The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
German lyric poet and essayist; born at Düsseldorf Dec. 13, 1797; died in Paris Feb. 17, 1856; son of Samson Heine and Betty von Geldern. Though named after his father's brother Hertz, he was chiefly influenced in his early days by his mother and her uncle, Simon von Geldern, a curious mixture of traveler, "schnorrer," and adventurer. His father left his education to his mother, Betty von Geldern, who, touched by the new ideas of the French Revolution, and something of a freethinker, had him educated in a desultory manner by equally freethinking Jesuits and French refugees. There is little evidence that he had any specifically Jewish education, though he records in his "Memoirs" that he learned to conjugate the Hebrew verb "paḳad." As he also refers to the root "ḳaṭal," it is probable that he had to relearn Hebrew later from Gesenius. The time of his youth was the most favorable the German Jews had seen, owing to the influence of Napoleon, and Heine was always conscious of, and grateful for, the Jewish emancipation due to him.
At the age of seventeen, in 1815, he was sent to Frankfort to try his fortune in a banker's office, where for the first time he became aware of the restrictions by which Jews were oppressed in the German cities. At first he could not bear it, and went back to Düsseldorf; the next year he went to Hamburg to enter the office of his uncle, Solomon Heine, who was becoming one of the chief merchants of that city. The office-work proving distasteful to him, he ventured to set up in business for himself in 1818, but failed. Meanwhile the most important influence upon his life came through his frustrated love for his cousin Amalie, which brought out some of the tenderest, and, when he was thwarted, some of the most cynical, strains of his muse. When Solomon Heine found that his daughter was likely to be entangled with her cousin, who had shown no capacity for business, a rigid embargo was put upon any intercourse between Heine and the young girl, who shortly afterward, in 1821, married J. Friedländer of Absinthhein. Perhaps as a kind of compensation, his uncle sent Heine in 1819 to study law at Bonn and afterward at Göttingen, whence he was rusticated; going next to Berlin, he came under the influence of the Hegelians. Here his first volume of poems appeared, and here for the first time he came in contact with real Jewish influences. He became a member of the circle around Rahel, and in the household of Veit became acquainted with Moser, Gans, Dr. Rosenheim, Daniel Lessmann, and Joseph Lehmann. He also visited the Mendelssohns, and at Chamisso's house became acquainted with Hitzig (Embden, "Family Life," pp. 44-47, New York, 1892). He came in touch with Zunz and his followers, and by them was drawn into the circle which was attempting to create Jewish science by the Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft des Judenthums. When the "Zeitschrift" appeared, Heine complained of its German ("Briefe," ed. Karpeles, p. 117).
The chief influence, however, was exercised by Moses Moser, whom Heine somewhere calls a supplement to "Nathan the Wise." They, with Ludwig Marcus and Emanuel Wolf, were inspired by the idea of uniting modern culture and ancient Judaism, and Heine joined eagerly in their enthusiastic hopes, which were, however, destined soon to be frustrated. In the reaction many of the members of the Verein submitted to baptism, which at that time was the only key to an official career in Prussia. The effect on Heine was rather to divert his attention from Jewish matters to German literature, and from 1822 to 1827 he produced a series of poems and sketches of travel which practically placed him at the head of German literature, culminating as they did in the "Buch der Lieder," one of the most exquisite volumes of lyric verse produced by a German poet. Much, however, that he wrote was offensive to the bourgeois and the bureaucracy of Prussia, but the coarseness of the suggestions was often redeemed by the piquant style in which they were put forth, and his light shafts of satire managed to pierce the most pachydermatous of mortals. His wit was essentially Jewish, and was clearly derived from the Berlin circles in which he had recently moved. It was while under their influence that he attempted his sole effort at a romance in his "Rabbi von Bacharach," a historical romance of the Middle Ages dealing with the persecution of the Jews by the Crusaders; it was unfortunately left unfinished.
