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Heinrich Heine: Excerpts from The Romantic School (1836)

Heinrich Heine (1799-1856), the famous poet and critic, offers a critique of the Romantics in his book The Romantic School (1836). "Young Germany," an anti-establishment literary movement which Heine was often considered a member of, advocated a political definition of literature, as opposed to the Romantics' emphasis on aesthetics. Writers such as Ludwig Börne, Karl Gutzkow, and Heinrich Laube comprised the group, which fought for freedom of speech, emancipation of the individual, and democracy during the period of the conservative restoration after 1815.

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From SELECTED WORKS by Heinrich Heine, translated by Helen Mustard Max Knight, copyright © 1973 by Random House, Inc. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.

[ . . . ]

Political conditions in Germany were still especially favorable for the medieval-Christian movement. "Misery teaches us to pray," runs the proverb, and indeed, never was the misery greater in Germany, hence the nation was never more susceptible to prayer, religion, and Christianity than then. No people retains more devotion for its rulers than the Germans, and it was the pitiful sight of their conquered sovereigns, whom they saw groveling at Napoleon's feet, that distressed the Germans beyond endurance, far more than the sorry state to which the country had been reduced by war and foreign domination. The whole nation resembled those faithful old servants of great families who feel all the humiliations which their gracious masters must endure even more deeply than the latter themselves and who shed in private their most sorrowful tears when, for example, the family silver has to be sold and who even secretly use their pitiful savings so that no middle-class tallow lights will be placed on the master's table instead of aristocratic wax candles, scenes we view with suitable emotion in old plays. The general distress found consolation in religion, and there arose a pietistic resignation to the will of God, from whom alone help was expected. And in fact, against Napoleon no one else could help but the good Lord Himself. People could no longer count on the secular forces and had to turn their eyes trustfully toward Heaven.

We would have endured Napoleon with equanimity. But our rulers, while hoping to be liberated from him by God, at the same time indulged in the idea that the collective forces of their peoples might also be of great help. With this intention an attempt was made to arouse public spirit among the Germans, and even the most exalted personages began to talk of German nationality, of a common German fatherland, of the unification of the Christian, Germanic tribes, of the unity of Germany. We were ordered to be patriotic, and we became patriots, for we do everything our rulers order us to. One must not think of this patriotism, however, as the same emotion which bears this name here in France. A Frenchman's patriotism means that his heart is warmed, and with this warmth it stretches and expands so that his love no longer embraces merely his closest relatives, but all of France, the whole of the civilized world. A German's patriotism means that his heart contracts and shrinks like leather in the cold, and a German then hates everything foreign, no longer wants to become a citizen of the world, a European, but only a provincial German. So now we saw the perfect boorishness which Mr. Jahn developed into a system; there began the mean, coarse, uncultured opposition to the most magnificent and venerable convictions that Germany has produced, namely, to the humanism, to the universal brotherhood of man, to the cosmopolitanism which our great minds, Lessing, Herder, Schiller, Goethe, Jean Paul, which all educated Germans have always believed in.

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