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Poetics and Polemics of Heine's Bäder von Lucca

The literary polemic of the nineteenth century reached a climax in public outcry and scandalous response with the 1829 publication of Heinrich Heine's Die Bäder von Lucca. Crusading in no uncertain terms against his political and poetic opponent Graf August Platen von Hallermünde, Heine's arsenal of attack includes taboo-breaking references to the Count's homoeroticism as well as crude portrayals of bodily functions and human sexuality of all persuasions. Unlikely as it may seem given the text's harsh indictment of Platen's sexual practices, Heine's very personal attacks were not in fact intended to present a close-minded, anti-Enlightenment criticism of homosexuality, but are instead a successful 'execution' of his adversary on all counts. Platen's aesthetic formalism, his reactionary Catholicism, and his repressive aristocracy are subjected to ridicule and mockery in this private feud which drew public attention upon not only the Graf Platen, but on Heine as well. An analysis of the text's satirical categories illustrates the author's ability to combine the personal and the political into an integrated assault on Platen, and underscores Heine's ever-present efforts toward progression in the poetic as well as the social order.

Textual History and Critical Reception

Much attention has been paid to the events which preceded Heine's polemical 'revenge' on Platen, and with due cause: background forces and motivations are vital to a critical understanding of such an overtly contentious case, one which provoked such a vigorously negative reaction from all sides of the political, religious, and societal fences. Most critics now agree that Heine, wittingly or not, was the starting point for the conflict. The second volume of his Reisebilder, the Nordsee III from 1827, included a set of satirical verses written by Heine's friend Karl Lebrecht Immermann, in which the character and quality of Platen's Ghaselen (1821-24) were subjected to playful but nonetheless critical parody. Clearly directed at Platen and mocking his slavish imitation of Eastern poetic forms, Immermann's Xenien certainly angered the sensitive Platen, with the inclusion of lines like:

 Von den Früchten, die sie aus dem Gartenhain von Schiras stehlen,
Essen sie zu viel, die Armen, und vomieren dann Ghaselen.

Of interest here is not only the fact that Immermann pokes such fun at Platen, but the manner in which he does so: by choosing to focus on the oriental character of the poet's work, Immermann anticipates the thrust of Heine's polemic which found the Graf to be, above all, an outdated imitator rather than an original artist. So too has Immermann already set up the paradigm for Heine's later attack: digestive functions form the tangible center of the Platen satire in the Bäder von Lucca, as they do in Immermann's epigrams as well.

Public reception to these verses was tame, and indeed Platen himself seems to have found out rather late about the whole affair. By this time, however, Platen had already decided to use Immermann as the central character of his satirical comedy Der romantische Ödipus (1829). Nimmermann, as Platen names him, is derided in the comedy for his baroque and overly Romantic styles: his plays are seen to have flamboyant structures, tangled plots, and an excess of characters. Since the Sophoclean Oedipus is lacking "Breite" and complexity in Nimmermann's eyes, he resolves to write his own Romantic version. The allegorical Verstand then condemns the outcome, mirroring Platen's own judgment: "Alles schier so lappenhaft / Geflickt, und eins an's Andere nur so hingenäht / Daß ich den Bühnenschneider für den wirklichen Verfasser halte." [2] Platen's main indictment of Immermann lies in the latter's failure to recognize Classical ideals, which to Platen, as an avid devotee of Greek reception through Winckelmann, were the epitome of simplicity and grandeur. That his satire takes the form of an Aristophanic comedy is no coincidence; as we shall see, Heine's polemic turned even this classical form into an attack on Platen.

Perhaps more striking in the Romantischer Ödipus is the presence of Heine himself; although the brunt of the satire is directed against Immermann, in the fifth act Platen makes direct reference to "der getaufte Heine" as a friend of Nimmermann's. Derogatory and specifically anti-Jewish designations abound in this act: Heine is dubbed "den herrlichen Petrark des Lauberhüttenfestes," [3] and Nimmermann is given to admit: "sein Freund, ich bin's; doch möcht' ich nicht sein Liebchen sein, / Denn seine Küsse sondern ab Knoblauchgeruch." [4] Although critics are agreed that Platen was badly informed about many of the allegations in his play -- he had only read one drama by Immermann, [5] for instance, and his pronouncement about the "Jüdchen Raupel" (Ernst Raupach was in fact not Jewish) illustrates his fears of a Jewish conspiracy amongst German intelligentsia -- his debasement of Heine struck a raw nerve. Indeed, Platen had already circulated an even harsher epigram against Heine, An den Dichterling Heine:

 Täglich bedanke du dich im Gebet, o hebräischer Witzling,
Daß bei Deutschen und nicht unter Griechen du lebst:
Solltest du nackt dich zeigen im männlichen Spiel der Palästra,
Sprich, wie verstecktest du dann jenen verstümmelten Teil?

