Read CHAPTER II of Graf von Loeben and the Legend of Lorelei, free online book, by Allen Wilson Porterfield, on

But it is not so much the purpose of this paper to evaluate Loeben’s creations as to locate him in the development of the Lorelei-legend, and to prove, or disprove, Heine’s indebtedness to him in the case of his own poem of like name. The facts are these:

In 1801 Clemens Brentano published at Bremen the first volume of his Godwi and in 1802 the second volume at the same place. He had finished the novel early in 1799 he was then twenty-one years old. Wieland was instrumental in securing a publisher. Near the close of the second volume, Violette sings the song beginning:

Zu Bacharach am Rheine
Wohnt eine Zauberin.

That this now well-known ballad of the Lorelei was invented by Brentano is proved, not so much by his own statement to that effect as by the fact that the erudite and diligent Grimm brothers, the friends of Brentano, did not include the Lorelei-legend in their collection of 579 Deutsche Sagen, 1816. The name of his heroine Brentano took from the famous echo-rock near St. Goar, with which locality he became thoroughly familiar during the years 1780-89. No romanticist knew the Rhine better or loved it more than Brentano. Lore means a small, squinting elf; and is connected with the verb “lauern.” The oldest form of the word is found in the Codex Annales Fuldenses, which goes back to the year 858, and was first applied to the region around the modern Kempten near Bingen. “Lei” means a rock; “Loreley” means then “Elbfels.” And what Brentano and his followers have done is to apply the name of a place to a person.

In Urania: Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1821, Graf von Loebcn published his “Loreley: Eine Sage vom Rhein. The following ballad introduces the saga in prose. Heines ballad is set opposite for the sake of comparison.

Da wo der Mondschein blitzet Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten
Um’s hOechste Felsgestein, Dass ich so traurig bin;
Das ZauberfrAeulein sitzet Ein MAerchen aus alten Zeiten,
Und schauet auf den Rhein. Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

Es schauet herUeber, hinUeber, Die Luft ist kUehl und es dunkelt,
Es schauet hinab, hinauf, Und ruhig fliesst der Rhein;
Die Schifflein ziehn vorUeber, Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt
Lieb’ Knabe, sieh nicht auf! Im Abendsonnenschein.

Sie singt dir hold zum Ohre, Die schOenste Jungfrau sitzet
Sie blickt dich thOericht an, Dort oben wunderbar,
Sie ist die schOene Lore, Ihr goldenes Geschmeide blitzet,
Sie hat dir’s angethan. Sie kAemmt ihr goldenes Haar.

Sie schaut wohl nach dem Rheine, Sie kAemmt es mit goldenem Kamme,
Als schaute sie nach dir, Und singt ein Lied dabei;
Glaub’s nicht, dass sie dich meine, Das hat eine wundersame
Sich nicht, horch nicht nach ihr! Gewaltige Melodei.

So blickt sie wohl nach allen Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe
Mit ihrer Augen Glanz, Ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
LAesst her die Locken wallen Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,
Im wilden goldnen Tanz. Er schaut nur hinauf in die HOeh’.

Doch wogt in ihrem Blicke Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
Nur blauer Wellen Spiel, Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn;
Drum scheu die WassertUecke, Und das hat mit ihrem Singen
Denn Flut bleibt falsch und kUehl! Die Lorelei gethan.

The following saga then relates how an old hunter sings this song to a young man in a boat on the Rhine, warning him against the allurements of the Lorelei on the rock above. The hunter’s good intentions are fruitless, the young man is drowned.

In the autumn of 1823, Heine wrote, while at Lüneburg, his Die Lorelei. It was first published in the Gesellschafter, March 26, 1824. Commentators refer to the verse, “Ein MAerchen aus alten Zeiten, as a bit of fiction, adding that it is not a title of olden times, but one invented by Brentano about 1800. The statement is true but misleading, for we naturally infer that Heine derived his initial inspiration from Brentanos ballad. Concerning this matter there are three points of view: Some editors and historians point out Brentanos priority and list his successors without committing themselves as to intervening influence. This has only bibliographical value and for our purpose may be omitted. Some trace Heine’s ballad direct to Brentano, some direct to Loeben. Which of these two points of view has the more argument in its favor and can there be still a third?

