Letters of Frederick Engels

To Friedrich Graeber

Source: MECW Volume 2, p. 525
Written: February 22 1841
First published: in Die neue Rundschau 10. Heft, Berlin, 1913

Reverend Sir in spe,

You have done me the favour, habuerunt gratiam of writing to me mihi scribendi sc. literas. Multum gaudeo, tibi adjuvasse ad gratificationem triginta thalerorum, speroque, te ista gratificatione usum esse ad bibendum in sanitatem meam. Caire, Fulax tou Jristianismou megas Straussomastis, astrou ths urqodoxias, pausis ths twn pietistwn luphs, basileus ths exhghsewz!;!;!; hebrew ...[Have done me the favour of writing to me a letter. I am very glad that I was able to help you get a gratuity of thirty talers and hope you have used the money to drink my health. Greetings, guardian of Christianity, great hunter of Straussians, star of orthodoxy, comforter of grieving pietists, King of Exegesis!;!;! In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth, and the spirit of God] hovered over F. Graeber, when he did the impossible and proved that twice two are five. O great hunter of Straussians, I beseech you in the name of all orthodoxy to destroy the whole infamous nest of Straussians and to pierce all the half-hatched Straussian eggs with your St. George’s lance. Sally forth into the desert of pantheism, brave dragon-slayer, engage Ruge rugiens [censuring] Leo, Ruge, who is wandering about looking for someone to devour, destroy the damned Straussian brood and plant the banner of the cross on the Sinai of speculative theology! Be moved by our entreaties, see, the faithful have now been waiting for five years for him who will crush the head of the Straussian snake. They have exhausted themselves, thrown stones and filth, yes, even dung at it, yet its poison-spurting head rises ever higher. Since you find it so easy to refute that all fine buildings collapse of their own accord, arise and refute Das Leben Jesu and the first volume of Dogmatik for the danger is becoming more and more imminent; Das Leben Jesu has already gone through more editions than all the works of Hengstenberg and Tholuck put together and it is becoming common practice to throw everyone who is not a Straussian out of literature. And the Hallische Jahrbücher is the most widely read journal in North Germany, so widely read that His Prussian Majesty [Frederick William IV] can no longer ban it, however much he would like to. The banning of the Hallische Jahrbücher, which heaps the grossest insults on him every day, would change a million Prussians who do not yet know what they should think about the King, into a million enemies overnight. And it is high time for you to act, otherwise you will be reduced to eternal silence by us despite the pious views of the King of Prussia. You should screw up a little more courage so that the battle can really begin. But you write in such a calm and detached fashion, as if the Orthodox-Christian shares stood at a premium of 100 per cent, as if the stream of philosophy flowed as calmly and peacefully between its ecclesiastical banks as it did in the time of the scholastics, as if the insolent earth had not thrust itself into a frightful eclipse between the moon of dogmatism and the sun of truth. Have you not noticed that the storm is raging through the forest and hurling down all the dead trees, that instead of the old ad acta devil, the critical-speculative devil has arisen and has an enormous following? We challenge you every day, insolently and derisively, to come out and fight; let it penetrate your thick skin for once — true it is 1800 years old and has become somewhat leathery — and mount your war-horse. But all your Neanders, Tholucks, Nitzsches, Bleeks, Erdmanns, and whatever they're called, are such weak, sensitive fellows on whom daggers would seem ludicrous; they are all so quiet and cautious, so fearful of scandal, that you can’t do anything with them. Hengstenberg and Leo do have some courage but Hengstenberg has been thrown from his saddle so often that he is quite crippled, and in the latest scuffle with the Hegelings, [239] Leo had his beard plucked out altogether so that he cannot really show himself decently in public. In any case, Strauss has not compromised himself in the slightest for if he still believed a couple of years ago that his Leben Jesu would not harm the church’s teachings, he could, of course, without abandoning any of his principles, have read a “System of Orthodox Theology” in the same way as many an Orthodox Christian reads a “System of Hegelian Philosophy”. But even if he really believed — as his Leben Jesu indicates — that dogmatism would not be harmed by his opinions, everyone knew in advance that he would soon abandon such ideas once he had begun to tackle dogmatism seriously. He says straight out in his Dogmatik what he thinks of the teaching of the church. However, it is a very good thing that he has moved to Berlin — this is where he ought to be and his spoken and written word can be more effective there than they would in Stuttgart.

The idea that I have gone to the dogs as a poet is being widely disputed and, in any case, Freiligrath refused to print my verses not because of the poetry but because of the views and lack of space. First of all, he is not such a liberal, and secondly, they arrived too late. Thirdly, there was so little space that many important poems intended for the last folios had to be left out. However, Das Rheinlied by N. Becker is really a very indifferent piece and has fallen into such bad odour that one can no longer praise it in any magazine. But the Rhein by R. E. Prutz [240] is quite a different kind of poem. And other poems by Becker are also much better. The speech he made at the torchlight procession was one of the most muddled things I have ever come across. The marks of honour bestowed by kings I decline with thanks. What’s all that about? A decoration, a golden snuff-box, a beaker from a king, these are a disgrace rather than an honour these days. We all decline such things with thanks and are pretty safe, thank goodness, for since my article about E. M. Arndt was printed in the Telegraph it would not occur even to the mad King of Bavaria [Ludwig I] to present me with such a fool’s cap and bells or to print the stamp of servility on my backside. The more scoundrelly, more cringing, more fawning a person is these days the more decorations he gets.

I am now fencing furiously and will soon hack you all to pieces. I have had two duels here in the last four weeks. The first fellow has retracted the insulting words of stupid boy which he said to me after I gave him a box on the ear, and the slap is still unexpiated. I fought with the second fellow yesterday and gave him a real beauty above the brow, running right down from the top, a really first-class prime.


F. Engels

Bremen, 22.2.41