Platen, it must be said, had no lack of haughty disregard for those poets he considered to be 'lesser' artists. In fact, he expressed in several letters during the writing of Romantischer Ödipus his misgivings about Heine, Immermann, and many other young German poets. The epigrams in Nordsee III seem to have surprised Platen with their severity: he wondered "was [Heine] zu dem Wagestück verleitet, einen offenbar Größern, der ihn zerquetschen kann, so unbarmherzig zu behandeln." [7] When Michel Beer found the Romantischer Ödipus to be lacking in poetic genius, Platen suggested that "eher hat ihn die Überlegenheit des Werks überhaupt beleidigt." [8] As such, with his faith in his own poetic superiority, the ad hominem attack on Heine in his play was not out of character for Platen, but understandably, Heine felt the need to respond.

Immermann was the first to seek revenge, though; his essay, "Der im Irrgarten der Metrik umhertaumelnde Kavalier" (1829) refrains from personal attack and focuses on the literary accusations as already outlined in his Xenien. Platen's misuse of Greek literary models and his overconcentration on formal characteristics such as meter and rhythm are mocked, and, as Holub points out, "the very manner in which he presents his case, in epigrams, sonnets, and trochaic verses modeled on Aristophanes' early comedies, indicates the literary character of this debate." [9]

Heine, on the other hand, knew that his response would take a different shape. And respond he had to; after all, as one observer remarked: "Schweigen heißt hier: Zugeben." [10] The literary public seemed to expect Heine to avenge himself. Immermann's essay had found little interest, while friends and newspaper critics alike refused to let Heine forget the incident. The precise form of Heine's response seems to have taken some time to develop, however, as he wrote to Immermann:

 Zu ersterem Geschäfte [der Auspeitschung Platens], das erst zur Hälfte gediehen, habe ich doch endlich gehen müssen, habs lang genug aufgeschoben, und ich selbst war eben so wie die Anderen sehr neugierig, was ich thun würde. [11]

As he had already started work on the fourth volume of the Reisebilder, most critics agree that Heine weaved his Platen polemic into the entire text of the Bäder von Lucca -- not, as was previously maintained, that the final chapter was a last minute addition. In the late fall of 1829, then, when the Bäder von Lucca was received and reviewed by critics and the lay public, it caused a tremendous scandal for Heine and his few defenders. The whole affair was one both of opprobrious distaste but also a remarkable curiosity: thanks to Heine's almost total disregard for societal taboos, the educated reader was privy to a satire which not only forced the reader to take a literary stance, but a political one as well. As Holub stresses, the polemic against Platen's Greek-based "formal fetishism" moved into the political sphere when Heine formulated "his own contribution to this debate in unconventional, non-metric language ... making this aesthetic, poetic controversy over the role of Grecophilia a matter for public scrutiny." [12]

The public did not take well to Heine's revenge, however. Contemporary reception of Heine's satire was overwhelmingly negative, characterized by disgust, dismay, or at the very least disappointment, prompted mostly by the taboo-breaking discussions of homosexuality and digestive disorders throughout the work. Heine found few defenders, even amongst his former adamant supporters. Moritz Veit admitted that the first scenes were "meisterhaft gearbeitet" but contended that "dem ganzen Werk fehle die Kohärenz," and that the Platen polemic was merely a repetition of Immermann's 'mistake.' In the end, he concludes: "Sein Buch wird dadurch so verrufen, daß man in guter Gesellschaft, d.h. in der wahrhaft guten, kaum bekennen darf, es gelesen zu haben." [13] Most newspaper and journal articles either damned the work as a whole, or singled out the eleventh chapter as a singularly vile and slanderous response. Interestingly, however, few of them chose to discuss the contents of this chapter in much detail; most spoke of Heine's accusations only in vague terms, and several could not even bring themselves to print the unspeakable act, referring instead to Platen's "vorgebliche Laster" or to Heine's conception of Platen "als überwiesenen, offenkundigen P......." [14] It should be noted, though, that the dots in place of "Päderast" were common at the time, due both to social constraints and to actual state censorship.

This rejection affected Heine deeply. In letters to friends, he complained of the negative publicity, both for personal reasons as well as out of worry for his financial future. He even went so far as to ask Karl August von Varnhagen to write a 'delicate' article about the controversy; in fact, Varnhagen's review of the Bäder von Lucca was extremely positive, stressing the success of Heine's Aristophanic satire as well as the "graziöseste Behandlung" which tempered the "Rohheit des Stoffes." [15] Significantly, however, even Varnhagen's critique focuses on the 'novelistic' scenes in Italy, and plays down the harshness of the final chapter's polemical moments.

