Frederick Engels in The Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung
Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 235;
Written: 1846 and early 1847;
First published: in the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung September 12 and 16, November 21, 25 and 28, December 2, 5 and 9, 1847
Songs about the Poor Man begins with a song to a wealthy house.
To prevent misunderstandings, the poet addresses God as “LORD” and the house of Rothschild as Lord.
Right at the beginning he records his petty-bourgeois illusion that the “rule of gold” obeys Rothschild’s “whims”; an illusion which gives rise to a whole series of fancies about the power of the house of Rothschild.
It is not the destruction of Rothschild’s real power, of the social conditions on which it is based, which the poet threatens; he merely desires it to be humanely applied. He laments that bankers are not socialist philanthropists, not enthusiasts for an ideal, not benefactors of mankind, but just — bankers. Beck sings of the cowardly petty-bourgeois wretchedness, of the “poor man”, the pauvre honteux with his poor, pious and contradictory wishes of the “little man” in all his manifestations, and not of the proud, threatening, and revolutionary proletarian. The threats and reproaches which Beck showers on the house of Rothschild, sound, for all his good intentions, even more farcical to the reader than a Capuchin’s sermon. They are founded on the most infantile illusion about the power of the Rothschilds, on total ignorance of the connection between this power and existing conditions, and on a complete misapprehension about the means which the Rothschilds had to use to acquire power and to retain power. Pusillanimity and lack of understanding, womanish sentimentality and the wretched, prosaically sober attitudes of the petty bourgeoisie, these are the muses of this lyre, and in vain they do violence to themselves in an attempt to appear terrible. They only appear ridiculous. Their forced bass is constantly breaking into a comic falsetto, their dramatic rendering of the titanic struggle of an Enceladus only succeeds in producing the farcical, disjointed jerks of a puppet.
The rule of gold obeys your whims
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Oh, would your works could be as splendid
And your heart as great as is your power! (p. 4).
It is a pity that Rothschild has the power and our poet the heart. “Were but the two of them one, it had been too much for the earth.” (Herr Ludwig of Bavaria.) [Free rendering of two lines from Ludwig I of Bavaria’s, “Florenz"].
The first figure with whom Rothschild is confronted is of course the minstrel himself, to be precise, the German minstrel who dwells in “lofty, heavenly garrets”.
Singing of justice, light and freedom,
The one true GOD in trinity,
The lute of the bards is with melody inspired:
Now men with listening ears will follow
The spirits (p. 5).
This “GOD”, borrowed from the Leipziger Allgemeine Zeitung’s motto,  precisely because of his existence as a trinity, has no effect on the Jew Rothschild but produces quite magical effects on German youth.
Restored to health, youth speaks a warning
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And the fertile seed of inspiration
Sprouts up in myriad splendid names (p.[p. 5-]6).
Rothschild’s verdict on the German poets is different:
The song the spirits had us sing,
You call it hunger for fame and food [p. 6].
Although youth is speaking a warning and its myriad splendid names are sprouting up, their splendour consisting in the very fact that they never get further than mere inspiration, although “the bugles bravely sound for battle” and “the heart beats so loud at night”,
The foolish heart, it feels the stress
Of a celestial impregnation (p. 7).
That foolish heart, that Virgin Mary! — although
Youth like a sombre Saul (by Karl Beck published
by Engelmann, Leipzig, 1840),
At odds with GOD and with itself [p. 8.],
for all that and all that, Rothschild maintains the armed peace which, as Beck believes, depends on him alone.
The newspaper report that the Holy See has sent Rothschild the Order of the Redeemer provides our poet with the chance to demonstrate that Rothschild is no redeemer; similarly it could just as well have been the occasion for the equally interesting proof that Christ, Redeemer though he was, was nevertheless not a knight of the Order of the Redeemer.
You, a redeemer? (p. 11).
And he then proves to him that unlike Christ he never wrestled in bitter night, he never sacrificed proud earthly power
For a merciful gladdening mission
To you entrusted by the great SPIRIT (p. 11).
It must be said of the great SPIRIT that it does not exhibit much spiritual sagacity in its choice of missionaries and has approached the wrong man for acts of mercy. The only great thing about it is its block capitals.
Rothschild’s paucity of talent as a redeemer is amply demonstrated to him by means of three examples: how he reacted towards the July Revolution, the Poles and the Jews.
Up rose the dauntless scion of the Franks (p. 12),
in a word, the July Revolution broke out.
Were you prepared’ Did your gold resound
Happy as the twittering of larks in welcome
To the springtime stirring in the world?
Which made young again those yearning hopes
Sleeping deeply buried in our breasts,
And brought them back into the living world? (p. 12).
The springtime that was stirring was the springtime of the bourgeoisie, to whom gold, Rothschild’s gold as much as any other, does indeed resound happy as the twittering of larks. To he sure, the hopes which at the time of the Restoration were sleeping deeply buried not only in the breast but also in the Carbonari Ventes were at that time made young again and brought back into the living world, and Beck’s poor man was left to pick up the crumbs. But as soon as Rothschild had convinced himself that the new government had firm foundations, he was happy enough to set his larks twittering — at the usual interest rates, of course.
Just how completely Beck is entangled in petty-bourgeois illusions is shown by the saintly status Laffitte is accorded in comparison with Rothschild:
Close-nestling beside your much-coveted halls
Is a burgher’s dwelling of holy repute (p. 13),
in other words, Laffitte’s dwelling. The inspired petty bourgeois is proud of the bourgeois character of his house compared with the much-coveted halls of the Hotel Rothschild. His ideal, the Laffitte of his imagination, must naturally also live in true bourgeois simplicity; the Hotel Laffitte shrinks into a German burgher’s dwelling. Laffitte himself is depicted as a virtuous householder, a man pure in heart, he is compared with Mucius Scaevola and is said to have sacrificed his fortune in order to put mankind and the century (is Beck perhaps thinking of the Paris Siècle?) back on their feet again. He is called a youthful dreamer and finally a beggar. His funeral is touchingly described:
Accompanying the funeral cortège
Marched with muffled tread the Marseillaise (p. 14).
Alongside the Marseillaise went the carriages of the royal family, and right behind them M. Sauzet, M. Duchâtel and all the ventrus and loups-cerviers [pot-bellies and profiteers] of the Chamber of Deputies.
How the Marseillaise really must have muffled her tread, though, when Laffitte led his compère, [The French word has a double meaning: firstly, kinsman; secondly, accomplice] the Duke of Or1éans, in triumph to the Hôtel de Ville after the July revolution and made the striking statement that from now on the bankers would rule?
In the case of the Poles, criticism goes no further than that Rothschild did not show enough charity to the emigrés. The attack on Rothschild is here reduced to the level of a small-town anecdote and quite loses the appearance of an attack on the power of money in general which is represented by Rothschild. We all know how the bourgeoisie has welcomed the Poles with open arms and even with enthusiasm wherever it is in power.
An example of this compunction: enter a Pole, begging and praying. Rothschild gives him a silver coin, the Pole
Trembling with joy accepts the silver coin
And speaks his blessing on you and your line [p. 16],
a predicament from which the Polish Committee in Paris has so far on the whole saved the Poles. The whole episode with the Pole only serves to permit our poet to strike an attitude:
But I hurl back that beggar’s happiness
Contemptuously into your money-bag,
Avenging thus mankind offended! (p. 16),
such a bull’s-eye at the money-bag requiring much practice and skill in throwing. Finally Beck insures himself against proceedings for assault and battery by acting not in his own name but in that of mankind.
As early as p. 9 Rothschild is taken to task for accepting a patent of citizenship from Austria’s fat imperial city,
Where your much-harassed fellow-Jews
Pay for their daylight and their air.
Beck really believes that with this Viennese patent of citizenship Rothschild has obtained the blessings of freedom.
Now, on p. 19, he is asked:
Have you set your own people free
That ever hopes and meekly suffers?
Rothschild ought then to have become the redeemer of the Jews. And how ought Rothschild to have set about this? The Jews had chosen him as king because his gold weighed the heaviest. He should have taught them how to despise gold, “how to suffer deprivation for the world’s sake” (p. 21).
He ought to have wiped their memories clean of selfishness, cunning and the practice of usury, in short, he ought to have appeared in sackcloth and ashes as a preacher of morality and atonement. Our poet’s daring demand is the equivalent of requiring Louis-Philippe to teach the bourgeoisie of the July revolution to abolish property. If either were so insane, they would lose their power forthwith, but the Jews would not wipe their memories clean of haggling, nor the bourgeoisie theirs of property.
On p. 24 Rothschild is criticised for bleeding the bourgeoisie white, as though it were not desirable that the bourgeoisie should be bled white.
On p. 25 he is said to have led the princes astray. Ought they not to be led astray?
We have already evidence enough of the fabulous power Beck attributes to Rothschild. But he goes on in a crescendo. Having indulged on p. 26 in fantasies as to all the things he (Beck) would do if he were propriétaire of the sun, that is, not even the hundredth part of what the sun is doing without him — it suddenly occurs to him that Rothschild is not the only sinner, but that other wealthy men exist besides him. However:
You occupied in eloquence the teacher’s chair,
Attentively the rich sat as your pupils;
Your task: to lead them out into the world,
Your role: to he their conscience.
They have gone wild — and you looked on,
They are corrupted — and yours is the blame (p. 27).
