Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

Image: bronze plaque erected in 1912 by London County Council at 32 Craven Street, Charing Cross, London, WC2N 5NP, City of Westminster.

From Wikipedia:

“Christian Johann Heinrich Heine; (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. He spent the last 25 years of his life as an expatriate in Paris.

…Heine went to England (for part of 1827) to avoid what he predicted would be controversy over the publication of this work (satire on German censorship). In London he cashed a cheque from his uncle for £200 (equal to £17,442 today), much to Salomon’s chagrin. Heine was unimpressed by the English: he found them commercial and prosaic, and still blamed them for the defeat of Napoleon…

…Among the thousands of books burned on Berlin’s Opernplatz in 1933, following the Nazi raid on the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, were works by Heinrich Heine. To commemorate the terrible event, one of the most famous lines of Heine’s 1821 play Almansor was engraved in the ground at the site: “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well.” In the play it is the Muslim Hassan, who is saying these words, when he heard that the Christian conquerors had burned the scriptures of the Quran at the marketplace of Granada.)…

From: The English Fragments, published in 1828 in a German magazine of which Heine was one of the editors:


…How much more pleasant and homelike it is in our dear Germany! How dreamily comfortable, how Sabbatically quiet all things glide along here!…

I had made up my mind not to be astonished at that immensity of London of which I had heard so much. But it happened to me…I anticipated great palaces, and saw nothing but mere small houses. But their very uniformity and their limitless extent are wonderfully impressive.

These houses of brick, owing to the damp atmosphere and coal smoke, become uniform in colour, that is to say, of a brown olive green; they are all of the same style of building, generally two or three windows wide, three storeys high, and adorned above with small red tiles,…the eye of the stranger is incessantly caught by the new and brilliant articles exposed for sale in the windows. And these articles do not merely produce an effect because the Englishman completes so perfectly everything which he manufactures, and because every article of luxury, every astral lamp and every boot, every tea kettle and every woman’s dress, shines out so invitingly and so “finished;” there is a peculiar charm in the art of arrangement, in the contrast of colours, and in the variety of the English shops; even the most commonplace necessaries of life appear in a startling magic light through this artistic power of setting forth everything to advantage. Ordinary articles of food attract us by the new light in which they are placed, even uncooked fish lie so delightfully dressed that the rainbow gleam of their scales attracts us; raw meat lies, as if painted, on neat and many-coloured porcelain plates, garlanded about with parsley—yes, everything seems painted, reminding us of the brilliant, yet modest pictures of Franz Mieris. Only the people are not so cheerful as in the Dutch paintings; they sell the most delightful playthings with the most serious faces, and the cut and colour of their clothes is as uniform as that of their houses.

At the opposite side of the town, which they call the West End, where the more aristocratic and less-occupied world lives, this uniformity is still more dominant; yet here there are very long and very broad streets, where all the houses are large as palaces, though outwardly anything but distinguished, unless we except the fact that in these, as in all the better class of houses in London, the windows of the first storey are adorned with iron-barred balconies, and also on the ground floor there is a black railing protecting the entrance to certain cellar apartments buried in the earth…

…over the vulgar multitude which sticks fast to the soil, soar, like beings of a higher nature, England’s nobility, who regard their little island as only a temporary resting-place, Italy as their summer garden, Paris as their social saloon, and the whole world as their inheritance. They sweep along, knowing nothing of sorrow or suffering, and their gold is a talisman which conjures into fulfilment their wildest wish…”

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