When the Leipzig Committee applied to him, Lassalle was in his thirty-seventh year, in the full force of his physical and mental development. He had already lived a strenuous life; he had made himself a name politically and scientifically – both, it is true, within certain limited circles; he was in relations with the most prominent representatives of literature and art; he had ample means and influential friends. In a word, according to ordinary notions, the Committee, composed of hitherto quite unknown men, representing a still embryonic movement, could offer him nothing he did not already possess. Nevertheless, he entered into their wishes with the utmost readiness, and took the initial steps for giving the movement that direction which best accorded with his own views and aims. Quite apart from all other considerations, he must have been particularly attracted by the movement, from the fact that it had as yet taken no definite form, that it offered itself to him as a mass which, without any great difficulty, he could himself mould into shape. First, to give it form, to mould it into an army after his own mind, this not only fell in with his high-soaring plans; it was a task that must have strongly appealed to his natural inclinations. The invitation appealed not merely to his Socialist convictions, but to his weaknesses. And so he accepted it with the greatest readiness.
The present work does not pretend to be an actual “Life” of Ferdinand Lassalle, or to add one more to the very large number of biographies of the founder of the General German Working Men’s Association, which, in the space at my disposal, could only be a repetition of oft-told facts. What this work aims at, above all, is to portray the personality and the historical significance of Ferdinand Lassalle, so far as his political, literary, and propagandist work is concerned. Nevertheless, a glance at Lassalle’s career is indispensable, since it gives the key to the understanding of his political line of action.
Even his descent appears to have exercised a great, one may even say a fatal influence, upon the development of Lassalle. I am not here speaking of any inherited qualities or inclinations, but simply of the fact that the consciousness that he was of Jewish origin was, according to his own confession, painful to Lassalle even in his more advanced years; and, despite all his efforts, or perhaps because of these efforts, he never really succeeded in becoming indifferent to his descent, in getting rid of a certain self-conscious awkwardness. But it must not be forgotten that Lassalle was cradled in the eastern part of the Prussian kingdom – he was born at Breslau on the 11th of April, 1825 – where, until the year 1843, the Jews were not formally emancipated. Lassalle’s father was a wholesale silk merchant, and is described by those who knew him as a very honest, genial, and intelligent man. His mother, on the other hand, appears to have been a somewhat capricious woman, with that love for dress and jewellery so often found in Jewish middle-class women. The wealth of his parents saved Lassalle from many of the miseries under which the poorer Jews had at this time to suffer, but it did not protect him from all sorts of petty mortifications, to which all belonging to an oppressed race, even those in good circumstances, are exposed. And these, in so self-conscious a nature as Lassalle’s was from his youth, induce first a defiant fanaticism of revolt, which later not infrequently veers round to its very opposite. How great the fanaticism of the young Lassalle was we see from his Diary of the years 1840 and 1841, recently published by Herr Paul Lindau. On the 1st February, 1840, Ferdinand Lassalle, not yet fifteen years old, writes in his diary: ... “I told him this, and, in fact, I think I am one of the best Jews in existence, although I disregard the Ceremonial Law. I could, like that Jew in Bulwer’s Leila, risk my life to deliver the Jews froth their present crushing condition. I would not even shrink from the scaffold could I but once more make of them a respected people. Oh! when I yield to my childish dreams, it is ever my favourite fancy to make the Jews armed – I at their head-free.” The persecution of the Jews at Damascus, in the May of 1840, drew from him the cry “A people that bears this is hideous; let them suffer or avenge this treatment.” And to the statement of a reporter: “The Jews of this town endure barbarities such as only these pariahs of the earth world suffer without a horrible reaction,” he added the characteristic remark: “Lo, even the Christians marvel at our sluggish blood, that we do not rise, that we do not rather perish on the battlefield than by torture. Was the oppression against which the Swiss one day rebelled greater? ... Cowardly people, then dost merit no better lot.” He expresses himself even more passionately a few months later (30th July): “Again the ridiculous story that Jews make use of Christian blood. The same story at Rhodes and Lemberg as in Damascus. But that this accusation goes forth from all corners of the earth seems to say to me that the time will soon be at hand when we, in very deed, will help ourselves with Christian blood. Aide toi et le ciel t’aidera. The dice are ready, it only depends upon the player.”
These childish ideas disappear more and more as his views broaden, but the effect of such youthful impressions upon the mind remains. The immediate result was, that the sting of the “tortures” of which he writes, doubly incited the precocious Lassalle to secure recognition and respect for himself at all costs. On the other hand, the rebel against the oppression of the Jews is soon turned into a political revolutionist by the Christians. And yet, after seeing Schiller’s Fiesco, he remarks – showing extraordinarily acute self-criticism: “I know not, although I now have revolutionary-democratic-republican inclinations with the best of them; yet I feel that in Count Lavagna’s place I would have acted just as he did, and would not have contented myself with being Genoa’s first citizen, but would rather have stretched forth my hand to the crown. From this it seems, when I look at the matter in the light of day, that I am simply an egotist. Had I been born prince or ruler I should have been an aristocrat, body and soul. But now, as I am only a poor burgher’s son, I shall be a democrat in good time.”
It was his political radicalism also, which, in 1841, induced the sixteen-year-old Lassalle to give up the idea, entertained for a time, of devoting himself to a commercial career, and to get permission from his father to prepare for the university curriculum. The generally accepted opinion  that Lassalle had been sent to the Commercial School at Leipzig by his father, against his own will, has been shown by the diary to be entirely wrong. Lassalle himself managed his transfer from the Gymnasium to the Commercial School, not, it is true, from any passing predilection for a business life, but to escape the consequences of a number of thoughtless escapades, which he had committed in order not to be obliged to show his father the bad reports which he – in his opinion, undeservedly – was always receiving. But when he got on no better at the Leipzig Commercial School than at the Breslau Gymnasium, when he there too came into conflict with most of the masters, and especially with the head-master, conflicts that grew more and more bitter as his opinions became more radical, Lassalle there and then gave up the idea of a commercial career. In the May of 1840, Lassalle entered the Commercial School, and already, on the 3rd of August, be “hopes” that “chance” will one day rescue him from the counting-house, and throw him upon a stage where be can labour for the public. “I trust to chance, and to my own strong will to devote myself more to the muses than to ledgers and journals; to Hellas and the East than to indigo and beet-root; to Thalia and her priests than to shop-keepers and their clerks; to care more for Freedom than for the price of goods, to execrate more deeply those dogs of aristocrats, who rob man of his first and highest possession, than the rival competitors who bring down prices.” And be adds: “But I shall not content myself with execrations.” And with this Radicalism there grew in him an ever stronger longing to shake off the Jew in him, a longing which at last becomes so overwhelming that when Lassalle informed his father in May, 1841, of his “irrevocable” determination to go to the university after all, he at the same time refused to study medicine or law, for “the doctor and the lawyer are both tradesmen who traffic with their knowledge.” He would study “for the sake of what can be done with knowledge.” The father, it is true, did not acquiesce in this last idea, but nevertheless consented to Lassalle’s preparing for a university career.