So Lord Rothschild could have prevented the development of trade and industry, competition, the concentration of property, the national debt and agiotage, in short, the whole development of modern bourgeois society, if only he had had somewhat more conscience. It really requires toute la désolante naïveté de la poésie allemande [all the utterly depressing naivety of German poetry] for one to dare to publish such nursery tales. Rothschild is turned into a regular Aladdin.
Still not satisfied, Beck confers on Rothschild
The dizzy grandeur of the mission
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The whole world’s sufferings to assuage [p. 28],
a mission which all the capitalists in the whole world are not remotely capable of fulfilling. Does our poet not realise then that the more sublime and awe-inspiring he attempts to appear, the more ridiculous he becomes? that all his criticisms of Rothschild are transmuted into the most slavish flattery? that he is extolling Rothschild’s power as the most cunning panegyrist could not have extolled it? Rothschild must congratulate himself when he sees what a monstrous form his puny personality assumes as reflected in the mind of a German poet.
After our poet has so far versified the romantic and ignorant fantasies of a German petty bourgeois concerning what is within the power of a big capitalist if only he were a man of good will, after he has puffed up the fantasy of this power as far as it will go in the puffed-up dizzy grandeur of his mission, he gives vent to the moral indignation of a petty bourgeois at the discrepancy between ideal and reality, in an emotional paroxysm which would give rise to fits of laughter even in a Pennsylvanian Quaker:
Alas, alack, when in long night (December 21)
I pondered with a fevered brow
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Then did my locks rear up on end,
Methought I was at GOD’s own heartstrings tugging,
A bellman at the fire-bell (p. 28),
which must surely have been the last nail in the old man’s coffin. He thinks the “spirits of history” have thus entrusted him with ideas, which he is not permitted either to whisper or proclaim aloud. In fact he comes to the desperate decision to dance the cancan in his grave:
But when in mouldering shroud I lie,
My corse shall shake with joyful tremors,
When down to me (the corse) the tiding comes
That victims on the altars smoke (p. 29).
I begin to find young Karl disturbing. [quoted ironically from Schiller’s tragedy Don Carlos]
Thus ends the song about the House of Rothschild. There now follows, as is customary with modern lyric poets, a rhymed reflection on this canto and the role the poet has played in it.
I know your mighty arm
Can chastise me till the blood does flow (p. 30),
in other words, he can give him fifty of the best. The Austrian never forgets the birch. In the face of this danger, a feeling of exaltation gives him strength:
At GOD’s command and without fear
I sang full freely what I knew [p. 30].
The German poet always sings to command. Of course, the master is responsible and not the servant, and so Rothschild has to face up to GOD and not to Beck, his servant. It is indeed the general practice of modern lyric poets:
1. To boast of the danger they think they are exposing themselves to in their harmless songs;
2. to take a thrashing and then commend themselves to God.
The song “To the House of Rothschild” closes with a few stirring sentiments about the aforementioned song, which is here slanderously described in the following terms:
Free it is and proud, it may command you,
Tell you the things by which in faith it swears (p. 32),
that is, by its own excellence, as instanced in this conclusion. We fear that Rothschild may take Beck to court, not on account of the song, but on account of this piece of perjury.
The rich are called upon to give support to those in need,
Until your industry for wife and child
Security ensured [p. 35].
And all this is to happen
That you may keep your virtue
As a burgher and a man [p. 35],
summa summarum, a good philistine. [In German: Bürger — burgher, mann — man, Bürgersmann — philistine] Beck is thereby reduced to his ideal.
The poet takes as his theme two souls most pleasing to God and describes in an exceptionally dull fashion how they only come to share a chaste marriage-bed only after many years of cheese-paring and moral living.
To kiss? Shame would o'ercome them! To daily? O so discreetly!
Flowers there were indeed — the flowers on the frosted pane;
A dance on crutches, O God!, a poor butterfly in winter,
Half in the bloom of childhood, half in withered age [p. 50].
Instead of concluding with this, the one good verse in the whole poem, he then sets them crowing and quivering, and all for joy over their few chattels, that “at their own hearth their own settles stand”, a cliché uttered not ironically but with heartfelt tears of pathos. Nor will he have done at that:
God alone is their Lord, who bids the stars shine in the darkness
And observes with a kindly eye the slave who breaks his chains [p. 50].
And with this any point in the ending is happily blunted. Beck’s indecision and lack of self-confidence constantly reveal themselves in the fact that he spins out every poem for as long as he can, and can never complete it until some piece of sentimentality has betrayed his petty-bourgeois outlook. The Kleistian hexameters appear to be deliberately chosen so as to subject the reader to the same boredom as the two lovers bring upon themselves by their craven morality during their long period of trial.
There are some naive, appealing bits in the description of the Jewish second-hand dealer, e.g.:
The week flies by, five days only
The week allows you for your work.
Bestir yourself, don’t pause for breath,
Earn, earn your daily bread.
Saturdays the Father does forbid you,
Sundays are forbidden by the Son [p. 55].
But later Beck succumbs completely to that kind of blathering about the Jews which is typical of the liberal Young Germans.  The poetry dries. up so entirely that one might think one was listening to a scrofulous speech in the scrofulous Saxon Assembly of Estates: You cannot become a craftsman, nor an “alderman of the mercers’ guild”, nor tiller of the soil, nor professor, but a career in medicine is open to you. This finds poetical expression as follows:
A working trade they would deny you,
Deny you too a field to till.
You may not from the teacher’s chair
Offer discourse to the young;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
You may heal the country’s sick [p. 57].
Could one not in the same way versify the Collected Statutes of Prussia and set Herr Ludwig of Bavaria’s verse to music?
Having declaimed to his son:
You must labour and be grasping,
Always covetous of property and gold [p. 57],
the Jew consoles him with:
Your honesty endures for ever [pp. 57-58].
This Lorelei is none other than Gold.
Then did turpitude flood in
Upon all purity of spirit,
Drowning all things sound [p. 64].
This Deluge of the spirit and drowning of all things sound is a most depressing mixture of the banal and the bombastic. There follow petty tirades against the evil and immorality of money.
Its (love’s) quest is money and precious stones
And never hearts nor parity of souls,
No simple hut for dwelling [p. 67].
If money had done no more than discredit this German quest for hearts and parity of souls and Schiller’s meanest hut with its space for a happy loving pair, [allusion to Schiller’s poem “Der jangling am Bache"] its revolutionary effects would deserve recognition.
In this poem our socialist poet once more shows how through being trapped in the German petty-bourgeois misery, he is constantly obliged to spoil what little effect he achieves.
A regiment marches off with its band playing. The people call upon the soldiers to make common cause with them. The reader is glad that the poet is at last summoning up courage. But oh dear! We finally discover that the occasion is merely the Emperor’s name-day and the people’s words are only the improvised and unspoken reverie of a youth watching the parade. Probably a gymnasium boy:
Thus dreams a youth with burning heart [p. 76].
Whilst in the hands of Heine the same material, with the same point, would contain the most bitter satire on the German people, in Beck’s case all that emerges is a satire on the poet himself, who identifies himself with the powerlessly rapturous youth. In Heine’s case, the raptures of the bourgeoisie are deliberately high-pitched, so that they may equally deliberately then be brought down to earth with a bump; in Beck’s case it is the poet himself who is associated with these fantasies and who naturally also suffers the consequences when he comes crashing down to earth. In the case of the one the bourgeoisie feels indignation at the poet’s impertinence, in the case of the other reassurance at the attitudes of mind they have in common. The Prague uprising in any case presented him with an opportunity to work up material of a quite different character from this farce.
I broke a bough from off a tree,
The keeper made complaint,
The master bound me to a post
And dealt me this grave injury [p. 86].
The only thing missing here is the complaint delivered in similarly versified form.
Here the poet tries his hand at narrative and fails in a really pathetic fashion. This complete inability to tell a story and create a situation, which is evident throughout the book, is characteristic of the poetry of true socialism. True socialism, in its vagueness, provides no opportunity to relate the individual facts of the narrative to general conditions and thus bring out what is striking or significant about them. That is why the true socialists shy away from history in their prose as well. Where they cannot avoid it, they content themselves either with philosophical constructions or with producing an arid and boring catalogue of isolated instances of misfortune and social cases. Furthermore, they all lack the necessary talent for narrative, both in prose and poetry, and this is connected with the vagueness of their whole outlook.
Tune: Morgenrot, Morgenrot!
You that came in our distress,
You that came at heaven’s bidding
Into the world, that men might eat —
Farewell, for now you are dead! [p. 105].
In the second verse he calls the potato
... that little relic
Left to us from Eden,
and describes potato-blight:
Among angels the plague rampages.
In the third verse Beck advises the poor to put mourning on:
you, the poor!
Go and put mourning on.
You now have need of nought,
Alas. all you own is gone,
Weep, who still have tears to shed!
Dead in the sand
Lies your God, O melancholy land.
Yet let these words speak comfort to you:
Never did redeemer perish
Who did not later rise again! [p. 106].
Weep, who still have tears to shed, with the poet! Were he not as bereft of energy as his poor man is of wholesome potatoes, he would have rejoiced at the substance acquired last autumn by that bourgeois god, the potato, one of the pivots of the existing bourgeois society. The landowners and burghers of Germany would have done themselves no harm by having this poem sung in the churches.
For this effort Beck deserves a garland of potato-blossom.
