mit Heine (Frankfurt am Main: Rütten & Loening, 1926), and never achieved the same visibility.

  101. Hugo Bieber, Heinrich Heine: A Biographical Anthology, English translations made or selected by Moses Hadas (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1956), 11, 30, 26. This is a posthumous publication, completed by Hadas after Bieber's death.

  102. Hugo Bieber, “Recent Literature on Heine's Attitude Toward Judaism,” Historica Judaica 10 (1948): 175-83.

  103. Ludwig Marcuse, Heine: A Life Between Love and Hate (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1933).

  104. Antonina Vallentin [?pseud. for Julien Luchaire], Poet in Exile: The Life of Heinrich Heine (New York: Viking, 1934); François Fejtö, Heine: A Biography (London: Wingate, 1946), both republished Port Washington, NY, and London: Kennikat Press, 1970.

  105. Heinz R. Kuehn, “Rediscovering Heinrich Heine,” Sewanee Review 97 (1989): 124. See also the hopes expressed by Robert C. Holub, “Heine and the New World,” Colloquia Germanica 22 (1989): 101-15. However, this lecture, delivered in China, is not very deeply informed.

  106. Examples are Kuehn's essay, cited in the previous note; Philip Kossoff, Valiant Heart: A Biography of Heinrich Heine (New York and London: Cornwall Books, 1983), for which the verdict “worthless” would not be excessive; or Henry Regensteiner, “Heine in Retrospect,” Midstream 33, no. 11 (November 1987): 43-46. Of doubtful utility is Alfred Kazin's essay “One of us?” New York Review of Books 28, no. 17 (5 November 1981): 24-25. It was unwisely employed as a foreword to Heine, Poetry and Prose, ed. Hermand and Holub, vii-xiii.

  107. Heine-Selections (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1970). Prentice Hall vigorously solicited this text but, when it had been edited to everyone's satisfaction, sat on it for some three years. I believe the purpose was to make me angry enough to withdraw it. Soon after publication it was remaindered. It was republished by Preston in New York in 1976 on the strength of colleagues' recommendations. But they must have been supplied out of pure collegiality, for none of the colleagues ever used the book, leaving me in a somewhat embarrassed situation with the publisher.

  108. Lines from the poem “Jetzt wohin?” (“Now, Where To”) from Romanzero, Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Schriften, ed. Klaus Briegleb et al. (Munich: Hanser, 1968-1976), 6/1:101; translated by Draper, The Complete Poems, 633.

Gerhart Hoffmeister (essay date spring 1994)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5654

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 his time and still festering in twentieth century Germany.2

I will try to show in this essay how Heine was marginalized by society, in other words, how and why he was compelled to live on the brink where racial, religious, poetic and political faultlines crossed, turning him into a paradigmatic figure of “borderline experience.” And yet, pushed off center and utterly failing in his drive toward emancipation of the Jews and of mankind, one wonders how Heine kept a critical focus on the center and proved himself a farsighted diagnostician of the social malaise in Germany as well as of his own predicament without losing his sanity. His sense of humor must have saved him, although uncovering the hilariously incongruous sides of German life has not endeared him to his countrymen either.


Hegel was to contrast the classical ideal of serenity with romantic art as produced by a creative subject torn and at odds within itself.3 It appears that Heine's much-maligned inner strife had a subjective as well as an objective side to it. First of all, it was an existential problem involving his identity as well as the world around him; he suffered from a severe “Zahnweh im Herzen” from his very birth.4 The older he grew, the less successful he would become in mastering his misery, and finally, referring to his Jewish descent, he predicted, it would burst his heart open.5 But, as we shall see, far more was at stake.

As a harsh critic of the social and cultural condition in Germany early on, he put himself in an untenable position: whatever he did would offend the reactionary as well as the liberal camps and increase their hatred of him since he had “die heiligsten Bande zerrissen” out of his “unglückliche Passion für die Vernunft”6 and paid the price of standing alone among fools. Heine was considered a renegade who kept undermining moral, social and literary conventions, and therefore it comes as no surprise to see the Marquis in Die Bäder von Lucca accuse Heine's literary alter ego of being “ein zerrissenes Gemüt, sozusagen ein Byron,”7 in other words “a poet torn within”. This is an extremely important encounter because it does not only bring into focus a decade-old campaign against Heine's subjective “byronische Zerrissenheit” but with his outright rejection also its objective foundation:

Ach, teurer Leser, wenn du über jene Zerrissenheit klagen willst, so beklage lieber, daß die Welt selbst mitten entzweigerissen ist […]. Durch das meinige [Herz] ging aber der große Weltriß[…]. Einst war die Welt ganz, im Altertum und im Mittelalter, trotz der äußeren Kämpfe gab's doch noch immer eine Welteinheit, und es gab ganze Dichter […]; aber jede Nachahmung ihrer Ganzheit ist eine Lüge.8

What emerges here is significant in that Heine turned into an exponent of a world that had lost its ancient bearings and was now on the verge of a new age split between subject and object, reflected in the individual with his unstable and divided self. According to the Classic-Romantic worldview, the resulting gulf was interpreted as a necessary step in the development of mankind seen in terms of a steady falling away from original harmony between man, God and Nature, mind and matter. Schiller,9 Friedrich Schlegel,10 and Hegel, Heine's professor in Berlin, had expounded this Golden Age.11 But what distinguishes Heine from them is twofold, first of all his conviction that this “Weltriß,” this rupture of the world, originated in God, who had inserted irony into his creation,12 and secondly the poet's decision to accept the torn world as part of his personal lot, thereby experiencing “Weltriß” as “Weltschmerz” and linking his desperate search for identity to an objective state of affairs.13

Obviously, suffering from this “Weltschmerz” predisposed Heine to poetic martyrdom,14 and this prompted him to compare himself to Prometheus on the rocks and to Christ carrying his cross.15 Thus Heine's inner strife appears to be much more than a reflection of his upbringing and of the times he lived in, also more than a mere religious or political problem connected with the human condition in general and his German fatherland after 1815 in particular.16 “Zerrissenheit” was at the root of his poetic existence, signifying a heartfelt loss of unity and a deep sense of fragmentation of European culture. Through poetic reflection he intended to create a new art-form. Out of his “Ästhetik der Zerrissenheit”17 with its fragmentary approach was supposed to grow renewed harmony in the arts as well as in life. Caught between the end of the “Kunstperiode” Age of Goethe,18 i.e, and the industrial age, strife-torn Heine had to lead a marginal existence as a German Jew, an exile in France, and as a genius who even from his “Matratzengruft” struggled ceaselessly, like Don Quixote before him, to create out of chaos a new order for poetry and politics in Europe.



Born in 1797—or was it 1799, as Heine himself claimed—in Düsseldorf under French occupation into a German Jewish family, Heine grew up caught between extreme positions that dislocated him from the center, from his integration with German life. Jews had been freed from the ghettos by Napoleon and had gradually been moving away from strict Orthodoxy to reformed Judaism, until the Restoration after 1815 repealed Napoleonic decrees and Prussia pressured Jews to convert by curtailing their civil rights.19 Of necessity Heine was in search of his identity, and, inspired by contacts in Rahel Varnhagen's Salon as well as in the “Verein für die Cultur und Wissenshaft der Juden,” and on the basis of a strong antireligious sentiment, he first attempted to learn about his Jewish background as a student at Berlin University (1821-23) and Göttingen.20 It was not, however, a question of faith, but rather an intellectual and moral interest in the history and in the possible improvement of the Jews that prodded him to look for a poetic identification of his own with Sephardic Jewish culture, one result of this being his tragedy Almansor (1823).21 In a letter to Moritz Embden he admitted that his leaning toward things Jewish was rooted in his deep antipathy toward Christianity.22 Still using the romantic repertoire in Almansor, as a critic he turned against Catholic Romanticism in his Die romantische Schule. For a short span (1823-25) he identified with the Jewish tradition, uneasily shifting toward Protestantism and unable to solve his identity crisis, sometimes praising the acquired intellectual freedom of the Protestant tradition, at other times openly declaring his Jewishness and then again pretending not to be a Jew at all, complaining about his Jewish critics.23 Whatever he decided to do to establish himself in society, it misfired. For example, “in accepting baptism (1825), he became an outsider from the Jews. But he also cut the bonds to his family.”24 Heine had to admit to himself that he was not only hated by Christians but also by Jews.25 As Ludwig Marcuse put it, Heine was “kein Christ und kein Atheist, kein Gläubiger und kein Ungläubiger,”26 and yet it has been shown that the poet and Jew share a torn existence that manifests itself in each one's sense of mission and fate of suffering.27 Even Heine's much vaunted conversion to a personal God late in life was perhaps not so much a leap of faith as the creation of his own syncretic God out of despair over his physical ruin, “ein Akt meines Denkens,” as he put it.28


Did Heine go to Paris into self-imposed exile because he failed to secure his position and livelihood in German society? Since his student days in Berlin he had planned to live in Paris. His final decision was less based on his innate restlessness than on his personal troubles, e. g., “der nie abzuwaschende Jude.”29 Once, in this “neues Jerusalem,” this “Heilandstadt” or city of redemption,30 he enthusiastically immersed himself in Parisian life, in particular in artistic circles, improving on the proverbial saying of well-being “wie ein Fisch im Wasser” by saying “wie Heine in Paris.”31 His fears of arrest and imprisonment in Prussia gave way to a sense of liberation, of acceptance and also of purpose. France he considered the”Mutterboden der modernen Gesellschaft,”32 a society that in contrast to oppressed Germany had grown to great heights of freedom.33 And this freedom he considered the new religion of his time, with the French its chosen people.34 His immediate purpose was clear to him: to represent France in Germany and to interpret German culture to the French with the particular aim of correcting Madame de Staël's views in De l'Allemagne (1810). As he praised France's social and political progress it was no wonder that his German contemporaries did not exactly see Heine as a patriot.

But did Paris fulfill his dreams of integration and identification? Did living in Paris feel like residing in a “französisches Deutschland”?35 The longer he stayed in Paris, the sharper grew his sense of loss of fatherland, of his native language and literature, gradually turning his early euphoria into a sense of being banned from home. Already in 1835 he admitted reluctantly that “dieses freywillige Exil eines der größten Opfer ist, die ich dem Gedanken bringen muß,”36 referring to freedom of expression and of the press that he could only enjoy in France. In point of fact, Heine in Paris grew increasingly isolated and at times he felt like an outcast, comparing himself to a dog lost in a foreign land, starving and whimpering in front of Germany's gates.37 Only when he wrote in German did he imagine being back in his homeland, something he could not achieve in French, since he never succeeded in fashioning it into his second poetic language. Apparently Heine was unable to quiet “das deutsche Herz in meiner Brust.”38 As a member of two cultures he never seemed to belong to either one of them completely. In this light it has been argued that all of his satirical invectives were the product of his desperate search for identification with his lost fatherland.39 Yet his search for national identity came to naught. In Sander Gilman's words: “Not perceived as a German, since he [was]. seen as a Jewish journalist […] writing from Paris, nor as a Frenchman, since his works were identified as non-French by their language, Heine [was] condemned to a highly artificial world of intellectual limbo.”40


For many years Heine was confined to his sick-bed, which provided a fertile soil not only for his return to a personal God but also for his creativity. It seems at first glance as if Heine was giving in to despair already before the outbreak of his fatal paralysis. In Die Stadt Lucca (1829) he exclaims: “Oh! es ist keine Übertreibung, wenn der Poet in seinem Schmerze ausruft: Das Leben ist eine Krankheit, die ganze Welt ein Lazarett! […] Ach! man sollte eigentlich gegen niemanden in dieser Welt schreiben. Jeder ist selbst krank genug in diesem großen Lazarett …”41 This sounds like a premonition of his suffering yet to come, when he realized that he was not a God-like being any longer, but a poor Jew sick to death and an unhappy man,42 not only ostracized as a genius, but also isolated because of his disease, “lebendig tot,” “Exgott”43 and a “Bruder in Apoll” to an alter ego of his, a medieval cleric who composed songs as he was suffering from measles and social rejection.44

Yet, on the border between death and life, Heine continued to use all his mental faculties, his energy, his zest for life and his stoic self-control not only to face death but also to keep producing great art. In his last poems of 1853-54 he broke the last taboo society had imposed, silence about death.45 With a calm and clear mind he arranged his works and his life.



Heine was not only suspended between life and death, not only exiled geographically, racially and nationally, but also in a literary sense as a poet born too late to experience the classical Age of Goethe, too late to be lifted by the tide of Romanticism, but left adrift in its backwash with “kranken, zerrissenen, romantischen Gefühlen, die wir aus allen Ländern und Zeitaltern zusammengelesen.”46 As a result, he developed an ambivalent attitude toward Romanticism, torn between longing and rejection, construction and destruction, in this process going through several stages that would lead to the fragmentary design of a new poetics. Heine was absolutely clear about this double role, proclaiming in his Confessions: “ich bin ihr letzter Dichter: mit mir ist die alte lyrische Schule der Deutschen geschlossen, während zugleich die neue Schule, die moderne deutsche Lyrik, von mir eröffnet ward.”47

Certainly, he started out in defense of Romanticism48 and practiced romantic themes and forms, with the romantic motif of unhappy love dominating both his Spanish tragedy Almansor as well as his Buch der Lieder. How romantic the latter was perceived to be, is proven by its sentimental reception history. And yet these unhappy love songs are utterly deceptive because, in the words of Adorno, Heine set out as the enlightener unmasking the romantic situation invariably in each and all poems, thereby changing the Leitmotif of unrequited love into a symbol of homelessness.49 Not surprisingly, a Frenchman called Heine a “romantique defroqué” (defrocked romantic) appearing as a romantic and anti-romantic all at the same time. Heine confessed: “Trotz meiner exterminatorischen Feldzüge gegen die Romantik blieb ich doch selbst immer ein Romantiker, und ich war es in einem höhern Grade, als ich selbst es ahnte.”50

With his destructive campaigns he referred not only to his essays, particularly to Die Romantische Schule, but also to his poetry in which he employed his satirical gift to attack the medieval and Catholic trends of High and Late Romanticism. These were “die Schriftsteller, die in Deutschland das Mittelalter aus seinem Grabe hervorgezogen […] und die Wirkung, die sie auf die große Menge ausüben konnten, gefährdete die Freiheit und das Glück meines Vaterlandes.”51 For this reason he fought Madame de Staël, who had disseminated this one-sided concept of a backward-looking German Romanticism throughout the world of letters. Heine's spirit of opposition rose to the occasion and despite his criticism of the previous “Kunstperiode” as indifferent to life and politics, he took up Goethe's challenge of “Über die christlich-patriotisch-neudeutsche Kunst”52 and intensified his own attacks against Late Romanticism in prose and song alike, attempting to dismantle the romantic stage setting. But however hard he tried to break loose from this legacy, he never accomplished it completely, declaring: “Nachdem ich dem Sinne für romantische Poesie in Deutschland die tödlichsten Schläge beigebracht, beschlich mich selbst wieder eine unendliche Sehnsucht nach der blauen Blume im Traumlande der Romantik.”53

Essentially, he remained a romantic at heart, a poet admiring Catholic symbolism,54 using the romantic tradition and toying with it, reviving it in his romantic mode and liquidating it at the same time. Born into the “Kirchhof der Romantik,”55 he did not seem to have any other choice but to become a “deutscher Aristophanes,”56 straddling the past romantic age of emotions and the emerging age of reason, contrasting the old with the new, and “setting things up for a battle of wits.” As Diana Behler has shown,57 his key models were the early German romantics, above all the brothers Schlegel, whose method of romantic irony he used, ironically enough, to undo A. W. Schlegel himself.

Heine's ambivalence toward Romanticism was driven by his strong desire to look for identification in the German tradition and simultaneously to free himself from its chokingly negative trends. How to maintain his artistic autonomy he had figured out early on when reading Schiller and F. Schlegel: “Ja, dieses Selbstbewußtsein der Freiheit in der Kunst offenbart sich ganz besonders durch die Behandlung, durch die Form, in keinem Falle durch den Stoff.”58 For that reason, he toyed with romantic ideas, situations and metaphors, not in order to restore the epoch of medieval chivalry, but, like an inverted Don Quijote to dismantle them59—however, not without a twist, as, for instance, the ironic lizard in Die Stadt Lucca proves, who represents the incarnation of hieroglyphic nature philosophy and recalls tales of romantic metamorphosis.60


That Heine did not develop a closed system of a new poetics is symptomatic of his existence on the margin: “die neue Zeit wird auch eine neue Kunst gebären, die mit ihr selbst in begeistertem Einklang sein wird, die nicht aus der verblichenen Vergangenheit ihre Symbolik zu borgen braucht und die sogar eine neue Technik, die von der seitherigen verschieden, hervorbringen muß.”61 His poetics was to consist of a fragmentary approach appropriate to a world out of joint, a dynamic and flexible poetics in action superbly suited to reflect the changing times, in which “der Dampfwagen der Eisenbahn gibt uns eine zittrrige Gemütserschütterung, wobei kein Lied mehr aufgehen kann, der Kohlendampf verscheucht die Sangesvögel, und der Gasbeleuchtungsgestank verdirbt die duftige Mondnacht.”62 The modern age required a concept of poetry modelled on anti-classicist predecessors such as Sterne,63 Addison and above all Friedrich Schlegel with his revolutionary concept of “romantic irony.” Heine himself referred to his “arabesque”64 and highly subjective style that gives an impression of improvised associations assembled haphazardly and arbitrarily. Already in 1822 he had stated: “verlangen Sie von mir keine Systematie; […] Assoziation der Ideen soll immer vorwalten.”65 Typically, he called his Harzreise “ein zusammengewürfeltes Lappenwerk.”66 Likewise, he composed Das Buch Le Grand in the Sternesque style, not knowing how to proceed and conclude as well as parodying his lack of orderly progress. As fluid as his style was Heine's exploitation of traditional genres. He kept switching from one to the other within the same work, mixing narrative and lyrics, tracts and letters67

Two cases illustrate particularly well Heine's concept of a new art form in the making, his historiographies and his Lieder. The best example among the former is Die Romantische Schule, a book in which Heine takes stock of German literature based on a fragmentary romantic writing approach that is intent on demolishing classical and romantic art through demystifying its terms. Heine achieved his goal through a unique mixture of perspectives, e. g. literature, society and politics, that yields fresh results for literary history and establishes Die Romantische Schule as a model for a future sociology of literature.68

In this light his songs in Das Buch der Lieder exploit the Volkslied tradition by using its repertoire with the apparent intent of constructing a harmonious world only to undermine it and reveal it as a hollow artifice. As the time of monarchies was coming to an end, so was the idyllic world of the romantic folksong. Since the modern world has lost its harmony, he asserts, acting as if it were still intact would amount to lying. He would much rather cut up these fictitious feelings of happiness.69 Heine's experience of the dissociation of world and poet led to his very debunking70 of all false emotions and ideas, resulting in the death of “Erlebnislyrik” understood as an expression of a poet's emotional state. To be sure, Heine employed the Lied tradition along with the romantic repertoire to come to terms with his personal pain, but he exploited them for artistic effectiveness and constructivity. He did his very best for the sake of his poems' composition and thus he strongly objected to their misinterpretation as “Erlebnislyrik”.71

A world out of joint required a new type of poet too,72 one who would dissolve classical and romantic genres by playing with them and constantly switching his own positions, including his views on the function of poetry; whether poetry was to have a sociopolitical orientation or complete autonomy depended on Heine's stage in life and the circumstances of the time he lived in.73 What characterizes Heine's poetics is their apparent incoherence and constant inconsistencies, his continual mounting of images, metaphors and ideas and their dismantling, his art of concealing and revealing, because he enjoyed attacking the tradition of classical harmony and to experiment with various masks in his search for identity, playing the fool, the Arab, the Greek pagan, the martyr or the Don Quijote etc.74 Thus he came across as a chameleon-like poet, a reflection of the dislocations in his life and times.


Self-exiled in France, looking in from the outside, disconnected from his past and uncertain of the future, Heine fashioned his poetic “toy” into a sharp weapon for incisive analyses of Germany, France and the European theater after the fall of Napoleon. Literature and politics became inseparably intertwined for him.75 Revolutionary France (1789, 1830, 1848) provided him with a keen awareness of all that went wrong in the Era of the Holy Alliance after 1815 and all that needed to be reformed in the future.

Almost from birth Heine was favorably predisposed toward France, and yet, as is characteristic of his “bewegliche Dichternatur,”76 he kept switching his position on national allegiance, remaining somewhat ambivalent on the concept of “nation” and his own role as a harbinger of revolutionary change. In his search for roots he had tried to mingle with nationalistic student groups early on at the University of Bonn (1819), but later on in Paris he developed an anti-national stance toward “Gallophobic”77 reactionary Teutomaniacs who were trying to erase the achievements of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. On the margin Heine gradually evolved a bi-polar view of “nation,” patriotism and Germany as a precondition for his mission. Especially after the prohibition of Young German writers (1835), chauvinists, anti-Semitists, and anti-intellectuals had taken over the “nation” and Heine had a hard time continuing to believe in it as an expression of the spirit and culture of the people. This divergence of views led to a false but also to a genuine kind of patriotism, one resulting in xenophobia of narrow-minded Germans, the other in a cosmopolitan love of mankind.78 And this in turn fueled Heine's satirical unmasking of those Teutomaniac enemies by exposing them to his mockery and biting hatred.79

His patriotism was of a different brand; it belonged to “the other Germany” that he had experienced along the “freie Rhein”80 and encountered in the German philosophical tradition of which he was absolutely proud until his very end. Prodded on by his “furor francese,”81 i.e. his love of the French revolutionary ideas allegorized in a statue of liberty,82 he declared his life's task to be the enlightenment and emancipation of the people, contrasting his love of freedom with positive religion as a misfit.83 To bring social justice to the oppressed, social change through “soziale Ideen”84 became his main concern, for the sake of equality and justice on earth and not only in heaven.85 Special targets of his attacks were the alliance between the aristocracy and the church, since both upheld the medieval power structure.86

Obviously, Heine's chief model for preaching “the gospel” of freedom was France with its revolutionary ideas,87 including the social utopia of Saint-Simon. But this “französische Evangelium” harks all the way back to Early Christianity, at least in Heine's opinion.88 In more recent centuries Protestantism had joined the inspirational forces that propelled Heine. Because, for him, Protestantism introduced freedom of thought, expression and research into the German tradition, it manifested itself as “Denkfreiheit,”89 emancipation from medieval shackles enabling the flight of German philosophy from Lessing to Hegel. To be sure, Heine discovered some parallels between the French Revolution and German philosophy; for example, both had broken away from rigid traditions, but essentially Heine took pride in the non-violent German legacy, pointing out his preference for its inverted procedure, first the philosophical revolution, thereafter the political one, not the other way around.90 Thus he praised the revolution of the mind over the French Revolution, and yet he remained ambivalent toward social change in Germany. Could it come about through day-dreaming philosophers, who had tried to explain away the ugly reality of despotism by claiming that everything real is rational?91

Was social change feasible without violence or only with violence? In Deutschland ein Wintermärchen he threatened the ghosts of the ancient regime: “Und weicht ihr nicht, so brauch ich Gewalt!,”92 although he was aware that a German revolution could easily derail into a counterrevolution.93 Also the “duel” between the underprivileged and the propertied aristocracy he saw in terms of a terrific struggle.94 So violence was on the horizon, and he warned Frenchmen of the thunder of the German revolution to come: “Es wird ein Stück aufgeführt werden in Deutschland, wogegen die franz Ösische Revolution nur wie eine harmlose Idylle erscheinen möchte”95 For sure, a modern reader would take this as a premonition of the political catastrophe of the Third Reich—not so, however, according to recent interpretations that claim that Heine aimed at the reconciliation of mind and matter through his envisaged return of the old “daemonic” gods. What he predicted was the release of “psychic energies,” elemental forces of nature that had been repressed for centuries.96 Heine's ambivalence includes his understanding of Communism. On the one hand he was terrified of its threatening upheaval with its ensuing destruction of the arts; on the other, he confessed, he could grow to love the Communists out of hatred of the nationalists who would eventually be crushed like toads.97

On the threshold of a new age, Heine shows an extraordinary, even uncanny talent for analyzing his times and making predictions of future developments. From his antinational and anticlerical position he viewed Germany as a country haunted by medieval specters, its people easily misled, its intellectuals in a dream world, its generals and industrial captains dominant and uninterested in a republic.98

According to him, in France politics ruled the day, in Germany the arts, with Romanticism as a kind of quixotic movement.99 To make things look even worse, a devastating Franco-German war appeared to loom on the horizon.100 Moreover, the bloodthirsty medieval “Delinquenten-religion”101 Heine replaced with a pre-Nietzschean belief in the death of the church and God vanishing from the world.102

Finally, did Heinrich Heine turn into a fool, as German nationalists perceived him to be, when he, in his farsightedness, predicted that book-burnings could easily end up in a holocaust: “dort wo man Bücher / Verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.”?103 Had Heine gone too far in his “furor francese”? Once he looked at himself as a desperate old fool who failed miserably,104 thrusting his Don Quijote lance against an antiquated society.105 On another occasion he saw himself as “ein braver Soldat im Befreiungskriege der Menschheit,”106 always oppositional, even to the German opposition (Börne), in sum: Heine comes across as the paradigmatic figure of an uprooted poet hovering between the old and the new, between two cultures, two creeds (Jew and Christian), two literary epochs (Romanticism and post-Romantic Realism) using poetry both as a weapon and as merchandise to make a living: “Aber man muß Geld in dieser besten Welt haben, Geld in der Tasche und nicht Manuskripte im Pult.”107


  1. “Einleitung zu Don Quijote,” quoted according to Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Werke, ed. Ernst Elster, 7 volumes (Leipzig: Bibliographisches Institut, 1887-90) VII, 307.

  2. See Theodor Adorno, “Die Wunde Heine,” in: Noten zur Literatur, I (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 19..), 144; also Heine who refers to “die Wunde unserer Zeit” in: Ludwig Börne, Buch V, Elster VII, 143.

  3. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik, I, ed. Hermann Glockner (Stuttgart: Frommanns, 1927), 219: “In der romantischen Kunst zwar geht die Zerrissenheit und Dissonanz des Innern weiter …”

  4. “ich habe dieses Elend mit mir zur Welt gebracht”, Das Buch LeGrand, Kap. 20= quoted according to Heinrich Heine, Werke, 2 vol's, herausgegeben und kommentiert von Stuart Atkins, Beck's kommentierte Klassiker (Munich: Beck, 1973-1978), in the following notes abbreviated as SA I or SA II; here SA I, 443.

  5. See SA I, 891.

  6. SA I, 433 and 435.

  7. SA I, 535.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung.

  10. Gespräch über die Poesie.

  11. Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik.

  12. “die Ironie, die Gott in die Welt hineingeschaffen”, SA I, 652.

  13. See his letter to Christian Sethe, Berlin April 14, 1822: “O Christian, wüßtest Du, wie meine Seele nach Frieden lechzt, und wie sie doch täglich mehr und mehr zerrissen wird. Ich kann fast keine Nacht mehr schlafen,” in: Heinrich Heine, Briefe. Erste Gesamtausgabe, 6 vol's, ed. Friedrich Hirth (Mainz: Kupferberg, 1950-1957), Hirth I, 107.

  14. “Dichtermärtyrertum”, SA I, 535.

  15. SA II, 673 and II, 689.

  16. See SA II, 107 and I, 375: “blutende Zerrissenheit” of his fatherland; I, 646: “Glaubenszwiespalt”.

  17. See Markus Winkler, “Weltschmerz, europäisch. Zur Ästhetik der Zerrissenheit bei Heine und Byron,” in: Heinrich Heine und die Romantik / Heinrich Heine and Romanticism, ed. M. W. (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1997), p. 173-190.

  18. Die Romantische Schule, SA II, 159

  19. See SA I, 690.

  20. See letter to Moses Moser Jan. 9, 1824=Hirth I, 132.

  21. 1823; see G. Hoffmeister, “Jerusalem und Granada oder ‘Poesie-Orient’ versus Real-Orient: Referenzbeziehungen zwischen Heine, Arnim und Byron,” in: H. Heine und die Romantik, ed. M. Winkler (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1997), in press.

  22. Letter May 3, 1823=Hirth I, 74.

  23. In this context see Sander Gilman's chapter on “The Farceur: Heine's Ambivalence,” in: Jewish Self-Hatred. Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews (Baltimore-London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 167-188.

  24. Sander Gilman, p. 178.

  25. Letter to Moses Moser, Sept. 27, 1823=Hirth I, 107.

  26. Heinrich Heine. Rowohlts Bildmonographien, vol. 41 (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1960), p. 145.

  27. See Jürgen Brummack, Heinrich Heine. Epoche Werk Wirkung,(Munich: Beck, 1980), p. 282.

  28. “Geständnisse,” Elster VI, 49 f., see also “Berichtigung 1849,” Elster VII, 537 f. and SA II, 879 f.

  29. Letter to M. Moser, July 28, 1826=Hirth I, 284.

  30. SA II, 303.

  31. Letter to Ferdinand Hiller, Oct. 24, 1832=Hirth II, 24..

  32. SA,II, 180.

  33. SA II, 288.

  34. Elster III, 501.

  35. SA II, 434.

  36. Letter to Laube, Nov. 1835: “dieses freywillige Exil eines der größten Opfer ist, die ich dem Gedanken bringen muß.”=Hirth II, 105.

  37. SA I, 425.

  38. “Abschied von Paris”, Nachlaß zu Deutschland ein Wintermärchen, in: Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Schriften, 6 vol's, ed. Klaus Briegleb (Munich: Hanser, 1968-176), IV (1971), 1021. …

  39. See Norbert Altenhofer, “Deutsche Lyrik und Versepik des Vormärz,” in: Europäische Romantik III (=Neues Handbuch der Literaturwissenschaft vol. 16), ed. N. A. and Alfred Estermann (Wiesbaden: Aula, 1985), 209.

  40. S. Gilman, “Farceur,” p. 178; see also Helmut Koopmann's excellent essay on “Heine als Exilant in Paris,” in: Romanticism and Beyond, A Festschrift for John F. Fetzer, ed. Clifford Bernd et al. Cal. Studies in German and European Romanticism and in the Age of Goethe, 2 (Lang: New York, 1996), p. 9-32.

  41. SA I, 620.

  42. “Berichtigung 1849”=Elster VII, 537.

  43. Elster VI, 50.

  44. Elster VI, 74.

  45. See Manfred Windfuhr, Heinrich Heine: Revolution und Reflexion (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1969), p. 249 f.

  46. Die Nordsee=SA I, 355.

  47. “Geständnisse,” Elster VI, 19.

  48. See his essay “Die Romantik,” 1820=SA I, 684-686.

  49. Adorno's “Heimatlosigkeit”, note 2 above, p. 151.

  50. “Geständinisse,” Elster VI, 19.

  51. Die Romantische Schule=SA II, 265.

  52. 1817, see SA II, 153.

  53. Elster VI, 19.

  54. E.g., St. Mary lyrics, Elster VI, 66.

  55. “Kirchhof der Romantik”, Elster I, 371.

  56. Elster VI, 73.

  57. Diana Behler, “Heinrich Heine and Early German Romanticism,” in: Heine und die Romantik (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1997), pp. 86-103.

  58. Lutetia=SA II, 446.

  59. See Die Stadt Lucca=SA I, 655.

  60. SA I, 606 f.

  61. Elster IV, 73.

  62. Elster VII, 418.

  63. Letter to M. Moser, Sept. 30, 1823=Hirth I, 109.

  64. Lutetia=SA II, 1073.

  65. “Briefe aus Berlin,” 1822=Briegleb II, 10.

  66. SA I, 834.

  67. Manfred Windfuhr refers to Heine's “bewegliche Strukturen”, 1969, p. 281 f., in particular in regard to Die Nordsee and Reisebilder.

  68. See M. Windfuhr, p. 158.

  69. “jakobinisch unerbittlich, die Gefühle zerschneiden.” SA I, 873.

  70. See “Entzaubrungswort” in Almansor, SA I, 43, line 1243.

  71. See his letter to Immermann, June 10, 1823=Hirth I, 83.

  72. See Windfuhr, 1969, p. 292.

  73. In Reisebilder III (1830) he confessed: “Die Poesie […] war mir immer nur heiliges Spielzeug, oder geweihtes Mittel für himmlische Zwecke.” SA I, 516; on other occasions he defended its autonomy: e.g. in Atta Troll, Caput 3 (1847): “Zwecklos ist mein Lied”=SA II, 546, and also in his famous letter to Gutzkow August 23, 1838 on the “Autonomie der Kunst,”=Hirth II, 278.

  74. See Norbert Altenhofer, “Zwischen Poesie und Publizistik: Formen der ‘neuen Prosa’ im deutschen Vormärz,” in: Europäische Romantik III, 1985, 128.

  75. See for instance his statement in Die Romantische Schule: “Man kann nämlich unsere neueste deutsche Literatur nicht besprechen, ohne ins tiefste Gebiet der Politik zu geraten.” SA II, 235.

  76. Windfuhr, p. 292.

  77. SA II, 1076.

  78. See “Zueignungsbrief” in Lutetia, SA II, 1075-76.

  79. See Deutschland ein Wintermärchen, SA II, 655-660; also “Vorrede,” Französische Zustände, SA II, 283.

  80. SA II, 1178.

  81. “Memoiren,” Elster VII, 509.

  82. Die Stadt Lucca=SA I, 656.

  83. Die Stadt Lucca=SA I, 646.

  84. Lutetia=SA II, 437.

  85. Die Romantische Schule=SA II, 166.

  86. See Deutschland ein Wintermärchen with its scathing criticism of Prussia; also SA I, 513.

  87. Lucca=SA I, 647 and Französische Zustände=SA II, 305.

  88. See: “Wie schön, wie heilig lieblich, wie heimlich süß war das Christentum der ersten Jahrhunderte,” Lucca=SA I, 647.

  89. “Geständnisse,” Elster VI, 57.

  90. Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland III, Elster IV, 293.

  91. His critique of Hegel's maxim: “Alles was ist, ist vernünftig,” SA I, 654.

  92. Caput 7=SA II, 647.

  93. See Kaiser Rotbart im Kyffhäuser, in: Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen, Caput 15=SA II, 665 f.

  94. Das Buch Le Grand=SA II, 433.

  95. Geschichte, Elster IV, 294.

  96. See Elementargeister, 1837; also Markus Winkler, Mythisches Denken zwischen Romantik und Realismus. Zur Erfahrung kultureller Fremdheit im Werk Heinrich Heines (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1995), pp. 144-45; 158-59.

  97. Lutetia=SA II, 1075-76.

  98. Lutetia=SA II, 402.

  99. “Donquijotterien,”=SA II, 197.

  100. Lutetia, 1854=SA II, 433.

  101. “Delinquentenreligion,” Elster III, 395.

  102. “Briefe über Deutschland,” Bruchstück 1844=Briegleb V, 197-98.

  103. Almansor= SA I, 10.

  104. Ludwig Börne, chap. 5=Elster VII, 130.

  105. SA I, 655-56.

  106. Elster III, 281.

  107. Das Buch Le Grand, chap. XIV=SA I, 425.

Roger F. Cook (essay date 1996)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 13491

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 Lehnstuhl saß,
Die Brille auf der langen Nas
(Ein Eulenschnabel wars vielmehr),
Das Köpflein wackelnd hin und her,
Und in der Hand die Birkenrut,
Womit sie schlug die kleine Brut,
Das weinend kleine arme Ding,
Das harmlos einen Fehl beging—
Das Röcklein wurde aufgehoben
Nach hinten, und die kleinen Globen
Die dort sich wölben, rührend schön,
Manchmal wie Rosen anzusehn,
Manchmal wie Lilien, wie die gelben
Violen manchmal, ach! dieselben
Sie wurden von der alten Frau
Geschlagen, bis sie braun und blau!
Mißhandelt und beschimpft zu werden,
Das ist des Schönen Los auf Erden.
Citronia hab ich genannt
Das wunderbare Zauberland,
Das ich einst bei der Hindermans
Erblickt im goldnen Sonnenglanz—
Es war so zärtlich ideal,
Zitronenfarbig und oval,
So anmutvoll und freundlich mild
Und stolz empört zugleich—dein Bild,
Du erste Blüte meiner Minne!
Es kam mir niemals aus dem Sinne.
Das Kind ward Jüngling und jetzunder
Bin ich ein Mann sogar—o Wunder,
Der goldne Traum der Kinderzeit
Taucht wieder auf in Wirklichkeit!
Was ich gesucht die Kreuz und Quer,
Es wandelt leiblich vor mir her,
Ich hauche ein der holden Nähe
Gewürzten Odem—doch, o wehe!
Ein Vorhang von schwarzbrauner Seide
Raubt mir die süße Augenweide!
Der dumme Lappen, der so dünne
Wie das Gewebe einer Spinne,
Verhüllet mir die Gloria
Des Zauberlands Citronia!
Ich bin wie König Tantalus,
Mich lockt und neckt zugleich Genuß:
Der Trunk, wonach die Lippen dürsten,
Entgleitet mir wie jenem Fürsten;
Die Frucht, die ich genösse gern,
Sie ist mir nah und doch so fern!
Ein Fluch dem Wurme, welcher spann
Die Seide, und ein Fluch dem Mann,
Dem Weber, welcher wob den Taft,
Woraus der dunkle schauderhaft
Infame Vorhang ward gemacht,
Der mir verfinstert alle Pracht
Und allen goldnen Sonnenglanz
Citronias, des Zauberlands.
Manchmal mit toller Fieberglut
Faßt mich ein Wahnsinnübermut.
O die verwünschte Scheidewand!
Es treibt mich dann, mit kecker Hand
Die seidne Hülle abzustreifen,
Nach meinem nackten Glück zu greifen.
Jedoch aus allerlei Rücksichten
Muß ich auf solche Tat verzichten.
Auch ist dergleichen Dreistigkeit
Nicht mehr im Geiste unsrer Zeit—
Es heiligt jetzt der Sitte Codex
Die Unantastbarkeit des Podex.


Unverblümt, an andern Orten,
Werdet Ihr in klaren Worten
Später ganz ausführlich lesen,
Was Citronia gewesen.
Unterdes—wer ihn versteht,
Einen Meister nie verrät—
Wißt Ihr doch, daß jede Kunst
Ist am End ein blauer Dunst.
Was war jene Blume, welche
Weiland mit dem blauen Kelche
So romantisch süß geblüht
In des Ofterdingen Lied?
Wars vielleicht die blaue Nase
Seiner mitschwindsüchtgen Base,
Die im Adelsstifte starb?
Mag vielleicht von blauer Farb
Ein Strumpfband gewesen sein,
Das beim Hofball fiel vom Bein
Einer Dame:—Firlefanz!
Honni soit qui mal y pense!

(B VI/I, 314-317)

Of all of Heine's posthumously published poems perhaps none has such a checkered past as »Citronia«. First mention of it came in June 1856 when Mathilda's lawyer, Henri Julia, placed it first in the list of 35 poems he sent to Christian Schad for publication in Der Deutsche Musenalmanach. But when the final agreement with Schad was reached, »Citronia« was one of the poems Schad decided not to publish because he anticipated difficulties with the German censors. Schad had copies of these poems made before sending them back to Julia, but this copy of »Citronia« has been lost. The title also appeared in the table of contents of a packet with 54 poems Julia sent to Campe for inclusion in the first collected works. In this collection, that was copied by the same writer who prepared the texts for the Musenalmanach, »Citronia« was listed together with »Fragment«, an entry that probably referred to the »Nachwort« as a separate poem. However, due to inconsistencies in the manuscripts Campe decided not to use them. The copy of »Citronia« and the separately listed »Nachwort« is one of only eight poems from this packet that are missing from the collection at the Houghton Library today. Nor was »Citronia« one of a group of 25 posthumously published poems in the handwriting of Heine's private secretary Richard Reinhardt that are preserved as part of the Gottschalk collection at the Heine-Institut. But a single copy of »Citronia« in Reinhardt's handwriting has been preserved. While not in a final, clean form, it does present a finished version and, on the basis of Jules Legras' 1894 description of a working manuscript in Heine's handwriting (since lost), we know that it is a complete and accurate rendition of Heine's work.1

Thus despite its precarious and seemingly ill-fated history the poem has survived. But its history of publication and recognition by scholars has been as checkered and difficult as its path to survival. After Schad determined it was too controversial to appear in the Musenalmanach in 1857, Adolf Strodtmann decided against including it in Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken, the first edition of collected posthumous poems published in 1869 as a supplementary volume to the 1863 collected works. In the foreword he justifies his decision to omit »Citronia« and other poems that display a »weltverachtende[n] Nihilismus« and, in some cases, even »skurrile Obscönität« with the claim that they are »Krankheitsphantasien«.2 He then quotes verses 85-98 of the »Nachwort« as an example of nihilistic outbursts »nicht gegen die romantischen Auswüchse allein, sondern gegen die Poesie selber.«3 Strodtmann included »Citronia« in the second edition of the collected works (1876), as did Eduard Engel in his 1884 edition of the Memoiren, but in both cases »in kastrierter Gestalt«4, with verses 19-24 and 77-78 omitted, apparently because they exceeded the limits of decency. Jonas Fränkel published the complete poem for the first time in the third volume (1913) of the Sämtliche Werke (W III, 412-414). He reconstructed it on the basis of the discussion of Strodtmann's emendations in journal articles by Anton Englert (1892) and Jules Legras (1894).5

Yet even 80 years after it finally appeared in complete form the early prejudices against »Citronia« still seem to hinder scholars from reading it with a clear critical eye. Although the objections to its freedom with sexual issues are no longer a problem, the preoccupation with those objections is. No one has even attempted a comprehensive interpretation of the poem, even though in 1894 Legras commented on the extensive and detailed revisions on Heine's working copy of the poem: »Dieses Gedicht […] hat seine Aufmerksamkeit ebenso lange gefesselt, als es die höchste seiner poetischen Inspirationen nur immer vermocht hätte. Die ausgestrichenen Stellen sind nicht zu zählen, und jedesmal gibt eine neue Korrektur dem Satze mehr Einfachheit oder einen schärferen Ausdruck.«6 The fragment of an earlier working manuscript (that contains a preliminary version of verses 45-58) indicates that Heine spent even more time shaping the poem than was evident from the manuscript studied by Legras. Nevertheless, the notion that the poem is frivolous and scurrilous in its treatment of its sexual themes continues to influence readings of it and to inhibit further analysis. Alberto Destro begins his DHA commentary (1992) on »Citronia« with the cautious assertion: »Ein in seinen Intentionen vielleicht unterschätztes Gedicht.« He attributes the extensive formal reworking of the poem to Heine's efforts to make the poem seem playfully light even though it deals with highly provocative subjects: »Diese sorgfältige formale Ausarbeitung (die bekanntlich bei Heine die Regel ist) läuft der provokatorisch skurrilen Themenstellung zuwider [emphasis added]« (DHA III/II, 1747). The choice of Strodtmann's word here is not merely coincidental, for the commentary concludes that Heine's intentions were perhaps none other than producing a poem that would counter those, such as Strodtmann, who consider its provocative and scurrile treatment of such sexual themes inappropriate for serious poetry:

»Citronia« mag als der Versuch angesehen werden, ein wertvolles Gedicht über ein nicht nur ungewöhnliches, sondern sogar skandalöses und verpöntes Thema zu schreiben. »Citronia« ist demnach nicht nur Heines Hang zur Herausforderung, besonders auf erotischem Gebiet, zuzuordnen, sondern soll auch als poetologisches Dokument gelesen werden, das die potentielle Eignung eines jeden beliebigen, somit auch nach traditionellen Maßstäben unpassenden Sujets für die Lyrik zu verkünden.

(DHA III/II, 1748)

Thus, the DHA ascribes a rather meager purpose to a text that, according to its own commentary, went through painstaking reworkings and revisions before reaching its final form.


Destro's commentary does offer the right first step to a detailed reading when it points to the »Nachwort« as the key to the poem. There are a couple of obvious reasons for this. This is the only time Heine furnished a single poem with an afterword. And if there were any question whether the lines in the »Nachwort« were actually intended to be a separate poem (as Henri Julia apparently treated them), the Reinhardt manuscript puts this matter to rest.7 Also, as one might expect from an afterword, the speaker there seems to be much closer to the author of the text as a whole than the speaker in the poem proper. Particularly from the last part of the second stanza to the end of the fourth the poetic persona is much less reflective, venting his anger at the moral codes that prohibit him from satisfying his erotic urges. The »Nachwort«, on the other hand, returns to the thematic point introduced in the second stanza. The tone is not that of the wronged and suffering poet, but rather one of recollection and reassessment, one similar to the voice of the poetic persona in the first two stanzas before he became caught up in the frustrated desire to experience Citronia.

The »Nachwort« breaks off the poet's ranting and raving in order to reflect once more on this mysterious object of his desire. The account of Citronia in the first four stanzas is obscure and confusing, and seemingly self-contradictory. At times it appears to represent an actual physical female presence, a thinly veiled bottom whose powers of arousal go back to that innocent event in Frau Hindermans' classroom. The golden dream remains latent in the poet throughout his youth and into manhood, when it suddenly resurfaces in the flesh and fuels the young man's sexual desires. The naked bottoms, now belonging to sexually mature women, reappear in close physical vicinity and reawaken the desire:

Ich hauche ein der holden Nähe
Gewürzten Odem—

(B VI/I, 315).

The poet has become sexually active, as indicated by »Bin ich ein Mann sogar—«, and yet the fulfillment of the youthful dream remains impossible. And when the poet curses the moral standards of his day and age at the end of the fourth stanza it seems clear that Citronia spurs a sexual lust frustrated by social injunctions.

At other times, however, it stands for an ideal form of love—»Du erste Blüte meiner Minne!«—one associates with Romanticism and, in particular, with the symbol of the blue flower addressed in the »Nachwort«. While the first stanza describes the poet's actual experiences as a young child in his first school, the second concerns the memory and visions that derive from those events. The poet calls the naked bottoms of his young schoolgirl classmates a »magical land« which he later named Citronia. His interest shifts from what he saw in Frau Hindermans' classroom to his later vision of them. Those bottoms he gazed upon in the golden sunlight became a mysterious, alluring land that then dominated his imagination:

Es war so zärtlich ideal,
Zitronenfarbig und oval,
So anmutvoll und freundlich mild
Und stolz empört zugleich—dein Bild,

(B VI/I, 315).

The name he gives his fantasy stems not from the actual visual perceptions of his youth, but rather from the color he ascribes to this ideal vision. The sight of the girls' bottoms reminded him sometimes of roses, and other times of lilies or yellow violets. But the lemon color of his magical fantasy seems to have its own source, one which remains a mystery until the »Nachwort«.

But the »Nachwort« also offers no clear answer to this mystery. There is the promise that we will read in another place, in clear and direct words, what Citronia is, yet he gives no clue as to where we will find the answer and whether it will come from his own pen or possibly from some future writer. He cites a maxim that, ostensibly, is supposed to help explain his secrecy:

Unterdes—wer ihn versteht,
Einen Meister nie verrät—

(B VI/I, 316).

But the following verses divert the reader intentionally from the right path. The remaining fourteen verses of the »Nachwort« all allude openly to Novalis, giving rise to the notion that he is the »Meister« and holds the key to »Citronia«. If Novalis is indeed the master to whom he is referring, then he has turned around and immediately betrayed his own stated resolve. Although Heine is capable of capricious play in poems on almost any subject, such an open contradiction of a clearly stated motto would be uncharacteristic of the consistent ethical relationship he establishes in his works between his poetic persona and the reader. If, on the other hand, his intention is to lead astray the critic who fails to take his direct word at face value, as a kind of sly and sweet revenge more typical of Heine, then this ploy remains successful even today. For the only attempt to give a possible explanation of the poem (in the DHA commentary) centers around the references to Novalis in the »Nachwort«. One could also read the adage about the »Meister« as a self-reference, particularly since the mystery in question concerns the poet's own »Zauberland« of erotic desire. But the account of an event in Frau Hindermans' elementary school, which Heine did in fact attend, indicates that he is not the unnamed master. With the addition of the »Nachwort«, I believe Heine not only intentionally delayed a successful reading of the poem, but even created a type of Sphinxian riddle for future critics.

If the last part of the »Nachwort« intentionally diverts attention away from the real master, then the question remains how the verses alluding to Novalis relate to this magical realm of Citronia. Destro's explanation of the importance of the »Nachwort« focuses solely on the reference to Novalis and the juxtaposition of lofty poetic themes with direct sexual content. However, the references to Novalis cite specific passages in Heinrich von Ofterdingen and have a closer connection to the thematic issues addressed in the poem. The blue flower, from Heinrich's dream in the opening chapter, had become the archetypal symbol of German Romanticism early in the nineteenth century and was well known. The claim that all art is, in the end, »ein blauer Dunst« is also a specific reference, one less familiar to most readers. This specific formulation appears twice in Klingsohr's Märchen in chapter 9 of Heinrich von Ofterdingen, but the blue mist also plays a similar role in Heinrich's dream in chapter 1. In both cases, it stands for a state of poetic inspiration that leads to a heightened, Romanticized form of experience. In the cave scene in his dream Heinrich discovers a large basin that collects the waters of a spring and is enveloped in »ein mattes, bläuliches Licht«8 cast off by the cave's moist walls. When he climbs into the basin he is carried away by the spring's current to the clearing with the blue flower. In the Märchen the basin is replaced by a bowl, whose waters dissolve into »ein blauer Dunst«9 when they come into contact with the highly eroticized figures of Eros or his wetnurse Ginnistan.