Veit and Varnhagen seem to have set the tone for later discussions and critical assessments of the work as well. Most later critics either treated the Italian scenes as somehow separate from the Platen polemic -- often with thorough analyses of the plot structure, picaresque elements, and character satires, but with little or no reference to the scandalous eleventh chapter -- or else they do dissect the attack on Platen, but do so in a moralizing manner, often coming to the conclusion that Heine is 'unfair' or 'needlessly' aggressive. [16] Even modern-day critics, who have long since lost the prudery of their forebears, still find Heine's remarks too caustic and out of bounds; Sammons, for instance, recognizes the unity and coherence of the entire text, but finds the invectives against Platen to be a lapse from "decorum and gentlemanliness." [17] Modern editors are no exception, either: Möller notes that two editions of Heine's works after 1945 have eliminated the eleventh chapter of the Bäder von Lucca, one for unexplained reasons, the other in hopes of providing a "Vorstellung der schöpferischen Leistung Heines." [18] Other critics, rather than finding moral grounds to justify their distaste for the Platen chapter, turn instead to aesthetic judgments: Manfred Windfuhr claims, for example, along the lines of Veit, that the Bäder von Lucca has no artistic unity, and discusses in formalistic terms the text's failings. [19]

A few modern critics have taken a different and far more acceptable stand, however, and although their approaches are varied, they are in large part agreed: Heine's polemical attacks are by no means 'unfair' but rather the direct expression of a much larger scheme. Heine, in attacking Platen in such personal and political ways, is expressing (by means of a "total polemic" in Holub's terms) not his disapproval of homosexuality, but of everything that Platen stands for: a conservative, outdated, unmodern, and thoroughly anachronistic disposition which, in Heine's view, can accomplish nothing but repression and regression, both in art and in society. An analysis of the structure as well as the polemical function of the Bäder von Lucca is necessary to expand upon these theories, as well as raise questions from other angles of interpretation.

Structure, Coherence, and Function

Die Bäder von Lucca deals ostensibly with the Italian resort and the characters there. Notably, though, Heine hardly mentions any specifically Italian elements. Although there are descriptions of the houses, hillsides, and other natural elements, there is very little to make the reader recognize the setting as Lucca -- as compared, for instance, to the exquisite depictions of Germany in the Harzreise or many of the other Reisebilder. In fact, the characters Heine introduces in Lucca are for the most part German and British travellers on vacation in the town, not Italian residents, with the exception, of course, of the Signora Lätizia and her circle of admirers. Unlike the figures in the Harzreise, too, the characters in Lucca are not real-life personages whom Heine might have encountered during his travels, but rather fictionalized figures specifically invented by Heine to fulfill representative, satirical, and even allegorical roles in his campaign against Platen.

Nonetheless, Heine provides tempting bits of information about his characters that have led many critics to speculate about the historical reference points in his text. The Marquis Cristoforo di Gumpelino, a wealthy converted Jew from Hamburg, may well be based, at least in name, on the Hamburg banker Lazarus Gumpel, whose apocryphal exploits formed the basis of several urban legends. At the same time, Gumpelino is by no means equal to the historical Gumpel: as Veit points out, there are many discrepancies between the two figures, not least of which is the fact that Lazarus Gumpel never converted to Christianity and was indeed a practicing and devout Jew. [20] Veit instead suggests that Gumpelino shares many characteristics with Heine's former friends, Eduard Gans; in a rather loosely supported assertion, Veit points out the two characters' stout shapes, their shared initials, and even their talkative natures. [21] Rather than accepting such equations at face value, however, it seems prudent to say that Heine naturally drew on his real-life acquaintances and experiences in formulating his characters; indeed, Gumpelino is in some ways more effective as a satirical figure when he is not equated with an authentic personage.