We shall not look more closely at this poem since it drags on interminably, extending over full ninety pages with unspeakable boredom. The old maid, who in civilised countries is mostly only a nominal occurrence, is in Germany admittedly a significant “social case”.
The most common kind of socialist self-complacent reflection is to say that all would be well if only it were not for the poor on the other side. This argument may be developed with any conceivable subject-matter. At the heart of this argument lies the philanthropic petty-bourgeois hypocrisy which is perfectly happy with the positive aspects of existing society and laments only that the negative aspect of poverty exists alongside them, inseparably bound up with present society, and only wishes that this society may continue to exist without the conditions of its existence.
Beck develops this argument in this poem often in the most trivial possible way, for example, in connection with Christmas:
O day that gently edifies men’s hearts,
You would be gentler still and doubly dear —
Did there not lodge in poor children’s hearts
Whose orphan gaze surveys the festive
Rooms of their rich playmates,
Envy and the seeds of sin,
Along with rabid blasphemy!
... more sweetly would the children’s merry cheer
Sound to my ears in the Christmas candlelight,
If only in damp caverns destitution
Were not shivering on putrid straw [p. 149].
There are, by the way, occasional fine passages in this amorphous and interminable poem, for example the description of the lumpen proletariat:
Who day by day unwearyingly
Hunt garbage in the fetid gutters;
Who flit like sparrows after food,
Mending pans and grinding knives,
Starching linen with stiff fingers,
Pushing breathless at the heavy cart,
Laden with but scarcely ripened fruits,
Crying piteously: Who'll buy, who'll buy?
Who fight over a copper in the dirt;
Who at the corner-stones each day
Sing praise to the God in whom they believe,
But scarcely dare hold out their hands,
Begging being against the law;
Who with deaf cars, beset by hunger,
Pluck the harp and blow upon the flute,
Year in, year out, the same old tune —
Beneath each window, at each gate —
Setting the nursemaid’s feet adance
But hearing not the melody themselves;
Who after dusk illuminate the city
But have no light for their own home;
Who shoulder burdens and split firewood,
Who have no master, and who have too many;
Who dash to pray, procure and steal
And drown with drink the vestige of a soul [pp. 158-160].
Beck here rises for the first time above the usual morality of the German bourgeoisie by putting these lines in the mouth of an old beggar whose daughter is asking for his permission to go to a rendezvous with an officer. In the above lines he gives her an embittered picture of the classes to which her child would then belong, he derives his objections from her immediate social position and does not preach morality to her, and for this he deserves credit.
The virtuous servant of, a Russian, whom the servant himself characterises as a worthy master, robs his apparently sleeping master during the night in order to maintain his old father. The Russian follows him surreptitiously and looks over his shoulder just as he is penning the following note to the same old man:
Take this money! I have stolen!
Father, pray to our Redeemer
That he may one day from his throne
Allow forgiveness to his servant!
I will labour and earn money,
And from my palliasse chase fatigue,
Till I can pay my worthy master
Back the money I have stolen [p. 241].
The virtuous servant’s worthy master is so moved by these awful revelations that he cannot speak, but places his hand on the servant’s head in blessing.
But the latter’s fife had left him —
And his heart had broken with terror [p. 242].
Can anything more comical be committed to paper? Beck here descends lower than Kotzebue and Iffland, the servant’s tragedy surpasses even the middle-class tragedy.
In this poem, Ronge, the Friends of Light, — the New Jews, the barber, the washerwoman and the Leipzig citizen with his modicum of liberty are often effectively lampooned. At the end, the poet defends himself against the philistines who will criticise him for it, although he too
The song of light
Sang out into the storm and night [p. 298].
He then himself propounds a doctrine of brotherly love and practical religion, modified by socialism and founded on a kind of nature-deism, and thus enlists one aspect of his opponents against the other. So Beck can never let matters rest until he has spoilt his own case, because he is himself too much entangled in German misery and gives too much thought to himself, to the poet, in his verse. With the modern lyrical poets in general, the bard has reverted to a fabulously trimmed, heroically posturing figure. He is not an active person situated in real society, who writes poetry, but “the poet”, hovering in the clouds, these clouds being none other than the nebulous fantasies of the German bourgeoisie. — Beck constantly drops from the most heroical bombast into the soberest of bourgeois prose styles, and from a petty warlike wit against present conditions into a sentimental acceptance of them. It is constantly occurring to him that it is he himself de quo fabula narratur. [about whom the story is being told] That is why his songs are not revolutionary in effect, but resemble
Three doses of salts
To calm the blood (p. 293).
The conclusion to the whole volume is therefore most appropriately provided by the following weak wail of resignation:
When will life upon this earth
Be bearable, O God?
In longing I am doubly strong
And hence in patience doubly wearied [p. 324].
Beck has incontestably more talent and at the outset more energy too than most of the German scribbling fraternity. His great lament is the German misery, amongst whose theoretical manifestations also belong Beck’s pompously sentimental socialism and Young German reminiscences. Until social conflicts in Germany are given a more acute form by a more distinct differentiation between classes and a momentary acquisition of political power by [the] bourgeoisie, there can be little hope for a German poet in Germany itself. On the one hand, it is impossible for him to adopt a revolutionary stance in German society because the revolutionary elements themselves are not yet sufficiently developed, and on the other, the chronic misery surrounding him on all sides has too debilitating an effect for him to be able to rise above it, to be free of it and to laugh at it, without succumbing to it again himself. For the present the only advice we can give to all German poets who still have a little talent is to emigrate to civilised countries.
Herr Grün relaxes after the exertions of his “Soziale Bewegung in Frankreich und Belgien” by glancing at the lack of social movement [in German: Bewegung — movement and Stillstand — lack of movement] in his native land. For the sake of variety, he decides to take a look at “the human aspect” of the elderly Goethe. He has exchanged his seven-league boots for carpet-slippers, donned his dressing-gown and stretches himself, full of self-satisfaction, in his arm-chair:
“We are not writing a commentary, we are only picking out what is there for all to see” (p. 244).
He has made things really snug for himself:
“I had put some roses and camellias in my room, and mignonette and violets by the open window” (p. III). “And above all, no Commentaries! ... But here, the complete works on the table and a faint scent of roses and mignonette in the room! Let us just see where we get to.... Only a rogue offers more, than he has!” (pp. IV, V).
For all his nonchalance, Herr Grün nevertheless performs deeds of the stoutest heroism in this book. But this will not surprise us when we have heard him himself say that he is the man who “was on the point of despairing at the triviality of public and private affairs” (p. 111), who, “felt Goethe’s restraining hand whenever he was in danger of being submerged by extravagance and lack of form” (ibid.), whose heart is “full with the sense of human destiny”, “who has listened to the soul of man — though it should mean descending into hell! “ (p. IV). Nothing will surprise us any more after learning that previously he had “once addressed a question to Feuerbachian man” which was indeed “easy to answer” but which nevertheless appears to have been too difficult for the man in question (p. 277); and when we see how Herr Grün on p. 198 “leads self-awareness out of a cul de sac”, on p. 102 even plans to visit “the court of the Russian Emperor” and on p. 305 cries out to the world with a voice of thunder: “Anathema upon any man who would proclaim new and permanent social relations by law!” We are prepared for anything when Herr Grün undertakes on p. 187 “to take a closer look at idealism” and “show it up for the guttersnipe it is”, when he speculates on “becoming a man of property”,
a “rich, rich man of property, to be able to pay the property tax, to obtain a scat in the Chamber of Representatives of mankind, to be included in the list of jurymen who judge between what is human and what is not”.
How could he fail to achieve this, standing as he does, “on the nameless ground of the universally human"? (p. 182). He does not even tremble before “the night and its horrors” (p. 312), such as murder, adultery, robbery, whoring, licentiousness and puffed-up pride. It is true that on p. 99 he confesses he has also “known the infinite pang of man as he discovers himself at the very point of his own insignificance”, it is true he “discovers” himself before the public eye at this “point” on the occasion of the lines:
You compare but with the spirit in your mind,
[Goethe, Faust, Part I, Scene 1, “Night"]
to be precise, as follows:
“These words are as when thunder and lightning occur together, with the earth opening up at the same time. These words are like the veil of the temple being rent in twain and the graves being opened ... the twilight of the Gods is upon us and the chaos of old is come again ... the stars collide, in an instant a single comet tail incinerates our little earth, and all that exists is henceforth but billowing smoke and vapour. And if one imagines the most atrocious destruction, ... it is all but as nothing against the annihilation contained in these eleven words!” (pp. 235, 236).
It is true, “at the furthermost frontier of theory”, namely on p. 295, Herr Grün has a sensation “of icy water running down his back, real terror quivers through his limbs” — but he overcomes all this with ease, for after all he is a member of the “great order of freemasons of mankind"! (p. 317).
Take it all in all, with such qualities Herr Grün will perform valiantly on any field of battle. Before we proceed to his productive examination of Goethe, let us accompany him to some of the secondary areas of his activity.
Firstly to the field of the natural sciences, for according to p. 247 “the understanding of nature” is “the sole positive science” and at the same time “nonetheless the fulfilment of humanistic” (vulgo: human) “man”. Let us carefully collate the positive pronouncements Herr Grün makes concerning this sole positive science. He does not actually go into the subject at all extensively, he merely lets fall a few remarks while pacing his room, so to speak, in the interval between daylight and darkness, but the miracles he performs are “nonetheless” the “most positive” for that.
