“That he had become estranged from the ceremonial observance of Judaism was generally known, but nothing of his previous career, nor indeed anything in his life after baptism, would have led any one to believe that he had become a Christian.” (Jewish Encyclopedia)
German political and literary writer; born May 6, 1786, at Frankfort-on-the-Main; died in Paris Feb. 12, 1837. The family name was Baruch, and he received the name of Loeb, both of which he afterward changed. Both his grandfather and his father, Jacob Baruch, were engaged in business, and employed as fiscal and purchasing agents for the government. Loeb and his two brothers were taught at home by a private tutor, one Jacob Sachs. When Sachs had done what he could for young Börne, the latter came directly under the private tuition of Rector Mosche of the gymnasium. (Jewish Encyclopedia)
At fourteen years of age Börne went to the newly established institute of Professor Hetzel in Giessen, with the idea of preparing for a medical course, and remained there about a year. His father arranged with Dr. Marcus Herz, the celebrated physician in Berlin, whose home was an intellectual center that attracted such men as Humboldt and Schlegel, to receive Börne as a resident pupil, and to guide him in his studies at the clinics. The youth of sixteen fell in love with Henriette Herz, then in her thirty-eighth year, in the fulness of her beauty and the ripeness of her intellectual power. When her husband, the doctor, died in 1803, Börne told her the story of his love; but, with the wisdom that was characteristic of her, she quieted his passion and soothed his anguish, and soon after he went to the University of Halle, where she secured for him a home in the household of Professor Reil, whose lectures he attended, as well as those of F. A. Wolf, Steffens, and notably Schleiermacher. The letters which Börne wrote from Halle to Henriette Herz, together with selections from his diary relating to his association with her, were published as “Briefe des Jungen Börne an Henriette Herz,” 1861. The insight into the higher intellectual life of Berlin and Halle diverted him from his medical studies, and as the loss of its rights as a free city by Frankfort and its domination by the French had resulted in securing civil rights for the Jews, Börne announced (1807) his intention to follow a public career.
Therefore he entered upon a course of legal, political, financial, and administrative studies at the University of Heidelberg. The result of his labors was that he secured in 1811 a clerical position in the police bureau in his native city, but not before he had gone once again to Giessen to secure his degree as doctor of philosophy (Aug. 8, 1809); his dissertation, “Ueber die Geometrische Vertheilung der Staatsgebiete,” being published shortly afterward in Professor Crome’s “Germanien” (vol. iii.). In Hart’s periodical, “Der Cameral-Correspondent,” there appeared in 1809 an article by Börne, entitled “Von dem Gelde.”
During the period of his service in the ducal police bureau, he delivered a course of lectures in the Jewish lodge of Freemasons at Frankfort, under the title “Zur Aufgehenden Morgenröthe,” and began his journalistic career, in its political phase, by contributing a series of short anonymous articles to the “Frankfurter Journal,” in which he sought to arouse the Germans to a sense of the ignominy of submitting to the French invasion, and by this means helped in awakening the old Teutonic spirit. In 1815, after the downfall of Napoleon, there set in that long night of political reaction in Germany,which continued until dawn began to break in 1848—that epochal year ushered in by “Young Germany” which was the fruit of the toils of Börne and Heine.
These thirty-three years were indeed years of political torpor and of domination of bureaucratic tyranny. Patriots like Moritz Arndt and Otto Jahn were indicted for high treason; those who had most capably labored for the reorganization of Prussia were no longer heeded or needed in the service of the state; university students were imprisoned en masse for the most trivial offenses; all of the writings of Heine were interdicted; scholars like the brothers Grimm, Gervinus, and Dahlmann were dismissed from their chairs in the university; and the censor was the most potent influence in literature.
When the Jews of Frankfort were relegated to the “Judengasse,” the difficult problem was presented of what was to be done with Börne, the only Jewish official in the service. Every trick and device was resorted to in order to induce him to resign, but he refused; so at last but one course remained open, and he was dismissed. What Börne felt at this time can be well discerned from a perusal of the satirical sketch “Jews in the Free City of Frankfort” in “Fragmente und Aphorismen” (“Gesammelte Schriften,” ed. 1840, vol. iii.). At the request of the Frankfort congregation he prepared a monograph entitled “Aktenmässige Darstellung des Bürgerrechts der Israeliten in Frankfurt,” and two pamphlets, “Für die Juden” and “Die Juden und Ihre Gegner,” the latter of which was written at the suggestion of his father, by whom, however, it was suppressed on account of its bitterness.
And yet on June 5, 1818, Loeb Baruch went to Rödelheim and was baptized by Pastor Bertuch as a convert to the Lutheran Church; assuming the name of “Karl Ludwig Börne.” That he had become estranged from the ceremonial observance of Judaism was generally known, but nothing of his previous career, nor indeed anything in his life after baptism, would have led any one to believe that he had become a Christian.
In 1818 he began the publication of the periodical “Die Wage,” which at once elicited wide-spread attention and admiration. He contributed articles of the most diversified character on literature, art, society, the drama, and, of course, politics. His dramatic criticisms, however, created the greatest sensation. An echo of the consideration given to the magazine by the learned circles is recorded in a letter by Rachel, in which the writer can hardly find adequate terms in which to express her appreciation. She afterward became a contributor to “Die Waage.” In 1819 Börne also assumed editorial charge of the “Zeitung der Freien Stadt Frankfurt.” His experiences with the censor were, however, of such a constantly unpleasant nature that he gave up the struggle after four months of endurance. He took his revenge, however, on his antagonist by writing his “Denkwürdigkeiten der Frankfurter Censur.”