The second appearance of »ein blauer Dunst«10 is more directly significant for »Citronia«. It occurs in the lyrical insert that heralds Eros and Ginnistan on their journey. There the blue mist envelopes them and together with fantasy carries »Love« across the lands. This section of Klingsohr's Märchen is probably the most openly erotic passage in Novalis' writings. First, Eros' father, seeing Eros and his mother in a motionless embrace, sneaked away into his chamber with Ginnistan in order to recover in her arms from the day's toils. The verses that accompany Eros and Ginnistan like a blue mist serve as a lyrical prelude to their lovemaking. Before they consummate their physical desires, a vision appears to Eros and portrays their sexual intercourse in Romantic symbolism:

Eine wunderschöne Blume schwamm glänzend auf den sanften Wogen. […] Ein Lilienblatt bog sich über den Kelch der schwimmenden Blume; die kleine Fabel saß auf demselben, und sang zur Harfe die süßesten Lieder. In dem Kelch lag Eros selbst, über ein schönes schlummerndes Mädchen hergebeugt, die ihn fest umschlungen hielt. Eine kleinere Blüte schloß sich um beide her, so daß sie von Hüften an in eine Blume verwandelt zu sein schienen.11

The direct question Heine poses in the »Nachwort« refers not just to the more general symbol of the blue flower, but to this particular scene:

Was war jene Blume, welche
Weiland mit dem blauen Kelche
So romantisch süß geblüht
In des Ofterdingen Lied?

(B VI/I, 317)

And the answer is given in the Märchen itself in no uncertain terms when immediately after the vision Eros and Ginnistan retire to a secluded bath where she leads him into manhood: »Sie führte ihn zu einem abgelegenen Bade, zog ihm die Rüstung aus, und zog selbst ein Nachtkleid an, in welchem sie fremd und verführerisch aussah. Eros tauchte sich in die gefährlichen Wellen, und stieg berauscht wieder heraus. Ginnistan trocknete ihn, und rieb seine starken von Jugendkraft gespannten Glieder«.12

There is obviously a correspondence between the sexual desires described in »Citronia« and the erotic episodes in Heinrich von Ofterdingen. But it remains unclear what more specific connections would cause Heine to allude to these passages in Novalis' works. One could argue that he added the »Nachwort« as an afterthought, concerned that he was too daring or provocative in his treatment of sexual themes. However, his concern about possible objections seems to go beyond just the open discussion of sexuality. His poem not only associates the ideal realm of poetic vision with carnal desires, but even suggests that the etheral poetic (Romantic) imagination has its roots in primary sexual instincts. It contends that Novalis' blue flower, like his own Citronia must have had its origins in some formative sexual event. The most sublime symbol that inspired an entire generation of German Romantics owes its favored status to an erotic fixation on some incidental blue object! Such a notion, although now commonplace for those familiar at all with Freudian psychology, would have given many cause to doubt the sanity of its author in the middle of the nineteenth century. Thus Heine closes the »Nachwort« with an ambiguous flourish that one could interpret as a disavowal of the strange claim he has just made—»Firlefanz!« Is this intended as a disclaimer for the wild notions he presents in the poem and the »Nachwort«? Or does it mean that, in the end, all art is indeed nothing more than »ein blauer Dunst«? Or, in the opposite vein, that this revelation, even though true, should not affect the worth and importance of art?

While Heine alludes openly to Novalis and suggests, even if cautiously and ambiguously, that all Romantic poetry has origins similar to those of Citronia, he guards actively against disclosing exactly what Citronia is. The lemon-like color seems, as I have argued above, to be arbitrary. Or rather, it would be arbitrary if it referred to the colors the poet associated with the actual naked bottoms of Frau Hindermans' young girls. But in actuality it refers to the ideal image that replaced those original physical objects of desire. The color betrays that the actual point of reference is not the blue flower of Novalis' Romantic novel. The name Citronia refers not to the color, but to the object that in German literature came to symbolize an idealized Zauberland beyond the Alps: »Kennst du des Land, wo die Zitronen blühen?« It stands here first of all for that ideal vision which inspires every artist or poet, but more specifically as well for the particular form of »blauer Dunst« created by the master poet of German idealism whose persona had always been integral in Heine's attempts to forge his own art and poetic identity. The unnamed master of the »Nachwort«, the same literary figure who lurked behind every attempt of Heine's generation to create its own artistic vision, is of course Goethe. In his usual slyly provocative manner, Heine provides another clue to the master of Citronia even as he swears its secrecy:

Unterdes—wer ihn versteht,
Einen [Wilhelm] Meister nie verrät—.

Who else is this master than the author of Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, the master German poet whose vision of »das Land, wo die Zitronen blühen« (Citronia) represents for Heine the very essence of the »Kunstperiode«?


This is not the first time in Heine's works that »Mignons Lied« or the opening two lines of the poem have stood for the modern poet's Romanticized wonderland. In the discussion of Juliet in Shakespeares Mädchen und Frauen Heine quotes the first two verses of »Mignons Lied« to characterize Shakespeare's choice of Italy as the beautiful gardenland that would serve as a site for great deeds of love (B IV, 244). In the Preface to Atta Troll he alludes to them again when commenting on the less than ideal status granted poetry in the German states: »Unser Vaterland ist ein gesegnetes Land; es wachsen hier freilich keine Zitronen und keine Goldorangen, auch krüppelt sich der Lorbeer nur mühsam fort auf deutschem Boden« (B IV, 493). An even more telling indication of the connection between Citronia and »Mignons Lied« can be found in an unlikely source. In a letter to his friend Fritz Beughem in 1820, Heine enclosed a sonnet that playfully chides Beughem for abandoning poetry and taking a position as a court clerk in Westphalia. The first stanza parodies »Mignons Lied«:

Mein Fritz lebt nun im Vaterland der Schinken,
Im Zauberland, wo Schweinebohnen blühen,
Im dunkeln Ofen Pumpernickel glühen,
Wo Dichtergeist erlahmt, und Verse hinken.

(B I, 261)

While this is nothing more than a few humorous lines intended for a friend, the word »Zauberland« stands here for Goethe's vision of Italy as an ideal homeland of poetry. The use of the same word three times for Citronia indicates that this object of erotic desire is related to the poet's longing for an ideal homeland. Moreover, I would suggest that the word even links the notion of Citronia with »das Land, wo die Zitronen blühen« and Heine's use of it as a motif. Although more than 25 years separate these two texts, it is not unusual for such individual words, phrases, or even rhyme constructions to reappear years later in Heine's poetry as ciphers for a larger complex of meaning.

These direct references to »Mignons Lied« are only a small part of a lifelong preoccupation with Goethe as the German poet laureate who had attained the fame and position that Heine felt was due him as well. In »Citronia« Heine again brings into play those aspects of Goethe's life and poetry that had occupied him throughout his life. His most intense concern with the shadow Goethe cast over his poetry came in the wake of his humiliating meeting with him in Weimar in 1824. In numerous and diverse allusions to Goethe in the Reisebilder as well as letters and other texts from the same years (1825-1831), Heine attempts to establish, both in the literary public and in his own mind, his literary genius relative to that of the princely poet in Weimar. Although this persistent concern with Goethe subsided after he moved to Paris, certain questions about their similarities and differences still remained for him. When he takes up the issue in »Citronia« his basic view of the matter has not changed from the positions he assumed in the 1820s. He does, however, reflect on their respective forms of poetic vision from a new perspective, with an additional aspect factored into his analysis. Before attempting to decipher the coded references to Goethe in »Citronia«, it is necessary to recapitulate the most important points of comparison that remained unresolved from the earlier period.

After occasional references to Goethe in the first Reisebilder, a direct challenge presented itself with the travel journal of his 1828 trip to Italy. Boosted by the successes of his Reisebilder I and II (1826, 1827) and by the belief that he had invented a new modern genre, he openly invited the public to compare his Reise von München nach Genua with Goethe's Italienische Reise. The comparison would happen almost automatically inasmuch as the first leg of Heine's trip covered the same route to Verona that Goethe had taken in 1786. Furthermore, the Goethean trope of Italy as the ideal homeland of the longing poet had not only become the pivotal moment in Goethe's biography as the master German poet, but also a cornerstone of German culture that cast its shadow on any literary treatment of Italy.

Well aware of the inevitable comparison and ready for the challenge, Heine was reading Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre while working on Reise von München nach Genua. Thus the figure of Mignon and her song that embodies the longing for the classical south provide an obvious point of reference for the juxtaposition Heine sets up between his Italian »travel pictures« and Goethe's Italienische Reise. In chapter 4 of Reise von München nach Genua Heine alludes to the »Zugvögel« metaphor Goethe had used for the homeless poets wandering in search of a resting place. Exclaiming that the melodies of poetry were returning to his soul like migratory birds, he describes that moment when the spring sun thawed out the »Winter in [s]einer Seele« and reawakened the »Frühling in [s]einem Herzen« (B II, 322) that longed for Italy. And the fragrance of lemons and oranges, again reminiscent of »Mignons Lied«, lure him toward Italy. The pathos expressed in this passage builds to the chapter's final line, where the young god of spring appears on a peak in the Alps, decked with wreaths of flowers and laurel, and beckons to the poet: »Ich liebe Dich, komm zu mir nach Italien« (B II, 326). While throughout the Reisebilder Heine both defends Goethe's pantheistic sensualism and praises his literary mastery, this account of his own decision to travel to Italy obviously lampoons the longing expressed in »Mignons Lied«. At the beginning of chapter 26 of Reise von München nach Genua he quotes the first line of »Mignons Lied« and then asks: »Kennst du das Lied? Ganz Italien ist darin geschildert, aber mit den seufzenden Farben der Sehnsucht« (B II, 367). After devoting chapter 26 to a generally positive discussion of Goethe's ability to portray Italy as it is in reality, he then quotes the entire first stanza of the poem at the beginning of the next chapter. Again he parodies the portrayal of Italy as a paradisical garden (»Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht, / Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht«), warning that at the beginning of August one will be roasted by the sun and devoured by fleas.

The main polemical thrust of these parodistic passages is aimed at Goethe's unwillingness to venture out of the provincial nest in Weimar and become involved in the political and social issues of the day. From his ill-fated visit in 1824 until he left Germany in 1831, Heine's direct critique of Goethe focused on his failure to support any kind of movements for progressive political or social change. He first makes this reproach in his letter of July 1, 1825 (to Moses Moser), where he contrasts himself, »ein Schwärmer, d. h. bis zur Aufopfrung begeistert für die Idee«, to Goethe, »ein leichter Lebemensch, dem der Lebensgenuß das Höchste […] während seines ganzen 76 jährigen egoistisch behäglichen Lebens [gewesen ist]« (HSA XX, 205). Similarly, in a letter to Karl Varnhagen von Ense five years later he rails against the »Kunstbehaglichkeit des großen Zeitablehnungsgenies« (HSA XX, 389) and his pantheistic indifference. Apart from his exasperation at Goethe's refusal to become politically involved, his assessment of him was predominantly positive. While he has his fun with Goethe's romantic visions of Italy in Reise von München nach Genua, he also admired him as a writer who was able to suppress his subjective impulses and depict things as they are. In Die Nordsee: Dritte Abteilung Heine maintains that enthusiasts always see things with a subjectively teinted vision, »während Goethe, mit seinem klaren Griechenauge, alles sieht, das Dunkle und das Helle, nirgends die Dinge mit seiner Gemütsstimmung koloriert, und uns Land und Menschen schildert, in den wahren Umrissen und wahren Farben, womit sie Gott umkleidet« (B II, 221). And even while parodying his longing for Italy in chapter 26 of Reise von München nach Genua he praises Goethe's ability to depict nature as whole and intact.13

Thus even in the period when he expressed his opposition to Goethe most vehemently Heine felt that he had more in common with him than with any writers of Romanticism or with his liberal cohorts who shared his political views. But this affinity to Goethe was tempered by an inner ambivalence that persisted throughout his life.14 He comments on their deep-seated differences in his letter to Rudolf Christiani (May 26, 1825) in which he, for the first time, comments on his visit to Weimar seven months earlier:

In vielen Zügen erkannte ich den Göthe, dem das Leben, die Verschönerung und Erhaltung desselben, so wie das eigentlich praktische überhaupt, das Höchste ist. Da fühlte ich erst ganz klar den Contrast dieser Natur mit der meinigen, welcher alles Praktische unerquiklich ist, die das Leben im Grunde gringschätzt und es trotzig hingeben möchte für die Idee. Das ist ja eben der Zwiespalt in mir daß meine Vernunft in beständigem Kampf steht mit meiner angeborenen Neigung zur Schwärmerey. Jetzt weiß ich es auch ganz genau warum die göthischen Schriften im Grund meiner Seele mich immer abstießen, so sehr ich sie in poetischer Hinsicht verehrte und so sehr auch meine gewöhnliche Lebensansicht mit der göthischen Denkweise übereinstimmte.

(HSA XX, 199-200)

Thus he admired in Goethe his »klare Vernünftigkeit« and regretted at times his own »schwärmerische Neigung«15 which kept him from heeding this practical nature in himself. When he assures Christiani that he will remain faithful to the »göthischen Freykorps« he is swearing allegiance to Goethe's »künstlerische Besonnenheit« (HSA XX, 200), but not vowing to disengage himself from the political struggles of the day.

But even in his stance toward Goethe's aesthetic approach there remained a strong degree of ambivalence in Heine. In his published writings, he attributed Goethe's political indifference to the artistic sensibility that dominated during most of his lifetime but was no longer viable in the post-Napoleonic age. In the 1828 review of Wolfgang Menzel's book on German literature Heine emphatically demarcated »das Prinzip der goethischen Zeit, die Kunstidee« (B I, 455) from the new age that foregrounds its own subjective concerns, most notably its discontent with modern culture and the contemporary social order. Holding out the possibility that Goethe himself could be spared the harsh criticism levelled against the epigonic classicists of his own generation, Heine rejects a classical aesthetics that perceives the modern world as whole and healthy. In the famous fourth chapter of Die Bäder von Lucca (»Durch das meinige [Herz] ging aber der große Weltriß« [B II, 405]), he denies that a contemporary writer could offer an authentic representation of the modern world as whole: »Einst war die Welt ganz, im Altertum und im Mittelalter, trotz der äußeren Kämpfe gabs […] ganze Dichter. Wir wollen diese Dichter ehren und uns an ihnen erfreuen; aber jede Nachahmung ihrer Ganzheit ist eine Lüge, eine Lüge, die jedes gesunde Auge durchschaut, und die dem Hohne dann nicht entgeht« (B II, 406).

The historical argument that Goethe belonged to a previous era might have held more tightly if Heine had not felt an ambivalence within himself toward the »practical, egotistical« decision to withdraw from the struggles that determine world history. But both his letters and unpublished text passages as well as indirect references in the Reisebilder reveal more to his attack against Goethe's classical aesthetics than just the claim that it is obsolete. In chapter 26 of Reise von München nach Genua he praises Goethe's ability to describe the world objectively, while at the same time taking issue with the very classical aesthetics that inform such description: »Wir schauen nämlich darin [Italienische Reise] überall tatsächliche Auffassung und die Ruhe der Natur. Goethe hält ihr den Spiegel vor, oder, besser gesagt, er ist selbst der Spiegel der Natur. Die Natur wollte wissen, wie sie aussieht, und sie erschuf Goethe« (B II, 367). The passage turns into outright parody, but the critique is deflected onto the hated Goethe devotee Johann Peter Eckermann. Heine takes Eckermann to task for extoling Goethe's talents in such exaggerated manner, even claiming that at the time of the creation Goethe could have followed God's paradigm and finished the work by creating the birds and trees in the same way as He had planned. Although Heine chose not to state it outright in the text, there is another conclusion close at hand here: Goethe wanted to see how he looked as the mirror of nature and created Eckermann. In a passage crossed out of the handwritten manuscript, Heine wrote: »Ich sah deshalb mit Neid auf den Herrn Doktor Eckermann, d.h. ich war neidisch, daß ich ihn nicht selbst erschaffen, oder aus dem vorhandenen, ordinären Stoff, wie es Goethe getan, ausgeschaffen hatte« (B II, 857). Indeed, this narcissistic drive to mirror the wholeness of his own intact ego in the world, even absorbing the individuality of those others in his immediate sphere (Eckermann or the female other in his love relationships) into his own identity, sets his aesthetics off in marked contrast to Heine's.

Perhaps the best expression of this basic difference between himself and Goethe is not found in such direct commentary, but rather in a general metaphorical description of two different types of poets, which in its context referred at least ostensibly to another German writer. In chapter 6 of Reise von München nach Genua the eagle and the nightingale stand respectively for the Classical versus the Romantic poet. The eagle, as Heine tells it, is not known as a songbird because it only sings to the sun while soaring far above the earth. Still, the other birds, envious of the eagle's high position, warble and chirp their criticism of his song. Only the nightingale, his metaphor for the Romantic poet and himself in particular, refuses to join in. Enthused by its love for the rose, it rushes headlong into the thorns, bleeds, and sings. These two great songbirds, with all the little envious and insignificant birds (read: writers) piping in around them, represent Heine's perception of the difference between himself and Goethe. While the revered German poet in Weimar kept his distance from the muddled affairs of the world, Heine plunged right into their midst, eagerly pursuing the joys and pleasures of life, certain that he would rather suffer the pains that went along with them rather than suppress his desire. His poetry, the song of the nightingale, is then elevated by both the sweetness of the pleasures and the pain of the wounds.16 For Heine, this metaphor stands for the quintessential difference between Goethe's classical aesthetics and Romantic poetry. At the beginning of chapter 7, just after his description of the nightingale, he refers to Karl Immermann as one such eagle: »Es gibt einen [emphasis added] Adler im deutschen Vaterland, dessen Sonnenlied so gewaltig erklingt, daß es auch hier unten gehört wird, und sogar die Nachtigallen aufhorchen« (B II, 329). But the stress on »einen« makes the mention of Immermann, instead of the expected Goethe, even more conspicuous and reveals how miffed Heine was about not receiving the recognition he felt he deserved.

Thus the comparison goes deeper than just the aesthetic differences and concerns their personalities. In the Menzel review he declares that the new literary age will do away with »das zivilisierte Goethentum«, but then qualifies his criticism so as not to condemn either his literary works or the Goethean way of thinking, even though both contrasted strongly with Heine's own: »Wir können nicht umhin, ausdrücklich zu bemerken, daß wir unter ›Goethentum‹ nicht Goethes Werke verstehen, […] auch nicht eigentlich die goethesche Denkweise, diese Blume, die, im Miste unserer Zeit, immer blühender gedeihen wird« (B I, 455). Heine, by contrast, could not and would not abstain from the profusion of Romantic passion that characterized his age, even though he considered it pathological: »[…] denn wir, die meist alle krank sind, stecken viel zu sehr in unseren kranken, zerrissenen, romantischen Gefühlen« (B II, 221). He declared that only a later generation, one not infected with this Romantic malady, would be able to see »wie gesund, einheitlich und plastisch sich Goethe in seinen Werken zeigt« (B II, 221). Heine included himself as part of this generation that could not evaluate Goethe with healthy objectivity. A passage he deleted from Reise von München nach Genua went so far as to write off the critique in the Menzel review as a reaction to ill health, of course, not without the usual ironic reversal that suggests just such a critique of Goethe is doubly needed: »Gott oder Goethe verzeih mir diese Sünde, und erhalte mich gesund; denn wenn ich mich schlecht befinde, bin ich immer antigoethianisch gesinnt« (B II, 857).

Thus we are left with this basic opposition in the two writers. Everywhere in Goethe's texts one feels an authorial presence that grounds the text, the writer, and civilization itself in a comprehensible cosmos structured according to rational law and infused with a higher moral purpose. What George Peters says about Dichtung und Wahrheit, »at the epicenter of his autobiography stands Goethe's projection of a secure, unshakable ego, omnipresent and invincible«17, is equally true for the author of the autobiographical fiction (Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre) and the poetry. Heine's writings do not mirror nature in the same fashion, and thus also do not mirror such a whole, venerable ego as their author. Rather they include, in almost every text, a searching, discontented and fragmented persona of their author. The poetic persona inscribed in Heine's texts bears those wounds that it suffered in its passionate devotion to beauty (the nightingale drawn to the rose) not just as signs of the individual's tormented soul, but as the mark of the times and the failure of civilization to vindicate every individual's basic right to happiness. In a formulation that scholars have made almost a motto for all of his writing, Heine characterized his Memoiren as a text in which one finds a cross section of both his inner life and the times in which he lived: »Alles Bedeutsame und Charakteristische ist hier treuherzig mitgeteilt, und die Wechselwirkung äußerer Begebenheiten und innerer Seelenereignisse offenbart Ihnen die Signatura meines Seins und Wesens« (B VI/I, 556). He then adds that when he lifts the veil from his soul one will see nothing but wounds.

One might argue that Goethe was spared the same criticism Heine directed at other »Ganzheitdichter« only because of his artistic talent, while his aesthetic approach was the actual target of Heine's attack. But there is certainly more to Heine's refusal to confront Goethe's classical aesthetics head-on than just a reluctance to challenge the artistic vision of the revered master. He had after all not minced his words in the least in criticizing Goethe's political indifference. Still he was not inclined to analyze in more depth that difference in their psychic make-up which he had identified in the letter to Christiani (May 26, 1825). These two sides to his own character manifested themselves in his view of Goethe as a constant oscillation between rejection and admiration. The result of this confrontation with Goethe and his writing was his determination to put the two warring sides within himself to work ushering in a new age of literature, one which employs the most subjective truths to reveal a new dimension of reality.


This ambivalence toward Goethe remained unresolved as it gradually took a backseat to more pressing concerns after Heine left Germany in 1831. As his reputation grew and censorship became a persistent problem after 1835 there were more immediate and ominous foes at hand than the artistic autonomy of the »Kunstperiode«. When he takes up this theme again in »Citronia« it is within a whole new context. After the failed revolution of 1848 and the dramatic turn for the worse with his health he began to question his own political involvement which had formed the backdrop for his criticism of Goethe. In fact, the motto poem to »Hebräische Melodien« in Romanzero recommends a practical approach to life similar to the one he had criticized so strongly in Goethe:

O laß nicht ohne Lebensgenuß
Dein Leben verfließen!
Und bist du sicher vor dem Schuß,
So laß sie nur schießen.
Fliegt dir das Glück vorbei einmal
So laß es am Zipfel.
Auch rat ich dir, baue dein Hüttchen im Tal
Und nicht auf dem Gipfel.

(B VI/I, 124)

When he addresses Goethe's idealized view of Italy once more in »Citronia«, his enthusiasm for revolutionary change gives way to a reflective, retrospective analysis of the poetic psyche, one that includes the classical (Goethe) and Romantic (Novalis) genius, as well as, of course, his own ambivalent nature that oscillated between the two poles. Even where his late poetry inquires more directly into the universal nature of human desire, it still features the poetic persona that had been omnipresent in his writings as the starting point for its psycho-analysis. And if he remained true to his formula for revealing the »Signatura« of his existence, then it is only logical that this late poetry would take into account the physical side of erotic desire. For after 1848 not only did his physical condition overshadow his preoccupation with his psychic wounds, but he was convinced as well that his illness had been caused by a veneral infection and was thus a direct result of his romantic passion.18

Indeed, as I have already suggested, »Citronia« is informed throughout by the dual nature of desire, by the unavoidable conflict between sexual urges and ideal representations of the desired object. The poet's expression of his frustration reveals the impossibility of gaining satisfaction on either level. The tension between social taboo and feverous desire in the first six verses of the fourth stanza hits a sensitive point familiar in some way to every reader. The poet's bold resistance to the injunctions against the satisfaction of sexual urges,

Es treibt mich dann, mit kecker Hand
Die seidne Hülle abzustreifen,
Nach meinem nackten Glück zu greifen

(B VI/I, 116),

gives the sense that a basic right is being denied. In the second half of the stanza he shows contempt for the unreasonable self-denial demanded of the individual in what is ostensibly a higher form of culture. The indeterminate »aus allerlei Rücksichten« implies ex negativo that there is no good reason for such self-denial. The word »Auch« at the beginning of line 75 has no logical semantic meaning following »allerlei Rücksichten«, rather serves to reinforce the tone of contempt. The ending to his protest,

Es heiligt jetzt der Sitte Codex
Die Unantastbarkeit des Podex

(B VI/I, 116),

expresses the accumulated frustration of centuries in which civilization, despite its advances, has made what seems like only half-hearted attempts to compensate for the renunciation of instincts it demands.

However, throughout his railing against the restrictions placed on him by society there is the lurking realization that the repression of instinct is a prerequisite for every form of civilization. To rail absolutely against it would be pure anarchy that soon results in gross contradictions or holds out for rights that only a privileged few could exercise. Thus, as often is the case with Heine, the poem ends with an ironic and humorous twist that trivializes the poet's own laments. However, as is also usually the case in poems with such endings, the trivilization does not debunk the poet's demands, but rather validates them as justifiable discontent with a world that ignores the individual's fundamental rights to happiness.

While the poetic persona's charges against the excessive repression of sexual desires are granted validity, the poet also reveals the deeper historical roots to the problem. The very nature of Citronia clearly distinguishes the poetic persona's desire from basic, instinctual wants. The object of his desire is several times removed from the flesh. The silken veil hides from his view(1) the glory(2) of his wonderland(3) named(4) Citronia, which itself was only an image(5) (»dein Bild«) that derived from an idealized past perception(6) (»so zärtlich ideal, / Zitronenfarbig und oval«) and became an aesthetic object of sublimated desire(7) (»Du erste Blüte meiner Minne!«). The author-poet has taken extensive measures to set the poetic persona's grievances off against a much clearer awareness of the real nature of (his) desire. His raging against those powers that inhibit him from fulfilling his sexual urges acts rhetorically as a foil to shed light on the real source of discontent. Even before the author-poet restores a more level-headed, reflective tone to the poem with the »Nachwort«, the poetic persona knows subconsciously that his more injurious complaint is not with the moral laws enforced by society. This is ultimately the source of his deepest frustration and the reason that he slips (at the end of the fourth stanza) into a tone of sardonic resignation. As the poet works himself up into a lather in his bitter contempt for a civilization that represses basic instincts, he blames his own age (»Nicht mehr im Geiste unsrer Zeit—«). All the while, he knows fully well that this repression has not only been internalized, but it has also changed fundamentally the nature of desire so that the immediate satisfaction of instincts no longer brings full gratification. When he compares himself to King Tantalus his frustrations are aimed at society's moral codes, but the ancient myth tells of the alienation inherent in desire itself. And when he laments that the fruit which he desires eludes him just like the drink Tantalus thirsts after, there is another, possibly intentional, allusion to Goethe:

Der Trunk, wonach die Lippen dürsten,
Entgleitet mir wie jenem Fürsten;
Die Frucht, die ich genösse gern,
Sie ist mir nah und doch so fern!

(B VI/I, 116)

Who is this »prince«? On one hand a simple correlative to »King« Tantalus that completes the rhyme, it also alludes to »Prince« Faust, who, in spite of the worldly power and pleasure Mephisto could grant him, remained tied to those structures of desiring that deny fulfillment. The fruit dangling above Tantalus symbolizes »the Faustian restlessness of man in history [that] shows that men are not satisfied by the satisfaction of their conscious desires«.19 Rather, those desires that propel history are unconscious and their real objects are unattainable: »Zeig mir die Frucht, die fault, eh' man sie bricht.«20

The poetic persona's recall and discussion of his Citronia fantasy reveals a quite sophisticated analysis into the psychic system that structures desire. In some ways it functions very similarly to an analytical session, with, of course, an extra layer of conscious reworking (Nachträglichkeit) factored into the elaboration of the imaginary. As a poet the narrator has worked it into a literary text that is in part detached from the real psychic history of the individual's sexual development. In this respect, it functions more as a metapsychological text that examines the structural relations between real events, unconscious fantasy, and secondary reworkings of the two into coherent scenarios of desire. On the other hand, the poetic formulation of individual desire can never be totally divorced from the poet's psychic history, particularly when the central focus of the analysis is a real event in the author's life. This individual history is, however, formed to a large degree within the poetic texts that have reworked this desire into an expanded and more formally structured network of fantasy. Such poetic elaboration of desire mirrors in itself the secondary structuring that takes place within the imaginary of every individual. But it is more than just a mimetic representation in a separate realm of discourse. The poetic text is integrally interconnected with the whole complex of sexual history, dreams, daydreams, unconscious desire, etc. that constitutes the poet's life as subject. The degree to which this is true varies of course greatly among poets, but it is particularly true of a poet like Heine whose work had focused so heavily on love, sensuality and erotic desire, and whose literary texts had almost without fail inscribed his own individual subject of desire, either as an extant fictional figure or a narrative voice, or as both.

In »Citronia« Heine indicates how the desire incited by what he saw in Frau Hindermans' classroom became structured by his poetic reworking of it. The comparison of the small globes with different flowers derives not only from later experience, but it also invokes the meaning Heine gave to that experience in his poetry. Often in his writing these flowers are associated with particular types of women who serve as the object of the poet's desire and structure the poetic subject as other according to their particular symbolic order. The rose generally represented fiery, passionate woman, the lily woman pure and chaste, and the yellow violet the otherworldly, melancholic woman.21 Heine describes the evolution of his Citronia fantasy, showing how early sexual events determine the psychic organization of the individual in general, and in particular, how they feed into literary imagination. It is in both these senses that one is to understand the claim with which Heine begins the account of his youth in the Memoiren: »Aus den frühesten Anfängen erklären sich die spätesten Erscheinungen« (B VI/I, 557). In his psychic life as poet the Citronia fantasy gained particular significance as a recurring vision that structures desire. It became an ideal image that dominated his visions of happiness, much like the early Loreley legend: there, »Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn« (B I, 107), and here, »Es kam mir niemals aus dem Sinne« (B VI/I, 315). Only here, to the poet's great surprise (»o Wunder«), this golden dream of youth even intercedes in his adult sexual life. The dream image takes on the corporal sensuality of the female image

Es wandelt leiblich vor mir her,
Ich hauche ein der holden Nähe
Gewürzten Odem—

(B VI/I, 315)

and still fulfillment remains out of sight

Raubt mir die süße Augenweide!

(B VI/I, 315)

and out of reach

Nach meinem nackten Glück zu greifen!

(B VI/I, 316)

It remains an ideal image (»so zärtlich ideal«) that excludes its own realization even as it structures the mature adult's sexual urges.

The description of this fantasy and its significance for all forms of desire in the adult anticipates some specific aspects of Freud's theories on sexuality and psychic organization. In his structural analysis of the path libidinal energy takes through the parts of the psyche Freud describes the inner workings of sublimation: »All that we know about [the libido] relates to the ego, in which at first the whole available quota of libido is stored up. We call this state absolute, primary narcissism. It lasts till the ego begins to cathect the ideas of objects [emphasis added] with libido, to transform narcissistic libido into object-libido.«22 Heine's account of his path to the ideal object Citronia offers a poetic version of this process. That is not to say, of course, that the event in Frau Hindermans' elementary classroom constituted this psychic stage in Heine's life. Rather, »Citronia« gives a metaphorical scenario of this early stage of psychic development. This scenario illustrates as well how the shift from primary narcissism to the »ideas of objects« restructures desire in a fundamental way. The poet's initial fascination with the »small globes« of his classmates is playful and open-ended, unaffected by the feverish desire for the end-pleasure that drives and frustrates the mature man. The description of how their appearance shifted from that of one flower to the next mirrors the free sexual life of the infant that knows no restrictions and makes no distinctions, giving free rein to the child to explore all areas of pleasure. Again, the poet's description of this event is not, of course, an actual account of polymorphous play from his own childhood. The period of such free play is limited to only a short period during infancy when the child explores diverse pleasures on the various erogenous zones of its own body. Still, the poet's account of the early event is a memory that has obviously transposed objects or images onto its early visual perceptions. In this memory of the schoolroom experience the still undifferentiated erotic meaning of the sighting is freely interchangeable with the three flowers. In later life they appear separately, in different poems fixed as individuated objects of the poet's directed desire. These two different positions they assume in his poetic imagery represent the free erotic play of infantile sexuality on the one hand, versus the later genitally organized sexuality of the adult. The changes in his vision in the second stanza are a result of the resurfacing of the strong infantile sexuality after its long period of latency. But now it appears in reality:

Der goldne Traum der Kinderzeit
Taucht wieder auf in Wirklichkeit!

(B VI/I, 315).

In Freudian terms, the reality principle has taken over and suppressed the pleasure principle dominant in early childhood, supplanting the polymorphous perversity of infancy with a genitally organized sexuality.

Now there is a, if not single, at least predominant object of the sex drive, one that intensifies the desire because it is for the most part a forbidden object:

Ein Vorhang von schwarzbrauner Seide
Raubt mir die süße Augenweide!

(B VI/I, 315).

But in the context of the poem the thin veil of silk represents much more than just the social injunction against free sexual intercourse. It is that form of sexual organization in civilization that relegates the free polymorphous play experienced in early childhood to a golden dream of past pleasure. Thus, when at the end of the fourth stanza the poet curses the moral codes that restrict sexual activity, the tone of sardonic resignation reveals an underlying awareness that the »free love« he demands can not alleviate the frustration caused by the repression of sexual instincts.23 But by setting off the frustrations of the sexually mature adult against the true nature of (erotic) desire, the third and fourth stanzas also reflect on the universal change this psychic process has brought to bear on human kind. When the »ideas of objects« replace the actual objects of instinctual (primarily sexual) wants the prohibitions enacted by civilization have become internalized and the instincts are superseded by the exclusively human form of desire. The thin weblike veil that covers, but also intimates the availability of the poet's glorious object of desire represents the firmly entrenched network of displacement that relegates our instinctual needs to (and alienates them in) a cultural realm of pleasure.24 It, like the myth of Tantalus in the next stanza, signifies how the immediate satisfaction of our sexual wants is no longer possible, regardless of how permissive a society may be.

The oscillation in the poem between this understanding of desire and the conviction that the easing of sexual renunciation would reduce mankind's psychic frustrations seems to indicate conceptual equivocation on Heine's part. But I would argue rather that he pursues his analysis exhaustively to the point where he had to accept this apparent contradiction. When the poem oscillates between desire (over)determined by ideal representations and the demands for sexual gratification it touches on a central problem area in psychoanalytical theory. Both Freud and his various successors have struggled to account for the development of both psychical re-presentation (fantasy) and biological function (sexual urges) in a manner consonant with these very different forms of experience. Freud employed the still incompletely defined notion of anaclictic object choice (Anlehnung) to describe the decisive moment when the primal condition is disturbed and human psychic life begins to take shape. In its genesis, the sexual urge to form a union with objects in the world follows the pattern of (»leans up against«) the basic self-preservation instincts—feeding, dependence, protection. Freud's early conceptual picture of this early, anaclictic development of object-choice is complicated by its dual nature, by the distinction between a »pure« anaclictic object-choice, where the erotic aim is to possess the object, and a narcissistic object-choice, where it is to identify with the object.25

The difficulty in mapping the development of the ego in this transitional realm where sexual function and fantasy overlap has consequences not only for the analysis of the origins of human sexuality, but also for the therapy that might abate the discontent it creates. Again, »Citronia« speaks to both these aspects. In the first two stanzas it points to a common origin for the psychical and biological realms of sexuality. And the third and fourth stanzas suggest that this dualism complicates the satisfaction of such wants in both realms. Still, the poem clearly indicates that this does not in any way lessen the need to emancipate mankind from the overzealous prohibitions against sensual and sexual pleasures. However, it also implies that an enlightened understanding of the role fantasy and ideal representations play in the fulfillment of desire is equally important for treating mankind's neurotic compulsion. Indeed, the »Nachwort« ultimately concludes that desire, even where it is almost totally alienated from the physical object, also demands »fulfillment« and that this fulfillment is to be found in the ideal representation of the wish fantasy. This is the sense of the final line that warns the reader not to take the revelations about Citronia as a condemnation of the poetic visions of Goethe or the Romantics—nor to dismiss out of hand the idealist art of his/her own age.

»Citronia« has, I believe, even more to say about this dualistic nature of desire. While Freud was able to show the integral role that a previously denied, yet rampant infantile sexuality plays in our psychic organization, the question of its origin remained a thorny one in his metapsychological theories until the end. He seems to waver between the belief in a biological reality behind the elaborations of fantasy, and the idea that the primal fantasies in the unconscious are autonomous from any ontogenetic event in the infantile sexual life and responsible for the structuring of the psyche. Ultimately, he posited the existence of primal fantasies in the unconscious that often could not be traced back to either an individual's sexual or psychical history. The only explanation he could offer was phylogenesis. From Totem and Taboo in 1913 to Moses and Monotheism near the end of his life, Freud hypothesized that our fantasies derive from real events that occurred in a primeval past. It is this perceived need »to postulate an organization made of signifiers anteceding the effect of the event and the signified as a whole«26 which has caught the fancy of a whole line of neo-structuralist thinkers ready and willing to appropriate the results of Freud's psychoanalytical investigations for their own systems of belief. This is not the place to become embroiled in what has become an enormously complicated debate spanning a growing number of academic fields. However, before asking what Heine may have to say about these questions, it would be wise to heed a warning Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis offered in the context of their own more confined and also more cautiously formulated revision of Freud's views on »Fantasy and the Origins of Sexuality«:

It is tempting to accept the ›reality‹ which inspires the work of imagination according to its own laws, as a prefiguration of the ›symbolic order‹ defined by Lévi-Strauss and Lacan in the ethnological and psychoanalytical fields respectively. […] However we should not be in a hurry to replace the phylogenic explanation by a structural type of explanation. The original fantasy is first and foremost fantasy—it lies beyond the history of the subject but nevertheless in history—a kind of language and a symbolic sequence, but loaded with elements of imagination; a structure, but activated by contingent elements.27

While to this point the emphasis here has been on the ontogenetic investigations in »Citronia«, there is another level to the metaphor of »der dumme Lappen« that conceals our nakedness. The poet curses first the worm that spun the silk and the weaver, man, who wove the taffeta that conceals both mankind's nature and its self-deception. In his late writing Heine frequently uses clothes as a metaphor for this self-deception that alienates mankind from the rest of nature, including its own human nature. At times the clothes metaphor either appears in conjunction with other figures of speech that represent language or stands itself for language. As a writer whose life and identity was informed in a conscious manner by that metaphorical language which retells and in part structures fantasy, Heine was always concerned with the ability of language to state the truth (or better, history) of our psychic condition. The self-reflective references to such language use in the late writings almost invariably characterize it as a practice in self-deception. Possibly the most dramatic such characterization of his own literary work with language comes at the end of »Der Scheidende«, a verse fragment closely related to both »Sie erlischt« in Romanzero and the »Epilog« poem of Gedichte. 1853 und 1854.28 As in »Sie erlischt«, the poet takes leave of his »liebes deutsches Publikum«, paraphrasing—as he does in »Epilog«—Homer's Achilles:

Der kleinste lebendige Philister
Zu Stukkert am Neckar, viel glücklicher ist er
Als ich, der Pelide, der tote Held,
Der Schattenfürst in der Unterwelt.

(B VI/I, 350)

In »Der Scheidende« the allusion to the poet's life in the world of language is more obvious than in either of the published poems on the same theme. The underworld refers here to that realm of language in which he sought his fame and fortune, carved out his very identity, and gained his happiness or suffered his demise. But, as one would expect from Heine, these parting words contain an irony which counteracts his express regret that he had missed the boat in life. The unspoken, but everpresent truth about human existence is that revealed in »Citronia«—the desire that (pre)determines our fulfillments and our failures is relegated to this underworld of language, and our life »as we know it« exists only in this realm. All human existence is prefigured by the fall from paradise into the self-deceptive structures of language and dialectical thought,

                                                                      den Taft,
Woraus der dunkle schauderhaft
Infame Vorhang ward gemacht,

(B VI/I, 316)


In the end, we return again to the question why Heine left the reference to Goethe shrouded in mystery. In some ways, it seems as if the analysis into desire exhibited in »Citronia« might have helped resolve the ambivalence Heine had always shown toward him. The concept of sublimation laid out in blueprint form in »Citronia« reveals a basic antagonism between the human animal and its culture, one that might justify withdrawal from the world stage. If mankind can neither find complete gratification through sublimation nor revert from this sublimation back to an adequate satisfaction of instinctual urges, then this leaves serious doubts about human nature that threaten the very existence of civilization. For an answer the poem defers to a future point in time when scientific analysis will have explained the structures of the psyche and their historical development. In his late treatises on civilization, Freud too left open the question of mankind's ability to deal with the tension created by the repression of instincts. At the beginning of Future of an Illusion he points to this central question for the future of humanity: »The decisive question is whether and to what extent it is possible to lessen the burden of the instinctual sacrifices imposed on men, to reconcile men to those which must necessarily remain and to provide a compensation for them.«29 One finds in »Citronia« the same conviction that a combination of these two approaches is necessary. The poet must accept the irreversible fact of alienated desire, but maintains as well the importance of progressing toward a more liberal moral order that would »lessen the burden of the instinctual sacrifices.«

In this regard, Goethe's artistic re-presentation of the world as whole and intact provides one form of compensation that reconciles the individual to the sacrifices he/she must make on behalf of civilization. Novalis' blue flower that heightens the longing for the object of desire (but also consigns gratification to a utopian realm of the imaginary) offers similar compensation, and is defended in the »Nachwort«. But Heine accords a special status to the unnamed master for the same reasons that he had sworn unfailing allegiance »zum Goetheschen Freykorps« in the 1820s. In its health and wholeness Goethe's »Blume, die, im Miste unserer Zeit, immer blühender gedeihen wird« (B I, 455) constituted an anachronistic way of thinking, one free of the sickness that, in Heine's view, afflicted his age: »Dieser würdevolle Leib war nie gekrümmt von christlicher Wurmdemut« (B III, 405). In »Citronia«, however, he seems to associate Goethe less with an age that predated the pathogenic split between body and spirit, and to see him rather as an embodiment of those emotional and intellectual advances which civilization has yet to make. This, too, Heine had already suggested indirectly in the early Reisebilder, when he maintained that a later generation would be able to see »wie gesund, einheitlich und plastisch sich Goethe in seinen Werken zeigt« (B II, 221). In this sense, Goethe's works function for Heine as more than just compensation for instinctual renunciation, they present the constructed visions of an intact and resourceful psyche that is able to enjoy physical pleasures and compensate itself for the lack experienced in the structured fantasies of its own imaginary.

This final positive view of Goethe also raises the question of how Heine assessed his own work at the end. While he had praised Goethe's ability to set aside his subjective impulses and to represent the world as it is, he himself had always adhered to another aesthetic principle, »wo der Autor so treu sein eignes Bild abspiegelt« (B VI/I, 488). Not only was this approach true to his own desires and frustrations, but it was also part of an oppositional aesthetic strategy that incriminates the social order for its failure to deal justly with the instinctual sacrifices it requires. When he was accused after 1848 of betraying his liberal beliefs, Heine responded that politically »verharrte [ich] bei denselben demokratischen Prinzipien, denen meine früheste Jugend huldigte und für die ich seitdem immer flammender erglühte« (B VI/I, 184). The claims of betrayal were to a large degree an extension of a misunderstanding that had followed him since his earliest political engagement. Both his allies and his opponents had continually tried to connect him with political ideas and goals he had consistently and adamantly rejected. His primary political concern had always been mankind's emancipation from the oppressive and unnecessary renunciation of sensuality. His focus in »Citronia« is consistent with that cause which he had represented steadfastly in his writing—the rehabilitation of the flesh in a rational social organization liberated from the chains of privilege.30

While »Citronia« offers no utopian hope of reconciling instinctual urges with desire, the »Nachwort« does display a guarded optimism in scientific inquiry. It does seem to suggest that through increased knowledge of the human psyche and the history of repression the libido will gain its legitimate place in a highly civilized society, one that offers gratification in the here and now rather than demanding surplus repression in exchange for promises of gratification in a utopian future or an imaginary paradise beyond life. If this is true, then it expresses a faith and a goal very similar to those expressed by Freud in his polemic against the religious opponents of psychoanalysis: »We [those who believe in logos] believe that it is possible for scientific work to gain some knowledge about the reality of the world, by means of which we can increase our power and in accordance with which we can arrange our life.«31 One can even read the opening lines of the »Nachwort« as a prophecy that correctly anticipates Freud:

Unverblümt, an andern Orten,
Werdet Ihr in klaren Worten
Später ganz ausführlich lesen,
Was Citronia gewesen.

(B VI/I, 116)

Thus, in its own less revolutionary manner »Citronia« too calls for the end of »das alte Entsagungslied« (B IV, 577). But his late poetry no longer evokes images of the cloaked executioner who accompanies his words with an axe and turns the poet's thoughts into bloody deeds (Deutschland, Ein Wintermärchen, Caput VI-VII). Rather here the poet-author looks ahead to a gradual and inevitable change that will occur as the individual demands the liberation of the sexual instincts from an excess repression which only serves to solidify the unjust privileges of those who reap its benefits. In this respect, it reflects the same revolutionary spirit expressed in Deutschland, Ein Wintermärchen:

Wir wollen hier auf Erden schon
Das Himmelreich errichten.
Wir wollen auf Erden glücklich sein,
Und wollen nicht mehr darben.

(B IV, 578)

Even those late poems that depict mankind's alienation in a system of representation (re-presented desire) most pessimistically hold out hope for betterment. When the departing poet (»Der Scheidende«) calls himself a »Schattenfürst« and questions his lifelong engagement in the underworld of language, it happens only as he is severing all his ties to this life. Only when his words remain behind without any individual investment in the economy of pain and pleasure does he become the »Schattenfürst der Unterwelt«, in whom only death lives—»Und in mir lebt nur noch der Tod!« (B VI/I, 349). But that which dies last in him reveals that his poetry does not exert its force only in a shadow world:

Erstorben ist in meiner Brust
Jedwede weltlich eitle Lust,
Schier ist mir auch erstorben drin
Der Haß des Schlechten, sogar der Sinn
Für eigne wie für fremde Not—.

(B VI/I, 349)

What had motivated the poet Heine to the end was the power of words not only to compensate for human distress, but also to lessen it.

Thus the poet (»der tote Held«) departs knowing that his battles were fought for those least heroic Philistines who know to avoid such strife and enjoy what life has to offer. It is, I believe, this final reservation that always kept him from betraying the master poet who chose practical reason over the delayed gratification promised for heroic devotion to a cause. This is the same ambivalence Heine had always felt both in his own make-up and in his earlier criticism of Goethe. It was because of »angeborene Neigung zur Schwärmerey« (HSA XX, 200) that, against his own better judgment, he continually engaged in the struggle for »die Emanzipation der ganzen Welt […] von dem eisernen Gängelbande der Bevorrechteten« (B II, 376). But in this same passage, where he declared this emancipation to be the great task of his age, he also points out the paradox involved in any such activism. As he looks out over the battlefield at Marengo in Reise von München nach Genua, he asks:

Aber ach! jeder Zoll, den die Menschheit weiter rückt, kostet Ströme Blutes; und ist das nicht etwas zu teuer? Ist das Leben des Individuums nicht vielleicht eben so viel wert wie das des ganzen Geschlechtes? Denn jeder einzelne Mensch ist schon eine Welt, die mit ihm geboren wird und mit ihm stirbt, unter jedem Grabstein liegt eine Weltgeschichte—Still davon, so würden die Toten sprechen, die hier gefallen sind, wir aber leben und wollen weiter kämpfen im heiligen Befreiungskriege der Menschheit.

(B II, 378)

In the end, from Heine's personal point of view, it remains the prerogative of the dead (»Der Scheidende«) to raise this objection. But he was also willing to accept this dictate to fight against unjust privilege as an aspect of his own personal psychic need and not a universal imperative. Ultimately the individual right to choose to participate in this struggle for more freedom, or not, is the very principle for which he had fought. True to his lifelong commitment to democratic principles, he gave high priority to individual desire even in the political arena. For this reason, he refuses in »Citronia« to betray the unnamed master whose literary vision and life choices remained in accordance with his desire and were consistent with the belief that each individual life is its own world history.


  1. The only existing manuscript in Heine's handwriting is an earlier working version of lines 45-58.

  2. Adolf Strodtmann: »Vorwort des Herausgebers«. In: Heinrich Heine: Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken (Hamburg: Hoffmann and Campe, 1869), XV.

  3. Strodtmann [Anm. 2], XVI.

  4. Jonas Fränkel: »Anmerkungen«. In: WIII, 531.

  5. Anton Englert: »Heines Beiträge zu Schads Almanach«. In: Vierteljahrsschrift für Litteraturgeschichte 5.2 (1892): 315-328; and Jules Legras: »Heinrich Heine in Paris«. In: Deutsche Rundschau 79 (1894): 348-371; cp. the commentary in the DHA III/II, 1744.

  6. Legras [Anm. 5], 353.

  7. Legras' article based on the working copy of the poem in Heine's handwriting indicates that the »Nachwort« was a part of the poem at an early stage of its development; see Legras [Anm. 5], 353-354.

  8. Novalis: Heinrich von Ofterdingen. In: Schriften. Das Werk Friedrich von Hardenbergs. Ed. Paul Kluckhohn and Richard Samuel. Vol. I (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1960), 196.

  9. Novalis [Anm. 8], 294.

  10. Novalis [Anm. 8], 297.

  11. Novalis [Anm. 8], 300.

  12. Novalis [Anm. 8], 300.

  13. In the passage in chapter 26 of Reise von München nach Genua the description of Goethe's ability to depict Italy objectively is similar to the passage in Die Nordsee even in its very wording: »In der ›Italienischen Reise‹ hat es Goethe etwas ausführlicher besungen, und wo er malt, hat er das Original immer vor Augen, und man kann sich auf die Treue der Umrisse und der Farbengebung ganz verlassen [emphasis added]« (B II, 367).

  14. See Hanna Spencer: »Heines Spiel mit Goethes Erbmantel«. Seminar 9 (1973), 111; and George F. Peters: Der große Heide Nr. 2: Heinrich Heine and the Levels of His Goethe Reception (New York: Peter Lang, 1989), 103-113.

  15. These are the terms that Heine used for the two warring inner factions within himself in the subsequent letter to Moser on July 1, 1825 (HSA XX, 205).