In connection with the Système de la Nature ascribed to Holbach, he reveals:
“We cannot here expound how the System of Nature breaks off half-way, how it breaks off at the point where freedom and self-determination had to break out from the necessity of the cerebral system” (p. 70).
Herr Grün could indicate the precise point at which this or that “breaks out” “from the necessity of the cerebral system” and man would thus be slapped on the inside of his skull as well. Herr Grün could give the most certain and most detailed information on a point which has hitherto escaped all observation, in other words the productive processes of consciousness in the brain. But alas! In a book on the human aspect of Goethe we “cannot expound this in detail”.
Dumas, Playfair, Faraday and Liebig have hitherto innocently subscribed to the view that oxygen is a gas which has neither taste nor smell. Herr Grün, however, who of course knows that the prefix “oxy-” means sharp to the taste, declares on p. 75 that “oxygen” is “sharp-tasting”. In the same way, on p. 229 he contributes new facts to acoustics and optics; by postulating a “purifying uproar and brightness”, he places the purificatory power of sound and light beyond all doubt.
Not content with such dazzling contributions to the “sole positive science”, not content with the theory of inward slaps, on p. 94 Herr Grün discovers a new bone:
“Werther is the man who has no vertebra, who has not yet developed as subject.”
Until now it had been mistakenly thought that man had some two dozen vertebrae. Herr Grün reduces these numerous bones not just to the normal singular form but goes on to discover that this one and only vertebra has the remarkable property of making man “subject”. The “subject” Herr Grün deserves an extra vertebra for this discovery.
Finally our casual naturalist summarises his “sole positive science” of nature as follows:
“Is not the core of nature
Mankind at heart?'
“The core of nature is mankind at heart. At the heart of mankind is the core of nature. Nature has its core at mankind’s heart” (p. 250).
To which we would add, with Herr Grün’s permission: Mankind at heart is the core of nature. At heart the core of nature is mankind. At the heart of mankind nature has its core.
With this eminently “positive” piece of enlightenment we leave the field of natural science, and turn to economics, which unfortunately, according to the above, is not a “positive science”. Regardless of this, Herr Grün, hoping for the best, proceeds extremely “positively” here too.
“Individual set himself against individual, and thus universal competition arose” (p. 211).
In other words, that obscure and mysterious conception German socialists have of “universal competition” came into being, “and thus competition arose”. No reasons are indicated, no doubt, because economics is not a positive science.
“In the Middle Ages base metal was still bound by fealty, courtly love and piety; the sixteenth century burst this fetter, and money was set free” (p. 241).
MacCulloch and Blanqui, who have hitherto been under the misapprehension that money was “bound in the Middle Ages” by deficient communications with America and the granite masses that covered the veins of “base metal” in the Andes, [reference to: J. R. MacCulloch, The Principles of Political Economy and Blanqui, Histoire de l'économie politique en Europe] MacCulloch and Blanqui will be addressing a vote of thanks to Herr Grün for this revelation.
Herr Grün seeks to give a positive character to History, which is likewise not a “positive science”, by juxtaposing the traditional facts and a series of facts of his imagination.
On p. 91, “Addison’s Cato stabbed himself on the English stage a century before Werther”, thereby testifying to a remarkable weariness of life. For by this account, he “stabbed” himself when his author, who was born in 1672, was still a babe in arms. 
On p. 175 Herr Grün corrects Goethe’s Tag- und Jahreshefte to the effect that the freedom of the press was by no means “declared” by the German governments in 1815 but only “promised”. So the horrors retailed to us by the philistines of the Sauerland and elsewhere concerning the four years of press freedom from 1815 to 1819, are all just a dream: how at that time the press exposed all their dirty linen and petty scandals to the light of day and how finally the Federal Decrees of 1819 put an end to this reign of terror by public opinion.
Herr Grün goes on to tell us that the Free Imperial City of Frankfurt was not a state at all but “no more than a piece of civil society” (p. 19). Germany, he says, has no states of any kind, and people are at last beginning “to realise increasingly the peculiar advantages of this stateless condition of Germany” (p. 257), which advantages consist especially in the cheapness of flogging. The German autocrats will thus be obliged to say: “la société civile, c'est moi”, [I am civil society] — although they fare badly in this, for according to p. 10 1, civil society is only “an abstraction”.
If, however, the Germans have no state, they have instead “a massive bill-of-exchange on truth, and this bill-of-exchange must be realised, paid up and changed for jingling coin” (p. 5). This bill-of-exchange is no doubt payable at the same office where Herr Grün pays his “property tax”, “to obtain a seat in the Chamber of Representatives of mankind”.
The most important “positive” things he enlightens us about concern the French Revolution, on whose “significance” he delivers a special “digression”. He begins with the oracular utterance that the contradiction between historical law and rational law is indeed important, for both are of historical origin. Without wishing in any way to belittle Herr Grün’s discovery, which is as new as it is important, that rational law too arose in the course of history, we would diffidently venture the observation that a quiet encounter in the quiet of his chamber with the first volumes of Buchez’s Histoire parlementaire should show him what part this contradiction played in the Revolution.
Herr Grün, however, prefers to give us an extensive proof of the evil nature of the Revolution which eventually boils down to the one, ponderously massive complaint against it: that it “did not examine the concept of man” [p. 195]. Indeed such a grievous sin of omission is unforgivable. If only the Revolution had examined the concept of man, there would have been no question of a ninth Thermidor or an eighteenth Brumaire ; Napoleon would have contented himself with his general’s commission and maybe in his old age written drilling regulations “from the human aspect”. — We further learn, in the course d our enlightenment, “about the significance of the Revolution”, that basically there is no difference between deism and materialism, and why not. From this we see with some pleasure that Herr Grün has not yet quite forgotten his Hegel. Cf. for example Hegel’s Geschichte der Philosophie, III, pp. 458, 459 and 463, second edition. — Then, likewise to enlighten us “about the significance of the Revolution”, a number of points about competition are made, of which we anticipated the most important above; further, long excerpts from the writings of Holbach are given, in order to prove that he explained crime as having its origin in the state; “the significance of the Revolution” is similarly elucidated by a generous anthology from Thomas More’s Utopia, which Utopia is in turn elucidated to the effect that in the year of 1516 it prophetically portrayed no less than — “present-day England” (p. 225), down to the most minute details. And at last, after all these vues and considérants, on which he digresses at length over 36 pages, the final verdict follows on p. 226: “The Revolution is the realisation of Machiavellianism.” An example which is a warning to all those who have not yet examined the concept of “man"!
By way of consolation for the unfortunate French, who have achieved nothing but the realisation of Machiavellianism, on p. 73 Herr Grün dispenses one little drop of balm:
“In the eighteenth century the French people was like a Prometheus among the nations, who asserted human rights as against those of the gods.”
Let us not dwell on the fact that it must presumably have examined the concept of man” after all, nor on the fact that it asserted” human rights not “as against those of the gods” but those of the king, the aristocracy and the clergy, let us pass over these trifles and veil our heads in silent grief: for something “human” has happened to Herr Grün himself here.
Herr Grün, you see, has forgotten that in previous publications (cf. for instance the article in Volume I of the Rheinische Jahrbücher, [Grün, “Politik und Socialismus"] “Die soziale Bewegung” etc.) he had not merely expatiated upon and “popularised” a certain argument concerning human rights that is to be found in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, [see Marx’s “On the Jewish Question"] but with the truest plagiaristic zeal had even carried it to nonsensical extremes. He has forgotten that there he had pilloried human rights as the rights of the épicier [shopkeeper], the philistine, etc.; here he suddenly transforms them into “ human rights “, the rights of “ man “. The same thing happens to Herr Grün on pp. 251 and 252, where “the right with which we were born and which, alas, is universally ignored”, from Faust, is turned into “your natural right, your human right, the tight to translate one’s ideas into practice and enjoy the fruits of one’s labours”; although Goethe opposes it directly to “law and rights”, which “are passed on from generation to generation like an everlasting disease” [Goethe, Faust], in other words the traditional law of the ancien régime, with which only the “ innate, ageless and inalienable human rights” of the Revolution, but by no means the rights of “man” conflict. This time, it is true, Herr Grün had to forget his previous point, so that Goethe should not forfeit his human aspect.
Herr Grün has however not yet completely forgotten what he learned from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher and other publications of the same tendency. On p. 210 he defines the freedom in France at that time, for example, as “the freedom of unfree (!), common (!!) beings (!!!)”. This non-being has arisen from the common being on pp. 204 and 205 of the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. and from the translations of these pages into the current language of German socialism of that time. Arguments which make abstract of philosophy and contain expressions from law, economics, etc., are incomprehensible to the true socialists, who therefore have the general habit of condensing them in the twinkling of an eye into a single brief catchphrase, studded with philosophical expressions and then committing this nonsense to memory for use on any conceivable occasion. In this way, the legal “common being” in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher [Marx, “On the Jewish Question"] has been transformed into the above philosophico-nonsensical “general being”; political liberation, democracy, has acquired its philosophical short formula in “liberation from the unfree general being”, and this the true socialist can put in his pocket without having to fear that his erudition will prove too heavy for him.
On p. XXVI Herr Grün exploits what is said in the Holy Family about sensationism and materialism in a manner similar to that which he uses in respect of the above-mentioned quotations from Holbach and their socialist interpretation, the hint contained in that publication that links with the socialist movement of the present day are to be found in the materialists of the eighteenth century, including Holbach.
