Heinrich Heine 1855
Source: Lutèce. Paris, Michel Lévy Frères, 1855;
Written: Paris, March 30, 1855;
Translated: from the original for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2011.
This book contains a series of letters I wrote for the Augsburg Gazette between 1840 and 1843. For important reasons I had them published as a book a few months ago by Messrs. Hoffman and Campe of Hamburg under the title of “Lutèce,” and reasons no less essential lead me to have this collection published in French as well. Here are the reasons and motives: these letters having appeared anonymously in the “Augsburg Gazette” after having suffered considerable suppressions and changes, I had reason to fear that they would be published after my death in this defective form, or perhaps would be amalgamated with correspondence completely foreign to my pen. In order to avoid such a posthumous misadventure I preferred to myself undertake an authentic edition of these letters. But in thus saving while still alive the good reputation of at least my style, I unfortunately provided malevolence a weapon with which to attack the good reputation of my ideas. The linguistic lacunae in the knowledge of the German idiom one sometimes encounters among even the best educated Frenchmen allowed some of my compatriots of both sexes to lead many to believe that in my book “Lutèce” I defamed all of Paris and that through wicked jokes I denigrated the most respected men and things in France. It was thus for me a moral duty to bring out as soon as possible a French version of my work and to give my beautiful and good friend Lutèce the means to judge for herself how I treated her in the book I gave her name. Even if somewhere in its pages I might unwittingly incur her displeasure through a vulgar locution or a misplaced remark, she shouldn’t accuse me of a lack of sympathy, but rather of a lack of culture and tact. My beautiful Lutèce, don’t forget my nationality: though I am one of the most well-bred of my compatriots I cannot deny my nature. And so it is that the caresses of my Germanic paws sometimes wounded you, and I perhaps more than one time tossed a paving stone onto your head with the sole intention of defending you against flies. But take into consideration that at a time when I was extraordinarily ill I couldn’t devote great care or great serenity of spirit to cultivating my phrasing. Truth be told, the German version of my book is less tousled and uncultivated than the French version. In the latter the style sweetened the asperities of the subject matter. It is painful, very painful to see oneself forced to go about in so inappropriate an attire to present one’s homage to an elegant goddess on the banks of the Seine when one has at home in one’s German dresser the loveliest clothing and more than one magnificently embroidered vest.
No, dear Lutèce, I never intended to insult you; and if evil tongues strive to make you believe the contrary don’t believe such slanders. Never doubt, my beauty, the sincerity of my tenderness, which is completely disinterested. You are still beautiful enough to not have to fear being loved for reasons other than your beautiful eyes.
I mentioned a few minutes ago that the letters that make up my book “Lutèce” appeared anonymously in the “Augsburg Gazette.” It is true that the letters each bore a number, but this latter in no way attested to the fact that I was their author. I explained these circumstances in detail in a note added to the German version of my book, and I transcribe here the main passage:
“The editors of the ‘Augsburg Gazette’ had the habit of designating my articles with a number, as was also the case with other anonymous collaborators, in order to satisfy administrative requirements, for example, in order to facilitate accounting, but not in the least so as to whisper the author’s name into the ear of the honorable public in semi-confidentiality, like the word in a game of charades. Since the editors alone, and not the true author, were responsible for all anonymous articles and were forced to represent the newspaper, not only vis-à-vis the thousand headed public, but also vis-à-vis headless authority, this poor editorial board, which had to fight countless obstacles both material and moral, had the right to arrange each article in accordance with the needs of the day and to cut and edit at will; in short, to make changes of all kinds. They had to be granted this right, even if the personal opinions and, alas, the style of the author suffered seriously by these proceedings. A well-advised publicist must, for love of his cause, make many bitter concessions to brutal necessity. There are enough obscure little papers where we can spill out our hearts with all the flame of its enthusiasm and anger, but these papers reach only a small and powerless public, and writing in such newspapers is worth no more than giving speeches at the corner pub before its regulars, as is done by most of our great politicians and patriots. We're better off moderating our ardor and pronouncing ourselves with sensible restraint if not under some form of disguise in a newspaper rightly called the ‘Universal Gazette,’ and whose pages, scattered across all countries, fall into the hands of thousands of readers. Even desolatingly mutilated the word can exercise a salutary influence there. The slightest indication sometimes becomes a fertile planting in a soil unknown to ourselves. If I hadn’t been animated by this idea I would never have inflicted on myself the horrific torture of writing for the “Universal Gazette of Augsburg.” Since I have always been entirely convinced of the faithfulness and loyalty of the noble and beloved friend, my brother in arms for more than twenty-eight years, who heads the editorial committee of the ‘Universal Gazette,’ I was able to put up with the retouches and changes he made to my articles. Did I not always see before me my friend’s honest eyes that seemed to say to his wounded comrade: ‘And am I laying in a bed of roses?'”