Meanwhile the question of a livelihood had forced him to take up the problem of his continued formal connection with the Jewish community. The example of Eduard Gans had shown him the hopelessness of expecting an academic career for a professing Jew. Defiantly yet reluctantly he determined on nominally changing his faith, and was received into the Protestant Church (June 28, 1825) as a preliminary to his LL.D. at GÖttingen and to his career at the Prussian bar. He himself did not attempt to disguise the motives which led to this renunciation He declared that he was "merely baptized, not converted." In writing to Moser he said:
"From my way of thinking you can well imagine that baptism is an indifferent affair. I do not regard it as important even symbolically, and I shall devote myself all the more to the emancipation of the unhappy members of our race. Still I hold it as a disgrace and a stain upon my honor that in order to obtain an office in Prussia—in beloved Prussia—I should allow myself to be baptized."
Heine took a morbid pleasure in going to the temple at Hamburg to listen to Dr. Salomon preaching against baptized Jews. He was soon to learn that his sacrifice—if it was a sacrifice—was of little avail.
"I am hated alike by Jew and Christian," he wrote, Jan. 9, 1826; "I regret very deeply that I had myself baptized. I do not see that I have been the better for it since. On the contrary, I have known nothing but misfortunes and mischances."
Almost immediately after his baptism he published his "Buch Le Grand" (1827), which was so revolutionary in tone and apologetic toward Napoleon, then in the depth of disrepute, that he considered it wise to await publication in England. The climate and the Philistinism of the England of those days were both repulsive to him, and he soon returned to Hamburg to produce his masterpiece, "Buch der Lieder." Despairing of any government employ from Prussian officials, he went to Munich, but found all attempts vain after the antinomian display he had made in the "Buch Le Grand." He accordingly went to Italy, and further irritated public opinion by the loose descriptions of his Italian adventures in his "Bäder von Lucca." After his father's death he produced the third volume of his "Reisebilder," the circulation of which was at once prohibited by the Prussian government, which showed clearly by this means its determination not to give him an official career. The French Revolution of 1830 found him, therefore, prepared to abandon his native land, and in May, 1831, he took up his permanent abode in Paris, where at that time his Jewish birth was rather an advantage than otherwise.
Mediator Between France and Germany.
The next eighteen years of his life were devoted in the main to a series of propagandist efforts which were Jewish in method if not in aim. Heine constantly strove to act the same part of mediator between French and German culture as the Spanish Jews had acted between the Christians and Moors of Spain. In particular he collaborated with Ludwig Börne, though not in direct association with him, in the attempt to create an intellectual party in Germany which would apply to German institutions and conceptions the freedom and force of French revolutionary ideas. By this means the two helped to create the party of "Young Germany" in literature and politics. At the same time he attempted to render the profundities of German thought accessible to the French public, and thus prepare the way for a closer sympathy between the minds of the two nations. During all this time he wrote little, if anything, dealing with Jewish subjects. His associates in Paris were by no means so exclusively Jewish as in Berlin and Hamburg. He was admitted to intimacy with Balzac, George Sand, Alfred de Musset, Alexandre Dumas, and, in fact, with all that was brilliant in French literature and art. Yet many of his most intimate friends were of the Jewish circle. Alexandre Weill, David d'Angers, A. Mels, A. Karpeles, the Oppenheims, the Friedlands, and to some extent the Paris Rothschilds, came into more or less intimate relations with him while he was able to go out into society.
Both Heine and Börne were particularly suited for the function they performed in transporting French ideas—or, rather, practical suggestions for carrying them out—to Germany, so rich in its own ideas, but hitherto with so little capacity for putting them into practise. As Jews, both were able to view the movements with a certain dispassionate detachment, and could disentangle the permanent from the transitory element in current events. Heine, however, was no revolutionist in act. He trusted to the influence of ideas rather than to any direct intermeddling in political affairs. This caused disagreement between himself and Börne, who attacked him virulently. Heine preserved silence during Börne's life, but after his death wrote an analysis of Börne's weaknesses. The exploit did Heine no credit, and brought upon him a duel with one Strauss, an admirer of Börne. Fears for the result of a duel led Heine to legitimate his relations to Mathilde Mirat (1841).
Heine supported himself partly by his literary efforts, partly by a pension from the French government, and to some extent by an allowance from his uncle Solomon Heine, which was continued after some bickerings by his cousin Charles, after Solomon's death, with a promise that the allowance should be continued to Madame Heine after the poet's death.
His "Mattress Grave."
