Heinrich Heine biography
Heinrich Heine (originally Harry) (1797–1856)
German poet, born in Düsseldorf. One of the poor branch of a rich Jewish family, he grew up under the French occupation and became an admirer of Napoléon. An uncle set him up in his own business (Harry Heine & Co.) in Hamburg, which soon failed.
He then studied law in Bonn, literature in Göttingen (under Schlegel) and philosophy in Berlin (under Hegel and Friedrich August Wolf). Several love affairs disturbed him. Goethe snubbed him, and to avoid the civil disabilities aimed at Jews he unhappily accepted Christian baptism in 1825, the year he took out his doctorate in law.
He published Reisebilder (‘Pictures of Travel’, 1826) in which he proclaimed his revolutionary sympathies, and Buch der Lieder (‘Book of Songs’, 1827) which established him as Germany’s greatest lyric poet after (or perhaps even ahead of) Goethe.
From 1831 his political opinions obliged him to live in Paris where he became an ardent disciple of Saint-Simon. He worked as a journalist, secretly accepted a pension from the French Government (secured by his admirer Thiers), had several more unhappy love affairs and became friendly with the brilliant French Romantics including Hugo, George Sand, Chopin, de Musset and Berlioz.
In 1841 he married Mathilde Eugénie Mirat, a shallow-minded Parisian grisette with whom he had lived since 1835. Heine was torn by many conflicts and he was the Doppelganger of his own poem: the baptised Jew, the expatriate German, the unhappy lover, the unconvinced radical, the bittersweet poet. The pure classical form of his poetry combines exquisite sensitivity and pessimism, marred at times by bitter cynicism, malicious satire and sentimentality.
He has been called the ‘poetic psychologist of love’ and his later works, including Romancero (1851) and Last Songs and Thoughts (1853, 1854), were dubbed ‘the swan song of romanticism’. From 1848 he was bedridden with spinal paralysis and suffered acute pain until his death.
As a young man he called himself a ‘soldier in the war of the liberation of mankind’ but later he wrote, ‘When I was young I loved truth, justice and liberty, and now that I am older I love truth, justice, liberty and crabmeat’. Heine wrote in both French and German and strove to make both nations aware of their mutual artistic and intellectual achievements.
In his penetrating political essays he predicted the rise of Nazism, his works were suppressed in Germany (1933–45) and the Nazis insisted that his most famous poem, The Lorelei, was anonymous. Heine’s lyrics were set to music by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Hugo Wolf.