In publishing today under my name this correspondence that appeared so long ago without any signature, I have the right to claim on this occasion the benefits of an inventory, as is usually done for an inheritance that is in question. I hope from the reader’s fairness that he will take into consideration the difficulties of place as well as time which the author had to struggle against when he first had these letters published. I assume complete responsibility for the truth of the things I said, but none for the manner in which they were said. If they make an effort to pick through it those attached strictly to words will easily find in my correspondence a good number of contradictions, a certain degree of lightness, and even an apparent lack of sincere conviction. But those who grasp the spirit of my words will recognize in them the strictest unity of thought and unwavering attachment to the cause of humanity, to democratic ideas and the revolution. The local difficulties I just spoke of resided in censorship, in a double censorship, for that exercised by the “Augsburg Gazette” was even more bothersome that that of the Bavarian authorities. I was often forced to hoist over the bark of my ideas banners whose emblems were not at all the true expression of my political and social opinions. But the journalist-smuggler cared little for the color of the rag hanging from the mast of his ship and with which the wind played its fickle games. I thought only of the worthy cargo that was on board and which I wanted to guide into the port of public opinion. I can take pride in having often succeeded in this undertaking, and I shouldn’t be hassled for the methods I sometimes employed in order to reach this goal. Since I was aware of the traditions of the “Augsburg Gazette” I was not unaware, for example, that it had always imposed on itself the task of bringing all the events of the era to the attention of the world, not only with the greatest promptness, but also by inscribing it in its pages as in cosmopolitan archives. I thus had to constantly think of imparting the form of fact to everything I wanted to insinuate to the public, both the event and my judgment of it. In short, everything I thought and felt. With this as my goal, I didn’t hesitate to often place my own opinions in the mouths of others, and even gave my ideas the forms of parables. This is why many of my articles contain many little tales and arabesques whose symbolic meaning is not intelligible to all and which, in the eyes of superficial readers, is a mass of petty gossip and news about a bunch of boors. In my effort to see to it that the form of facts predominated it was also important that I choose for my language a tone that allowed me to report the most scabrous things. Indifference was the tone most advantageous for this, and I used it without any scruples. Indirectly there were also means to give more than one piece of useful advice and carry out many salutary reforms. Those republicans who complained of an absence of goodwill on my part did not consider that for twenty years in all my correspondence I had always defended them and that in my book “Lutèce” I brought out their superior morality by continually laying bare the ignoble and ridiculous impertinence and the complete nullity of the ruling bourgeoisie. These brave republicans, who I once thought better of, are weighted down with heavy concepts. I thought that their narrowness of spirit was a form of dissimulation, that the republic played the role of a Junius Brutus in order to render royalty more careless, less far-sighted by this feigned imbecility, and to cause it to one day fall into a trap. But after the February  Revolution I saw that the republicans were truly honest men who were unable to dissimulate and that they were in truth exactly what they were in appearance.
If the republicans already offered the correspondent of the “Augsburg Gazette” a thorny subject their case was even worse when it came to the socialists or, to call the monster by its real name, the communists. And yet, I managed to broach this theme in the “Augsburg Gazette.” Many letters were suppressed by the editors of the “Augsburg Gazette,” who recalled the old saw, “One should never paint the devil on the wall.” But they couldn’t stifle all my communications and, as I said, I found the way, in its prudent columns, to treat a subject whose frightful importance was completely unknown at the time. I painted the devil on the wall of my newspaper or, as a great wit put it, I spread the word about him. The communists, scattered in isolation across all countries and lacking awareness of their common tendencies, learned in the “Augsburg Gazette” that they truly existed; they also learned their true name, which was completely unknown to more than one of these poor foundlings of the old society. Through the “Augsburg Gazette” the dispersed communes of communists received authentic news of the ceaseless progress of their cause. To their great surprise they learned that they weren’t a feeble little community, but rather the strongest of all parties. That though it was true that their time had not yet come, that a peaceful wait is not a waste of time for men who belong to the future. I made this avowal, that the future belongs to the communists, with apprehension and fear, and this, alas, was not a mask. It is with horror and fright that I think of the era when these somber iconoclasts will achieve domination. With their calloused hands they will mercilessly shatter all the marble statues of beauty so dear to my heart; they'll smash the trinkets and ruffles the poet so loved; they'll destroy my laurel woods and plant potatoes in their place; the lilies which neither spin nor labor, and who nevertheless were garbed as magnificently as King Solomon in all his splendor, will be torn from the soil of society, unless they are willing to take the spindle in hand; the roses, those idle fiancées of the nightingale, will suffer the same fate; the nightingales, those worthless singers, will be hunted and, alas, my “Book of Songs” will serve the grocer to make paper cones into which he will pour coffee and snuff for the old women of the future. Alas, I foresee all this and I am gripped with inexpressible sadness when I think of the ruin that the victorious proletariat threatens my verses with, which will perish with the old romantic world. And yet in all honesty I confess that this same communism, so hostile to all my interests and penchants, exercises a charm over my soul I am unable to defend myself against. Two voices rise up in its favor in my breast, two voices that refuse to allow silence to be imposed on them and which are perhaps nothing but diabolical instigations. But whatever the case, I am possessed by them and no power of exorcism can tame them.