Gumpelino's self-serving conversion becomes the object of Heine's satire upon more than one occasion in the text. The crosses on his uniform, his constant exclamations of "O Jesu!" and his declarations of religious fervor can never hope to mask his origins, and indeed, Veit cites the Marquis' "behavioral peculiarities," his "strained and turgid speech," and his "exaggerated worship of 'Bildung'" as unmistakable proof of his Jewish heritage. [22] Yet there is far more to Heine's polemic than that. Gumpelino is, in a fascinating blend of features, at once a converted Jew, a devotee of Platen's poetry, and even a parody of the Graf von Platen himself: as a self-centered aristocrat who is attracted to external forms rather than content, he must be seen as a direct satire on Platen. Thus Heine combines a diatribe against his arch-enemy with a painfully successful self-parody, producing what Hans Mayer sees as the "Selbstidentifikation des Angreifers mit dem Angegriffenen," [23] but which can also be extrapolated out of Heine's own discussion of the Aristophanic satirical form: instead of taking Immermann as the subject of his Romantischer Ödipus, Platen should have written his comedy so that "Ödipus seine Mutter tötet und seinen Vater heiratet," in other words, he could have created a self-parody wherein "er hätte manchmal wie eine Nachtigall nur die Regungen der eigenen Brust zu besingen gebraucht." [24] Since Platen failed, however, it falls to Heine to show him how to achieve such a successful satire.

The Marquis' manservant Hirsch-Hyazinth is also a type of self-satire on Heine's part, but a far less complicated one. Again, Veit disputes the accepted Hamburg corollary in the person of Isaak Rocamora, a minor acquaintance of Heine's, and postulates in his place the Berlin Jew David Friedländer, noting the latter's crusades for Jewish integration and against orthodox separatism as compared with Hyazinth's feeling that he has "outgrown his less refined coreligionists." [25] Although Veit's analysis raises interesting historical speculations, it sheds little light on Heine's portrayal of Hirsch-Hyazinth, whose religious practices are portrayed with an admittedly comical but altogether gentle touch. The bumbling and naive Hyazinth is often cast as the fool or the foil for most of the jokes at the Marquis' expense, but he is seldom subjected to the intense sarcasm which accompanies Gumpelino's every step. Indeed, his opinions seem to echo, in a less refined manner, those of the narrator Johann Heinrich Heine, when for instance he exclaims that the Marquis' verses are "eine komische Poesie."

Another figure who functions as a mouthpiece for the narrator is Lady Mathilde, the British noblewoman with whom the narrator has had a fleeting relationship. Veit correctly describes her as "a sort of female alter-ego through whom [Heine] gains some distance from himself." [26] Indeed, if Gumpelino and Hyazinth were not already sufficient to display Heine's self-effacing parody, then the Lady Mathilde carries this satire to further extremes: she pokes direct fun, even criticism, at the narrator Heine, calling him a fool like herself, and exhibits many of the author's own opinions, such as a 'friendship' with Cervantes and even a "Riss" in her heart which mirrors Heine's self-espoused "Zerrissenheit." [27] These moments not only allow Heine to make fun of himself through the eyes of others, but also lessen the 'egotism' and self-assured nature of the narrator, making him join, as Veit puts it, "the brotherhood of buffoons which he lets pass in review before us." [28]

Since the bulk of the figures in Lucca are not native Italians, Heine can, as noted, keep discussion away from Italian events and settings, and instead direct the attention back to Germany and to his German characters. Much of the work's dialogue, for instance, is devoted not to a discussion of the resort town, but to nearly every other city the characters have visited: London, Dublin, and above all Hamburg and Berlin. Hirsch-Hyazinth's lengthy reminiscences of Hamburg in the third chapter serve as a reflection of the author's own recollections; directly thereafter the narrator, too, recounts his own experiences in Berlin society, poking fun at the artificiality and stiffness of urban attitudes, and at the young daughter who cannot appreciate the "jrine Beeme" of Spring.

More significantly, Heine uses the Italian setting in his work to satirize German society directly: as Veit and others have mentioned, the real-life correspondences of many characters, however tenuous, can offer another level of reference on which the text may communicate. The salon atmosphere of the Signora Lätizia, for example, could be seen -- and Veit makes a convincing, if far-fetched argument in favor of this -- as being patterned on the literary salon of Rahel von Varnhagen in Berlin. The two are both of the same age, preside almost aristocratically over their 'courts,' and the names Lätizia and Levin can be cited as evidence of the correspondence between the Berlin salon and the Italian boudoir. [29] Even if such a connection was not intended by Heine, it seems likely that Berlin readers could have read into the work a critique of contemporary society, displaced to the foreign spa.

In constructing his satire, Heine clearly made use of literary models, and in fact, as was his wont, combined several different forms of literature in one text. With a title such as Reisebilder, Heine makes an obvious allusion to the numerous travel reports and fictionalized excursions that had become popular by the early nineteenth century. But the Bäder von Lucca is distinct even from the other installments of the Reisebilder: instead of recounting travel adventures interspersed with pensive musings about society or the human condition, Heine offers here a narration nearly devoid of all scenic description: very few "Bilder," but rather a static plot which serves primarily as a sort of crescendo to the final chapter's outright polemic. The text has heavy leanings, too, on Cervantes' Don Quixote, which Heine cites on several occasions; Hirsch-Hyazinth is a archetypal Sancho Panza to Gumpelino's Knight, and the picaresque novel, with its exaggerated portrayals and carnevalistic figures, forms the basis for much of the plot's development.