In the first place, Heine never knew Brentano personally, and never mentions him in his letters previous to 1824, nor in his letters that have thus far been published after 1824. Godwi was repudiated soon after its publicatipn by Brentano himself, who said there was only one good thing about it, the title, for, after people had said “Godwi,” they could just keep on talking and say, “Godwi, dumm.” On its account, Caroline called him Démens Brentano, while Dorothea dubbed him “Angebrenntano.” The novel became a rare and unread book until Anselm Ruest brought out a new edition with a critical and appreciative introduction in 1906. Diel and Kreiten say “es ging fast spurlos vorUeber.” It was not included in his Gesammelte Schriften (1852-55), though the ballad was. Heine does not mention it in his Romantische Schule, which was, however, written ten years after he had finished his “Die Lorelei.” And as to the contents of Brentano’s ballad, there is precious little in it that resembles Heine’s ballad, aside from the name of the heroine, and even here the similarity is far from striking.

And yet, despite all this, commentators continue to say that Heine drew the initial inspiration for his Lorelei from Brentano. They may be right, but no one of them has thus far produced any tenable argument, to say nothing of positive proof. The most recent supporter of Brentanos claim is Eduard Thorn (1913), who reasons as follows:

Heine knew Brentano’s works in 1824, for in that year he borrowed Wunderhorn and TrOesteinsamkeit from the library at GOettingen. These have, however, nothing to do with Brentano’s ballad, and it is one year too late for Heine’s ballad. All of Thorn’s references to Heine’s Romantische Schule, wherein Godwi, incidentally, is not mentioned, though other works are, collapse, for this was written ten years too late. And then, to quote Thorn: “Loeben’s Gedicht lieferte das direkte Vorbild fUer Heine.” He offers no proof except the statements of Strodtmann, Hessel, and Elster to this effect.

And again: “Der Name Lorelay findet sich bei Loeben nicht als Eigenname, wenn er auch das Gedicht, ‘Der Lurleifels’ Ueberschreibt.” But the name Loreley does occur twice on the same page on which the last strophe of the ballad is published in Urania, and here the ballad is not entitled “Der Lurleifels,” but simply “Loreley.” Now, even granting that Loeben entitled his ballad one way in the MS and Brockhaus published it in another way in Urania, it is wholly improbable that Heine saw Loeben’s MS previous to 1823.

And then, after contending that Brentano’s RheinmAerchen, which, though written before 1823, were not published until 1846, must have given Heine the hair-combing motif, Thorn says: “Also kann nur Brentano das Vorbild geliefert haben. This cannot be correct. What is, on the contrary, at least possible is that Heine influenced Brentano. The RheinmAerchen were finished, in first form, in 1816. And Guido GOerres, to whom Brentano willed them, and who first published them, tells us how Brentano carried them around with him in his satchel and changed them and polished them as opportunity was offered and inspiration came. It is therefore reasonable to believe that Heine helped Brentano to metamorphose his Lorelei of the ballad, where she is wholly human, into the superhuman Lorelei of the RheinmAerchen where she does, as a matter of fact, comb her hair with a golden comb.

And now as to Loeben: Did Heine know and borrow from his ballad? Aside from the few who do not commit themselves, and those who trace Heine’s poem direct to Brentano, and Oscar F. Walzel to be referred to later, all commentators, so far as I have looked into the matter, say that he did. Adolf Strodtmann said it first (1868), in the following words: “Es leidet wohl keinen Zweifel, dass Heine dies Loeben’sche Ballade gekannt und bei Abfassung seiner Lorelei-Ballade benutzt hat.” But he produces no proof except similarity of form and content. Of the others who have followed his lead, ten, for particular reasons, should be authorities: Franz Muncker, Karl Hessel, Karl Goedeke, Wilhelm Scherer, Georg MUecke, Wilhelm Hertz, Ernst Elster, Georg Brandes, Heinrich Spiess, and Herrn. Anders KrUeger. But no one of them offers any proof except Strodtmann’s statement to this effect.

Now their contention may be substantially correct; but their method of contending is scientifically wrong. To accept, where verification is necessary, the unverified statement of any man is wrong. And, that is the case here. Elster’s note is of peculiar interest. He says: “Heine schloss sich am nAechsten an die Bearbeitung eines Stoffs an, die ein Graf LOeben 1821 verOeffentlichte.” The expression “ein Graf LOeben” is grammatical evidence, though not proof, of one of two things: that Loeben was to Elster himself in 1890 a mere name, or that Elster knew Loeben would be this to the readers of his edition of Heine’s works. Brandes says: “Die Nachahmung ist unzweifelhaft." His proof is Strodtmann’s statement, and similarity of content and form, with special reference to the two rhymes “sitzet-blitzet” that occur in both. But this was a very common rhyme with both Heine and Loeben in other poems. How much importance can be attached then to similarity of content and form?

