Heine (Jewish Thinkers Series)
Ritchie Robertson, Arthur Hertzberg
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Author note: Arthur Hertzberg (Editor)
Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) is one of Germany’s greatest writers. His agile mind and brilliant wit expressed themselves in lyrical and satirical poetry, travel writing, fiction, and essays on literature, art, politics, philosophy and history. He was a biting satirist, and a perceptive commentator on the world around him. One of his admirers, Friedrich Nietzsche, said of him: ‘he possessed that divine malice without which perfection, for me, is unimaginable.’ Heine was conscious of living after two revolutions.
The French Revolution had changed the world forever. Heine experienced its effects when growing up in a Düsseldorf that formed part of the Napoleonic Empire, and when spending the latter half of his life in France. The other revolution was the transformation of German philosophy in the wake of Kant: Heine explained this revolution wittily and accessibly to the general public, emphasizing its hidden political significance.
One of the great ambivalences of Heine’s life was his attitude to being a German Jew in the age of partial emancipation. He converted to Protestantism, but bitterly regretted this decision. In compensation, he explored the Jewish past and present in an unfinished historical novel and in many of his poems.
as incoherent and opportunistic. Heine’s thought is not always consistent, but it is coherent. While clarifying its broad lines, I have tried also to do justice to its many nuances. This has meant quoting liberally in order to stay close to the intricate texture of Heine’s thinking. Given the range of his interests, it is inevitable that for much of this book Heine should appear less as a ‘Jewish thinker’ than as a thinker who was Jewish. His attitudes to Jewish matters, such as the Jewish
which an orthodox Jew could not have done. Although they may have continued to celebrate Passover by the traditional seder meal, Heine’s parents seem to have had little interest in Judaism. Heine was sent to a Hebrew school in early childhood, but did not learn much there. In adult life he displays scanty knowledge of Hebrew and makes gross errors in traditional knowledge: thus in a letter to his publisher Campe he corrects his previous statement that the destruction of Jerusalem occurred on the
German character with emotional depth but also with the pedantry that files all experiences away in an archive. Two months earlier he had written to Moser: ‘“May my right hand wither, if I forget thee, Yerusholayim”—these are the words of the Psalmist, more or less, and they are still mine’ (9.1.1824). Ambivalence here is evident from Heine’s vagueness about the quotation and from his use of the Hebrew form of the name ‘Jerusalem’ as pronounced by German and Polish Jews. While evoking the deepest
Clarendon Press, 1983) is exhaustive. Its most rewarding sections are the affectionate explications of Heine’s evocations of Jewish life in The Rabbi of Bacharach, the Hebrew Melodies, and elsewhere. See also Israel Tabak, Judaic Lore in Heine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1948), and, on the situation of German Jews in Heine’s day, Michael A. Meyer, The Origins of the Modern Jew: Jewish Identity and European Culture in Germany, 1749–1824 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967); Julius
prettily, my darling, about your love’ (1:96). Would she have shamed their triviality, or shared it? Heine leaves the conclusion ambiguous. Much of the Book of Songs simultaneously exploits and questions the language of Romanticism. But the two cycles entitled The North Sea which round off the collection are Heine’s response to Classicism. They attempt to incorporate into verse the intellectual content normally presented in prose, while avoiding the arid abstractness of much eighteenth-century