Berlin, Germany



Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (German: [ˈhaɪ̯n.ʁɪç ˈhaɪ̯.nə] (
listen); born Harry Heine; 13 December 1797 – 17 February 1856) was a German poet, writer and literary critic. He is best known outside Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of lieder (art songs) by composers such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert. Heine's later verse and prose are distinguished by their satirical wit and irony. He is considered part of the Young Germany movement. His radical political views led to many of his works being banned by German authorities—which, however, only added to his fame.[1] He spent the last 25 years of his life as an expatriate in Paris.

Heine was born on 13 December 1797, in Düsseldorf,[2] in what was then the Duchy of Berg, into a Jewish family.[3] He was called "Harry" in childhood but became known as "Heinrich" after his conversion to Lutheranism in 1825.[4] Heine's father, Samson Heine (1764–1828), was a textile merchant. His mother Peira (known as "Betty"), née van Geldern (1771–1859), was the daughter of a physician.

Heinrich was the eldest of four children. He had a sister, Charlotte, and two brothers, Gustav Heine von Geldern (later Baron Heine-Geldern and publisher of the Viennese newspaper Fremden-Blatt [de]) and Maximilian, who became a physician in Saint Petersburg.[5] Heine was also a third cousin once removed of philosopher and economist Karl Marx, also born to a German Jewish family in the Rhineland, with whom he became a frequent correspondent in later life.[6]

Düsseldorf was then a small town with a population of around 16,000. The French Revolution and subsequent Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars involving Germany complicated Düsseldorf's political history during Heine's childhood. It had been the capital of the Duchy of Jülich-Berg, but was under French occupation at the time of his birth.[7] It then went to the Elector of Bavaria before being ceded to Napoleon in 1806, who turned it into the capital of the Grand Duchy of Berg, one of three French states he established in Germany. It was first ruled by Joachim Murat, then by Napoleon himself.[8] Upon Napoleon's downfall in 1815 it became part of Prussia.

Thus Heine's formative years were spent under French influence. The adult Heine would always be devoted to the French for introducing the Napoleonic Code and trial by jury. He glossed over the negative aspects of French rule in Berg: heavy taxation, conscription, and economic depression brought about by the Continental Blockade (which may have contributed to his father's bankruptcy).[9] Heine greatly admired Napoleon as the promoter of revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality and loathed the political atmosphere in Germany after Napoleon's defeat, marked by the conservative policies of Austrian chancellor Klemens von Metternich, who attempted to reverse the effects of the French Revolution.[10]

Heine's parents were not particularly devout. As a young child they sent him to a Jewish school where he learned a smattering of Hebrew, but thereafter he attended Catholic schools. Here he learned French, which would be his second language - although he always spoke it with a German accent. He also acquired a lifelong love for Rhenish folklore.[11]

In 1814 Heine went to a business school in Düsseldorf where he learned to read English, the commercial language of the time.[12] The most successful member of the Heine family was his uncle Salomon Heine, a millionaire banker in Hamburg. In 1816 Heine moved to Hamburg to become an apprentice at Heckscher & Co, his uncle's bank, but displayed little aptitude for business. He learned to hate Hamburg, with its commercial ethos, but it would become one of the poles of his life alongside Paris.

When he was 18 Heine almost certainly had an unrequited love for his cousin Amalie, Salomon's daughter. Whether he then transferred his affections (equally unsuccessfully) to her sister Therese is unknown.[13] This period in Heine's life is not clear but it seems that his father's business deteriorated, making Samson Heine effectively the ward of his brother Salomon.[14]