Heinrich Heine

Portrait of Heinrich Heine

Heinrich Heine was a German poet, writer and literary critic. He was born in Dusseldorf, Germany on 13th February 1797 and died in Paris on 17th February 1856 aged 58.

Major Works

“Die Buch der Lieder” (The Book of Songs) (1827)
Die Schlesischen Weber” (The Silesian Weavers”) (1844)
“Romanzero” (1851) 
“Gedichte” (1853) 


Christian Johann Heinrich Heine was born on 13th December 1797 in Dusseldorf, Germany into a Jewish family. The city was under French control at the time of his birth. He was originally known as Harry in the family. His father was Samson Heine a merchant specialising in textiles and his mother was Peira née van Geldern who was the well-educated daughter of a doctor. Heinrich was the eldest of four children including a sister and two brothers. Although Heine was originally sent to a Jewish school the family were not devout and later, he was sent to a catholic school, the Düsseldorf Lyceum. His uncle Salomon Heine was a millionaire banker in Hamburg and tried to use generosity to control the boy. 

1806: Dusseldorf had been passed into the control of the Elector of Bavaria but is now under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte who makes it the capital of the Grand Duchy of Berg with Joachim Murat as its prime administrator. Heine can speak French fluently and becomes a devotee of the Napoleonic Code and the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality.

1814: He goes to the business school in Düsseldorf where he learns to read English, the commercial language at the period. His father’s business declines and Heine is effectively a ward of Uncle Salomon. He falls in love with both of his uncle’s daughters, Amalie and then Therese but neither are interested in the dreamy youth.

1816: He moves to Hamburg to become an apprentice at his uncle’s bank, Heckscher & Co, but is not interested in business life.

1819: Realising his nephew has no interest in business he decides Heine should take up the law. He is sent to the University of Bonn (ruled by Prussia). The town is more politically volatile than Hamburg and the conservatives are in power hoping to return life to before the French revolution and against German unification. The Liberals want to replace absolutism with a representative, constitutional government, a free press and equality before the law. Most students at the University are on the side of the Liberals and Heine more so than most. He immediately takes part in a march against Metternich’s Carlsbad Decrees which try to suppress political activity. One of his lecturers August Wilhelm von Schlegel introduces him to history, romanticism and the Nibelunglied. Schlegel was an early admirer of Heine’s verses. However, his plays “Almansor” and “William Ratclif” find no audience in the theatre.

1820: He leaves Bonn to continue his law studies at the University of Gottingen which is then ruled by Hannover. He hates the place as it is associated in his mind with Great Britain whom he blames for bringing down Napoleon. He experiences anti-Semitism and snobbery and finally challenges Wiebel, another student to a duel for which he is expelled for six months, 

1821: His uncle next sends him to the University of Berlin where he arrives in March. He is much happier here in a more cosmopolitan environment. One of the professors there who had a profound effect on him was the philosopher Hegel. He makes aquantance with the liberal Karl August Varhagen and his Jewish wife Rachel who organises literary salons which he attends. Heine’s first verse collection, “Gedichte” is published in December. He also joins the “Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden” society which aims to achieve a balance between the Jewish faith.

1823: He leaves Berlin for good in May and joins his family in Luneberg. He begins to write the poems of the “Die Heimkehr” cycle (The Homecoming). He then returns to Göttingen where once again he is bored by studying the law.

1824: During the autumn he undertakes a walking tour through the Harz Mountains and writes about it in “Die Harzreise” (The Harz Journey) a mixture of romanisation and social comment. This was to be the first of a series entitled “Reisebilder” published between 1826 and 1831. He begins an historical novel, “Der Rabbi von Bacherach” but never completes it.

1825: He finally completes his degree in law. As he intends to enter the civil service which was closed to Jews at the time he converts to Protestantism in June and becomes known as Heinrich Heine for the first time. He neither practices law or enters government service and decides to devote himself to poetry and literature.

1826: He visits the North Sea resort of Norderney which inspires his free verse poems “Die Nordsee”. His literary efforts never make him enough money to cover his expenses although in January he does meet the publisher Julius Campe who would represent him for the rest of his life. Campe published Liberal books and gets around the censorship of books under 320 pages by increasing the page count by printing works in large fonts. Although Campe publishes the first volume of “Reisebilder” in May it was not expected to sell many copies although composers such as Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn set some of the poems to music as Lieder later on.

1827: He writes “Buch der Lieder”. “Reisebilder Two” appears which includes the North Sea poems as well as a prose essay on the North Sea and a new work “Ideen: Das Buch Le Grand”, which satirises German censorship. Heine visits England to escape the expected controversy. On his return to Germany the liberal publisher of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller, Cotta offers him a job co-editing the magazine, “Politische Annalen” in Munich. He is not happy there and tries to gain a post at Munich University but is unsuccessful. He takes a visit to Italy but returns suddenly when he hears the news of the death of his father. “Die Reise von München nach Genua” (Journey from Munich to Genoa), and “Die Stadt Lucca” (The Town of Lucca) are the products of his recent travels. Controversy surrounds him once more as in the second volume of “Reisebilder” he includes some satirical verses by Karl Immerman. This annoys the poet August von Platen who counters with his own play “Der Romantische Ödipus” which includes anti-Semitic jokes about Heine. Heine responds by mocking Platen’s Homosexuality in “Die Bäder von Lucca” (The Baths of Lucca) .