The verse and strophe form, the rhyme scheme, the accent, the melody, except for Heines superiority, are the same in both. As to length, the two poems are exactly equal, each containing, by an unimportant but interesting coincidence, precisely 117 words. But the contents of the two poems are not nearly so similar as they apparently seemed, at first blush, to Adolf Strodtmann. The melodious singing, the golden hair and the golden comb and the use that is made of both, the irresistibly sweet sadness, the time, “Aus alten Zeiten,” and the subjectivity Heine himself recites his poem these indispensable essentials in Heine’s poem are not in Loeben’s. Indeed as to content and of course as to merit, the two poems are far removed from each other.

And, moreover, literary parallels are the ancestors of that undocile child, Conjecture. We must remember that sirenic and echo poetry are almost as old as the tide of the sea, certainly as old as the hills, while as to the general situation, there is a passage in Milton’s Comus (l-84) analogous to Heine’s ballad, as follows:

And fair Ligea’s golden comb,
Wherewith she sits on diamond rocks,
Sleeking her soft alluring locks,
By all the nymphs that nightly dance
Upon thy streams with wily glance,

and so on. And as to the pronounced similarity of form, we must remember that Heine was here employing his favorite measure, while Loeben was almost the equal of Ruckert in regard to the number of verse and strophe forms he effectively and easily controlled. In short, striking similarity in content is lacking, and as to the same sort of similarity in form to this but little if any significance can be attached.

And if the internal evidence is thin, the external is invisible, except for the fact that Loeben’s ballad was published by Brockhaus, whom Heine knew by correspondence. But between the years 1818 and 1847, Heine never published anything in Urania, which was used by so many of his contemporaries. Heine and Loeben never knew each other personally, and between the years 1821 and 1823 they were never regionally close together. Heine never mentions Loeben in his letters; nor does he refer to him in his creative works, despite the fact that he had a habit of alluding to his brothers in Apollo, even in his poems.

And therefore, though it is fashionable to say that Heine knew Loeben’s ballad in 1823, and though the contention is plausible, it is impossible to prove it. Impossible also for this reason: Karl Simrock, Heine’s intimate friend, included in his Rheinsagen (1836, 1837, 1841) the ballads on the Lorelei by Brentano, Eichendorff, Heine, and himself. Why did he exclude the one by Loeben? He made an ardent appeal in his preface to his colleagues to inform him of any other ballads that had been written on these themes. The question must be referred to those who like to skate on flabby ice in things literary.

The most plausible theory in regard to the source of Heine’s ballad is the one proposed by Oscar F. Walzel, who says: “Heine hat den Stoff wahrscheinlich aus dem ihm wohlbekannten Handbuch fUer Reisende am Rhein von Aloys Schreiber Uebernommen." The only proof that Walzel gives that Heine knew Schreibers manual is a reference to it in Lutetia. But this was written in 1843, and proves nothing as to 1823. His contention, however, that Heine borrowed from Schreiber has everything in its favor, from the point of view of both external and internal evidence and deserves, therefore, detailed elaboration.

As to internal evidence, there is only one slight difference between Heine’s ballad and Schreiber’s saga: where Heine’s Lorelei combs her hair with a golden comb and has golden jewelry, Schreiber’s “bindet einen Kranz fUer ihre goldenen Locken” and “hat eine Schnur von Bernstein in der Hand.” Even here the color scheme is the same; otherwise there is no difference: time, place, and events are precisely the same in both. The mood and style are especially similar. The only words in Heine not found in Schreiber are “Kamm” and “bedeuten. Schreiber goes, to be sure, farther than does Heine: he continues the story after the death of the hero. This, however, is of no significance, for Heine was simply interested in his favorite theme of unrequited or hindered love.

Now Heine must have derived his plot from somewhere, else this would be an uncanny case of coincidence. And the two expressions, “Aus alten Zeiten,” and “Mit ihrem Singen,” the latter of which is so important, Heine could have derived only from Schreiber. Heine was not jesting when he said it was a fairy tale from the days of old; he was following, it seems, Schreiber’s saga, the first sentence of which reads as follows: “In alten Zeiten ließ sich manchmal auf dem Lureloy um die AbenddAemmerung und beym Mondschein eine Jungfrau sehen, die mit so anmuthiger Stimme sang, dass alle, die es hOerten, davon bezaubert wurden.” But Brentano’s Lorelei does not sing at all, and Loeben’s just a little, “Sie singt dir hold zum Ohre,” while Heine, like Schreiber, puts his heroine in the prima donna class, and has her work her charms through her singing. And it seems that Heine was following Schreiber when the latter wrote as follows: “Viele, die vorUeberschifften, gingen am Felsenriff oder im Strudel zu Grunde, weil sie nicht mehr auf den Lauf des Fahrzeugs achteten, sondern von den himmlischen TOenen der wunderbaren Jungfrau gleichsam vom Leben abgelOest wurden, wie das zarte Leben der Blume sich im sUessen Duft verhaucht.”

