The poet Heinrich Heine was born in Dusseldorf in Germany in 1797 to a Jewish family. He later converted to Christianity and was famous for his satire and wit. Something of a revolutionary, Heine lead a chequered life.
Heine’s Earlier Life
Heine’s uncle who was the most successful member of his family, thought that Heine should study law as a young man. He soon showed that he had no aptitude for it and his interest in literature and history came to the fore. However, while he was studying law at Bonn, he met August Wilhem Schlegel, the famous literary critic and though he was later to shun the romanticist ideals of Schlegel, he found in him an admirer for some of his early poems. It was Heine’s move to Berlin, where he was influenced by the philosopher Hegel, which saw his political views flourish. When he left Berlin to return to his family, Heine wrote Die Heimkehr collection of poems (The Homecoming). Discrimination against Jews was becoming more widespread in Germany so in 1825 he became a Protestant Christian.
The Poems and Writings of Heine
When Heine met Julius Campe, the man who would become his publisher, he found a kindred spirit, although they are said to have had a stormy relationship. Campe had a reputation for publishing dissident authors and Heine’s satirical and sarcastic works were ideal. Despite differing views on censorship, Campe and Heinrich Heine continued to work together and Heine finally found some financial stability when some of his poems were set to music as popular ‘Leider’ songs. Schubert, Schumman and Mendlessohn are just a few of the composers who have set Heine’s poems to music.
Heine moved to Paris where he spent the last 25 years of his life, taking to his bed for the final 8 years. He died in 1856 from what was later found to be lead poisoning. His books were among those burned by the Nazi’s. Dusseldorf named its university in his honour and his legacy lives on to this day.