For the first of these voices is that of logic. The devil is a logician, Dante said. A terrible syllogism bewitches me, and I am unable to refute this premise: “That all men have the right to eat.” And so I am forced to submit to all its consequences. When I think of it I run the risk of losing my reason, I see all the demons of the truth dance triumphantly around me, and in the end a generous despair takes hold of my heart and I cry out: “This society has long since been judged and condemned. Let justice be done. Let it be smashed, this old world, where innocence has perished, where selfishness has prospered, where man has been exploited by man. Let them be utterly destroyed, those whited sepulchers where falsehood and iniquity resided. And blessed be the grocer who will one day make of my poems cones into which he will pour coffee and snuff for those good old women who, in our current unjust world, have had to deprive themselves of such a pleasure: fiat justitia, pereat mundus!”
The second of the two voices that bewitches me is even more potent and infernal than the first; for it is that of hatred, of my hatred for a party to which communism is the most terrible antagonist and which for that reason is our common enemy. I speak of the so-called party of the representatives of the German nationality, of those false patriots whose love for the fatherland consists solely in an idiotic hatred of the foreigner and the neighboring peoples and who every day pour out their venom, particularly against France. Yes, this debris – or these descendants – of the Teutomanics of 1815, who have only modernized their ultra-German fool’s costumes and trimmed their ears a bit, I hated and fought them my entire life, and now that the sword falls from my dying hand I am consoled by the conviction that communism, which will be the first one to encounter them along its road, will deliver them the coup de grace. And this will certainly not be delivered with a club. No, it’s by a simple kick that the giant will crush them in the same way that we crush a toad. This will be its first step. For hatred of the partisans of nationalism I could almost love the communists. At least they are not hypocrites with religion and Christianity always on their lips. The communists, it is true, have no religion (no one is perfect), the communists are even atheist (which is surely a great sin), but as principal dogma they profess the most absolute cosmopolitanism, universal love for all peoples, an egalitarian confraternity of all men, free citizens of this globe. This fundamental dogma is the same one once preached in the Gospels so that in spirit and in truth the communists are more Christian than our so-called Germanic patriots, these narrow-minded champions of an exclusive nationality.
I am speaking too much, in any case more than prudence and the sore throat I am currently suffering from allow me. And so I will only add two words in conclusion. I think I have given sufficient information on the unfavorable conditions under which I wrote the letters in “Lutèce.” Apart from the local difficulties I also, as I said, had to combat temporary difficulties. As for the obstacles caused by the time during which I wrote these letters, an intelligent reader can figure out what they were. He only has to look at the dates of my correspondence and recall that at that time it was precisely the national or so-called patriotic party that predominated in Germany. The July Revolution had pushed it a bit to the rear of the political stage, but the bellicose fanfare of the French press of 1840 provided these Gallophobes with the best possible occasion for putting themselves in the forefront again. They sang at the time the song of “The Free Rhine.” At the time of the February Revolution these brayings were stifled beneath more reasonable cries, but the latter were soon forced to go silent in their turn when the great European reaction occurred. Today the nationalists and all that was evil in 1845 again predominate in Germany, and they shout with the permission of the mayor and the other high authorities of the country. Keep on shouting. The day will come when the fatal kick will crush you. With this conviction I can quit this world without fear.
And now, dear reader, I have as much as was in my power put you in a state to judge the unity of thought and the true spirit of this book, which I present with confidence to all men of good faith.