Lassalle now worked with such desperate energy, that, in 1842, he was already able to pass his matriculation examination. He began by studying philology, then turned to philosophy, and sketched the outline of a great philologico-philosophical work, on the Philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus. That he should have chosen this thinker of all others as the subject for his researches – a thinker whom the greatest Greek philosophers themselves admitted they could never feel sure of understanding rightly, and who was therefore called the “Dark” – is strikingly characteristic of Lassalle. And what attracted Lassalle even more than the teaching of Heraclitus, whom Hegel himself had acknowledged as his forerunner, was the conviction that here only by brilliant achievement could laurels be won. And with this longing to dazzle all men by some extraordinary achievement, already referred to, Lassalle was convinced that he was equal to any task he might set himself. This boundless self-confidence was the bane of his life. It helped him, indeed, to undertake, and to carry through, things from which thousands, even though endowed with Lassalle’s intellectual gifts, would lave shrunk; but, on the other hand, it was the cause of many fatal mistakes, and finally of his unhappy end.
After completing his course of studies, Lassalle went, in 1844, to the Rhine, and later to Paris, partly in order to work at the libraries there, partly in. order to see the world-city, the centre of the intellectual life of the time. The tide of the socialist movement was running very high in Paris at this moment, and it is probable that here Lassalle found his socialist Damascus. Whether, or to what extent, Lassalle became acquainted with the German socialists living in Paris – Karl Marx, after the Deutsch-französischen Jahrbücher had gone under; and the Vorwärts was suspended, had been expelled from Paris, and had migrated to Brussels, in January, 1845 – on this point we have no reliable information. But on the other hand it is known that he associated much with Heinrich Heine, to whom he had an introduction, and to whom he rendered the greatest services in an unpleasant money transaction, (a disputed inheritance). The letters in which the sick poet expressed his gratitude and admiration for the twenty-year-old Lassalle are well-known, and as they are quoted in Mr. Dawson’s work , may here be omitted.
Having returned to Germany, Lassalle, in 1846, made the acquaintance of the Countess Hatzfeld. For years the Countess had been trying to obtain a judicial separation, and the restitution of her fortune, from her husband, Count Hatzfeld, who had subjected her to the grossest ill-usage and insults. The whole case affords a curious illustration of the habits of the German aristocracy before the Revolution of 1848. Though not a lawyer, Lassalle took it upon himself to conduct the Countess’ case. It was an extraordinary undertaking, requiring all the skill, astuteness, and acumen of an experienced lawyer. But if Lassalle could not bring to the work the advantage of experience, he brought, besides his rare intellectual gifts, the zeal, the devotion, the audacity, and the pertinacity of youth, and with these succeeded where probably the most eminent lawyer would have failed. The warfare between Lassalle and Count Hatzfeld lasted for years. Its most famous incident was the oft-told story of the “casket-robbery.”
One fine day Count Hatzfeld attempted, in the form of a loan, to make over the whole of the fortune of his second son, Paul – whom he hated, because the boy had remained with his mother – to one of his mistresses, a certain Baroness von Meyendorff. The affair was discovered, and the Count, caught in the act of perpetrating this fraud, promised to cancel the deed of gift. But he did this simply to gain time. A few days later he refused all further negotiations, and the Baroness von Meyendorff secretly left the place, taking with her a casket, supposed to contain the deed of gift. Lassalle immediately induced two of his friends – both rich, and one himself a judge – to follow the Baroness, and to ascertain, at all costs, whether she was in possession of the document, or whether the deed of gift had been cancelled. They ran her down at Cologne, and by unexpected luck for awhile obtained possession of the casket, but failed to retain possession of it. They were subsequently arrested, and – such a lottery is justice! while he who had seized the casket – the judge – was acquitted, the man to whom he handed it over – a physician – was condemned to five years’ penal servitude. Lassalle, though a younger man than either of the others, was prosecuted for “inciting to the theft of a casket.” Fortunately, he was tried by jury, in August, 1848, when the Revolution of March, in the same year, had somewhat altered the state of things in Germany. After a seven days’ trial, at the end of which Lassalle spoke for six hours – (the Casket Speech) – the jury dismissed the charge.
It is interesting to note that the young Count Paul Hatzfeld referred to is the present Ambassador from the German Empire to the Court of St. James’s.
There has been much speculation on the motives which induced Lassalle to take the Countess’ case in hand. Some have explained them by a love affair with the no longer youthful, but still very beautiful, woman, whilst Lassalle himself, at the “Casket Trial,” passionately protested that his sole motive had been one of pity for a persecuted woman, deserted by her friends, the victim of her social position, the object of the brutal persecution of an insolent aristocrat. There is absolutely no reason for refusing to believe this statement of Lassalle’s. Whether Lassalle did not for a time enter into closer relationship than that of friendship with her in later years we cannot say. But even on purely psychological grounds, it is improbable that such a relationship should have existed at the beginning of their acquaintance, when Lassalle took up the lawsuit. It is far more probable that, in addition to his perhaps somewhat romantic and exaggerated, yet most worthy partisanship of a persecuted woman and hatred of the great aristocrat, Lassalle was attracted by the fact that here was an affair which only the use of extraordinary measures, and the display of extraordinary energy, could bring to a successful issue. What would have repelled others, unquestionably attracted him.
