The themes Heinrich Heine wrote about


Christian Johann Heinrich Heine was one of the most significant German poets of the 19th century. He was also a journalist, essayist, 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 is distinguished by its satirical wit and irony. His radical political views led to many of his works being banned by German authorities. Heine spent the last 25 years of his life as an expatriate in Paris.

Childhood and Youth

Heine was born in Düsseldorf, Rhineland, into a Jewish family. He was called "Harry" as a child, but after his baptism in 1825 he became "Heinrich". 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 the four children; his siblings were Charlotte, Gustav - who later became Baron Heine-Geldern and publisher of the Viennese newspaper Das Fremdenblatt - and Maximilian, later a physician in Saint Petersburg.

Düsseldorf was then a small town with a population of around 16,000. The Revolution in neighbouring France and the subsequent Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars which involved Germany meant that Düsseldorf had a complicated political history during Heine's childhood. It had been the capital of the Duchy of Jülich-Berg but at the time of his birth it was under French occupation. Then it went to the Elector of Bavaria before being conquered by Napoleon in 1806. Napoleon 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. In 1815, on Napoleon's downfall, it became part of Prussia. Heine's formative years were thus 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: the heavy taxation, conscription and the economic depression brought on by the Continental Blockade. He greatly admired Napoleon as the promoter of the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality. Heine loathed the political atmosphere in Germany after Napoleon's defeat, which was marked by the conservative policies of the Austrian chancellor Metternich, who tried to reverse the effects of the French Revolution.

Heine's parents were not particularly devout Jews. When he was a young child they sent him to a Jewish school where he learned a smattering of Hebrew. 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 Rhineland folklore.

In 1814 Heine went to a business school in Düsseldorf where he learned to read English, the commercial language of the time. The most successful member of the Heine family was his uncle Salomon, who was a millionaire banker in Hamburg. In 1816 Heine moved to Hamburg to become an apprentice at Heckscher & Co, his uncle Salomon's bank, but he 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. This period in Heine's life is not very clear, but it seems that his father Samson's business deteriorated and Samson Heine effectively became the ward of his brother Salomon.

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