Letters of Frederick Engels

To Marie Engels
In Mannheim

Berlin, January 5, 1842

Source: MECW Volume 2, p. 536
Written: 5 January 1842
First published: in the Deutsche Revue, Stuttgart and Leipzig, Bd. 4, 1920

My dear Marie,

Your letter reminded me, to my enormous shame, how much I have neglected my duty to write to you. It was really disgraceful of me and there is no excuse whatever for this crime. So I'm setting to work immediately and replying to your nice letter which I received the day before yesterday. I had a dose of cannon fever yesterday. What happened was this: I was very unwell and felt really weak the whole morning and was then ordered to artillery practice and was nearly laid out at the gun, so I left and had a shocking fever all the afternoon. I felt a bit better this morning but still was not quite up to the mark at the gun-fire practice, although I have now almost recovered and have got myself two days sick-leave on account of catarrhal cannon fever, after which I hope I shall be able to handle the sponge properly again. Incidentally, don’t write home about this, it won’t be of any use. Do you know what the doctor prescribed for my cannon fever? A glass of punch before going to bed, isn’t that splendid medicine? You can see from this that an army surgeon is worth much more than, say, a Dr. Reinhold, with all his plasters, Spanish flies, leeches, etc., although he doesn’t need to know nearly as much. But we only apply powerful remedies here, genuine medical heavy artillery, bombs and shells and 24-pounders. Our prescriptions are very simple and I always cured myself that way in Bremen. First of all, beer; if that doesn’t help, then punch; if that doesn’t help either, then a swig of rum — that’s bound to help. That’s artillery medical treatment for you. But I'm sure you would laugh yourself sick if you saw me in my jerkin, standing beside the six-pounder, a long, thick sponge in my hand, and jumping around the guncarriage. My uniform, incidentally, is very fine, blue with a black collar adorned with two broad yellow stripes, and black, yellow-striped facings together with red piping round the coat tails. Furthermore, the red shoulder-straps are edged with white. I assure you the effect is most impressive and I'm worthy to be put on show. Because of this the other day I shamefully embarrassed Rückert, the poet, who is here at present. I sat down right in front of him as he was giving a poetry reading and the poor fellow was so dazzled by my shining buttons that he quite lost the thread of what he was saying. Apart from all this, as a soldier I enjoy the privilege of not having to knock at anyone’s door when I go to see them, nor having to say good day or pay them any other compliments. Someone once came to our Captain’s quarters and accidentally banged against the door with his scabbard. He got a week’s arrest, because the Captain insisted that he had knocked on the door. You see what kind of cutthroat I am. On top of it I shall soon be promoted to bombardier, which is a sort of non-commissioned officer, and I shall get gold braid to wear on my facings. So you must treat me with proper respect. Because once I'm a bombardier, I shall have all the privates in the whole Prussian army under my command and they will all have to salute me.

Why do you talk so much nonsense in your letter about old Fritz Wilm [Frederick William III] and about young Fritzchen Wilmchen [Frederick William IV]? You women should not interfere in politics, you don’t understand anything about it. But since you so much want to hear something about your beloved Majesty, I can tell you that His Supreme Royal Highness will leave for London on the 16th of this month in order to act as godfather to His Royal Highness, the little English prince [Edward], and will perhaps visit Paris on the return journey but most certainly Cologne, and in the spring he is going to Petersburg to celebrate the silver wedding of his noble brother-in-law, the All Highest Tsar of Russia, [Nicholas I] then return to amuse himself in Potsdam in the summer, to spend the autumn on the Rhine and then to amuse himself in Charlottenburg during the winter. Now I must go to a lecture.

Jan. 6, 1842

This morning I moved out of the front room into the back room, because the front one has been let to a man from my part of the country, a jurist from the Cologne area; in any case, it is badly heated. This is curious, for the back room is larger than the front one but it is always warm from a little heating while the front one is as cold as ice. Whatever I did, I could never get the ice-ferns on the windows in the front room to melt, but here at the back, it is a pleasure to watch the ice, which has frozen finger-thick during the last week, melting away as in spring, and the bright blue sky, which I was unable to see from my former room for so long, is gaily looking in. And I can once again see the barracks of the 2nd Guards Regiment of Mudlarks (as we call the Infantry) and the Veterinary School and everything attached to it.

We've got a Rhinelandish restaurant here where all our favourite home dishes — which are otherwise quite unknown here-are served. Every Saturday night we have fried potato cake along with a jug of coffee. Yesterday I had apple and potato. Our good old duck soup, which you know well, has a distinguished place there. And lots of other things which do not come to my mind. There is pork and sauerkraut for lunch today, which I'm looking forward to. The other day he was going to treat us to pannhas [Rhenish meat dish] but it didn’t come off because there is no buckwheat flour to be had, so we can’t have yeast pancakes either, which we have long been languishing for.

Splendid! The sun is beginning to shine well and truly, which I find most delightful, and so I shall go for a walk after dinner, and since Schelling is not lecturing tonight, I shall have the whole evening to myself and be able to work seriously and without interruption.

sketch of man in uniform

The local theatre is very fine — magnificent sets, splendid actors, but mostly bad singers. So I don’t very often go to the opera. Tomorrow there will be a new play, Columbus by Werder [244]. This is about Columbus who discovered America and Werder is a professor at the University here, the man who discovered the profundity of negation. Verily, verily I say unto you the theatre will be really full tomorrow night and I will be there contributing to its fullness. Two of the acts take place on a ship at sea, which should be interesting to watch.

Here you see me in uniform with my greatcoat draped round my shoulder in a most romantic and picturesque fashion — but strictly against regulations. If I were to go out like this into the street, I should risk being arrested at any moment-which isn’t very pleasant. For if I'm seen in the street with even one button on my uniform or one hook on my collar unfastened, any officer or N.C.O. can put me under arrest. So you see, it is quite dangerous to be a soldier, even in peacetime. One of the most delightful things is that we have to go to church every four weeks but I have always managed to dodge it, except once. You have to stand in the yard for an hour beforehand wearing your heavy decorated shako with its plumes and then when you are frozen right through, you go into the ice-cold church where you cannot even hear anything of the sermon, for the acoustics are so bad. Isn’t that delightful? Write again soon.

Your brother    

The sealing-wafer isn’t one of the best.