  16. Heine elaborates on this metaphor in a series of poems in Neuer Frühling (IV-XXXVII; B IV, 300-316), including the famous number XX, »Die Rose duftet—ob sie empfindet«.

  17. Peters [Anm. 14], 160.

  18. See Gerhard Höhn: Heine Handbuch: Zeit, Person, Werk (Stuttgart, Metzler, 1987), 114; and Joseph A. Kruse: »Heinrich Heine—urologisch gelesen«. NBP 1 (1994), 18-19.

  19. Norman O. Brown: Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1959), 18.

  20. Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Faust. Eine Tragödie. In: Goethes Werke. Ed. Erich Trunz. Vol. III, 10th ed. (München: C. H. Beck, 1976), 56.

  21. Heine employs each of these flowers in other ways as well, but in connection with women the typology I offer seems to hold consistently. In poems VI-XXXVI in Neuer Frühling the rose and the lily appear a number of times representing the love relations I mention (B IV, 301-315). As one would expect from Heine, the rose symbolizing passionate love is more common by far both in this group of poems and throughout his writing. The lily also occurs frequently; two additional passages which show clearly the connection to pure and chaste love can be found in Schnabelewopski (B I, 611-612) and in the poem »Wechsel« in Neue Gedichte (B IV, 388-389). Violets, usually assumed to be blue unless specifically designated as yellow, also appear as the third main flower in this section of Neuer Frühling, but as blue violets they connotate blue eyes and loyalty. The much less common yellow violet is usually associated with death, and in the case of a specific woman or type of woman it seems to indicate an otherworldy aura. One such occurrence is in the bedroom where the narrator views the corpse of the mysterious Maria in Reise von München nach Genua (B II, 367). In another, I believe unique, case that is possibly most closely associated to the use in »Citronia«, Heine refers to a fire-yellow violet. This is in the Lazarus cycle of Gedichte. 1853 und 1854 where the poet regrets that he arrogantly ignored many women (»Blumen«) in his life with whom he could have enjoyed a relation, and in particular one fire-yellow violet—apparently a young woman whose melancholic nature gave her a sultry appeal (B VI/I, 203).

  22. Sigmund Freud: An Outline of Psvcho-Analysis. In:The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. Vol. XXIII, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1964), 150. [Hereafter cited as SE.]

  23. Freud argued this same point in response to those followers (most notably Wilhelm Reich, but also Karl Abraham and Otto Fenichel) who used psychoanalysis to advocate that the freer pursuit of genital intercourse and sexual orgasm were crucial to the solution of mankind's physical and social problems. See Norman O. Brown [Anm. 19], 29.

  24. Cp. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno: »Natur kennt nicht eigentlich Genuß: sie bringt es nicht weiter als zur Stillung des Bedürfnisses. Alle Lust ist gesellschaftlich in den unsublimierten Affekten nicht weniger als in den sublimierten.« In: Dialektik der Aufklärung (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1969), 112.

  25. See Freud's [Anm. 22] discussion of these concepts in »On Narcissism« (SE XIV, 87-88) and part III of »The Ego and the Id« (SE XIX, 28-39).

  26. Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, »Fantasy and the Origins of Sexuality«. In: Formations of Fantasy. Ed. Victor Burgin, et. al., (New York: Metheun, 1986), 17.

  27. Laplanche and Pontalis [Anm. 26], 17-18.

  28. Apparently Heine worked on this text first at the same time he was preparing the »Lazarus« cycle of Romanzero, and then again while putting together the collection Gedichte. 1853 und 1854. In each case it seems he abandoned work on it because it contained lines that coincided closely with first »Sie erlischt« and then with »Epilog«. Strodtmann restored two sections of the text that Heine had marked out (B VI/I, 349, ll. 1-6, and 350, ll. 13-18), apparently in an attempt to reform the poem using formulations distinct from those already published. In doing so, Strodtmann followed Heine's corrections in the manuscripts, except for those in the latest version where Heine began a rewriting of the fragment which he then gave up. Thus the characterization of Strodtmann's version (which was taken up by the later editions, including Briegleb's, to which I am referring here) as »eine Kontamination aus verschiedenen Arbeitsstufen« (DHA III/II, 1504) is justified with respect to Heine's intentions for a finished, publishable poem. But it is also clear that the three sections of the poem in Strodtmann's version (ll. 1-6, ll. 7-12, and ll. 13-18) belonged together as a complete, although unfinished poem at the time Heine was compiling Gedichte. 1853 und 1854. For this reason, I feel justified in reading the poem as a whole.

  29. Freud [Anm. 22], SE XXI, 7.

  30. See here the famous passage in chapter 29 of Reise von München nach Genua (B VI/I, 376-378).

  31. Freud [Anm. 22], The Future of an Illusion, SE XXI, 55.


B = Heinrich Heine: Sämtliche Schriften. Hrsg. Von Klaus Briegleb. München: Hanser 1968-1976, 6 Bände (6, II = Register)

DHA = Heinrich Heine: Sämtliche Werke. Düsseldorfer Ausgabe. In Verbindung mit dem Heinrich-Heine-Institut hrsg. Von Manfred Windfuhr. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe 1973 ff.

HSA = Heinrich Heine: Werke, Briefwechsel, Lebenszeugnisse. Säkularausgabe. Hrsg. Von den Nationalen Forschungs- und Gedenkstätten der klassischen deutschen Literatur in Weimar (seit 1991: Stiftung Weimarer Klassik) und dem Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Berlin und Paris: Akademie und Editions due CNRS 1970ff.

Hjb = Heine-Jahrbuch. Hrsg. vom Heinrich-Heine-Institut Düsseldorf. Hamburg: Hoffman und Campe 1962-1994; Stuttgart: Metzler 1995f.

W = Heinrich Heine: Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken. Hamburg: Hoffmann and Campe, 1869.

Adrian Del Caro (essay date 1997)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3914

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 between Sendung and Nichtvollendung.

The renewed sense of mission common to both theoretical and patriotic Romanticism is expressed in a longing for cultural unity, inasmuch as thinkers considered Germany, truncated in the flesh but united in the spirit, to be ripe for a new task. This thinking was shared by the Schlegels, Novalis, Hölderlin, Kleist, Fichte, and Hegel. In Novalis the longing for cultural unity and the need for a cohesive mythology were so strong that he conjured up the old mythology of Catholic Europe in »Die Christenheit oder Europa«, an essay in which none of the horrors but all of the alleged glories of medieval Europe were offered as alternatives to the fragmented, mythless present. Especially prominent in Novalis' deliberate blindness vis-a-vis ancient Catholicism are his praise of the papal father and Europe's obedient children, his condemnation of Luther-inspired critical thinking and scholarship, and his elevation of the irrational, mystical, Catholic inner experience.2 And despite Germany's role in the Reformation, Novalis blithely concludes that the Germans in his day have a special place and a special opportunity, that they are better off than the other European nations and headed for a cultural and spiritual renewal.3 On Novalis' view of history, the Reformation and the Enlightenment proved to be a mere blight on the inner landscape, reminiscent of Heine's jab at the good old days »Wo noch keine Zeitung erschienen.«4

A feature of Hölderlin's poetry that I regard as romantic historiography is his insistence that Germany had become the priestess to the peoples of Europe, as expressed in his hymn »Germanien«. The eagle of this hymn wings its way northward from ancient Greece, seeking the priestess who is the »most silent daughter of god« who has for too long remained »silent in her deep simplicity«. What makes the priestess identifiable to the searching spirit of history is the fulfillment of a promise that the gods left with Germania in the remote past, a promise Hölderlin refers to as »die Blume des Mundes« or German writing.5 According to Hölderlin, Germany is now capable of serving as advisor and priestess to the peoples because she lies in the middle of time (»in der Mitte der Zeit«), poised between the past and a promising future. We should also heed the qualifier »simple« when Hölderlin applies it to Germany, for this is also typical of Fichte's view of Germany's place in European history.

It matters little that in Hölderlin we witness a conflation of Greek mythology and Christian symbolism, since ultimately the romantic view of history appropriates Christianity as the final stage in the evolution of the spirit. This becomes obvious in the writings of Fichte, who had so much trouble »completing« his variations on the Ich in »Die Wissenschaftslehre« that, as Jürgen Gebhardt argues, he finally drew a parallel between the Johannine symbolic of the logos in God and the dialectic tension between absolute knowledge and the absolute, until »the incarnation of the logos corresponds with the ascent of the Ich to absolute knowledge.«6 Like Hölderlin and Novalis, Fichte stated in his »Reden an die deutsche Nation« that Germany was poised in the middle of time and would therefore usher in a new age.7 The greatest gift the Germans gave to the so-called »neo-Latin« peoples was what Fichte termed »the improved doctrine« of reformed Christianity (»Reden,« 351). Moreover, according to Fichte all further revelations of the divine will occur and take shape among the German people (»Reden,« 381). Throughout the centuries the Germans had managed to maintain their simplicity and credulity (»Reden,« 463), for which they had been venally exploited by others.

Heine's generally trustworthy intuitions concerning German philosophizing may have been slightly in error in the case of Fichte. In Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland he stated that Fichte's philosophy had not delivered results for German society, rather, its content is interesting »nur in so fern sie die Unfruchtbarkeit des Idealismus in seiner letzten Consequenz beurkundet« (VIII/1, 92). This appraisal allows Heine to stress the Nichtvollendung inherent in Fichte's thought, with its radical idealism, but it downplays the importance of Fichte's later phase, which I see as more instrumental. Heine juxtaposes the early and the late Fichte accurately, but with very broad brush strokes: »Aus dem idealistischen Titanen, der auf der Gedankenleiter den Himmel erklettert und mit kecker Hand in dessen leere Gemächer herumgetastet: der wird jetzt etwas gebückt Christliches, das viel von Liebe seufzt« (VIII/1, 108). Certainly for the future direction of German-Protestant thought as it contributed to German nationalism, Fichte's later phase was more important than Heine suspected, mainly because Fichte was now concerned with consolidating and validating German identity by focusing on Germany as the site of the divine. Fichte's second phase, in part correctly described by Heine as »something bowed and Christian« and »sighing of love,« is actually more dangerous, more instrumental in social terms than the first stage, since its major concern is the lionization of the German people.

In Fichte we see a distillation of the Romantic retrospective. Germany's »otherness« is pointedly spelled out; not only is Germany the preserver of spirituality, by virtue of having improved Christianity, but Germany is also the »simple« and »silent« type, having suffered exploitation by others. Germany possesses certain virtues: credulity, simplicity, sobriety, honesty, Vernunft (»Reden,« 463, 480). Also present in this rosy view of the past is the idea that Germany had not acted in its own behalf, preferring instead to remain inactive or, as Hölderlin put it, »Tatenarm und gedankenvoll«.8 Now that Germany is poised in the middle of time, however, this people will come into its own, whatever that means to Romantics.

The mission or Sendung articulated by Hölderlin and Fichte can be summarized as a romantic-expressivist conception of the logos and the future rule of the logos as a German phenomenon. Heine was himself not entirely immune to thinking in terms of Sendung, but his split personality as an antiromantic Romantic puts an intriguing spin on Sendung. In his foreword to Wintermährchen he anticipates those in Germany who will condemn him for being unpatriotic, so he immerses himself in a longwinded, idealistic, humanistic soliloquy, wishfully projecting a future when all of France, Europe, and the world will become German: »Von dieser Sendung und Universalherrschaft Deutschlands träume ich oft, wenn ich unter Eichen wandle. Das ist mein Patriotismus« (IV, 300f.). One could argue that this expression is pure hyperbole, since Heine's more characteristic stand on Sendung occurs in Caput IV, but there are other indications that he may have succumbed in part to the Sendung seduction.

In Die romantische Schule he discusses the German need for translating words into deeds, and for realizing, as did Doctor Faust, that the spirit wants its due portion of flesh. But, he adds, it will be a long time before Germany using spirit recognizes the usurpation of the spirit and vindicates the rights of the flesh: »Das ist dann die Revoluzion, die große Tochter der Reformazion« (VIII/1, 160). Here I sense a hint of the backwardlooking, forward-dreaming romantic historiography, but without the precise mention of Germany's place in time. In similar fashion Peter Uwe Hohendahl has pointed out that Heine referred to Lessing as the »second cultural hero of the Germans, who carried on the emancipating work begun by Luther and thereby prepared the way for a third emancipator«.9 Is Heine indulging romantic longings by waiting for a third emancipator? In any case, the third emancipator would have the historical effect of rendering Germany, as a nation, as a people, moot, since emancipation after the Enlightenment would mean emancipation from nationalism as well, insofar as the Enlightenment reasons in term of the universal, not the particular.

But there is another prominent passage in Heine that appears to question any belief he might have had in a »third emancipator«, at least, if we are at all inclined to take the passage seriously. It occurs in Reisebilder at the end of Reise von München nach Genua, where he offers an observation on the supremacy of death that reminds us, on the surface, of Nietzsche's eternal recurrence of the same. As he is regarding the portraits of beautiful Genoese women, Heine cannot restrain his elegiacal thoughts; everything they represented as vital, sentient human beings, along with the painter and the canvas on which he painted, has long since rotted or will rot. What is even worse, he continues, than this »Gefühl eines ewigen Sterbens, einer öden gähnenden Vernichtung«, is the thought that we do not die as originals, rather, as »Copien von längst verschollenen Menschen, die geistig und körperlich uns gleich waren, und daß nach uns wieder Menschen geboren werden, die wieder ganz aussehen und fühlen und denken werden wie wir« (VII/1, 79). Death will destroy the copies in its »trostlos ewige[m] Wiederholungsspiel«, and the best that the earth can do is to produce more copies than death is able to destroy, so that in effect, the earth (life) »mehr für die Erhaltung der Gattungen als für die Originalität der Individuen sorgen kann« (ibid). Heine concludes this thought by writing »Wunderbar erfaßten mich die mystischen Schauer dieses Gedankens«.

This expression of relentless sameness, of the repetition of human beings, does not go as far as Nietzsche's eternal recurrence of the same, but it points in a similar direction. There is extreme nihilism in both the Nietzschean and the Heinean formulations, with no recourse to God, heaven, hell, or any sort of finale or afterlife, but in Heine's formulation there is a distinct note of passive nihilism, since we are not originals and we will not have the opportunity to change our lives. Nietzsche states very clearly that the thought of the eternal recurrence, if it were to seize a person, would have the potential of changing one's life, i.e., he intends the eternal recurrence as a symbol of active nihilism, as the ultimate statement of amor fati for those strong enough to bear the thought.10 Heine is not proposing his observations on the authority of death and the repetition of humans as a test of strength, although he also ascribes a certain instrumentality to the thought (»Wunderbar erfaßten mich die mystischen Schauer […]«). Still, we have to wonder how committed Heine may have been to the Enlightenment's paradigm of a perfectable, universal history, given the fact that he utters his own »ewiges Wiederholungsspiel« in a nihilistic frame of mind. At the very least, his eternal game of repetition deserves further consideration in the spirit of Nietzsche's very unromantic eternal recurrence, wherein the value of the here and now is paramount, such that one's own life should be lived as though it would recur eternally.11

There is an unambiguously unromantic side to Heine's view of history, as for example in his fragment »Verschiedenartige Geschichtsauffassung«, where he cautions that romantic visions of future happiness must not compromise our immediate struggle for the rights of man in the present. (X, 302) Also unromantic is Heine's position as mediator, for as Sammons points out, Heine understood it to be his »office« to mediate between German and French cultures,12 while figures such as Hölderlin, Kleist, and Fichte literally emphasize the centrality of Germany. Sammons also sees an antiromantic historiography at work in Heine's Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland, with its »unerring allegiance to emancipation from irrational doctrines that cripple human potential.«13 Certainly the views of Novalis and Fichte, despite the shift in focus from Catholic to Protestant, are a step backwards in terms of spiritual enslavement. Finally, as Hohendahl puts it, for Heine »the goal of German intellectual history is a revolution that will recapitulate the achievements of the French revolutions of 1789 and 1830.«14 In other words, Heine views history as social history, or what Alan Swensen sees as the reverse of the romantic approach, because Heine is interested in the implications of literature for the historical moment, not vice versa.15

Romantic longing and blinding oneself to reality are satirized in Caput III of Wintermährchen where Heine praises the ingenuity of the spiked helm, which is so reminiscent of Romanticism, Fouqué, crusades, and pious service. The spiked helm is engineered in clever German fashion with the spike pointing upwards, but Heine warns that modern lightning will strike these romantic heads, outfitted as they are with lightning rods (IV, 96).16 In Caput XV Heine attacks the Germans through the figure of Barbarossa, who according to legend is sleeping in the mountain with his troops, waiting for horses and the proper time to return to liberate his people. But this Rothbart has not heard of Sendung and is singularly uninspired; he passes the time dusting armor, paying his soldiers in coin every 100 years, and this inactivity he shrugs off good-naturedly using the Italian »chi va piano va sano« (IV, 124 ff.).

Heine's characteristic view of Sendung is satirical, and it is contained in this strophe from Wintermährchen, at the point where Luther cried »halt!« to the construction of the Kölner Dom:

Er ward nicht vollendet—und das ist gut.
Denn eben die Nichtvollendung
Macht ihn zum Denkmahl von Deutschlands Kraft
Und protestantischer Sendung

(IV, 99).

In its Catholic stage the cathedral represented what Heine called a giant dungeon, »des Geistes Bastille«, where German reason was supposed to languish, but when he speculates on its completion, he ridicules the Domverein for wanting to complete »die alte Zwingburg«. Better, says Heine, for the unfinished cathedral to become a stall for horses (IV, 98 ff.). And it is precisely here that Heine lampoons the Blendung of romantic historiography; Luther had interrupted the construction of the Dom for a good reason, namely to emancipate Germans from Catholicism, and yet, Germans seemed all too eager to complete the Dom as a monument to their new spiritual oppressor, namely, Protestantism. The passages in Wintermährchen with their inventive rhyme juxtaposing Nichtvollendung and Sendung, and deutsche Vernunft with devious Romans, send a barbed message by way of irony; the incompletion of the Dom makes it a fitting monument to Germany's strength and Protestant mission, but what is »strength« and what is »mission« if incompletion serves as their metaphor? Incompletion connotes impotence, a striving without closure, as exemplified by the theoretical Romantics' preference for the infinite, for non-closure, for theory. And if German reason is so reasonable, why does it opt to embrace a new oppressor after it has thrown off the yoke of the former oppressor? The cathedral must not be finished, period—that is Heine's response to Germans who refuse to learn lessons from history. By definition, a cathedral is a bastille of the human spirit whether it is a Catholic cathedral or a Protestant one. And again by definition, reason is universal, not German, or it isn't reason—not only Heine but later on Nietzsche as well argued that Germans had attempted throughout history to appropriate the universal, reason, for the particular, namely nationalism, Protestantism, idealism.17

Some might argue that Heine does not intend the Nichtvollendung satirically, that he is quite serious in praising Luther's role as emancipator. I can agree with this, up to a point, but not in essential matters concerning Heine's view of history. In Religion und Philosophie he speaks of Luther having elevated reason to the highest judge in all religious controversies, a rather narrow frame of reference for Heine, and therewith »die sogenannte Geistesfreyheit« originated in Germany (VIII/1, 36). For Heine this is merely »so-called freedom of thought« because, in fact, Germans do not give evidence of freedom of thought in their »reformed« state of mind.

In Die romantische Schule Heine sets up his readers by offering a typically witty observation on German historicizing. After God, the snow, and the Cossacks had destroyed Napoleon, he explained, »we Germans« received the command at the very highest level to liberate ourselves from the yoke »und wir loderten auf in männlichem Zorn« (VIII/1, 141). Heine should well be interested in this false causality, since it was Madame de Staël, his nemesis, who had referred to Germans as poor soldiers afraid of hardship and unable to tolerate cold weather, as if the entire nation, she observed, consisted of merchants and writers.18 But this passage is merely a flag for what follows, which is a serious discussion of Blendung as it applies to the Sendung / Nichtvollendung nexus.

One page later Heine mentions Geistesfreiheit and Protestantism in the same breath, but first he condemns the Romantics for fleeing back to the Middle Ages »in den alten Geisteskerker« (VIII/1, 143). Protestantism, he explained, had encouraged free scholarship within the Christian religion, liberating minds from Catholic authoritarianism, even enabling independent scholarship and science. However, and this is the important disclaimer, German philosophy according to Heine always remains the daughter of Protestantism, obligated to indulgent piety; philosophers and friends of freedom of thought banded together against the restorationists: »Aber in Deutschland waren die Liberalen bis jetzt auch immer zugleich Schulphilosophen und Theologen, und es ist immer dieselbe Idee der Freyheit wofür sie kämpfen, sie mögen nun ein rein politisches, oder ein philosophisches oder ein theologisches Thema behandeln« (VIII/1, 143 f.). The »yoke« upon the Germans was Napoleon at one time, and it was Rome before that, but after each »liberation«, what exactly had the Germans achieved? A case in point is the jab at patriotic romantic historians, like Kleist, who exalt Hermann:

Wenn Hermann nicht die Schlacht gewann,
Mit seinen blonden Horden,
So gäb' es deutsche Freyheit nicht mehr,
Wir wären römisch geworden!

(IV, 114).

Heine is historically astute in pointing out the incestuous link between Protestant theology and German philosophizing, which in effect points out the hypocrisy of the term »freedom of thought« in the context of Protestantism.

There is a tendency in Heine scholarship to ascribe too much importance to his elevation of Luther and Protestantism; after all, Heine had no use for religion, and Luther was merely a suitable German substitute for the Catholic church. In this important matter I think Heine was closer to Nietzsche, who blamed Luther for propping up Christianity when it was on the verge of collapsing under its own decadence; Nietzsche held Luther accountable for rescuing Christianity—that was Luther's historical niche.19 This issue is somewhat clouded in Heine scholarship because Heine himself contributed to the misconception that Romantics converted wholesale to Catholicism,20 which tempts us to view Heine as progressive, in relative terms, because of his stand against Catholicism. Alan Swensen raises the anti-Catholic issue, and even quotes Sammons that for Heine »Luther was a model figure for his own self-image«.21 Sammons makes it clear that for Heine »the hatred of Catholic power and doctrine is one of the strongest and most enduring cords running through his adult life«,22 but we must also bear in mind that Heine cannot embrace Luther and stop there—he must simply regard Luther as an improvement over the Catholic status quo. What distinguishes Heine from regular or run of the mill Romantics in historical terms is his distinct lack of piety for Christianity, his consciousness of the enslavement of German thought to Protestantism, and his strong Enlightenment sense that religion must be overcome before emancipation can take place on a universal level.

And this sentiment, which makes Heine very much the peer of Nietzsche and other anti-Romantics, is expressed by Sammons where he discusses the Kantian-Fichtean-berserker conclusion of Religion und Philosophie. Sammons maintains that this passage »is positively meant, drawing the political and social sum of the dismantling of Christianity that Heine read as the underground implication of the trammelled development of German thought.«23 What Sammons refers to as the »trammelled development of German thought« I take to mean German thought since Kant and extending to Fichte and Hegel and on into the 20th century, as it is subservient to Protestant ideology and romantic historiography. If, as Heine suggests, Thor will one day rise up with his hammer and smash the Gothic cathedrals (Religion und Philosophie, VIII/1, 118), then Heine is philosophizing with the hammer as Nietzsche later prescribed, when he diagnosed that idols had to be sounded out and smashed. This would be a true act of emancipation, with the ancient pagan Germanic Thor liberating his people from the thrall of Christianity in a Promethean gesture of life affirmation. The Blendung and the Nichtvollendung will endure, in Heine's view of history, as long as Germans and any people gifted with a sense of Sendung continue to see themselves as the embodiment of the exclusive logos. When the spirit turned logos turned Word turned Geist finally returns, as Heine prophesied, to flesh, that is, to the here and now, we will have an end to romantic historiography.


  1. Friedrich Nietzsche: »Ecce homo«.—In: Sämtliche Werke. Kritische Studienausgabe in 15 Einzelbänden. Ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari. München 1988, vol. VI, p. 280 (= KSA).

  2. Novalis: »Die Christenheit oder Europa«.—In: Novalis Schriften. Die Werke Friedrich von Hardenbergs. Ed. Paul Kluckhohn and Richard Samuel. Stuttgart 1968, vol. III, p. 507, 512, 515, 509, 523.

  3. ibid., p. 517.

  4. Heinrich Heine, »Deutschland. Ein Wintermährchen«. In: Heinrich Heine. Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe der Werke, ed. Manfred Windfuhr (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1985), vol. 4, p. 96. Further references to Heine works in this edition by volume and page number in parentheses.

  5. Friedrich Hölderlin: »Germanien«.—In: Sämtliche Werke. Bd. II. Gedichte nach 1800. Ed. Friedrich Beissner. Stuttgart 1946, pt. 1, p. 149. See also Adrian Del Caro: Hölderlin: The Poetics of Being. Detroit, p. 59-60, 95-96.

  6. Jürgen Gebhardt (Ed.): Die Revolution des Geistes. Politisches Denken in Deutschland 1770-1830. Goethe—Kant—Fichte—Hegel—Humboldt. München 1968, p. 94.

  7. I. H. Fichte (Ed.): Johann Gottlieb Fichte's Sämmtliche Werke. Berlin 1848, vol. VII, p. 9.

  8. Friedrich Hölderlin: »An die Deutschen«.—In: [Anm. 5], pt. 1, p. 9.

  9. Peter Uwe Hohendahl: Building a National Literature. The Case of Germany, 1830-1870. Trans. by Renate Baron Franciscono. Ithaca 1989, p. 149.

  10. Friedrich Nietzsche: »Die fröhliche Wissenschaft«—In: KSA III, 570 [§ 341].

  11. For the reference to Heine's »ewiges Wiederholungsspiel« I am indebted to the gentleman in the audience of the Heine session at the 1995 Chicago MLA convention, who asked wether anyone had explored this thought in connection with Nietzsche's doctrine of the eternal recurrence.

  12. Jeffrey L. Sammons: Heinrich Heine. A Modern Biography. Princeton 1979, p. 188.

  13. ibid., p. 194.

  14. Hohendahl [Anm. 8], p. 150.

  15. Alan J. Swensen: »Righting History: Eichendorff's and Heine's Histories of German Romanticism«.—In: HJb 33. 1994, p. 116.

  16. See also Adrian Del Caro: »Heine's Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen reflected in Nietzsche«.—In: [Heine-Jahrbuch] HJb 33. 1994, p. 194-201.

  17. Nietzsche suggests this in »Fröhliche Wissenschaft« no. 348 where he praises Jewish writers and thinkers for having improved German writing; the Jews, he writes, have been responsible for bringing the Germans and other peoples »zur Raison«. N.'s use of the French here demonstrates his impatience with the cult of Vernunft. See the KSA III, 585.

  18. Morroe Berger (Ed.): Madame de Staël on Politics, Literature, and National Character. New York 1964, p. 280.

  19. Friedrich Nietzsche: »Der Antichrist no. 61«. KSA VI, 251.

  20. Sammons [Anm. 12], p. 195.

  21. Swensen [Anm. 15], p. 104.

  22. Sammons [Anm. 12], p. 164.

  23. ibid., p. 192.

Russell A. Berman (essay date 1997)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6644

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 induced a preference for the study of novels or other prose genres and a relative reluctance to engage in lyric poetry. The contemporary thematization of material culture certainly points a critic toward the stuff of everyday life, which is typically displayed to a much greater degree in prose fiction, while the sparse abstractions of verse are presumed to have less capacity for the sorts of political claims that current critical discussions address. To the extent that Cultural Studies involves the constitution and contestation of collective identities, then the novel becomes a privileged genre due to underlying assumptions about its scope, whether these assumptions derive from Lukács' paradigm of totality or Bakhtin's model of dialogism (Berman 10). Conversely, the suggestion that poetry may have less to say directly about political or social concerns reflects the consequences of the autonomy of aesthetics in the early nineteenth century that still structure standard expectations regarding literature. Even when Adorno tried to demonstrate the social substance of lyric, he had to begin precisely from his public's assumption that poetry has little to do with society (73-74). In the age of Cultural Studies, then, with critical attention devoted increasingly to questions of politics in literary representation, a shift away from poetry becomes a fact of scholarly life. Film—a modern expansion of the realist novel—is in; verse is out.

This hierarchy of taste, away from the traditionally “high” form of poetry and toward the popularity of the novel, is not a matter of any logical necessity; there are plenty of examples of political or public poetry that might be cited as likely evidence for the cultural-studies readership. The bias itself may however be taken as a sort of evidence of the practices that underpin contemporary efforts to read other cultures, that is, to read them as novels rather than as poems, whereby the generic opposition is intended to point toward alternative theorizations of culture. A novelistic Cultural Studies examines identity formation against a background of existing structures, that frame, if not determine, the vicissitudes of the subject: as if the anatomical eye of the critic was already anticipated in the voice of the narrator, who prereads the world for the recipient. A security of judgment results, reserving little room for ambiguity, and perhaps even less for innovation. The artifacts of another culture are collected, classified, and preserved, but a recognition of the alterity of culture as a possible source of qualitatively new experience, a specifically poetic project, is missing. Cultural Studies approaches culture as a collection of ethnographic facts within which identities are constructed, rather than as a realm of creativity in which individuals invent new forms. The problem with Cultural Studies is not that it is “Marxist,” as polemical opponents of the academy would have it, but rather that Cultural Studies, like orthodox Marxism, is slipping toward a deterministic and conformist model of culture, which, for all of its verbal radicalism, remains constitutively inimical to change.

How to think about another culture, how to think about Germany: the focus on the construction of identities, intended to demonstrate the non-naturalistic and therefore presumably malleable character of subjectivities, can metamorphose quickly into a simplistic analysis of subsequentiality that may trivialize the material. The preestablished epistemic horizons of discourse are unfortunately understood to set the limits and perhaps even define particular instances or concretizations of fundamental patterns. Nothing new ever happens in an obsessive repetition of the always already given: structuralism had problems with history, and they are inherited, via poststructuralism, in much of Cultural Studies. Yet precisely this determinism undercuts the self-definition of Cultural Studies as radical—when all is said and done, it may only be reductionistic, an illustrated cultural history—unless it can outline alternative approaches to culture that allow for precisely the alterity, as innovation, that repetition proscribes.

Thinking about Germany and thinking differently about Germany are the topics of Heine's “Night Thoughts,” (“Nachtgedanken”), one of the best known poems of the German canon, especially its opening verses: “Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht, / Dann bin ich um den Schlaf gebracht”.1 Written early in 1843, it appeared as the last of the twenty-four “Political Poems” (Zeitgedichte) that constitute the final section of the volume Neue Gedichte (New Poems), published in the autumn of 1844. In this concluding section, the poem gains saliency as a programmatic statement, although the thematic ambivalence of the text has historically elicited a contradictory reception. The initial reference to Germany, as well as later, decidedly ironic pointers, invite the reader to attribute the poet's sleeplessness to conditions in Germany, in which case the text is cast as a political poem with a critical message. This account is however immediately modified by the poet's explanation that his long separation from his mother produces his sorrow. The political question recedes behind the privacy of filial love or, rather, the two become inextricably linked, especially in light of the biographical context: Heine's exile from Germany, his residence in Paris, and, hence, the distance from his mother in Hamburg were themselves results of political conditions. Thus, with reference to “Night Thoughts,” Max Brod wrote in 1934: “The love for his mother remained one of the most solid bases of Heine's love. It mixes in a touching way with his homesickness for Germany” (25, my translation). Sixty years later, Jost Hermand similarly suggests an overlap of the personal and the political: “His criticism of Germany, no matter how sharp or malicious or perhaps even just witty, was always based on the yearning of an unloved son, who would have much rather stayed at home with ‘mother’ than to wander around in foreign countries” (270, my translation).

Brod's sentimentalist insistence on Heine's yearning leads him to overlook the critical tones in the poem; Hermand maintains an ear for the criticism, while recognizing Heine's own identification of mother and Germany. This antinomic tension traverses the reception history. Like Brod, Joachim Müller also presents a sentimentalist account: “The yearning for the mother is the yearning for Germany, and the yearning for Germany is the yearning for the mother. Wherever Heine loves most ardently, from a natural tie, that is his Germany” (425). In contrast (and explicitly critical of Müller), Werner Psaar foregrounds the political material by pointing out how the yearning was an expression of exile's bitterness: “‘Night Thoughts’ demonstrates better than any other poem in German the real misery of exile, the suffering in the nights, the anxiety about returning, yearning and fear, engagement and denial, allegiance, despair, and the search for comfort” (114). While the critics vary, then, on the precise balance of the personal and political, they do all agree that the poem gives sincere and mournful expression to Heine's concerns with Germany, be they merely personal or of a wider scope. Nor can there be much doubt that the poem does indeed thematize Germany and asks questions about the constitution of national identity. Yet the focus on the question of the relationship between the representations of Germany and motherhood has distracted attention from another tension in the poem.

The ten stanzas of the published poem announce the poet's noctural worries about Germany and his mother, tracing his thought processes or rather staging the processes of obsession that beset the lonely subject. Yet as the poet's reverie grows increasingly anxious, the final stanza releases him as the sun breaks in, his wife enters the room, and the geographical setting returns emphatically to Paris:

Gottlob! durch meine Fenster bricht
Französisch heit'res Tageslicht;
Es kommt mein Weib, schön wie der Morgen,
Und lächelt fort die deutschen Sorgen.(2)

German worries are banished with French sunlight: the passage suggests that the standard question of the reception history regarding the relationship of the political topic of Germany to the private concerns with the mother may give way, by the final stanza at the latest, to a contrastive staging of national identity characteristics, in particular the tension between the two women, the German mother and the French wife. In other words, the topic of the poem is not the poet's distance from his mother but the distance between the alternatives of mother and wife, Germany and France.

“Night Thoughts” should therefore be read as an opportunity to consider the substance of Cultural Studies—“Denk ich an Deutschland”—and the conditions, limits, and possibilities of such thinking. In particular, the poem raises questions regarding the mediation of gender and nationality as an available topic of such thinking. The reception history of the poem, in contrast, has focused primarily on the relationship between homeland and mother, surely a conventionally conservative definition of the issues at stake, rather than addressing the competition between female figures and between nationalities. The appearance of the French material only in the final stanza is surely no evidence of its marginalization, as Müller claimed (425). For the conclusion of the poem and of the volume is hardly an unmarked location; on the contrary, one can more convincingly claim that it represents the conclusion of the whole book which leads, so to speak, from German Romanticism to French light. It is hard not to conclude that sentimentalizing readings of the poem have hesitated to address the role of France and of the wife due to a sense of standard piety toward the tropes of filial homesickness, even though the poem labors to overcome precisely such nostalgic devotion; the reception of the poem, in other words, still has to catch up with the poem itself.

Heine inherits the project of a contrastive staging of France and Germany from Madame de Stäel's De l'Allemagne (1810). As early as 1831, just after his arrival in Paris, he deploys the imagery of a sleeping Germany and an active France, as the location of a revolutionary politics, in his introduction to Kahldorf (114). Harald Weinrich refers to this as Heine's “parallel thinking” of the two countries, a term effectively borrowed from Heine, who wrote of the “eternal parallelism” between the two (116).

The parallel in the poem, however, involves less identity and similarity than contrast, most obviously in the visual imagery: Germany is the locus of darkness and noctural brooding, while France is associated with the arrival of morning's light. This implies a shift away from the cultural codes of German Romanticism, as exemplified by Novalis's “Hymnen an die Nacht” (Hymns to the Night), which had themselves entailed a rejection of the rationalism of the Enlightenment. That Enlightenment, in the form of the metaphor of light, is reestablished at the poem's end, although now with a new set of associations. The sensuality of the wife and her smiling optimism banish the obsessions of the night, initiating a new and, in this context surely, revolutionary day: While the Germans sleep, the French act. Elsewhere Heine associates the revolution with the crowing of “der gallische Hahn,” [the Gallic cock], and Marx, whose acquaintance Heine would make in the autumn of 1843, would soon conclude his introduction to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, which appeared in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher in 1844, with the same metaphor: “When all the inner conditions ripen, the day of German resurrection will be proclaimed by the crowing of the Gallic cock” (Weinrich 112; Tucker 65).

Given the extensive and often emphatically political tone of the Neue Gedichte, it is arguable that Marx's engaged deployment of the metaphor is quite consistent with its significance in Heine's poem of the same period. It is not merely a matter of a contrast between Germany, asleep, benighted, and romantic, with a France of Enlightenment rationality. Dreaming Germany is not only being awakened to the light of reason; it is also being freed from its nightmares by a female enfigurement of revolution. Yet because the nightmares concern the memory of the mother, evidently misread by the sentimentalist tradition, and the revolutionary woman is linked intertextually to a trope of national arousal, the Gallic cock (which may have a phallic resonance but is clearly transgendering by casting the woman as a rooster), any inquiry into nationality in the poem necessarily involves an exploration of the implicit terms of gender identity.

“Night Thoughts” evokes a competition for the attention of the male poet, torn between devotion to his mother and the reveille of his wife; his concern for the mother has occupied him through the night, kept him away from his wife, and trapped him in a trancelike obsession: “die alte Frau hat mich behext.”3 The allusion to witchcraft indicates how the mother is located within the tropes of German Romantic poetry and its dependance on folk traditions. Indeed the first verse of the fifth stanza—“Die Mutter liegt mir stets im Sinn”—uses a phrasing reminiscent of the second of the “Heimkehr” poems of Heine's first poetry volume, The Book of Songs (Das Buch der Lieder), the so-called “Lorelei,” in which an old legend is described as “Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.”4 Both Lorelei and mother seize possession of the lyric subjectivity and represent a mortal danger: in the former case the boatsman sails to his death, while in the latter, the poet loses himself in morbid thoughts. Of course some twenty years separate the two poems; if, however, Heine's self-citation indicates that the mother in “Night Thoughts” can be taken as a recurrence of the Lorelei, then she assumes all the features of uncanny threat associated with the siren figure of the earlier poem, and the Marianne of revolution emerges as a genuine competitor, arriving in the morning to rescue her lover from the mother/sorceress with whom he had spent the night. The competition between the women consequently implies a tension within the poet, wavering between alternative definitions of masculinity, as son and as husband.

Heine's adulation of his mother, Betty van Geldern, has frequently been noted by his biographers; it stands out as a conventionally Biedermeier aspect of a poet more often judged as radical and audacious. Yet this devotion was, at least in the view of Wolfgang Hädecke, not without negative consequences. Betty's ambitions for her son's professional career were never met by his literary pursuits, eliciting a sense of failure and frustration, as Heine described: “I followed obediently her expressed wishes, but I must confess that she was guilty for the fruitlessness of my attempts and efforts in bourgeois positions, since they never corresponded to my own nature” (Hädecke 39, my translation). While the path of his success would draw him away from the worlds of business and law that his mother had wished for her son, a residue of guilt and obligation remained, to which he would return repeatedly: the same structure of obsession recorded in “Night Thoughts.” Hädecke conjectures that his “tie to his mother is on a very different level than his intellectual and artistic interests; it is a relationship of hidden eroticism, of which Betty was quite unconscious, but which Heine understood quite well” (41). The most telling evidence is the second of the two sonnets dedicated to his mother in the Book of Songs, “Illusion-mad,” (“Im tollen Wahn”), in which the poet speaks of his poor decision to leave his mother and to seek love elsewhere, a love that ultimately he can only find with her:

Doch da bist du entgegen mir gekommen,
Und ach, was da in deinem Aug geschwommen,
Das war die süße, lang gesuchte Liebe.(5)

“Night Thoughts” still draws on the image of the mother whom the poet cannot leave, but, unlike the Biedermeier tone of the early poem, casts her as a threat, an uncanny figure of nocturnal suffering, a vampire who disappears only at the break of day. The mother he cherished so much in the Book of Songs has grown into a lugubrious threat in the New Poems, but, in Paris two decades later, he can envision an alternative to his youthful romanticism.

Heine visited his mother in Hamburg before leaving for Paris in 1831, and when writing “Night Thoughts” in 1843, he had not seen her for the twelve years mentioned in the second stanza. In Paris in October of 1834, he had met Crescentia Mirat, whom he came to call Mathilde, and they began to live together in 1835. Hädecke comments that Heine's “sensitive mother-dependency” prevented him from developing a sexual relationship with the intellectual women with whom he interacted, such as Princess Cristina von Belgiojoso-Trivulzio or George Sand. Instead he finds Heine writing to his friend Heinrich Laube on 27 September 1835: “I am damned to love only the low and the foolish” (319, my translation). We know that Mathilde knew no German, and there is no evidence that she and her husband shared parts of his literary or intellectual life.

We nevertheless also know of his devotion to her and of his concern for her well-being; in the midst of the controversy with Salomon Strauss in the wake of the Börne polemic, the couple married on 31 August 1841 in Saint-Sulpice. Yet there is ample evidence of tension in the marriage and a certain tone of defensiveness creeps into Heine's letters when he reports on Mathilde. To his sister Charlotte he confesses that they married even though they “had previously quarreled daily for more than six years,” and to his friend August Lewald he used the image of a “matrimonial duel, which will not end till one of us be slain.” Most telling, though, is a letter to Betty of 8 March 1842, hardly half a year after the wedding:

My wife is—God be praised!—quite well. She is a most excellent, honorable, good creature, without deceit or malice. But, unfortunately, her temperament is very impatient, her moods unequal, and she often irritates me more than is good for me. I am still devoted to her with all my soul; she is still the deepest want of my life; but that will all cease some day, as all human feelings cease with time, and I look forward to that time with terror, for then I shall have to endure the burden of the caprices without the alleviating sympathy. At other times I am tormented with realizing the helplessness and want of decision in my wife in case I should die, for she is as inexperienced and senseless as a three-year-old child.

(von Embden 56)

As much as Heine surely loved Mathilde, the relationship was deeply troubled, as the letter to the mother indicates. If, in “Night Thoughts,” the poet has spent the night with his mother rather than his wife, who only enters in the morning, Heine's private circumstances may be the source of the depiction. “After only a few years,” writes Hädecke, “the two seemed to have largely refrained from sexual relations, certainly also a consequence of Heine's progressive ailment—in 1844 he wrote to Charlotte that they had maintained separate bedrooms for years and that there was no prospect of children” (323). The point is not to reduce the poem to the biographical facts, but to invoke the biography in order to illuminate problems in the text. Just as the evidence of Heine's strong attachment to his mother can be cited to relativize the sentimentalist understanding of the figure of the mother in the poem, so too does the nature of his relationship to Mathilde provide a new perspective on the conclusion. Surely his own anxieties regarding the intellectual and social mismatch contribute to the representation, which is, in effect, an introduction of Mathilde to his German family and public, i.e., Heine is insisting on the grace and virtue of his “Weib,” until only recently his mistress, no matter what class prejudices might be operating against her.6 At the same time, the opposition between mother and wife, in particular the manner in which the wife supersedes the memory of the mother in the historical progression of the poem, concedes the actuality of the very tensions which Heine's gesture of introduction is designed to overcome.

In any case, Heine's celebration of his wife is surely not naive or devoid of complex motivations. The twenty-fourth and final text in the “Political Poems” is intended certainly to resonate with the twenty-fourth and last of the “Romanzen” in the same volume of New Poems: “Unterwelt” (“The Lower World”), in which Pluto regrets his marriage to Prosperine and longs for the joys of his bachelor years. As in “Night Thoughts,” a realm of darkness contrasts with a realm of light, but the valorization is reversed: Pluto is only too happy to give Prosperine leave to spend half the year on the surface of the earth with her mother, while he can indulge in the pleasures of forgetfulness far away from the light of day:

Süße ruh! Ich kann verschnaufen
Hier im Orkus unterdessen!
Punsch mit Lethe will ich saufen,
Um die Gattin zu vergessen.(7)

The dovetailing of the two poems is complex: in “Lower World,” the desire to forget the wife contrasts with the obsessive memory of the mother in “Night Thoughts,” and the polarization of light and darkness is inverted. Yet the structure of “Lower World” is ironized further, in so far as it is none other than the god of the underworld who is celebrating Hades, the corollary to Germany in “Night Thoughts.” With this in mind, one might take the romance as a back-handed confirmation of the validation of the world of light, which in turn would draw the positionings of the two poems quite close together as expressions of a programmatic Enlightenment. Yet as convincing as such an account of the New Poems may be, there remains much evidence of Heine's constant attraction to Germany and to the complex of nocturnal tropes as the source of his artistic creativity: “Anno 1839” of the same collection is perhaps the most salient example.

Considerations of Heine's relationships to Betty and Mathilde therefore make a reading of “Night Thoughts” more complex without providing any definitive conclusion. What has conventionally been taken to be a loving portrait of his mother turns out instead, in light of biographical conjectures, to depend on a more problematic network of Romantic images. Meanwhile, the apparently triumphal entry of the wife in the final stanza may relate less to the victory of the Enlightenment and revolution and more to the exigencies of Heine's efforts to legitimate Mathilde to Betty. He would visit his mother in Hamburg in the autumn of 1843, on his first trip back to Germany; he would not introduce Mathilde to Betty personally until the second and last trip in the summer of 1844.

If standard readings of the poem have focused on the nature of the homesickness and the balance between private and political elements, this interpretation has sought to demonstrate some internal tensions within the imagery: Germany and France, mother and wife, realms of darkness and light. To navigate among these polarities entails the recognition that the poem concerns the reciprocal definitions of gender and nationality, which can lead to at least three distinct conclusions. The first involves the manner in which gender roles and sexualities are mobilized as parts of national definitions. For Heine, Germany seems to suffer from a deficient masculinity. According to Lucienne Netter, Heine appreciated a bellicose and conventionally masculine element in the French character, insisting on “the positive aspect of this burning impatience: courage,” while he shared with other Emigrés a sense of disappointment that none of the Germans in Paris had participated in the fighting of July 1830 (66): it would have been an opportunity to demonstrate a heroic manliness, not typically associated with Germany. This may have been a more widely held belief in the nineteenth century: Nietzsche would conclude the 209th aphorism of Beyond Good and Evil with a vignette from the sexual competition between France and Germany: “[…] it was not so long ago that a masculinized woman [Mme. de Stäel—RB] could dare with unbridled presumption to commend the Germans to the sympathy of Europe as being gentle, goodhearted, weakwilled, and poetic dolts. At long last we ought to understand deeply enough Napoleon's surprise when he came to see Goethe: it shows what people had associated with the ‘German spirit’ for centuries. ‘Voilà un homme!’—that meant: ‘But this is a man! And I had merely expected a German” (Nietzsche 323). “Night Thoughts” therefore stages a passage from a Germany of deficient manliness to an implicitly normative sexuality of France. Interestingly Nietzsche's account implies the importance for Germany to overcome the legacy of a transgendered de Stäel, i.e., to overcome its romanticism, a positioning he shares with Heine.

In this context it is important to recall a poem written during Heine's studies in Bonn when the reactionary weight of the Karlsbad Decrees of 1819 put an end to the progressive aspirations shared by many at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It was published in 1822 with the title “Germany. A Fragment” (“Deutschland. Ein Fragment”); in its description of counter-revolutionary Germany, the image of “mothers' boys” (“Muttersöhnchen”) figures prominently, anticipating the similar configuration in “Night Thoughts” of maternal dependency and retrograde politics: genuine freedom, by extension, is a matter for grown men. In the early poem, the agonistic heroism is more sharply contoured, however, as the poet, claiming a vantage point of superiority, looks down on the degraded country: “Schau' ich jetzt von meinem Berge / In das deutsche Land hinab” (Hädecke 109-10).8 By the time of the supposedly more radical New Poems, Heine had developed a more acute awareness of his own imbrication in the structures of backwardness he chose to attack. “Night Thoughts” does describe a passage from filial subordination to phallic masculinism, but it is not a simple or irreversible transition, given the degree to which it concedes the poet's own nocturnal anxieties.

In addition to the sexual history of the poem, a second line of inquiry proceeds from the first verse and its announcement of thinking about Germany in order, however, to draw out of the text a distancing from the particular mode of thought. On one level this involves the implied transition from the obsessive profundity of a melancholy German mind, and its awakening to a Saint-Simonist celebration of life and flesh in France. This is surely a familiar paradigm, contrasting romantic Germany with rational France and bemoaning what would come to be called Germany's Sonderweg, its special path, different from the implicity normal path of France and England. Consequently the paradox of the poem would be the congruence of a foregrounded homesickness, a looking backwards, so to speak, and an historical imperative pointing in a quite different direction: an obligation to leave Germany or, at least, to leave the culture of backwardness it was taken to represent.

The cognitive reconfiguration implied by the poem, however, is not limited to the national transition, nor is it correctly grasped as a displacement of a German thinking by a French alternative. What is at stake rather is a staging of the limitations of an initial logocentricity, the project of merely thinking about Germany, which remains deficient as long as it is not conjoined with the possibility of action. The curse of the poet in “Night Thoughts” is the inadequacy of philosophy and idealism, overcome only at the end by the entry of the wife representing a very different set of principles: sensuality, of course, in her beauty, but also a postidealism to the extent that her mere smile—and not a word or logos—overcomes the convoluted thoughts of the troubled night and breaks the spell of the sorceress/mother: woman as postlogocentricity. Her smile is an emblem of existentialist affirmation of the possibility of action. As a passage to the materialism of the deed, this final “Political Poem” repeats and reasserts the promise of the first in the collection, “Doktrin,” which is organized around the image of waking people from sleep; the poet in “Night Thoughts” has no sleep, but he too is caught in an inadequate consciousness from which he is awakened only at the end.

The first hypothesis regarding the poem posited a context of a presumed masculinity-deficit in Germany, corrected by the passage of the poem; the second repeats the argument with regard to the contrast between idealist thinking and materialist practice. Both approaches certainly highlight aspects of the text, but one should not lose sight of the fact that both are also themselves thematic components of the poem and therefore not strictly valid as explanations. In other words, the binary opposition performed by the juxtaposition of mother and wife within the poem should be taken more as a device rather than the meaning, a device to underscore the deficiencies in particular thought patterns and not as a programmatic assertion of French reason or Saint-Simonist materialism.

