Letters of Frederick Engels

To Wilhelm Graeber
In Berlin

Source: MECW Volume 2, p. 448
Written: May 24-June15, 1839
First published: in considerably abridged in Die neue Rundschau, 9. Heft, Berlin, 1913, and in full in the book: F. Engels, Schriften der Frühzeit, Berlin, 1920

Bremen, May 24-June 15, 1839

My dear William,

Today is May 24, and still not a line from any of you. You are again qualifying for non-receipt of poems. I don’t understand you. Nevertheless, you shall have contributions on present-day literature.

Collected Works of Ludwig Börne. Vols. 1 and 2. Dramaturgische Blätter. — Börne, the great fighter for freedom and justice, is concerned here with questions of aesthetics. And here too he is in his element; what he says is so precise and clear, coming from such a true feeling for beauty and demonstrated so convincingly, that there can be no question of contradiction. It is all flooded in a sea of the most exuberant wit, and here and there, the firm and sharp ideas of freedom rise out of it like rocks. Most of these reviews (for that is what the book is made up of) were written at the time when the plays discussed had just appeared, that is, at a time when critical judgments on them were still blindly and hesitatingly groping about. But Börne’s vision penetrated to the innermost threads of the action. The most excellent are his criticisms of Schiller’s Tell, an essay which for more than twenty years has opposed the usual view without being refuted, precisely because it is irrefutable. [205] — Immermann’s Cardenio and Hofer, Raupach’s Isidor und Olga, Clauren’s Wollmarkt, with which other interests are connected, Houwald’s Leuchtturm and Bild, his criticism of which is so devastating that nothing, absolutely nothing, remains, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He reveals himself throughout as a great man who stirred up a controversy the consequences of which are still not to be foreseen, and these two volumes would already ensure Börne a place alongside Lessing. But he became a Lessing in a different field; may Karl Beck follow him as his Goethe!

Nächte. Gepanzerte Lieder by Karl Beck
I am a Sultan, driven by storms that blow,
My warrior hosts are armoured forms of song,
And grief has laid a turban on my brow
With many mysteries its folds among.
[from Der Sultan]

If such images are already contained in the second verse of a prologue, what will the book itself be like? If a youngster of twenty has such ideas, what kind of song will the mature man sing? — Karl Beck is a poetic talent without equal since Schiller. I find a remarkable affinity between Schiller’s Räuber and Beck’s Nächte, the same ardent spirit of freedom, the same unrestrained fantasy, the same youthful exuberance, the same mistakes. Schiller strove for freedom in the Räuber, which was an earnest warning to his servile age. But at that time such a striving could not yet take a definite form. In Young Germany, we now have a definite, systematic trend. Karl Beck comes forward and calls loudly to his age to recognise this trend, and to join it. Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini! [Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord]

Der fahrende Poet. Poems by Karl Beck. The first work of the young poet has hardly appeared before he presents us with a second, which in power of expression, wealth of ideas, lyrical verve and depth is not a whit inferior to the first, but infinitely surpasses it in excellence of form and in its classicism. What an advance from Schöpfung in the Nächte to the sonnets on Schiller and Goethe in Der fahrende Poet! Gutzkow thinks that the sonnet form is harmful to the effect of the work as a whole, but I would maintain that this Shakespearean sonnet is precisely the medium between the epic stanza and the individual poem which this peculiar type of poetry requires. Of course, it is not an epic poem but a purely lyrical one with a loose epic thread running through it, still looser than in Byron’s Childe Harold. But it is a good thing for us Germans that Karl Beck was born.

Blasedow und seine Söhne. A comic novel by Karl Gutzkow. Vol. 1. This novel in 3 volumes is based on the idea of a modern Don Quixote — an idea which has already been frequently used but generally has been badly adapted, and by no means exhausted. The character of this modern Don Quixote (Blasedow, a country parson), as Gutzkow originally conceived him, was splendid, but something is clearly wanting in the execution. At any rate, this novel by the barely thirty-year-old Gutzkow (and which, moreover, is said to have been finished three years ago) is very inferior to Cervantes’ presentation which, of course, is the work of a mature man. On the other hand, the secondary characters — Tobianus seems to correspond to Sancho Panza — the situations and the language are excellent.

So much for my reviews. I shall continue when you have written. — Do you know when your letters arrived? On June 15! And the ones before came on April 15! That makes exactly two months! Is that right? I herewith decree that, on pain of not being sent any more poems, Wurm’s influence on the dispatch of letters be totally withdrawn. And if Wurm does not get his letter finished by the proper time, then send yours off without his. Isn’t 14 days long enough to write me two quarto-size pages? It is scandalous. You put no date on your letter again, I don’t think that’s right, either. — The article in the Telegraph is my own indisputable property, and pleased W. Blank enormously. It was also applauded very much in Barmen and, in addition, was quoted with praise in the Nuremberg Athenäum . [206] There may be individual exaggerations in it, but on the whole it gives a correct picture if seen from a reasonable standpoint. However, if read with the preconceived opinion that it is a jumbled botch, it must appear to be precisely that. — What you say about the comedy is justum. [correct]

Justus judex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis.
[Upright judge who punishes,
grant me indulgence]

You have not made the slightest mention of the canzone. This to be rectified.

candidates of Musenalmanach

With regard to Leo and Michelet, I only know about the matter from Leo’s Hegelingen [207] and a number of works written against it, and from these I have learned: 1) that, according to his own statements, Leo has abandoned all philosophy for the past 11 years and therefore cannot pass any judgment; 2) that only his extravagant and boastful brain made him believe he had a vocation for it; 3) that he attacked conclusions which, by the specific character of the Hegelian dialectic, necessarily follow from generally accepted premises instead of attacking the dialectic itself, and failing which he should have let these conclusions stand; 4) that he resorted only to coarse exclamations and indeed abuse to refute what was written against him; 5) that he regards himself as being far superior to his opponents, puffs himself up, and then on the very next page smirks with an infinite humility; 6) that he only attacks four persons, though by so doing he attacked the whole school, which cannot be separated from them, for although Gans, etc., may indeed have dissociated themselves from them on particular points, they belonged so closely together that Leo was least of all capable of showing the points of difference between them to be important; 7) it is the spirit of the Evangelische Kirchen-Zeitung, which anticipated Leo, that is dominant in his whole libellous attack; conclusion: Leo would have done better to keep his mouth shut. What were those “most bitter experiences” which forced Leo to break away? Had he not attacked them already in his pamphlet about Görres and even more violently than in his Hegelingen? Anyone with the requisite knowledge (has Leo got it?) may participate in a scientific controversy, but whoever wishes to indulge in condemnation had better take care. And did Leo do that? Does he not, along with Michelet, also condemn Marheineke, whose every word, as though he were under police surveillance, the Evangelische Kirchen-Zeitung scrutinises to see if it is orthodox. If he had been consistent in his conclusions, Leo would have had to damn a number of people beyond counting, but for that he lacked the courage. Whoever wishes to attack the Hegelian school must himself be a Hegel and create a new philosophy in its place. And despite Leo, the school is spreading from day to day. As for the attack of the Hirschberg Schubarth on the political side of Hegelianism, doesn’t this come like the verger’s “Amen” to the popish Credo of the Lion of Halle, a lion which indeed does not disavow its cat-species? A propos, Leo is the only academic teacher in Germany who zealously defends the hereditary aristocracy. Leo also calls W. Menzel his friend!!!

Your true friend

Friedrich Engels, Young German

Weren’t you at Gans’ funeral? Why don’t you write anything about him?