Her Life and Her Memories

Henriette de Lemos Herz

But was it surprising, when in the midst of such social circumstances or actually disarray, an intellectual sociability was offered, despite the prejudices that prevailed against the Jews at that time, that it was hungrily taken up by those who were looking for intellectual stimulation through the conversational exchange of ideas? It is no less comprehensible, however, that among the men, it was the younger ones who first approached these circles. For the spirit that prevailed in them was that of a new era, and also the representatives of it, by fortunate coincidence, were in part very beautiful young girls and women. Also, it was under these circumstances that the aspiring element of the noble youth was the first to join, for the nobility itself was too distant from the Jews in bourgeois society to mingle with them and so appear to be their peers.

But of course, the conditions within our circle changed soon enough. The spirit is a great equalizer, and love, which every now and again did not hesitate to interfere, often transformed pride into humility. Courtly behavior would have been fully subject to satire here, where informality was a condition of life. It was already directed against the entire class of the court nobility with its cold, stiff formality. Since the court at that time was much in mourning for all sorts of princes and minor princes that no one knew, not even the court itself, and because one therefore hardly saw them except with so-called Pleureusen,1 so the nobility in our circle were usually referred to as Pleureusenmenschen.2

Into this circle was gradually drawn, as if by magic, every significant youth and young man who lived in Berlin, and even those who only came to visit. For self-awareness and vitality would not allow the once-kindled light to be placed again under the basket, and therefore it soon shone far into the distance. Congenial female relatives and friends of those young men also began gradually to join. Soon, too, the free-spirited among the more mature men followed, once word of such socializing reached their circles. I mean, pour comble (to top it all), we were finally fashionable—even foreign diplomats did not spurn us.

And so I believe I do not exaggerate when I claim that, at that time in Berlin, there was neither a man nor a woman who later somehow distinguished themselves, who, for a longer or shorter time as allowed by their position in life, was not a member of these circles. Yes, the boundary is scarcely to be drawn at the royal household, for even the undoubtedly brilliant Prince Louis Ferdinand later moved in them. Rahel’s [Varnhagen] correspondence, as far as it has been published, may reasonably serve to support my assertion. I say “reasonably” for were not the male and female friends to whom she addressed her letters, and those who are mentioned in them, more or less also the members of this society? So the full publication of the correspondence would certainly be more significant in presenting the personalities who were her friends, and furthermore, she had no relationship to some who belonged to an earlier period. Yes, and I also do not fear to exaggerate if I declare that the spirit that emerged from these circles penetrated even the most elevated of Berlin’s spheres, as explained by the social position of those who adopted it. Otherwise, however, this spirit had almost no effect elsewhere.

Translated by


[Black ribbons, worn on the shoulder as a sign of mourning.—Trans.]



Henriette Herz, Henriette Herz, ihr Leben und ihre Erinnerungen, ed. Julius Fürst (Berlin: Wilhelm Hertz, 1850), 126-128.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 6.

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