He came out of the lawsuit victorious; he had the triumphant satisfaction of seeing the insolent aristocrat forced to capitulate to him, the “stupid Jew boy.” But he did not come out of the struggle scatheless. To win it he had certainly been obliged to resort to extraordinary measures. But it was not, or rather it was not merely, a matter of extraordinary grasp of the legal issues, of extraordinary readiness and dexterity in parrying the enemy’s thrusts. There were also the extraordinary measures of underground warfare; the spying, the bribery, the burrowing in the nastiest scandal and filth.  Count Hatzfeld, a coarse sensualist, stuck at nothing to attain his ends, and in order to thwart his dirty manoeuvres, the other side resorted to means that were not much more clean. No one who has not read the documents of the case can have any conception of the filth raked up, and again and again dragged forward, of the nature of the accusations on both sides, and the witnesses. And the after effects of his inverted Augean labours in the Hatzfeld Trial Lassalle never quite shook off.
I do not say this from the point of view of Philistine morality, or in reference to his later love affairs. I refer rather to his readiness, henceforth again and again manifested, to welcome and to make use of any means that seemed likely to further the ends he had, for the time being, in view; I refer to the loss of that feeling of tact which forbids a man of convictions, even in the thick of a violent struggle, to take any step opposed to the principles he represents; I refer to that loss of good taste, that want of moral judgment, henceforth so often shown and most strongly marked during the tragic closing episode of his life. It was as a youthful enthusiast that Lassalle had plunged into the Hatzfeld Case. In his Casket Speech, he himself uses the image of the swimmer: – “What man, being a strong swimmer, could see another swept away by the stream without going to his aid? Well, I considered myself a good swimmer, I was free, and so I plunged into the stream.” True, no doubt, but the stream into which he plunged was a very muddy one, a stream that ended in a vast quagmire. And when Lassalle emerged from it he had been infected by the rottenness of the society with which he had had to deal. For a long time his originally finer instincts struggled against the effects of this poison, often successfully beating them back, but finally he after all succumbed.
What I have said may to some seem too severe, but we shall see in the course of this study that it is only just to Lassalle. It is not for me to write an apology, but rather to give a critical representation, and for this the first requisite is to explain the effects by the causes.
Before proceeding further, however, we must first consider the part played by Lassalle in 1848.
On the outbreak of the Revolution of March, Lassalle was so deeply entangled in the meshes of the Hatzfeld Case that he had at the beginning almost condemned himself to political inaction. In the August of 1848 he was tried for “inciting to the theft of a Casket,” and his hands were full preparing for the trial. It was only after his acquittal that he again found leisure to take a direct part in the political events of this stirring time.
Lassalle, who was then living at Düsseldorf – the birthplace of Heine, – as Republican and Socialists of course was on the extreme left of the Democratic party, whose organ was the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (the New Rhenish Gazette), edited by Karl Marx. Karl Marx had, moreover, for a tune been a member of the District Committee of the Rhenish Democrats, whose headquarters were Cologne.  A double opportunity was thus given Lassalle for bringing him into closer relations with Marx. He communicated by word of mouth and by letter with the District Committee mentioned above, he frequently sent communications and correspondence to the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and occasionally even appeared at the editorial office of the paper. Thus, gradually, a friendly personal relation came about between Lassalle and Marx, and this later, when Marx was living in exile, was kept up by letters, and now and again by visits. Lassalle frequently came to London, while Marx, during a journey to Germany, in 1861, visited Lassalle in Berlin. Nevertheless, there never at any time existed any deeper friendship between the two; for this their natures were far too diverse. Other matters that stood in the way of any intimacy beyond comradeship in the political fight will be discussed later on.
Lassalle’s attitude with regard to the inflowing tide of reaction in 1848 was identical with. that of the editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and of the party at the back of them. When, in November, 1848, the Prussian Government disbanded the Berlin civic guard, proclaimed a state of siege in Berlin, and removed the seat of the National Assembly from Berlin to Brandenburg, a small provincial town, and when in time the National Assembly impeached the Prussian Ministry for high treason (i.e., violation of the Constitution), and declared this ministry had forfeited the right of levying taxes, Lassalle, following the example of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, called upon all citizens to organise and offer an armed resistance to the collection of taxes. Like the Committee of the Rhenish Democrats, Lassalle was also indicted for inciting to armed resistance against the King’s authority, and like them, too, he was acquitted by the jury. But the Reaction, growing more and more high-handed, brought a further charge against Lassalle of inciting to resistance against Government officials, with the object of getting him tried before the Correctional Police Court. And, in fact, this court – the Government undoubtedly knew its own judges – eventually did condemn Lassalle to six months’ imprisonment.
Lassalle’s answer to the first of these charges has been published under the title Assize Court Speech (Assisen-Rede). But, as a matter of fact, it was never really spoken, and everything that has been said in the various biographies of the “profound” impression it produced upon the jury and the public therefore belongs to the domain of fable. Even before the trial came on, Lassalle had sent the speech to the printer’s, and as some complete proofs had also been circulated beforehand, the court decided to exclude the public. When, in spite of Lassalle’s protest, and his declaration that the proofs had been circulated without his knowledge, and very probably at the instigation of, and through bribery by, his enemies, the court decided to maintain its decision, and thereupon Lassalle declined to defend himself, but was none the less acquitted.
Whether spoken or not, the Assize Court Speech, in any case, is an interesting document for the study of Lassalle’s political development. In it he takes almost the same standpoint as that taken three months earlier by Marx in his speech to the Cologne Jury.  A comparison of the two speeches demonstrates this as clearly as it demonstrates the difference of the natures of Marx and Lassalle. Marx refrains from all oratorical flourish; he goes straight to the point, in simple and terse language; sentence by sentence he develops incisively, and with ruthless logic, his own standpoint, and, without any peroration, ends with a summary of the political situation. Anyone would think that Marx’ own personality was in no wise concerned, and that his only business was to deliver a political lecture to the jury. And, in fact, at the end of the trial, one of the jurors went to Marx to thank him, in the name of his colleagues, for the very instructive lecture he had given them! Lassalle’s peroration, on the other hand, lasts almost from beginning to end; he exhausts himself in images – often very beautiful – and superlatives. It is all sentiment, and whether he refers to the cause he represented or to himself, he never speaks to the jury, but to the gallery, to an imaginary mass meeting, and after declaring a vengeance that should be “as tremendous” as “the insult offered the people,” he ended with a recitation from Schiller’s Tell.