“Night Thoughts” shows how the poet, worrying about his mother, proceeds to worry about all his loved ones in Germany and, from there, quickly forges ahead to a compulsive counting of cadavers, a sort of unproductive worry that keeps him awake until his wife arrives to put an end to his melancholy. This debilitating mentality is the concern of the poem, rather than the German reality which underlies the insomniac's concerns: the topic of the poem is not Germany but thinking about Germany, “Denk ich an Deutschland,” and “deutsche Sorgen” or, in other words, Cultural Studies. The text in fact demonstrates how the poet's thinking of a proleptically generalized Germany, the “Deutschland” of the first verse, sets him on an erroneous path that necessarily magnifies anxiety and distorts his affection for his mother: his legitimate concern for her well-being disappears behind images of mass death: “Mir ist als wälzten sich die Leichen / auf meiner Brust […].”9 An affect of longing slips into anticipatory mourning that then explodes into a full blown melancholic disorder. Put differently, the problem of the poem is not Germany but a particular mode of thinking about Germany. There is some evidence that Heine codes this mode as feminine: it includes the mother's writing described in the poem, and it may also involve Heine's underlying resistance to de Stäel, as Diana Justis has argued (9). Yet there are plenty of German Romantics in Die romantische Schule, who could serve as examples of Heine's male targets.

More importantly the neurotic exaggerations that devolve from the imagery of Germany are themselves dismantled by the text through its representation of a complex arrangement of gender and sexuality. The representation of gender, therefore, functions as a corrective to the negative nationalism of the poetic verse, i.e., a Romantic rhetoric that stages Germany as a site of infinite threat, a threat which he text exposes and critiques. Gender operates in a complex way on two different levels: the misogynist desire to overcome Germany's deficient masculinity and thereby escape the political reaction is undermined by the poem's depiction of gender complexity in the tension between wife and mother. In other words, if Germany backwardness appeared to entail a threat of effeminization, Heine demonstrates that progressive France, the political alternative, is equally a site of female agency. In turn, the Romantic characterization of lugubrious Germany loses its legitimacy; by implication, the poem posits a German Studies that, rather than repeating “Märchen aus alten Zeiten” [old fairy tales], might study Germany instead of its traditional representations, no matter how seductive these noctural thoughts and horror stories might still be to the willing executors of the romantic legacy.

In “Night Thoughts” and in general in the New Poems, Heine was returning to poetry for the first time since his first volume, the Book of Songs of 1822. Most of his work in the intervening years had been in prose, particularly his travelogues and his reports from Paris; this generic choice was quite consonant with prevailing aesthetics, which claimed that contemporary society could best be captured in prose, while poetry was treated as nearly obsolete. Reclaiming poetry, Heine raises an issue at the core of Cultural Studies, the relative values of the accumulation of material in the prose text and the alternative possibility of concentrated expression and formal innovation in verse. “Night Thoughts” parodies obsessive concern with preservation, a sentimentalism toward the past, and a self-deceptive exaggeration of suffering and threat, and it attempts to clear the way for an alternative approach to Germany, one that could focus on the possibility of human action and innovation, rather than on the ineluctable and structural. It demonstrates the trap of a premature generalization of Germany, therefore eliciting a distance from the totalizing aesthetic of the novel as form. Finally, it directs us away from mere documentations of conditions or discourses presumed to shape lives and allegedly construct identities, while demonstrating instead the capacity of human action, even as subtle as a smile, to announce the possibility of freedom, which ought to be the topic of studies of culture.

The morning and the night, the wife and the mother, are poised in the fragile crystal of the poem, freezing, for a moment, antipodal possibilities: writing and vision, age and youth, myth and enlightenment. Mathilde's triumphalism hardly erases Betty, preserved in the anamnesis which, of course, predominates in the reception history attuned to a remembering of the past more than to the accomodations of exile, which memory may condemn as treasonous betrayals. Yet this poetic territory of lamentation conjoined to redemption is nothing other than the landscape of German poetry, at least between Luther's mighty fortress, embattled but preserved, to Celan's “Death Fugue,” entwining Faustian crime with the Song of Songs. To speak of these voices—Gundolf's phrase “Schicksalsprache eines Volkes” [the language of destiny of a people] comes to mind—implies several cultural claims, including of course the possibility of culture, poetic culture, and its urgency for history, and, with regard to Germany, the constitutive status of Jewish traditions (Gundolf 31). For this is not only an intriguing subtext in “Night Thoughts,” it also takes issue with claims of ultimate incompatibility, e.g., in Gershom Scholem's dismissal of the “German-Jewish symbiosis” or, more recently, the thesis that an eliminationist antisemitism is the defining feature of modern German culture, or that German identity necessarily and with an internal logic led to the Holocaust. Daniel Goldhagen's thesis is relevant to Cultural Studies (and not only to historians, narrowly defined) because his fundamental cultural contentions are based on the same ethnographic turn underlying much of the Cultural Studies movement: witness his repeated reference to the perspective of an “anthropologist,” his interest in antisemitism as a “cultural axiom,” descriptions of the “common sense” of a culture, and ultimately the focus on the “ordinary,” as in “ordinary Germans.” (Goldhagen 1, 9, 14, 15, 419, 460). If it is not exactly the standard Cultural-Studies vocabulary, it rings quite familiar after Geertz, Foucault, popular culture. What sets it apart from Cultural Studies as currently practiced is of course the remarkable gender-blindness of the treatment, as if Germans were “ordinarily” mainly men.

Antisemitism was not some litmus test of authentic Germanhood, not in historically distant periods, not in the nineteenth century, and not in 1933: not even, for that matter, in 1943, as evidenced by Victor Klemperer's reports from wartime Dresden (Klemperer II: 387). Such a pejorative evaluation of Germans may be part of the “common sense” of our culture, but that is another matter that leads to questions regarding the function of American German Studies. For Cultural Studies, the question is whether “common sense” is an adequate object of investigation. Heidegger's Gerede, Adorno's Verdinglichung, Arendt's “banality”: are these the domain of culture or are they not, like the “ordinary,” the very problem to which culture is the answer. Consider the thought experiment: is the goal of education, especially but not exclusively literary education, “ordinariness”? Do we teach our students to be “ordinary”? Is the point of the project some fundamental compliance in an administrative logic of conformism? Surely not, surely it involves aspirations of exceptionality (alterity, if you prefer), and this is the home territory of the poem. How to think about Germany? Cultural Studies stands at a cross roads between aesthetic and ethnographic models of meaning. The choice of direction remains open. We have a choice. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that the choice is inconsequential, for our institutions, for education, or for our culture, both national and personal.


  1. “Thinking of Germany in the night, / I lie awake and sleep takes flight” (Draper 407).

  2. “Thank God! my window's shining bright / With France's cheerful morning light; / My wife comes in, fair as the morrow, / And smiles away this German sorrow.” (Draper 408)

  3. “The dear old woman has cast a spell” (Draper 407).

  4. “Will not depart from my mind.” (Draper 76). The original version of the verse from “Night Thoughts” reads “Sie kommt mir nicht mehr aus dem Sinn” (Heine:1983, 770), which differs from the “Lorelei” verse only in the pronoun and the inclusion of the temporal adverb.

  5. “But there you came to welcome me again, / And oh! within your eyes I saw it then— / There was the sweet, the long-sought love at last” (Draper 46).

  6. “It may be observed that Heine—often very naively—did his best to praise his wife, or, to express it plainly, endeavored to vindicate his marriage to his mistress; but, making every allowance, he was evidently most sincerely devoted to her, and it is in this, as in many things, he shows the extraordinary attachment to domestic life and family ties, which is characteristic of the Hebrew race” (von Embden 84).

  7. “Ah, sweet peace! Go take your daughter— / I'll enjoy an easylife, / Mixing punch with Lethe water / To forget I have a wife” (Draper 384).

  8. “Look now from my mountain station / Down on Germany's sad waves” (Draper 300).

  9. “As if the dead host pressed unknowing / upon my breast […]” (Draper 408).


Adorno, Theodor W. Noten zur Literatur I. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1958.

Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Viking, 1963.

Berman, Russell A. Cultural Studies of Modern Germany: History, Representation, and Nationhood. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1993.

Brod, Max. Heinrich Heine. Leipzig and Vienna: E. P. Tal, 1934.

De Stael-Holstein, Anne Louise Germaine (Necker) Baronne de. De l'Allemagne. Paris: Hachette, 1967.

Embden, Ludwig von. The Family Life of Heinrich Heine. London: William Heinemann, 1893.

Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Gundolf, Friedrich. Hutten, Klopstock, Arndt: Drei Reden. Heidelberg: Weiss'sche Universitätsbuchhandlung, 1924.

Hädecke, Wolfgang. Heinrich Heine: Eine Biographie. Munich: Carl Hanser, 1985.

Heidegger, Martin. Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1986.

Heine, Heinrich. Neue Gedichte. Ed. Elisabeth Gernot. Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe der Werke. Vol. 2. Ed. Manfred Windfuhr. Hamburg: Hoffmann and Campe, 1983.

———. The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine: A Modern English Version. Trans. Hal Draper. Boston: Suhrkamp/Insel, 1982.

Hermand, Jost. “Der ‘deutsche’ Jude H. Heine.” Dichter und ihre Nation. Ed. Helmut Scheuer. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1993. 257-72.

Justis, Diana Lynn. “The Feminine in Heine's Life and Oeuvre: Self and Other.” Dissertation Cornell, 1993.

Klemperer, Victor. Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten: Tagebücher. Berlin: Aufbau, 1945.

Müller, Joachim. Wirklichkeit und Klassik. Berlin: Verlag der Nation, 1955.

Netter, Lucienne. “Heine et les Français: Histoire d'une Amitié.” Recherches Germaniques 15 (1985): 63-86.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Ed. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Modern Library, 1992.

Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg). Hymnen an die Nacht. English and German. Trans. Dick Higgins. New Paltz, NY: McPherson, 1984.

Psaar, Werner. “Zur Deutung Heinescher Gedichte in Deutschunterricht: Probleme und Versuche.” Heine Jahrbuch 6 (1967): 81-123.

Scholem, Gershom. On Jews and Judaism in Crisis: Selected Essays. New York: Schocken, 1976.

Tucker, Robert C., ed. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: W. W. Norton, 1978.

Weinrich, Harald. “Heinrich Heines deutsch-französische Parallelen.” Heine Jahrbuch 29 (1990): 111-28.

Robert C. Holub (essay date fall 1999)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4727

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 announces that he wrote the Confessions as a kind of appendix or emendation to his major essays on German literature and philosophy, but after employing a confessional style for a few paragraphs, he soon turns to an extended and satirical reflection on Madame de Staël, whose De l'Allemagne Heine had opposed two decades before with his own version of German cultural and intellectual life. Indeed, although Confessions was published as part of the first volume of Vermischte Schriften, which contained a collection of poems, an essay on mythology, and an extended obituary to Ludwig Marcus, Heine and his publisher failed to dissociate it from the orbit of De l'Allemagne and even neglected to omit a passage in which Heine refers specifically to his intention to describe the origins of his writings during the thirties, as well as “the philosophical and religious variations that have occurred in the mind of the author since its composition” (6/I: 15).1 After settling scores with de Staël again—he had already taken her to task for her distortions of romanticism and German intellectual life in the first edition of De l'Allemagne—Heine turns to a mixture of autobiography (in which he divulges details of his life in his customarily unsystematic fashion) and attacks against various ideologies and philosophies he now finds repugnant. The text then breaks off abruptly after Heine relates an anecdote from a medieval chronicle whose moral is the vanity of all earthly fame, a story that the author, in his current state of physical debilitation, willingly and humbly applies to himself.

Although Confessions is a strange performance, it is also true to its title in many regards. Heine himself mentions two models for his text: the Confessiones of Augustine and the work by the same title (Confessions) written nearly 1300 years later by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Actually Heine criticizes these two earlier versions of confessional literature as unsuccessful attempts to be truthful about oneself, but despite his recognition of the shortcomings inherent in this genre Heine's own text nonetheless follows the path established by his illustrious predecessors. Like Rousseau, Heine uses his text to present autobiographical justifications for his actions, although he consistently portrays himself as deceived and at fault, whereas Rousseau apologetically defends himself against the persecution of an allegedly unjust world. For this reason perhaps Heine borrows liberally from the criticism that Rousseau's writings experienced in the nineteenth century, judging his claims with extreme severity and accusing him of covering up more severe transgressions with petty disclosures. He concludes by maintaining that Rousseau's self-portrait is “a lie, admirably accomplished, but still a brilliant lie” (6/I: 448). Augustine's Confessiones is obviously more to Heine's liking, and indeed this text from A.D. 400 evidences more affinities with Heine's intentions in the 1850s. In Augustine Heine could identify with the combination of psychological exploration, autobiographical detail, and most important, religious conversion. For Heine's text is centrally about his change of conviction, and it is a change that proceeds in a direction similar to that of his Christian model. Heine had identified himself as a pagan of sorts during the 1830s: he had embraced a pantheistic doctrine, influenced by Saint Simonism and associated with the word Hellenism, which he distinguished from the Jewish and Christian tradition, both of which were part of an allegedly Nazarine tendency in Western culture. Now, in the 1850s, he describes his return to a deistic position, affirming his faith in a monotheistically conceived divinity and rejecting the quasi-atheistic leanings of his earlier years. Unlike Augustine, Heine does not relate any conversion experience; his text is not a dramatic rendition of why he became a believer, or perhaps a believer again. Rather, it is a post-conversion work whose main purpose is to attack the falseness of his earlier opinions. The Confessions Heine writes is a mixed genre, to be sure, but its main objectives are a self-critical reflection on his former beliefs and a validation of his conversion from the perfidious doctrines of his youth.

It is in this context of the confessional mode that Heine broaches a topic he had not discussed openly in any of his previous works—his conversion from Judaism to Protestantism. It occurred, as we know, in June of 1825, shortly before Heine completed his doctoral degree in jurisprudence at the University of Göttingen, and although Heine later characterized it in a famous bon mot as his “entrance ticket to European culture” (6/I: 622), we suspect with good reason that it had a great emotional impact on him. Conversion, of course, was not unusual for German Jews in the early years of the restoration, and we often hear the undoubtedly correct observation that many assimilated Jews, having already become integrated into German society, converted to Protestantism in order to facilitate professional life.2 The Napoleonic Code, which had brought some degree of emancipation to the Jews of Germany, especially in those areas under the direct jurisdiction of the French, had been negated by restoration authorities, and Jews who had ambitions to enter the German civil service, which encompassed, of course, a large number of professional positions from university professors to doctors at hospitals, found themselves faced with a choice of professional proscription or conversion. Thus, many of Germany's intellectually enlightened Jews—I cite the names of Eduard Gans, Ludwig Börne, and Heinrich Marx (the father of Karl Marx) by way of example—opted for a formal conversion to a belief to which they adhered in name only. Although there were some cases in which the converted Jew genuinely embraced his new religion, Heine's conversion of the 1820s, in contrast to his conversion of his later years, was certainly of the insincere variety: We have no record of his attending church and no evidence whatsoever that he believed in a Christian God. In Confessions he writes that he embraced Protestantism because it did not embarrass him (6/I: 482), which is hardly an enthusiastic endorsement of the evangelical faith. If he subscribed to anything in Protestantism, it was, as he suggests, the protest that he later associated with Luther's defiance of the Catholic hierarchy. Heine informs us that he remains “now as always, a protesting Protestant,” who now protests against the damage done to his good name by the false rumors and accusations concerning his religious convictions (6/I: 491).

Heine had been extremely reticent about his conversion before the 1850s. In his correspondence from the 1820s we note that Heine is hesitant to report his baptism openly, even to his closest friends. A little over a month after he had become a Protestant, he writes to his sister Charlotte Embden, telling her to communicate to her husband that he “has become not only Dr. Jura, but also,” leaving what he has “also” become intentionally unnamed. He continues by stating that “it rained yesterday, just as it had rained six weeks ago.”3 Heine had mentioned his impending conversion to Moritz Embden prior to the event,4 and in this letter he is obviously letting his sister know that it has occurred—the mention of rain is an indirect reference to the baptismal water. But in letters to his best friend Moses Moser, written directly after the baptism, Heine says absolutely nothing about his abandonment of Judaism. Three months after his conversion, at the beginning of October, he drops a hint that he has become a Protestant. In the same letter he speaks about Eduard Gans's conversion.5 Gans had been the leader of the Association for Culture and Scholarship of the Jews, an organization to which Heine and Moser had also belonged, and which was now on the verge of extinction because of Gans's conversion and the subsequent lack of leadership. But Heine did not speak directly of his own baptism until almost six months after it had occurred. On 14 December 1825 he wrote to Moser that he wouldn't have had himself baptized if the theft of silver spoons had been allowed.6 A month later he expressed his regrets that he converted, since he was now accepted by neither Christians nor Jews and had suffered only misfortune since then.7 But Heine was generally silent about conversion in his letters after January of 1826, preferring to include his reflections on the topic in a somewhat distorted, and often humorous or satirical form in his literary works.

The way in which conversion appears in these texts is anything but a simple reflection of the actual event or its genuine place in Heine's psychic economy. Instead, Jewish apostasy is depicted in a series of distortions, displacements, and refractions. An especially important technique Heine employs is projection; self-accusations and thoughts that may have occurred to him about conversion are projected onto others. This form of projection is complicated by the fact that Heine does not simply take his own thoughts and feelings and impute them to other people or to the quasi-fictional characters in his works. Rather projection functions, I believe, in ways of which Heine himself may not have been totally aware. The most famous example of this technique is probably Heine's poem “To an Apostate,” which scholars presume was written about Eduard Gans, the leader of the previously mentioned Association for the Culture and Scholarship of the Jews. Heine's poem castigates his unnamed apostate for betraying his own youthful ardor, selling out to social pressures, and hypocritically embracing a faith that he had recently despised. It closes with a strophe that blames erudition, or at least the exposure to conservative thought for the renegade's actions:


O des heilgen Jugendmutes!
O, wie schnell bist du gebändigt
Und du hast dich, kühlern Blutes
Mit den lieben Herrn verständigt.
Und du bist zu Kreuz gekrochen,
Zu dem Kreuz, das du verachtest,
Das du noch vor wenig Wochen
In den Staub zu treten dachtest!
O, das tut das viele Lesen
Jener Schlegel, Haller, Burke—
Gestern noch ein Held gewesen,
Ist man heute schon ein Schurke.

(1: 266)

[Oh, the holy spark of youth—
Oh, how fast it's by the board!
In cold blood you have, in truth,
Made a deal with the good Lord.
To the cross you crawled your way
That you scorned with scorn profound,
Cross that, just the other day,
You would trample to the ground.
You read Schlegel, Haller, Burke,
Whom reaction keeps in vogue—
Once you did a hero's work,
Now you're nothing but a rogue.](8)

Unusual about the list of persons is that Heine otherwise does not associate them with Gans. Obviously Friedrich Schlegel and Karl Ludwig von Haller may have been included because of their own conversions; both men left the Protestant faith for Catholicism; Schlegel in 1808, Haller—with much fanfare—in 1820. Edmund Burke is oddly out of place in this group, having undergone no religious conversion; he belongs with Schlegel and Haller only as a fellow conservative thinker, a feature that Gans does not share. In any case, the grouping is odd because of their dissimilarity with Gans on political issues. But more germane for our concerns is the obvious and frequently remarked displacement of self-accusation and self-betrayal onto a third party. Gans had done the same thing in October of 1825 that Heine had done several months earlier: he had abandoned the religious tradition of his youth, and, like Heine, we presume he had done so without any real religious conviction and for precisely the same practical reasons that are usually attributed to Heine.9

If we examine closely Heine's literary works from the years immediately following his conversion, we notice several instances of his uneasy conscience with regard to his own baptism. The most obvious of these examples comes from the Baths of Lucca, where the main character, the former banker Christian Gumpelino, has abandoned not only his Hamburg name, Lazarus Gumpel, and his class—he has been ennobled with the title Marquis—but also his religion. The irony here, of course, is that Heine, not Gumpel, was a religious apostate who left Hamburg to travel in Italy. Here conversion is ridiculed and viewed as an artificial contrivance of the nouveaux riches trying to abandon their roots and assimilate, in this case into a Roman Catholic society. But conversion in this period also injected itself into Heine's writings in more surreptitious ways. In chapter 15 of Ideas. Book le Grand, written at about the time that Heine became a Protestant, the narrator relates a different and humorous sort of conversion, from the party of the fools to the party of the reasonable ones. The text is obviously not an allegory in which Jews and Christians line up precisely with fools and reasonable ones; Heine's displacement in this case, and in most cases, does not operate with one-to-one correspondences. Rather this passage repeats themes and sentiments that are bound up in Heine's religious conversion and refracts them in various ways. At the outset the reasonable ones are said to have been at war with the fools for 5588 years, a clear reference to the date according to Jewish calculations. At another point, Heine relates the hatred of the fools for him:

I, poor thing, am especially hated by them [the fools]; they assert that I originally was one of them, that I am an apostate, a deserter who has broken the holiest ties, that I am now even a spy who secretly reveals what they, the fools, have garnered together for the purpose of exposing them to the laughter of my new associates, and that I am so stupid that I do not recognize that the latter are all the while laughing at me and will never regard me as one of their own. And about this the fools are perfectly right.

(2: 298)

Here Heine repeats the reproaches or imagined reproaches that a converted Jew would have suffered from his old coreligionists, as well as the suspicions that Heine himself harbored about many of his new coreligionists. The resentment toward a traitor, which Heine himself expressed in his poem about Gans, the inability to become a Christian despite one's profession of a change in faith, the furtive ridicule a convert experiences from those who do not truly accept him—all of these motifs, which are sentiments expressed privately in Heine's correspondence, are contained in the passage from Ideas in distorted and displaced form. At this point in his life Heine was unable to speak about his conversion openly; indeed, as we have seen, he refers to it infrequently even in his correspondence with his most intimate friends. But in a displaced fashion his status as an apostate finds its way nonetheless into his published writings with a frequency that suggests it was a major force in his psychic economy.10

After a period in which Heine shows little evidence of anxiety over his conversion or religious status, we find him again concerned with such matters around 1840, possibly as a reaction to the Damascus affair. In the Börne Memorial, for example, conversion is a topic discussed by the two Jewish men. In the heavily fictionalized meeting between Heine and Börne in book one, Heine places the following sentiments into Börne's mouth:

Baptism is now the order of the day for rich Jews, and the gospels that have been preached in vain to the poor of Judea are now in floribus with the rich. But since embracing it is only self-delusion, if not an outright lie, and hypocritical Christianity sometimes contrasts very sharply with old Adam, these people expose themselves in a dubious fashion to jokes and ridicule. Or do you think that inner nature can be changed entirely through baptism? Do you think that you can transform lice into fleas if you pour water on them?

(4: 31)

This passage, written long after both Börne and Heine had chosen to change their putatively “parasitic” nature by leaving the religion of their birth, is projected backward into a time when both were themselves recent converts. It is quite possible, of course, that Börne may have uttered something like this to Heine at some point. But one must suspect, again, that Heine is projecting his own feelings onto the person purportedly accompanying him through the Frankfurt ghetto. As we have already witnessed, a half-year after his conversion Heine recognized that baptism was a futile concession to the Christian world. The difference between his private comments in 1826 and Heine/Börne's public remarks in the Börne Memorial is considerable, however. In the 1820s Heine is bitter; his conversion has not brought him the opportunities that he desired. He has abandoned his heritage without apparent gain. In 1840 he is less concerned with his own status as an apostate; secure in his adherence to no positive religion, he appears neither to regret his baptism nor to accept its religious consequences. As he makes clear in the Memorial, he belongs to the Hellenes, not to any species of Nazarene.

That Heine had difficulties in the psychological processing of his conversion is further evidenced by a conversation reported by Alexandre Weill. Responding to the question of why he converted, Heine evidently answered in a rather strange manner. He spoke of his return from visits to Italy and England, and that he felt no strong sentiments for his religious heritage. He then brings up his appointment to edit a German journal and states that as a Jew he could not possibly assume that position. He then cites Börne as a similar example since Börne likewise could not have edited Die Wage without having himself baptized.11 The reason Heine gives for his conversion is thus one of employment, but the time line that he has established is well off the mark. Heine's sojourn in London occurred from April until June of 1827; his short-lived editorship of the Neue Allgemeine Politische Annalen, the only journal to which he could have possibly referred in his conversation with Weill, began in January of 1828 (and lasted less than a year); he traveled to Italy only in August of the same year. If Weill's report is at all accurate, then Heine's recollection is faulty, as it so often was in connection with this important and traumatic event. His conversion in June of 1825 happened before his European trips and well before he could have conceived of becoming the editor of a political journal.

Because of the obvious uneasiness with his conversion in his literary works and private communications, the inclusion of a discussion of the momentous event from 1825 in the Confessions is significant, besides being unique. But although Heine writes here about his conversion for the first time in a published work, the nature of his comments evidences the same type of psychic distortions and displacements that we witnessed in earlier passages. Answering questions putatively posed about his current religious beliefs, Heine asserts in his Confessions that with regard to Lutheranism, his status remains unchanged. He characterizes his own conversion as one undertaken in a lukewarm, official fashion and maintains, “[I]f I remain a member of the evangelical faith at all, it is because it does not embarrass me now in the least, just as it never embarrassed me very much earlier” (6/I: 482). He continues by claiming that during his stay in Berlin he would have declared himself independent of any organized religion, as some of his friends had done, if the absence of an identifiable confession had not been a reason for denying residence in Prussia and its capital. This explanation is odd. His conversion, as we know, however much it may have been inspired by his experiences in Berlin, did not occur while he was in the Prussian capital, but during his second stay in Göttingen, shortly before the completion of his law degree. And certainly we have no evidence that any of his acquaintances abandoned religion entirely and officially, which, according to Jacob Toury, was a practical impossibility before 1848.12 He continues in the Confessions to write about his conversion by posing, and then circumventing, the question of whether he has become a believing Protestant. He claims that in former years he appreciated Protestantism because of its association with freedom of thought and German philosophy, which begins with the Reformation. Now, however, he reveres Protestantism for rediscovering and disseminating the Bible (6/I: 483). But after praising the Reformation for fostering the learning of Hebrew and translating the Old Testament from its original language into a modern idiom, he turns to an extended discussion of the Jews as prototypical democrats, and eventually builds his tribute to a climax in a veritable laudatio to Moses as a socialist revolutionary (6/I: 488). In other words, he addresses the question of his Protestantism by writing about Judaism.13

What is going on in this unusual passage? Why do we again have mysterious remarks concerning Heine's conversion? Why does Heine appear to be avoiding the issue once again? My hunch is that Heine's discussion of religion and religious conversion in the Confessions has something to do with a displacement involving his more recent and less official conversion. The fact that Heine so easily slips from his conversion in 1825 to his later change of beliefs indicates that they were closely associated in his mind. But what is unusual about his later conversion is the way that it is repeatedly characterized in his writings both public and private. More than anything else Heine depicts his religious transformation in the “mattress grave” as a rejection of Hegel and a renewal of former beliefs. The insistence on a renewal has led some commentators to believe that Heine embraced something akin to Judaism, although Heine insists that his God is a personal one. By “renewal” it seems obvious that Heine simply means that he again harbors a conviction that God, as Supreme Being, exists. The rejection of Hegel, however, is more difficult to explain. It is true of course that Heine writes about Hegel in his earlier works with considerable respect and admiration, as well as occasionally with some humor. We know that Friedrich Engels later considered Heine's Religion and Philosophy in Germany to be the first work of a left Hegelian. And Heine tells us after the fact that he himself composed a lengthy manuscript on Hegel that he consigned to the fire after he rejected Hegelian philosophy (6/I: 477). But there is no strong indication of an avid adherence to Hegel, or even a deep understanding of Hegel, at any place in Heine's writings from the 1820s to the 1840s. Hegel is conspicuous for his marginality in Religion and Philosophy in Germany where he is called “the greatest philosopher that Germany has produced since Leibniz” (3: 633) but also cited for his support of the Prussian state and the Protestant church. And the famous line in the poem “Doctrine,” which equates drumming people out of an inactive lethargy and kissing young salesgirls with Hegelian philosophy (4: 412), is more easily conceived as a vast and ironic oversimplification than as a validation of one of the most eminent minds of the nineteenth century.

The association of Hegel with Heine's late renewal of faith makes sense—at least psychic sense—if we view it in terms of displacement. We know, for example, that the real Hegelian convert among the members of the Verein was Eduard Gans, and certainly his embracing of Protestantism can be conceived more easily as a rejection of Judaism for Hegelianism than Heine's. That Hegel is not on the list of authors that the apostate read in Heine's poem covers up the one genuine ideological influence Heine could have associated with his friend, and perhaps the one intellectual influence that really mattered in his conversion. But there is another Hegelian convert that could have affected Heine's anti-Hegelian crusade and his depiction of conversion in the Confessions. I am thinking of Karl Marx, another former Jew whose Hegelianism led him precisely to the type of atheism that Heine, in his later writings, decries so vociferously. It was the left-Hegelian socialists and communists, after all, who relinquished all religious belief, and who were banned from Germany because of their political and religious views. In his late reflection on his conversion in 1825, where he recalls friends who abandoned all religion and were banned from Prussia, Heine may have been projecting forward into the 1840s. And in citing the heritage of Judaism in such a pronounced fashion, when he should have been discussing Lutheranism, Heine may have been identifying with the religious roots he shared with the more apparent Hegelian converts Eduard Gans and Karl Marx.

This explanation for the discrepancies in Heine's text is of course highly speculative; there is no way to offer a secure proof since we are dealing with Heine's psychic economy, which was not precise or consistent. I could mount more evidence for the associations I have found, but no textual evidence would be definitive. Indeed, my more general contention is that the autobiographical oddities in Heine's works, especially the strange claims and bizarre statements he sometimes makes, even in his confessional mode, can often be accounted for by the ways in which particularly sensitive issues in his personal life played themselves out in his writings. Conversion was obviously one issue that Heine had trouble confronting or processing mentally. The transition from a German poet of Jewish origins to a converted Lutheran poet with oppositional and pantheistic convictions was a difficult one. In the 1820s we therefore find Heine avoiding the topic of his own conversion, while simultaneously heaping ridicule or scorn on others who had done exactly what he did not want to proclaim in public. Only in his deathbed writings, when another conversion had taken place, is he able to speak about his 1825 conversion a bit more openly. But even then he apparently confuses his own conversion with that of others, confounding his beliefs with theirs, displacing his own views with those that were not quite his own. The confusion and displacement of Heine's autobiographical writings make them of dubious value for facts and actual occurrences, but make them invaluable if we hope to understand the complex workings of Heine's mind.


  1. Parenthetical citations are from Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Schriften, ed. Klaus Briegleb, 6 vols. (München: Hanser, 1968-6).

  2. Jacob Katz, in Jewish Emancipation and Self-Emancipation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1986), notes that there were three main reasons for conversion: religious conviction, material gain, and ideological belief (37-38). Guido Kisch in Judentaufen (Berlin: Colloquium Verlag, 1973) tends to agree with this evaluation and points out that few converts embraced Christianity out of religious conviction.

  3. Heine, Heinrich, Werke, Briefwechsel, Lebenszeugnisse. Säkularausgabe. (Berlin and Paris: Akademie Verlag and Editions du CNRS, 1970) 20: 208. Cited as HSA.

  4. In a letter from 11 May 1825; HSA 20: 196.

  5. The letter is dated 8 October 1825; HSA 20: 215-16.

  6. HSA 20: 227.

  7. Letter from 9 January 1826; HSA 20: 234.

  8. The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine: A Modern English Version, trans. Hal Draper (Boston: Suhrkamp/Insel, 1982), 286.

  9. In a letter to Moser from 14 December 1825, Heine indicates the similarity between his conversion and Gans's when he refers to the stealing of silver spoons (HSA 20: 227). Two factors that Heine may have believed distinguished his conversion from Gans' are mentioned by Heine occasionally. Heine claims that Gans actively sought to persuade other Jews to convert, and Gans had more responsibility to remain Jewish because of his leadership role in the Verein.

  10. For a discussion of other works relating to his conversion, as well as of the baptism itself, see Ludwig Rosenthal, Heinrich Heine als Jude (Frankfurt/Main: Ullstein, 1973), 218-253.

  11. Cited from Rosenthal, 234.

  12. Jacob Toury, Soziale und politische Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland 1847-1871 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1977). “Praktisch bestand bis 1848 in keinem deutschen Lande die Möglichkeit, aus der jüdischen Gemeinde auszuscheiden, ohne gleichzeitig einer anderen konfessionellen Gemeinschaft beizutreten” (61).

  13. The most extensive treatment of Heine's Judaism, S. S. Prawer's Heine's Jewish Comedy: A Study of his Portraits of Jews and Judaism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), does not focus on the strange way in which Heine's conversion was thematized in the Confessions.

Hinrich C. Seeba (essay date 1999)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7893

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 große Weltriß”) runs through the middle of his heart (2: 405). Claiming to be the center of the world and therefore more torn apart than anybody, Heine paradoxically restored the post-romantic craze of subjectivity, being torn (“Zerrissenheit”), to the more objective realm of contradiction (“Widerspruch”), which to him means both the logical contradiction and the oppositional, if not dialectical, discourse. What I will present on the following pages is meant as a response to a claim made by Gerhard Wolf in his collection of Heine texts, Heine in Berlin (1980), that all documents of the time Heine spent in Berlin from 1821 to 1823 point mainly to his state of being torn apart both inside and outside,1 as if his writing on Berlin were nothing but an early expression of his own personal contradictions. I will try to show instead how already in Berlin Heine, using the contradictions of urban experience, began to construct an oppositional discourse by shifting the burden of contested identities from his psyche to the city. Implicitly, my talk will be as much about the identity of Berlin as a city in transition as about Heine's identity as an aspiring political writer who as early as 1822 encodes his emerging agenda in the crafty construction of a poetic argument. In the attempt to reconstruct the rhetorical buildup I will start where, I believe, Heine eventually takes his urban discourse: the promise of culinary pleasure.

The Cheeseboard, a social-minded cooperative in Berkeley's so-called gourmet ghetto, has a staggered price list for senior citizens, with a blackboard telling the rare customers over 100 years of age: “What you see is what you get,” indicating that they will get for free anything they want. It wouldn't be Berkeley if even this innocent promise did not carry some intellectually and socially redeeming message. In a socialist utopia seeing is validated as an act of taking possession without having to pay for it—and not just for the centenarians. Against the background of mythological and metaphorical references to the possessive gaze, from the Medusa's petrifying eyes to the magic phrase of a devouring glance, obsessive fixation may either turn into a feeding frenzy or mellow to what Nicholas Green has called, with regard to urban perception, the “consuming gaze.”2 A cheerfully attentive outlook that takes in the sights of the city to live on and to get strength from the urban energy, the consuming gaze is contrasted with the pessimist's “environmentalist eye,” which sees nothing but the pollution of the city and the ensuing potential for disease, both physical and moral. It is between heavenly Jerusalem and Armageddon, no less, that the mythical battle for the redemptive interaction of “seeing” and “having” takes shape in the city, as if the utopian dream, in which the rules of capitalism are suspended, consisted of seeing, devouring, swallowing up the commodities of urban life without having to pay the price for it.

The gaze without the intent—or the means—to buy is, of course, another, more mundane kind of disinterested pleasure, which Kant had put at the center of his aesthetics. It is, in fact, the etymological quintessence of aesthetics, as the Greek verb aisthanomai means the process of seeing, perception, and contemplation without partaking in the action observed. As the mode of the vita contemplativa the gaze has always been seen in opposition to the vita activa and thus been defined as detached. Such binary oppositions, however, are much too simple to account for the critical involvement of the viewer, however inactive he or she may appear. The consuming urban gaze, as I will try to demonstrate with regard to Heine, is not without its interest in changing the underlying social structure of what the flâneur perceives as merely visual dynamics.

The flâneur has come to represent the crisis of modernity in an urban attitude that seems only to record, rather than control, the explosion of sensual stimuli tearing at the city dweller's identity. Casually watching and contemplating significant details, the flâneur often flaunts his or her individuality by aimlessly strolling through the city, by enjoying the sights and sounds of the hustle of an emerging metropolis, be it Paris in the past or Berlin, possibly, in the future. As Paris and Berlin are the two places most often mentioned in discussions of the urban gaze, writers such as Walter Benjamin who lived in both cities to observe the accelerating changes in the cityscape have become celebrated witnesses—and critics—of the metonymic construction of urban space. Ever since the Italian architect Aldo Rossi published The Architecture of the City in 1966,3 the interest, both historical and current, in urban renewal has surged. While Paris in the age of the self-proclaimed “artiste démolisseur” Georges-Eugène Haussmann, at least in Benjamin's perceptive view, was the undisputed “capital of the nineteenth century,”4 Berlin in a grandiose scheme of construction and reconstruction is now preparing to become the capital of the twenty-first century. At least, city planners, not known for their modesty, hope for this outcome. Not unlike Paris after 1859, Berlin after 1989 has been a city in transition, desperately trying to reinvent itself, literally to build a new identity and marking time by advertising the largest “construction site” (Baustelle) of the world as “viewing site” (Schaustelle Berlin), with tour buses taking visitors from one unruly construction site to another. A major tourist attraction, Berlin's reconstruction zone has become a sideshow as if it were arranged by a “showman” (Schausteller) in a country fair. The unintended pun confirms the circus-like display of showing and viewing itself in this unparalleled urban spectacle. The desperate call of Berlin's Lord Mayor, Ernst Reuter, during the Berlin Blockade of 1949, “peoples of the world, look at this city,” has been answered in an entirely unexpected way. The whole nation, it seems, if not the world is fixated on Berlin in an urban gaze that, for lack of a finished product to look at, has become self-referential. The eyes of the spectators are turned inward to look at their own act of viewing as a truly “constructivist” gesture. In the best postmodern manner, the process of viewing the building process is both concentrated and displayed in the red Infobox, a visual anchor in the vast sea of construction where there once was the most traveled square of the world, Potsdamer Platz. In a sense, the constructivist urban gaze, which has to first create what it wants to see as its own object, meets the requirements of Friedrich Schlegel's transcendental poetry in that it represents the act of producing as well as the actual product,5 thus evoking the city of the mind in a kind of urban poetics, as Italo Calvino invented it in his Le città invisibili (1972), where Kublai Khan has Marco Polo tell him stories about the imagined cities of his empire: “Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages.”6 The urban gaze creates a narrative as if the city were a chapter in a book: “Tell me another city.”7

No wonder that there is a booming interest in, to give but two recent titles of urban poetics, Reading Berlin and The Imagined Metropolis8—Berlin as it once was, or rather, as it was perceived by those who first invented and “read” it in their initial gaze. Reading the city like a text was first propagated, with regard to Paris, by Ludwig Börne (“Paris can be called an open book, strolling through the streets means reading.”)9 and applied to Berlin a century later in Franz Hessel's Spazieren in Berlin (1929): “Strolling is a kind of reading the street, with faces, exhibits, display windows, terraces of cafés, street cars, cars, trees becoming equitable letters that combine to make up the words, sentences and pages of an ever new book.”10 There is a uniform understanding that the city as the site (and the text) of modernity may have been discovered theoretically by Georg Simmel in his famous essay of 1903, “The Metropolis and Intellectual Life”, but that the true philosopher of the modern city was Walter Benjamin. While Simmel defined urban identity individually by the intensity of nervous energy and collectively by protective indifference conditioned by monetary exchange,11 Benjamin came to be seen as the paragon of a melancholy chronicler of urban experience forever lost. Moving back and forth between Berlin and Paris, Benjamin had written both A Berlin Childhood (1938) and Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century as the centerpiece of his posthumous Passagenwerk and thus was the ideal intellectual to conceptualize in urban vignettes the complexity of living in the city.

But the critical concentration on Benjamin has eclipsed two other flâneurs who preceded him in learning their vocation in Berlin and in transferring it to their exile in Paris. One is Franz Hessel, on whom the role of Jules in Truffaut's classic film Jules et Jim is modeled,12 the influential editor of the Rowohlt Verlag from 1919 to 1933 and Benjamin's mentor, whose city walks through Berlin represent, in the words of Benjamin's review, remembering by strolling.13 And the other flâneur is, of course, Heinrich Heine, who lived in Berlin from 1821 to 1823. Long before Benjamin, Hessel and Siegfried Kracauer Heine, too, lived in exile in Paris, recalling the Berlin of his youth as if to admit, to modify Catharina Valente's hit song of the Fifties, “Das hab ich in—Berlin gelernt” (“I learned that—in Berlin”). Heine, the first famous German exile in Paris and one of the first flâneurs ever, would have to be seen in his many street scenes as equally indebted to Berlin. It was, indeed, Heine, as I intend to show, who started the urban gaze with which Benjamin and, only recently, also Hessel have been credited. But Heine not only preceded the others by a full century, but also superseded them in his determination to turn the urban spectacle into a political lesson.

Heine clearly belongs at the beginning of the tradition of ocularcentric explorations of the emerging metropolis which, strangely enough, Benjamin himself has traced to the year of Heine's Letters from Berlin, 1822, without even mentioning Heine. Instead, Benjamin welcomes E. T. A. Hoffmann's last narrative, Des Vetters Eckfenster (1822), as “one of the first attempts to grasp the street scene of a bigger city.”14 As Hoffmann used the protagonist's view from the window to introduce the principles of gazing,15 this narrative can, indeed, be considered a seminal text in the history of the fictionalized urban gaze. More surprising is the fact that the parallel urban text by Heine, published in the same year and advancing a similar concept of the interaction of gazing (“Schauen”) and writing (“Schreiben”), has been widely overlooked. Brushed aside by Max Brod as nonsense,16 Heine's early urban text was even hidden in the footnotes of Ernst Elster's authoritative edition of Heine's works.17 Had he known Heine's Letters from Berlin, Benjamin could have made a stronger case for his interest in the representation of the masses of people milling in the streets, or in Hoffmann's case, in a market square, the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin. Comparing Hoffmann's street scenes to E. A. Poe's famous Man of the Crowd (1845), he complained that Hoffmann failed to record the uncanny of urban experience.18 But even if Poe can be credited with introducing the new type of a city dweller without traits who “refuses to live alone”19 and who is obsessed with the anonymity of the urban crowd, Heine eventually gave the uncanny lure of the city a social edge by emphasizing “the uncanny contrast” between the crowd and the city's window displays. The social contradiction of “seeing” and “having” inspired his urban fantasy. Going far beyond Poe's clandestine and eventually failing pursuit of mystery in the throngs of London's busy streets, Heine openly gleaned from this contrast, and perhaps even enhanced, the uncanny potential for social revolt and political revolution he sensed while walking the equally busy boulevards of Paris.

Almost a century before the strolling spectators of the urban crowd made their celebrated comeback in the streets of Berlin and Paris, Heine, who came to Berlin the very year Baudelaire was born, developed nothing less than a social theory of the flâneur from his musings about the window display of elegant shops in Paris during Christmas in 1841: “The sight of them can offer the leisurely stroller the most pleasant pastime,” Heine ponders in Lutetia (1854), lulling the unsuspecting reader with the appearance of a merely entertaining gaze, one which may help the “flaneur”, this unfocused gentleman of leisure, kill time. But Heine continues on a more serious, almost devious note: “if his mind is not quite empty, he may sometimes get ideas when he views behind the shining glass panels the colorful array of luxury and art items and possibly takes a glance also at the people standing next to him.” As the viewing itself becomes thematic, with the viewer taking the place of the luxury items on display, the occasional thoughts take off in an alarming direction. For through such seemingly innocent associations, called “Assoziation der Ideen” (2: 10) already in Heine's first urban text, Letters from Berlin, the leisurely stroller turns out to be an observant social critic drawing some ominous conclusions from the juxtapositions he carefully staged. He highlights the contrast between luxury commodities and those who cannot afford them to emphasize the point he wants to make: In the social reality of the city “seeing” certainly does not mean “having” and, in the end, the “have-nots” will no longer be content with just “seeing” what is not meant for their consumption: “The faces of these people are so hideously serious and pained, so impatient and threatening that they contrast uncannily with the objects at which they stare. We begin to fear that these people might suddenly start swinging their balled fists and reduce to pitiful ruins all the colorful, noisy toys of this elegant world, and this elegant world itself along with them.” Here the social critic becomes a prophet projecting the revolutionary potential of a consuming gaze without consumption: “Someone who is no great politician, but, rather, a common flaneur who concerns himself with the expressions of people in the street, will be firmly convinced that sooner or later the whole bourgeois comedy in France, and its parliamentary stars and extras along with it, will end terribly amidst hisses, and it will be followed by a piece called the communist regime!” (5: 373).

Whether or not we agree with Heine's prophetic view that the communist regime will be an imperative, “genuine tragedy,” however short-lived, we can only marvel at the rhetorical construction of his argument centered on the ominous social “contrast”: Gradually the flâneur's leisurely gaze at the promise of material bliss is questioned by the gaping eyes of less fortunate people, who some day will realize the reasons for their exclusion from the spectacle of leisure; then they will smash much more than just the glass of the display windows keeping them outside for the time being. The urban gaze, whose temporal mode is the present, has become a foreboding look into the future, to the last act of the “bourgeois comedy” (Bürgerkomödie) and its “terrible end amidst hisses.” Against the background of similar stagings of apocalyptic visions of revolution,20 Heine's “flaneur” clearly sheds the image of a detached observer to become the partisan prophet of most spectacular scenes in the drama of politics.

The vision of Heine's “flaneur,”—considering Heine's qualifier: if he is not empty-minded and not lacking social conscience—is much stronger than the cautiously utopian outlook into an uncertain future that marks the last sentence of the most famous account of a modern flâneur, Siegfried Kracauer's Abschied von der Lindenpassage (1930): “What role was there left for a passage in a society which itself is nothing but a passage?”21 However vaguely formulated in playing on the homonym of passage for both “galleria” and “historical change,” the rhetorical question points in a similar direction as Heine's prophecy. For Kracauer the dismantling—or, rather, modernist refurbishing—of Berlin's notorious gallery between Unter den Linden and Friedrichstraße, the former Kaiserpassage, anticipates the passing of the bourgeois society he both desires and fears; for as the sanctuary of an alternate culture which is not accepted in standard society, the window displays of this passage question the very norms of this society: “Thus the passage through the bourgeois world criticized this very world in a way that every true flaneur understood.”22 What Kracauer invokes as historical change is at the same time mourned as a future loss: “The time of the passages has passed.”23 There is an obvious melancholy permeating the musings of the flâneur as Kracauer or, for that matter, Walter Benjamin perceived him.

But even if Heine's urban gaze, with its revolutionary zeal, lacks the gloom so typical of the modern flâneur, it comes as a surprise that Heine, who explicitly counts himself among the “genuine flaneurs” (5: 376), does not figure prominently, if at all, in the recent surge of studies in urban culture. From most of the recent collections of urban studies dealing with the textual construction of the city, especially Berlin, from Helmuth Kühn's Preußen. Dein Spree-Athen (1981), Klaus Scherpe's Unwirklichkeit der Städte (1988), Heidrun Suhr's Berlin: Culture and Metropolis (1990), Tilo Schabert's Die Welt der Stadt (1990) to Katharina von Ankum's Women in the Metropolis (1997) Heine's name is strikingly absent or, as in the latter, mentioned only as a gendered backdrop to the even more suppressed “female flanerie.”24 Even after Jost Hermand had tried in 1969 to rescue from oblivion Heine's more obvious and, considering the times, rather daring political insinuations,25 Klaus Hermsdorf, writing on Heine's Letters from Berlin in 1987 from the perspective of the GDR, surprisingly restored the conventional notion that this text is nothing but a trivial, even dubious “Chronique scandaleuse” of the cultural life in the capital.26 But even where Heine's anecdotal musings on Berlin's culture were recognized, his ingenious street scenes, as Klaus Briegleb remarked in 1986, have gone largely unnoticed: “Heine's street scenes have found only fleeting interest among literary scholars.” Yet these street scenes, Briegleb continues, “permeate his writings as a real and imagined site, a narrative space, in which the observer encounters the reality of the cities. Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Berlin, London, Munich, Lucca, Paris—in their streets we can read their world of signs, join in the observation and be absorbed in a dramaturgy of signs.”27 Briegleb implies not only that Heine “reads” the text of the city streets, as Börne and Hessel did, but also that he constructs his reading—in my view in a dramaturgy of political action.

Therefore, it seems appropriate to look at the semiotic significance of Heine's first street scenes, when he adopted for the first of his Letters from Berlin the fictional role of a Berlin city guide to captivate the attention of the presumably provincial readers of the Rheinisch-westfälischer Anzeiger, where his letters were published. These readers were considered disadvantaged and in need of some cultural tutoring, because it was only seven years earlier that their Western province had become part of the Prussian territory and thus subject to Berlin, the new and rapidly expanding capital. Allusions to the present situation are obvious—and intentional: Taken over by the Prussians, the “Wessies” of the 1820's in Bonn, Cologne and Düsseldorf had to learn quickly the ways of the “Ossis” of the time; Heine's role as a correspondent from the new capital Berlin was to narrow the information gap between West and East and to familiarize the people in the new provinces with Berlin's emerging claim to a metropolis which in Karl Friedrich Schinkel's classicist masterplan was only beginning to take shape. Schinkel's Neue Wache was completed in 1818, his Schauspielhaus am Gendarmenmarkt in 1821, his Schloßbrücke in 1823, his Torhäuser am Leipziger Platz in 1824 and his Altes Museum in 1828. When Heine came to Berlin in 1821, Berlin was as much a construction zone as it is today, with Schinkel being the equivalent of today's Josef Paul Kleihues; an earlier “Schaustelle Berlin” commanded an urban gaze to grasp the rapid changes of a city in the process of reinventing itself as the capital of recently united and vastly enlarged Prussia: “I saw the new stock market … Unter den Linden, the construction sites through which Wilhelmstraße is being extended are moving forward rapidly. Terrific colonnades are springing up. During these days also the foundation stone of the new bridge was set” (2: 59). With construction going on everywhere, Berlin was—as it is today—a site of constant upheaval when Heine arrived in 1821 to inspect and to use it as a backdrop for his own aspirations.

