Letters of Frederick Engels 1839

To Friedrich Graeber
In Berlin

Written: July 30 1839
Source: MECW Volume 2, p. 464.
First published: in part in Die neue Rundschau, 10. Heft, Berlin, 1913, and in full in the book: F. Engels, Schriften der Frühzeit, Berlin, 1920

Bremen, July 30, 1839

My dear Guglielmo,

What foul ideas you have about me! There can be no question either of the buffoon or of the loyal Eckart (or Eckkardt, as you spell it), [210] but only of logic, reason, consistency, propositio major et minor, etc. Yes, you are right. We won’t get anywhere with gentleness here, these pigmies — servility, aristocratic rule, censorship, etc. — have to be driven away with the sword. Of course, I ought now to be really bullying and raging, but since it is you I am writing to, I'll go easy with you so that you will not have to “cross yourself” when the “wild gallop” of my unruly poetic prose overtakes you. First of all I protest against your insinuations that I have been giving the spirit of the times one kick after another in the hindquarters in order to speed its progress. My dear man, what a mug do you think I really am with my poor snub nose! No, I'm leaving it well and truly alone; on the contrary, when the spirit of the times comes along like a hurricane and pulls the train away on the railway line, then I jump quickly into a carriage and let myself be pulled along a little. Yes, a man like Karl Beck — the mad idea that he is finished as a poet originates most certainly from that depraved Wichelhaus, about whom Wurm has thoroughly informed me. The idea that a young man of twenty-two who has written such ravishing poetry should suddenly stop — no, really, I have never come across such nonsense before. Can you believe that Goethe stopped being a poet of genius after he had written Götz, or Schiller after he had written the Räuber? Apart from which, history is supposed to have avenged itself on Young Germany! God preserve me. Indeed, if world history has been entrusted by the dear Lord God to the Bundestag as its hereditary fief, then it has avenged itself on Gutzkow by putting him in jail for three months. [211] But if, as we no longer doubt, it lies with public opinion (i. e., here, literary opinion), then it has avenged itself on Young Germany to the extent that it has allowed itself to be won by Young Germany fighting with the pen, and now Young Germany is enthroned as queen of modern German literature. What was Börne’s fate? He died like a hero in February 1837, and in his last days he had the joy of seeing his successors — Gutzkow, Mundt, Wienbarg, Beurmann — rise so powerfully; to be sure, the black clouds of disaster still hung over their heads and a long, long chain was drawn around Germany which the Bundestag mended whenever it threatened to snap. But he is laughing even now at the princes, and perhaps he knows the hour when the stolen crowns will fall from their heads. I will not vouch to you for Heine’s happiness — anyhow the fellow has been wallowing in the mud for quite a while now. Nor for Beck’s for he is in love and fretting over our dear Germany. I am with him in regard to the latter, apart from which I still have a lot of fighting to do. But never mind, our good Lord God has given me an excellent sense of humour, which is a great comfort to me. Are you happy, manikin? — Keep your views about inspiration to yourself, otherwise you will never be a preacher in Wuppertal. If I had not been brought up in the most extreme orthodoxy and piety, if I had not had drummed into me in church, Sunday school and at home the most direct, unconditional belief in the Bible and in the agreement of the teaching of the Bible with that of the church, indeed, with the special teaching of every minister, perhaps, I would have remained stuck in some sort of liberal supranaturalism for a long time. There are plenty of contradictions in the teaching — as many as there are biblical authors, and the Wuppertal faith has accordingly absorbed a dozen different individualities. As for Joseph’s family tree, Neander, as you know, attributes the one in Matthew to the Greek translator of the Hebrew original. If I am not mistaken, Weisse in his Life of Jesus [Die evangelische Geschichte] came out against Luke in much the same way as you do. Fritz’s explanation finally depends on such unnatural possibilities that it can’t be called an explanation at all. I am certainly a promohos, [Champion] but of the liberal party, not the rationalists. The contradictions are taking shape, the views stand in sharp opposition. Four liberals (who are also rationalists), one aristocrat who came over to us but, fearing to offend against his family’s hereditary principles, immediately ran back again to the aristocracy, an aristocrat with good expectations, as we hope, and various blockheads, this is the circus within which the disputes rage. I do my championing as an expert on antiquity, the Middle Ages and modern life, as a boor, etc., but the championing is already no longer necessary; my young fellows are coming along quite well. Yesterday I explained to them the operation of historical necessity during the period 1789-1839 and, in addition, learned to my astonishment that I was supposed to be rather superior to all the local prima pupils in debating. I had beaten two of them in an argument some time before and they had then sworn to get me involved with the cleverest among them so that he could beat me; but unfortunately for them, he was tremendously enamoured of Horace at the time, so I beat him hollow. Then they became terribly afraid. This erstwhile Horaceomane is now on very good terms with me and told me all about it yesterday evening. You would be immediately convinced of the correctness of my book reviews if you read the books they deal with. K. Beck is an enormous talent, more than that, he is a genius. He produces images like