But by far the most important literary forebear for Heine's piece is the Aristophanic satire. As previously noted, Platen's Romantischer Ödipus, which professed to be an Aristophanic comedy, had failed in Heine's eyes. Heine's choice of the ancient genre is not merely a response to Platen's ineffective comedy, but rather to the Count's misunderstanding of the form itself -- an especially bitter allegation in view of Platen's professed idealization of antique models. But as Heine explains: "der arme Graf konnte nur einige Äußerlichkeiten des Aristophanes nachahmen, nämlich die feinen Verse und die groben Worte." [30] What is necessary for a successful satire is not only vulgarity and the freedom to break taboos, but also the freedom to reverse the social order, to attack even the nobility and king with the poet's satirical wit. In this light, then, the polemic against Platen should be seen as an attack not on the poet's personal character, but on his social standing, his ethical values, and above all his aesthetic ideals. Heine, as an impoverished Jewish liberal, sought to turn the tables on Platen, the conservative Catholic aristocrat; by doing so he made use of the established satirical form, which, as Hermand notes, was often "das einzige Ventil für die mühsam unterdrückten Rebellionsgelüste" [31] of the era. Derks rightly remarks, too, that even the inscription from da Ponte's Figaro -- "Will der Herr Graf ein Tänzchen wagen, / So mag er's sagen, / Ich spiel ihm auf" -- fits into this paradigm of the satire's revolutionary spirit:

 Endet da Pontes Oper auch in versöhnlichem Verzeihen, so spürt Heine in ihr doch noch den revolutionären Impuls des Aufbegehrens des Dienstboten Figaro als Vertreters seiner Klasse gegen seinen Standesherrn, den Grafen Almaviva als Vertreter der Macht des Ancien Régime. [32]

From this initial motto through to the very end of the piece, then, what unites Heine's satire is not, as many critics have tried to establish, a formal and structural coherence, but rather a continuity in Heine's agenda and the polemics which support it; in Hermand's words, the "innere Einheit" of the work "ergibt sich daher weniger aus ihrer formalen Geschlossenheit als aus ihrer 'Tendenz,' ihrer progressiven Vermischung von Poesie und Politik." [33] Indeed, the rather abrupt break between the 'novelistic' narrative and the Platen passage is part and parcel of the polemic: the themes and particular topics which Heine takes up the eleventh chapter have already been set up in the preceding section, and now achieve straightforward expression in essayistic rather than narrative tone. The background in Italy, too, is important, not least in its direct allusion to Platen's avowed love of the antique. As such, then, the entire setting and story of the Lucca resort strengthens the satirical position and prepares the way for Heine's final onslaught.

An illustration of this build-up of thematic elements can be seen even in the spa guests themselves. Since all of the persons introduced in Lucca are fictitious characters with whom the contemporary reader could at most draw tenuous correspondences but no definite identification, the direct naming of Platen comes as a striking change. Here the reader can form immediate associations, making Heine's attacks on the Count all the more arresting in their specific and personal quality. So too does the whole society of Lucca correspond to the accusations Heine directs at Platen: like the aristocratic poet, these figures are artificial and pretentious as well as anachronistic and outdated, holding on, like the aging Lätizia, to external forms whose contents have not only lost beauty but become perverse. Gumpelino, Lätizia, and most other figures have only an outward appearance to support them, and they cling to the social hierarchy in hopes of masking their inner decay. Indeed these social rules seem more important than genuine emotional responses: instead of allowing a natural expression of his affection, the dancer Franceska consents to the narrator's desire to kiss her foot. [34] Like the old people praying to a Madonna whose beauty has long since crumbled, the characters here do not even recognize the pretense of their poses, nor can they see that their society is stagnating in its own artificiality.

Categories and Terms of Heine's Polemic

Literary feuds have a long history in German letters, to be sure -- one could cite as predecessors of the Heine-Platen conflict the epigram wars waged by Goethe and Schiller, or Johann Heinrich Voß' attack on Fritz Stolberg and the wave of new Catholicism. Hermand points out, too, that these types of battles, which became especially common in the 1820's, functioned in many ways as a compensation for the lack of a political arena in which the aggressors could express their opinions to the public. [35] Heine himself was no stranger to polemical quarrels; his notorious attack on August Wilhelm Schlegel in Die romantische Schule (1836) and his even more scathing Börne memorial (1840) raised no small furor amongst his German audience, to the extent that Heine alienated a number of his former supporters even in the liberal camp. The polemic against Platen in the Bäder von Lucca must be seen in the context of these other quarrels, but it also illustrates an important feature of what Holub has called Heine's "total polemic," [36] his ability to combine a scathing literary and political argument with a taboo-breaking invasion of the private realm.