Let us pass on to philosophy. For which Herr Grün has a thorough-going contempt. As early as p. VII he informs us that he “has no further use for religion, philosophy and politics”, that these three “have existed and will never rise again from their dissolution” and that from all of them and from philosophy in particular he “will retain nothing more than man himself and the social being capable of social activity”. The social being capable of social activity and the above-mentioned human man are, it is true, sufficient to console us for the irreversible downfall of religion, philosophy and politics. But Herr Grün is far too modest. He has not only “retained” “humanistic man” and various “beings” from philosophy, but he is also the proud possessor of a considerable, if confused, mass of Hegelian tradition. How could it be otherwise, when several years ago he knelt in reverence on a number of occasions before the bust of Hegel? We shall be asked not to introduce such scurrilous and scandalous personal details; but Herr Grün himself confided this secret to the man from the press. We shall not at this juncture say where. We have already quoted Herr Grün’s sources with chapter and verse so frequently that we may for once request a like service of Herr Grün. To give him at once further proof of our kind intentions towards him, we will confide to him the fact that he took his final verdict in the free-will controversy, which he gives on p. 8, from Fourier’s Traité de l'Association, section “du libre arbitre”. Only the idea that the theory of free will is an “aberration of the German mind” is a peculiar “aberration” on the part of Herr Grün himself.
We are at last getting closer to Goethe. On p. 15 Herr Grün allows Goethe the right to exist. For Goethe and Schiller are the resolution of the contradiction between “pleasure without activity”, i. e., Wieland, and “activity without pleasure”, i. e., Klopstock. “Lessing first based man on himself.” (One wonders whether Herr Grün can emulate him in this acrobatic feat.) — In this philosophic construction, we have all of Herr Grün’s sources together. The form of the construction, the basis of the whole thing is Hegel’s world-famous stratagem for the reconciliation of contradictions. “Man based on himself” is Hegelian terminology applied to Feuerbach. “Pleasure without activity” and “activity without pleasure”, this contradiction on which Herr Grün sets Wieland and Klopstock to play the above variations, is borrowed from the Complete Works of M Hess. The only source which we miss is literary history itself, which has not the remotest inkling of the above hotchpotch and is therefore rightly ignored by Herr Grün.
Whilst we are on the subject of Schiller, the following observation of Herr Grün’s should be apposite: “Schiller was everything one can be, insofar as one is not Goethe” (p. 311). Beg pardon, one can also be Herr Grün. — Incidentally, our author is here ploughing the same furrow as Ludwig of Bavaria:
Rome, thou art lacking in Naples’ gifts, she in those
that thou layst claim to;
Were but the two of you one, it had been too much for the earth.
[Ludwig I of Bavaria, “Florenz” — paraphrased]
This historical construction prepares the way for Goethe’s entry into German literature. “Man based on himself” by Lessing can continue his evolution only in Goethe’s hands. For to Herr Grün belongs the credit of having discovered “man” in Goethe, not natural man, begotten by man and woman in the pleasures of the flesh, but man in the higher sense, dialectical man, the caput mortuum [distillation product, distillate] in the crucible, in which God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost have been calcined, the cousin germain of Homunculus in Faust — in short, not man as Goethe speaks of him, but man as such, as Herr Grün speaks of him. Who is “man as such”, then, of whom Herr Grün speaks?
“There is nothing in Goethe that is not human content” (p. XVI). — On p. XXI we hear “that Goethe so portrayed and conceived of man as such as we wish to realise him today”. — On p. XXII: “Goethe today, and that means his works, is a true compendium of humanity.” — Goethe “is humanity fulfilled” (page XXV). — “Goethe’s literary works are (!) the ideal of human society” (p. 12). — “Goethe could not become a national poet because he was destined to be the poet of all that is human” (p. 25). — Yet, according to p. 14, “our nation” — that is, the Germans — is nevertheless supposed to “discern its own essence transfigured” in Goethe.
This is the first revelation about “the essence of man”, and we may trust Herr Grün all the more in this matter because he has no doubt “examined the concept of man” with the utmost thoroughness. Goethe portrays “man” as Herr Grün wishes to realise him, and at the same time he portrays the German nation transfigured — “man” is thus none other than “the German transfigured”. We have confirmation of this throughout. Just as Goethe is not “a national poet” but “the poet of all that is human”, so too the German nation is not a “national” nation, but the nation “of all that is human”. For this reason we read on p. XVI again: “Goethe’s literary works, emanating from life, ... neither had nor have anything to do with reality.” Just like “man”, Just like “the Germans”. And on p. 4: “At this very time French socialism aims to bring happiness to France, German writers have their eyes on the human race.” (While “the human race” is for the most part accustomed to “having” them not before “their eyes” but before a somewhat opposite part of the anatomy.) On innumerable occasions Herr Grün therefore expresses his pleasure at the fact that Goethe wanted “to liberate man from within” (e. g., p. 225), which truly Germanic form of liberation has so far refused to emerge from “within"!
Let us duly note this first revelation then: “Man” is the German “transfigured”.
Let us now observe how Herr Grün pays homage to “the poet of all that is human”, the “human content in Goethe”. We shall thereby best discover who “man” is, of whom Herr Grün is speaking. We shall find that Herr Grün here reveals the most secret thoughts of true socialism, which is typical of the way his general craving to out-shout all his cronies leads him rashly to trumpet out to the world matters which the rest of the band prefer to keep to themselves. His transformation of Goethe into “the poet of all that is human” was incidentally facilitated for him by the fact that Goethe himself had a habit of using the words “man” and “human” with a special kind of emphasis. Goethe, it is true, used them only in the sense in which they were applied in his own day and later also by Hegel, for instance the attribute “human” was bestowed on the Greeks in particular as opposed to heathen and Christian barbarians, long before these expressions acquired their mystically philosophical meaning through Feuerbach. With Goethe especially they usually have a most unphilosophical and flesh-and-blood meaning. To Herr Grün belongs the credit of being the first to have turned Goethe into a disciple of Feuerbach and a true socialist.
We cannot of course speak of Goethe himself in any detail here. We would just draw attention to one point. In his works Goethe’s attitude to contemporary German society is a dual one. Sometimes he is hostile towards it; he attempts to escape from what he finds repulsive in it, as in Iphigenie and above all throughout the Italian journey; he rebels against it as Götz, Prometheus and Faust, he lashes it with his bitterest satire as Mephistopheles. But then sometimes he is on friendly terms with it, “accommodates” himself to it, as in the majority of the Zahme Xenien and many prose writings; he celebrates it, as in the Maskenzüge, even defends it against the oncoming movement of history, as particularly in all the writings in which he comes to speak of the French Revolution. It is not just some aspects of German life which Goethe accepts in contrast to others which are repugnant to him. More frequently it is a question of the different moods he is in; there is a continuing battle within him between the poet of genius who feels revulsion at the wretchedness of his environment. and the cautious offspring of the Frankfurt patrician or the Weimar privy-councillor who finds himself compelled to come to terms with and accustom himself to it. Goethe is thus at one moment a towering figure, at the next petty; at one moment an obstinate, mocking genius full of contempt for the world, at the next a circumspect, unexacting, narrow philistine. Not even Goethe was able to conquer the wretchedness of Germany; on the contrary, it conquered him, and this victory of wretchedness over the greatest of Germans is the most conclusive proof that it cannot he surmounted at all “from within”. Goethe was too universal, too active a nature, too much a man of flesh and blood to seek refuge from this wretchedness in a Schillerian flight to the Kantian ideal; he was too keen-sighted not to see how ultimately such a flight amounted to no more than the exchange of a prosaic form of wretchedness for a grandiloquent one. His temperament, his energies, his whole mental attitude disposed him to the practical life, and the practical life he found around him was wretched. This dilemma of having to exist in an environment which he could only despise, and yet being bound to this environment as the only one in which he could be active, this dilemma always faced Goethe, and the older he became, the more the mighty poet withdrew de guerre lasse [tired of the struggle] behind the insignificant Weimar minister. Unlike Börne and Menzel, we do not criticise Goethe for not being liberal [Börne, Pariser Briefe; W. Menzel, Die deutsche Literatur] but for being capable of occasional philistinism as well, not for being unsusceptible to any enthusiasm for German freedom but for sacrificing his spasmodically erupting and truer aesthetic instinct to a petty-bourgeois fear of all major contemporary historical movements, not for being a man of the court but for being capable of attending with such solemn gravity to the pettiest affairs and menus plaisir [little entertainments — involving supplementary expenditure] of one of the pettiest of the little German courts, at the time when a Napoleon was flushing out the great Augean stable that was Germany. We criticise him not from a moral or from a party point of view, but at the very most from the aesthetic and historical point of view; we measure Goethe neither by moral nor by political nor by “human” standards. We cannot here involve ourselves in a description of Goethe’s relationship to his whole age, his literary precursors and contemporaries, his process of development and his station in life. We therefore restrict ourselves simply to noting the facts.
We shall see in respect of which of these aspects Goethe’s works are a “true compendium of humanity”, “humanity fulfilled” and the “ideal of human society”.
Let us first of all take Goethe’s critique of the existing society and then move on to the positive description of the “ideal of human society”. In view of the wealthy content of Grün’s book, it goes without saying that in either area we are only highlighting a few points of characteristic brilliance.
