Memoirs in Flames

A painting of Dusseldorf, birthplace of Heinrich Heine, painted by Andreas Achenbach in 1831.

Snippets 142.  Christian Johann Heinrich Heine was a German lyric poet, whose words were set to music by composers including Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann.  In the twilight of his life he decided to write his memoirs, which he never finished.  The following quote is from the introductory passage of those memoirs, published posthumously in 1884, and I think you will agree that his writing also had the lyrical quality of a talented poet:

All that is important and characteristic is honestly communicated here, and the combined effect of exterior events and of occurrences in the inner life of my soul will reveal to you the stamp of my being and myself. The veil has fallen from my soul, and thou mayest look at it in its beautiful nakedness. There are no blemishes, only wounds. And, alas! wounds made not by the hands of enemies but by those of friends.

The night is silent. Outside only the rain beats upon the roof, and mournfully moans the autumn wind.

The cheerless sick-room at this moment is almost luxuriously home-like, and I sit without pain in the large arm-chair.

All at once, without the handle of the door moving, thy beautiful image enters, and thou liest down upon the cushion at my feet. Rest thy beautiful head on my knees and, without looking up, listen.

I will tell thee the tale of my life.

If occasionally heavy drops should fall upon thy locks, do not be disturbed; it is not the rain that leaks through the roof.. Do not cry, but silently press my hand.

…and there the memoir breaks off, with the next 25 pages missing.  After Heine’s death his brother visited his widow, read the manuscript of the memoirs, and burnt a significant portion of it, angered by Heine’s description of their humble origins.  That act of destruction I think speaks more about the brother than the missing 25 pages ever could have done.

About Roger Pocock

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6 Responses to Memoirs in Flames

  1. Ged Maybury says:

    Ouch! How tragic. And what a beautiful opening passage. Whatever was the brother trying to hide, or deny, or forget? How tragic.


    • I just think he didn’t like the idea of being exposed as having humble origins. Nowadays I think most people would be proud of working their way up from nothing, but in those days class attitudes prevailed.


      • Ged Maybury says:

        Ahhhh, right – that explains the brother/his actions. Having not inhabited his mindset, I didn’t get it at first reading. Still, a tragic waste of what must have been some fabulous prose.


  2. Just beautiful. I would follow along with joy, if I could.

    Liked by 1 person

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