By criticizing Platen in reference not only to his poetry or even political posturings, but with a focus on the stigmatized topic of his homosexuality, Heine is extending what had been, in the case of Immermann's Xenien and even Der romantische Ödipus, a purely literary endeavor, and expressing it in an extremely personal manner. Admittedly, Platen's specifically anti-Semitic attacks on Heine in his comedy may well have set the stage for Heine's revenge, but Heine goes far beyond a mere reciprocation to accomplishe a literary and personal "execution" of his opponent. The vulgarity of the work is not only Aristophanic satire, but the executioner's sword as well: the frank discussion of bodily functions and sexuality parallels the open attacks on Platen's poetical aesthetic. Heine shows no hesitation at taking up taboo topics in order to expose them for what they are: trappings of Platen's aristocratic standing, his espoused religion, and of course his regressive aesthetic formalism. Every aspect of Platen's person is subjected to critique, since Heine sees them all as belonging to a corrupt whole.

On the one hand, the fact that Heine's attack is so dependent upon the private aspects of Platen's character gives the polemic the appearance of being an ad hominem revenge. This accounts not only for the slightly adverse reaction of most readers to many passages in the text that seem to go 'too far,' but also explains why so many critics have been unable to move beyond the questionable ethics of the attack and develop a strategy which can interpret the text on its own level. Critics who insist on judging the work as a personal revenge, however, ignore Heine's own proclamation: "ich werde das Materielle, das sogenannt Persönliche, nur insoweit berühren, als sich geistige Erscheinungen dadurch erklären lassen." [37] Certainly there is an element of Heine's mocking irony in this statement, but, like so many of his comments, there is an underlying truth that should not be ignored. Heine does take up the 'personal' satire only to prove his point about Platen's intellectual weaknesses; private behavior, especially sexual, is just one angle of attack for his 'total' onslaught. In fact, Heine's categories in attacking Platen can be divided into three: political and formal conservatism, repressive aristocracy, and perceived religious orthodoxy. Heine's view of homosexuality, as we shall see, fits into all three categories as evidence of Platen's artificiality, but does not serve as a separate target of derision.

Heine's rejection of Platen is total: he is intent on 'executing' not only the man Platen, but all of the things he stands for -- or rather: all of the things Heine thought that Platen stood for. In fact, Heine's perception of Platen was in many ways unfounded in historical truth; due to Platen's status in society, however, and most especially to the literary circles in which he travelled, Platen appeared to Heine to be the representative of precisely the old guard attitudes he despised.

Above all, Heine saw Platen as a conservative aristocrat, a member of the upper class whose political and social agendas lay as far removed from Heine's left-liberal leanings as could be. In truth, Platen was of the nobility, but he was by no means rich, and relied on his writings and on the charity of friends for his living. Politically, too, Platen was hardly an arch-conservative: his later efforts often placed him on the same side of the political fence as Heine himself, and he was very much interested in the liberal cause. But what Heine saw of Platen came primarily through the lens of the Count's poetry, and this, it must be said, was extremely, even anachronistically, backward-looking. Platen's poetical endeavors emphasized, in line with the classicistic revival of antique ideals, the formal elements. His poems display a remarkably adept meter and a superficial polish; based for the most part on ancient Greek forms as well as on Eastern poetry as received through Goethe, Platen often adhered so strictly to his formal paradigms that the form overshadowed the content of his writings. To the genial and original Heine, of course, such an orthodox conviction was reprehensible. Holub states laconically that Platen "qualifies as a 'reactionary' poet on aesthetic grounds alone," [38] and this must be seen as Heine's opinion as well.

Not only is Platen's poetry overly formalistic and therefore unsuccessful, though; Heine recognizes in the Count's poetry an artificiality and outdatedness which he then uses as the crux of his polemic. By creating in his poetry a slavish imitation of antiquity, Platen also constructs a harmonious world, one full of the balance and unity which the ancient world represented so well. But for Heine, such a fabricated harmony is totally at odds with the nature of modern poetry. Heine's own "Zerrissenheit," he believed, was not merely a personal feature but a characteristic of the age; by denying this and attempting to set up a false unity, Platen's poetry commits the ultimate treason of misrepresentation. In addition such poetry attempts to maintain the status quo or even regress to an older system of ideals, a stance which the progressive Heine could never begin to accept. Platen's poetry is a mere imitation of an ancient harmony which has long since disappeared, but he tries to pass it off as 'modern' lyric. Instead, says Heine, it is the absolute opposite of modern, and reflects nothing but the Count's misunderstanding of everything around him.