After his third and last visit to Berlin in 1829 Heine confessed in Journey from Munich to Genoa (1830) that it is mainly for political reasons, i.e. in the pursuit of a particular political interest, that he celebrates or denigrates a city, adding, however, that Berliners cannot be bribed with literary praise because they don't care too much about a visitor's reaction to their city: “No city has less local pride than Berlin” (2: 316-17). Thus ironically relieved of the consequences if he were to denounce Berlin, Heine can pursue his political interest by projecting onto the Berliners the fact that he himself does not care much about this non-city:

Berlin is not a city, it only provides the place where a lot of people, among them many cultured people, gather even though they don't care at all about the place. One truly needs several bottles of poetry to see in Berlin anything but dead houses and Berliners. Here it is difficult to see spirits. The city contains so little antiquity and is quite new; and yet, this new is already so old, so wilted and dead. For the city emerged, as mentioned before, not from the convictions of the masses, but of individuals.

(2: 317)

Considering Benjamin's praise for E. T. A. Hoffmann for introducing to the urban gaze the notion of “masses,” we cannot easily overlook Heine's emphasis on “a lot of people” (“eine Menge Menschen”) and “conviction of the masses” (“Gesinnung der Masse”), especially since the latter, the mindset of the dynamic urban masses, is seen in striking contrast to the stagnant architecture that is a relic of the Prussian ruler, Frederick II. For the sake of contrastive argument Heine conveniently overlooked the more recent building boom he was witnessing in his time. The older and unattractive row houses in what is appropriately called Friedrichstadt constituted a better contrast than the splendid public buildings, most of them by Schinkel, going up in the 1820's. Already in Berlin Heine's carefully constructed argument alludes to the “uncanny contrast” that he would later stage in Paris as part of his more outspoken social agenda.

Before Heine's arrival, Berlin was an unlikely place for the kind of awe we have become accustomed to associate with the urban gaze. Rahel Levin Varnhagen complained already in 1793: “Is it possible for a decent person to accept that Berlin presents itself as the world?”28; and Madame de Staël was similarly unimpressed during her visit to Berlin in 1804: “This is a country which does not inspire fantasy, the society is lined up in a Prussian way.”29 Only in her later recollection of the Berlin visit in De l'Allemande (1813) did Madame de Staël acknowledge that the active social and intellectual life had made Berlin “the true capital of the new, the enlightened Germany.”30 But what a century later became an asset of modernity, was seen by Madame de Staël as an uninspiring lack of history: “Berlin is a big city with wide, straight streets and built quite regularly. As most of it is newly built, there are few traces of older times.” If there is anything attractive about Berlin, it does not offer itself to visual pleasure: “Berlin, this very modern city, as beautiful as it might be, does not produce a festive, serious effect; it is shaped neither by the history of the country nor by the character of the population.”31

Heine, of course, was so familiar with this lackluster report on Berlin that some of his own observations seem to be taken almost verbatim from Madame de Staël's famous book on Germany. But he gives the notion of unimaginative rows of uniform houses, this topos of contemporary travel accounts of Berlin, an ironic twist. He turns it into an indictment of the autocratic rule that does not adequately represent the masses living under the king's jurisdiction: “The foreigner who travels through the city sees only the expansive, uniform houses, the long, wide streets, which form rows and are, for the most part, built according to the will of a single individual” (2: 317). If the visitor to Berlin needs to be drunk from poetic fantasy to see more than “dead houses,” the singular ruler who built the unvarying row houses according to the rule of Prussian uniformity (“nach der Schnur”), is relegated to the figurative realm of death where even the newest buildings seem dead or by-gone (“abgestorben”) as Heine wants any political system to appear that is unrepresentative of the emerging urban masses. This “uncanny contrast” between the king of the past and the masses of the future could spur some radical energy. As Heine writes “mainly for political reasons,” even when the rhetorical construction of his argument only faintly suggests his agenda, it is not merely playful caution if he wants to defer his more candid writing on Berlin to his prospective exile from Germany: “What I presently think about the intellectual Berlin,” he writes on May 4, 1823 in a letter to Julius M. Schottky, a folklorist and professor of German in Posen, “I am not allowed to have printed; but you will read it some time when I am no longer in Germany” (HSA 20: 84). Yet we know, of course, that Heine did write and publish on Berlin long before he left Germany. In fact at the time when he wrote this letter, he had just published his Letters from Berlin, Should we, then, assume that this epistolary probe of urban space does not reflect Heine's critical thoughts on Berlin because such remarks might not have been publishable? What, then, is the disguise he chose to advance his subversive and, as we know from his later assertions, potentially revolutionary ideas about Berlin?

At the outset he defines the Letters from Berlin as a text that includes its own unwritten countertext: “Upon receiving your letter I immediately got out paper and pen and am already—writing. There is no shortage of notes, and the only question is: What shouldn't I write? i.e., what does the public know already, what leaves it indifferent, and what is it not permitted to know?” (2: 9). In delineating the well-known, the tedious, and the forbidden as subjects not to be covered, it becomes clear that writing is as much about what is not written as about what is. Underscoring the opposition of “writing” and “not writing,” Heine makes the former an oppositional form of the latter. But he goes one step further: Just as his writing suggests the unwritten, the new mode in which he does write is negatively defined by what it is not: “Just do not demand of me any kind of system, because that is the angel of death for all correspondence” (2: 10). Rather than merely advancing, as has been generally assumed,32 the new style of casual journalistic prose for which Heine was to become famous and scolded by Karl Kraus,33 this exclusionary remark draws the reader's attention precisely to what seems to be excluded, i.e. to the systematic construction of unwritten thoughts in a political agenda that would be strangled by the censors. The rhetorical dialectics of Heine's argument promise the “public” an implicit answer to the central question: “what is it not permitted to know.”

Therefore, it is important to understand how Heine both poses and handles the fictional questions that remain better unanswered so as not to provoke the unnamed authorities, but that at the same time must be raised to question this very authority. He invents an urban dialog with a visitor who needs to be taken on a fantasy tour of Berlin, and includes a fictional exchange of questions assumed and answers suppressed: “I see you asking already: Why isn't the post office on Poststraße and the black eagle on Königstraße?” (2: 10). What, on the surface, seems like a fairly harmless inquiry about the location of hotels requires an answer that just may involve, we suspect, a political taboo and therefore is pointedly avoided: “I will answer this question at another time; but now I want to walk through the city, and invite you to keep me company” (2: 10). In deferring the answer to some other time, as he deferred his true thoughts on Berlin to his prospective exile, Heine keeps us guessing as to what the unwritten implications are, clearly assigning the casual city walk the place of the potentially risky answer. Only as a critical flâneur, who reads the city as a text, will Heine inscribe the urban space with the answer the public is not supposed to know.

While the cognitive, the rational, the systematic probe is suppressed because it may lead to dangerous conclusions, it is supplanted with another mode of critical perception. The phrase “I see you asking already” is very unusual and rather revealing: It is the first time in this text, so replete with references to the urban gaze, that the word “see” (sehen) is used. Taking the place of “hearing,” “seeing” is introduced as a more sensual alternative to rational perception. Where systematic questioning is banned, the impressionistic gaze of the flâneur suggests the unwritten answer. The urban stroll turns out to be a political venture in disguise. In this light the programmatic statement “association of ideas shall always prevail” appears as a displaced call for exactly what Heine purports to reject, namely “systemic thought” (“Systematie”), i.e. the focused organization of thoughts that will logically lead to daring consequences. In a warped chronology, the prophet of social upheaval Heine strives to be emerges from the kind of flâneur Heine will place in front of the window display on the Boulevard Montmartre almost twenty years later: “if his mind is not quite empty, he may sometimes get ideas.” What sometimes comes to mind, in deceiving nonchalance, as “association of ideas” turns out to be, in the end, the focal point of a gaze that is not at all detached, be it a revolution in Lutetia on the one hand or the less radical sensualism in Letters from Berlin on the other. Tracing the sequence of displacements, we have found, I believe, the origin of Heine's urban gaze: seeing what is not written and what must not be questioned as an oppositional act that defies censure.

As a flâneur boasting his critical gaze, Heine benefitted from—and contributed to—the emerging visual interest in the recently upgraded capital, which was in the process of becoming an urban spectacle to marvel at when Heine came to Berlin in 1821.34 While other cities were represented in their medieval quaintness, Berlin was the only place in Germany where aspiring artists of the 1820s concentrated on contemporary buildings gracing spacious new boulevards and plazas. Featuring the brand-new architecture of classicist Spree-Athen, these splendid representations of urban development dwarfed scattered groups of minute men and women of society in elegant Biedermeier attire, who probably gathered only to inspect and admire the grandiose public buildings. After the first panorama of Berlin, painted by Johann Friedrich Tielker, was shown in 1802, the panorama craze started in earnest in 1808 when Schinkel joined Wilhelm Gropius, a producer of masks and himself a puppeteer, to paint so-called “optic-perspectival panoramas” (“optisch-perspektivische Schaubilder”) of Berlin and other cities, which subsequently were staged during the Christmas season in the display windows of shops and coffee houses.35 The first printed Panorama vom Königlichen Schloß bis zum Brandenburger Tor, a visual strip of the architectural façades Unter den Linden just ten centimeters high but almost eight meters long, was advertised by the art dealer Jacobi (address: Unter den Linden 35) in all newspapers of Berlin on November 18, 1820.36 Such displays proved so popular that Carl Wilhelm Gropius, Wilhelm's son who, starting in 1820, painted Schinkel's set designs for the new Royal Theater on the Gendarmenmarkt, opened a separate diorama building in 1827, five years after the famous Diorama by Daguerre and Bouton in Paris. This building, complete with an art shop and a book store featuring only Berolinensia, marked the early commercialization of the “Schaustelle Berlin.” Dramatically staged, the urban gaze became a marketable perspective represented by painters such as Carl Gropius (1793-1870), Wilhelm Brücke (1800-1874), Johann Heinrich Hintze (1800-1861), Friedrich Wilhelm Klose (1804-1874) and, most of all, by Eduard Gaertner (1801-1877). Gaertner's many street scenes include Unter den Linden (1853), one version of which was exhibited in the Galerie der Romantik of Schloß Charlottenburg and another in the Sammlung Oskar Reinhart in Winterthur. Gaertner left the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur in 1821, where he had learned the art of painting city scenes on porcelain in so-called Veduten, to become the best known genre painter of Berlin. He, like Heine, would take the visitor by his hand and guide him through the sites of recently completed construction, especially along the boulevard Unter den Linden.

But unlike the genre painters who cultivated the urban gaze to propagate the emerging metropolis as a site of spectacular new buildings, Heine was much too shrewd to be so easily co-opted in what today would be called a public relations project. In his fictional guided tour of Berlin Heine seems to retrace the famous panorama of 1820, but the visual tour de force he imposes on his fictional companion takes them beyond the usual tourist attractions: “Follow me … Look around … Look up … But look … Just look … If you want to feast your eyes, look at the pictures … Or if you would see … Look at the beautiful buildings … Here to the right you can see something new … Notice there … Notice … Notice …” (2: 10-20). Constantly feeding the hungry urban gaze, Heine takes the visitor on a walking tour from the Royal Castle to the Brandenburg Gate and back, now in a rented carriage, to the real destination, the Café Royal, thus setting up an ironic balance between the aesthetic and the culinary pleasures. It is among the tempting dishes of this coffee house that the urban gaze reveals the city's sensual underbelly: Disregarding luminaries such as Friedrich August Wolf and E. T. A. Hoffmann, who are holding court in the Café Royal, Heine remarks: “But of what concern are all these gentlemen to me? I am hungry. Garcon, la charte! Look at all these magnificent dishes!” (2: 20). Thus summoned for the last time during the guided city tour, the urban gaze turns out to be, indeed, a “consuming gaze” one which overcomes the spatial difference between subject and object, swallowing up the distinction of “seeing” and “having.” In sharp contrast to the spectators on the Boulevard Montmartre, Heine clearly belongs to the fortunate few who can have what he sees, without losing sight of those who may not.

Even more so than E. T. A. Hoffmann in the same year or E. A. Poe twenty years later, Heine takes notice of the danger the emerging urban masses might pose to the individual: “But I see that you are being pushed from all sides. On this bridge there is an eternal crowd” (2: 11). Using the new concept for uncontrollable urban crowds, he even mentions “the turbulent masses” populating the open-air stock market (2: 12),37 which ironically is located directly next to the cathedral and thus an urban marker of a historic paradigm shift from the transcendental to the monetary exchange. Already at the beginning of his tour even before he turns to the nearby Royal Castle, Heine directs the gaze of his companion to an elegant street, “where one department store boarders on another, and the colorful, luminous exhibited wares are almost blinding” (2: 11). Heine thus foregrounds the more conventional city tour of the imposing architectural sites by focusing the urban gaze on the brilliant display of commodities in department stores—exactly forty years before the advent of bigger grands magazins like Bon Marché in Paris: “Here the ocularcentric spectacle of desire,” Martin Jay commented on the department stores in the 1860s, “was removed from the aristocratic court and given its bourgeois equivalent in the massive sheet glass windows displaying a wealth of commodities to be coveted and, if money allowed, consumed.”38 The name of this street, where the truly consuming gaze engages in unroyal commerce so far removed from the aristocratic court nearby, is of all names, “Königstraße,” the very street to which Heine had just drawn our attention only to frustrate it.

It is in this ironic name of the commercial kingdom that we may find the deeply hidden answer to the question Heine had pushed aside when he started the walking tour instead of engaging in a debate about street names and proper locations: “I see you asking already: Why isn't the post office on Poststraße and the black eagle on Königstraße?” Now we know that the Schwarze Adler, Heine's cheap hotel at Poststraße 30 (as it is listed in the Adreß-Kalender of 1826), does not belong in the elegant “great magnificent street” named after the king in general, any king, even if it is no longer a Hohenzollern; for who nowadays but the customer of the many department stores located in the Königstraße is “king” here? The twilight of the monarch—the “individual” who had outlined the blueprint of Berlin with its uniform houses—is anticipated by the masses who would try to fill their needs in the department stores and, if they can't, eventually turn their anger against the king. The inappropriate naming carries its own irony—as in the example Heine cites explicitly: “We are standing on the ‘Long Bridge.’ Bemused, you ask: ‘But it is not very long?’ It is irony, my dear sir” (2: 10). As the Lange Brücke is not long and the Lustgarten nothing but an empty square without any trace of pleasure (Lust) (“Dear Lord! Don't you see that it is irony again?”), the Königstraße, we can infer from Heine's instruction, is no longer royal; it has become bourgeois. It is a business street no longer reserved for the king for whom the black eagle stands as Prussia's national symbol. To Heine, as he later concedes in Caput III of Germany, A Winter's Tale (1844), the black eagle is “so deeply hated” that he wants it shot in a revolutionary act: “Whoever shoots the bird for me / Will win the offering / Of crown and scepter. Trumpets will blow, / We'll cry, ‘Long live the King!’” (4: 583). If anyone can be king if he is only willing to kill and replace the black eagle, the Königstraße will eventually turn into the republican staging area for the last act of the “bourgeois comedy,” as it did in November 1918. What Heine calls irony is a contradiction he places into the object itself, thus hiding his own ironic effort to let the visual sites reveal their own paradox, i.e. the contrast between name and significance, between word and meaning. It is the same “uncanny contrast” from which he expects the social energy for political change to unfold, the contrast between “seeing” the luxurious “displays of commodities” and “having” the means to obtain the merchandise on display. Only if the masses, we are to assume, can afford the consuming gaze that pulled Heine with his companion, the imagined addressee and reader of his fictional letters, into the elegant eatery Unter den Linden, on the corner of Charlottenstraße, where E. T. A. Hoffmann lived and died the same year, can Heine's flâneur be as carefree as his more detached successors, who were careful enough—or too bourgeois—not to predict or even urge a “communist regime.”

But, then, let's not get our hopes up. We may have to reach the age of one hundred to feed our own consuming gaze and to get for free what we see in Berkeley's gourmet ghetto. Obviously, the nostalgic, mourning gesture sported by this century's flâneurs in their fragmented, but highly individualized gaze has prevailed over the more daring, carefully orchestrated and potentially collective agenda of the nineteenth century's first flâneur, Heinrich Heine in Berlin. At the same time that he demanded “no systemic thought,” he started engaging in a very systematic buildup of a poetic argument based on images, metaphors, allusions and anecdotal scenes, of an urban “dramaturgy of signs” that leaves little doubt about the intended signified. But if the “systematic thought” Heine invoked by denying it failed on the political stage of our time, thus breaking the ground for Berlin's urban wasteland to become another “Schaustelle Berlin,” we can only conclude by saying with Heine: “It is irony, my dear sir!”


  1. Gerhard Wolf, “Heine in Berlin,” Und grüß mich nicht Unter den Linden. Heine in Berlin. Gedichte und Prosa, ed. Gerhard Wolf (Berlin, 1980), pp. 275-301: “die Zerrissenheit seines äußeren und inneren Befindens in diesem großen Krähwinkel” (p. 287).

  2. Nicholas Green, The Spectacle of Nature: Landscape and Bourgeois Culture in Nineteenth-Century France (Manchester, 1990), p. 66.

  3. Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City (Cambridge, Mass., 1982).

  4. Walter Benjamin, “Paris, die Hauptstadt des XIX. Jahrhunderts,” Das Passagen-Werk, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, 2 vols. (Frankfurt/Main, 1983), pp. 45-59.

  5. Friedrich Schlegel, “Athenäums-Fragment 238,” Kritische Schriften, ed. Wolfdietrich Rasch (Munich, 21964), p. 53: “auch das Produzierende mit dem Produkt.”

  6. Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, trans. William Weaver (San Diego, 1974), p. 14.

  7. Ibid., p. 85.

  8. Peter Fritsche, Reading Berlin 1900 (Cambridge, Mass., 1996), p. 1: “In an age of urban mass literacy, the city as a place and the city as text defined each other in mutually constitutive ways. The crush of people and welter of things in the modern city revised ways of reading and writing, and these representational acts, in turn, constructed a second-hand metropolis which gave a narrative to the concrete one and choreographed its encounters.” Michael Bienert, Die eingebildete Metropole. Berlin im Feuilleton der Weimarer Republik (Stuttgart, 1992).

  9. Ludwig Börne, “Der Greve-Platz [Schilderungen aus Paris, 1822-24],” Sämtliche Schriften, ed. Inge and Peter Rippmann, vol. 2 (Düsseldorf, 1964), pp. 34-39, here p. 34.

  10. Franz Hessel, Ein Flaneur in Berlin (Berlin, 1984) p. 145.

  11. Georg Simmel, “Die Großstädte und das Geistesleben,” Gesamtausgabe, ed. Otthein Rammstedt, vol. 7/I, Aufsätze und Abhandlungen 1901-1908 (Frankfurt/Main, 1995), pp. 116-131, here p. 116.

  12. Cf. Manfred Flügge, Gesprungene Liebe. Die wahre Geschichte zu “Jules und Jim” (Berlin, 1993). The film was based on a real-life ménage à trois between Hessel (1880-1942), his wife Helen Grund (1886-1982) and his friend Henri-Pierre Roché (who wrote the story).

  13. Walter Benjamin, “Die Wiederkehr des Flaneurs,” Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser, vol. 3, Kritiken und Rezensionen, ed. Hella Tiedemann-Bartels (Frankfurt/Main, 1991), pp. 194-199: “ein Memorieren im Schlendern, ein Buch, für das Erinnerung nicht die Quelle, sondern die Muse war,” p. 194. On Hessel cf. Jörg Plath, Liebhaber der Großstadt. Ästhetische Konzeptionen im Werk Franz Hessels (Paderborn, 1994); Michael Opitz and Jörg Plath, eds., Genieße froh, was du nicht hast. Der Flaneur Franz Hessel (Würzburg, 1997).

  14. Walter Benjamin, “Über einige Motive bei Baudelaire [1939],” Schriften, vol. 1 (Frankfurt/Main, 1955), p. 446.

  15. E. T. A. Hoffmann, “Des Vetters Eckfenster,” Späte Werke (Stuttgart, n.d.), pp. 597-622: “die Primizien der Kunst zu schauen,” p. 600.

  16. Max Brod, Heinrich Heine (Amsterdam, 1935), p. 134: “Klatsch und Quatsch.”

  17. Heinrich Heines Sämtliche Werke, ed. Ernst Elster, vol. 7 (Leipzig, [1890]), pp. 560-597.

  18. Benjamin, p. 446: “das Unheimliche herauszustellen, das andere Physiognomen der großen Stadt gespürt haben.”

  19. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Man of the Crowd,” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1857), vol. 2, Poems and Tales, pp. 398-407, here p. 406.

  20. “Es wird ein Stück aufgeführt werden in Deutschland, wogegen die französische Revolution nur wie eine harmlose Idylle erscheinen möchte” (3: 640).

  21. Siegfried Kracauer, “Abschied von der Lindenpassage,” Der verbotene Blick. Beobachtungen, Analysen, Kritiken, ed. Johanna Rosenberg (Leipzig, 1992), pp. 49-55, here p. 55. Cf. Michael Schaper, Der gläserne Himmel. Die Passagen des 19. Jahrhunderts als Sujet der Literatur (Frankfurt/Main, 1988), pp. 205 ff.

  22. Ibid., p. 55.

  23. Ibid., p. 50: “Die Zeit der Passagen ist abgelaufen.”

  24. Anke Gleber, “Female Flanerie and the Symphony of the City,Women in the Metropolis: Gender and Modernity in Weimar Culture, ed. Katharina von Ankum (Berkeley, 1997), pp. 67-88, here pp. 67-68.

  25. Jost Hermand, “Heines ‘Briefe aus Berlin’. Politische Tendenz und feuilletonistische Form,” Gestaltungsgeschichte und Gesellschaftsgeschichte. Literatur-, Kunst- und Musikwissenschaftliche Studien, ed. Helmut Kreuzer (Stuttgart, 1969), pp. 284-305.

  26. Klaus Hermsdorf, Literarisches Leben in Berlin. Aufklärer und Romantiker (Berlin, 1987), p. 348.

  27. Klaus Briegleb, Opfer Heine. Versuche über Schriftzüge der Revolution (Frankfurt/Main, 1986), p. 154.

  28. Rahel Levin Varnhagen, Gesammelte Werke, ed. Konrad Feilchenfeldt, Uwe Schweikert and Rahel E. Steiner (Munich, 1983), vol. 7/1, p. 12.

  29. Madame de Staël in a letter to Goethe, March 1804, quoted from Monika Bosse, “Nachwort,” Anne Germaine de Staël, Über Deutschland, ed. Monika Bosse (Frankfurt/Main, 1985), p. 840.

  30. de Staël, Über Deutschland, p. 110.

  31. Ibid., p. 107.

  32. In addition to the article mentioned above by Jost Hermand, cf. Klaus Pabel's chapter on “Briefe aus Berlin: Das Assoziationsprinzip als literarische Strategie zur Darstellung der partikularisierten Gesellschaft and zur Überwindung der Zensur” in Heines “Reisebilder”. Ästhetisches Bedürfnis and politisches Interesse am Ende der Kunstperiode (Munich, 1977), pp. 52-73); or, more recently on the epistolary form, Elke Frederiksen, “Heinrich Heine and Rahel Levin Varnhagen. Zur Beziehung and Differenz zweier Autoren im frühen 19. Jahrhundert,” Heine-Jahrbuch 29 (1990), pp. 9-38.

  33. Karl Kraus, “Heine and die Folgen,” Ausgewählte Werke, ed. Dietrich Simon (Munich, n.d.), vol. 1, pp. 290-312.

  34. Cf. Sybille Gramlich, “Königliches Spree-Athen. Berlin im Biedermeier,” Stadtbilder. Berlin in der Malerei vom 17. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart (Berlin, 1987), pp. 95-172, here p. 108-9.

  35. Cf. Stephan Oettermann, Das Panorama. Die Geschichte eines Massenmediums (Frankfurt/Main, 1980). For contemporary reactions to the “Schaubilder” cf. Mario Zadow, Karl Friedrich Schinkel (Berlin, 1980), pp. 51-56.

  36. Cf. another “Lindenpanorama” from around 1847, with references to the first one from 1820, in Panorama der Straße Unter den Linden, ed. Winfried Löschburg (Hanau, 1987).

  37. Cf. Karl Riha, “Menschen in Massen. Ein spezifisches Großstadtsujet and seine Herausforderung an die Literatur,” Die Welt der Stadt, ed. Tilo Schabert (Munich, 1990), pp. 117-143.

  38. Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley, 1993), p. 120.

Note on Bibliographical References

All references to Heine's writings are cited parenthetically in the text by volume and page number from Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Schriften, ed. Klaus Briegleb, 6 volumes (Munich, 1968-1976). All correspondence is cited with volume and page number from Heinrich Heine, Werke, Briefwechsel, Lebenszeugnisse. Säkularausgabe (Berlin and Paris, 1970ff.) (HSA). All German from Heine's works and letters was translated into English for this volume.

John Pizer (essay date 2002)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8243

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 »Goethe und die Weltliteratur«. This book was published at the war's end and contains a useful compendium of Goethe's utterances on world literature.1 Already in the 1952 Festschrift for Strich, one can see divergent attitudes developing toward the universalized book distribution and comprehensive international literary interchange Goethe seemingly anticipated. While Anni Carlsson maintained that Goethe positively highlighted the works specifically addressed to an international audience in formulating his concept, a tendency bound to further develop as communicative networks bring the world closer together2, Erich Auerbach bemonaed the sameness and uniformity from which literary creation must suffer under precisely these conditions.3 Multiculturalism across the globe and the development of the internet in the last decade have enhanced interest in Weltliteratur as a discursive, heuristic principle, and many of those who seek to understand it continue to look to Goethe as an original, prophetic voice in this regard.4 Indeed, at the 116th convention of the Modern Language Association, both the American Comparative Literature Association and the Goethe Society of North America held sessions on the concept of world literature, particularly in its contemporary manifestations, and most of the papers delivered at these sessions at least took Goethe's foundational perspectives into account.5

Drawing on Goethe's scattered musings on Weltliteratur in attempting to understand the contemporary movement toward ever-increasing literary globalization, whether one feels this tendency is to be decried because of its bringing-about of homogeneity or to be celebrated for its putative cosmopolitanism, is understandable and indeed commendable; at the very least, such reference to Goethe's ideas provides a laudable historical perspective as we seek to grasp a seemingly all-encompassing cultural transnationalism. I have myself attempted to show that Goethe not only anticipated these current trends, but suggested an antidote to the loss today's writers might feel as their sense of national identity becomes dissolved, namely, a focus on their discrete local, or at least subnational, cultural space.6 However, in treating Goethe's Weltliteratur formulations through the lens of current developments, it is easy to lose sight of the historically conditioned nature of his views.

When Goethe coined the term (in an 1827 issue of »Über Kunst und Altertum«) in response to a review of a French translation of »Torquato Tasso« (1790) commended in the Paris journal »Le Globe«7, Vormärz restoration values and politics still held sway in Germany. German intellectuals were still more disappointed and crushed than dynamized by the absence of the national unification and individual liberty they had hoped the Napoleonic Wars would bring in their train, and a reawakening of vibrant German nationalism still awaited the full flowering of the Junges Deutschland movement. The brief dormancy of German nationalism, as much as the technological developments underscored by Goethe, allowed for a boom in what he celebrated as supranational literary interchange. In the later phase of Junges Deutschland, but particularly after the 1848 revolutions, nationalism in Germany and the rest of Europe became so dominant that the positive cosmopolitan strain inherent in Goethe's reflections on the term virtually disappeared until Strich revived it in 1946. Between 1848 and 1946, the term »world literature« was either regarded by readers of various nations as literature produced outside their national boundaries (as, when uncritically conceptualized, it still is today), or as canonic literature, the ›greatest books‹ produced on the globe regardless of time and place.8 When the dynamic, cosmopolitan element in Goethe's definition was cited, it was generally distorted, nationalized, or ridiculed. Even Thomas Mann, who would come to draw frequently on Goethe's political cosmopolitanism in rallying his countrymen against the Nazis, asserted in his pre-Third Reich essay »Nationale und internationale Kunst« (1922), after underscoring what he believed were the uniquely German elements in Goethe's Weltliteratur concept, that there was no such thing as cosmopolitanism pure and simple, that only »nationale Kosmopolitismen« existed.9 He speaks of the contemporary realization of the cosmopolitan element in Goethean Weltliteratur in highly derisive terms:

Goethe's Verkündigung der Weltliteratur ist heute in hohem Grade verwirklicht. Der Austausch ist allgemein, der Ausgleich—man könnte gehässigerweise sagen: die demokratische Einebnung—beinahe erreicht. Es gibt Franzosen, die den breiten Humor Britanniens an den Tag legen, ins Pariserische entartete Russen und Skandinavier, die die Synthese von Dostojewski und Amerika vollziehen. Dergleichen darf man Internationalisierung der Kunst nennen.10

Much like contemporary analysts of Goethe's paradigm who fail to take into account that he could not possibly have foreseen the emergence of such globalizing instruments as the World Trade Organization or the internet, Mann in his early conservative phase conveniently ignored the antinationalist context in which Goethe's formulations on Weltliteratur came about, and many intellectuals prior to Strich but even today altogether fail to reflect on the term's Goethean derivation. In considering Goethe's musings on world literature in their historical specificity, this essay will attempt to substantiate the following two propositions: 1. Despite his personal and political antipathy toward Goethe, Heine was a mediator of Weltliteratur as the sage of Weimar understood the concept. 2. Though, as far as is evident, Heine himself never directly mentioned the concept, the Junges Deutschland writers who did analyze it often make Heine a central figure in their discussions. Their writing, influenced as it was by rising nationalism, allows Heine to emerge as the only mediator of Weltliteratur in its specifically Goethean constellation to enjoy international, historically transcendent renown.

To be sure, the thesis that Heine played a significant role in the development of world literature as Goethe understood it is not entirely novel. As the title of Bodo Morawe's 1997 monograph »Heines ›Französische Zustände‹. Über die Fortschritte des Republikanismus und die anmarschierende Weltliteratur« indicates, this author believes the articles penned by Heine for the »Allgemeine Zeitung« which contain his views on French politics and society in the early phase of Louis-Philippe's regime and which were published under the collective title Französische Zustände constitute a paradigmatic example of what Goethe meant by the term »Weltliteratur«. Morawe's book borrows the term »anmarschierende Weltliteratur« from Goethe's letter to Carl Friedrich Zelter dated 4 March, 182911, though he ignores its negative connotation. The letter suggests that Parisian theatrical excesses are causing damage to German drama through the steadily advancing process the expression »anmarschierende Weltliteratur« connotes.12 Morawe underscores the technical progress, improved communication, enhanced intellectual exchanges, broader journalistic information, and increasing translation activity evident in Goethe's notion of Weltliteratur and sees Heine's work as an exemplary instance of these trends. In Morawe's view, Goethe's understanding of »anmarschierende Weltliteratur« is immanent to the genre (»Werkform«) of the Französische Zustände; Heine is engaging in journalistic reportage, providing the perspective of a German writing in France on French events and tacitly holding up that nation's Republicans as a political model to the citizens of his own native land. In his final brief analysis of the Goethean Weltliteratur dimension of the Französische Zustände, Morawe alludes to the work's consciously conceived reception aesthetics, which draw on new communicative and integrative processes. These create Heine's ability to provide immediate »feed back« (Morawe's term) to his audience on the conditions in France as they evolved, a dynamic practice which then retroactively impacts the ongoing development of the work and its author.13

Cursory though it is, Morawe's analysis of the Französische Zustände as an early exemplar of Goethe's Weltliteratur is valuable in underscoring Heine's highly-developed awareness of the communicative and technical media, and of the stylistic and generic proclivities subtended by the development of these new modalities, inherent in Goethe's understanding of the term. To be sure, Goethe didn't have political reporting in mind when he articulated his concept; in most instances, he employs it in connection with imaginative literature. However, Heine's political leanings can never be left out of account even when he is considered a mediator of belles lettres, and considerations of Heine's relationship to world literature since the appearance of Morawe's book continue to consist mainly of influence and comparative studies which do not take into account Goethe's understanding of the concept14, so Morawe should receive due credit for his original insights.

Another Heine scholar who has productively broached the subject of Heine's role as a mediator of world literature as Goethe defined it is Walter Hinck. In his monograph on Heine's poetry in the context of nationalism, Judaism, and anti-Semitism, »Die Wunde Deutschland«, Hinck stresses Heine's cosmopolitanism, his self-conscious role as a bridge between the German and the French peoples rather than emphasizing his adroit manipulation of improved, more rapid communicative possibilities, the focus of Morawe's analysis of Heine's role in the »anmarschierende Weltliteratur«. Hinck cites Heine's well-known letter to a friend in Hamburg from April 1833 in which he describes his goal of making the French familiar with German intellectual life, of bringing the Germans and the French closer together. This is the letter in which Heine describes himself as »der inkarnirte Kosmopolitismus« (HSA XXI, 52). In analyzing this letter in the context of Goethean Weltliteratur, Hinck emphasizes that neither Heine nor Goethe denied the existence or significance of national literatures.15 For our purposes, this is already an important step in historically contextualizing Heine's relationship to the world literature concept, for today »world literature« as a discursive signifier is associated with the breakdown of national literatures, that is, literatures putatively informed by the discrete customs, values, and languages of individual countries. Homi Bhabha, for example, draws on Goethe's paradigm to propose that:

Where, once, the transmission of national traditions was the major theme of a world literature, perhaps we can now suggest that transnational histories of migrants, the colonized, or political refugees—these border and frontier conditions—may be the terrains of world literature.16

Heine, of course, was a political refugee of sorts in Paris, and his experiences as they shaped his exile writing may help Bhabha and others when they draw on historical precedent to help establish such world literary terrains. Nevertheless, Hinck is completely correct in suggesting that Heine is an agent of world literature in the politically and culturally more restricted sense envisioned by Goethe. Hinck quotes Goethe's remarks from 1827 in »Über Kunst und Altertum« which assert that Weltliteratur does not connote a complete correspondence of thought among the various nations, but only that these nations should become aware of each other, understand and tolerate one another. Hinck justifiably sees an identity between these remarks on world literature's function as a cosmopolitan ideal and the goal Heine expressed in the letter to a friend in Hamburg of bringing the people of Germany and France closer together.17

To be sure, as Hinck also indicates, the letter displays a politically more radical sensibility than is evident in Goethe's remarks on world literature in »Über Kunst und Altertum« by associating patriotic narrow-mindedness with the aristocracy, who profit from fostering nationalist prejudices.18 Privy Counselor Goethe could only subtly attack aristocratic machinations through the cloak of fiction. No-one could accuse the noblewoman Germaine de Staël of wanting to foment discord between the peoples of Germany and France; her goal in writing »De l'Allemagne« (1813) was the furtherance of the same enlightened mutual understanding between the nations promoted by Heine in his letter and by Goethe in his remarks on »Weltliteratur« in »Über Kunst und Altertum«. Nevertheless, Heine composed his two primary essays written to inform the French about German literature and philosophy, published in their final German form as Die romantische Schule and Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland and in French under the same title as Madame de Staël's book, largely in reaction to what he believed was the misinformation spread by Madame de Staël. It is unnecessary to rehearse Heine's exhaustively-treated personal, political, and literary antipathy toward the French noblewoman, but a brief consideration of the two De l'Allemagne will allow us to see why Heine's work corresponds to Goethean notions of Weltliteratur's form and function far more closely than does Madame de Staël's. In this regard, the divergence in their views on German culture in general and Romanticism in particular is not nearly as important as their respective target audiences, and, concomitantly, their choice of literary venues. With respect simply to content, Madame de Staël may be said to come closer to the ideal of Weltliteratur evident in Goethe's first employment of the term in 1827, when he claimed: »es bilde sich eine allgemeine Weltliteratur, worin uns Deutschen eine ehrenvolle Rolle vorbehalten ist«.19 If we are to believe Madame de Staël, the role of the German Romantics in European literary culture—which, as we will see, was equated by Goethe with the world literary scene—was far more honorable and worthy of emulation than Heine would have it.

Madame de Staël's role in inspiring Die romantische Schule is evident in Heine's opening remarks. He notes her »De l'Allemagne« is the only comprehensive work the French thus far possess on Germany's intellectual life. Rather than immediately attacking her views, Heine simply notes that much has changed in Germany since her book appeared. The most important event in the intervening period is said to be Goethe's death, which brought »Die Endschaft der ›Goetheschen Kunstperiode‹« in its train. Heine's first use of sarcastic invective occurs as an allusion to »De l'Allemagne's« style and mode of presentation. After labelling it a »Koteriebuch«, Heine continues:

Frau v. Staël, glorreichen Andenkens, hat hier, in der Form eines Buches, gleichsam einen Salon eröffnet, worin sie deutsche Schriftsteller empfing und ihnen Gelegenheit gab sich der französischen zivilisirten Welt bekannt zu machen

(DHA VIII, 125).

Heine, of course, was not a foe of the literary salon; indeed, he proposed entitling a book encompassing some his poetry and prose »Salon« in 1833 (B III, 710), and he learned much through his participation in salon society conversations. Nevertheless, in labelling Madame de Staël's »De l'Allemagne« a »Koteriebuch«, he underscored what he believed to be the elitism of its intended audience, and, thereby, of the book itself. Unlike Heine, Germaine de Staël spent her entire life within the rarified confines of Europe's aristocracy and the small circle of the continent's bourgeois intellectuals. These were the individuals who frequented her isolated salon at Coppet (along with the occasional well-heeled American), and these were the people to whom »De l'Allemagne« was addressed.

This does not signify haughtiness or close-mindedness on Madame de Staël's part; she was, for example, a great admirer of Rahel Varnhagen, a Jewish woman who maintained her own well-regarded salon in Berlin20, which Heine frequented as a young man. Indeed, Heine praises those portions of Madame de Staël's book where her own voice is clearly manifest. It is the influence of German Romantics themselves which Heine finds objectionable, particularly that of August Wilhelm Schlegel, one of the few relatively permanent guests at Coppet. Heine believes their putative obscurantism must work against both Enlightenment values and the untrammeled intellectual traffic in Europe he wishes to further and which Goethe articulated as the key element in Weltliteratur, even though Goethe ascribed such unhindered exchange to improvements in communication, book distribution and an increase in the quantity of literary journals rather than greater political freedom. Such a journal—»L'Europe littéraire«—was Heine's venue for publishing portions of his De l'Allemagne, and it is his choice of this medium for this work that allows Heine to express the belief to a friend in his previously-cited letter of April 1833 that he is engaging in the peaceful mission of bringing Germany and France closer together, and that he is the very embodiment of cosmopolitanism (HSA XXI, 51 f.). Of such organs, Goethe noted: »Diese Zeitschriften, wie sie sich nach und nach ein größeres Publikum gewinnen, werden zu einer gehofften allgemeinen Weltliteratur auf das wirksamste beitragen«. He stressed as well the importance of developing a common public spirit (»Gemeinsinn«) for this same purpose of developing a »Weltliteratur«.21 This goal presupposes the establishment of points of convergence, harmonious accords among the national literatures. Here, too, Heine more closely approximates Goethe's Weltliteratur ideal than does Madame de Staël. For as Renate Stauf has noted with respect to Germany and France:

Hatte Madame de Staël ihren völkerpsychologischen Vergleich überwiegend auf der Figur des Kontrastes aufgebaut und die Fremdheit der literarischen und philosophischen Systeme beider Länder betont, so geht es Heine auch darum, Aspekte aufzuzeigen, die diese Fremdheit überwinden helfen.22

Though Goethe and Heine—contrary to postcolonial, postmodern critical praxis—underscored the necessity, inevitability, and value of national particularities, they both felt that the »Fremdheit« of which Stauf speaks must be overcome somewhat if a productive literary interaction among the cultivated individuals of different nations was to take place. With respect to this dichotomy, Heine's views mesh with Goethe's comments concerning Weltliteratur to a greater degree than is the case with other prominent German literary figures.

One factor which historically dates Goethe's Weltliteratur concept and makes it less applicable to present-day considerations of this topic is his equation of ›world literature‹ with ›European literature‹.23 In spite of the interest he displayed in the world outside his own continent in such poetic works as »Vitzliputzli« and in wide-ranging readings of Asian, North American, and South American literature24, Heine's critical focus was European literature as well, and his interest in transnational intellectual exchanges can be seen, like Goethe's, to revolve around Europe. Nevertheless, in comprehensively treating Goethe's concept of world literature, critics almost always make at least a brief reference to his poetic cycle »West-östlicher Divan« (1819). This is justifiable, for these poems are not only the most celebrated example of Goethe's cosmopolitanism on an international scale, but contain a theoretical apparatus—the »Noten und Abhandlungen«—which help supplement and clarify his scattered remarks on Weltliteratur. Thus, in his essay »Goethes Idee der Weltliteratur«, Hendrik Birus draws on the »Noten und Abhandlungen's« comments on translation to show that Goethe's paradigm does not presuppose the submersion of national particularities (»Besonderheiten«) within the world literature matrix. One cannot become acquainted with national particularities by reading in translation; as the »Noten und Abhandlungen« make clear, such translations are mainly valuable in attracting and introducing the reader to a foreign culture.25 Heine's comments in Die romantische Schule on the »Divan«, which contrast this work with writings on the Orient by the Romantic School, are therefore of interest for our purposes.

This contrast is fully in accord with Heine's positing of a political antithesis between the Romantic School's supposed conspiratorial, narrow-minded patriotism, its reactionary support of aristocratic restoration, and the cosmopolitanism he associates with Lessing, Herder, Jean Paul, Schiller, and Goethe; naturally, Heine identifies with this latter faction (DHA VIII, 141 f.).

Heine notes at the outset of his remarks on the »West-östlicher Divan« the relative French ignorance of this work; Madame de Staël would not have been aware of it before »De l'Allemagne« was published, as Goethe's poetic cycle appeared six years later. His assumption that France's lack of familiarity with the work is to be equated with its absence from Madame de Staël's discussions shows the supreme influence he ascribed to her with respect to the French reception of contemporary German literature. Heine assumes the »Divan« accurately reflects »die Denk- und Gefühlsweise des Orients«, and his own exotic, metaphoric descriptions of Goethe's imagery in the verse reflect the European view that the Orient's manner of thinking and feeling is rooted in profound, intoxicating sensuality. Because such liberated sensuality was consistently a key element in Heine's utopian formulations, his approval of Goethe's sensualism is unsurprising. Indeed, Heine describes the »Divan« as a »Selam«, as a greeting and gift of the Occident to the Orient, but also as a sign the West is weary of its ethereal spiritualism and wishes to recover by refreshing itself through an immersion into the Orient's »gesunden Körperwelt« (DHA VIII, 160 f.). Heine emphasizes this carefree but healthy voluptuousness in the »Divan« in order to contrast it with the Sanskrit studies of the Brothers Schlegel.

According to Heine, the Brothers Schlegel found Indian religion and customs attractive because of Hinduism's putative bizarreness, vagueness, and indulgence in mortification of the senses, as well as its character as a civilization rooted in a strict caste system. The Schlegels' penchant for India's culture is grounded in this culture's apparent parallels with Catholicism. It must be emphasized that Heine doesn't claim these parallels exist. Rather, he believes the Schlegels discovered these attributes in Indian society; they viewed the region as the originary locus of Catholic order and practices (DHA VIII, 160 ff.). While Goethe engages in a genuine interchange with Persian Islam, the Schlegels, in Heine's view, mold India into the shape most amenable to their Catholic perspective. As Azade Seyhan puts it:

In contrast to the Schlegels' ideological appropriation of the Indian identity that served to promote a false consciousness of the subject, Goethe's representation of the Islamic Orient resists identification with a textual construct.

Thus, in Heine's interpretation of the »Divan«, »the subject institutes an exchange, a kind of dialogue with the object«.26 Engagement in such intersubjective dialogue is at the heart of Goethe's Weltliteratur ideal, and in embracing such congress while refuting its relational antithesis in the Schlegels' supposed confiscation of Indian ideology for the promotion of their religious agenda, Heine tacitly shows his own ideological affinity to the world literature concept as Goethe formulated it. Heine also clearly associated the Schlegels' Catholicism with conservative, nationalist politics and Goethe's pantheism with his cosmopolitanism and genuine openness to cultural and religious alterity; these latter perspectives are obvious preconditions for enacting the world literature paradigm in its broadest aspect.

As we noted, Goethe's enunciation of Weltliteratur does not signify a diminished interest in understanding discrete national attributes through the act of reading foreign literature. Such particularities can only be correctly appreciated through reading such literature in the original language, but translations can at least draw a reader to an initial interest in and acquaintance with a foreign culture. This may in turn inspire the reader to attain a reading knowledge of the original idiom and thereby a more genuine comprehension of its unique elements. Heine, too, was attracted to the »schönen Besonderheiten« of different cultures. As Stauf maintains in citing this expression from Ueber Polen, this tendency stands juxtaposed with Heine's desire to disempower national discourses in favor of a European discourse, a dichotomy which he shared with Goethe, Herder, and others.27 Michel Espagne has cogently argued that, late in life, Heine passionately embraced translation, which is, broadly speaking and ideally in Heine's view, an act enabling a productive flight into the Orient both as a locus of oblivion and as a way to critically confront contemporary Europe's quotidian philistine realities.28 This would certainly help to explain Heine's appreciation for the »Divan«, which he believed was capable of transporting the reader into a sensual space of genuine revivifying alterity rooted in exotic particularities. This allows the reader, in Heine's view, to forget frigid Europe but also to critically reflect on the restrictions it sets to the life of the spirit and the senses.

As Andreas Huyssen allows us to see, the Romantics had a quite different focus on the relationship between translation and Weltliteratur, a perspective radically at odds with that of both Goethe and Heine, and which may help explain Heine's antipathy toward the Romantic School. Citing a passage from Novalis's novel fragment »Heinrich von Ofterdingen« (1801), Huyssen shows how translation in the Romantics' view is intertwined with—and stands in the service of—the fatherland. Translation for them is an act imbued with a kind of patriotic eschatology; Germans are the master translators, and they translate not only world literature, but also the past into the future. German talent at translation and, thereby, at appropriation, preordains the German nation to lead Europe into a future golden age. Thus, Huyssen closes his book with a reference to a »literarisch geistigen Utopie von einer ›deutschen Weltliteratur‹« conjured by the Romantics.29 This vision obviously reverses the priorities and goals in Goethe's Weltliteratur formulations, which, while they presume an honorable role for the Germans and an even more intense degree of participation than is the case with other nations, presuppose a genuine dialogue of equals leading to the benefit, acculturation, and enlightenment of all involved. Equality between languages and nations is presupposed in Goethe's assertion that:

diese Bezüge vom Originale zur Übersetzung sind es ja, welche die Verhältnisse von Nation zu Nation am allerdeutlichsten aussprechen und die man zur Förderung der vor- und obwaltenden allgemeinen Weltliteratur vorzüglich zu kennen und zu beurteilen hat.30

Heine is capable of praising both the Romantics' critical investigations of world literature and the quality of their translations; he rates Friedrich Schlegel's lectures on literature as second only to Herder's writings in their comprehensive overview of the literature of all the world's peoples, and he extols A. W. Schlegel's translations of Shakespeare (DHA VIII, 167 f., 168). Nevertheless, his cosmopolitanism and his embrace of translation as a means for both imaginatively escaping and critically reflecting upon Europe in general and France and Germany in particular inevitably put him at odds with the imbrication of German nationalism, translation, and Weltliteratur by the German Romantics and closer, with respect to both theory and practice, than any other significant writers to sharing Goethe's Weltliteratur ideal.

To be sure, the cosmopolitanism of Goethe and that of Heine vary in many particulars, and this circumstance has led Benno von Wiese to assert that Heine's leftwing politics manifest a clear break with Goethe's Weltliteratur concept. One can summarize Wiese's views as follows: while Europe, the locus of Weltliteratur as articulated in the early nineteenth century, constituted for Goethe an already existent universe in harmony with his spiritual, intellectual proclivities and which he merely sought to further develop, this continent was for Heine, after Goethe's death, a primarily political domain, the site of revolutions he optimistically hoped were portents of world-wide emancipation. Like Hinck, Wiese cites Heine's letter of April 1833 with its announcement of Heine's mission to bring the world's people together. But while Hinck saw in this letter Heine's tacit embrace of Weltliteratur's ideal of productive transnational interchange, Wiese reaches the opposite conclusion. He doesn't interpret the letter's pronouncements as expressing a cultural goal inscribed with the spirit of peace: »Was die Völker miteinander verbinden kann und soll, ist jetzt nicht die Idee der Weltliteratur, sondern die Idee der Weltrevolution und ihre zukünftige Realisierung«.31 Given Heine's bellicose pronouncements in the letter to his friend against an aristocracy served by Goethe and which actually took him into its ranks, Wiese's contrast is plausible. Nevertheless, this letter, as Hinck indicates, underscores what Heine's journalistic activities promoting transnational understanding of German and French culture firmly establish: Heine was an agent of Weltliteratur as defined by Goethe. The justification for Wiese's point of view is grounded in the diachronic perspective he establishes. However, I believe the truth about Heine's relationship to Goethe's Weltliteratur paradigm can only be expressed when we synthesize Hinck's and Wiese's antithetical perspectives. This leads to the following conclusion: while Heine mediated world literature in the manner elucidated by Goethe, Goethe's death during the early phase of Heine's life in Paris marked the beginning of the end of Weltliteratur as a distinctly Goethean paradigm. For in the period immediately before and after Goethe's death, the Junges Deutschland movement, with Heine in its midst, literally wrote this paradigm off. Heine was not only its only mediator to achieve immortal distinction, he was also a key inspirer of its demise.