And as to her personal appearance, Brentano and Loeben simply tell us that she was beautiful, Brentano employing the Homeric method of proving her beauty by its effects. Heine and Schreiber not only comment upon her physical beauty, they also tell us how she enhanced her natural charms by zealously attending to her hair and her jewelry and religiously guarding the color scheme in so doing. In brief, the similarity is so striking that, if we can prove that Heine knew Schreiber in 1823, we can definitely assert that Schreiber was his main, if not his unique, source.

Let us take up the various arguments in favor of the contention that Heine knew Schreiber’s Handbuch in 1823, beginning with the least convincing. If Heine read Loeben’s ballad and saga in “Urania fUer 1821,” he could thereby have learned also of Schreiber’s Rheinsagen, for, by a peculiar coincidence for our purpose, Brockhaus discusses these in the introduction in connection with a tragedy by W. Usener, entitled Die BrUeder, and based upon one of Schreiber’s Sagen. Proof, then, that Heine knew Loeben in 1823 is almost proof that he also knew Schreiber.

But there is better proof than this. In Elementargeister, we find this sentence: “Ganz genau habe ich die Geschichte nicht im Kopfe; wenn ich nicht irre, wird sie in Schreibers Rheinischen Sagen aufs umstAendlichste erzAehlt. Es ist die Sage vom Wisperthal, welches unweit Lorch am Rheine gelegen ist.” And then Heine tells the same story that is told by Schreiber. It is the eighth of the seventeen Sagen in question. This, then, is proof that Heine knew Schreiber so long before 1835 that he was no longer sure he could depend upon his memory. But it is impossible to say whether Heine’s memory was good for twelve years, or more, or less.

But there is better evidence than this. Heine’s Der Rabbi von Bacharach reaches far back into his life. That he intended to write this sort of work before 1823 has been proved; just when he actually began to write this particular work is not so clear, but we know that he did much preliminary reading by way of preparing himself for its composition. And the region around and above and below Bacharach comes in for detailed discussion and elaborate description in Schreiber’s Rheinsagen. The crusades, the Sankt-Wernerskirchen, Lorch, the Fischfang, Hatto’s MAeuseturm, the maelstrom at Bingen, the Kedrich, the story of the Kecker Reuter who liberated the maid that had been abducted by dwarfs, and again, and this is irrefutable, the story “von dem wunderlicheft Wisperthale drUeben, wo die VOegel ganz vernUenftig sprechen,” all of these and others play a large rôle in Schreiber’s sagas and in Heine’s Rabbi. No one can read Schreiber’s Handbuch and Heine’s Rabbi without being convinced that the former stood sponsor for the latter.

And lastly, Heine wrote before 1821 his poem entitled “Die zwei BrUeder." It is the tenth of the seventeen Volkssagen by Schreiber, the same theme as the one treated by W. Usener already referrred to. It is an old story, and Heine could have derived his material from a number of places, but not from Grimm’s Deutsche Sagen, indeed from no place so convenient as Schreiber. Heine knew Schreiber’s Handbuch in 1823.

The situation, then, is as follows: Heine had to have a source or sources, There are three candidates for Heine honors; Brentano, Loeben, Schreiber. Brentano has a number of supporters, though the evidence, external and internal, is wholly lacking. It would seem that lack of attention to chronology has misled investigators. Brentano’s ballad can now be read in many places, but between about 1815 and 1823 it was safely concealed in the pages of an unread and unknown novel. Loeben has many supporters, though the external evidence, except for the fact that Heine corresponded with Brockhaus, is wholly lacking, and the internal weakens on careful study. It would seem that the striking similarity in form has misled investigators. Schreiber has only one supporter, despite the fact that the evidence, external and internal, is as strong as it can be without Heine’s ever having made some such remark as the following: “Yes, in 1823 I knew only Schreiber’s saga and borrowed from it.” But Heine never made any such statement. It would seem that the strong assertions of so many investigators in favor of Brentano and Loeben have made careful study of the matter appear not worth while; the problem was apparently solved. And since Heine never committed himself in this connection, the matter will, in all probability, remain forever conjectural. This much, however, is irrefutable: even if Heine knew in 1823 the five Loreleidichtungen, that had then been written, those by Brentano, Niklas Vogt, Eichendorff, Schreiber, and Loeben, and if he borrowed what he needed from all of them, he borrowed more from Schreiber than from the other four combined.