As a critic of society Goethe does indeed perform miracles. He “condemns civilisation” (pp. 34-36) by giving voice to a few romantic complaints that it blurs everything that is characteristic and distinctive about man. He “prophesies the world of the bourgeoisie” (p. 78) by depicting in Prometheus tout bonnement [quite simply] the origin of private property. On p. 229 he is “judge over the world.... the Minos of civilisation “. But all these things are mere trifles.
On p. 253 Herr Grün quotes Catechisation:
Reflect, my child! From whom have you these talents?
You cannot have them from yourself, you know. —
Why, father gave me everything. —
And who gave them to him? — My grandfather. —
No, no! From whom could he, your grandfather, receive them? —
Well, he just took them.
Hurrah! trumpets Herr Grün at the top of his voice, la propriété, c'est le vol [property is theft] — Proudhon — in person! [allusion to Proudhon, Qu'est-ce que la propriété?]
Leverrier can go back home with his planet and surrender his medal to Herr Grün — for this is something greater than Leverrier, this is something greater even than Jackson and his sulphuric ether fumes. For the man who condensed Proudhon’s theft thesis, which is indeed disquieting for many peaceful members of the bourgeoisie, to the innocuous dimensions of the above epigram by Goethe — the only reward for him is the grand cordon of the Legion of Honour.
The Bürgergeneral presents more difficulties. Herr Grün gazes at it for a while from every side, makes a few doubtful grimaces, which is unusual for him, and begins to cogitate: “true enough ... somewhat wishy-washy ... this does not amount to a condemnation of the Revolution” (p. 150).... Wait! now he has it! What is the object at issue? A jug of milk and so: “Let us not ... forget that here once again ... it is the property question that is being brought to the fore” (p. 151).
If two old women are quarrelling beneath Herr Grün’s window over the head of a salted herring, may Herr Grün never find it too much trouble to descend from his room with its fragrance of “roses” and mignonette to inform them that for them too “it is the property question that is being brought to the fore”. The gratitude of all right-thinking people will be the best reward for him.
Goethe performed one of the greatest feats of criticism when he wrote Werther. Werther is not by any means merely a sentimental love-story, as those who have hitherto read Goethe “from the human aspect” believed.
In Werther “the human content has found so fitting a form that nothing can be found in any of the literatures of the world which might even remotely deserve to he set beside it” (p. 96). “Werther’s love for Lone is a mere instrument, a vehicle for the tragedy of the radical pantheism of emotion.... Werther is the man who has no vertebra, who has not yet become a subject” (p. 93 [p. 94]). Werther shoots himself not from infatuation but “because he, that unhappy pantheistic spirit, could not come to terms with the world” (p. 94). “ Werther depicts the whole rotten condition of society with artistic mastery, it seizes the wrongs of society by their deepest roots, by their philosophico-religious basis” (which “basis” everybody knows to be of more recent origin than the “wrongs”), “by the vague and nebulous understanding.... Pure, well-ventilated conceptions of true human nature” (and above all vertebra, Herr Grün, vertebra!) “would be the death of that state of wretchedness, those worm-eaten, crumbling conditions which we call bourgeois life!” [p. 95].
An example of how “ Werther depicts the rotten condition of society with artistic mastery”. Werther writes:
“Adventures? Why do I use this silly word ... our false bourgeois relationships, they are the real adventures, they are the real monstrosities!”
[Goethe, Briefe aus der Schweiz, written in the form of excerpts from letters, supposedly found among the papers of the main character of Die Leiden des jungen Werthers]
This cry of lamentation from a lachrymose emotionalist at the discrepancy between bourgeois reality and his no less bourgeois illusions about this reality, this faint-hearted sigh which derives solely from a lack of the most ordinary experience, is given out by Herr Grün on p. 84 as incisive social criticism. Herr Grün even asserts that the “despairing agony of life” which the above words express, “this unhealthy urge to turn things on their heads so that they should at least acquire a different appearance” (!) “ultimately dug for itself the burrow of the French Revolution”. The Revolution, previously the realisation of Machiavellianism, here becomes merely the realisation of the sufferings of young Werther. The guillotine of the Place de la Révolution is only a pale imitation of Werther’s pistol.
By the same token it is self-evident, according to p. 108, that in Stella too Goethe is dealing with “social material”, although here only ‘,the most disreputable circumstances” (p. 107) are depicted. True socialism is much more broad-minded than our Lord Jesus. For where two or three are forgathered — they need not even do so in its name — then it is in the midst of them and there is “social material”. Like its disciple Herr Grün, it generally bears a striking resemblance to “that kind of dull-witted, self-satisfied nosey-parker who makes everything his business but gets to the bottom of nothing” (p. 47).
Our readers will perhaps remember a letter Wilhelm Meister writes to his brother-in-law [Werner] in the last volume of the Lehrjahre, in which, after a few rather trite comments on the advantages of growing up in well-to-do circumstances, the superiority of the aristocracy over the narrow-minded bourgeoisie is acknowledged and the subordinate position of the latter as well as of all other non-aristocratic classes Is sanctioned on the grounds that it is not possible to change it for the present. It is said that only the individual is able in certain circumstances to attain a level of equality with the aristocracy. Herr Grün remarks apropos of this:
“What Goethe says of the pre-eminence of the upper classes of society is absolutely true if one takes upper class as identical with educated class, and in Goethe’s case this is so” (p[p]. 264[-65]).
And there let the matter rest.
Let us come to the much-discussed central point: Goethe’s attitude to politics and to the French Revolution. Here Herr Grün’s book provides an object lesson in what it means to endure through thick and thin; here Herr Grün’s devotion gives a good account of itself.
So that Goethe’s attitude towards the Revolution may appear justified, Goethe must of course be above the Revolution and have transcended it even before it took place. As early as p. XXI we therefore learn:
“Goethe had so far outstripped the practical development of his age that he felt he could only adopt towards it an attitude of rejection, a defensive attitude.”
And on p. 84, apropos of Werther, who, as we saw already, embodies the whole Revolution in nuce [in the germ]: “History shows 1789, Goethe shows 1889.” Similarly on pp. 28 and 29 Goethe is obliged in a few brief words “radically to dispose of all the shouting about liberty” since back in the seventies he had an article b printed in the Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen which does not at all discuss the liberty which the “shouters” are demanding, but only engages in a few general and fairly sober reflections on liberty as such, the concept of liberty. Furthermore: because in his doctoral dissertations Goethe propounded the thesis that it was actually the duty of every legislator to introduce a certain form of worship — a thesis which Goethe himself treats merely as an amusing paradox, inspired by all manner of small-town clerical bickering in Frankfurt (which Herr Grün himself quotes) — because of this “the student Goethe discarded the whole dualism of the Revolution and the present French state like an old pair of shoes” (pp. 26 and 27). It would appear as if Herr Grün has inherited “the student Goethe’s worn-out shoes” and used them to sole the seven-league boots of his “social movement” with.
This of course now sheds a new light for us on Goethe’s statements about the Revolution. It is now clear that being high above it, having “disposed of it” as long as fifteen years previously, having “discarded it like an old pair of shoes” and being a hundred years in advance of it, he could have no sympathy with it and could take no interest in a nation of “shouters for liberty”, with whom he had settled his accounts way back in the year seventy-three. Herr Grün now has an easy time of it. Goethe may turn as much trite inherited wisdom into elegant distiches, he may philosophise upon it with as much philistine narrow-mindedness, he may shrink with as much petty-bourgeois horror from the great ice-floes which threaten his peaceable poet’s niche, he may behave with as much pettiness, cowardice and servility as he will, but he cannot carry things too far for his patient gloss-writer. Herr Grün lifts him up on his tireless shoulders and carries him through the mire; indeed he transfers the whole mire to the account of true socialism, just to ensure that Goethe’s boots stay clean. From the Campagne in Frankreich to the Natürliche Tochter, Herr Grün takes on responsibility (pp. 133-170) for everything, everything without exception, he shows a devotion which might move a Buchez to tears. And if all this does not help, if the mire is just too deep, then a higher social exegesis is harnessed to the task, then Herr Grün [p. 137] paraphrases as follows:
The sad destiny of France, let the mighty think on it,
But verify the lowly should ponder it more.
The mighty perished; but who defends the multitude
From the multitude? The multitude was tyrant to itself.
[Goethe, “Venezianische Epigramme"]
“Who defends”, shouts Herr Grün for all he is worth, with italics, question marks and all the “vehicles of the tragedy of the radical pantheism of emotion” [p. 931, “who, in particular, defends the unpropertied multitude, the so-called rabble, against the propertied multitude, the legislating rabble?” (p. 137). “Who in particular defends” Goethe against Herr Grün?
In this way Herr Grün explains the whole series of worldly-wise bourgeois precepts contained in the Venetian Epigramme:
they “are like a slap in the face delivered by the hand of Hercules which only now” (after the danger is past for the philistine) “appear to us to smack home really tolerably now that we have a great and bitter experience” (bitter indeed for the philistine) “behind us” (p. 136).
From the Belagerung von Mainz Herr Grün
“would not wish to pass over the following passage for anything in the world: “On Tuesday ... I hastened ... to pay homage to his Highness, and had the great good fortune to wait upon the Prince ... my ever gracious Lord”, etc. [p. 147].
The passage in which Goethe lays his humble devotion at the feet of Herr Rietz, the King of Prussia’s [Frederick William II] Gentleman, Cuckold and Pimp of the Bedchamber, Herr Grün does not think fit to quote.
