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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Maxims and Descriptions

By Heinrich Heine (1797–1856)

Translation of Simon Adler Stern

IF all Europe were to become a prison, America would still present a loop-hole of escape; and God be praised! that loophole is larger than the dungeon itself.

“PAPA,” exclaimed a little Carlist, “who is the dirty-looking woman with the red cap?”

“It is the Goddess of Liberty,” was the answer.

“But, papa, she has not even a chemise.”

“A real Goddess of Liberty, my dear child, rarely uses a chemise; and is on that account the more embittered against those who do wear clean linen.”

IF freedom should at some future day vanish from the earth, a German dreamer would again discover it in one of his dreams.

WHEN the Lord feels ennui, he opens one of the windows of heaven and takes a look at the Parisian boulevards.

LITERARY history is the great morgue where all seek the dead ones whom they love, or to whom they are related.

PSYCHICAL pain is more easily borne than physical; and if I had my choice between a bad conscience and a bad tooth, I should choose the former.

NAPOLEON was not of the wood of which kings are made: he was of the marble from which gods are shaped.

IT is not generally known why our sovereigns live to so old an age. They are afraid to die, lest they may meet Napoleon in the next world.

GOD has given us speech in order that we may say pleasant things to our friends and tell bitter truths to our enemies.

THE PEOPLE—that poor monarch in rags—has found flatterers who, with even less of shame than the courtiers of Byzantium and Versailles, fling their censers at his head. These court lackeys of the People are constantly praising the virtues and extolling the merit of their ragged king. “How lovely!” they cry; “how intelligent!” But no, ye lie! Your poor monarch is not lovely; on the contrary, he is very ugly. But his ugliness is the result of dirt, and will vanish as soon as we erect public bath-houses where his Majesty the People can bathe gratis. A bit of soap will not prove amiss, and we shall then behold a smart-looking People, a People indeed of the first water. Although this monarch’s goodness is often praised, he is not at all good; sometimes indeed he is as bad as many other sovereigns. He is angered when hungry; let us therefore see to it that he has somewhat to eat. As soon as his High Mightiness has been properly fed, and has sated his appetite, he will smile on us with gracious condescension, just as the other monarchs do. Nor is his Majesty the People very intelligent: he is more stupid than all other rulers, and almost as beastly stupid as his own favorites. He bestows his affection and his confidence on those who shout the jargon of his own passions; while he reserves his hatred for the brave man who endeavors to reason with and exalt him. It is thus in Paris; it was thus in Jerusalem. Give the People the choice between the most righteous of the righteous and the most wretched highway robber, and rest assured its cry will be, “Give us Barabbas! Long live Barabbas!” The secret of this perverseness is ignorance. This national evil we must endeavor to allay by means of public schools, where education, together with bread and butter and such other food as may be required, will be supplied free of expense.

WHILE I was standing before the cathedral at Amiens, with a friend who with mingled fear and pity was regarding that monument,—built with the strength of Titans and decorated with the patience of dwarfs,—he turned to me at last and inquired, “How does it happen that we do not erect such edifices in our day?” And my answer was, “My dear Alphonse, the men of that day had convictions, while we moderns have only opinions; and something more than opinions are required to build a cathedral.”

THE HORATIAN rule, “Nonum prematur in annum,” may like many others be very good in theory, but in practice it is worthless. When Horace offered the author the celebrated rule, he ought at the same time to have furnished him with directions how to live nine years without food. While Horace was meditating on this maxim he was probably seated at the table of Mæcenas, eating turkey with truffles, pheasant pudding with game sauce, larks’ ribs with Teltow turnips, peacocks’ tongues, Indian birds’-nests, and the Lord knows what else; and all of it gratis, at that. But we, unfortunate children of a later day! live in changed times. Our Mæcenases have quite different principles: they believe that authors, like medlars, develop best if they lie on straw for a while; they believe that dogs who are too well fed are not so well fitted for hunting similes and ideas. And alas! when they do for once happen to feed a poor dog, it is the one who is least deserving of their crumbs; such, for instance, as the spaniel who licks their hands, the tiny puppy who softly nestles in the perfumed lap of the lady of the house, or the patient poodle who has learned a trade and knows how to fetch and carry, to dance and to drum.

I HAVE the most peaceable disposition. My desires are a modest cottage with thatched roof, but a good bed, good fare, fresh milk and butter, flowers by my window, and a few fine trees before the door. And if the Lord wished to fill my cup of happiness, he would grant me the pleasure of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanged on those trees. With a heart moved to pity, I would before their death forgive the injury they had done me during their lives. Yes, we ought to forgive our enemies—but not until they are hanged.

THERE is something peculiar in patriotism, or real love of country. One can become eighty years old, and without knowing it, have loved his fatherland during all that time; that is, if one has remained at home. The true nature of spring is not appreciated until winter is upon us, and the best May songs are written by the fireside. Love of freedom is a prison flower, and we do not learn the full value of liberty until we are imprisoned. Thus, the German’s patriotism begins at the frontier, where he can from afar behold his country’s misery.

EVERY man who marries is like the Doge who weds the Adriatic Sea: he knows not what he may find therein,—treasures, pearls, monsters, unknown storms.