Even when in prison, where, by his energy and pertinacity, Lassalle obtained privileges not usually granted prisoners – thus he frequently received permission, a proceeding he himself later on declared illegal, to plead in the Countess Hatzfeld’s law suits – and for many years after this, Lassalle’s energies were almost wholly absorbed by the Hatzfeld affair. Besides this, Lassalle kept open house for his political friends, and for a long time gathered around him a circle of advanced working-men, to whom he delivered political lectures. At last, in 1854, the Hatzfeld case came to an end. The Countess received a considerable fortune, and Lassalle was assured a yearly income of 7,000 thalers (£1,050), which allowed him to order his way of life after his own heart.
For the time being Lassalle continued to reside at Düsseldorf, and here worked on at his Heraclitus. Moreover, he undertook all sorts of journeys, among others, one to the East. But in the long run, not even these could reconcile him to residing in a provincial town, where all political life had died out. He longed for a freer, more stimulating life than the Rhenish town could offer or permit him, for intercourse with notable personalities, and for a wider sphere of action. And so, in 1847, he managed to obtain, through the instrumentality of Alexander von Humboldt, permission from the King of Prussia to take up his abode in Berlin.
His petition, as well as the permission granted, deserve notice. In May, 1849, Lassalle had branded in burning words the “shameful and insufferable Government by force that had burst forth in Prussia;” he had cried aloud: “Why with so much force is there so much hypocrisy? But that is Prussian,” and “Let us forget nothing, never, never ... Let us cherish these remembrances carefully, as the ashes of murdered parents, the sole heritage from whom is the oath of vengeance bound up with these ashes.” (Assize Court Speech). After taking up this attitude, it must assuredly have required a good deal of self-abnegation to address such a petition to the very Government which had been attacked in this way, and to appeal to that Government’s good-will in order to obtain it. Lassalle must have been desperately anxious to live in the Prussian capital, and one can hardly wonder if this step of his met with the disapproval of some of his political friends. Lassalle, who could he very rigorous towards others, and who, e.g., many years later urged Marx to give up all intercourse with Liebknecht, because the latter was at that time the correspondent of the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, applied a different rule where he was himself concerned. He was thirsting for recognition, for fame, for action, and for these the capital itself was necessary.
Nor is it impossible that Lassalle had been informed, through the relations of the Countess Hatzfeld, which were pretty far-reaching, that a new wind was about to blow in the higher circles of Prussia. How far-reaching these relations were, is shown by the information which Lassalle sent to Marx in London on the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854. Thus, on the 10th February 1854, he forwards Marx the text of the declaration sent, a few days before, by the Berlin Cabinet to Paris and to London, and describes the situation in the Berlin Cabinet – the King and almost the whole Cabinet for Russia, only Manteuffel and the Crown Prince of Prussia for England – and the measures decided upon by it in the event of certain contingencies. Upon this he writes “You can look upon all the news sent herewith as if you had it from Manteuffel’s or Aberdeen’s own lips!”
Four weeks later he again sent all kinds of information about the steps the Cabinet contemplated taking, based upon information received, “not, it is true, from my ‘official’ source, but still from a fairly reliable one.” On the 20th May, 1854, he deplores that his “diplomatic informant” had started on a long journey. “To have so excellent a source of information that kept one informed as if one had been in the Cabinet, and then to lose it again for so long a time is exceedingly annoying.” But he still has other sources of information that keep him posted as to the internal movements of the Berlin Cabinet, and so, among other things he had received early information of Bonin’s dismissal, etc.
Some of these “informants” were very connected with the Berlin Court, and their reports may have induced Lassalle to take the step he did. The mental alienation of Frederick William IV. was at this time already very far advanced, and even though the faithful ministers and the guardians of the monarchical idea did not yet think it advanced enough to declare the King incapable of reigning, yet everyone in well-informed circles knew that the Regency of the Prince of Prussia was now only a question of months.
At Berlin, Lassalle now completed his Heraclitus, which was published at the end of 1857, by Franz Duncker. Authorities differ as to the value of this work. Some regard it as epoch-making; others declare that in all essentials it contains nothing Hegel had not already said. Certain it is, that here Lassalle almost throughout his work accepts the old Hegelian standpoint. Things are developed from ideas, categories of thought are treated as eternal metaphysical entities, whose movement begets history. Bat even those who question the epoch-making character of Lassalle’s work, admit that it is a very notable achievement. It gave Lassalle an honoured name in the scientific world.
But as characteristic of Lasalle and his mental development, The Philosophy of Heraclitus the Dark of Ephesus, is not simply noticeable because it shows us Lassalle as a determined disciple of Hegel. Herein we agree with the well-known Danish literary historian, G. Brandes, when in his study  of Lassalle – a work that often deals pretty freely with facts for the sake of literary effect – he says that various passages in the work on Heraclitus supply the key for the understanding of Lassalle’s view of life. This, of course, applies especially to Lassalle’s cult of the idea of the State – in this, too, Lassalle was an old Hegelian – and to his conception of honour and of fame. With regard to the former, Brandes says:
“The ethic of Heraclitus,” Lassalle says (Vol.II, p.431), summed up in the one idea, which is also the eternal fundamental concept of the moral itself: ‘devotion to universality’.” This is at once Greek and modern; but Lassalle cannot resist the temptation of demonstrating in his working-out of this idea by the old Greeks that they were in accord with Hegel’s philosophy of the State (Vol.II, p.439). “As in the Hegelian philosophy laws also are conceived as the realisation of the universal actual Will, while this conception is not for a moment considered in relation to the formal Will of the individuals and their enumeration, so is the universality of Heraclitus equally removed from the category of empirical totality.”
Nor was Brandes wrong when he recognised a contradiction between this conception of the State, that recurs again and again in Lassalle, and his confession of democratic faith and belief in universal suffrage, which, after all, expresses the rule of “the formal will and of the individual,” a contradiction “no one can harbour in his mind without taint.” In the domain of principle it is, he says, the counterpart to that contrast which “expressed itself outwardly when Lassalle with his studiously elegant dress, and studiously fine linen, and his patent leather boots, addressed a circle of sooty-faced and horny-handed factory workers.” 