Before we take up why Heine and Junges Deutschland can be said to bring Goethean Weltliteratur to an end, it is worth considering in somewhat more detail why Heine's activities not only mark its beginning, but the only genuine phase of its existence. We have already cited Morawe's suggestion that Heine was perhaps the first pan-European writer to exploit the technological and communicative improvements at the core of Goethe's definitions of the term. The most significant organ to embody these improvements and inspire in Goethe the belief that the Age of Weltliteratur was at hand was the Parisian journal »Le Globe«. As we noted, Goethe was first inspired to use the term after he read a »Globe« review of a French translation of »Torquato Tasso«; particularly the »Globe« essay and others he read in this magazine instilled in him the belief that a genuine transnational dialogue was taking place with respect to literature. In general, Goethe held the contemporary journalistic media of his time, especially the daily newspapers to which he had access in Weimar, in low esteem. But in »Le Globe«, he believed the spirit of the time was given clear and powerful expression. It became his press organ of choice for keeping up with current political and cultural events and opinions in Europe, and he made copious notes on its articles.32 As Jeffrey Sammons has remarked, Heine became an avid reader of »Le Globe« as well around 1828. Sammons even suspects that the paean printed in this journal to mark Heine's arrival in the French capital was actually written by him.33 Heine also expressed the belief that the cosmopolitan spirit of his century was given clear expression in this journal. Its scientifically democratic writers precisely dictate (»genau diktiren«) what Heine termed »die Welthülfsliteratur« (DHA VII, 507).

The tone and vocabulary of Heine's praise reflect his pleasure at France's intellectual upheavals, and point to a significant difference between his cosmopolitanism and that of Goethe. In this regard, it is significant to note than in October 1830, the Saint-Simonians took over the editorship of »Le Globe«, and while this shift only increased Heine's high regard for it, its new partisan spirit provoked Goethe's displeasure.34 Both men were uniquely confluent in their prescient esteem for early nineteenth century press organs like »Le Globe«, transnational with respect to content, ideals, and (because of new technology) transmission. However, Heine's nascent Saint-Simonian leanings led him to recoin, consciously or unconsciously, Goethe's already cosmopolitan term. »Welthülfsliteratur« reflects the movement's activist, utilitarian spirit, its belief that all social means—including literature—must serve and promote the interests of the world's masses, not just those of the aristocratic and intellectual elite. Heine's employment of the term in the context of praising the objective, research oriented, scientific young democrats who wrote for »Le Globe« helps to justify Wilhelm Gössmann's reference to »Die Koppelung von Weltliteratur und Wissenschaft, wie sie Heine in seinem Werk vollzogen hat«.35

The distinction in tone and purport between the terms »Weltliteratur« and »Welthülfsliteratur« should not be taken to signify that Goethe's paradigm lacked a societal dimension. This dimension is evident in the following remark from 1828:

Wenn wir eine europäische, ja eine allgemeine Weltliteratur zu verkündigen gewagt haben, so heißt dieses nicht, daß die verschiedenen Nationen voneinander und ihren Erzeugnissen Kenntnis nehmen, denn in diesem Sinne exisitiert sie schon lange, setzt sich fort und erneuert sich mehr oder weniger. Nein! hier ist vielmehr davon die Rede, daß die lebendigen und strebenden Literatoren einander kennenlernen und durch Neigung und Gemeinsinn sich veranlaßt finden, gesellschaftlich zu wirken.36

However, as Victor Lange has noted, this passage cannot be understood outside its historical context, and does not equate Weltliteratur with a contribution to concrete political reality or to social criticism. Rather, it signifies that writing is only world-literary in scope if its author composes in a conscious spirit of communal understanding, possesses an awareness of the great tasks before the world as a whole, contributes to and is open to his epoch's knowledge.37 Because he believed »De l'Allemagne« contributed to such transcultural understanding and promoted knowledge of Germany abroad, Goethe, unlike Heine, gave unqualified praise to Madame de Staël's book.38 Though Heine's own De l'Allemagne does veer into the social critical role highlighted as ungoethean by Lange, it is nevertheless imbued with the same cosmopolitan spirit of understanding and contributing to intercultural knowledge Lange associated with the Weltliteratur paradigm in its historically restricted, early nineteenth century ambience.

To summarize and conclude my argument that Heine was the first writer of note who was a mediator of Weltliteratur in Goethe's sense of the term, several points bear repeating. As Morawe has indicated, Heine was one of the earliest writers to become aware of and exploit technological, communicative, and distributive advances highlighted by Goethe in his adumbrations of the paradigm. Heine's employment of these improved media allowed him to reach a larger, more diverse audience than was the case with predecessors such as Madame de Staël, whose own »De l'Allemagne« targeted and reached only a select group of aristocrats, intellectuals, and others who frequented literary salons. This more comprehensive and freer intellectual commerce is a key element in Goethe's understanding of Weltliteratur. Heine's unique two-way role in not only furthering the transmission of German literature and thought in France through his own De l'Allemagne, but reporting to the Germans his impressions of French events and culture in such works as Französische Zustände, Französische Maler, and Ueber die französische Bühne must also be mentioned in this regard. Given France's political, linguistic, and cultural status in the eighteenth century, one can find far more journalistic reporting on France in Germany than on Germany in France prior to Madame de Staël and Heine. However, the target audiences of such reporting on the French scene were generally the personages of European courts; I am thinking here particularly of the readers of Friedrich Melchior Grimm's famous eighteenth century Correspondance littéraire. Other transmitters of French culture to Germany were primarily academics and intellectuals writing and toiling for other academics and intellectuals in relative obscurity.39 Heine was the only writer working at the close of the Goethezeit completely committed to Weltliteratur's cosmopolitan, universalist ideals who personally enjoyed (and still enjoys) world literary status.

It remains to elucidate why Heine was not just the first but the only internationally-renowned purveyor of Weltliteratur as a Goethean construct, and to this end we must examine the Junges Deutschland engagement with this paradigm. Hartmut Steinecke, who has devoted an article to this topic, has pointed out that a response to Goethe's elucidation of the term only began to become widespread in 1836, four years after Goethe's death. In this year, Eckermann's »Gespräche mit Goethe« were first published; it is here that Weltliteratur received its most famous articulation. Steinecke notes that the Junges Deutschland adherents, with their interest in combining literature and science, were initially predisposed in favor of Weltliteratur as an ideal, since such a comprehensive concept presupposes not only the transcending of national borders but of the traditional divisions between imaginative literature on the one hand, and scientific and political writing on the other.40 Heine's coining of the term »Welthülfsliteratur« in praising the scientism of »Le Globe's« writers (DHA VII, 507 f.) reflects the synthesizing inclination of which Steinecke speaks. In his essay »Goethe und die Welt-Literatur« (1835), Ludolf Wienbarg lauds Goethe's principle that art and life are inseparable.41 Such approval reflects Junges Deutschland's objectifying tendency and its embrace of Goethean Weltliteratur for this purpose, even though the movement is, with respect to literary criticism, most famous for its pillorying of the privy counselor. However, Wienbarg's praise also has a political dimension; the enunciation of the paradigm allows him to express certainty that a universal brotherhood binding the peoples of the world will continue to grow stronger, bringing about an ever more cordial interchange among the earth's literatures.42 These are the same dreams which sustained Heine and allowed him to become Weltliteratur's premier mediator.

Despite Wienbarg's expression of a cosmopolitan spirit shared by Heine and others affiliated with Junges Deutschland, it is primarily the movement's nationalist strain which put an end to Weltliteratur as Goethe understood it. This nationalism was partly sincere and partly a tactical response to the relentless jingoist diatribe directed against the group, particularly by Wolfgang Menzel, whose loathing for Goethe was partly based on the sage of Weimar's universalist tendencies.43 Heine tried to counteract such virulent »Teutomanie« through both ironic satire and positive prophetic visions which would channel nationalism in a positive direction.44 A year after Wienbarg's essay was published, Karl Gutzkow's treatise »Ueber Göthe im Wendepunkte zweier Jahrhunderte« appeared. In this work, Gutzkow cautiously defended Weltliteratur by highlighting what he saw as its productive relationship with national literature. He argues in world literature's defense that it neither displaces nationality nor forces one to renounce homeland mountains and valleys in favor of cosmopolitan images. Indeed, world literature secures the viability of nationality. Given the absence of viable preconditions for a national literature in Germany, the world literary condition (»weltliterarischen Zustand«) justifies Germany's native literature, for the outside world acclaims this literature while it is condemned to death at home (i.e., through censorship). Gutzkow proceeds to rebut the calumny endured by Heine, who has achieved fame throughout Europe with his extraordinary talents.45

Gutzkow is clearly trying to sustain here the dialectic and dialogue of national and international literature which was so central to Goethe's Weltliteratur paradigm and to Heine's unique, albeit unconscious, practical realization of it. Gerhard Kaiser sees in Gutzkow's essay an early instance of the narrow-minded nationalism soon to be so prevalent in Germany,46 but it seems more likely that Gutzkow is taking a defensive posture, reacting to the polemics of Menzel and his followers as well as to the repressive political atmosphere which culminated in the edict against five members of the Junges Deutschland movement on 10 December, 1835. A truly pronounced partisanship for national literature vis-à-vis Weltliteratur is more evident in Theodor Mundt's discussion of Goethe's paradigm in the former's »Geschichte der Literatur der Gegenwart« (2nd ed. 1853). Here Mundt claims Weltliteratur has primarily a commercial and political significance and asserts:

Die schärfste Ausprägung der eigenthümlichen Nationalität ist vielmehr in jeder Literatur als der wahre Kern und der höchste Reiz zu betrachten, und ein überhand nehmender universalistischer Geist der Bildung, der eine Verallgemeinerung der Nationalität zuwegebringt, kann nur die Verderbniß und Verschlechterung der Literatur erwirken.47

This perspective reverses a trend found in earlier Junges Deutschland engagements with the paradigm, namely, the tendency to label those works with the label Weltliteratur which are qualitatively superior to others. As Steinecke notes, the equation of value with world literary status was addressed only indirectly by Goethe (and, we might add, by Heine), but it has influenced discussions of world literature from the 1830's to the present day48, when works supposedly deserving of this appellation are still equated with the canon. More importantly, Mundt's comments mark a definitive break in German literary criticism with Goethe's paradigm as he defined it and as Heine put it into practice. Mundt's view that Weltliteratur is fundamentally a commercial rather than aesthetic signifier was an exaggeration of Goethe's views, but was also repeated in the twentieth century.49

In the period between Goethe's death and the 1848 revolution, Heine's name became a fulcrum for both opponents and proponents of both Junges Deutschland and the ideal of Weltliteratur. We have already noted Gutzkow's defense of Heine in the context of his argument for the efficacy of a world literature-national literature dialogue. Those who held antipathetic views toward Goethe's concept and the Junges Deutschland movement drew on Heine and his francophile leanings to sustain their argument. Steinecke notes, citing Menzel, that for these conservative nationalists:

Weltliteratur bedeute in der Praxis—siehe Heine—Anpreisung des Französischen, damit Auslieferung der deutschen Kultur an die französische und Unterwerfung unter die gefährlichen politischen Ideale der Revolution.50

Steinecke's inference that these opponents of Weltliteratur equated its »Praxis« with the name of Heine evinces 1830 Germany's correct grasp of the veracity of my own central thesis, which since the nineteenth century has been lost sight of; Heine was the foremost practitioner of Weltliteratur as Goethe defined it. At the turn into the twentieth, Germany's eager xenophobic embrace of imperialism made genuine critical support for Goethe's ideal almost inconceivable, and tirades against Heine continued to be a benchmark of this perspective. By this time, the difference between ›national‹ and ›nationalistic‹ literature was largely effaced.51

Of course, there continued to be writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the German-speaking world and elsewhere who promoted a cosmopolitan spirit in literature, a dialogue among the writers of the world which, ideally, would promote peace and the universal betterment of mankind; one can cite, for example, the ubiquitous international mediating engagements of Stefan Zweig and his good friend Romain Rolland. The mature Thomas Mann, who saw the need to promote international cosmopolitanism when its only alternative became a silent acceptance of Nazi and fascist principles, is another such figure. Such engagements, however, were reactive responses to an infrangible nationalism, not an attempt to promote a national-international dialogue at least partly in the service of national interests, as was the case in the ages of Goethe and Heine. As Steinecke has noted, Goethe believed the articulation and development of Weltliteratur took place in Germany for a particular reason; Germany's retarded development of a discrete national identity in the eighteenth century sharpened its openness to and perception of international contexts and connections (»Zusammenhänge«). Adherents of Junges Deutschland such as Wienbarg also saw Germany's lack of political unity as a positive force for cosmopolitanism.52 Though Heine contrasted his own philosophical cosmopolitanism with the old German philistine feelings residing in his breast (DHA VIII, 97), his youth in the disunified political milieu described by Goethe undoubtedly contributed to his pan-European perspective.

Quite possibly the last positive expression of Weltliteratur as an ideal prior to its revival at the end of World War II is to be found in the 1848 »Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei« of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. This manifesto, the imagery of which was probably influenced by Heine53, maintains that in the age of international interdependence, intellectual productions of individual nations are shared by all, national narrow-mindedness and one-sidedness become impossible, and a »Weltliteratur« is taking shape out of the diverse national and local literatures.54 Contrary to this utopian prophecy, nationalism became so virulent that Weltliteratur lost its idealistic resonance after 1848 and became, as we have seen, associated primarily with canonicity and commerce. Prior to this time, Heine was its most exemplary mediator. In the post World War II age of mass communication, largely anonymous marketers and reviewers took over this role. As this trend has only been enhanced in the current era of the interent, Heine will doubtless remain history's only agent of Weltliteratur in its Goethean sense to have achieved timeless international stature.


  1. Fritz Strich: Goethe und die Weltliteratur. Bern: Francke, 1946, p. 397-400.

  2. Anni Carlsson: »Die Entfaltung der Literatur als Prozess.«—In: Weltliteratur. Festgabe für Fritz Strich zum 70. Geburtstag. Ed. Emil Staiger and Walter Muschg. Bern: Francke, 1952, p. 51-65.

  3. Erich Auerbach: Philologie der Weltliteratur. In: Weltliteratur [Anm. 2], p. 39-50.

  4. See, for example: Hendrik Birus: »Am Schnittpunkt von Komparatistik und Germanistik: Die Idee der Weltliteratur heute«.—In: Germanistik und Komparatistik. DFG-Symposion 1993. Ed. Hendrik Birus Stuttgart: Metzler, 1995, p. 439-457; Weltliteratur heute. Konzepte und Perspektiven. Ed. Manfred Schmeling. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1995; Martin Albrow: »Auf dem Weg zu einer globalen Gesellschaft«.—In: Perspektiven der Weltgesellschaft. Ed. Ulrich Beck. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1998, p. 411-434.

  5. The Goethe Society of North America session was entitled: »Weltliteratur: Goethe's Cross-Cultural Projects«, and the American Comparative Literature Association panel bore the name »World Literature Today: What Literature? Whose World?«.—In: PMLA 115 (2000), p. 1527-1528 and 1532.

  6. John Pizer: »Goethe's ›World Literature‹ Paradigm and Contemporary Cultural Globalization«.—In: Comparative Literature 52 (2000), p. 213-227.

  7. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Sämtliche Werke. Jubiläumsausgabe in 40 Bänden. Ed. Eduard von Heilen u. a. Vol. 38. Stuttgart: Cotta, 1912, p. 95-97.

  8. In the 19th century, one sees this attitude exemplified in Georg Brandes's essay »Weltlitteratur«—In: Das litterarische Echo 2 (1899): p. 1-5. For a later manifestation of this view prior to Strich's book, see Albert Guérard: Preface to World Literature. New York: Holt, 1940.

  9. Thomas Mann: Gesammelte Werke in zwölf Bänden. Vol. 10. Frankfurt a. M.: Fischer, 1960, p. 870. See also his 1925 essay »Kosmopolitismus« in the same volume, p. 184-191.

  10. Mann [Anm. 9], p. 871.

  11. Bodo Morawe: Heines Französische Zustände. Über die Fortschritte des Republikanismus und die anmarschierende Weltliteratur. Heidelberg: Winter, 1997, p. 86.

  12. Goethe, cited in Strich [Anm. 1], p. 399.

  13. Morawe [Anm. 11], p. 86-88.

  14. I am thinking particularly of the essays presented at the 1997 London Heine Conference edited by T. J. Reed and Alexander Stillmark, published under the title »Heine und die Weltliteratur«. Oxford: Legenda, 2000. An exception is Joseph A. Kruse's essay »›In der Literature wie im Leben hat jeder Sohn einen Vater‹. Heinrich Heine zwischen Bibel und Homer, Cervantes und Shakespeare« (p. 2-23). Kruse's article takes into account the national-international dialogue at the heart of Goethe's understanding of the Weltliteratur paradigm, and finds that Heine believes this dialogue is achieved primarily through music, which overcomes national boundaries (p. 4-6).

  15. Walter Hinck: Die Wunde Deutschland. Heinrich Heines Dichtung im Widerstreit von Nationalidee, Judentum und Antisemitismus. Frankfurt a. M.: Insel, 1990, p. 110-111.

  16. Homi K. Bhabha: The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994, p. 12.

  17. Hinck [Anm. 15], p. 111.

  18. Ibid.

  19. Goethe [Anm. 7], p. 97.

  20. For a discussion of Madame de Staël's salon and her relationship to Rahel Varnhagen, see Lilian R. Furst: »The Salons of Germaine de Staël and Rahel Varnhagen«.—In: Cultural Interactions in the Romantic Age: Critical Essays in Comparative Literature. Ed. Gregory Maertz. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998, p. 95-103.

  21. Goethe, cited in Strich [Anm. 1], p. 398-399.

  22. Renate Stauf: Der problematische Europäer. Heinrich Heine im Konflikt zwischen Nationenkritik und gesellschaftlicher Utopie. Heidelberg: Winter, 1997, p. 196.

  23. This is evident, for example, in Goethe's comment »Europäische, d. h. Welt-Literatur«. Cited in Strich [Anm. 1], p. 399.

  24. See Kruse [Anm. 14], p. 9-10.

  25. Hendrik Birus: »Goethes Idee der Weltliteratur«.—In: Weltliteratur heute [Anm. 4], p. 23-24.

  26. Azade Seyhan: »Cannons Against the Canon: Representations of Tradition and Modernity in Heine's Literary History«.—In: Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift 63 (1989), p. 502.

  27. Stauf [Anm. 22], p. 12.

  28. Michel Espagne: »Übersetzung und Orientreise. Heines Handschriften zum Loeve-Veimars-Fragment«.—In: Euphorion 78 (1984), p. 127-142.

  29. Andreas Huyssen: Die frühromantische Konzeption von Übersetzung und Aneignung. Studien zur frühromantischen Utopie einer deutschen Weltliteratur. Zürich: Atlantis, 1969. p. 172-173.

  30. Goethe, cited in Strich [Anm. 1], p. 398.

  31. Benno von Wiese: »Goethe und Heine als Europäer«.—In: Signaturen. Zu Heinrich Heine und seinem Werk. Berlin: Schmidt, 1976, p. 209-212. Citation on p. 212. Wiese's emphasis.

  32. See Heinz Hamm: Goethe und die französische Zeitschrift »Le Globe«. Eine Lektüre im Zeichen der »Weltliteratur«. Weimar: Böhlau, 1998.

  33. Jeffrey L. Sammons: Heinrich Heine: A Modern Biography. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979, p. 160.

  34. Hamm [Anm. 32], p. 11.

  35. Wilhelm Gössmann: »Die Herausforderung der Wissenschaft durch die Literatur«.—In: Heinrich Heine im Spannungsfeld von Literatur und Wissenschaft. Symposium anläßlich der Benennung der Universität Düsseldorf nach Heinrich Heine. Ed. Wilhelm Gössmann and Manfred Windfuhr. Düsseldorf: Hobbing, 1990, p. 24.

  36. Goethe, cited in Strich [Anm. 1], p. 399.

  37. Victor Lange: »Nationalliteratur und Weltliteratur«.—In: Jahrbuch der Goethe-Gesellschaft 33 (1971), p. 30.

  38. Goethes Werke. Hamburger Ausgabe in 14 Bänden. Ed. Erich Trunz. Vol 10. Hamburg: Wegner, n. d.), p. 466.

  39. See Wolfgang Theile: »Vermittler französischer Literatur in Deutschland um 1800. Zur Vorgeschichte der Romanischen Philologie«.—In: Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift 73 (1992), p. 48-66.

  40. Hartmut Steinecke: »Weltliteratur«—Zur Diskussion der Goetheschen »Idee« im Jungen Deutschland.—In: Das Junge Deutschland. Kolloquium zum 150. Jahrestag des Verbots vom 10. Dezember 1835. Ed. Joseph A. Kruse and Bernd Kortländer. Hamburg: Hoffmann and Campe, 1987, p. 156-158.

  41. Ludolf Wienbarg: »Goethe und die Welt-Literatur (1835)«.—In: Literaturkritik des Jungen Deutschland. Entwicklungen—Tendenzen—Texte. Ed. Hartmut Steinecke. Berlin: Schmidt, 1982, p. 156-157.

  42. Wienbarg [Anm. 41], p. 164.

  43. See Walter Dieze: Junges Deutschland und deutsche Klassik. Zur Ästhetik und Literaturtheorie des Vormärz. Berlin: Rütten & Loening, 1957, p. 21-35.

  44. Examples of both tendencies are provided and discussed by René Anglade: »Heinrich Heine: Von der französischen Spezialrevoluzion zur deutschen Universalrevoluzion«.—In: HJb 38 (1999), p. 46-73, esp. 65-66.

  45. Karl Gutzkow: »Aus: Ueber Göthe im Wendepunkte zweier Jahrhunderte (1836)«.—In: [Anm. 41], p. 110.

  46. Gerhard R. Kaiser: Einführung in die vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft. Forschungsstand—Kritik—Aufgaben. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1980, p. 17.

  47. Theodor Mundt: Geschichte der Literatur der Gegenwart. Leipzig: Simion, 21853, p. 567-568.

  48. Steinecke [Anm. 40], p. 159. Kruse [Anm. 14] provides a contrasting opinion; he believes Goethe's concept is also a »Qualitätsmerkmal« and emphasizes that »Auch Heine vertritt den Anspruch der Kunst und Qualität in der Literatur« (p. 6).

  49. See, for example, Ernst Elster's influential essay »Weltlitteratur und Litteraturvergleichung«.—In: Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Litteraturen 107 (1901), p. 33-47.

  50. Steinecke [Anm. 40], p. 161-162.

  51. See, for example, Kaiser's discussion of Max Koch's 1891 lecture »Nationalität und Nationalitteratur« in Einführung in die vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft [Anm. 46], p. 18-19.

  52. Steinecke [Anm. 40], p. 162.

  53. See S. S. Prawer: Karl Marx and World Literature. Oxford: Clarendon, 1976, p. 139 and 139-140, n. 5.

  54. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Werke. Vol 4. Berlin: Dietz, 1959, p. 466.


B = Heinrich Heine: Sämtliche Schriften. Hrsg. Von Klaus Briegleb. München: Hanser 1968-1976, 6 Bände (6, II = Register)

DHA = Heinrich Heine: Sämtliche Werke. Düsseldorfer Ausgabe. In Verbindung mit dem Heinrich-Heine-Institut hrsg. Von Manfred Windfuhr. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe 1973 ff.

HSA = Heinrich Heine: Werke, Briefwechsel, Lebenszeugnisse. Säkularausgabe. Hrsg. Von den Nationalen Forschungs- und Gedenkstätten der klassischen deutschen Literatur in Weimar (seit 1991: Stiftung Weimarer Klassik) und dem Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Berlin und Paris: Akademie und Editions due CNRS 1970ff.

Gerhard Höhn (essay date 2002)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11877

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 victorious revolution in Paris. For a good one and a half decades he had predicted that what had begun in 1789 and continued in 1830 would soon be brought to a close. All the more paradoxical then, that such a question should haunt one who had never tired of ascertaining the reasonable course of the “affairs of this world,” of interpreting the omens of future progress for the German public, and of branding them into its consciousness. In fact, Heine had initially sought to accelerate the flow of events and, being for the most part furnished with a normative, Enlightenment conception of history spiced with the ideals of the French Revolution, was superbly equipped for such a mission.

The skeptical approach Heine took from 1848 onwards seems incongruous when one considers that he was a former student of Hegel and that his writings as a journalist and historian had paved the way toward a new understanding of French social as well as German intellectual history. Particularly his philosophical treatise of 1834, a brilliant elucidation and defense of the formidable dialectics of history proposed by his Berlin mentor, had successfully traced the development of the German mind from the Reformation to the present day as a revolutionary process in three phases that would necessarily lead from religious upheaval via philosophical revolt to culminate eventually in the “political revolution” that Heine was witnessing in his own time. In conjunction with Saint-Simonian aspirations toward an imminent reconciliation of these historical antagonisms, this vision harbored an almost solemn faith in scientific and technological progress and in a universal liberation of humanity that would even encompass human sensuality. But only fourteen years later confessions such as “ich glaube an den Fortschritt, ich glaube, die Menschheit ist zur Glückseligkeit bestimmt” (B 3: 519) were overshadowed by the impression that the “affairs of this world” inevitably veered toward unhappiness.


For Heine the year 1848 was as eminently symbolic as it was tragic. The long-awaited revolution failed and he himself was vanquished, as his body disintegrated.

In early February 1848 the already ailing poet found himself in a Parisian medical clinic from which he would not return home until three months later on May 7. The revolution broke out in Paris on February 22 and, to the amazement of all, the ensuing battles in the streets and at the barricades sealed the fate of the July Monarchy within a matter of hours. The victorious revolutionaries composed of radical opposition leaders, students, and the National Guard formed a provisional republican government, which was to stay in power until the beginning of May.

From the confines of his sanatorium Heine at first perceived the events only as a distant noise,2 but once, on February 23, when his carriage was overturned on a return journey from his apartment to the clinic, he was able to witness the fighting on the barricades at close range. Surprisingly, however, Heine, as correspondent of the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, reporting “live” from the battlefield, reacted like a passionate theatergoer attending a newly revised and successful performance of a “good play.” He lent authenticity to his account in the following way: “Ich hatte einen guten Platz um der Vorstellung beizuwohnen, ich hatte gleichsam einen Sperrsitz” (B 5: 208). Looking upon the February events in France, which in March would spill over into Germany and Eastern Europe, one cannot help but notice a startling analogy. As the initially successful uprisings began to falter and fail, the “orchestra seat” mutated into a dismal “Matratzengruft” from which Heine was never again to rise. But even though illness and above all his bodily collapse in mid-May permanently prevented the poet from directly participating in an event which, alongside the July Revolution of 1830, featured as the most important of his life, he experienced it to the quick until in the end he came to physically identify with it.

From a garden pavilion in Passy, which the by now completely paralyzed poet occupied beginning on May 24, he witnessed the gruesome massacre of June 22 to 25, 1848.3 Even as this initial armed conflict between the propertied classes and the poor raged on, Heine emphasized for the first time the connection between history and disease. Thus in a letter of June 25 he wrote: “Mes jambes n'ont pas survécu à la chute de la royauté et je suis à présent cul-de-jatte” (HSA 22: 284). In this manner, Heine concretely experienced his illness as a coinciding of history and biography. His physical torments come to represent the collapse of all revolutionary hopes in the years 1848-49, such that his personal fate effectively symbolizes that of the postrevolutionary age as a whole, while his own despair reflects the general woes of the era itself. This fusion of the individual and the collective is clearly evidenced in a letter dating from the end of January 1852. At a time when counterrevolution was in its ascendancy, the poet declared with a pinch of self-mockery: “In demselben Maße wie die Revolution Rückschritte macht, macht meine Krankheit die ernstlichsten Fortschritte” (HSA 23: 175).

If illness and counterrevolution are the only dynamic elements left, then follows the inevitable, grave question whether there is any point to history, that is to say, whether the progressive Hegelian conception of history has not perhaps proven futile. It is precisely this issue that Heine discussed at length, waxing very creative in places. In a letter of June 12, 1848, that is, even before the great massacre, he coined the metaphor “Weltrevoluzionsgepolter” (HSA 22: 282), and just a day after the “bloodbath” he told his mother of the “three terrible days,” adding “Die Welt ist voll Unglück” (HSA 22: 285). On July 9, completely bewildered by the course of events, he wrote the following anti-Hegelian lines to Campe: “Über die Zeitereignisse sage ich nichts; das ist Universalanarchie, Weltkuddelmuddel, sichtbar gewordener Gotteswahnsinn!” (HSA 22: 287).

The onslaught of chaos and turmoil that followed necessarily plunged any teleological conception of history into a profound crisis. The ever-encroaching sense that a God of chance occurrence (“der Gott-Zufall”) reigns supreme makes the faith in progress and in the perfection of mankind, which is so typical of French Enlightenment thought, appear obsolete. In Heine's view the famous thesis proposed by Hegel, “Die Weltgeschichte ist Fortschritt im Bewusstsein der Freiheit,” had failed in 1848 to withstand the trials and tribulations of reality. The aftermath left this form of history in ruins, just as all other political ideals had been reduced to rubble. After Louis Napoleon's coup d'état in February 1852 Heine made a devastating confession to his friend Gustav Kolb: “Die schönen Ideale von politischer Sittlichkeit, Gesetzlichkeit, Bürgertugend, Freyheit und Gleichheit, die rosigen Morgenträume des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts …, da liegen sie nun zu unseren Füßen, zertrümmert, zerschlagen” (HSA 23: 181).

Here just a brief note to explain Heine's point of view at the time. As events progressed in France and across Europe, the poet soon realized that the revolution of February and March was not his revolution and that the revolutionaries involved were not his revolutionaries. His initial mixed feelings, which were later to develop into outright opposition, are easier to fathom when one considers that Heine had expected a social uprising, only to encounter a political one. The form of government had been altered, but the social question of equality remained unsolved.


Exactly how novel in Heine's thinking would the alternative concepts of an all-guiding reason (“denkende Vernunft”) versus the God of chance occurrence appear in 1848? Heine's immediate reaction from the vantage point of his “orchestra seat” appears to be symptomatic of his latest conception of history. On the one hand, it seems to renounce an idealist philosophy of history, particularly one in the Hegelian mode, while at the same time allowing him to reconsider substantial elements of his earlier worldview that had kept historical idealism in check. The fundamental doubts and deep-rooted skepticism that were now assuming such a pivotal role had in fact always been part of Heine's thinking on history. Only they had been relegated to the margins and had never been expressed as prominently as now. Thus, according to my main thesis, the elements that pushed their way into the limelight in 1848 actually represent the reverse side of a progressive conception of history that had never been one-sided, or entirely linear. Like no other comparable German poet of his time, Heine had believed in the overwhelming power of progress or the “force des choses,” but this creed had never made him turn a blind eye to certain potentially negative consequences.

In fact, Heine's thinking on history was constantly informed by various sources, such that he could never come to a definite conclusion devoid of contradictions, or even to a homogenous doctrine, except, perhaps, for a very short phase.4 Apparently his unsystematic method is not based on any one specific concept.5

Why, indeed, should one expect a poet who from a very early time had been wary of the totalitarian demands of an idealist philosophy of history to come up with a systematic and accomplished conception of history? In the Reisebilder does he not mock one of the key concepts of his mentor Hegel by having a logical discussion result in absurd categorization, ending with a man of the people exclaiming “eine Idee ist alles dumme Zeug” (B 2: 288)? In his poem “Im Hafen” is Heine not parodying his teacher when he conjures the “rote, betrunkene Nase, / Die Nase des Weltgeists,” only to conclude with a jeering “Und um die rote Weltgeistnase / Dreht sich die ganze, betrunkene Welt” (B 1: 211)? Precisely this sense of contingency, which renders every systematic concept untenable—and which became dominant in Heine's thinking after 1848—had always been part of his view of history. For instance, in a spirited celebration of life from his second Reisebild, he characterizes the world, much as he had in “Im Hafen,” as a “Traum eines weinberauschten Gottes, der sich aus der zechenden Götterversammlung à la française fortgeschlichen.” The god in question is none other than Dionysus, whose dream visions often appear “motley and mad, but at times also harmonious and reasonable” (B 2: 253). This caricature places the skepticism about reason that Heine expressed in 1848 in a familiar context. His early nods to skepticism clearly show that he had always believed that reason and divine providence alone do not determine the course of world history, but rather that irrational forces also play their part. This view surfaces in the Reisebilder whenever Heine ridicules the notion of world harmony, deferring rather to a sense of “divine” or “world irony” (B 2: 522). Similarly, in Bäder von Lucca the narrator puzzles over the likelihood of certain events happening simultaneously in two different locations and asks whether elsewhere there was “etwa eine ähnliche Szene und offenbarte sich darin die Ironie des großen Weltbühnendichters da droben”—suggesting that this “author of the world stage” might be playfully staging such schemes of self-caricature repeatedly (B 2: 424). This and nothing more is the idea that resurfaces twenty years later, namely the notion of a “world stage” of the absurd. Drawing on ancient mythology and the baroque metaphor of theatrum mundi, Heine had already presented in Ideen a poetic model—“die Verbindung des Pathetischen mit dem Komischen” (B 2: 282)—that would prove essential to his contrastive modern narrative technique and which in his opinion had already been employed by great world poets such as Aristophanes, Goethe, and Shakespeare. This idea of a vast, chaotic global stage initially endowed his disillusioning humor with a quasi-objective or—to put it in philosophical terms—ontological quality. On the other hand, the aesthetic paradigm that informs the theater metaphor also encompasses a historical dimension. Heine continues:

Sie [die großen Dichter] habens alle dem großen Urpoeten abgesehen, der in seiner tausendaktigen Welttragödie den Humor aufs höchste zu treiben weiß, wie wir es täglich sehen:—nach dem Abgang der Helden kommen die Clowns und Graziosos mit ihren Narrenkolben und Pritschen, nach den blutigen Revolutionsszenen und Kaiseraktionen kommen wieder herangewatschelt die dicken Bourbonen.

(B 2: 282)

Heine's initial reactions to the events of 1848, when he reported that it was as if he had watched a “good play” and even had “a good seat from which to view the performance” (B 5: 208), reflect this same perspective. The prophecies of Ideen were later to fulfill themselves in a most unexpected and disappointing manner. Just as the Restoration period has come to be regarded as a comic intermezzo following the great tragedies of the Revolution and Napoleon, the aftermath of 1848 is considered an insignificant era. In Ideen, Heine proclaims further:

auf dieser großen Weltbühne geht es auch außerdem ganz wie auf unseren Lumpenbrettern, auch auf ihr gibt es besoffene Helden, Könige, die ihre Rolle vergessen, Kulissen, die hängen geblieben, hervorschallende Souffleurstimmen, Tänzerinnen, die mit ihrer Lendenpoesie Effekt machen, Costümes, die als Hauptsache glänzen.

(B 2: 283)

And on that “world stage” that Heine clapped together in his late poetry, events do indeed unfold “as upon rickety planks”: “clowns und graziosos” take the stage triumphantly, while “drunken heroes” and demented monarchs romp about in grotesque settings.


A glance at the complex notion of progress manifest in the Reisebilder and the Paris essays confirms what the experience of contingency has suggested. Despite the shifts in thinking precipitated by the events of 1848, Heine's spiritual and intellectual biography is characterized more by evolution and continuity than by rupture and discontinuity.6 Following the line of my main thesis, one could say that those elements that had been latent now became manifest, while those that had been more prominent receded into the background. In many respects, Heine interprets history according to an either/or scheme, whereby his position can fluctuate at times from one side of the fence to the other. Optimism never succeeds in ousting skepticism, but, on the other hand, doubt always leaves ample room for hope.

Thus, even the most ardently worded declarations in favor of progress and emancipation never quite manage to quench the inner voice of opposition. This voice incessantly conjures up haunting suspicions and points out fundamental doubts that constantly stop the soldier-poet—who is otherwise ready and willing to fight and sacrifice—dead in his tracks with the paralyzing query whether his efforts are not in vain, or if the price of relentless progress may not be a trifle too high. Heine's conception of history raises so many complex questions because it reveals an aspect of historical reasoning so close to modern modes of thinking. His view clearly reflects the doubts and aspirations of our times at the turn of the new millenium. A voice consistent with his early recognition of historical contingency surfaces again in his writings after 1848, raising now a twofold objection against any overly enthusiastic embrace of progress, by first, assuming the perspective of those who were its inevitable victims, and second, highlighting the aesthetic loss that was considered a necessary sacrifice for the sake of progress.7 (An alternative to the teleological concept will be discussed below.)

Even at the time of the Reisebilder, at the end of the 1820s, Heine had been aware of the consistently high cost of progress and of the sacrifices that liberation inevitably demands. These initial insights told him that such a tribute was payable in terms of individual sacrifice, even at the cost of human lives. Two examples will suffice: In Nordsee III (1827) Heine employs Hegelian dialectics on a grand scale for the first time—and promptly comes to the typical conclusion that for modern man emancipation comes at the price of alienation and inner strife. However, for the author and dialectic historian Heine a nostalgic return to the unproblematic immediacy of past existence was not possible. With the acute, disillusioned wit that is the trademark of a thoroughly modern intellectual, Heine immediately pinpoints the destructive aspects of progress, epitomized here in the irrevocable loss of traditional life among the Norderney islanders.8

An episode at an important historical venue during Heine's Italian journey provides a more paradigmatic example. As he takes in the scene, he begins to question the bloody toll that the War of Liberation has levied on humanity—a question that will remain with him. The setting is the battlefield of Marengo, where freedom danced on “Blutrosen”; where France, the groom of liberty who had invited “the whole world to its wedding” (B 2: 378), let the heads of the nobility roll on the eve of the wedding. Speaking in the first person, the narrator now poses the decisive question whether progress really justifies so high a price:

Aber ach! jeder Zoll, den die Menschheit weiter rückt, kostet Ströme Blutes; und ist das nicht etwas zu teuer? Ist das Leben des Individuums nicht vielleicht eben so viel wert wie das des ganzen Geschlechts? Denn jeder einzelne Mensch ist schon eine Welt, die mit ihm geboren wird und mit ihm stirbt, unter jedem Grabstein liegt eine Weltgeschichte—Still davon, so würden die Toten sprechen, die hier gefallen sind, wir aber leben und wollen weiter kämpfen im heiligen Befreiungskriege der Menschheit.

(B 2: 378)

The narrator refuses to distinguish between the individual and the human race as a whole, for he is convinced that the cost of liberty must include such “Blutrosen.” At this point, he silences the dead and rallies his fighting spirit by proclaiming his determination for self-sacrifice.

In this Reisebild, Heine speaks in the manner of a faithful, if critical Hegelian. In his lectures on Philosophie der Geschichte Hegel had proposed his famous thesis, according to which the spirit's consciousness of its freedom would become the final purpose of existence. This ultimate purpose, Heine elaborates, is the thing “worauf in der Weltgeschichte hingearbeitet worden, dem alle Opfer auf dem weiten Altare der Erde und in dem Verlauf der langen Zeit gebracht worden” (62). A skeptical query about the victims follows:

Aber auch indem wir die Geschichte als diese Schlachtbank betrachten, auf welcher das Glück der Völker, die Weisheit der Staaten und die Tugend der Individuen zum Opfer gebracht worden, so entsteht dem Gedanken notwendig auch die Frage, wem, welchem Endzwecke diese ungeheuersten Opfer gebracht worden sind.


But Hegel concludes by shunning any hopes harbored by the Enlightenment: “Die Weltgeschichte ist nicht der Boden des Glücks” (70-71). Thus Hegel sanctions the means employed by the Spirit to achieve its final aim, employing even the very language echoed in Heine's Marengo musings, most notably in the “slaughtering block” metaphor. For Heine, the voices of the victims are always present in the background, above all when he reports on the casualties of the Napoleonic wars or on the greatness of the empire. Is it any wonder, then, that he should reveal their hidden truths with the aid of the very metaphor coined by Hegel? Similarly, in Über die französische Bühne he casts doubt on this period of the empire's glory, and dryly adds: “Die Äcker lagen brach und die Menschen wurden zur Schlachtbank geführt” (B 3: 309). The full extent of Heine's skepticism toward his intellectual mentor is best evidenced by the fact that in his own history of philosophy he demonstratively adheres to the eudaemonistic agenda propagated by the Enlightenment.

There is a second point of departure from Hegel that needs only brief mention. One may cull from Heine's oeuvre a type of general conception of history, according to which evolution appears as a progressive demystification of the world. Even as early as the Reisebilder the author experiences pangs of pain and sorrow when he comes to view the process of civilization as a steady waning of beauty and sensuality that is symptomatic of cultural leveling and homogenization. If one could somehow link this point of view to Max Weber's thesis on “demystification,” then it could be argued that by means of his poetry Heine had fathomed the repercussions of formalist, occidental rationalization, as described in Weber's treatise on Protestantism. Weber, as we know, examines that “großen religionsgeschichtlichen Prozeß der Entzauberung der Welt, welcher mit der altjüdischen Prophetie einsetzte und, im Verein mit dem hellenischen wissenschaftlichen Denken, alle magischen Mittel der Heilssuche als Aberglaube und Frevel verwarf,” claiming that it was to culminate in Protestant asceticism (94-95). During his pantheist phase Heine, who was a merciless critic of spiritualism and Christian asceticism, had roughly defined the history of the human race as being a history of demystification in three steps, concluding that emancipation constantly claims sacrifices in terms of artistic beauty and greatness.


On November 5, 1851 Heine wrote to his friend Georg Weerth informing him of his hopeless physical condition and divulging an issue which he had not dared to express in the “Nachwort” to Romanzero. He subsequently uttered the confession, “daß ich als Dichter sterbe, der weder Religion noch Philosophie braucht, und mit beiden nichts zu schaffen hat” (HSA 23: 147). This gives the impression of his wanting to distance himself—at least in part—from his return to monotheism,9 which he had announced only five weeks earlier in the epilogue to his third anthology of poetry, provoking something of a scandal: “Ja, ich bin zurückgekehrt zu Gott, wie der verlorene Sohn, nachdem ich lange Zeit bei den Hegelianern die Schweine gehütet” (B 6.1: 182). My discussion of Heine's late, “post-philosophical” conception of history will address these matters in an attempt to determine to what extent the marginal aspects of his earlier thinking on history now, in the course of his alleged return to God, take center stage and relegate the teleological model to the margins.

The methodical starting point to be used here shall not rely on explicit, universal statements, but rather on the implicit development of his attitude in his late poetry; that is, his discursive turn against historical progress will be confronted with the poetry itself; a strategy that has been employed to great effect in the most recent research.10

The Romanzero poems tell of a world that has gone completely haywire, a world where dialectics have long been abandoned. These great narrative poems are not dominated by reason and common sense but by senselessness. Decline replaces evolution, while order surrenders to “universal anarchy” or “world fuddle-muddle.”11 In short, this global drama is not directed by a God of reason but by the “God of chance occurrence,” or even a drunken deity. It is not happiness that is being invoked but suffering; the sufferings of countless victims as well as those of a handful of heroes, and those of the protagonist, who in this Lazarus cycle is the most miserable of all. No matter where the narrative chooses to venture, whether it be world history, biography, or the story of individual nations, it always comes down to the same basic pattern of ascent, decline, and ruin—that is, a pointless cycle that embraces the entirety of human greatness and beauty in its crushing hoop. Thus in part 1, entitled “Historien,” the Valkyries make their appearance and announce the leitmotif of the whole oeuvre. Wodin's messengers are seen to hover above the battleground where men engage in the ceaseless struggle for power, and they mercilessly proclaim the triumph of evil over goodness:

Und das Heldenblut zerrinnt
Und der schlechtre Mann gewinnt.

(B 6.1: 21)

The exact meaning of this is effectively demonstrated in the ensuing ballad. “Schlachtfeld bei Hastings” treats the undoing of King Harold in 1066 in these lines characteristic of the “Historien”:

Gefallen ist der beßre Mann,
Es siegte der Bankert, der schlechte,
Gewappnete Diebe verteilen das Land
Und machen den Freiling zum Knechte.

(B 6.1: 22)

Should a further confirmation of this central motif be required, it can come from a great poem from “Lamentationen,” the second part of the anthology. “Im Oktober 1849” compares the heroic demise of the Hungarian revolution to the fall of the Nibelungen and then utters the bitter words:

Es ist dasselbe Schicksal auch—
Wie stolz und frei die Fahnen fliegen,
Es muß der Held, nach altem Brauch,
Den tierisch rohen Mächten unterliegen.

(B 6.1: 117)12

The opening “Historien” read like an extract from a pessimistic world history. These poems cover many epochs, ranging from India and ancient Egypt to medieval Persia and feudal Europe. They talk of the end of the Aztec empire as well as modern Britain and France, until they eventually end up in contemporary Paris. Everywhere, though, one finds the same basic themes of violence, treason, revenge, crime, struggle, ruin, defeat, and death. The chain of violent acts constantly renews itself, and gloomy scenes of overthrown dynasties and Götterdämmerungen form an endless sequence. Kings of all continents and ages lie in their own blood or will one day be slain (like Charles I of England, who bore his future executioner on his lap). The arbitrary reign of despotic rulers goes unchecked, and they even go so far as to murder innocent children (“Spanische Atriden”), while yet others encourage murder (“König David”) or turn out to be nothing more than impostors (like the Persian king in “Dichter Firdusi”). Even gods are allowed to go to the dogs, such as the title figure of “Der Apollogott,” who must swindle his way through exile, or Vitzliputzli, the Mexican god of war who is honored with human sacrifices before witnessing his own downfall. Love is likewise doomed to failure. The Yemenite Asra, for instance, cannot love without losing his life; “Pfalzgräfin Jutta” must kill to experience love, and the Provençal couple Melisande and Rudèl may not embrace, except at the price of losing each other forever.

This progression of doom and vanquishment is programmatically pursued into part 2 of the anthology, where the first-person narrator reviews the shambles of his life as a blending of the illness shackling him to the “Matratzengruft” with universal suffering. The central section comprises the Lazarus cycle, in which the theme of suffering finds itself most radically and subjectively expressed. Together with Job, the diseased leper Lazarus comes to epitomize the apparent pointlessness of human misery.13 In these personae the autobiographic element unpretentiously transcends the mask of fiction. Similarly, the proverb-like prologue “Weltlauf” recalls the poet's financial woes, that is, his bitter experiences with the power of money, by referring to the fundamental clash between wealth and poverty as portrayed in the Bible:

Hat man viel, so wird man bald
Noch viel mehr dazu bekommen.
Wer nur wenig hat, dem wird
Auch das wenige genommen.
Wenn du aber gar nichts hast,
Ach, so lasse dich begraben—
Denn ein Recht zum Leben, Lump,
Haben nur die etwas haben.

(B 6.1: 105)

The theme of victimization and suffering eventually culminates in the fate of the Jewish people. Part 3 marks a transition from the exemplary individual martyr Lazarus to the exemplary martyr nation of history, telling the story of the suffering of the Jewish people. The “Hebräische Melodien” are not lullabies but rather songs of lament in which the victory of evil over goodness is portrayed as pointless pain in a world without cause. The pariah who appears in the poem “Prinzessin Sabbat” stands for a people who have been transformed into a dog and are therefore condemned to lead a dog's life. The beaten and the banished in “Jehuda ben Halevy” are none other than the great Spanish-Jewish poets who suffered death and degradation in exile—and with whom Heine identified.

Though Lazarus, the poet Firdusi, and Jehuda Halevi may be tragic figures, they are surrounded by a host of comic characters. Contemporary clowns come in the guises of treasure thieves, rogues, executioners, and impostors (“Historien”). They bear names such as Pomare, Apollo, Crapülinski, and Waschlapski (“Historien”) or mysterious titles like “Der Ex-Lebendige” and “Der Ex-Nachtwächter” (“Lamentationen”). In some cases they make their appearance as bizarre duos such as Brother Jose and Rabbi Juda (“Hebräische Melodien”). This menagerie of curious figures in Romanzero is added to in the later poems by yet more grotesque individuals, as typified in the illustrious ruler and founding father of entire dynasties “Hans ohne Land,” “Kobes I” (Gedichte. 1853 und 1854), “Simplizissimus I,” and “König Langohr I” (unpublished works), not to mention the “Wahlesel” and the freakish bestiary with its wolves, cats, mice, dragonflies, sharks, and bugs. And also after Romanzero, a new brand of heroes, the fools of German politics, joins this parade of failure. The Gedichte. 1853 und 1854 expose the political immaturity of the Vormärz poets and ridicule the naiveté of the 1848 Frankfurt delegates, who are held responsible for the snuffing out of the revolution. And they criticize German dependence on higher authority as a tendency that precludes revolution from the very outset and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Finally, the epic poem “Bimini” also tells of a great misadventure, namely the abortive expedition aboard a “magic ship” to the magical land of Bimini. Its goal of “imminent rejuvenation” is inverted into one of imminent death.


Given Heine's generally disillusioned view of the world and his pessimistic notion of history, it is hardly a coincidence that in the Nachmärz—itself the initial period of decline for modern history—the teleological concept should begin to fade, finding itself not merely challenged but actually eclipsed by the significant return of an alternative model. We should recall here that before as well as after 1830 Heine had employed the cyclical model alongside the teleological concept. Only the dialectic foundation of Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland enabled him to overcome this ambivalence. As Jürgen Ferner has shown,14 this conflict characterizes the years between 1822 until roughly 1834, but the question remains whether it does not perhaps also characterize Heine's oeuvre as a whole, albeit with varying degrees of intensity—that is, as my thesis to this point has claimed, this conflict surfaced as an explicit argument at first, only to be sustained implicitly in the poetry of the late period.