The same can be said, Heine continues, of Platen's lifestyle. The Count's status as aristocrat is per se at odds with modern society and the liberal cause: merely an obsolete holdover from the Ancien Régime. And Platen's poverty merely serves to underscore his obsolescence: a poor aristocrat is a mockery in and of himself, and is even more ridiculously artificial in his attempts to uphold a social order which has lost all purpose or function.

Platen's religious conservatism also belongs in this paradigm of obsolescence and artificiality. Although Platen was in truth Protestant and not actively religious, his literary activities in Munich, including his publications for the Catholic journal Eos, gave Heine to believe that Platen was a practicing or at least a professed Catholic. And in another angle of attack, then, Heine satirizes Platen's religiosity not only as reactionary, but as outdated as well. The Catholic Church, with its repressive hierarchy and dogmatic entrenchment in traditional forms, was to Heine a thoroughly unmodern institution; that the Count would belong to such an old order fit perfectly with his formalistic poetics and aristocratic heritage. Platen's Catholicism is more than merely anachronistic, however: Heine also impugns the sincerity of the Count's faith, insinuating that Platen does not actually believe in the rites or ideals of the Catholic Church -- his protestations are seen as "Anfälle von Katholizismus." [39] Platen is thus denounced as a fake who holds on to a set of external traditions which in no way reflect the nature of the poet or his society.

The aspersions that Heine casts on Platen's sexual lifestyle, then, follow precisely the same agenda. Just as Platen's poetry is anachronistic and unmodern, so too is his homosexuality seen to be an outdated behavior. To modern ears, Heine's remarks are somewhat shocking in their condemnation of homoeroticism, but in fact Heine is being altogether tolerant of the practice of homosexuality -- just not its application in the modern age. He freely admits that in the ancient world, Platen's homoerotic attractions would have been acceptable, even admirable. "Jene Liebhaberei war im Altertum nicht in Widerspruch mit den Sitten, und gab sich kund mit heroischer Öffentlichkeit." [40] But to adopt such a practice in the nineteenth century, Heine implies, is not only 'unsittlich' but also a pathetic attempt to regain the grandeur of the ancients. In espousing such a view, as Hermand points out, Heine was referring in part to the Hegelian concept of historical progression mirroring man's biological development: from a youthful stage, in which homoerotic attraction is natural and accepted, onward to the adult phase, in which homosexual love is no longer tenable and heterosexual attraction should take its place. [41]

More important to Heine than Platen's obsolete sexuality, however, is his refusal to openly acknowledge his own attractions. Indeed, like his Catholicism, Heine suggests that Platen's homosexuality is not at all genuine, but rather "heuchlerisch" and aimed at promoting a reactionary world-view. Platen's poetry, like his homoeroticism, is clandestine, cloaked in sweet words and gestures -- it is even dishonest and contrived. It is a "zaghaft verschämte Parodie eines antiken Übermuts." [42] Nonetheless, Heine's attack is on the function and purpose of Platen's professed aesthetic as a reflection of the Count's overall composition, his anachronistic and regressive aesthetic. As Holub succinctly states: "homosexuality cease[s] to be an exclusively moral category and appear[s] as a coherent element in a unified whole." [43] Thus Derks' allegation that Heine, in choosing to satirize Platen's homosexuality so openly, is somehow "der bedeutsamste Vertreter der kleinbürgerlich-aufklärungsfeindlichen Tendenzen" which led to the legal codifications of homosexuality, [44] seems quite definitely to have missed the entire point of Heine's polemic.

Unfortunately for Heine, the majority of the nineteenth-century reading public seems to have missed his point as well. The negative reviews which accompanied the publication of the Bäder von Lucca did not die down or change overnight; in fact, only recent critics have attempted to analyze Heine's polemical agenda rather than his moral categorization. Heine's satire is admittedly brilliant in its ability to meld the personalthe political, but contemporary audiences saw in it, yet again, the humorous but ultimately harsh words of a gadfly. Public opinion of Platen continued to rise, while Heine recognized that his goals could be more readily achieved through other literary endeavors. In the end, Heine's piece remains a source of puzzling acridity, and provides material for analysis even to the present day. Heine's total polemic in the Bäder von Lucca may have been achieved, but a total discussion of the work may never be concluded.