This is expressed in the terms of the littérateur. As a matter of fact, Lassalle’s old Hegelian state-concept led him, in his subsequent struggle with the “Manchester school<&8221;, to overshoot the mark.
As to Lassalle’s conception of honour and fame, Brandes says:
“Another point of similarity, the last between Heraclitus and Lassalle, is the passionate desire, despite all self-sufficiency and pride, for fame and honour, for the admiration and the praise of others.” Heraclitus has enunciated the oft-quoted axiom (Vol. II. p.434): “The greater destinies achieve the greater fate.” And he has said, throwing the true light upon this saying (Vol. II. p.436): “That the masses, and those who deem themselves wise, follow the singers of the people, and seek counsel from the laws, not knowing that the masses are bad, a few only good; but the best follow after fame. For,” he adds, “the best ever seek one thing rather than everything, the everlasting fame of mortals.” So fame was for Heraclitus identical with that greater lot, which the greater destinies achieve; his striving after honour was not merely the immediate striving that is in the blood, but one based upon reflection and philosophy. “Fame,” says Lassalle, “is, in fact, the antithesis to everything, the antithesis to the categories of immediate, actual Being as a whole, and of its individual aims. It is the Being of man in his non-being, a continuance in the decay of sentient existence itself; it is therefore the immortality of man attained and made real.” And he adds with warmth: “Just as this is the reason why fame has always so mightily stirred the great souls and lifted them beyond all petty and narrow ends, it is the reason why Platen, singing of it, says it can only be attained ‘hand in hand with the all-testing Angel of Death,’ so also is it the reason why Heraclitus recognised in it the ethic realisation of his speculative principle” (p.45).
Truly it was not in Lassalle’s nature to content himself with the fame that is only to be attained hand in hand with the Angel of Death. In contrast with the Heraclitean contempt for the masses, he thirsted for their applause, and with the utmost self-complacency took any sign that seemed to promise him this, no matter how insignificant, for the applause itself. The predilection for the sentimental, which was so very marked in Lassalle, usually implies cynicism and hypocrisy. Now if Lassalle cannot be altogether acquitted of having had a certain amount of the former, no one can accuse him of ever making any secret of that which Brandes calls “his unfortunate fondness for the noise and the drum-beating of Fame, and for the blare of its trumpets.” In his writings, in his speeches, in his letters, it is displayed with a frankness, whose naiveté to some extent disarms one. When Helene von Rakowitza in her Apology says that Lassalle pictured to her at Berne how he should one day, as the people’s chosen President of the Republic, make his entry into Berlin “drawn by six white steeds,” one is tempted either to believe that the authoress is exaggerating, or to assume that Lassalle hoped by picturing so enticing a future to obtain a firmer hold upon the heart of his lady-love. However, the well-known Soul’s Confession, written to Sophie von Solutzew, proves that this picture of the future was by no means the sport of an idle hour, or a lover’s fancy, but that it was an idea with which Lassalle intoxicated himself, whose magic exercised a mighty charm upon him. He calls himself – in 1860 – “the head of a party,” with regard to which “almost cur whole Society “has divided into two parties the one – a portion of the bourgeoisie and the people – “respect, love, aye, not infrequently, honour” Lassalle, for it he is “a man of the greatest genius, and of almost superhuman character, of whom they expect the greatest deeds.” The other party – the whole of the aristocracy and the greater portion of the bourgeoisie – fear him “more than anyone else, and therefore hate him ‘indescribably’.” If the women of this aristocratic society will not forgive Sophie von Solutzew for marrying such a man, on the other hand, many women will not forgive her because such a man has married her, “will envy her a good fortune that is beyond her deserts. And truly, I will not conceal from you, that, if certain events come about, it might well be that a flood of action, sonorous and splendid, would burst upon life, should you become my your wife.”
Exaggerated as all these utterances appear, little as they all corresponded to the actual facts, at a time when there was no thought of a Social Democratic party, and when indeed Lassalle was socially on the best of terms with the middle-class Liberals and Democrats, and had just published a pamphlet that was, in the main, at one with the aspirations of the Prussian Cabinet, they yet contain a great subjective truth: Lassalle himself believed in them. Lassalle believed in the party that acknowledged him as its head, even though that party for the time being consisted of himself alone, and though even in his own ideas it was yet of the vaguest. The party was HIMSELF – HIS aims, and HIS plans. Every word of recognition from his friends, or from those he took for friends, was a confirmation of his mission, every clever piece of flattery, frank homage. Marvellous are the contradictions of which human nature is capable! Lassalle, as we know from his intimate acquaintances, and as we can see from his letters, was extremely lavish of flattering adjectives; but when he used them himself they were to him only worthless dross; when applied to him by others he took them for pure gold.
So interwoven was his party with himself in his own imagination, that when later he really did stand at the head of a party, or, at any rate, at the head of a party that was in course of formation, he could only regard it from the point of view of his own personality, and treated it accordingly. Let me not be misunderstood. It is absurd to say that Lassalle created the General German Working-men’s Association only to serve his own ambition; that Socialism was to him only a means, not an end. Lassalle was a convinced Socialist. Of this there can be no doubt. But he would have been incapable of sinking himself in the Socialist movement, of sacrificing his personality – note that we do not say his life – to it.
So much on this matter for the present. The Greek philosopher was followed by a German knight. Shortly after the Heraclitus had appeared, Lassalle completed a historical drama that he had already sketched out at Düsseldurf. This, after an arrangement of it for the stage anonymously sent in had been refused by the manager of the Royal Theatre, he published under his own name in 1859. It was called Franz von Sickingen, a Historical Tragedy. That the play was unsuited to the stage Lassalle himself subsequently admitted, and he attributed this chiefly to its dearth of poetical imagination. As a matter of fact, the drama, in spite of some most effective scenes, and pregnant language, gives on the whole an impression of dryness; its tendency is too obtrusive, there is too much reflection in it, and above all, there are too many speeches. The metre also is extraordinarily awkward. Brandes says that a friend of Lassalle’s, whom, whilst working at Franz von Sickingen, he asked for advice, and who had been a skilled versifier, told Lassalle he had better write the play in prose, and I agree with Brandes that better advice could not have been given. For Lassalle’s prose really has many excellent qualities, and even the strongly-marked tendency to drop into declamation would not have mattered in a drama like Sickingen. But Lassalle was not to be dissuaded from his idea that the metrical form was indispensable for the drama, and so not only his knights and heroes halt along on the most turgid of five-footed iambics, but even the insurgent peasants strut on the stilts of blank verse. The only exception is in the well-known riddle
Loset, sagt an: Was ist das für ein Wesen?