The notion of recurrence that makes its debut in Ideen becomes powerfully apparent toward the end of the already cited Reise von München nach Genua, where it forms an explicit antithesis to teleological thought. Here, influenced by the theory of metempsychosis, the narrator reflects on the cycle arising out of the transition from life to death and onwards to new life. He describes this cycle, which supports the preservation of the species rather than individual originality, as “a hopelessly eternal play of repetition” (B 2: 388). One fragment in particular emphasizes the materialistic attitude upon which this notion of historical return is founded. It suggests that because of the finiteness of things within an endless expanse of time all material phenomena will eventually recur (incarnation) according to the law of endless combinations that governs the “eternal play of repetition,” with the result that all configurations that have already existed on earth will occur again (B 2: 616).15

In “Verschiedenartige Geschichtsauffassung,” a posthumously published fragment dating from 1833, Heine discusses the difference between the cyclical versus the evolutionary model explicitly, characterizing it in pointed fashion as the antithesis of the eternal return versus a linear historical dialectics. As representatives of the cyclical idea Heine mentions the historical school of jurisprudence (e.g., Friedrich Karl von Savigny), the poets of the Goethean “Kunstperiode,” and the historian Leopold von Ranke—today, we think of Nietzsche and his notion of the eternal return, as evidenced in the eternal struggle for power that dominates human history.16 The other side is represented by the “Humanitätsschule,” that is, Enlightenment thinkers such as Lessing. The decisive matter, however, is that Heine then regarded the cyclical notion as purely negative, as “hopeless” and “fatalistic,” his argument being that it led to a type of “elegiac indifference,” and to political paralysis. The poet therefore defended the evolutionary model because it advocates the implementation of reason in everyday political practice. He did nevertheless limit his enthusiasm by adding the compelling reservation that, for all its superiority, this scheme sacrifices life in the present to a future form of existence. In other words, one is too caught up in the past, while the other looks too far ahead. Ultimately, he discarded both in favor of individualist existence in the present, the well-known formula being “das Leben ist weder Zweck noch Mittel; das Leben ist ein Recht” (B 3: 23).

What has not been given its full due until recently is the fact that in 1848 Heine began to reconsider the cyclical idea that he had previously rejected as anti-progressive. What he had considered an idea of the past began again to shape his view of history; and this metamorphosis can be deduced from his late lyrics and prose pieces.

Heine opened his Allgemeine Zeitung correspondence in March 1848 with a telling question which plagued him as he observed the February Revolution from his “orchestra seat,” and in which the theatrum mundi metaphor becomes linked to the idea of eternal return: “Wiederholt sich der große Autor? Geht ihm die Schöpfungskraft aus?” Or to be specific, was February 1848 a repetition of July 1830? In Französische Zustände Heine had emphasized the continuity between 1789 and 1830, which then justified for him the bloodshed of the later uprising. “Die Revolution” he said “ist eine und dieselbe; … nicht für die Charte schlug man sich in der großen Woche, sondern für dieselben Revolutionsinteressen, denen man seit vierzig Jahren das beste Blut Frankreichs geopfert hatte” (B 3: 166). In his 1848 correspondence he writes in the same vein: “Hat er das Drama das er uns vorigen Februar zum Besten gab, nicht schon vor achtzehn Jahren ebenfalls zu Paris aufführen lassen unter dem Titel ‘die Juliusrevolution’?” Then he briefly consoles himself with the assurance: “Aber ein gutes Stück kann man zweimal sehen” (B 5: 208).17

But where does the cyclical notion become evident in his poetry? In Romanzero it returns with full force in its negative configuration, as the poet accepts as uncontested, quasi-natural phenomena those maxims of the cyclical theorists which he had rejected in 1833.18 It is expressed by Solomon the Preacher: “There is nothing new under the sun!” (1:9). A more concrete depiction of the fateful continuity of revenge appears in the romance “Spanische Atriden” with respect to a dynasty. Here, it leads to innocent royal children being caged like dogs.

The poem “König David” is much more impressive in this regard. It relates the ascent of a new ruler and paints an even more drastic picture of the bleak cycle of evil. With a knowing smile King David orders his son to have General Joab eliminated. The poems begins in the symptomatic fatalist vein:

Lächelnd scheidet der Despot,
Denn er weiß, nach seinem Tod
Wechselt Willkür nur die Hände,
Und die Knechtschaft hat kein Ende.

(B 6.1: 40)

Despotism is thus declared nothing less than a natural occurrence: evil has reigned for eons and will continue to do so forever.

The extent to which the cyclical model reinstates itself after 1848 is further highlighted by a poem from Gedichte. 1853 und 1854. The late poem “Pferd und Esel” quips directly at cyclical thought. A brief account of its content: In modern society with its revolutionary steam engines the equine species must brace itself for a bleak future, while the donkey apparently does not have to worry about what lies ahead—thus the donkey relishes its seeming superiority in a manner typical of Heine's late thinking on history:

In diesem uralten Naturkreislauf
Wird ewig die Welt sich drehen,
Und ewig unwandelbar wie die Natur,
Wird auch der Esel bestehen.

(B 6.1: 295)

The poetry is complemented by a passage in his autobiographical prose that also resorts to those words of Solomon the Preacher quoted above. In Geständnisse (1854) the Lazarus-Heine alludes again to this biblical saying, now for the third time in the context of his thinking on history. As he invokes the cyclical view of history once again, he quotes Solomon almost literally: “es gibt nichts Neues unter der Sonne” (B 6.1: 501).

Ultimately the full scope of cyclical thought renascent in the Nachmärz lyrics is evidenced by the ubiquitous references to repetition. Initiated by a personal return (“ich bin zurückgekehrt zu Gott”), the final phase of Heine's work is dominated throughout by all forms of repetition, be they universal or individual in nature, of negative or positive import.

The predominance of the negative throughout history is one prominent aspect. Two longer poems in the third book of Romanzero elaborate on the ever-present, ceaselessly recurring fate of the Jewish people during the diaspora. The life of Jehuda Halevi serves as an example for the recurrence of suffering and the degradation of exiled poets in general. “Prinzessin Sabbat,” cited above, tells how Prince Israel is changed back into a human being, but only for an evening because the curse placed on the Jewish people causes him to be turned back into a dog. The fate of the diaspora is likewise symbolized by a javelin, which is constantly hovering over “our heads” and “pierces the best hearts.” It not only hits Jehuda Halevi but also Moses Ibn Esra and Salomon Gabirol. On another level, offenses or affronts suffered earlier return repeatedly. Such is the case for instance in the “garden of malediction” of the “Affrontenburg,” which bears a veritable curse that the poem's narrator cannot seem to shake off (Gedichte. 1853 und 1854).

Events of contemporary history are often played out, but in comical fashion. The last four poems of Gedichte. 1853 und 1854 as well as some unpublished Zeitgedichte repeatedly target ruling figures and representatives of the opposition in order to lampoon the permanence of German misery in the Nachmärz. For example, the black, red, and gold flag, referred to now as “old-Germanic rubbish,” appears anew while Ernst Moritz Arndt and Turnvater Jahn, those “heroes from the days of old” rise once more from their graves (B 6.1: 271). “Im Oktober 1849” denounces the return of the Restoration era in the form of resurrected images of idyllic familial bliss. A part of the “Lamentationen,” it is satire on Germany written in the wake of the ill-fated Hungarian revolution, which had signaled the end to the European uprisings of 1848. It opens with the mocking lines:

Gelegt hat sich der starke Wind,
Und wieder stille wirds daheime;
Germania, das große Kind,
Erfreut sich wieder seiner Weihnachtsbäume.

(B 6.1: 116)

This hopeless state of affairs is also parodied in a series of animal satires from the final phase, in which the Germans' daftness and their addiction to authoritarianism is portrayed as a natural and thereby unchangeable phenomenon. “Schlosslegende” attacks the same issue. This poem directly unmasks the perverted ancestry of the Prussian royal family, whose supposed origins—which according to legend go back to horses—have marked all its monarchs with a stigma against which they are defenseless.

Certain fantasies repeat themselves as well. In the “Historien” the dead are resurrected and keep returning as ghosts: for example, “Pfalzgräfin Jutta” (with the seven dead souls), the “Himmelsbräute,” or even the amorous “tender ghosts”19 “Geoffroy Rudèl und Melisande von Tripoli.” In the ghost drama “Maria Antoinette” the past returns in the form of an ancient and unchangeable courtly ritual. In “Kobes I” a certain portentous ghost by the name of “die Schaffnerin” makes its appearance whenever the Germans have committed a “grand act of folly” (Gedichte. 1853 und 1854). Also, mythological figures such as the Valkyries carry out their woeful duties as attendants of Odin. The Mexican god of war on the other hand comes to Europe and assumes a new career of devilry and vengeance as “the malicious enemy of enemies.” Furthermore, questions of life philosophy churn in aporia-like circles, as is exemplified by the unsolvable conflict between beauty and truth treated in the great unpublished poem “Es träumte mir von einer Sommernacht” (“O, dieser Streit wird endgen nimmermehr, / Stets wird die Wahrheit hadern mit dem Schönen,” [B 6.1: 349]). Similarly, the eternally futile religious disputation between the rabbi and the monk must remain unresolved because, in the end, “alle beide stinken.”

The recurrent pattern also applies to formal elements. Motifs such as the presentation of the pearl case in “Jehuda ben Halevy” are expanded upon, and particular words are deliberately repeated several times within the text.20 In Gedichte. 1853 und 1854 entire stanzas find themselves repeated (e.g., in “Die Laune der Verliebten” [B 6.1: 218, 219, 220]), or whole verses (e.g., in “Die Libelle” [B 6.1: 209]; or in “Mimi” [B 6.1: 221]), or parts of verses (e.g., the phrase “die böse Welt” in “Schnapphahn und Schnapphenne” [B 6.1: 225]).

And finally, there is another, totally different genre of repetition or recurrence. A renewed veneration for poetry as such, which is central to “Jehuda ben Halevy,” becomes even more pronounced in “Bimini,” an epic that takes us back to the “age of faith in miracles” when the wondrous “blue flower” still blossomed freely. The “magical ship” being launched from the “slips of thought” is demonstratively flagged out in the “fabled colors of the Romantic” (B 6.1: 243, 247-48).


Contingency, recurrence, and cyclical thought are undoubtedly indicative of stagnation, but one must nevertheless ask whether things really do not move at all? Has reason, all “denkende Vernunft,” really forsaken history altogether? The impression of a deep freeze in the dialectics of history categorically conveyed throughout the Romanzero and the late poetry revolves around one aspect in particular: Heine's rejection of Hegel.

His complex relations with Hegel after 1848 culminated in a public renunciation of his master. One should remember that at the beginning of the 1850s Heine announced a renewed faith in God and officially severed his links with Hegel, whom he now declared the initiator of certain fatal atheist tendencies in German philosophy, tendencies that had taken hold among the proletariat. It is, however, difficult to qualify Hegel as an atheist; and with this in mind, Heine's statements should be examined more closely. Having turned to religion, Heine now equates pantheism to atheism, declaring pantheists to be nothing other than “shameful atheists” (B 6.1: 183). But he is resolute in breaking away from the Left-Hegelians, for whom he now claims, in a well-known passage, he had once “herded swine” (B 6.1: 182); he now dismisses them as “godless self-gods” (B 3: 510). This renunciation of Ruge, Marx, Feuerbach, and Bruno Bauer is justified in this regard, because these thinkers actually did resort to atheist beliefs. In one instance, Heine even quotes Feuerbach expressly.

An unqualified break with Hegel or not? The answer to this question is so crucial because it also determines how one assesses the continuity of Heine's work.21 Dolf Sternberger22 and, more recently, Roger Cook23 believe there was such a break, while Ortwin Lämke and Arnold Pistiak have recently joined Jean-Pierre Lefebvre in denying it. Without retracing this debate among Heine scholars in detail, this is the occasion to propose an alternative differentiation: when Heine explicitly severed his links with the “godless” Hegel, it remains open whether he actually cut himself loose intellectually and poetically from the Berlin philosopher, or whether in his writings an implicit adherence to Hegel's thought might still exist. Lefebvre, for example, who has analyzed the question in most detail, has been able to show to what extent Romanzero's triadic plot incorporates elements of Hegelian logic and dialectics, even if as parody. Similarly, he reads the “Historien” as a parody of Hegel's conception of world history. Moreover, Lefebvre, a scholar of both Heine and Hegel, is convinced that the line of argument in Geständnisse, written after Heine's rejection of Hegel, is still “definitely Hegelian” in essence. Not only the biblical Genesis-type story including the fall of man, but also a number of other text segments indicate a “relapse into Hegelianism.”24 On this level, one should also ask if Lutezia, with all its subsequent additions, adheres to a method other than the Hegelian, that is, whether one finds indications of more universally valid ideas in Heine's treatment of specific issues of his own times.25 This idea has recently been explored by Lämke, who has analyzed a number of motifs and terms found in both Französische Zustände (1833) and in Lutezia (1854)—for example, money, Louis-Philippe, Napoleon, Volk, revolution, republic, and communism. In Lämke's conclusion, which sticks firmly to the thesis of continuity, he confirms that after 1848 Heine suppresses direct references to Hegel but that his dialectic notions of history nonetheless continue to evolve in another form (127-30, 136-39). Taking a different approach, Pistiak basically endorses this assumption. He believes that Heine's poetic practice in Gedichte. 1853 und 1854 undermines his official statements about his return to God and his break with Hegel (182-96). Pistiak contends that the commonly held view that Heine gradually distances himself from Hegel cannot be supported by reference to either Geständnisse or to Gedichte. 1853 und 1854 (192).

Heine's critique of Hegel is not the only available point of reference. His late oeuvre contains ample clear-cut indications of Heine's conviction that history is not eternally caught in a circle. Clearly, his prognoses for the future in Lutezia and Geständnisse suggest as much. In the German version of the preface to the French edition of Lutezia, for instance, he resolutely predicts that the future belongs to the communists. Without going into the specifics of this issue, I would offer this thought: despite his critical stance on proletarian egalitarianism and iconoclasm, for all his seemingly ambivalent statements concerning early communism, one cannot but conclude that Heine never questioned the historical legitimacy of communism. When one reads his declarations from the 1850s in the context of the immediate situation, as one must, they often turn out to be negative declarations that then deconstruct themselves through ironic or stylistic reversal.

Most prominently, Heine does not shy away from self-contradiction when he says that the future belongs to the communists because their leaders were schooled in Hegel. In Geständnisse, he even emphasizes in no uncertain terms the power that the German communists have garnered from the working classes: “diese Partei ist zu dieser Stunde unstreitig eine der mächtigsten jenseits des Rheines.” He attributes this power to the party's uncompromising doctrine in which the “crassest atheism” plays a large part. The French version of this text furthermore stresses the superiority of German-style communists in comparison to the British Chartists and the Egalitarians from other countries, attributing it to the fact that their leaders are great logicians, “de grands logiciens” schooled in Hegel: “Ces docteurs en révolution et leurs disciples impitoyablement déterminés sont les seuls hommes en Allemagne qui aient vie, et c'est à eux qu'appartient l'avenir” (B 6.2: 186).

Heine believes the German communists capable of, first, solving the great social question of equality and justice, and, second, of dealing German nationalism a decisive blow. This harks back to the programmatic announcements he made in the 1830s. In the preface to Lutezia he again acknowledges the unquenchable inner voice of logic, which informs him “that all human beings have the right to eat.” Although fearing the destruction of the “marble statues of his beloved world of art” and his “laurel forests,” he nonetheless ends up praising even the greengrocer who uses the pages on which his poems are printed as paper cones, “worin er Kaffee und Schnupftabak schüttet für die armen alten Mütterchen, die in unsrer heutigen Welt der Ungerechtigkeit vielleicht eine solche Labung entbehren mußten—fiat justitia, pereat mundus!” (B 5: 233).

And then there is also the overwhelming voice of hatred. The Francophile Heine had always been aware of the fact that he and the communists were fighting a common enemy in Germany, and thus he had to concede: “Aus Haß gegen die Nationalisten könnte ich schier die Kommunisten lieben.” Seen from this angle, the communists' faults (such as atheism) definitely appear to be the lesser of two evils, because their highest principles revere the same values Heine holds dear, namely “Kosmopolitismus, eine allgemeine Völkerliebe, ein Weltbürgertum aller Menschen, welches ganz übereinstimmend ist mit dem Grunddogma des Christentums.” Two years before his death Heine did not hesitate to make public his conviction that the communists were eventually going to crush the teutomaniacs “like a toad.”

Ultimately, Heine's further thinking on the dialectic between theory and practice must be seen in connection with his prophecies about communism. As a symptom of his problematical relationship to Hegel, and thus to history itself, it also indicates to what extent he counters Hegel with his own ideas.26 As we know, the author of Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschlana adopted Hegel's idea about the close relation between thought and action, and chose to give it particular emphasis in his own treatise. However, he goes beyond Hegel in that he actually demands a transition from theory to practice. The notion of philosophy being no more than a temporary stage in the process of human liberation is incompatible with Hegel's system. Heine's groundbreaking motto, which paved the way for the young Hegelians, states, “Der Gedanke will Tat, das Wort will Fleisch werden” (B 3: 593).

Twenty years later Heine reassessed the length of time required for the idea of liberty to permeate all levels of society and to eventually become a reality. In reference to a development he terms “Volkwerdung der Freiheit,” he modifies his earlier maxim in this symptomatic way: “Das Wort wird Fleisch, und das Fleisch blutet” (B 5: 461). Hegel's dialectics and the theory of necessity thus receive a perceptible pruning and subsequently lose some momentum, but they are not entirely discarded, because the word is still to become deed. However, the metaphor of “bleeding flesh” again reminds one of the high cost of further progress, which demands sacrifice, pain, and renunciation. Still, in the end this blood metaphor, which appears both in the Reisebilder and in his late work, signals the conviction that those “democratic principles” to which Heine had adamantly adhered throughout (B 6.1: 184) would eventually materialize in the long term, perhaps circuitously. As “Enfant perdu” will no doubt remind us, he was nevertheless aware of the fact that he would never live to see that day.


However one views Heine's attitude toward Hegel and the communists, one thing is certain about it: the seemingly omnipotent God who plays dice with the world or the fateful recurrence of evil may well be able to postpone the goal of history, but they cannot totally avert progress. Reason has gone through a deep crisis, but it has not been eradicated, whether because the reign of folly is being challenged by reason, or because a crazed God has to be summoned before a tribunal27—and which other is there than that ruled by reason—or simply because the parody of the Vormärz poets and of those of 1848 would not be feasible without a blueprint for more inspired politics. Alternately put: Does the satire on the undone Vormärz poets and the failure of 1848 not provoke a desire for better politicians? Does a criticism of that which is wrong not point toward something better? Does the victim's perspective so overwhelmingly apparent in Romanzero28 not carry with it the implication that the oppressed need not always remain trodden underfoot?

Even in death's antechamber, his mattress tomb, Heine still had not come to terms with postrevolutionary reality. Despite personal despair, his thinking and his poetry were neither resigned nor pessimistic. On the contrary, Heine kept producing critical lyrics29 and maintained his fighting spirit without taking back any of his predictions about social revolution, a claim that, as mentioned previously, Lämke and Pistiak have now established convincingly.30

Though Heine's reputation as an intellectual who defended his ideals to the last has been reinstated, it is much harder to find corresponding positive strains in his poetic practice. But among recent critical studies, Cook has shown that the poet's renewed faith in the power of autonomous poetry represents an element of hope. This new poetic principle (as exemplified in Romanzero) returns to a particular romantic tradition, reviving by means of a modern poetic imagination its myths and legends, sagas and visions in the hope of freeing up potential forces that had been suppressed. Cook argues that the “new mythopoetic discourse” which Heine creates in the late work is “privileged in some way to express truths inaccessible to other discourses, including those of religion and philosophy.”31 However, this strategy, largely dependent on aesthetic tactics, strains the relationship between theory and practice. With his interpretation of Gedichte. 1853 und 1854, which focuses on socially critical aspects and attempts to demonstrate a political dimension, Pistiak, on the other hand, has demonstrated that the link between theory and practice is in fact carried through to the late poetry. Commenting, for instance, on the protagonists of history in this later collection, he maintains that the voice of the people (“das Volk”) is only heard in the Lazarus poems (237). And what about the Romanzero which—with the exception of the two poets Firdusi and Jehuda Halevi—is positively crawling with false or, at the very least, comic heroes, while the real protagonists of history, although present, remain—according to Lefebvre—anonymous and obscure?32

Two famous and much-cited poems from Romanzero, among others, announce a positive countermovement against an evil universe by siding with the victims: “Im Oktober 1849” and “Enfant Perdu,” both from the Lazarus cycle of “Lamentationen” (B 6.1: 116-18 and 120-21). Both poems acknowledge military defeat. The heroic battle of the Hungarians ends in the fall of “the last bastion of freedom,” while the overpowered sentry has held out for 30 years in the “war for freedom” without a hope of victory and now lies wounded to death. In these poems either a “friend” or the narrator himself is stricken by a fatal bullet. Both glorify martyrdom, and the blood of heroes flows freely. The line in one, “Ungarn blutet sich zu Tode,” finds its echo in the other: “Die Wunden klaffen—es verströmt mein Blut.” The victors are qualified on the one hand as “beastly brutal forces,” or, more precisely, as the “Ox” Austria, the Russian “Bear”; and on the other as “some suspicious fool” who fired the deadly bullet. But the narrators have not been left to fight alone. The first-person plural speaker of the Hungarian song knows a “friend who was shot” and declares his solidarity with the Magyars. The sentry likewise remembers his comrades as “a host of friends.” Both retain the energy to console themselves and, more significantly, both speakers are convinced that they have not fought in vain. Thus the narrator of one poem calls out to his defeated hero “doch tröste dich, Magyar, / Wir andre haben schlimmre Schmach genossen,” meaning, in contrast to you, we stray into “das Joch / Von Wölfen, Schweinen und gemeinen Hunden.” After the changeover from “we” to “I” the speaker finally condemns the noisy victors by registering olfactory protest and then, in contrast, urging his poet self to resist in silence:

Das heult und bellt und grunzt—ich kann
Ertragen kaum den Duft der Sieger.
Doch still, Poet, das greift dich an—
Du bist so krank und schweigen wäre klüger.(33)

The epilogue to this cycle, where, as mentioned earlier, the poet's fate and the political destiny of his times coincide in exemplary fashion, takes up the theme of death in battle that he had addressed at the battlefield of Marengo, employing the “Blutrosen” of freedom metaphor. However, now his perspective on the matter is reversed. Although in Romanzero there is no more talk of the collective “we” who want to “live and … fight again” (B 2: 378), the “Verlorene Posten” nonetheless faces imminent death with the soothing hope that others will occupy his place and continue the fight. These closing words can be read as a legacy by means of which the dying, yet undefeated poet enters into the historical succession of generations, his consolation being rooted in the dynamics of a socio-genealogical continuity:

Ein Posten ist vakant!—Die Wunden klaffen—
Der eine fällt, die andern rücken nach—
Doch fall ich unbesiegt, und meine Waffen
Sind nicht gebrochen—Nur mein Herze brach.

The “Enfant Perdu” does not regard the lost battle as the end of the war, and associates the certainty of his own doom with the faith in the ongoing struggle for emancipation.


  1. This essay derives from a presentation in November 1998, which bore the same title and was given as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Düsseldorf Heinrich-Heine-Gesellschaft, entitled “150 Jahre Revolution 1848.”

  2. B 5: 207: “Beständig Getrommel, Schießen und Marseillaise. Letztere, das unaufhörliche Lied, sprengte mir fast das Gehirn.”

  3. On June 25 general Cavaignac, the minister of war, aided by the entire armed forces (national guard, mobile guard, and the army) as well as by canons, put down the people's rebellion. The revolutionaries suffered at least 3000 fatalities and there were 15,000 arrests, while the republican bourgeoisie lost about 1000 men.

  4. Heine scholars cannot agree as to whether he actually held a systematic view of history. In his monograph, Ferner regards the question of a “geschlossene diskursive Behandlung des Geschichtsproblems” or a “systemphilosophische Abrundung” to be irrelevant in the case of a poet like Heine (Versöhnung und Progression: Zum geschichtsphilosophischen Denken Heinrich Heines [Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 1994], 17). Ortwin Lämke on the other hand maintains that due to his understanding of Hegel from the Berlin years up until 1848, Heine had advocated a systematic concept of history, which he then revised (Heines Begriff der Geschichte: Der Journalist Heinrich Heine und die Julimonarchie, Heine-Studien [Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler, 1997], 142).

  5. In addition to the two aforementioned, authoritative monographs, Heine's conception of history has also been analyzed by the following authors: Karlheinz Fingerhut, Standortbestimmungen. Vier Untersuchungen zu Heinrich Heine (Heidenheim: Heidenheimer Verlagsanstalt, 1971), 53-91; Helmut Koopmann, “Heines Geschichtsauffassung,” Jahrbuch der Deutschen Schillergesellschaft (1972): 453-76; Jost Hermand, “Gewinn im Verlust. Zu Heines Geschichtsphilosophie,” Text + Kritik 18/19 (1982): 49-66; Antoon A. van den Braembussche, “Heines Geschichtsbild,” Rose und Kartoffel: Ein Heinrich Heine-Symposium, ed. Antoon A. van den Braembussche and Philipp van Engeldorp Gastelaars (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1988), 85-101; Gerhard Höhn, “‘Blutrosen’ der Freiheit. Heinrich Heines Geschichtsdenken,” Heinrich Heine: Ästhetisch-politische Profile, ed. Gerhard Höhn (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991), 176-94; and Michael Werner, “Réflexion et révolution. Notes sur le travail de l'histoire dans l'oeuvre de Heine,” Revue Germanique Internationale 9 (1998): 47-60. Those focusing on particular aspects of this concept include Bollacher (“Aufgeklärter Pantheismus,” Heinrich Heine: Artistik und Engagement, ed. Wolfgang Kuttenkeuler [Stuttgart: Metzler, 1977], 144-86), Zantop (“Verschiedenartige Geschichtsauffassung: Heine und Ranke,” Heine-Jahrbuch 23 [1984]: 42-68), Heinemann (“‘Variazionen’—Heines Geschichtsauffassung nach 1848,” Rose und Kartoffel: Ein Heinrich Heine-Symposium, ed. Antoon A. van den Braembussche and Philipp van Engeldorp Gastelaars [Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1988], 69-84), Briegleb (“Abgesang auf die Geschichte? Heines jüdisch-poetische Hegelrezeption,” Heinrich Heine: Ästhetisch-politische Profile, ed. Gerhard Höhn [Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991], 17-37), Briese (“‘Schutzmittel für die Cholera.’—Geschichtsphilosophische und politische Cholera-Kompensation bei Heine und seinen Zeitgenossen,” Heine-Jahrbuch 32 [1993]: 9-25), Höhn (“‘La force des choses’: Geschichtsauffassung und Geschichtsschreibung in Heines Reisebildern,Lectures d'une oeuvre: Reisebilder. Heinrich Heine, ed. René Anglade [Paris: Editions du temps, 1998], 84-102), and Erhart (“Heinrich Heine: Das Ende der Geschichte und ‘verschiedenartige’ Theorien zur Literatur,” Aufklärung und Skepsis: Internationaler Heine-Kongreß 1997 zum 200. Geburtstag, ed. Joseph A. Kruse, Bernd Witte, and Karin Füllner [Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler, 1999], 498-506).

  6. In contrast to earlier theses of a break, recent research has used various perspectives and methods to emphasize the continuity within Heine's oeuvre, both by retracing his intellectual development and by analyzing the way it translates into practice in his poetry. Concerning the problem of history, Ferner for instance speaks of a “revision” following 1848 (Versöhnung und Progression 292) but slots Heine's final phase into a rubric entitled “geschichtsphilosophische Variation.” The abbreviated version of his work, “‘O wer lesen könnte!’” also emphasizes the idea of continuity. Lämke distinguishes between reassessment, that is to say a “break” with the past in Heine's later conception of history, and the idea of continuity (Heines Begriff der Geschichte 141). Arnold Pistiak argues expressly that there was direct continuity (“Ich will das rote Sefchen küssen”: Nachdenken über Heines letzten Gedichtzyklus, Heine-Studien [Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler 1999], 316).

  7. Both aspects, the dialectics of progress and the theory of demystification, are first introduced in Höhn, “‘Blutrosen’ der Freiheit.”

  8. See Jost Hermand, “Gewinn im Verlust. Zu Heines Geschichtsphilosophie,” Text + Kritik 18/19 (1982): 49-66.

  9. On Heine's religious turnabout, see Wilhelm Gössmann, “Die theologische Revision Heines in der Spätzeit” (320-35) and Hermann Lübbe, “Heinrich Heine und die Religion nach der Aufklärung” (205-18), both in Der späte Heine, 1848-1856: Literatur—Politik—Religion, ed. Wilhelm Gössmann and Joseph A. Kruse (Heine-Studien; Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1982). On the chronology of Heine's return to monotheism in 1848/1849, see Ludwig Rosenthal, Heinrich Heine als Jude (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1973), 281-83. On the crisis of 1848, see Roger F. Cook, By the Rivers of Babylon: Heinrich Heine's Late Songs and Reflections (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1998), 51-89.

  10. On this approach, see more recent larger works concerning Heine's late writings (Romanzero, Gedichte. 1853 and 1854, and Lutezia) by Cook (By the Rivers of Babylon), Pistiak (“Ich will das rote Sefchen küssen”), and Lämke (Heines Begriff der Geschichte).

  11. “Weltkuddelmuddel”; in an unpublished poem, the alternative coinage “Erdenkuddelmuddel” also occurs (B 6.1: 311).

  12. Further verses home in on this key motif; for example poem 1 of “Zum Lazarus”—the just suffer, “Während glücklich als ein Sieger / Trabt auf hohem Roß der Schlechte” (B 6.1: 201). Also, the posthumously published “Ganz entsetzlich ungesund” (B 6.1: 330) and “Es kommt der Tod” (B 6.1: 341). See also the final paragraph of Die Götter im Exil (B 6.1: 423).

  13. See Joseph A. Kruse, “Heinrich Heine—Der Lazarus,” Heinrich Heine: Ästhetisch-politische Profile, ed. Gerhard Höhn (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991), 258-75.

  14. Ferner (Versöhnung und Progression 103-209) has meticulously analyzed the parallels from the Reisebilder era up as far as Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland in 1834. His thesis is that Heine's wavering between the two alternative concepts ends with the Paris writings, the short text entitled “Verschiedenartige Geschichtsauffassung” (1833) marking the turning point. However, the cyclical model is also discussed in his essay on Shakespeare (1839; B 4: 214-17), and it makes a definite comeback in the late poetry. See also the important fragment on philosophy of history, B 6.1: 624.

  15. See Jan-Christoph Hauschild in the Düsseldorf Heine Edition (DHA 10: 795-801). And again in his “Différentes manières de considérer l'histoire. A propos des réflexions de Heine en matière de philosophie de l'histoire dans les années 1830,” Revue Germanique Internationale 9 (1998): 61-72.

  16. For details on Nietzsche's relationship to Heine see Höhn, “‘Farceur’ und ‘Fanatiker des Ausdrucks.’ Nietzsche, ein verkappter Heineaner,” Heine-Jahrbuch 36 (1997): 134-52.

  17. This “theater performance” returns in the poem “Sie erlischt” in the form of a death fantasy.

  18. Jean-Pierre Lefebvre also emphasizes the nature-like cyclical elements in Romanzero and adds the fitting remark that one finds nothing but dying phases, while the “joys of spring” are missing. (Der gute Trommler: Heines Beziehungen zu Hegel, Heine-Studien [Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1986], 134-35). See also Lefebvre, “Nachwort,” Heinrich Heine, Romanzero, ed. Bernd Kortländer (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1997), 288-89.

  19. For a treatment of the “Gespenster” motif, see Isabelle Kalinowski, “L'histoire, les fantômes et la poésie dans le Romancero,Revue Germanique Internationale 9 (1998): 129-42, and Walter Erhart, “Heinrich Heine: Das Ende der Geschichte und ‘verschiedenartige’ Theorien zur Literatur.”

  20. For an interpretation of the repetition in “Hitzig / Itzig” see Isabelle Kalinowski, “Trois Figures du Romancero: l'incongruité, la répétition, le paradoxe,” in La poésie de Heinrich Heine, ed. Michel Espagne and Isabelle Kalinowski (Paris: CNRS Editions, 2000), 133-37.

  21. For a synthesis of the problematic relationships between Heine and Hegel and also Heine and the communists see Höhn, Heine-Handbuch: Zeit, Person, Werk, 2nd. ed. (Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler, 1997), 354-57 and 476-78. See also Cook, By the Rivers of Babylon, 68-89, 91-94, 110-13, and 351-52.

  22. Sternberger: “Überhaupt spielt Hegel in Heines Werken bis zu den ‘Geständnissen’ eine vergleichsweise unbedeutende Rolle” (Heinrich Heine und die Abschaffung der Sünde [Hamburg: Claassen, 1972], 260). According to Sternberger's thesis, Hegel's thinking takes on a prominent role in 1854, as never before, but at this point Heine rejects it.

  23. In his introductory section to his By the Rivers of Babylon, entitled “The Renunciation of Modern Philosophy,” Cook stresses Heine's “adamant opposition to Hegelian philosophy” (29), pointing to “Heine's castigation of Hegel after 1848” (31). For similar wording see also 57, 105, and 121.

  24. See Lefebvre, Der gute Trommler, 125-43, and also, “Nachwort,” 284-88.

  25. Hauschild and Werner maintain that Heine's method of explanation in Lutezia remained Hegelian in essence (Der Zweck des Lebens ist das Leben selbst. Heinrich Heine: Eine Biographie [Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1997], 581).

  26. Lefebvre, Der gute Trommler, 29. It is Lefebvre who proposes the appropriate pun “hégélien défroqué.”

  27. On July 9, 1848, Heine wrote to Campe about the “Gotteswahnsinn”: “Der Alte muß eingesperrt werden, wenn das so fort geht” (HSA 22: 287).

  28. See Klaus Briegleb, who coined the concept “Poetik der Besiegten” (Opfer Heine? Versuche über Schriftzüge der Revolution [Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986], 127).

  29. B 6.1: 270-307. In this regard, the poem “Die Wanderratten” is worthy of mention, as it is the only piece announcing the need for a social revolution.

  30. See Lämke, Heines Begriff der Geschichte, 122-23; and Pistiak's chapter in his “Ich will das rote Sefchen küssen” entitled “Ansatzpunkte mündig-oppositioneller Haltungen im Spätwerk Heines” (225-41), and also 316.

  31. Cook, By the Rivers of Babylon, 44 and 48. His aim: to show “how Heine himself saw his last poems as the beginnings of a mythopoetic post-Enlightenment poetry that combines Romantic discontent with the world and critical inquiry” (364).

  32. Concerning the poems “Im Oktober 1849” and “Enfant perdu,” Lefebvre writes that the agents of history “sind durch nichts anderes gekennzeichnet als durch diese Freundschaft, durch diese innere Beziehung zu Heine, ihr Heldenname wird nicht genannt” (Der gute Trommler, 136); cp. also “Nachwort,” 290. Especially in reference to “Im Oktober 1849” and “Enfant perdu,” see also Michael Werner, “Politische Lazarus-Rede: Heines Gedicht ‘Im Oktober 1849,’” Gedichte und Interpretationen, vol. 4, ed. Günter Häntzschel (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1983), 288-99, and “Heines poetisch-politisches Vermächtnis,” Interpretationen: Gedichte von Heinrich Heine, ed. Bernd Kortländer (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1995), 181-94.

  33. On the motif of silence and secrecy see Christian Liedtke, in particular: “dieses beredte Schweigen ist Heines Einspruch gegen den ‘Raketenlärm’ und die alles übertönenden dissonanten Tierlaute der Sieger” (“‘Ich kann ertragen kaum den Duft der Sieger.’ Zur politischen Dichtung Heinrich Heines nach 1848,” 1848 und der deutsche Vormärz, ed. Peter Stein, Florian Vaßen, and Detlev Kopp [Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 1998], 211).

Works Cited

Bollacher, Martin. “Aufgeklärter Pantheismus.” Heinrich Heine: Artistik und Engagement. Ed. Wolfgang Kuttenkeuler. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1977. 144-86.

van den Braembussche, Antoon A. “Heines Geschichtsbild.” Rose und Kartoffel: Ein Heinrich Heine-Symposium. Ed. Antoon A. van den Braembussche and Philipp van Engeldorp Gastelaars. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1988. 85-101.

Briegleb, Klaus. “Abgesang auf die Geschichte? Heines jüdisch-poetische Hegelrezeption.” Heinrich Heine: Ästhetisch-politische Profile. Ed. Gerhard Höhn. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991. 17-37.

———. Opfer Heine? Versuche über Schriftzüge der Revolution. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986.

Briese, Olaf. “‘Schutzmittel für die Cholera.’—Geschichtsphilosophische und politische Cholera-Kompensation bei Heine und seinen Zeitgenossen.” Heine-Jahrbuch 32 (1993): 9-25.

Cook, Roger F. By the Rivers of Babylon: Heinrich Heine's Late Songs and Reflections. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1998.

Erhart, Walter. “Heinrich Heine: Das Ende der Geschichte und ‘verschiedenartige’ Theorien zur Literatur.” Aufklärung und Skepsis: Internationaler Heine-Kongreß 1997 zum 200. Geburtstag. Ed. Joseph A. Kruse, Bernd Witte, and Karin Füllner. Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler, 1999. 489-506.

Ferner, Jürgen. “‘O wer lesen könnte!’ Heines geschichtsphilosophisches Denken im Kontext von Vor- und Nachmärz.” Vormärz—Nachmärz: Bruch oder Kontinuität? Vormärz-Studien 5. Ed. Norbert Otto Eke and Renate Werner. Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 2000. 185-211.

———. Versöhnung und Progression: Zum geschichtsphilosophischen Denken Heinrich Heines. Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 1994.

Fingerhut, Karlheinz. Standortbestimmungen: Vier Untersuchungen zu Heinrich Heine. Heidenheim: Heidenheimer Verlagsanstalt, 1971.

Gössmann, Wilhelm. “Die theologische Revision Heines in der Spätzeit.” Der späte Heine, 1848-1856: Literatur—Politik—Religion. Ed. Wilhelm Gössman and Joseph A. Kruse. Heine-Studien. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1982. 320-35.

Hauschild, Jan-Christoph. “Différentes manières de considérer l'histoire. A propos des réflexions de Heine en matière de philosophie de l'histoire dans les années 1830.” Revue Germanique Internationale 9 (1998): 61-72.

Hauschild, Jan-Christoph, and Michael Werner. Der Zweck des Lebens ist das Leben selbst. Heinrich Heine: Eine Biographie. Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1997.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Philosophie der Geschichte. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1961.

Heinemann, Gerd. “‘Variazionen’—Heines Geschichtsauffassung nach 1848.” Rose und Kartoffel: Ein Heinrich Heine-Symposium. Ed. Antoon A. van den Braembussche and Philipp van Engeldorp Gastelaars. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1988. 69-84.

Hermand, Jost. “Gewinn im Verlust. Zu Heines Geschichtsphilosophie.” Text + Kritik 18/19 (1982): 49-66.

Höhn, Gerhard. “‘Blutrosen’ der Freiheit. Heinrich Heines Geschichtsdenken.” Heinrich Heine: Ästhetisch-politische Profile. Ed. Gerhard Höhn. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991. 176-94.

———. “‘Farceur’ und ‘Fanatiker des Ausdrucks.’ Nietzsche, ein verkappter Heineaner.” Heine-Jahrbuch 36 (1997): 134-52.

———. Heine-Handbuch: Zeit, Person, Werk. 2nd. ed. Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler, 1997.

———. “‘La force des choses.’ Geschichtsauffassung und Geschichtsschreibung in Heines Reisebildern.Lectures d'une oeuvre: Reisebilder. Heinrich Heine. Ed. René Anglade. Paris: Editions du temps, 1998. 84-102.

Kalinowski, Isabelle. “L'histoire, les fantômes et la poésie dans le Romancero.Revue Germanique Internationale 9 (1998): 129-42.

———. “Trois Figures du Romancero: l'incongruité, la répétition, le paradox.” La poésie de Heinrich Heine. Ed. Michel Espagne and Isabelle Kalinowski. Paris: CNRS Editions, 2000. 125-38.

Koopmann, Helmut. “Heines Geschichtsauffassung.” Jahrbuch der Deutschen Schillergesellschaft (1972): 453-76.

Kruse, Joseph A. “Heinrich Heine—Der Lazarus.” Heinrich Heine: Ästhetisch-politische Profile. Ed. Gerhard Höhn. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991. 258-75.

Lämke, Ortwin. Heines Begriff der Geschichte: Der Journalist Heinrich Heine und die Julimonarchie. Heine-Studien. Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler, 1997.

Lefebvre, Jean-Pierre. Der gute Trommler: Heines Beziehungen zu Hegel. Heine-Studien. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1986.

———. “Nachwort.” Heinrich Heine. Romanzero. Ed. Bernd Kortländer. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1997. 273-98.

Liedtke, Christian. “‘Ich kann ertragen kaum den Duft der Sieger.’ Zur politischen Dichtung Heinrich Heines nach 1848.” 1848 und der deutsche Vormärz. Ed. Peter Stein, Florian Vaßen and Detlev Kopp. Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 1998. 207-23.

Lübbe, Hermann. “Heinrich Heine und die Religion nach der Aufklärung.” Der späte Heine, 1848-1856: Literatur—Politik—Religion. Ed. Wilhelm Gössmann and Joseph A. Kruse. Heine-Studien. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1982. 205-18.

Pistiak, Arnold. “Ich will das rote Sefchen küssen”: Nachdenken über Heines letzten Gedichtzyklus. Heine-Studien. Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler, 1999.

Rosenthal, Ludwig. Heinrich Heine als Jude. Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1973.

Sternberger, Dolf. Heinrich Heine und die Abschaffung der Sünde. Hamburg: Claassen, 1972.

Weber, Max. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie. Vol. 1. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1988. 3 vols.

Werner, Michael. “Heines poetisch-politisches Vermächtnis.” Interpretationen: Gedichte von Heinrich Heine. Ed. Bernd Kortländer. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1995. 181-94.

———. “Politische Lazarus-Rede: Heines Gedicht ‘Im Oktober 1849.’” Gedichte und Interpretationen. Vol. 4. Ed. Günter Häntzschel. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1983. 288-99.

———. “Réflexion et révolution. Notes sur le travail de l'histoire dans l'oeuvre de Heine.” Revue Germanique Internationale 9 (1998): 47-60.

Zantop, Susanne. “Verschiedenartige Geschichtsauffassung: Heine und Ranke.” Heine-Jahrbuch 23 (1984): 42-68.


B Heinrich Heine. Sämtliche Schriften. Ed. Klaus Briegleb. Munich: Hanser, 1968-1976. 6 vols. (in 7).

DHA Heinrich Heine. Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe der Werke. Düsseldorfer Ausgabe. Ed. Manfred Windfuhr, et al. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1973-1997. 16 vols. (in 23).

HSA Heinrich Heine. Werke, Briefwechsel, Lebenszeugnisse. Säkularausgabe. Ed. Nationale Forschungs- und Gedenkstätten der klassischen deutschen Literatur in Weimar and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Berlin and Paris: Akademie-Verlag and Editions du CNRS, 1970-. 27 vols.

Thomas Pfau (essay date 2002)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8295

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 Romanticism but distant echoes of the period's aesthetic and critical legacy? A related question concerns the features, literary and otherwise, that one ought to consider representative of Romanticism. Does the period prima facie encompass certain stylistic qualities, or is it defined by a spectrum of affective dynamics—such as nostalgia, sentimentalism, paranoia, millenarian enthusiasm, skepticism, or idealism? Does Romanticism stand for its subjects' immersion in an affective dynamic, or does it involve the reconstitution of affect in an iterable form—as a citation, mannerism, or cliché? Is it defined by the intensity of specific psychological experiences, or is it but a wary repetition of such experiences—a mostly formal-aesthetic pursuit steadily refined during the later nineteenth century in the disciplinary guises of aesthetic, philological, and appreciative criticism? Borrowing John Searle's (problematic) distinction, we may ask whether the aesthetic idioms most frequently associated with Romantic interiority amount to instances of “use” or “mention.”

More than any other writer's, Heine's lyrics pose this question with unsettling persistence and, in so doing, undermine the Romantic myth of organic form—of aesthetic and psychological values seamlessly and respectably aligned. Both where Heine's Lieder appear at their most naïve (“Du bist wie eine Blume” [“You are like a flower”]) or sentimental (“Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen” [“I wandered beneath the trees”]), the speaker's cultivation of his own affect seems overly refined or mannered as he strikes, seemingly at will, poses of benediction (“Mir ists, als ob ich die Hände / Aufs Haupt dir legen sollt, / Betend, daß Gott dich erhalte” [“I feel I should be laying / My hands upon your head, / Praying that God may preserve you”]) or covert aggression (“Ich trage im Herzen viel Schlangen, / Und dich, Geliebte mein” [“My heart holds many serpents, / And you, my love, as well”]) (Heine [1997], 1: 131, 96). Time and again, a topically “lyric” affect reveals its prosaic other, what Nietzsche was to praise as Heine's rhetoric of “divine malice” (göttliche Bosheit) (Nietzsche [1980-b], 286). In uncovering the satyr concealed within the god, Heine's deceptively simple and endearing lyrics open up a critical perspective on the philistine's and bourgeois' cherished inwardness and its unconscious other.

A case in point, poem no. 50 in “Lyrisches Intermezzo” (“Lyrical intermezzo”), demonstrates this point with deliberately coarse brush-strokes and to viciously satiric effect. Anticipating Honoré Daumier's sketches that were about to appear in Charles Philipon's newly founded satirical magazines La Caricature, 1830, and Le Charivari, 1832, Heine here works with the concision and quasi-serial economy of the cartoon. An unidentified, indeed generic “They” opens the poem, incrementally revealed as the random sampling of middle-class men and women so succinctly labeled by Karl Gutzkow as “the pietist-bureaucratic-military world of Berlin” (die pietistisch-bürokratisch-militärische Berliner Welt) (Gutzkow [1998], 2: 1936). A couple from the lower gentry whose faded affluence has been exchanged for the studied banality of the Bürgertum augments Heine's demographic cross-section. No less generic than this cast of characters, “love” serves as the topic for “much” conversation. Ranging in appearance from the merely vulgar to the physiologically defective, an emaciated mid-level bureaucrat, a wide-mouthed church-elder, and a lisping bachelorette combine into a grotesque update on the eighteenth-century conversation piece. All is ennui here, and Heine's purposely flat-footed dialogue doesn't spare us any part of it:

Sie saßen und tranken am Teetisch,
Und sprachen von Liebe viel.
Die Herren, die waren ästhetisch,
Die Damen von zartem Gefühl.
‘Die Liebe muß sein platonisch,’
Der dürre Hofrat sprach.
Die Hofrätin lächelt ironisch,
Und dennoch seufzet sie: ‘Ach!’
Der Domherr öffnet den Mund weit:
‘Die Liebe sei nicht zu roh,
Sie schadet sonst der Gesundheit.’
Das Fräulein lispelt: ‘Wieso?’
Die Gräfin spricht wehmütig:
‘Die Liebe ist eine Passion!’
Und präsentieret gütig,
Die Tasse dem Herren Baron.
Am Tische war noch ein Plätzchen,
Mein Liebchen, da hast du gefehlt
Du hättest so hübsch, mein Schätzchen,
Von deiner Liebe erzählt.

(Heine [1997], 1: 95-6)

[They drank tea and waxed theoretic
About love and its sinful allure;
The gentlemen stressed the aesthetic,
The ladies were all for l'amour.
Love must be strictly platonic,
The emaciated Councilor cried.
His spouse smiled slightly ironic,
And murmured, Oh dear me! And sighed.
The Prelate shrieked like a buzzard,
Love must not be rough, don't you know,
Or else it becomes a health hazard!
The little miss whispered, How so?
The Countess sighed soulful and tender.
True love is a passion, she trilled,
As with a sweet smile of surrender
The Baron's cup she refilled.
There was still a place at the table,
That should have been yours, my dove;
You'd have been so eager and able
To tell them about your love.]

(Heine [1982-a], 9)

There is mounting and worrisome evidence that the affective lives of late-Romantic individuals have become utterly atrophied. The gentlemen are merely ästhetisch—a word whose utter vacuity Heine emphasizes by rhyming it with, and almost anagrammatically deriving it from, Teetisch. And yet, even as the conversationists' affective disposition appears but the default of their social setting, their furtive gestures and monosyllabic expressions point to a more complex substratum of lingering sensuality and covert rage—almost effaced by the passage of time or strangled by self-censorship. Thus the bureaucrat's solemn affirmation of platonic love elicits both an “ironic smile” and a nostalgic sigh (“Ach!”) from his wife. While the smile may betoken an obvious dissent from her husband's clumsy moralizing, the fleeting Ach! could be taken as stifled protest or as a wistful recollection of not-so-platonic moments. Likewise, in calling into question the church-elder's peculiar rejection of “raw” (rough, physical) “love,” the bachelorette's barely lisped “Wieso?” briefly opens the window on unspecified passions seething beneath—here visibly choked off by the formalisms of polite conversation. Already destabilized by such symptomatic signs and gestures, the poem's initial opposition of platonic and sexual love, professed sentiments and genuine passions, crumbles toward the end. For the speaker, who as it turns out has himself been present at the Teetisch, now imagines how his own beloved might have “performed” in his society of fraudulent sensibilities. Far from transcending the mannered sentimentality that has defined the entire conversation thus far, the beloved, it is speculated, would merely have added yet another “trite” sententious statement to those already in circulation—thus undermining any assumptions about the superior authenticity of the speaker's inner life.

