Heinrich Heine 1835

Autobiographical Sketch

Source: De Tout Un Peu. Paris, Michel Lévy Frères, 1867, originally in the “Revue de Paris,” March 1835;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2011.

Paris, January 15, 1835

I have just received the letter you did me the honor of writing me and I hasten to give you the information you request.

I was born in 1800 in Dusseldorf, a city on the Rhine occupied from 1806 until 1814 by the French. It can thus be said that from childhood I breathed the air of France.

I received my primary education in the Franciscan convent in Dusseldorf. I later entered the gymnasium of that city, which was then called a lycée. I passed through all the classes where the humaniora were taught, and I distinguished myself in the highest grade where the rector, Schallmeyer taught philosophy, Professor Kramer the classical poets, Professor Brewer mathematics, and Father Daulnoie French rhetoric and poetry. These men are still alive with the exception of the first, a Catholic priest who demonstrated particular concern for me, I believe because of my mother’s brother, the court counselor of Geldern, a famous physician who saved his life. My father was a businessman and quite wealthy; he is dead. My mother, a distinguished woman, is still alive but lives retired from the world. I have a sister, Charlotte de Embden, and two brothers, one of whom, Gustave de Geldern (he took my mother’s name) is an officer of dragoons in the service of His Majesty the Emperor of Austria. The other, Doctor Maximilien Heine, is a physician in the Russian army, with which he crossed the Balkans.

My studies, interrupted by fabulous caprices, by attempts at establishing myself, and by love and other illnesses, were continued in 1819 in Bonn, Gottingen, and Berlin. I resided in Berlin for three-and-a-half years, where I lived in the greatest intimacy with the most distinguished men of science and where I suffered all kinds of maladies, among others from a sword blow in the kidneys, administered by a certain Scheller of Danzig, whose name I will never forget since he is the only man who was able to wound me in the most sensitive way.

I studied in the universities I named for seven years, and it was from Gottingen that I received the rank of doctor of law after a private test and a public thesis where the famous Hugo, at the time dean of the faculty of law, didn’t spare me a single scholastic formality. Though this last fact might appear to you quite unimportant I ask that you take note of it, because in a book that was just published against me it was maintained that I purchased my academic diploma. Of all the lies published about my private life this is the only one that I want to see denied. Here you see the pride of the scholar! Call me a bastard, the son of an executioner, highway robber, atheist or bad poet and I laugh; but it tears at my heart to see my doctoral dignity contested. (Just between us, though a doctor of law jurisprudence is precisely the science I know the least about).

I started writing verses at sixteen and my first poems were published in Berlin in 1821. Two years later new poetry and two tragedies appeared. One of the latter was performed and booed in Brunswick, the capitol of the Duchy of Brunswick. In 1825 the first volume of the “Reisebilder” appeared; the three other volumes were published a few years later by Messrs Hoffman and Campe, who are still my publishers. From 1826 until 1831 I lived in Luneburg, Hamburg, and Munich and published the Political Annals with my friend Lindner. In between time I traveled in foreign countries.

For the past twelve years I have passed the autumn months by the seaside, normally on one of the small islands on the North Sea. I love the sea like a mistress and I've sung its beauty and its caprices. These poems are contained in the German edition of the “Reisebilder.” I left them out of the French edition, from which I also left out the polemical portion, which deals with nobility by birth, Teutomaniacs, and Catholic propaganda. As for the nobility, I also discussed it in the preface to “Letters from Kahldorf,” which I did not myself write, as the German public believes. As for the Teutomaniacs, these old Germans whose patriotism consists in a blind hatred of France, I have hunted them down in all my books. This is an animosity that dates from the Bursenschaft I was a member of. During that same time I combated Catholic propaganda and the Jesuits of Germany, as much to punish the slanderers who attacked me as to satisfy Protestant penchants. It is true that these penchants sometimes led me to go too far, since for me Protestantism was not only a liberal religion, it was also the departure point for the German revolution, and I belonged to the Lutheran confession, not only by my baptismal certificate but also through a fighting enthusiasm that led me to take part in the struggles of that militant church. While defending the social interests of Protestantism I never hid my pantheist sympathies. Misinformed or malevolent compatriots have for some time spread the news that I had put on the Saint-Simonian frock; others say I'm a Jew. I regret that I am not able to reward such services. I never smoked nor do I like beer, and it was in France that I ate my first sauerkraut. I have tried my hand at everything in literature: I've written lyric, epic, and dramatic poems; I've written on the arts, philosophy, theology and politics, may God forgive me.

I have been the subject of discussion in Germany for twelve years; people praise me and condemn me, but always with passion and without cease. Over there they love me, hate me, praise me to the skies, insult me. I have not a heard a German nightingale for four years.

This is enough. I'm becoming sad. If you want any more information I will gladly give it to you. I prefer that you ask it directly of me. Speak well of me, speak well of your neighbor as the Gospels recommend, and receive the assurance of the esteem and distinguished consideration with which I am, etc.

Henri Heine