Letters of Frederick Engels 1838
[Bremen, September 17-18, 1838] September 17. First the black ink, then the red ink from the beginning again.
Carissimi! In vostras epistolers haec vobis sit respondentia. Ego enim quum longiter latine non scripsi, vobis paucum scribero, sed in germanico-italianico-latino. Quae quum ita sint, [My dearest ones, let this be an answer to your letters. As I haven’t written in Latin for a long time, I shall write you only a little, but in German-Italian-Latin. This being so...... ] you will not get one more word in Latin, but only pure, unalloyed, unadulterated, perfect German. And now to deal at once with a matter of considerable importance, I want to tell you that my Spanish romance has been a failure; the fellow seems to be an anti-romantic and he looks like one too. But a poem of my own — The Bedouin — a copy of which I enclose, was inserted in a different paper; only the fellow went and changed the last verse and so created the most hopeless confusion. He does not seem to have understood “Your desert robes do not belong with our Parisian coats and vests, nor with our literature your song”, because it appears to be baroque. The main idea is to contrast the Bedouin, even in their present condition, and the audience, who are quite alien to these people. For this reason the contrast must not be expressed only by the bare description given in the two clearly distinguishable parts, but comes really to life only at the end through the contrast and the conclusion drawn in the last verse. There are also a number of other details expressed in the poem: 1) Delicate irony at the expense of Kotzebue and his supporters with Schiller counterposed as the good principle for our theatre; 2) grief over the present condition of the Bedouin as contrasted with their former condition. These two incidentals run parallel in the two main contrasts. Take the last verse away, and the whole thing falls apart. But if the editor wishes to make the conclusion less striking and ends with: “They jump at money’s beck and call, and not at Nature’s primal urge. Their eyes are blank, they're silent, all, except for one who sings a dirge”, then, first of all, this ending is feeble because it consists of previously used rhetorical phrases, and secondly, it destroys my main idea by replacing it with the subsidiary one — sorrow over the present condition of the Bedouin and the contrast with their former condition. So he has done the following damage: he has completely destroyed 1) the main idea, 2) the cohesion of the poem. However, this will cost the fellow an additional groat (=1/2 silver groschen) for he will get an answer from me in the form of a sermon. By the way, I wish I had never written the poem. I have completely failed to express the idea in a clear, pleasant form. Str.’s [Strücker] a fine phrases are simply phrases. Dattelland [Land of date-palms] and Bled-el-Djerid are one and the same thing, so one idea is expressed twice with the same words, and what dissonance — “schallend Laihen zollt” and “Mund gewande"! It gives one a peculiar feeling to see one’s verses in print like this. They have become something strange and one sees them with a much clearer eye than when they are handwritten.
I had a good laugh when I saw myself thus made public, but I soon lost any desire to laugh. As soon as I saw the changes I became very angry and raged in a most barbaric fashion. — Satis autem de hac re locuti sumus! [But we have said enough about this!]
I found a quite peculiar book this morning in an antiquarian’s shop — an extract from the Acta Sanctorum, unfortunately only for the first half of the year, with portraits, lives of the saints and prayers, but all very short. It cost me twelve groats, six silver grogchen, and I paid the same for Wieland’s Diogenes von Sinope, oder Swkrarhs mainomenos [The raging Socrates].
