Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 May 2022
THE LAST THREE YEARS of Heinrich von Kleist's (1777–1811) life are characterized, in part, by his commitment to the publication and dissemination of anti-occupation/pro-liberation literature, including three poems that he sent on April 20, 1809 to Austrian dramatist and poet, and high-ranking finance officer at the imperial court, Heinrich Joseph von Collin (1771/1772–1811). These three poems were “Germania an ihre Kinder, eine Ode” (Germania to Her Children, An Ode), “An Franz den Ersten, Kaiser von Österreich” (To Franz I, Emperor of Austria), and “Kriegslied der Deutschen” (War Song of the Germans). Collin garnered a reputation as a patriotic dramatist after his quick rise to literary stardom with the publication of his first major hit, entitled Regulus, which staged the threat of Carthaginian domination of Rome in the third century BCE, in 1801, just two years after Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) became First Consul of the French Republic. Collin followed Regulus with many dramatic projects that likewise feature the threat of occupation, if not full wars of occupation or annihilation. Ironically, Collin, who during his lifetime was much more widely known and more positively received among the reading public than Kleist was, is today almost entirely forgotten in German literary studies, except when he makes the occasional appearance as a footnote to the biography of Kleist or of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). A handful of negative comments and reviews of Collin’s works from the likes of Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), and August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767–1845) notwithstanding, Collin's political writings of 1809 seem to have been much more popular and more practically influential than those of Kleist in the literary resistance movement against Napoleonic occupation in the early nineteenth century. Collin was granted the knight's cross of the Austrian Imperial Order of Leopold by Emperor Francis I in 1809 in recognition of his support of the Austrian cause during Napoleonic occupation. According to Veronica C. Richel, a Collin play was given in at least one major German or Austrian theater almost every year from 1802 until 1821.