Heine's satiric style exposes such affect as a delusion, a vainglorious attempt by the late-Romantic subject to fend off overwhelming evidence that attests to the commodity character of inwardness. However excruciating the sociability of the Teetisch, Heine's tapestry of petit-bourgeois “deceit,” “lies,” and “semblance” (Betrügen, Lügen, Schein) cannot simply be discredited as the mere antithesis of some true and benevolent inwardness. For the obscured Other is not some “authentic passion” but ressentiment itself, an undercurrent that not only persists beneath the banal petit-bourgeois inwardness that we are made to witness here, but also undercuts more ennobling, affective values, such as sobriety, moderation, objectivity, self-restraint, etc. Ressentiment itself does not name a discrete affective state but, on the contrary, lays bare the intrinsic duplicity of all affect-based models of subjectivity. As Nietzsche was acknowledge, in an uncharacteristically deferential nod to Heine's “divine malice,” it devolves to “Literature” (in the strong sense of the word) to unmask and reverse Romanticism's amalgamation of moral, sentimental, and aesthetic values. To unveil the symptomatic quality of Romantic affect thus requires a pugnacious, unrelentingly figurative style that will reveal any conceivable affective or intellectual repose as an instance of rhetorical self-deception. Both Heine and Nietzsche understand this “interiorization of man” (Verinnerlichung des Menschen) (Nietzsche [1980-a], 322]) as a process whereby the moral and affective subtleties of the modern individual all but converge with the illusionist work of cultural and rhetorical form in the widest sense.

To “unwrite” this genealogy and the putative self-sufficiency of its affective and rhetorical values demands a radically new style, one capable of reproducing the social and rhetorical grammar of petit-bourgeois communities with such facility as to reveal the “commodity character” of both inwardness and its expressive inventory. Far from a lapse of aesthetic or philosophical sobriety, this formal strategy of persistent “stylistic infraction” (Stilbruch) aims to expose the untoward resentments seething beneath the polished aesthetic veneer of Christian-Romantic inwardness—its repressed social unconscious. To grasp ressentiment as the inescapable, negative “ground” of the Restoration era's educated and bureaucratic middle class (Bildungsbürgertum, Beamtenbürgertum), requires an entirely different relationship to the expressive, formal-aesthetic possibilities of language. In Heine's view, Romanticism's ominous, affective coherence is no longer a viable model. At the same time, it cannot simply be overcome by means of scientific analysis. Instead, it is to be held at ironic arm's length by an entirely new, stridently performative mode of writing. Reading Heine means following his invitation into the countless alleys and byways of ressentiment, provided we understand that term to cut in many ways, and do so differently each time. Whether it is the radical nationalism of the student movement (Burschenschaften), the anti-Semitic and misogynist rant of Zelter's Liedertafel (Choral society) or Brentano's Christlich-Deutsche Tischgesellschaft (Christian-German society), or the Schlegel brothers' late-Romantic blend of political and confessional apostasy—mocked as “becoming catholic out of sheer anger” (aus Ärger katholisch werden) (Heine [1997], 4: 111])—Heine invariably strikes a pose of dissent. Time and again, his poetry, no less than his prose, locates a new subjectivity, that of the intellectual as a writer suspended between multiple ideological positions, all of them inadequate, insincere, and typically antagonistic. To this jumbled ideological landscape, Heine's style responds with a deliberate “confusion of categories” (Habermas [1996], 1126) that has become the veritable signature of the European intellectual. Thus, in his poetry, conventional images, motifs, and oppressively familiar melancholic set pieces are suddenly being presented as citations, often with serial monotony, only to be dismantled before the reader's eyes. Uncertain as to whether to embrace what seems the barest scaffolding of sentimental and melancholic effects, or to repudiate it as Kitsch, the audience is alienated from its own mystical longings by an idiom that has elevated Stilbruch into an operative principle.

Written at a time when the social enfranchisement of German Jews was widely understood to pivot on their linguistic assimilation and aesthetic “acculturation,” Heine's lyrics reveal Romantic sensibility as a deeply conventional, serially reproducible, and hence suspect façade supported by “codified stage-props of proven efficacy” (Ederer [1979], 33). The iteration of Romantic affect yields to the uncanny emergence of ressentiment. In the present instance, the familiar surface of poetic melancholy and generic estrangement is shown to conceal Romanticism's hazardous ideological olio of Christian, nationalist, and philistine righteousness. Elsewhere, Heine restates this ideological scenario in more forthright terms by recalling how “at a time when there appeared to be an end to virtually all nationalities, … an obscure sect sprang into existence. It conceived the most bizarre dream visions about Germanness, indigenous culture, and nearly devoured oak and acorn [Ureichelfraßtum]. … These people were thorough, critical, historical—capable of accurately determining the degree of one's descent required by the new order of things to have certain people disposed of.” All that remained to be resolved was “the method of execution” (Heine [1997], 2: 634).1 Heine's eerily prescient wit exposes the grotesque and manic fixations of anti-Semitic nationalists with his wicked new compound noun: Ureichelfraßtum. The word puns on “acorns” (Eichel) figurally devoured by nationalists whose fetishization of the German “oak” (Eiche) has taken an all too literal turn; nose to the ground, they appear bent on sniffing out and ingesting anything primordially German (Ur-). At the very least, such obsession with ethnic purity and authentic lineage confounds figural attributes (i.e, the oak [Eiche] as an emblem of Germanness) by literally seeking to devour it. Beyond that, however, Heine's neologism may also pun on Romantic nationalism's underlying obsession with telling apart Jews from Gentiles and hence obsessing on whether the tip of the male member (figuratively Eichel) had been circumcised or not. In Heine's view, the stylistic and logical explosions of wit (Witz) are best suited to expose the unholy alliance of Christian-Romantic mysticism and anti-Semitic nationalism. The modern writer unravels that ominous web of Romantic sentiment by mechanically reproducing its rhetorical conventions to the point where expression turns into exposé and cherished ideas disintegrate into puns and double entendres.

Yet Heine's irreverent enmeshing of Romantic sentimentality with serialization, cliché, and Witz not only disrupts the stylistic homogeneity of Romantic lyricism in such writers as Brentano, Uhland, Fouqué, Kerner, Schlegel, or Lenau. It also throws down a gauntlet taken up with ominous zeal by several generations of his critics, beginning by the mid-1830s and culminating (if not ending) with the National Socialists' systematic effort at expunging his name from German letters. Time and again, Heine's poetry is charged with insidiously emulating and—qua serial reproduction—cheapening Romanticism's vaunted synthesis of classicist aesthetics, Christian eschatology, and bourgeois inwardness. His style is repudiated as the quintessence of “linguistic forgery” (Sprachfälscherei) (Pfizer [1997], 458) and as exhibiting but a “generic poetic veneer” (allgemein poetischer Anstrich) (Minckwitz [1864], 338). His “Feuilleton's style … of diseased, indistinguishable hybridity, neither fish nor flesh” (sein Feuilletonstil … ein krankhafter Zwitterstil, weder Fisch noch Fleisch) (Treitschke [1919], 424) is dismissed as nothing but a “virtuoso's ingeniously-clever recitation of Romanticism's entire tonal scale” (ein Virtuose … der das ganze Register der romantischen Töne raffiniert-geschickt abspielt) (Bartels [1924], 361]). It is “mannered through the through” (Hehn [1909], 179) or, in Karl Kraus's notorious harangue, little more than “scansioned journalism” (skandierter Journalismus)—an “artful stage-prop in the shopping window of a pastry shop or a feuilleton writer” (eine kunstvolle Attrappe im Schaufenster eines Konditors oder eines Feuilletonisten) (Kraus [1960], 202, 200). Kraus's influential attack on Heine's poetry as a new style (that of the feuilleton) that conceals its prosaic quality behind its canny prosodic scaffolding reveals just how eagerly nineteenth- and early twentieth-century criticism took Heine's bait. For the target of all this vehemence—metric artifice glossing over a prosaic and dissociated sensibility—is openly advertised in Heine's preface to the third edition of Das Buch der Lieder (The book of songs). There, rather than characterizing the poetry that follows, Heine merely reprints his latest incidental poems that had just appeared in the Zeitschrift für die elegante Welt (Journal for elegant society) of 3 September 1839. About the poem—synecdoche for those to come and hence generically entitled “Love”—Heine flippantly observes that “I could have said all that just as well in fine prose …” (Das hätte ich alles sehr gut in guter Prosa sagen können …) (Heine [1997], 1: 15).

It is the very consistency of these vituperative responses that reveals how acutely readers felt Heine's stylistic subversion of Romanticism's formal-aesthetic and psychological prescriptions. What Marcel Reich-Ranicki has called Heine's “dismantling of high literary pathos” (Entpathetisierung) (Reich-Ranicki [1993], 79) struck a raw nerve because it was meant to. The shrewd amalgamation of lyricism and feuilleton in Heine's work thus reproduces at the level of style a singularly divisive and adversarial network of politically, religiously, ethnically, and aesthetically charged languages. In tracing the ideological dispensations of the Vormärz (old-conservatism, Catholic Reaktion, nationalism, anti-Semitism, liberalism, left-Hegelianism, etc.), as well as the project of Jewish social and linguistic assimilation to their artificial, rhetorical foundations, Heine lays bare the pathologically adversarial state of any given community vis-à-vis all others, even as it purports to hold an all-encompassing solution to the challenges of modernity.

Writers of Jewish descent, such as Heine, Börne, or Moritz Saphir, were uniquely positioned to comment on the disingenuous, often purely instrumental relationship between rhetorical form and ideological commitment, between affective claims professed through, and the various ressentiments repressed by, the various forms of public writing during the Vormärz period. Already Karl Gutzkow had surmised, with specific reference to Börne and Heine, how “perhaps a truthful and worthy reaction against our ideology, which was in the process of forging the manacles for a new slavery, could only emerge out of Judaism” (Gutzkow [1998], 2: 1168).2 Heine's awareness of his social, ethnic, and linguistic exile can already be located in his early correspondence. Responding to the pamphleteering of leading philosophers, philologists, poets, and public intellectuals (Fichte, Fries, Ruehs, von Savigny, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Ernst Moritz Arndt, Adam Müller, Clemens Brentano, and Achim von Arnim), Heine soon understood the integral role of anti-Semitism within the divisive cultural and social politics of a post-Napoleonic and emphatically Christian Romanticism. Only half-jokingly, Heine foregoes a longer report about his impressions because “I am not a German” (Wär ich ein Deutscher—und ich bin kein Deutscher) (Heine [1959], 1: 100).

As Heine's reference to the open anti-Semitism of these and other members of Germany's cultural and academic establishment makes clear, the brief interlude of Berlin's famous literary salons, organized by well-known and highly assimilated Jewish women (Rahel Levin [later Varnhagen], Henriette Herz, et al.) was finished. It had been displaced by a new, brazenly anti-Semitic and divisive paradigm of Kultur, embodied in such institutions as Karl Friedrich Zelter's Liedertafel or the Christlich-Deutsche Tischgesellschaft. Founded by Brentano and von Arnim in 1812, the Tischgesellschaft specifically excluded women, philistines, and Jews, mocking the latter as “flies left over from the Egyptian plagues and now to be found everywhere; among discarded clothes in one's closet, with theater billets and aesthetic gossip at one's tea-table, and with promissory notes at the stock exchange” (Brentano [1963], 965-6).3 As Heine summed it up in a miscellaneous note, “anti-Semitism only begins with the Romantic School; a delight in everything medieval, Catholicism, the nobility, intensified by the Germanomaniacs” (Heine [1997], 6.1: 648).4 To write German as a Jew around 1830 meant approaching language from an intrinsically exiled perspective, for “we are in exile/suffering” (Wir sind ja im Gohles) (Heine [1959], 1: 63). Heine's deliberate choice of the Yiddish Gohles over the German vernacular Exil leaves no doubt that there is both an ethnic and linguistic dimension to such abjection. Indeed, Heine belongs to that first generation of writers who experienced—and whose professional identity was consequently shaped by—the enforcement of norms pertaining to the aesthetic propriety and social purity of German as a “literary” language.

From the very outset of his career, Heine understood the intrinsically “exiled” character of his ethnically marked voice, such as when musing “that, out of displeasure with the German [language] my muse tailored its German dress in a somewhat foreign manner” (Heine [1959], 1: 150).5 Not in spite but because of his familiarity with literary German as a repository of frequently divisive and exclusionary cultural meanings, Heine's writings always “speak across a distance,” as Peter Weiss was to put it a century later. Yet this very distance, an inescapable feature of the German language when approached by the German-Jewish writer, also opened up remarkable opportunities. Indeed, from the start Heine's career exhibits a unique, dual perspective on the German language. It is at once imbued with expressive possibilities and yet, because of its sentimental attachments to religious, affective, and aesthetic homogeneity—what Heine refers to as “nightingale-madness” (Nachtigallenwahnsinn) (Heine [1997], 6.1: 447)—remains profoundly alien to the Jewish outsider. In a short essay entitled “Die Romantik” (18 August 1820), Heine notes that the recent literature so labeled often appears confused in its attempt at an outright repetition or restoration of medieval, Christian poetry. Medieval romance sought to give expression to a radically new religious type of affect by “contriving new images and words of precisely the kind that had a secret and sympathetic kinship with these new feelings and, as it were, able to conjure them up all over again” (Heine [1993], 10: 195).6 By contrast, contemporary Romantic writing often appears but a mechanical reiteration of stock-in-trade images derived from medieval Catholicism, Celtic mythology, and Mediterranean chivalry. The result, Heine contends, is a travestied and exhausted poetry that incessantly and aimlessly regurgitates “an olio of Spanish sentimentality, Scottish mists, and Italian melos, confused and intermingled images poured out of a magic lantern, as it were” (Heine [1993], 10: 195).7

To oppose the narrowly confessional and proselytizing view of Christian Romanticism and its anti-classicism, as Heine sees it, is to contest the putative, affective, and ethnic homogeneity of the German language. Only three years later, Heine has expanded this dissent into a highly distinctive stylistic gesture—an idiom of calculated insubordination to the nationalist, religious, and ethnic menace of a Christlich-Deutsch Romanticism. Above all, Heine rehearses for friends and foes alike the uncanny mobility of the German word, its holographic complexity and penchant for alternately revealing nostalgic and satiric qualities, and for revealing the “rotten core of ressentiment” beneath the visionary glow of Christian-Romantic sentiment. In Heine's lyrics, the Romantic word—that self-proclaimed gold standard of (lately ominous) inspiration and high pathos—is being visibly displaced by the regime of paper currency. In an early letter (May 1823) to his friend Moses Moser, Heine (only half-jokingly) puts the matter as follows: “Your feelings are solid bars of gold, whereas mine are light paper-currency. The value of the latter depends on the people's confidence; … hasn't this image told you that I am a Jewish poet? No matter, why should I feel embarrassed; after all, we are speaking confidentially here, and I love conjuring up nationalist clichés [Nationalbilder]. Some day, when Ganstown has been built and a happier generation than ours blesses its palm branches and chews on unleavened bread on the banks of the Mississippi, and a new Jewish literature flourishes, then our mercantile, stock-jobbing expressions will form part of poetic diction itself” (Heine [1959], 1: 79-80).8

Besides referring to Heine's acquaintance Eduard Gans, a prominent Jewish scholar of law and, like Heine, a member of Berlin's Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden (Society for culture and science of the Jews), “Ganstown” also alludes to M. M. Noah's short-lived utopia of a Jewish settlement on Grand Island, New York (Prawer [1983], 29). At the same time, the central metaphor of paper currency—emblematic of Heine's rapid-fire improvisation and wit—expressly plays on the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jew as a rootless and fiscal entrepreneur. The “new Jewish” literature here sketched by the young Heine brazenly associates a post-Romantic sensibility with the fluid and inscrutable movements of paper currency—with the result that both affect and money become interchangeable figures of social relations. Rather than grounding the individual in an inalienable and unique psychological essence, “feelings” prove but another (self-deceiving) figure whose purchasing power depends on equally fluctuating longings (and loathings) indulged by a given community of readers, rather than on timeless aesthetic principles. As in his unsettling conversation piece—“They drank tea and waxed theoretic”—Heine's letter reproduces, and in so doing performatively reveals the iterable nature of, Brentano's callous tirade against Jews found “with theater billets and aesthetic gossip at one's tea-table, [and] with promissory notes at the stock exchange.”

The modernity and potential success of a new literature thus center around the linguistic and rhetorical versatility with which the (Jewish) writer perceives and articulates continuities between the heretofore separate spheres of culture, religion, and economics. Zagari and Chiarini note that, “like the system of currency exchange (which at that time was becoming emblematic of modern society and culture) the literary word achieved its supreme effect only by a progressive and far-reaching neutralization that pared down individual traits to clichés and commonplaces” (Zagari and Chiarini [1981], 10). Far from giving evidence of Heine's supposedly “self-torturing” (Prawer [1983], 29) sensibility, however, the above passage shows Heine once again appropriating and exposing anti-Semitism as an unthinking regurgitation of rhetorical and affective clichés—a matter of “mention” rather than “use.” What the anti-Semite harbors in the form of a deep-seated, unconscious ressentiment is brought out into the open by Heine's strategy of explicit invocation and citation. A poignant instance can be found in Heine's notorious attack on August von Platen in the third volume of his Reisebilder (Images of travel). Referring to von Platen's attacks on his Jewishness, Heine demurs: “Yes, dear reader, you aren't mistaken. It is indeed me to whom [Platen] is referring, and in his Oedipus you can learn that I am a true-bred Jew who, after having composed love lyrics for a few hours, proceed to sit down, counting ducats, keep a Sabbath's company with bearded hymies [Mauscheln] singing the Talmud, and how during Easter holiday I'll carve up some hapless Christian minor and, out of sheer malice, always select my victim from among the ranks of unfortunate writers. Indeed, dear reader, I won't lie to you. Such crafty images are nowhere to be found in Platen's Oedipus, and precisely their absence is what prompts my harsh critique of the book. Count Platen is occasionally driven by the best of motives, and yet he proves incompetent to put them to effective use. If only he had the smallest amount of imagination, he would have at the very least depicted me as a pawnbroker; what delightful scenes this would have offered up! It pains my soul to see this poor count miss every opportunity for effective, witty barbs” (Heine [1997], 2: 467).9

Heine's rejoinder brilliantly lampoons the crude character of anti-Semitic rhetoric, as well as its lazy, mechanical recitation in von Platen's Anti-Oedipus. Here, Heine's new literary paradigm of stylistic hybridity is in full swing. Breaking down the heretofore separate spheres of religion, politics, aesthetics, his prose unleashes a torrent of cartoon-style sketches, citations of postures and attitudes that shift, combine, and recombine at will. What von Platen lacks, aside from respect for Heine (a point on which the latter could be very sensitive indeed) is rhetorical versatility. Both in his hopelessly mannered lyrics and in his clumsy, anti-Semitic harangue, von Platen remains mired in the aesthetic formalisms of his manifestly impoverished aristocratic background. Heine's flippant remark in his earlier quoted letter to Moses Moser that some day the “mercantile jargon of the stock exchange” shall form part of German literary language thus proves to be more than a ephemeral display of wit. For what ultimately accounts for the uniquely modern character of his literary idiom is its mobility and reflexivity—qualities that Heine's poetry and prose throw into relief by way of their sustained reflection on the problem of language—the German language.

In so doing, Heine also responds to the linguistic reforms that were an integral component of the larger project of Jewish assimilation during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. A large number of German Jews perceived their political emancipation, social assimilation, and “acculturation” to pivot on a wholesale expurgation of their linguistic heritage. Without question, the catalyst for this development is Moses Mendelssohn, who throughout his writings would insist on discriminating between a defective, traditionalist, and hermetic Yiddish village-culture and the “pure” and “original” world of Hebrew, which he deemed wholly compatible with enlightenment values. His enjoinder that Jews should “use either German or the newly purified Hebrew of the Maskilim,” as well as his ongoing transl(iter)ation of the Pentateuch into high German (still printed in Hebrew characters), ensured that “knowledge of German became a prerequisite for an understanding of Hebrew” (Gilman [1986], 105). In fact, “Mendelssohn's critics anticipated … [that] the German translation would serve as a textbook for studying German rather than for understanding the Bible” (Katz [1998], 150). New journals for German Jews (Sulamith, founded in 1806) and “free schools” (Freischulen), as well as aggressive efforts to infuse enlightenment rationality into Jewish ceremonial law, show Jewish acculturation taking on an increasingly radical, secular edge under the leadership of Mendelssohn's heirs (David Friedländer, Saul Ascher, Leopold Zunz, Anton Rée). At no point, not even after having himself furtively baptized in the summer of 1825, did Heine ever identify with his Jewish co-religionists' outright assimilation to a monolithic standard language (high-German) or their embrace of an equally normative Goethean ideal of Bildung and Kultur. Indeed, Heine reacts with contempt to the “trick of obtaining both wealth and culture” entertained by German Jews eager to “save themselves as individuals … by escap[ing] from Jewishness” (Arendt [1997], 87-8). Reacting to the growing perception of Judaism as a scourge or blemish to be surgically removed by a mass baptism that David Friedländer had actually sought to negotiate with Provost Teller in 1799, Heine mockingly refers to Friedländer as a lowly “corn-cutter” (Hühneraugenoperateur) (Heine [1959], 1: 62). Nor would Heine ever share Leopold Zunz's satisfaction that “the usage of the so-called Jewish-German dialect … has altogether vanished from all public lectures, as indeed from all Jewish writings” (Zunz [1976], 1: 110).10 Similarly, Heine well might have agreed with Jewish educational reformer Anton Rée that “because of a still unfinished battle between two intrinsic forces, German Jews must feel a deep internal division” (Rée [1844], 29).11 Yet even as such “self-division” (Zerrissenheit) figures as a recurrent motif throughout Heine's writings, he would never advocate the “wholesale expurgation of the Jewish dialect” and Jewish assimilation to German “popular culture” (Volksthümlichkeit) as a remedy against the social and affective division (sozialer Zwiespalt; Zerrissenheit) (Rée [1844], 39, 60).12 For this frantic acquisition of a neutral, dialect-free, “high-German” standard language overlooked that no one except assimilated Jews ever spoke it. “The most serious charge against the Jews,” Jacob Toury remarks, “had to be a qualitative one, namely, that they spoke a ‘normative’ language, and hence lacked a vernacular [also keine Volkssprache]. Indisputably, these educated [Jews] in large cities … availed themselves of a high language [Hochsprache], and they did so more consistently and in larger numbers than their educated, non-Jewish counterparts. A German professor could speak Saxon, Berlinese, Swabian, Viennese, or Goethe's Frankfurt dialect. An educated Jew would speak High German. Doing so was both his mark of pride and his shortcoming, for by virtue of it he did not belong to the autochthonous language family of his native locale [seines Wohnsitzes]” (Toury [1982], 84).

Consumed by prospects of social and economic mobility, Jews embraced Hochdeutsch as a means of shedding any residual ties to village or small-town culture, and of escaping their inherited dialect culture and its regional and local permutations. Thus a “hyper-correct language usage” (Freimark [1980], 260) emerges as the linguistic and cultural default for a community bent on voluntarily expurgating the cultural memories embodied by its rich and variegated dialect culture—commonly referred to as “Jewish intonation” (jüdische Mundart) or openly disparaged as Mauscheln.

Deeply distrustful of the social opportunism and cultural bankruptcy of “acculturation,” Heine instead seeks to transform the referential scope and social value associated with German as a literary language. His texts—nervous and self-conscious hybrids of social cartoon, citation, and ephemeral sentimentality—prove studiously distrustful of the complex myth of Romantic cultural production. Reacting to the specious synthesis of medieval, Catholic, folk culture “revived” by Romantic historicism and post-Kantian theory specifying the transcendental laws of formal-aesthetic and ethnic-nationalist (Fichte) “purity,” Heine's Romantische Schule (Romantic school, 1833) offers an ironic gloss on the philological and poetic dream-worlds of Jena and Heidelberg. Offering a sketch of medieval Christian scholars clandestinely searching out the historical (Hebrew) origins of their faith, the passage is vintage Heine, at once satirizing Romanticism's specious longing for origins and tokens of cultural purity and exposing the persecutory energies unleashed when the “discoveries” turn out to contradict that longing: “The knowledge of Hebrew had completely died out in the Christian world. Only the Jews, who kept themselves hidden here and there in some corner or other of the earth, still preserved the traditions of this language. Like a ghost that watches over a treasure once entrusted to it, this massacred people, this ghost of a people, sat in their ghettos and guarded the Hebrew Bible. And into these hiding places of ill repute German scholars could be seen stealthily creeping down to unearth the treasure in order to acquire knowledge of Hebrew. When the Catholic clergy noticed the danger thus threatening them, that the people might by this bypath arrive at the true Word of God and discover the Romish falsifications, they would have liked to suppress the Jewish tradition as well. They set to work to destroy all Hebrew books, and on the Rhine there began th[e] book-persecution …” (Heine [1973], 311-12).13

In typically ambivalent manner, Heine's prose here simultaneously conjures the specter of Jewish isolationism, and spiritual and linguistic traditions clandestinely preserved in a catacomb-like exile. Thus the passage remarks with grim irony how a furtive curiosity prompts Christians to seek (forbidden) knowledge of the primordial Hebrew culture of scripture and poetry and, consequently, to find their own creed exposed and invalidated as “Roman forgeries.” The ensuing persecution of Jewish books on the banks of the Rhine also constitutes a pointed allusion to Metternich's censorship legislation which reached its peak in the very year (1835) that Heine published this passage in his Zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Religion in Deutschland (History of philosophy and religion in Germany). Spurred by Wolfgang Menzel, whose notorious review of liberal writers had indicted the so-called “young Germans” (das junge Deutschland) as “young Palestine” (das junge Palästina), Heine's prose identifies both performatively and conceptually with the repressed and almost forgotten treasures of Jewish religious and linguistic culture. Ghettoized and seemingly asleep in the midst of German mainstream culture, the explosive force of Jewish linguistic and cultural history effectively prefigures and legitimates Heine's paradigmatic vision of the writer as intellectual, the unpredictable harbinger of a volatile modernity. Unlike the historicist projects of Brentano, von Arnim, Creuzer, or Bopp, however, Heine's genealogy remains strictly improvised and performative. While retaining irony as his guiding literary principle, Heine also uncouples it from the formal and theoretical esotericism of the Jena school. Thus, well beyond the semantic and conceptual tensions articulated in the pages of the Athenaeum a generation earlier, irony now has been extended into an ambitious montage of literary styles that removes Heine's authorial persona from the reach of any definitive stylistic, affective, or theoretical categorization. Embracing and exemplifying his open-ended, performative conception of the intellectual as writer, the avowed atheist Heine offers us this supremely reflexive epistolary reference: “Having scorned all positive religion, I shall yet convert to the most ruthless rabbinism, simply because I consider it to be a proper antidote” (Heine [1959], 1: 74).14

For Heine, the antidote to his times is to be found in the opulent imagery of Indian, Persian, and Hebrew myths, many of which had only recently been recovered and translated by philologists like Georg Forster, Franz Bopp, Friedrich Creuzer, Friedrich Schlegel, or Sir William Jones in England. Thus the Buch der Lieder commonly deploys images—cypress, myrtle tree, palm tree, cedar, hyacinth, lotus flower, etc.—emblematic of distant realms (Persia, India, Palestine). While used to richly varied effect, these emblems in one way or another seek to probe the cognitive and emotive tensions between the divisive culture of Restoration Germany and past worlds of rich and seductive imagery. In a fulsome tribute to his declared spiritual and poetic precursor, the eleventh-century Sephardic poet and philosopher Jehuda Ben Halevy, Heine revisits the old claim (familiar to English readers through Robert Lowth's Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, 1754/1787) of Hebrew as the archetypally poetic language. In sharp contrast to the legalistic and disputatious tradition of the Halakah, the Aggada's inexhaustible treasure of legends, fables, and anecdotes is imagined to have furnished Jehuda Ben Halevy with a figural sanctuary:

Letztre aber, die Hagada,
Will ich einen Garten nennen,
Einen Garten, hochphantastisch
Und vergleichbar jenem andern,
Welcher ebenfalls dem Boden
Babylons entsprossen weiland—
Garten der Semiramis,
Achtes Wunderwerk der Welt.
Königin Semiramis
Einen Garten in der Luft—
Hoch auf kolossalen Säulen
Prangten Palmen und Zypressen,
Goldorangen, Blumenbeete,
Marmorbilder, auch Springbrunnen,
Alles klug und fest verbunden
Durch unzählge Hängebrücken,
Die wie Schlingepflanzen aussahn
Und worauf sich Vögel wiegten—
Große, bunte, ernste Vögel,
Tiefe Denker, die nicht singen. …

(Heine [1997], 6:1: 132-3)

[But the latter, the Haggada,
I would rather call a garden,
A phantasmagoric garden
That is very like another
That once bloomed and sprouted also
From the soil of Babylonia—
Queen Semiramis' great garden,
That eighth wonder of the world.
Queen Semiramis was brought up
Of a garden in the air:—
Rising high on giant pillars
Cypresses and palm trees flourished,
Orange trees and beds of flowers,
Marble statues, even fountains,
All secured with cunning braces
Formed by countless hanging bridges,
Made to look like vines and creepers,
On which birds would swing and teeter—
Big and bright-hued birds, deep thinkers
Much too solemn-faced to warble …]

(Heine [1982-b], 659)

Momentarily, it would appear that Heine has slipped back into the mythology of Brentano, Creuzer, and Görres. For the passage seems to offer us an intensely romanticized account of history as a submerged, yet ostensibly “real” stratum of life waiting to be reclaimed by the joint practical and figural industry of philologists, archeologists, and poets. Yet it soon becomes apparent that Heine's vision of the young Jehuda is self-consciously figural, a myth presented as fabled artifice. Instead of purporting to represent an edenic, sumptuously tropical domain, the Aggada (as Heine depicts it in his 1851 Romanzero) is that domain. Himself a refugee from a legal career, Heine envisions Jehuda ben Halevy being drawn in by the sheer rhetorical and figural splendors of ancient Hebrew myths and fables. If they stand in stark contrast to the Law (Halakah), their figural structure proves of equal consistency and coherence (“All secured with cunning braces / Formed by countless hanging bridges”). What renders the passage obliquely provocative is its implicit claim that the totality of Jewish myths and legends constitutes nothing less than the legitimate origin for what Heine elsewhere terms the Römische Fälschungen (Roman forgeries) of mainstream Christian culture. Moreover, Heine's celebration of Jehuda ben Halevy as the archetypal Hebrew poet unfolds in a quintessentially “High-German” and “High-Romantic” idiom—opulent in its imagery and transparently evocative (for readers in 1851) of Romantic literary convention. The eleventh-century Aggada appears all but indistinguishable from the self-conscious myth-making of the Heidelberg Romantics. Jewish poetics prefigures Brentano's and Creuzer's mythopoiesis with such intensity as to almost coincide with it.

Yet Heine's provocation hardly exhausts itself in such thematic possibilities. Shortly before introducing the Aggada as the unacknowledged Urtext of Romantic poetics, this installment of Hebrew Melodies maps Jehuda's linguistic coordinates as his father initiates him into the study of the Torah:

Diese las er mit dem Sohne
In dem Urtext, dessen schöne,
Hieroglyphisch pittoreske,
Altchaldäische Quadratschrift
Herstammt aus dem Kindesalter
Unsrer Welt, und auch deswegen
Jedem kindlichen Gemüte
So vertraut entgegenlacht.
Diesen echten alten Text
Rezitierte auch der Knabe
In der uralt hergebrachten
Singsangweise, Tropp geheißen—
Und er gurgelte gar lieblich
Jene fetten Gutturalen,
Und er schlug dabei den Triller,
Den Schalscheleth, wie ein Vogel.
Auch den Targum Onkelos,
Der geschrieben ist in jenem
Plattjudäischen Idiom,
Das wir Aramäisch nennen
Und zur Sprache der Propheten
Sich verhalten mag etwa
Wie das Schwäbische zum Deutschen—
Dieses Gelbveiglein-Hebräisch
Lernte gleichfalls früh der Knabe. …

(Heine [1997], 6.2: 131)

[And the youngster read this volume
In the ancient text, whose lovely
Picturesquely hieroglyphic
Old Chaldean squared-off letters
Are derived out of the childhood
Of the world, and for this reason
Show familiar, smiling features
To all childlike minds and spirits.
This authentic ancient text
Was recited by the youngster
In the old, original singsong
Known as Tropp down through the ages—
And with loving care he gurgled
Those fat gutterals right gladly,
And the quaver, the Shalsheleth,
He trilled like a feathered warbler.
As for Onkelos's Targum,
Which is written in that special
Low-Judaic idiom
That we call the Aramaic
And which bears the same relation
To the language of the prophets
That the Swabian has to German—
In this garlic-sausage Hebrew
Was the boy instructed likewise. …]

(Heine [1982-b], 656)

Stressing the near homophony of German and Jewish dialect culture (Aramäisch / Schwäbisch / Hebräisch), Heine goes out of his way to blur historical, linguistic, and cultural/ethnic boundaries of all sorts. Jehuda's apprenticeship in the study of the five books of Moses (Targum Onkelos) simultaneously marks his initiation into an inherently hybrid culture. Here, of course, the real target of Heine's wit are those self-styled Swabian custodians of German literary purity (Gustav Pfizer and Wolfgang Menzel) whose conspicuous dialect (metonymically focused by Heine's regionalism Gelbveiglein) actually resembles the linguistic and cultural hybridity of the eleventh-century Sephardic poet. Indeed, in the course of juxtaposing the Greek and Judeo-Christian (or Nazarene) sensibilities, Heine was to label the confirmed anti-Semite Wolfgang Menzel a “Jew” (der Jude Menzel). In the above passage from “Jehuda ben Halevy,” Heine also deploys his considerable rhetorical and lexical gifts to transpose the distinctive euphony and opulent imagery of the Pentateuch into German. Yet in stark contrast to Moses Mendelssohn's translation of the Torah into High German—transliterated and printed in classical (“pure”) Hebrew characters—Heine's “Hebrew Melodies” stress the phonetic richness of the “low Judaic idiom” (plattjudäisch) of Onkelos's paraphrase of the Pentateuch. With a linguist's technical precision, Heine foregrounds the beauties of precisely that Jewish “ancient tradition of singing speech” (der uralt hergebrachten / Singsangweise, Tropp geheißen) and its rolling trills (“Schalscheleth” [Hebrew = chain, necklace]) that cultural assimilationists such as Maimon, Mendelssohn, Friedländer, Zunz, or Anton Rée had been so anxious to expunge. Far from rendering Halevy's language “vaguely comic [and] somewhat degenerate” (Gilman [1986], 181), Heine's imaginative and richly textured depiction of Aramaic affirms its ethnic and spiritual charisma. The point is only reinforced by Heine's sly juxtaposition of Aramaic and Swabian dialect culture. Each idiom appears needlessly self-effacing and bashful in relation to the idea of a normative, “pure” language (Hebrew; High German) that may represent an aesthetic ideal for militant nationalists but, it turns out, has never been spoken by any actual person. It is through this imagined and highly specific linguistic kinship with Halevy that Heine at once mimics and mocks a fiction of linguistic and aesthetic purity. Thus a poetry unimpeachably well crafted and vividly High German—Heine's authorial trademark—celebrates its own Other. The German Jew Heine emulates at will a normative language (Hochdeutsch) and, in so doing, evinces the latter's serial reproducibility—in short, its post-Romantic modernity. The point becomes inescapable precisely insofar as Heine's linguistic and rhetorical talents are devoted to the imitation of Jewish dialect culture and the rich lived existence of which it is an expression. Where Mendelssohn and Rée emphasize the need for flawless High German so as to enable their co-religionists to “forget” their own, native Yiddish culture, Heine recalls (in perfect German) precisely that imperiled Jewish linguistic past by relating it to the dialect culture of German gentiles (Swabians). It is just this performative conception of the intellectual as writer that Heine sums up when observing how, “my lasting contempt for all positive religion notwithstanding, I shall yet adopt the crudest rabbinical method, simply because I regard it as a proper antidote to the status quo” (Heine [1959], 1: 74).


  1. Zu einer Zeit, wo fast alle Nationalitäten aufhören …, just da entstand eine schwarze Sekte, die von Deutschheit, Volkstum und Ureichelfraßtum die närrischsten Träume ausheckte. … Sie waren gründlich, kritisch, historisch—sie konnten genau den Abstammungsgrad bestimmen, der dazu gehörte, um bei der neuen Ordnung der Dinge aus dem Weg geräumt zu werden; nur waren sie nicht einig über die Hinrichtungsmethode (Heine [1997], 2: 634).

  2. Nur aus dem Judenthume konnte vielleicht eine so wahre und dankenswerte Reaktion gegen unsere Ideologie, die sich selbst die Fesseln einer neuen Sklaverei schmiedete, kommen (Gutzkow [1998], 2: 1168).

  3. er kann diese von den ägyptischen Plagen übriggebliebenen Fliegen in seiner Kammer mit alten Kleidern, an seinem Teetische mit Theaterzetteln und ästhetischem Geschwätz, auf der Börse mit Pfandbriefen und überall mit Ekel und Humanität und Aufklärung, Hasenpelzen und Weißfischen genugsam einfangen (Brentano [1963], 965-6).

  4. Der Judenhaß beginnt erst mit der Romantischen Schule (Freude am Mittelalter, Katholizismus, Adel, gesteigert durch die Teutomanen (Heine [1997], 6.1: 648).

  5. Daß aus Unmuth gegen das deutsche meine Muse sich ihr deutsches Kleid etwas fremdartig zuschnitt (Heine [1959], 1: 150).

  6. Es mußten jetzt neue Bilder und neue Worte erdacht werden, und just solche, die, durch eine geheime, sympathetische Verwandschaft mit jenen neuen Gefühlen, diese letztern zu jederzeit im Gemüthe erwecken und gleichsam herauf beschwören konnten (Heine [1993], 10: 195).

  7. ein Gemengsel von spanischem Schmelz, schottischen Nebeln und italienischem Geklinge, verworrene und verschwimmende Bilder, die gleichsam aus einer Zauberlaterne ausgegossen werden (Heine [1993], 10: 195).

  8. Deine Gefühle sind schwere Goldbarren, die meinigen sind leichtes Papiergeld. Letzteres empfängt seinen Werth vom Zutrauen der Menschen; … hast Du am obigen Bilde nicht gemerkt, daß ich ein jüdischer Dichter bin? Doch wozu soll ich mich genieren, wir sind ja unter uns, und ich spreche gerne in unseren Nazionalbildern. Wenn einst Ganstown erbaut seyn wird und ein glücklicheres Geschlecht am Mississippi Lulef benscht und Matzes kaut und eine neu-jüdische Literatur emporblüht, dann werden unsere jetzigen merkantilistischen Börsenausdrücke zur poetischen Sprache gehören (Heine [1959], 1: 79-80).

  9. Ja, ja, du irrst dich nicht, lieber Leser, das bin ich, den er meint, und im »König Ödipus« kannst du lesen, wie ich ein wahrer Jude bin, wie ich, wenn ich einige Stunden Liebeslieder geschrieben, gleich darauf mich niedersetze und Dukaten beschneide, wie ich am Sabbat mit langbärtigen Mauscheln zusammenhocke und den Talmud singe, wie ich in der Osternacht einen unmündigen Christen schlachte und aus Malice immer einen unglücklichen Schriftsteller dazu wähle—Nein, lieber Leser, ich will dich nicht belügen, solche gute, ausgemalte Bilder stehen nicht im »König Ödipus«, und daß sie nicht darin stehen, das nur ist der Fehler, den ich tadele. Der Graf Platen hat zuweilen die besten Motive und weiß sie nicht zu benutzen. Hätte er nur ein bißchen mehr Phantasie, so würde er mich wenigstens als geheimen Pfänderverleiher geschildert haben; welche komische Szenen hätten sich dargeboten! Es tut mir in der Seele weh, wenn ich sehe, wie sich der arme Graf jede Gelegenheit zu guten Witzen vorbeigehen lassen! (Heine [1997], 2: 467)

  10. Der Gebrauch des sogenannten jüdisch-deutschen Dialekts … ist aus den öffentlichen Vorträgen, sowie aus den Schriften der Juden, ganz und gar verschwunden (Zunz [1976], 1: 110).

  11. Der edlere Jude der Gegenwart muß in Folge des noch nicht beendeten Kampfes zwischen den zwei in ihm lebenden Elementen eine eigene Zerrissenheit empfinden (Rée [1844], 29).

  12. So muß er seinen Dialekt vollständig verbannen … Volksthümlichkeit … allein kann seiner Zerrissenheit ein Ende machen (Rée [1844], 39, 60).

  13. Aber die Kenntnis des Hebräischen war in der christlichen Welt ganz erloschen. Nur die Juden, die sich, hie und da, in einem Winkel dieser Welt verborgen hielten, bewahrten noch die Traditionen dieser Sprache. Wie ein Gespenst, das einen Schatz bewacht, der ihm einst im Leben anvertraut worden, so saß dieses gemordete Volk, dieses Volk-Gespenst, in seinen dunklen Gettos und bewahrte dort die hebräische Bibel; und in diese verrufenen Schlupfwinkel sah man die deutschen Gelehrten heimlich hinabsteigen, um den Schatz zu heben, um die Kenntnis der hebräischen Sprache zu erwerben. Als die katholische Geistlichkeit merkte, daß ihr von dieser Seite Gefahr drohte, daß das Volk auf diesem Seitenweg zum wirklichen Wort Gottes gelangen und die römischen Fälschungen entdecken konnte, da hätte man gern auch die jüdische Tradition unterdrückt, und man ging damit um, alle hebräischen Bücher zu vernichten, und am Rhein begann die Bücherverfolgung … (Heine [1997], 3: 545).

  14. Ja, ich der Verächter aller positiven Religionen, werde vielleicht einst zum krassesten Rabinismus übergehen, eben weil ich diesen als ein probates Gegengift betrachte (Heine [1959], 1: 74).


Arendt, Hannah. 1997. Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess. Ed. by Liliane Weissberg. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Bartels, Adolf. 1924. Geschichte der deutschen Literatur. Leipzig: Haessel.

Brentano, Clemens. 1963. Der Philister vor, in und nach der Geschichte. Werke. Ed. by Wolfgang Frühwald, 2: 961-1016. Munich: Hanser.

Ederer, Hannelore. 1979. Die literarische Mimesis entfremdeter Sprache. Cologne: Pahl-Rugenstein.

Freimark, Vincent. 1980. Sprachverhalten und Assimilation: Die Situation der Juden in Norddeutschland in der 1. Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts. Saeculum. 31: 240-61.

Gilman, Sander L. 1986. Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gutzkow, Karl Ferdinand. 1998. Schriften. 3 vols. Frankfurt: zweitausendeins.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1996. Heinrich Heine und die Rolle des Intellektuellen in Deutschland. Merkur. 50.12: 1122-37.

Hehn, Victor. 1909. Gedanken über Goethe. Berlin: Borntraeger.

Heine, Heinrich. 1959. Briefe. Ed. by Friedrich Hirth. 6 vols. Mainz: Kupferberg.

———1973. Selected Works. Ed. by Helen Mustard. Trans. by Max Knight. New York: Random House.

———1982-a. Poetry and Prose. Ed. by Jost Hermand and Robert Holub. New York: Continuum.

———1982-b. Complete Poems. Trans. by Hal Draper. Boston: Suhrkamp/Insel.

———1993. Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe. Ed. by Manfred Windfuhr. Hamburg: Hoffman und Campe.

———1997. Sämtliche Schriften. Ed. by Klaus Briegleb. 6 vols. Munich: dtv.

Katz, Jacob. 1998. Out of the Ghetto: The Social Background of Jewish Emancipation, 1770-1870. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Kraus, Karl. 1960. Heine und die Folgen. Werke, 8: 188-213. Munich: Kösel.

Menzel, Wolfgang. 1836. Die junge Literatur. Literatur-Blatt. Vols. 1-5.

Minckwitz, Johannes. 1864. Der illustrierte neuhochdeutsche Parnaß. Leipzig: Arnold.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. [1886]. 1980-a. Genealogy of Morals. Vol. 5 of Sämtliche Werke. Ed. by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari. 15 vols. Munich: dtv.

———[1888]. 1980-b. Ecce Homo. Vol. 6 of Sämtliche Werke. Ed. by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari. 15 vols. Munich: dtv.

Pfizer, Gustav. [1838]. 1997. Heines Schriften und Tendenz. Sämtliche Werke. By Heinrich Heine. Ed. by Klaus Briegleb. 6 vols, 6.2: 452-66. Munich: dtv.

Prawer, S. S. 1983. Heine's Jewish Comedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rée, Anton. 1844. Die Sprachverhältnisse der heutigen Juden. Hamburg: Gobert.

Reich-Ranicki, Marcel. 1993. Über Ruhestörer: Juden in der deutschen Literatur. Munich: dtv.

Toury, Jacob. 1982. Die Sprache als Problem der Jüdischen Einordnung im Deutschen Kulturraum. Gegenseitige Einflüsse Deutscher und Jüdischer Kultur. Ed. by Walter Grab. Tel Aviv: University of Tel Aviv.

Treitschke, Heinrich von. [1874-1894]. 1919. Deutsche Geschichte im neunzehnten Jahrhundert. Leipzig: Hirzel.

Zagari, Luciano, and Chiarini, Paolo, eds. 1981. Zu Heinrich Heine. Stuttgart: Klett.

Zunz, Leopold. [1876]. 1976. Gesammelte Schriften. 3 vols. Hildesheim: Olms.

Further Reading

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 759


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.

Surveys Heine's life with an emphasis on his German-Jewish background.

Pawel, Ernst. The Poet Dying: Heinrich Heine's Last Years in Paris, Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1998, 277 p.

Focuses on Heine's writings after the revolutions of 1848.

Philip, Kossoff. Valiant Heart: A Biography of Heinrich Heine, New York: Cornwall Books, 1983, 217 p.

Offers extensive biographical background concerning the composition of Heine's works.

Walter, H. Heinrich Heine: A Critical Examination of the Poet and His Works, New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1930, 322 p.

Presents a biographical and critical study of Heine.


Bernstein, Susan. “Q; or, Heine's Romanticism.” Studies in Romanticism 42, no. 3 (fall 2003): 369-91.

Discusses Heine's Florentinische Nachte.

Cook, Roger F. By the Rivers of Babylon: Heinrich Heine's Late Songs and Reflections, Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1998, 399 p.

Focuses on Heine's writings after the revolutions of 1848.

De Jauregui, Heidi Urbahn. “The Freedom of a Poetic Mind.” Partisan Review 65, no. 4 (1996): 615-26.

Discusses Heine's political views.

Duncan, L. fallon. “Allegory and Ambiguity: Heine's Ideen. Das Buch Le Grand in the Light of Schlegel's Lucinde.Heine-Jahrbuch 32 (1993): 48-73.

Compares Heine's Ideen. Das Buch Le Grand to Schlegel's Lucinde, focusing on the use of allegory.

Fairly, Barker. Heinrich Heine: An Interpretation, Oxford: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1954, 176 p.

Presents an important study of Heine's use of imagery.

Goetschel, Willi Nils Roemer. “Heine's Judaism and Its Reception.” The Germanic Review 74, no. 4 (fall 1999): 267-70.

Outlines the critical response to Heine with respect to his Judaism.

Hermand, Jost. “Heinrich Heine's ghetto tale ‘The Rabbi of Bacherach’ is published.” In The Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture, 1096-1996, edited by Sander L. Gilman and Jack Zipes, pp. 152-57. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997.

Discusses the writing, publication, and public reception of Heine's tale.

———. “The Wandering Jew's Rhine Journey: Heine's Lorelei.” In Insiders and Outsiders: Jewish and Gentile Culture in Germany and Austria, edited by Dagmar C. G. Lorenz and Gabriele Weinberger, pp. 39-46. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1994.

Discusses the mixed reactions to Heine's Lorelei.

Holub, Robert C. “Personal Roots and German Traditions: The Jewish Element in Heine's Turn Against Romanticism.” In Heinrich Heine and Romanticism, edited by Markus Winkler, pp. 40-56. Tubingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1997.

Attempts to define Heine within the constructs of the romantic movement.

Justis, Diana Lynn. The Feminine in Heine's Life and Oeuvre: Self and Other, New York: Peter Lang, 1997, 247 p.

Discusses the role of female identity in Heine's work and the women in his life.

Marcuse, Ludwig. “Heine and Marx: A History and a Legend.” Germanic Review 30, no. 2 (April 1955): 110-24.

Explains Heine's relationship with early communists while denying a political alliance between Heine and Marx.

Newman, Rafael. “Heine's Aristophanes: Compromise Formations and the Ambivalence of Carnival.” Comparative Literature 49, no. 3 (summer 1997): 227-40.

Traces the notion of ambivalence from Greek mythology to Heine and his Romantic contemporaries.

O'Doherty, Paul. “The Reception of Heine's Jewishness in the Soviet Zone/GDR, 1945-1961.” German Life and Letters 52, no. 1 (January 1999): 85-96.

Notes that Heine was viewed positively as a “revolutionary” and a Marxist in post-war East Germany.

Prawer, S. S. Heine the Tragic Satirist: A Study of the Later Poetry, Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press, 1961, 314 p.

Focuses on theme, style, and irony in Heine's later work.

Presner, Todd Samuel. “Jews on Ships; or, How Heine's Reisebilder Deconstruct Hegel's Philosophy of World History.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 118, no. 3 (May 2003): 521-38.

Discusses how Heine's Reisebilder (Pictures of Travel) relates to the philosophy of history expressed by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, particularly in terms of Jews and mobility.

Schlesier, Renate. “Homeric Laughter by the Rivers of Babylon: Heinrich Heine and Karl Marx.” In The Jewish Reception of Heinrich Heine, edited by Mark H. Gelber, pp. 21-43. Tubingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1992.

Alleges that Heine was perhaps the greatest influence on Marx.

Additional information on Heine's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Concise Dictionary of World Literary Biography, Vol. 2; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 90; European Writers, Vol. 5; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 4, 54; Poetry Criticism, Vol. 25; Reference Guide to World Literature, Ed. 3; and Twayne's World Authors.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial

Heine, Heinrich


Heine, Heinrich (Vol. 54)

Explore Study Guides