Apropos of the Bürgergeneral and the Ausgewanderte we read:
“Goethe’s whole antipathy towards the Revolution, whenever it was expressed in literary form, was concerned with the eternal lament at seeing people driven out from circumstances of well-deserved and well-accustomed property, which intriguers and envious men, etc., then usurped ... this same injustice of robbery. ...His peaceful domesticated nature became indignant at this violation of the right of property, which, being arbitrarily inflicted, made destitute refugees of whole masses of people” (p. 15 1).
Let us without more ado put this passage to the account of “man” whose “peaceful, domesticated nature” feels so much at ease in “well-deserved and well-accustomed”, to put it bluntly, well-earned “circumstances of property” that it declares the tempest of the Revolution which sweeps away these circumstances sans façon to be “arbitrary” and the work of “intriguers and envious men”, etc.
In the light of this it does not surprise us that Herr Grün “finds the purest pleasure” (p. 165) in the bourgeois idyll Hermann und Dorothea, its timid, worldly-wise small-townsfolk and lamenting peasants who take to their heels in superstitious fear before the sansculotte army and the horrors of war. Herr Grün
“even accepts with relief the pusillanimous role which is assigned at the end ... to the German people:
It befits not a German to be at the head of a movement
Fleeing in terror, nor to waver first this way, then that."
[Goethe, Hermann und Dorothea]
Herr Grün is right to shed tears of sympathy for the victims of cruel times and to raise his eyes to heaven in patriotic despair at such strokes of fate. There are enough ruined and degenerate people anyway, who have no “human” heart in their bosoms, who prefer to join in singing the Marseillaise in the Republican camp and perhaps even make lewd jokes in Dorothea’s deserted bedchamber. Herr. Grün is a decent fellow who waxes indignant at the lack of feeling with which for instance a Hegel looks down on the “little, dumb flowers” which have been crushed underfoot by the onrush of history and mocks at the “litany of private virtues of modesty, humility, love of one’s fellow-men and charity” which is held out “against the deeds of world history and those who perform them”. [Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte, Einleitung] Herr Grün is right to do this. He will no doubt receive his reward in heaven.
Let us conclude these “human” remarks on the Revolution with the following: “A real humorist might well take the liberty of finding the Convention itself infinitely ridiculous”, and until this “real humorist” is found, Herr Grün meanwhile provides the necessary instructions (pp. 151, 152).
Herr Grün similarly sheds some surprising fight upon Goethe’s attitude towards politics after the Revolution. Just one example. We already know of the profound resentment “man” feels in his heart towards the liberals. The “poet of all that is human” must of course not be allowed to go to his rest without having specifically had it out with them, without having pinned an explicit memorandum on Messrs Welcker, Itzstein and their cronies. This memorandum our “self-satisfied nosey-parker” unearths in the following of the Zahme Xenien (p. 319):
All that is just the same old tripe,
Do acquire some savvy!
Don’t be forever just marking time,
But make some progress!
Goethe’s verdict: “Nothing is more repulsive than the majority, for it consists of a few strong leaders, of rogues who accommodate themselves, of weaklings who adapt themselves, and the mass jogging along behind without having the faintest idea what it wants [Goethe, Über Naturwissenschaft im Allgmeinen, einzeine Betrachtungen und Aphorismen] this verdict so typical of the philistine, whose ignorance and short-sightedness are only possible within the narrow bounds of a petty German principality, appears to Herr Grün as “the critique of the later” (i.e. modern) “constitutional state”. How important it is one may discover “for instance in any Chamber of Deputies you care to choose” (p. 268). According to this, it is only out of ignorance that the “belly” of the French Chamber looks after itself and its like in such an excellent manner. A few pages later, on p. 271, Herr Grün finds “the July Revolution” “misbegotten”, and as early as p. 34 the Custom Union is sharply criticised because it “makes yet more expensive the rags the unclothed and the shivering need to cover their nakedness, in order to make the pillars of the throne (!!), the liberal-minded money-masters” (whom everyone knows to be opposed to “the throne” throughout the Customs Union) “somewhat more resistant to decay”. Everyone knows how in Germany the philistines always bring out the “unclothed” and “shivering” whenever it is a question of combating protective tariffs or any other progressive bourgeois measure, and “man” joins their number.
What light does Goethe’s critique of society and the state, as seen through Herr Grün’s eyes, now shed on “the essence of man"?
Firstly, “man”, according to p. 264, exhibits a most marked respect for “the educated estates” in general and a seemly deference towards a high aristocracy in particular. And then he is distinguished by a mighty terror of any great mass movement and any determined social action, at the approach of which he either scuttles timidly back into his fireside corner or takes to his heels with all his goods and chattels. As long as it lasts, such a movement is “a bitter experience” for him; scarcely is it over than he takes up a dominant position at the front of the stage and with the hand of Hercules delivers slaps in the face which only now appear to him to smack home really tolerably, and finds the whole business “infinitely ridiculous”. And throughout he remains wholeheartedly attached to “circumstances of well-deserved and well-accustomed property”,; apart from that he has a very “peaceful and domesticated nature”, is undemanding and modest and does not wish to be disturbed in his quiet little pleasures by any storms. “Man is happy within a restricted sphere” (p. 191, as the first sentence of Part Two has it); he envies no one and gives thanks to his maker if he is left in peace. In short, “man”, who, as we have already seen, is German by birth, is gradually beginning to turn into the spit image of a German petty bourgeois.
What actually does Goethe’s critique of society as conveyed by Herr Grün amount to? What does “man” find in society to take exception to? Firstly that it does not correspond to his illusions. But these illusions are precisely the illusions of an ideologising philistine, especially a young one, and if philistine reality does not correspond to these illusions, this is only because they are illusions. For that very reason they correspond all the more fully to philistine reality. They differ from it only as the ideologising expression of a condition in general differs from that condition, and there can therefore be no further question of them being realised. A striking example of this is provided by Herr Grün’s commentary on Werther.
Secondly “man’s” polemic is directed against everything that threatens Germany’s philistine régime. His whole polemic against the Revolution is that of a philistine. His hatred of the liberals, the July Revolution and protective tariffs is the absolutely unmistakable expression of the hatred an oppressed inflexible petty-bourgeois feels for the independent, progressive bourgeois. Let us give two further examples of this.
Every one knows that the guild system marked the period of efflorescence of the petty bourgeoisie. On p. 40 Herr Grün says, speaking on behalf of Goethe, in other words, of “man": “In the Middle Ages the corporation brought together one strong man in defensive alliance with other strong men.” The guildsmen of those days are “strong men” in the eyes of “man”.
But in Goethe’s day the guild system was already in decay, competition was bursting in from all sides. As a true philistine, Goethe gives voice to a heart-rending wail at one point in his memoirs which Herr Grün quotes on p. 88, about the rot setting among the petty bourgeoisie, the ruination of well-to-do families, the decay of family life associated with this, the loosening of domestic bonds and other petty-bourgeois lamentations which in civilised countries are treated with well-deserved contempt. Herr Grün, who scents a capital criticism of modern society in this passage, can so little moderate his delight that he has its whole “human content” printed in italics.
Let us now turn to the positive “human content” in Goethe. We can proceed more quickly now that we are on the track of “man”.
Before all else let us report the glad tidings that “Wilhelm Meister deserts his parental home” and that in Egmont “the citizens of Brussels are demanding privileges and liberties” for no other reason than to “become men” (p. XVII).
Herr Grün has detected affinities with Proudhon in the elderly Goethe once before. On p. 320 he has this pleasure once again:
“What he wanted, what we all want, to save our personalities, anarchy in the true sense of the word, on this topic Goethe has the following to say:
Now why should anarchy have for me
Such attraction in modern times?
Each lives according to his lights
And that is profit for me as well”, etc.
[Goethe, Zahme Xenien]
Herr Grün is beside himself with joy at finding in Goethe that truly “human” social anarchy which was first proclaimed by Proudhon and adopted by acclamation by the German true socialists. This time he is mistaken however. Goethe is speaking of the already existing “anarchy in modern times”, which already “is” profit for him and by which each lives according to his lights, in other words of the independence in sociable intercourse which has been brought about by the dissolution of the feudal system and the guilds, by the rise of the bourgeoisie, and the exclusion of patriarchalism from the social fife of the educated classes. Simply for grammatical reasons there can therefore be no question of the Herr Grün’s beloved future anarchy in the higher sense. Goethe is here not talking at all about “what he wanted” but about what he found around him.
But such a little slip should not disturb us. For we do have the poem: Eigentum.
I know that nothing is mine own
Save the idea that peacefully
Secretes itself from my spirit,
And every instant of happiness
Which destiny beneficent
Gives me to savour fully.
If it is not clear that in this poem “property as it has existed up to now vanishes into smoke” (p. 320), Herr Grün’s comprehension has come to a standstill.
But let us leave these entertaining little exegetical diversions of Herr Grün’s to their fate. They are in any case legion and each invariably leads on to others still more surprising. Let us rather resume our search for “man”.
“Man is happy within a restricted sphere,” as we have read. So is the philistine.
“Goethe’s early works were of purely social” (i.e. human) “character.... Goethe clung to what was most immediate, smallest, most domesticated” (p. 88).
The first positive thing we discover about “man” is his delight in the “smallest, domesticated” still-life of the petty bourgeoisie.