[Hear! what species of existence this?
And the effect is really refreshing.
However, these technical questions are of less moment for its than the subject-matter and the tendency of the drama. In Franz you Sickingen, Lassalle wanted to improve upon the historical drama as created by Schiller and Goethe; to go a step further. The historical struggle was not, as is especially the case with Schiller, merely to supply the background for the tragic conflict, while the real dramatic action is concerned only with purely individual interests and destinies. The historical conditions of the times and of the people were to be the actual subject of the tragedy, so that this should not concern itself with individuals as such, individuals who are but the representatives and embodiment of the conflicting interests, but with the greatest and most potent destinies of nations – “destinies which determine the weal or woe of the general spirit of the time, and which are made by the dramatis personae with the consuming passions begotten of historic aims, the one question of their life.” “And with all that it is possible,” Lassalle thinks, “to endow these characters, out of the clearness of thought and aim which is theirs, with definite, firm, and even pronounced and realistic individuality.” (See Preface to Franz von Sickingen.) If, and to what extent Lassalle solved the problem he had set himself, how far the problem is solvable at all, under what conditions the great struggles of humanity and of the peoples can be thus embodied in individuals in such a way that neither the one side nor the other, neither the great and vast significance of those struggles, nor the living personality of the individuals should be unduly neglected, are questions which must here be left untouched. Suffice it to say that Lassalle, in working out his drama, started with this theory. And now as to the drama itself.
As its title indicates, its central idea is the struggle of Franz von Sickingen against the German princes. Sickingen, a Franconian nobleman, was one of those nobles who, at the time of the Reformation, stood out not only against the princes of the various German states, but also against the rule of the Church of Rome in Germany. Sickingen towered above others of his class by his moral and intellectual qualities, his military capacity, his broad view, and his readiness to succour the oppressed. Together with his learned, and even more enthusiastic friend, Ulrich von Hutten, he attempted to bring about a revolutionary movement, with the object of restoring to the German Empire its past glory, but freed from the influence of Rome. But their efforts failed. The burghers in the towns and the peasants in the country had no confidence in the nobles, while most of the latter deserted their leaders. Sickingen was defeated by the superior armies of the princes, and fell, mortally wounded, at Landsthul in 1523. Hutten was forced to fly to Switzerland, where he died, in poverty, at the little island of Utnau, on the Lake of Zurich. This truly remarkable man, Franz von Sickingen, and his friend and adviser, Ulrich von Hutten, are the heroes of the drama, and it is difficult to say which of the two, the military man and statesman, or the representative of the views of the small German nobility, is the more interesting. Oddly enough, Lassalle attempted to paint himself, not in the former, but in the latter. “Read my tragedy,” he writes to Sophie von Solutzew; “everything I could say to you here, I have made Hutten say. He too had to bear all kinds of calumny, every form of hatred, every species of malevolence. I have made of him the mirror of my soul, and I was able to do this as his fate and my own are absolutely identical, and of astounding similarity.” It would have been difficult even for Lassalle to prove this astounding similarity, especially at the time when he wrote this letter. He was leading a luxurious life in Berlin; he associated with members of all circles of the well-to-do classes, and as a politician was very far from being hated in the same way as was the Franconian knight, the inspirer of the passionate polemical pamphlets against the sway of the Romish priests. Only in a few external points can we find any analogy between Lassalle and Hutten. In this case, however, the actual facts are of less importance than what Lassalle himself believed, and what inspired his work. People of such enormous self-sufficiency are, as a rule, easily deceived about themselves. Enough that we have before us, in the Hutten of the play, Lassalle as he was thinking at that time; and the speeches he puts in the mouth of Hutten thus acquire a special value for the understanding of the Lassallean range of ideas.
Here we may chiefly note Hutten’s answer to the doubts of Oekolampadius as to the proposed rising
Most honoured sir! you know not history well.
A thoroughly Hegelian phrase.
And still its form remains for ever Force.
And then when Oekolampadius has spoken of the “profanation of the teaching of Love by the sword “
Most honoured sir! think better of the sword!
No doubt there was a great deal of exaggeration in the lines “And still” – i.e., History’s – “form still remains for ever Force,” and all things great that ever will be done, will owe all their success unto the sword.” Nevertheless, the statement that the sword that’s lifted high for Freedom is the “Word made flesh,” that whosoever would attain Freedom, must be prepared to fight for it with the sword, was fully justified at a time when large numbers in the circles of the ci-devant democracy were becoming more and more inclined to expect everything from the power of the Word. Very timely, too, and not only for that particular period are the words Lassalle makes Balthasar Schlör speak to Sickingen in the last act
Oh, not the first are you, nor yet will be
And Sickingen’s words
Show not the end and aim, but show the way,
are a phrase from Lassalle’s own political confession of faith. Unfortunately, however, he disregarded it exactly at the most critical period of his political career.
But we will not dwell upon isolated passages; rather let us consider the drama as a whole, get at the quintessence of it.
