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Heinrich Heine
Heine came from a middle-class Jewish family. With two important exceptions, his early life was all that is implied in his background: good breeding, refined manners, time-hallowed conceptions of propriety. These exceptions furnish another two pieces of the fabric that was to make up Ratcliff, for they provide the "Outsider" element (to use Colin Wilson's phrase) in the work. According to Wilson, an "Outsider" is the man who has faced chaos, "who revolts instinctively against abstraction, against our infant-prodigy civilization." Heine manifested this sense by falling in love, in his early youth, with a certain Sefchen, the red-haired hangman's daughter, and in befriending Joseph Levy, the son of a corn merchant who had a notorious reputation as a usurer, and was consequently despised by his fellows. These two examples of the young Heine's revolt against the self-satisfied smugness of the middle-class are the "Outside" in embryo. Certainly Ratcliff's identification with highwaymen and thieves is nothing but a heightened manifestation of Heine's own friendship with the despised Levy.

But by far the most important piece of autobiographical raw material for the play is Heine's unrequited love affair with his cousin Amalie. She was the daughter of a millionaire banker in Hamburg and seems to have dallied with Heine for a while and then thrown him over. Max Brod, in his book on Heine [The Artist in Revolt], states it succinctly:

"It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of this love in Heine's life. It determined absolutely the direction that life was to take. It was the cause of his resentful attitude through life and of his contempt for humanity."
Compare this with Ratcliff's proud statement at the end of Act III: "Here is the scorner of the British people, who jeers at laws! Here is the audacious one who fights heaven . . . " Brod continues:
"Much of Heine's ambition and need for self-assertion can unquestionably be traced back to his humiliation and his desperate struggles for equality in this first love affair of his . . . Much that is overdone, meretricious, strained and striving-for-effect in Heine's early works [—and Ratcliff would certainly fall into this category—DS] I attribute to this unhappy first love. to the same cause I put down his constant desire... to pose as if he were standing on an eminence from which he looks down with a contemptuous smile on the swarm of insignificant humanity milling below.
Again, it is instructive to compare this statement with Ratcliff's: "The quality of my will is iron, and, moreso than the divine one, more than the infernal one, is omnipotent." It is the "Outsider" element, then, that is the governing factor in Heine's play, and is obviously its greatest strength. Here it is worthwhile to quote Wilson on the historical aspect of this type of human being, who instinctively feels that his owen emotions must count for something:
"To historians of the future, it may well appear that the year 1800 [even the date coincides!—DS] is roughly the dividing line between the old and the new epoch. Large numbers of these creatures [i.e.Outsiders] with a new 'minimum requirement' begin to appear in the western world, and profoundly affect the whole life of the epoch. Judged by purely animal standards—there is something paradoxical about these 'romantics', and they themselves recognize this, and wonder whether their strange appetite for mental freedom is not a disguised suicidal urge." (from Introduction to the New Existentialism)
Or this passage, describing the French murderer Lacenaire, which seems to be a portrait of William Ratcliff:
"[He] was a highly intelligent man, driven by self-pity. His intellectual perception of the social injustice around him did not lead him to plan to overthrow the social order; it led to an ironic an embittered defeatism. He was a true romantic; looking at the world in which he found himself, de decided that his situation was tragic, and that this was inevitably so. So there was an odd fatalism about his crimes. In his own eyes, they were always justified. (from A Casebook of Murder)
Thus it can be seen that with his strong sense of the past, his unfortunate love affair, and with his underlying sense of "Outsiderism", Heine fashioned an impassioned and youthful work of art. Though it may seem extravagant to us today, the honest force that propels it on to its appointed end is undeniable. That he himself felt its innate honesty is clear from the line of a poem which he affixed to the published version: "From the purple book of love I tore away the seven seals of primal secrets."

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