About 1847 Heine was seized by the illness that ultimately brought him to a comparatively early grave. Whatever its nature, whether softening of the spinal cord, muscular atrophy, or locomotor ataxia, there can be little doubt that his irregular life had led to his neuropathic condition. After May, 1848, he never rose from his bed for over eight years, during which time, bravely bearing the most excruciating pain, he showed a heroic patience which redeemed in large measure the want of taste and dignity shown in his early attitude. His thoughts frequently turned back to the creed of his youth, and he often gave pathetic recognition of his appreciation of the finer sides of Judaism and of the Jewish people. In his "Romanzero" he gave what is still, perhaps, the most striking picture of Judah ha-Levi, derived doubtless from Michael Sachs's "Religiöse Poesie." The moreirreverent "Disputation" showed that he was just as irreverent in dealing with sacred Jewish subjects as his enemies accused him of being toward Christianity. In his "Prinzessin Sabbath" he enshrined for all time the sublimer sides of Jewish home-worship.
It was while on his "mattress grave" that Heine gave utterance to his most penetrating comments on matters Jewish:
On Bible and Jews.
"The Jews may console themselves for having lost Jerusalem, and the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant, and the golden vessels, and the precious things of Solomon. Such a loss is merely insignificant in comparison with the Bible, the imperishable treasure which they have rescued. If I do not err, it was Mahomet who named the Jews 'the People of the Book,' a name which has remained theirs to the present day on the earth, and which is deeply characteristic. A book is their very father-land, their treasure, their governor, their bliss, and their bane. They live within the peaceful boundaries of this book. Here they exercise their inalienable rights. Here they can neither be driven along nor despised. Here are they strong and worthy of admiration. Absorbed in the city of this book, they observed little of the changes which went on about them in the real world: nations arose and perished; states bloomed and disappeared; revolutions stormed forth out of the soil; but they lay bowed down over their book and observed nothing of the wild tumult of the times which passed over their heads."
After a brilliant reference to Moses as a remarkable artist, since he created that masterwork "Israel," he continues:
"As it was with the artificer, so was it with his handiwork, the Jews. I have never spoken of them with sufficient reverence, and that, of a truth, on account of my Hellenic temperament, which was opposed to Jewish asceticism. My preference for Hellas has since then decreased. I see now that the Greeks were merely handsome striplings. The Jews, however, have always been men, strenuous and full of power, not only at that time, but even at the present day, in spite of eighteen hundred years of persecution and misery. I have since then learned to value them better, and, if every kind of pride of birth were not a foolish contradiction in a champion of revolution and democratic principles, the writer of these pages might be proud that his ancestors belonged to the noble House of Israel, that he is a descendant of those martyrs who have given to the world one God and a moral law, and have fought and suffered in all the battle-fields of thought."
That contrast between the Hellenic and the Hebraic influences in civilization was a favorite one with Heine, and led him on one occasion to refuse to consider Christians as essentially different from Jews, the slight difference between them being distinguished by calling Christians "Nazarenes."
"Hellene" and "Hebrew."
"I say 'Nazarene,' in order to avoid the use of either 'Jewish' or 'Christian,' expressions which are for me synonymous, for I use them to characterize only a nature, not a religious belief. 'Jewish' and 'Christian' are with me entirely synonymous terms, as contrasted with the word 'Hellenic,' with which word I signify no definite people, but a certain direction of spirit and manner and intuition, the result of birth as well as education. In this relation I may say all men are either Hebrews with tendencies to asceticism and to excessive spiritualization and with a hatred of the plastic, or Hellenes,with cheerful views of life, with a pride in self-development and a love of reality."
This conception was later on taken up by Matthew Arnold, and formed the basis of his theory of culture as stated in his "Culture and Anarchy." It is probably at the root of Heine's argument for Jewish emancipation, which is mainly based, as will be discerned, on the claims of Jews to represent the religious or Hebraic principle in civilization.
On Jewish Emancipation.