The part actually played in history by Hutten and Sickingen was an entirely different one from what they thought or meant it to be. Both were representatives of the feudal knights, a class, at the time of the Reformation, in its period of decadence. What they wished to do was to stop this process of decay, an idle effort, inevitably doomed to failure, and that only expedited what it meant to stave off. As Hutten and Sickingen by character and by intellect towered high above their class, we here certainly have the making of a true tragedy – the hopeless struggle of strong personalities fighting against historical necessity. This aspect of the Hutten-Sickingen movement is, oddly enough, ignored in Lassalle’s drama, despite its great significance to – I will not say Socialists alone – but even to the modern, scientific conception of history. In the play the efforts of Hutten-Sickingen fail, because of a mass of fortuitous circumstances – want of forethought, error of judgment, treachery, etc. And Hutten-Lassalle concludes with the words: “To future ages I bequeath an avenging.” This involuntarily reminds one of the thoroughly unhistorical conclusion of Götz von Berlichingen:: “Woe to the century that rejected thee! Woe to the future generations that deny thee!” But if we can understand why the youthful Goethe, in the eighteenth century, could choose for his hero a representative of this decadent knighthood, it is more difficult to understand how, almost a century later, and at a time when historical research had opened up quite different views for understanding the struggles of the Reformation-period, a Socialist like Lassalle could choose two representatives of that very knighthood as the standard-bearers “of a historico-social process,” upon the result of which, as Lassalle says in his preface, “our whole actual society depends.” “I wished, if possible,” he adds in the same preface, “to make this process of historical development once again pulsate consciously and with quivering passion through the veins of the people. The power to attain such an end is only given to poetry, and so I determined to write this drama.”
Now, it is true that besides representing the cause of Knighthood, Hutten and Sickingen also represent the straggle against the supremacy of Rome, and for the unity of the Empire; two demands which, while ideologically those of the decaying Knighthood, were historically in the interest of the rising bourgeoisie. And thus, when Germany has developed, and has recovered from the immediate effects of the Thirty Years’ War, they again come to the front, and in the nineteenth century were championed above all others by the Liberal middle-class. It was only after the establishment of the new German Empire that the German nobility remembered it had once produced so respectable a person as Franz you Sickingen – Hutten it cannot stomach even yet. In the fifties, and even later, “Gartenlaube Liberalism”  honoured Hutten and Sickingen as the advanced guard of the national and advanced movement, and ignored their efforts on behalf of their class. And Lassalle does exactly the same in his drama. Ulrich von Hutten and Franz von Sickingen fight against the Roman Antichrist solely for the salve of intellectual freedom; against the princes only in the interest of the national cause. “What we desire,” says Sickingen, in his dialogue with Hutten,
That is a single Deutschland, mighty, great,
And Hutten answers, “True is the picture.”
In fact it is less true than analogous. It fits in wonderfully – since it ignores the aims which Hutton and Sickingen pursued besides fighting against Rome and the princes, and for the “timely” new birth of old Germanic freedom – with a programme which, over three hundred years later, became the watchword of Kleindeutsch  Liberalism; it breathes the spirit of the approaching Prussian “new era.”
As Lassalle distinctly describes Franz von Sickingen as a drama “with a purpose,” we have in it an explanation of the change that took place in his – still ideal – attitude towards the political tendencies of the time.
But it was not long before this change of attitude skewed a leaning towards the views of the North German “Vulgar Democracy,” and that, too, with regard to a concrete question of the day.
Franz von Sickingen was finished in the winter of 1857-1858. Lassalle, as he writes to Marx, had already conceived and begun it while still working at the Heraclitus. It had been, he says, a necessity to him to escape now and then from that abstract world of thought, in which, during that work, he had had to “enmesh himself,” and to turn to a subject which bore directly upon the great struggles of humanity. And so he had between whiles also studied the Middle-Ages and the Reformation period. He had “been drinking deep” of the works and life of Ulrich von Hutten, when the reading of a wretched “modern” drama, which had just appeared, suggested the idea: “THAT – the struggle of Hutten – would he a subject worth treating.” And thus, without originally thinking of himself as the poet to carry out this design, he had sketched the plan of the drama. But soon it had become clear to him that he most also complete it himself. “A kind of inspiration” had possessed him. And, indeed, one feels that the drama was written with his warm heart’s blood. Despite the faults I have pointed out, it, nevertheless, towers immeasurably above the whole democratic literature of the period. Not one of his German contemporary poets could have done better than Lassalle.
I had just concluded this chapter when, owing to the kindness of Frederick Engels, the letters of Lassalle, found among Karl Marx’ papers, were placed in my hands. Among these letters is an extremely interesting one addressed to Marx and Engels; it consists of 31 quarto pages, and refers exclusively, with the exception of a few lines, to Franz von Sickingen. When the drama, appeared in print Lassalle had sent three copies to Marx: one for himself, one for Engels, and one for Feiligrath, and had, at the same time, asked for their frank criticism of the play. Marx and Engels both acknowledged the many merits of the drama, and both independently – Marx was living in London, and Engels at this time was living in Manchester – seem to have come to much the same conclusions as to its faults. So much did their criticisms coincide that Lassalle replies – in the long letter just referred to – to both at once, because, as he says, “the letters without being absolutely identical, deal, on the whole, with the same points.” And Lassalle’s letter shows that these points were those which we have also urged above, “You both agree,” writes Lassalle, “that even Sickingen is drawn too much in the abstract.” This says in a nutshell what I have also enlarged upon. Lassalle’s Sickingen is not the warrior knight of the early sixteenth century. He is the nineteenth century Liberal, masquerading in the latter’s armour, i.e., liberal ideology. His speeches are for the most part altogether out of keeping with the period in which they are supposed to be spoken. “You both agree,” writes Lassalle in another passage, “that I have too much left in the background the peasant movement,” ... “that I have not given it sufficient prominence.” . . “You  (Marx) found your argument upon this: I should have made Sickingen and Hutten perish, because they, like the Polish nobles, were only revolutionary in their own imagination, but in reality represented a reactionary cause. ‘The aristocratic representatives of the Revolution,’ you (Marx) say, ‘behind whose catchword of unity and freedom there ever lurks the dream of the old empire and of “Faust recht” , ought, therefore, not to absorb all the interest as they do with you, but rather the representatives of the peasants, and especially these and the revolutionary elements of the towns ought to have supplied a far more living background. Then, too, you could to a much greater extent have let the most modern ideas express themselves in their naivest form, while now, as a matter of fact, besides religious freedom, bourgeois unity remains the main idea.’ ... ‘Have you not yourself,’ you (Marx) exclaim, ‘like your Franz von Sickingen, to some extent fallen into the diplomatic error of ranking the Lutheran-knightly opposition above the plebeian-burgher one?’” I have omitted Lassalle’s intercalated remarks, because they mostly refer to other matter, and would here be unintelligible. In the main, Lassalle defends himself by trying to prove that he has given sufficient prominence to the knightly narrowness of Sickingen – so far as it really existed in the historical Sickingen – by this: that instead of appealing to the whole nation, instead of calling upon all the revolutionary forces in the empire to rise, and placing himself at their head, Sickingen begins, carries on his revolt as a knightly one, and he finally perishes because of the narrowness of his knightly means. And it is just in Sickingen’s failing because he did not go far enough, that the tragic, and at the same time revolutionary, idea of the drama lies. Moreover, in the one scene of the play in which he brings the peasants themselves upon the scene, and in the frequent references to them in the speeches of Balthasar, etc., he had given them all the significance, and even more, than the peasant movement actually possessed. Historically, the peasant movement had been as reactionary as that of the nobles.
