Heinrich Heine: “Preface – The Citizen Kingdom of 1832”

Excerpt, “The Works of Heinrich Heine: French Affairs.”  Translator: Charles Godfrey Leland.


“Those who can read will of themselves remark that its greatest faults cannot be attributed to me, while those who cannot read will nothing note.” With this simple syllogism, which precedes the Roman Comique of Scarron, I may also well begin these more serious pages.
I give here a series of articles and daily bulletins which I wrote for the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung (The Universal, or generally public, Gazzette of Augsburg), in stormy circumstance of every kind, with an object which may easily be guessed, under restrictions which may be still more readily conjectured. I am now obliged to publish these anonymous and ephemeral leaves under my own name, lest some other person — as I have been threatened — should do so according to his own fashion or fancy, and change them as he may please, or perhaps mingle with them altogether foreign material which may be erroneously attributed to me.
I avail myself of this opportunity to declare, in the most positive manner, that I have not for two years past published a line in any political journal in Germany, with the exception of the Allgemeine Zeitung. This publication, which so well deserves it world-renowned authority, and which may be well called the Universal Gazette of Europe, appeared to me, on account of its importance and its unparelleled circulation, to be best adapted for information referring to a comprehension of the present time.
When we shall have brought it so far that the great mass of the people really understand the present, they will no longer allow themselves to be goaded by the hireling writers of the aristocracy to hatred and war; the great confederation of races, the Holy Alliance of nations, will be formed; we shall not need, out of mutual mistrust, to feed standing armies of many hundred thousand murderers; we will use their swords and horses for ploughs, and so attain to peace, prosperity, and freedom.
My life has been consecrated to this active duty — it is my office. The hatred of my enemies may serve as pledge that I have fulfilled this duty truly and honourably. I will ever show myself worthy of that hatred. My enemies will never misunderstand me, although my friends, in the delirium of excited passion, may mistake my deliberate calmness for lukewarm feeling. Doubtless the latter will misunderstand me less in these times than they did in those days when they believed they had attained the goal of their desires, and the hope of victory swelled every sail of their thoughts.
I took no part of their folly, but I will ever share their misfortunes. I will never return to my native land so long as one of those noble fugitive exiles, who would not listen to reason because of too great inspiration, lingers in a foreign land in wretchedness. I had rather beg a crust from the poorest Frenchman than take service among those distinguished knaves in the German Fatherland who regard every moderation of power as cowardice or as a prelude of transition to slavery, and who consider our best virtue or belief in the honourable feeling of a foe mere hereditary stupidity.
I should never be ashamed to be deceived by those who inspired our hearts with beautiful and smiling hopes; “how everything should be most peaceably managed; how we should remain delightfully moderate, so that concessions should not be compelled, and thereby prove unfruitful as they themselves well perceived that one could not without danger long deprive us of liberty.” Yes, we have been duped again, and we must confess that falsehood has again scored a great triumph, and harvested fresh laurels.
In fact, we are the conquered, and since the heroic deception has been officially proclaimed, since the promulgation of the deplorable resolutions of the German Diet of the 28th June, our heart has been made sick in our breast with anger and affliction.
Poor unhappy Fatherland! What shame is before thee should’st thou endure this outrage — what agony if thou dost not!
Never yet was a people so cruelly insulted by its rulers. Not only in this, that those ordinances of the Diet presuppose that we agreed to everything — they would persuade us that we have suffered no wrong or injustice! Yet, if you really could reckon with confidence on slavish submission, you had at least no right to regard us as fools. A handful of common nobles, who have learned nothing beyond horse-trading, card-sharping, drinking tricks, and similar stupid rascal accomplishments, with which, at the utmost only peasants at fairs can be duped — such men think they can befool an entire race, and also printing and the “Criticism of Pure Reason.”
This undeserved affront, that you regard us as stupider than yourselves, and fancy that you deceive us — that is the most irritating insult which you have put upon us in the presence of surrounding races, who wait with astonishment to see what we will do. “It is,” they say, “no longer a question of liberty, but of honour.”
I will not accuse the constitutional German princes. I know the difficulties of their situation I know that they pine in the fetters of their petty camarillas, and are really not responsible. And they have been tampered with and tempted and compelled in every manner by Austria and Prussia. Let us not blame, but pity them. Sooner or later they shall reap the bitter fruits of an evil seed.
The fools! They are still jealous one of the other, and while every acute eye can perceive thay they will be in the end mediatised by Austria and Prussia, all their souls and efforts are only directed to getting from some neighbor a piece of trifling territory. They are indeed like thieves who pick one another’s pockets while they are being led to the gallows.
On account of the great deeds of the Diet, we can only unconditionally accuse Austria and Prussia. Nor can I determine to what degree they deserve our recognition or thanks. It seems to me, however, that Austria has been shrewd enough to shift the detested burden of responsibility to the shoulders of its wise colleague.
In fact, we may war with Austria daringly unto death, with sword in hand, but we feel in our inmost heart that we are not justified in reviling this Power in abusive terms. Austria was ever an open and honourable enemy, which never denied, nor did it for a moment suspend its attack on Liberalism.
Metternich never ogled with loving eyes the Goddess of Liberty; he never played the demagogue with troubled anxious heart; he never sung the songs of Arndt while drinking white beer; he never played at gymnastic exercises on the Hasenheide; he never played the pietist, nor did he ever weep with the prisoners of the fortresses while he kept them chained.