One hears the thunder’s voice proclaim aloud
What’s written by the lightning on the clouds
[From Gang um Leipzig, K. Beck, Nächte. Gepanzerte Lieder. Erstes Märchen. Dritte Nacht]

in enormous profusion. Listen to what he says about Börne, whom he adores. He is speaking to Schiller:

Your Posa was no airy fantasy;
For did not Börne perish for us all?
He scaled the summits of humanity;
A Tell, he sounded Freedom’s clarion call.
Up there, he calmly whet his arrow-head
Took aim and shot. And Freedom’s arrow sped
Into the apple, into the round Earth.
[From Schillers Haus in Gohlis, K. Beck, Nächte. Erstes Märchen. Fünfte Nacht]

And how he describes the misery of the Jews and student life! It is capital, and now the Fahrende Poet! Man, have some sense and read him. Look, if you refute Börne’s essay on Schiller’s Tell then you can have all the royalties I am hoping to get for my translation of Shelley. [212] I'll forgive you for pulling my Wuppertal article [Letters from Wuppertal] to pieces so thoroughly, for I read it again recently and was astonished at the style. I haven’t written nearly so well since. Don’t forget Leo and Michelet next time. As I have said before, you are very much mistaken in thinking that we Young Germans want to support the spirit of the age. But just think for a moment — when this pneuma [wind] blows and blows right for us, would we not be fools if we did not set our sails? It will not be forgotten that you were at Gans’ funeral. [213] I'll get it mentioned in the Elegante Zeitunge [Zeitung für die elegante Welt] soon. The way you all afterwards beg so nicely for forgiveness for the little bit of rumpus you kicked up strikes me as very funny. You still can’t curse and swear, but here they all come: Fritz sends me to hell, accompanies me to the gate and pushes me in with a low bow so that he himself can then fly back to Heaven. You see everything double through your spar spectacles and take my three friends for spirits from the Venusberg. — Manikin, why are you calling for the loyal Eckart? Look, there he is, a little chap with a sharp, Jewish profile. His name is Börne and only give him a free hand and he will clear out all the Venus Servilia crowd. Then you also will make your most humble farewells-look, Mr. Peter [Jonghaus] is coming too, smiling with one side of his face and snarling with the other, turning towards me first the snarl and then the smile.

In our dear Barmen literary feeling is beginning to stir now. Freiligrath started a play-reading society in which, since his departure, Strücker and Neuburg (a clerk at Langewiesche’s) are the promahoi [champions] of liberal ideas. Now Herr Ewich has made the following sharp-witted discoveries: (1) that the spirit of Young Germany haunts this society, (2) that the society in pleno composed the “Letters from Wuppertal” in the Telegraph. He has also suddenly discovered that Freiligrath’s poems are the dullest stuff in the world and that Freiligrath stands far below de la Motte Fouqué and will be forgotten within three years. Precisely what was once asserted by Beck.

Schiller, Schiller, ever-vibrant spirit,
O greatest heart that beat in warmest breast,
Forever young, to us you were the Prophet
Who carried Freedom’s flag before the rest.
When all the world had stolen from the fray,
And the faint-hearted could do nought but pray,
Oh, you were truly prodigal of your blood;
Your warmest life, your deepest life you threw
Before the world in sacrifice from you.
Contented, cold, the world misunderstood,
All heedless of your heart’s deep misery,
And only heard the music of the spheres,
When to its ears came waves of poetry
That you had swelled with your own blood-red tears.

Who wrote that? — It is from Karl Beck’s Der Fahrende Poet with all his powerful verse and magnificent imagery, but also with his obscurity, his extravagant hyperboles and metaphors. For it is now settled that Schiller is our greatest liberal poet. He sensed the new era which would dawn after the French Revolution, which Goethe did not, even after the July revolution, and when it came too near to him so that he almost had to believe that something new was coming, he retired into his room and shut the door so as to remain comfortable. That detracts from Goethe a great deal; but he was forty years old when the revolution broke out, and a made man, so one cannot reproach him with it. To finish I'll draw you something.

Cartoons (left to right): Gemeinheit (Common trash); Eine Karrikatur von Goethe (A caricature of Goethe); L'homme (Man); K. Gutzkow; Köln. Preuss. Soldat (Soldier of the King of Prussia); Nichts (Nothing)

I enclose masses of poems. Share them between you.

Friedrich Engels