“If we can find a place in the world,” — says Goethe, as summarised by Herr Grün, “where to rest with our possessions, a field to provide us with food, a house to shelter us — is that not a Fatherland for us?”
And, exclaims Herr Grün,
“How these words express our deepest thoughts today!” (p. 32).
Essentially “man” is dressed in a redingote à la propriétaire and by that too reveals himself as a thoroughbred épicier.
The German bourgeois, as everyone knows, is a fanatic for freedom at most for a brief moment, in his youth. That is characteristic of “man” too. Herr Grün mentions with approval how in his later years Goethe “damns” the “urge for freedom” which still haunts Götz, that “product of a free and ill-bred boy”, and even quotes this cowardly recantation in extenso on p. 43. What Herr Grün understands by freedom can be deduced from the fact that in the same passage he identifies the freedom of the French Revolution with that of the free Switzers at the time of Goethe’s Swiss journey, in other words, modern, constitutional and democratic freedom with the dominance of patricians and guilds in medieval Imperial Cities and especially with the early Germanic barbarism of cattle-rearing Alpine tribes. The Montagnards of the Bernese Oberland even have the same name as the Montagnards of the National Convention! [Montagnards — literally “mountain — dwellers”; this was also the name taken by the Jacobins, the representatives of the Mountain Party in the Convention during the French Revolution]
The respectable bourgeois is a sworn enemy of all frivolity and mockery of religion: “man” likewise. If Goethe on various occasions expressed himself in a truly bourgeois manner on this topic, Herr Grün takes this as another aspect of the “human content in Goethe”. And to make the point quite credible, Herr Grün assembles not merely these grains of gold, but on p. 62 even adds a number of meritorious sentiments of his own, to the effect that “those who mock religion ... are empty vessels and simpletons”, etc. Which does much credit to his feelings as “man” and bourgeois.
The bourgeois cannot live without a “king he loves”, a father to his country whom he holds dear. Nor can “man”. That is why on p. 129 Karl August is for Goethe a “most excellent Prince”. Stout old Herr Grün, still enthusing for “most excellent Princes” in the year 1846!
An event is of interest to the bourgeois insofar as it impinges directly on his private circumstances.
“To Goethe even the events of the day become alien objects which either add to or detract from his bourgeois comforts and which may arouse in him an aesthetic or human but never a political interest” (p. 20).
Herr Grün “thus finds a human interest in a thing” if he notices that it “either adds to or detracts from his bourgeois comforts”. Herr Grün here confesses as openly as possible that bourgeois comforts are the chief thing for “man”.
Faust and Wilhelm Meister provide Herr Grün with an occasion for special chapters. Let us take Faust first.
On p. 116 we are told:
“Only the fact that Goethe came upon a clue to the mystery of the organisation of plants” enabled him “to complete his delineation of humanistic man” (for there is no way of escaping “human” man) “Faust. For Faust is brought to the peak of his own nature (!) just as much as by natural science.”
We have already had examples of how that “humanistic man”, Herr Grün, “is brought to the peak of his own nature by natural science”. We observe that this is inherent in the race.
Then on p. 231 we hear that the “bones of brute and human skeletons” in the first scene signifies “the abstraction of our whole fife” — and Herr Grün treats Faust in general exactly as though he had the Revelation of St. John the Theologian before him. The macrocosm signifies “Hegelian philosophy”, which at the time when Goethe was writing this scene (1806) happened to exist only in Hegel’s mind or at most in the manuscript of the Phänomenologie, which Hegel was then working on. What has chronology to do with “human content"?
The depiction of the moribund Holy Roman Empire in the Second Part of Faust Herr Grün (p . 240) imagines without more ado to be a depiction of the monarchy of Louis XIV, “in which,” he adds, “we automatically have the Constitution and the Republic!” “Man” naturally “of himself has” everything that other people first have to provide for themselves by dint of toil and exertion.
On p. 246 Herr Grün confides to us that the Second Part of Faust has become, with regard to its scientific aspect, “the canon of modern times, just as Dante’s Divine Comedy was the canon of the Middle Ages”. We would commend this to natural scientists who have hitherto sought very little in the Second Part of Faust, and to historians, who have sought something quite other than a “canon of the Middle Ages” in the Florentine’s pro-Ghibelline poem!  It seems as though Herr Grün is looking at history with the same eyes as Goethe, according to p. 49, looked at his own past: “In Italy Goethe surveyed his past with the eyes of the Belvedere Apollo”, eyes which pour comble de malheur [as the final misfortune] do not even have eyeballs.
Wilhelm Meister is “a Communist”, i.e. “in theory, on the basis of aesthetic outlook” (!!) (p. 254).
On nothing does he set great store,
And yet the whole wide world is his (p. 257).
[Goethe, “Vanitas! Vanitatum vanitas!” — paraphrased]
Of course, he has enough money, and the world belongs to him, as it belongs to every bourgeois, without his needing to go to the trouble of becoming “a communist on the basis of aesthetic outlook”. — Under the auspices of this “nothing” on which Wilhelm Meister sets great store and which, as we see from p. 256, is indeed an extensive and most substantial “nothing”, even hangovers are eliminated. Herr Grün “drains every cup to the lees, without ill effect, without a headache”. So much the better for “man” who may now quietly worship Bacchus with impunity. For the day when all these things shall come to pass, Herr Grün has meanwhile already discovered the drinking song for “true man” in On nothing do I set great store — “this song will be sung when mankind has arranged its affairs in a manner worthy of itself”; but Herr Grün has reduced it to three verses and expunged those parts unsuitable for youth and “man”.
In Wilhelm Meister Goethe sets up
“the ideal of human society”. “Man is not a teaching but a living, acting and creating being.” “Wilhelm Meister is this man...... The essence of man is activity” (an essence he shares with any flea) pp. 257, 258, 261.
Finally the Wahlverwandtschaften. This novel, moral enough in itself, is moralised even more by Herr Grün, so that it almost seems as though he were concerned to recommend the Wahlverwandtschaften as a suitable text-book for schools for young ladies. Herr Grün explains that Goethe
“distinguished between love and marriage, so that for him love was a search of marriage and marriage was love found and fulfilled” (p. 286).
By this token, then, love is the search of “love that has been found”. This is further elucidated to the effect that after “the freedom of youthful love”, marriage must come about as “the final relationship of love” (p. 287). Exactly as in civilised countries a wise father first allows his son to sow his wild oats for a few years and then finds him a suitable wife as a “final relationship”. However, whilst people in civilised countries have long passed the stage of regarding this “final relationship” as something, morally binding, whilst on the contrary in those countries the husband keeps mistresses and his wife retaliates by cuckolding him, the philistine once again rescues Herr Grün:
“If man has had a really free choice, ... if two people base their union on their mutual rational wishes” (there is no mention here of passion, flesh and blood) “it would require the outlook of a libertine to regard the upsetting of this relationship as a trifle, as not so fraught with suffering and unhappiness as Goethe did. But there can be no question of libertinism with Goethe” (p. 288).
This passage qualifies the timid polemic against morality which Herr Grün permits himself from time to time. The philistine has arrived at the realisation that there is all the more reason for having to turn a blind eye to the behaviour of the young since it is precisely the most dissolute young men who afterwards make the best husbands. But if they should misbehave themselves again after the wedding — then no mercy, no pity on them; for that “would require the outlook of a libertine”.
“The outlook of a libertine!” “Libertinism!” One can just picture “man” as large as life before one, as he places his hand on his heart, and overflowing with pride exclaims: No! I am pure of all frivolity, of “fornication and licentiousness”, I have never deliberately ruined the happiness of a contented marriage, I have always practised fidelity and honesty and have never lusted after my neighbour’s wife — I am no “libertine"!
“Man” is right. He is not made for amorous affairs with beautiful women, he has never turned his mind to seduction and adultery, he is no “libertine”, but a man of conscience, an honourable, virtuous, German philistine. He is
... the peaceful tradesman,
Smoking his pipe at the back of his shop;
He fears his wife and her domineering tone;
He leaves to her the government of the house,
Without a word he obeys her slightest signal;
Thus he lives, cuckolded, beaten and content.
(Parny, Goddam, chant III.)
There remains just one observation for us to make. If above we have only considered one aspect of Goethe, that is the fault of Herr Grün alone. He does not present Goethe’s towering stature at all. He either skims hurriedly over all works in which Goethe was really great and a genius, such as the Römische Elegieen of Goethe the “libertine”, or he inundates them with a great torrent of trivialities, which only proves that he can make nothing of them. On the other hand, with what is for him uncommon industry he seeks out every instance of philistinism, petty priggery and narrow-mindedness, collates them, exaggerates them in the manner of a true literary hack, and rejoices every time he is able to find support for his own narrow-minded opinions on the authority of Goethe, whom he furthermore frequently distorts.
History’s revenge on Goethe for ignoring her every time she confronted him face to face was not the yapping of Menzel nor the narrow polemic of Börne. No,
Just as Titania in the land of fairy magic
Found Nick Bottom in her arms,
so one morning Goethe found Herr Grün in his arms. Herr Grün’s apologia, the warm thanks he stammers out to Goethe for every philistine word, that is the bitterest revenge which offended history could pronounce upon the greatest German poet.
Herr Grün, however, “can close his eyes in the awareness that he has not disgraced his destiny of being a man” (p. 248).