I doubt my ability and my productivity as a poet more and more every day since I read Goethe’s two essays Für junge Dichter in which I find myself described as aptly as could be, and from which it has become clear to me that my rhyming achieves nothing for art. All the same, I want to go on rhyming because, as Goethe says, it is “a pleasant addition” and I shall also probably get a poem or two published in some journal because other fellows also do so who are just as big if not bigger asses than I am, and because my efforts will neither raise nor lower German literature. But when I read a really good poem then fury seizes my soul to think that I couldn’t have done that. Satis autem de hac re locuti sumus! My cari amici, how much I miss you! When I remember how I often entered your room and there sat Fritz, so comfortable behind the stove, with his short pipe in his mouth, and Wilm rustled around the room in his long dressing-gown, could not smoke anything but four-pfennig cigars and cracked jokes which shook the whole room, and then the mighty Feldmann rose like zandos Menelaos and entered, and then Wurm came in in his long coat and with his stick in his hand, and then we all caroused and all hell was let loose — and now we have to make do with letters — it’s outrageous. But that you write to me a lot from Berlin too is combat and naturaliter, letters there only take a day longer than to Barmen. You know my address, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t for I have struck up such a close acquaintance with our postman that he always delivers my letters to the office. But still, honoris causa, you might put St. Martini Kirchhof No. 2 on the envelope if necessary. This friendship with the postman comes from our names being similar, his is Engelke. — Letter-writing is a bit hard for me today. The day before yesterday I sent off a letter to Wurm at Bilk and today I posted one to Strücker — the first was eight pages long, the second seven, and now you too want your ration. If you receive this letter before you go to Cologne, please do the following for me. When you get there will you find Streitzeuggasse and go to Everaert’s the printers at number 51 and buy me Volksbücher. I have Siegfried, Eulenpiegel and Helena. The ones I need most are Octavianus, Die Schildbürger (incomplete in the Leipzig edition), Die Haimonshinder, Dr. Faust and any of the others which are illustrated with woodcuts. If there is anything mystical there buy it as well, especially the Sibyllenweissagungen. You can go up to two or three talers in any case. Then send the books on to me by express post, tell me how much they come to and I shall send you a letter of credit drawn on my Old Man, who will gladly pay it. Or, better still, you can send the books to my Old Man, to whom I'll explain the whole business and he can give them to me as a Christmas gift or as he likes. — A new subject of study for me is Jacob Böhme. He is a dark but deep soul. But most of it must be studied terribly hard if one wants to understand any of it. He is rich in poetic ideas and a very allegorical man, his speech is quite original, for he gives all words a different meaning from the usual one. Instead of “essence” [Wesen], “substance” [Wesenheit], he says “torment” [Quat]. He calls God a “non-cause” [Ungrund] and a “cause” [Grund] because He has no cause or beginning of His existence, but is Himself the cause of His own and all other life. So far I have been able to find only three of his books — admittedly enough to begin with. — But here I want to insert my poem about the Bedouin.
Now the bell rings, and suddenly
The silken curtain swift ascends,
And all in hushed expectancy
Wait for the evening to commence.
No Kotzebue commands the scene
To set the merry audience roaring.
No Schiller of the earnest mien
Steps forth, his golden words outpouring.
Sons of the desert, proud and free,
Walk on to greet us, face to face;
But pride is vanished utterly,
And freedom lost without a trace.
They jump at money’s beck and call
(As once at lad from dune to dune
Bounded for joy). They're silent, all,
Save one who sings a dirge-like tune.
The audience, amazed and awed
By what these acrobats can do.
Applauds them, just as it applauds
The trumperies of Kotzebue.
Fleet nomads of the desert lands,
You've braved the sun’s fierce noontide rays
Through harsh Morocco’s burning sands,
Through valleys where the date-palms sway.
And through the garden paradise
Of Bled-el-Djerid once you swept.
You turned your wits to bold forays.
Your steeds to battle proudly stepped.
You sat there, where moon lustres spill
By rare springs in a palm-tree grove,
And lovely lips with gracious skill
A fairy-story garland wove.
Sleeping in narrow tents you lay
In love’s warm arms, with dreams all round
Till sunrise ushered in the day
And camels made their bellowing sound.
Go home again, exotic guests!
Your desert robes do not belong
With our Parisian coats and vests,
Nor with our literature your song!
