Letters of Frederick Engels 1838

To Marie Engels
In Barmen

Bremen, [188] Aug. 28, 1838

Dear Marie,

As soon as I saw your letter I realised at once that it was from you although I don’t know your handwriting. Because the letter is just like you — written in a terrible hurry, everything in a lovely confusion, sermons that are not a bit seriously meant: how are you, your health, news about Emilchen [Emilie Engels] and Adelinchen [Adeline Engels] accidents, all mixed up together. We had an accident here too, a house painter — the second in a week — fell from the scaffolding and died immediately.

It is a great surprise to hear that Emilchen and Adelinchen are leaving. The Treviranuses at any rate were quite astonished; they all thought that Karl [Karl Engels] was bringing them up.

August 29

It’s a very good thing that you want to go to Xanten and you should really go there if Mother [Elisabeth Engels promised Auntie [Friderike von Griesheim] and Grandmother [Franciska van Haar] that you would. You must arrange to go there during the grape season, for then you will be able to eat all you can manage. We have grapes in our garden here too, but they are not ripe yet. But we have apples which are ripe — Paradise apples; they are much more delicious than those on the big tree in Caspar [Engels]’s a yard, the one they have now cut down.

Just think, Marie, we’ve got a broody hen here with seven chicks hardly eight days old and when there’s nothing to do at the office, we go down to the yard and catch flies, gnats and spiders and then the old hen comes and takes them out of our hands and feeds them to the chicks. But there’s a black chick, the size of a canary, which gobbles up the flies out of our hands. And all these little creatures will become hens with croups and have feathers growing on their feet. I wager that you would be delighted with this hen and her chicks. You are a chicken yourself, just like them. You must tell Mother that next year she too should place some eggs under a hen. There are also pigeons here, not only at the ‘Treviranuses’ but also at the Leupolds’, crested pigeons and pouters, which are called crown pigeons (because they have a crest on their fronts which is called a crown here). The crested ones are particularly handsome. We — Eberlein and I — feed these every day. They don’t eat vetch, which doesn’t grow here, but they will eat peas or very small beech nuts, which are no bigger than peas.

You should see some time, when the market is full in the morning, what remarkable costumes the peasant women wear. Their caps and straw hats are especially remarkable. If I can only get a quiet look at one of them some time, I’ll try and draw her and send it to you. The girls wear very small red caps over their hair, which is coiled up in a bun, while old women have big close-fitting winged bonnets which hang over their foreheads, or big velvet caps trimmed with black frilled lace in front. It looks quite odd.

The window of my room looks out on an alley which is uncanny. If I’m still up late of an evening, round about eleven o’clock, things begin to get noisy in the alley and the cats squeal, the dogs bark, the ghosts laugh and howl and rattle the windows of the house opposite. But it’s all quite natural because the lamplighter lives in the alley and he goes on his rounds at eleven o’clock.

Now I have written two full pages and if I wanted to do what you do, I would now write: “Now you will probably be satisfied because I have told you so much. Next time I shall tell you just as much.” This is the way you do it; you write me two pages, with the lines set very far apart, and you leave the other two pages quite empty. But so that you can see that I don’t do the same as you and do not give tit for tat, I shall do my best to fill up four closely written pages for you.

This morning a barber came round and Herr Pastor [Georg Gottfried Treviranus] wanted me to have a shave for he said I looked quite revolting. But I do not do so. Father [Friedrich Engels] said that I should leave my razors locked up until I need them and he left a fortnight ago today and my beard certainly cannot have grown so much in that time. And now I shall not shave until I have a moustache as black as a raven. And you know, Mother told Father to give me a razor to take with me and Father answered that would be tempting me to start shaving, and he would buy me some himself in Manchester, but I don’t use them on principle.

I have just come back from the parade which takes place every day on the Domshof. There the great Hanseatic army, composed of about 40 soldiers and 25 bandsmen as well as 6 to 8 officers, does its exercises, and (if I leave out the drum major) they all have as much moustache between them as one Prussian hussar. Most of them have no beard at all; others just a suspicion of one. The parade lasts the whole of two minutes. The soldiers arrive, line up, present arms and go off again. But the music is good (very good, wonderful, beautiful, say the Bremen people). Yesterday one of these Hanseatic soldiers, who had deserted, was brought in. This fellow was a Jew and was taking religious instruction with Pastor Treviranus and wanted to be baptised. Then he deserted, without leaving the town, but wrote a letter to Pastor Treviranus saying he was in Brinkum and had been persuaded by a relative to go there. He asked the Pastor to intercede for him so that his punishment might be mitigated. The Pastor wanted to do this too, when the fellow was suddenly arrested near Bremen yesterday and it came out where he was. He will now probably get a stretch or sixty strokes, for the soldiers always get whipped here.

No Jews at all live in Bremen, only a couple of Jews with permits in the suburbs, but none can move into the town.

It has been raining again all day long today. Yesterday week it did not rain at all for once, otherwise it has rained every day even though often only a little. It was very hot on Sunday and yesterday too the air was somewhat oppressive although the sky was frequently overcast, but as for today, really it’s unbearable. You get soaking wet as soon as you put your nose out of doors. What is it like in your place? Now I am going to write to Mother.- Have you made it up again with the Kampermanns, old geese?

Adieu, Marie.

Your brother