(1)  Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Schriften, ed. Günter Häntzschel, vol. 2 (München: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1969), p. 242. [return to text]
(2)  August von Platen, Der romantische Ödipus, quoted in Robert C. Holub, Heinrich Heine's Reception of German Grecophilia (Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1981), p. 90. [return to text]
(3)  Platen, Der romantische Ödipus, quoted in Jost Hermand, Der frühe Heine: ein Kommentar zu den Reisebildern (Munich: Winkler Verlag, 1976), p. 151. [return to text]
(4)  Heinrich Heine, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe der Werke, gen. ed. Manfred Windfuhr (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1994), p. 1067. Hereafter DHA. [return to text]
(5)  Paul Derks, Die Schande der heiligen Päderastie: Homosexualität und Öffentlichkeit in der deutschen Literatur 1750-1850 (Berlin: Rosa Winkel Verlag, 1990), p. 513. [return to text]
(6)  Platen, quoted in Jost Hermand, "Heine contra Platen: Zur Anatomie eines Skandals," Heinrich Heine und das 19. Jahrhundert, ed. Rolf Hosfeld (Berlin: Argument-Verlag, 1986), p. 108. [return to text]
(7)  Platen, Briefwechsel, quoted in DHA, p. 1068. [return to text]
(8)  Platen, Briefwechsel, quoted in DHA, p. 1069. [return to text]
(9)  Holub, Heine's Reception of German Grecophilia, p. 91. [return to text]
(10)  Johann Peter Lyser, quoted in DHA, p. 1082. [return to text]
(11)  Heine, quoted in DHA, p. 1084. [return to text]
(12)  Holub, Heine's Reception of German Grecophilia, p. 91. [return to text]
(13)  Moritz Veit, quoted in DHA, p. 1105. [return to text]
(14)  DHA, pp. 1097-1098. [return to text]
(15)  Karl August von Varnhagen, quoted in DHA, p. 1109. [return to text]
(16)  see Hermand, Der frühe Heine, pp. 155-156 for further details on critical reception of the text. [return to text]
(17)  Jeffrey L. Sammons, Heinrich Heine: The Elusive Poet (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969), p. 150. [return to text]
(18)  Dierk Möller, Heinrich Heine: Episodik und Werkeinheit (Wiesbaden and Frankfurt: Humanitas Verlag, 1973), p. 459-460. [return to text]
(19)  Manfred Windfuhr, cited in Hermand, Der frühe Heine, p. 155. [return to text]
(20)  Philip F. Veit, "Heine's Polemics in Die Bäder von Lucca," Germanic Review 55 (1980), p. 110. [return to text]
(21)  Veit, p. 111. [return to text]
(22)  Veit, p. 110. [return to text]
(23)  Hans Mayer, Außenseiter (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1975), p. 221. [return to text]
(24)  Heinrich Heine, Werke, ed. Martin Greiner, vol. 2 (Cologne/Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1962), p. 74. [return to text]
(25)  Veit, p. 113. [return to text]
(26)  Veit, p. 110. [return to text]
(27)  Heine, Werke (Greiner), vol. 2, p. 11. Veit also notes this similarity, p. 110. [return to text]
(28)  Veit, p. 110. [return to text]
(29)  Veit, p. 114. [return to text]
(30)  Heine, Werke (Greiner), vol. 2, p. 72. [return to text]
(31)  Hermand, Der frühe Heine, p. 151. [return to text]
(32)  Derks, p. 533. [return to text]
(33)  Hermand, Der frühe Heine, p. 157. [return to text]
(34)  Heine, Werke (Greiner), vol. 2, p. 27. [return to text]
(35)  Seminar discussion, 6 March 1996. [return to text]
(36)  Holub, Heine's Sexual Assaults, p. 427. [return to text]
(37)  Heine, Werke (Greiner), vol. 2, p. 59. [return to text]
(38)  Holub, Heine's Reception of German Grecophilia, p. 96. [return to text]
(39)  Heine, Werke (Greiner), vol. 2, p. 69. [return to text]
(40)  Heine, Werke (Greiner), vol. 2, p. 64. [return to text]
(41)  Hermand, Heine contra Platen, p. 117. [return to text]
(42)  Heine, Werke (Greiner), vol. 2, p. 64. [return to text]
(43)  Holub, Heine's Sexual Assaults, p. 420. [return to text]
(44)  Derks, p. 614. Derks' analysis of the Heine-Platen conflict is for the most part an objective treatment of facts and societal attitudes, but the conclusions he draws seem loosely grounded despite the wealth of primary material he cites. [return to text]

Written and © Nancy Thuleen in 1996 for German 948 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

If needed, cite using something like the following:
Thuleen, Nancy. "Poetics and Polemics of Heine's Bäder von Lucca." Website Article. 15 May 1996. <http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/948Heine.html>.