Letters of Frederick Engels

To Marie Engels
In Ostende

Source: MECW Volume 2, p. 546
Written: 8 August 1842
First published: in Marx/Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 1, Bd. 2, 1930

Berlin, August 2, 1842

Dear Marie,

I was very pleased with your long letter but since there were so many pages, all written crisscross, I read your sermon of disapproval very quickly and do not really know what you are reproaching me about. I can quite understand that Fräulein Jung must have pulled a nasty face when she read the true name given by Hermann [Engels] to her beloved Institute – a convent – and that she called him a frivolous fellow. Fortunately, not everybody has such a bad opinion of frivolity as your erstwhile Head Sin Recorder. And this is a good thing. Otherwise what would become of us both, I ask you? I too have to suffer being growled and shouted at by my Captain [Von Wedell] and think to myself: who cares, and cock a snook at him. And when he makes things too hard for me, as he did last Wednesday when everyone was dismissed except me, simply because my orderly had not got me excused, and I had to go to the artillery range at 12 noon just to see some impossible piece of nonsense not carried out — in such cases I just report sick, this time with toothache, and so save myself a night march and a two-hour exercise. Unfortunately, I have to report back for duty again today. However, I go for a stroll if I feel like it. Berlin is a big place and only three officers in our company know me, so it is highly unlikely that they'll bump into me. The only thing that could happen is that they might send the company doctor to see me, but that would take time and the worst that could happen if he didn’t find me at home would be that I would get a good telling off. Who cares!

You seem to have an enormous talent for making acquaintances. The girl is in Bonn for four weeks and already knows the names of half the University and has found herself an interesting lame student whom she encounters six times a day. The interesting lame student with the spectacles and fair beard! He undoubtedly had his legs shot up in a duel. Only why does he still limp when walking? Does he limp in an interesting way or ordinarily, like other lame people? Which foot is lame — the right one or both? Does he wear a hat with a red cock’s feather? Could he not be the diable boiteux [Limping devil, an allusion to the title character of Le Sage’s novel]? I'd like to know a great deal more about this interesting, lame, bearded, bespectacled, sharp-eyed student.

Have you continued to make friends in Ostende? Isn’t there an interesting lame Fleming there who meets you on the beach six times a day? Look:

Happily the Convent leaving,
Free to move again am I.
I can laugh and I can chatter,
In the window I can lie!

With Duennas watching round me,
Oh, what agony of mind,
Sitting at the daily lessons,
Cribbed and cabined and confined!

Oft I heard those Heidelbergers
Singing outside merrily;
Could not even reach the window
All the gallant lads to see!

Now I'm free at last, and want to
Taste my new-found liberty.
There’s a new life waiting after
All that grey monotony!

I'll look out my newest clothes and
Dress as pretty as I please.
I'll be off to see the poshest
Of the posh Academies!

Poppelsdorf and Königswinter!
Rolandseck and Drachenfels!
Goggle at my so sparkling eyes
And my sparkling teeth as well!

And I'll bet that though our fellow
Students may be quite a host,
Getting our address will take them
Eight days at the very most.

Landlord Stamm be truly grateful
That your lodging-house we chose.
Tippling students throng your garden,
And the money really flows.

Best of all, when I'm out walking,
How I'm crowded round and courted!
See the poor Professors’ daughters
All alone and unescorted!

Bottle-heroes Count d'Alviella,
Von Szczepansky come and linger:
See me twist those gallant fellows
Round and round my little finger!

Herr von Diest, the truly love-lorn,
Runs my errands all the while.
Chapeau plays his fife for dancing,
Bunsen sings to make me smile.

But there’s something always haunts me
When I leave the busy throng,
And it is a handsome student
Limping painfully along.

While the others are so busy
Doing all that I want done,
How am I to meet that handsome
Lame and interesting one?


Now I've left my town of Bonn
For the North Sea’s level shore.
No more rousing student ditties,
Just the ocean’s mighty roar.

With the French and with the Belgians
I go strolling by the seas, just as in the Convent, I must
Speak French only, if you please.

Once again, crowds of admirers
Follow me along the strip,
Follow me into the briny
When I take my morning dip.

Otherwise, it’s just like Bonn,
And I have no cause to grumble.
Food and lodgings both are decent,
And the landlord’s tolerable.

Yet, for all those bathers, someone’s
Missing, when all’s said and done.
Woe is me! I just can’t find that
Lame and interesting one!

This describes you perfectly, don’t you think? I want to set it to music for you so you can sing it. But you'll only get the score when I answer your next letter, otherwise I would spoil you by sending such a magnificent gift. I have other things to do than to praise you in song — that can only be permitted as a reward for an especially long letter.

You must try to learn the Flemish or Netherlandic dialect while you are in Ostende. It is a very clumsy language, but it has its advantages and anyway it is very comical. If you know Low German, you'll probably be able to understand Flemish.

I now have a dog whom I got from August Bredt of Barmen when he left here. It’s a handsome young spaniel, much bigger than our dear Mira and quite crazy. He has a great talent for boozing and if I go to a restaurant in the evening, he always sits near me and has his share, or makes himself at home at everybody else’s table. He’s also remarkable for an invisible collar. He is an excellent swimmer but too crazy to learn any tricks. I have taught him one thing. When I say “Namenloser” (that’s his name)"there’s an aristocrat!” he goes wild with rage and growls hideously at the person I show him.

While everybody has been forecasting that the Rhine wine will be splendid this year, the Grüneberger has turned out to be disgracefully bad. Do you know Grüneberger? Grüneberger is a Lausitz vine which only grows in sand and never produces good grapes except in a very wet year. When the hardness of the grapes turns from stone to wood, i. e., when you can cut into them with a knife, then they are ripe. They are pressed by steam-engine and people reckon that it takes a twelve horse-power machine working for an hour to press a hundred grapes. The best year for Grüneberger was ‘40. It cannot be put into casks because it splits the wood. When it is good you should eat a dozen pins, then drink a glass of Grüneberger, and if the pins are not dissolved or destroyed in five minutes it means the wine is no good. It is a very long-lasting wine for if you take a swig, your throat is sore for four weeks. It has a very fine bouquet and only a connoisseur can tell the difference between it and vinegar. A mixture of nitric acid and wine-vinegar comes closest in taste to this noble wine. Well, you've had enough now, and I still have to write to Mother. Adieu.

Your brother    

Berlin, Aug. 8, 42