Heinrich Heine

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Heinrich Heine was born in Düsseldorf in either 1797 or 1799. He has been called the last of the Romantics, no doubt because he clearly skirted Romanticism through irony and satire. His university career progressed from Bonn in 1819 to Göttingen in 1820 to the more intellectual climate of the University of Berlin; by 1823 he had fled Berlin as well. When Prussia legislated against Jews taking university posts, Heine converted to Protestantism (1825), saying this was “the ticket of admission into European culture,” and changed his name from Harry to Heinrich. In 1831 he took exile in France, anticipating more freedom of speech in view of the new constitutional monarchy there. His next 25 years were spent struggling in Paris despite irregular patronage from an uncle, but developing an international reputation for the lyricism, wordplay, irony, and excoriating wit of his poems. He was well aware of Germany’s displeasure with his political statements and satires. In 1841 he married Crescence Eugénie Mirat (“Mathilde”), who spoke no German and could barely read French. Though Heine had a series of mistresses, Mathilde cared for him during his final eight-year paralysis, and he continued to write from bed until his death in 1856. His books would later be burned by the Nazis, creating prophecy out of his statement, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” His poems have been set to music by many composers. In keeping with his wishes, his tomb is in Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. In 1997 new analyses of Heine’s hair indicated his death had been caused by lead poisoning.