One always knew exactly where he stood on every subject — knew that he was to be guarded against, and so one governed one’s self accordingly. He was always a sure man, who neither deceived us by gracious looks nor irritated us by private malice. We knew that he was neither inspired by love or petty hatred, but acted magnanimously in the spirit of a system to which Austria had been true for three centuries.
It is the same system which induced Austria to oppose the Reformation, the same for which it battled with the Revolution. For this system not only the men, but also the daughters of the House of Habsburg fought. For this system Marie Antoinette waged war desperately in the Tuileries, and to maintain it Maria Louisa, who, as declared Regent, should have combated for husband and child, in the same Tuileries abandoned the strife and laid down her arms; and for it the Emperor Francis suppressed his deepest feelings and desires, and suffered unspeakable agonies of heart; even to this day he wears mourning for the beloved, blooming grandson whom he sacrificed on its account.
This new grief deeply bowed with grey head which once bore the German Imperial crown; this poor Emperor is still the true representation of unfortunate Germany!
As to Prussia, we may speak of it in a very different tone. Here at least we are restrained by no regard or respect for the sacredness of an Imperial German head. The learned menials on the banks of the Spree may dream ever on of a great Emperor of the realm of Borussia, and proclaim the hegemony and protecting lordliness of Prussia. But thus far the long fingers of the Hohenzollern have not succeeded in grasping the crown of Charlemagne, and to put it in the same sack with so many other stolen Polish and Saxon jewels.
As yet that crown hangs far too high, and I doubt much whether it will ever descend to the witty head of that golden-spurred prince whom his barons already hail and offer homage to as the future restorer of chivalry. I much rather believe that his kingly highness will prove to be, instead of a successor to Charlemagne, only a follower of Charles the Tenth and Charles of Brunswick.
It is true that even recently many friends of the Fatherland have desired the extension of Prussia, and hoped to see in its kings the masters of a united Germany. They have baited and allured patriotism to it; there was a Prussian Liberalism, and the friends of freedom look confidingly towards the lindens in Berlin. As for me, I have never shared this faith or confidence. On the contrary, I watched with anxiety this Prussian eagle, and while others boasted that he looked so boldly at the sun, I was all the more observant of his claws. I did not trust this Prussian, this tall and canting, white-gaitered hero with a big belly, a broad mouth, and corporal’s cane, which he first dipped in holy water ere he laid it on.
I disliked this philosophic Christian military despotism, this conglomerate of white-beer, lies, and sand. Repulsive, deeply repulsive to me was this Prussia, this stiff, hypocritical Prussia, this Tartuffe among states.
At last, when Warsaw fell, there fell also the soft and pious cloak in which Prussia had so well wrapped itself, and then even the dimmest-eyed saw the iron armour of despotism which was hidden under it. It was to the misfortune of Poland that Germany owed this salutary discovery.
Poland! The blood thrills in my veins when I write the word, when I reflect how Prussia behaved to these noblest children of adversity, and how cowardly, how vulgar, how treacherous was her conduct! The wizard of history will, from deepest disgust, want words when he narrates what occurred at Fischau; those shameful deeds were better written by an executioner. I hear the red iron already hissing on the lean back of Prussia.
I read recently in the Allgemeine Zeitung that the Privy Councillor Frederic von Raumer, who not long ago gained for himself the reputation of a royal Prussian revolutionist by revolting, as member of the Commission of censure, against its excessive severity, has now received the order to justify the proceedings of the Prussian Government as to Poland. The defense is finished, and the author has already received for it two hundred Prussian dollars. However, I hear that it has not given satisfaction to the camarilla of Brandenburg, because its style is not sufficiently servile.
Trifling as this incident may seem, it is of importance as indicating the spirit of the ruling minds and of their subordinates. I knew by chance poor Frederic von Raumer, having seen him now and then walking in his blue-green little coat and grey-blue little cap under the lime-trees, and I heard him once in the chair as he depicted the death of Louis XVI, and shed on the occasion several royal Prussian offical tears.
I have also read in a lady’s almanac his History of the Hohenstaufen, and I also know his “Letters from Paris,” in which he communicates to Madame Crelinger and her hsuband his views as to the theatres and public of this place. He is altogether a peacable person, who falls quietly into line with the rest. He is the best among mediocre writers, nor is he entirely devoid of salt, having a certain superficial erudition, resembling therein an old dried herring wrapped up in the wastepaper leaves of a learned book.
I repeat it, he is the most peaceable, patient creature, who always lets himself be loaded by his betters, and trots obediently with his burden to the official mill, only stopping now and then where music is being played. To what a degree of baseness must the spirit of oppression in a Government have descended when even a Frederic von Raumer lost patience with it, and became restive and would trot no further, and even began to speak like a man! Did he perchance see the angel with the sword who stood in the way, and whom the blinded Balaams of Berlin could not behold?
Alas! they gave the poor creature the most deliberate kicks, and goaded it with their golden spurs, and beat it thrice. But the people of Borussia — and by that one may judge its condition — exalted its Frederic von Raumer as an Ajax of freedom.
This royal Prussian revolutionist has now been employed to write an apology for the proceedings against Poland, and to honourably rehabilitate the Cabinet of Berlin in public opinion.
To be continued…