"This emancipation will be granted, sooner or later, out of love of justice, out of prudence, out of necessity. Antipathy to the Jews has no longer a religious ground with the upper classes, and it is transformed more into social spite against the over-powering might of capital, against the exploitation of the poor by the rich. Hatred of the Jews has, indeed, another name with the people. As for the government, it has at last arrived at the intelligent view that the state is an organic body which can not attain perfect health so long as one of its limbs, were it only the little toe, is in inflammation. . . . Jewish disabilities are just corns on the feet of the German state. And did governments but consider how horribly the spinal column of all religions, the idea of deism itself, is threatened by the new doctrines—for the feud between science and faith will be no longer a tame skirmish, but soon a wild battle to the death—did governments consider this hidden necessity, they would be grateful that there are yet Jews in the world, that the 'Swiss Guard of Deism,' as the poet has called them, yet stands on its legs, that there exists still a 'people of God.' Instead of endeavoring to make them abjure their faith by legislative penalties, they would rather endeavor to keep them therein by offering them rewards: they would build up their synagogues at the cost of the state on condition only that they make use of them, that the people outside may know there is yet some faith in the world. Abstain from spreading baptism among the Jews: that is merely water, and dries up rapidly. Rather encourage circumcision—that is, faith by incision in the flesh: in the spirit such incisions are no longer possible. Hasten on, hurry on, the emancipation, that it come not too late, and while Jews are yet to be found in the world who prefer the faith of their fathers to the welfare of their children."
Heine's high opinion of the ethical value of Jewish history during the last two thousand years is expressed in the following passages:
"The Jews were the only individuals who preserved their spiritual freedom in the Christianization of Europe."
"Jewish history is beautiful, but the later Jews injure the old, whom one would set far above the Greeks and Romans. I think if there were no more Jews, and it were known that a single example of this race existed anywhere, people would travel a hundred leagues to see him and to shake hands; and now people turn out of our way!"
"The story of the later Jews is tragic: yet, if one wrote a tragedy on the subject, one would be laughed at—which is the most tragic reflection of all."
"The Jews have had highly civilized hearts in an unbroken tradition for two thousand years. I believe they acquire the culture of Europe so quickly because they have nothing to learn in the matter of feeling, and read only to gain knowledge."
It was during his latter days that he gave utterance to that most profound of judgments on the Jewish character:
"Jews, when they are good, are better, and, when they are bad, are worse, than Gentiles";
and the bitterest of all sayings about Judaism:
"Judaism is not a religion; it is a misfortune."
In his last will he declared his belief in an Only God whose mercy he supplicates for his immortal soul.
In considering Heine in his relations to Judaism, to which aspect of his career the present sketch has been confined, it must be recognized that his earlier training and environment did not tend to encourage him to devote his great powers to the service of his race and religion. Except for the few years at Berlin, he does not appear to have come under any specifically Jewish influence of a spiritual kind; yet the Berlin influence was deep enough to stamp his work with a Jewish note throughout his life. His wit and his pathos were essentially Jewish. His mental position as a Jew gave him that detachment from the larger currents of the time which enabled him to discern their course more clearly and impartially. His work as a journalist, while largely influenced by French examples, was in a measure epoch-making in German-speaking countries, and he was followed by numbers of clever Jewish newspaper writers, who gave a tone to the feuilleton of central Europe which it retains at the present day. In almost all aspects of his prose work he was Jewish to the core; only in his verse was the individual note predominant.
Heine's Jewish birth has not been without influence on his reputation even after death. For a long time historians of German literature refused to admit his significance, owing in a large measure to Chauvinistic and religious prejudices. When an attempt was made in 1897 to erect a memorial to the poet in Düsseldorf, his native place, permission was refused by the government on the ground of Heine's anti-German utterances. The memorial that had been made for the purpose was accordingly offered to the municipality of New York, which has placed it on Mott avenue and 161st street. It is commonly known as the Heine or Lorelei Fountain.
- Grätz, Gesch.;
- G. Karpeles, Heinrich Heine und das Judenthum, Berlin, 1890;
- idem, Heinrich Heine: Aus Seinem Leben und aus Seiner Zeit, Berlin, 1901;
- Matthew Arnold, Essays on Criticism, 1st ed., pp. 179-183;
- Lady Magnus, Jewish Portraits, pp. 32-56;
- G. Brandes, Hauptströmungen der Litteratur des 19. Jahrhunderts,;
- Strodtmann, H. Heine's Leben und Werke, Berlin, 1873;
- D. Kaufmann, Aus Heinrich Heine's Ahnensaal, Breslau, 1896. See bibliography in the Memoir of W. Sharp, in the Great Writers series.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Veitel, Ephraim'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/v/veitel-ephraim.html. 1901.