It was about this period that there began the platonic relations of Börne with Madame Wohl, with whom he had become acquainted several years before, which continued until his death. She aided, encouraged, and inspired him in his work; nursed and tended him during the years preceding his death.
Relations with Jeanne Wohl.
In 1840 Heine, in his post-mortem criticism “Ueber Ludwig Börne,” referred insinuatingly to the relations that subsisted between the departed and Madame Wohl, who in the mean time had married one Solomon Strauss. The latter challenged the poet, and after the duel Heine sent a letter to Dr. Wertheim, which was published in the “Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung,” in which he retracted the insinuations and declared them to be based on erroneous and groundless assumptions. This letter is to be found as a prefatory note to the Börne monograph in Heine’s works.
Before leaving Frankfort for Paris in 1821, Börne wrote his celebrated “Monographie der Deutschen Postschnecke.” This is one of the finest specimens of sustained humor in the German language, and with his “Esskünstler” indicates the high-water mark of his work in this direction. The letters which he wrote during this period (1819 to 1822) constitute the bulk of the publication “Nachgelassene Schriften,” Mannheim, 1844-50.
It was at about this time that his father, solicitous as ever for his son’s welfare, used his influence with the high officials in Vienna to secure for Börne the appointment as imperial councilor, a sinecure without conditions or obligations, but with reasonable emoluments. Börne, however, would not accept the position. It is probable that the unpleasantness occasioned by this refusal led to his trip to Paris, where he remained but a short time, leaving there in the summer of 1822 to go to Heidelberg. At the latter place occurred the first of the hemorrhages that marked the beginning of the disease that was so soon to cut short his career.
It was not until 1826 that he was actively at work again in Frankfort. He was now a regular contributor to Menzel’s “Literatur-Blatt” and Berty’s “Iris.” To this time belongs his splendid eulogium. upon Henriette Sontag, the great opera singer, and the magnificent memorial address on Jean Paul Richter, delivered by Börne in the Museum in Frankfort Dec. 2, 1825, and which is considered by many to be his masterpiece: it is certainly the ablest of his contributions to serious literary criticism.
The winter of 1827 was spent in Berlin. In the following year Börne went to Hamburg, and while there arranged with Campe for the publication of a collected edition of his writings, which thereafter appeared in eight volumes (1829-34).
All this time, however, Börne was gradually getting worse in health. Trying one after another of the various resorts, he finally spent the summer of 1830 in Bad Soden, where there came to him the tidings from Paris of the Revolution of July. This fired his heart, and nothing would do but he must go to Paris himself to witness the realization of his dreams of liberty and republicanism.
“Briefe aus Paris.”
Here, besides his articles in French contributed to the “Reformateur,” edited by Raspail, and editinga periodical of his own, “La Balance,” he began the publication of his famous “Briefe aus Paris.” Like almost everything that Börne wrote, these letters are still of vital interest, even though they are almost exclusively political. They are dominated, however, by the main object of preaching the doctrine of human liberty, the theory of human equality before the law, and the divine right of the republican form of government. In these letters, though they bristle with wit and teem with humorous touches, his powers of invective, of pathos, of persuasion, are at their very highest. He lays bare with unsparing skill the manifold stupidities and tyrannies of the governing classes in the German fatherland that is so dear to him, and revels in the delights of the freedom to be enjoyed in France. The ideal that he strives for is a united Germany, freed from the bonds and shackles of medieval kingships, princeships, and lordships, living in close bonds of amity with France; and he vindicates violent revolution to secure the rights of the people.
It is easy to understand, considering conditions in Germany even to-day, seventy years later, what a furor these letters created. Periodicals were filled with controversial writings, and pamphlets and works were issued in quick succession controverting or defending the ideas of Börne; the most important being those of Meyer and Wurms of Hamburg, and Willibald Alexis, the novelist of Berlin.
One of the bitterest of Börne’s critics, however, was the historian Menzel, who appealed to the baser sentiments of his readers by denouncing Börne as unpatriotic, as being more of a Frenchman than a German, and as loving France better than Germany. To him Börne addressed the last work that he produced, the virulent controversial treatise “Menzel, der Franzosen-Fresser, Paris, 1836.”
The long and severe illness of which he was the victim at last overcame him, and he died, as stated, on Feb. 12, 1837. He was buried at Père Lachaise, Wenedey and Raspail pronouncing the last words over his grave. The spot is marked by a statue executed by the sculptor David, which, besides the head of Börne, bears a relief representing France and Germany extending their hands to each other under the blessing of Freedom. The best portrait of him is that by Moritz Oppenheim. The house in which he was born bore, until it was demolished, a memorial tablet. In 1842 there appeared in Paris “Fragments Politiques et Littéraires” from Börne’s writings, with a prefatory note by M. de Cormenin. As late as 1862 there was published at Hamburg a new complete edition of his works in twelve volumes.
Prayer: Like so many of his time, the motivation for baptism was more for public life than personal faith, it seems. Help us Lord to be people of integrity in both our inner and outer selves, regardless of context, cost and considerations of worldly gain, we pray. In Yeshua’s name, Amen.
Gutzkow, Börne’s Leben, 1840;
Heine, Ueber Börne, 1840;
Riesser, Börne und die Juden, Altenburg, 1831;
Holzmann, L. B. (1888);
Joh. Proelsz, Das Junge Deutschland, 1892.
Karl Ludwig Börne (born “Loeb Baruch”; 6 May 1786 – 12 February 1837) was a German-Jewish political writer and satirist, who is considered part of the Young Germany movement.
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