[September] 18th Cur me poematibus exanimas tuis, [Why do you torture me with your poems?] you will be shouting. But I am going to torture you still more with them or rather because of them. Guilelmus [Wilhelm Graeber] has still got an exercise book of my verse, just as I wrote it. I'm now asking for this exercise book back and you can send it in the following way: you can cut out all the blank paper and you can then enclose a few sheets with every letter you write: it won’t increase the postage. If need be you can also add one or two bits of reading matter if you pack it cunningly and press the letter well, for instance, laying it for a night between a couple of dictionaries before you send it, so they won’t notice anything. — See that Blank gets the sheet I've enclosed for him. I am getting a terribly extensive correspondence, with you in Berlin, with Wurm in Bonn, and similarly with Barmen and Elberfeld. But if I didn’t have it, how would I kill the endless time I have to spend at the office without being allowed to read? The day before yesterday I spent with the Old Man, [Heinrich Leupold] id est principalis — his wife is called the Old Woman [Altsche] (the elk, alce in Italian, pronounced just like that) — in the country where his family lives, and I enjoyed it very much. The Old Man is an excellent fellow, he always scolds his boys in Polish. You Ledshiaks, you Kashubs, he shouts. On the way back I tried to give a philistine who was also there some idea of the beauty of Low German, but saw it was impossible. A philistine like that is really an unhappy soul yet over-happy nonetheless in his stupidity, which he regards as the greatest wisdom. I went to the theatre the other evening. They were playing Hamlet, but in a quite horrifying manner. So I would rather say nothing at all about it. — It’s good that you are going to Berlin. There will be more art there than you are likely to get at any other university except Munich; the poetry of nature, on the other hand, is lacking — sand, sand, sand! It is far better here. The roads outside the town are mostly very interesting and very charming with their groups of various trees. But the mountains, the mountains, that’s what you miss. What is also lacking in Berlin is the poetry of student life, which is at its best in Bonn, and to which the wandering about in the poetic surroundings contributes not a little. Well, you too will be going to Bonn one day. My dear Wilhelm, I would madly love to answer your witty letter with one equally witty, if it were not for the fact that I don’t feel at all witty and especially at the moment I am lacking precisely in that desire which one cannot give oneself and without which everything is forced. But I feel as if for me the end were near, as if my head no longer held a single idea, as if my life were being stolen away. The tree of my mind of its leaves is stripped, my witticisms too fine are clipped, the kernel out of the shell has been nipped. And my Mahamas"’ hardly merit the name, while yours robbed Rückert of all his fame; those here written with gout are smitten, they limp, they totter, fall, nay, have fallen to the bottom of the pit of oblivion, not climbed the peaks of readers’ opinion. Oh doom, here I sit in my room, and even if I hammered my head sore, only water would come out with a roar. That helps not a louse, it does not bring wit into the house. When I went to bed last night I banged my head and it sounded just like when you knock against a bucket of water and the water splashes against the other side. I had to laugh at the way my nose was properly rubbed in the truth. Yes, water, water! My room is full of spooks. Last night I heard a death-watch beetle in the wall. In the alley near me there is a noise of ducks, cats, dogs, hussies and people. And incidentally I expect a letter from you just as long if not longer than this one, et id post notas — let there be no mistake about it.
The most marvellous hymn book in existence is undoubtedly the one used here. It contains all the famous names in German poetry: Goethe (the song, Der Du von dem Himmel bist), Schiller (Drei Worte des Glaubens), Kotzebue and many others. Also songs against cow-pox and all kinds of other nonsense. It is sheer barbarism unequalled anywhere. One must see it to believe it. It is an appalling spoiling of all our beautiful songs, a crime which Knapp also made himself. guilty of in the Treasury of Songs.
The occasion of our sending a cargo of hams to the West Indies, reminds me of an extremely interesting story. Somebody once sent a cargo of hams to Havana. The letter with the bill did not arrive till later, and the recipient, who had already noticed that the cargo was 12 hams short, saw reckoned up in the bill: “Loss through rats — 12 pieces.” But those rats were the young office lads who had helped themselves to the hams. That’s the end of the story. — While I take the liberty to fill the remaining space with artistic renderings of outward appearances chosen at random (Dr. He), I must confess that I shall hardly be able to tell you much about my trip for I promised both Strücker and Wurm they would hear about it first. — I even fear that I shall have to write about it to them twice over, and to go through all that tedious stuff three times, mixed up with all kinds Of other nonsense, would really be too much.
But if Wurm cares to send you the exercise book, which he is hardly likely to receive before the end of the year, that’s all right with me. Otherwise I can’t do anything for you until you go to Bonn yourselves.
Your most humble
Greetings to P. Jonghaus. He can enclose a letter with yours. I would have written to him too but the fellow is certainly away.
Reply soon. Your Berlin address!!!!!!!