This latter view, as is well known, Lassalle also supported in several of his later writings, among others, in the Workingmen’s Programme. But, in my opinion, it is by no means a correct one. That the peasants formulated demands which meant a return to the past, does not, as such, stamp their movement as a reactionary one. Truly, the peasants were not a new class, but they were by no means like the knights, a decaying class. The reactionary part of their demands is only formal, not essential. This Lassalle overlooks, and as a Hegelian falls so completely into the error of deriving history from “ideas,” that after Marx’ remark, “Then, too, you could, in far greater extent, have let the most modern ideas express themselves in their naivest form,” he puts two marks of interrogation, strengthened by one of exclamation.
The rest of Lassalle’s defence would be justified, if in the play there were even the slightest indication that Sickingen’s confining himself to his knightly means was due to his own knightly limitations. But this is not the case. In the play, this is treated essentially as a tactical mistake. This suffices for the tragic idea of the drama, but does not set forth the historical anachronism of the Sickingen revolt, which was the actual cause of its failure.
1. A view adopted also by Mr: Dawson in his German Socialism and Ferdinand Lassalle. It must, however, be remembered that this book was written long before the Diary had been published. Another story of Lassalle’s youth, that has been repeated by nearly all his biographers, to the effect that once when a difficulty arose in the family, Lassalle took matters in hand, and over the heads of father and mother settled the affair, also finds no confirmation in the Diary. On the contrary, Lassalle always shows himself most respectful, even submissive, to his father. In the matter of school certificates, he imitates his mother’s signature without a scruple, but is afraid to do the same with regard to his father’s.
2. Pages 115-117.
3. Thus, a printed document of over seventy large quarto pages contains nothing but the enumeration of Count Hatzfeld’s misconduct with women of all classes. It is impossible to imagine more disgusting reading than this.
4. Mr. Dawson is not quite accurate when he says that Marx, Engels, and Wolff “saw in the foment of that period an opportunity for furthering their long-cherished Communistic designs.” The authors of the Communist Manifesto and their friends recognised clearly that before they could do this they must further the political revolution in Germany. In accordance with the principles enunciated in the Manifesto, they supported the most advanced and the most resolute wing of the Radical Middle-Class party. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung pointed out their duty to the German middle-classes, while, at the same time, it answered the treachery and cowardice of the so-called “moderates,” and denounced the proceedings of the Reactionary Government. No Socialist or Communist “scheme” was ever propounded in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and the Socialist principles of the editors found expression only in articles like that of Marx on the June Revolution in Paris, or in the publication of Karl Marx’ lecture on Wage-labour and Capital.
5. On the 9th February, 1849, Marx, together with Karl Schapper and the solicitor Schneider, was tried for “inciting the people to armed resistance against the Government and its officials,” by publishing, on November 18th, 1848, in the name of the Provincial Committee of the Rhenish Democrats, the following proclamation:-
The Provincial Committee of Rhenish Democrats calls upon all democratic associations of the Rhenish Provinces to secure the acceptation and execution of the following measures
(1) The Prussian National Assembly having itself refused to vote the taxes, all attempts to collect such taxes by force are to be resisted in every way.
(2) The “Landsturm” (armed men) are everywhere to be organised for resisting the enemy. Those without means are to be supplied with arms and amunition by the municipalities, or by voluntary contributions.
(3) The authorities everywhere to be called upon to declare publicly whether they intend to acknowledge and carry out the wishes of the National Assembly.
In the event of their refusing to do this, committees of public safety to be formed, whenever possible, in conjunction with the municipalities. Any municipality opposing the Legislative Assembly to be replaced by a new one duly elected.
After a masterly speech by Marx, and short addresses by Schapper and Schneider, the three were acquitted, although they had declared that by “the enemy” they meant the armed forces of the Government. (See Karl Marx vor den Kölner Geschwornen, Zürich 1885.)
6. Ferdinand Lassalle, Ein literarisches Characterbild, Berlin 1877. G. Brandes.
7. Brandes, p.42.
8. In translating the verse we have adhered as literally as possible to the original, and have tried to put it in metrical form, (Translator.)
9. A youthful drama of Goethe. Götz von Berlichingen was a Suabian knight, and he too rebelled against the German Princes. But he represents a type infinitely inferior to that of Hutten and Sickingen.
10. “Gartenlaube – is the German equivalent of our “Mrs Grundy.”
11. A word of explanation as to this word “Kleindeutsch” – literally “Small German.” I may remind my English readers that before the German Empire had been established, there were, amongst Germans, great differences of opinion as to the way in which the unification of Germany was to be brought about. One party – composed chiefly of Protestant middle-class persons in North Germany – was for uniting Germany under the supremacy of one of the two great rival German powers – i.e., Prussia, thus excluding Austria. But as this also meant the exclusion of some seven million Austrian Germans, the party was dubbed “Kleindeutsch” by their opponents. Their opposition to Austria being largely based upon the Catholicism of Austria, they went in for a good deal of “no-popery” agitation. They were, moreover, opposed not only by the Catholic party and Ultra Conservatives, but by all the Radical parties, who were in favour of one great German Commonwealth, embracing all German peoples.
12. In writing to Marx, Lassalle, of course, always uses the familiar “du” – thou. Where he uses the plural form he is addressing both Marx and Engels.
13. The practice of armed knights to waylay and plunder merchants travelling from town to town.
Last updated on 21.1.2003