1830: When the July revolution occurs in France Heine does not immediately rush there with his fellow Liberals but continues to try and find paid employment in Germany. 

1831: He eventually goes to Paris in the Spring when he hears about the new Saint-Simonian religion based on socialist lines. He is also interested to see how Louis-Phillippe the “Citizen King” is faring who professes to be a Liberal. He visits the Saint-Simonian meetings and begins to earn a name for himself and meets famous people of the day such as Gerard de Nerval and Hector Berlioz. He earns some money working as the French correspondent for one of Cotta’s newspapers, the” “Allgemeine Zeitung” and writes about the 1831 Salon (of painters). 

1832: He writes a series of newspaper articles about the new order in France, which he collects in book form as “Französische Zustände” (Conditions in France) and he sees himself as a mediator between Germany and France.

1833: He publishes “Die Romantische Schule” (The Romantic Schooland “De l’Allemagne” (On Germany).

1834: He publishes “Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland” (On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany) which criticises German history. It was originally published in French for a French readership. Heine starts a relationship with a nineteen-year-old Parisian shopworker, Crescence Eugénie Mirat who is feisty but uneducated. As censorship is being tightened his publisher Campe is reluctant to publish anything else by Heine who refuses to be censored, nevertheless he and his fellow radical Ludwig Borne are popular with the younger generation and become known as “Young Germany”. 

1835: Gutzkow publishes a novel called “Wally die Zweiflerin” (Wally the Sceptic) which is mildly erotic and criticises marriage. In November the Federal German Diet try to enforce a nationwide ban on all Heine and the “Young German’s” works and the police keep watch over him.

1836: He moves in with Crescence and lives with her for the rest of his life despite the fact she spoke no German.

1837: Börne was a republican, while Heine was not and Heine kept his distance which upset Börne who dies in February. When Heine hears that Gutzkow is writing a biography of Börne, he begins his own version criticising the man and his writings.

1840: His biography of Borne is published and is disliked by the radicals and seen as in poor taste by others. He writes another series of newspaper articles about French life, culture, and politics (which he publishes as a book in 1854 entitled “Lutezia” (the Roman name for Paris)). He responds to criticism of his biography by writing “Der Rabbi von Bacherach” about Jewish persecution in the Middle Ages. Frederick William the Fourth comes to the throne of Prussia and censorship is relaxed for a short while. This gives rise to the “Tendenzdichter” popular political poets whom Heine thinks are not worthy of the name poet. However, his own poetry takes a more political turn.

1841: In his biography of Borne Heine he had also attacked Borne’s friend Jeanette Wohl and her husband consequently challenges him to a duel. He receives a flesh wound and never gets involved in duelling again. Before fighting he marries Crescence (whom he calls Mathilde) to protect her future in the event of his death.

1843: He meets his distant cousin Karl Marx in October after he and his wife Jenny von Westphalen visit Paris as the Prussian Government have suppressed Marx’s radical newspaper. Heine disliked communism which did not fit his ideal of a revolution of joy and artistic creation and he felt would be a destroyer of culture. Marx was an admirer of Heine and his early writings show his influence. Nevertheless, Heine publishes several poems, including “Die Schlesischen Weber”, in Marx’s new newspaper “Vorwärts” (Forwards). Heine writes “Atta Troll. Ein Sommernachtstraum” (Atta Troll, a Midsummer Night’s Dream), a comic spoof on radical pomposity and contemporary political verse (finally published 1847). At the end of the year on a visit to his family he writes the verse satire “Deutschland, Ein Wintermärchen” (Germany, a Winter’s Tale) attacking the conditions in Germany. 

1844: In July he visits Uncle Salomon with his wife in order to get money which is not forthcoming. His second volume of poems, “Neue Gedichte” (New Poems) including Deutschland, Ein Wintermärchen”, is published emphasising his shift to a more realistic style. Uncle Salomon dies later in the year and his allowance ends. Heine bitterly contests his will with his cousin Carl the inheritor of Salomon’s business. He publishes “Zeitgedichte” (“Contemporary Poems”) in the “Vorwärts” newspaper. The most popular of his political poems is “Die Schlesischen Weber” (The Silesian Weavers), based on the uprising in Peterswaldau. He continues writing for newspapers and is the first to reference Listomania in “Musikalische Berichte aus Paris”, the frenzy which surrounds the pianist and composer Franz Liszt. His attempts to gain money from Liszt and Meyerbeer for positive reviews come to nothing.

1845: Angry at the publication of “Vorwärts” the Prussian government pressurise France to deport Marx and he goes to Belgium in January. Heine himself could not be deported as he has French residency as he was born under French occupation.

1848: His health begins to deteriorate which was thought at the time to be due to venereal disease. From the Spring onwards he spends most of his time in bed and is partially blind. (modern science has confirmed that he suffered from lead poisoning).

1851: His third volume of poems, “Romanzero” is published. Many of the poems are about the bleakness of the human condition.

1854: A final collection, “Gedichte 1853 und 1854” (Poems 1853 and 1854) is published and he continues to work from his bed writing for newspapersHe is visited regularly by the young writer Camille Selden.

Heinrich Heine died on 17th February 1856 in Paris, France and was buried in the Cimetiere de Montmartre, Paris

Further Information

List of books by Heine.