Letters of Frederick Engels

To Marie Engels
In Mannheim

Source: MECW Volume 2, p. 523
Written: February 18 1841
First published: in the Deutsche Revue, Stuttgart and Leipzig, Bd. 4, 1920

Dear Marie,

This time you shall get a really heavy letter. At first I even wanted to write to you on cardboard so that you would have to fork out quite a sum for postal charges, but unfortunately I could not get a piece with a smooth surface and so I must write on the heaviest paper to be found in our paper store. If you don’t know what a Paukstunde is that proves that in culture you have remained shamefully backward, but that you did not see it from the enclosed drawing proves also natural dullness, and one sees that not only the hops of education but even the malt of mother wit are lost on you. In your bad German a Paukstunde is the same as a fencing lesson. I have now also acquired a couple of rapiers and gloves, the only gloves I have, for I don’t care for kid-gloves, etc.

Concerning the Stabat meter dolorosa et cetera, it occurs to me, please look up whether this thing was composed by Pergolese. If so, please get me if possible a copy of the score; if instruments are included, I don’t need them, only the voices. But if it is by Palestrina or somebody else I don’t need it. [238] The day after tomorrow we are going to perform Paulus by Mendelssohn, the best oratorio written since Handel’s death. You will know it. I go to the theatre only rarely since the local one is terribly bad; I go occasionally, only when a new play is being shown, or a good opera I don’t know yet.

Since my last letter we have had a fine flood here. At Treviranus’ the water stood 12 to 14 inches deep in my room, and I had to flee to the Old Man [Heinrich Leupold] who with his usual kindness accommodated me for nearly a fortnight. But then the fun really started properly. There was a foot and a half of water at the front door, and to prevent it getting into the cellar, which has a hatch, we walled this up with cow-dung. But the malicious water then flowed from the neighbour’s cellar into ours through the wall, and so that it should not drown our fine barrels of rum and our potatoes, and above all the Old Man’s well-stocked wine cellar, we had to pump day and night for four nights running, and I pumped through all four of them. Wilhelm Leupold and I usually stayed up together, sat on the settee behind the table, with a few bottles of wine, sausage and a big piece of the finest Hamburg smoked meat on the table. We smoked, talked and pumped every half hour. It was most entertaining. At five o'clock the Old Man would come and relieve one of us. There were some touching incidents during the flood. In a house outside the town which was full of water up to the ground floor windows, people suddenly saw an enormous host of rats swimming along, which went in through the windows and occupied the whole house. Besides, there was no man in the house, only a lot of females terrified of rats, so that in spite of their fear, the delicate ladies had to resolve to attack the wild horde with sabres and sticks, etc. In a house lying quite close to the Weser the office clerks were just sitting at breakfast when a large block of ice came drifting along, charged through the wall and poked its immodest head into the room, followed by a good portion of water. Now I shall tell you a piece of news. You remember that I wrote you once very mysteriously about a big dinner given in the Royal Saxon Consulate at which great secrets were broached. Now I can tell you that the person who was the guest of honour at that dinner was the dame souveraine des pensées, the donna amada mas que la vida [Supreme lady of thoughts, lady loved more than life] of my second principal, the above-mentioned Wilhelm Leupold. During the flood he told me officially that his engagement would be announced at Easter, and I tell you this relying on your discretion; but you must not breathe a word about it, as it will only be made public at Easter. You see how I trust you, for if you talked about it, it could spread here to Bremen in three days, since there are gossiping females everywhere. And then I would be in a fine fix. — The name of W. Leupold’s fiancée is Therese Meyer, daughter of the Stick-Meyer in Hamburg; he is called Stick-Meyer because he has a walking-stick factory by which he has made a pile of money. She wears a blue spencer and a light-coloured dress, is 17 years old and as slim as you, if you have not put on weight in Mannheim. She is not even confirmed yet, isn’t that terrible?

Today I have shaved my moustache off again and buried the youthful corpse with much wailing. I look like a woman; it is shameful; and if I had known that without a moustache I should look such a sight I would not have hacked it off. As I stood before the mirror, scissors in hand, and had shorn off the right side, the Old Man came into the office and had to laugh out loud, when he saw me with half a moustache. But now I shall let it grow again, for I cannot show myself anywhere. In the Academy of Singing I was the only one with a moustache and always used to laugh at the philistines who could not marvel enough that I had the audacity to go so unshaven into decent society. The ladies, incidentally, liked it very much, and so did the Old Man. Only last night at the concert six young dandies stood around me, all in tail-coats and kid-gloves, and I stood among them in an ordinary coat and without gloves. The fellows made remarks all evening about me and my bristling upper lip. The best of it is that three months ago nobody knew me here and now all the world does, just because of the moustache! Oh, the philistines!


Bremen, Feb. 18, 41