Works of Frederick Engels, 1839

Open Letter To Dr. Runkel [26]

Written: on May 6, 1839
First published: in the Elberfelder Zeitung No. 127, May 9, 1839

To Herr Dr. Runkel in Elberfeld

Elberfeld, May 6th

You have violently attacked me and my “Letters from Wuppertal” in your newspaper and accused me of deliberate distortion, ignorance of the conditions, personal abuse and even untruths. It does not matter to me that you call me a Young German, for I neither accept the charges you level against Young Literature nor have the honour of belonging to it. Up to now I have felt nothing but respect for you as a man of letters and journalist; I have even expressed my opinion to this effect in the second article, where I deliberately refrained from mentioning your poems in the Rheinisches Odeon [27] since I could not have praised them. Anyone can be accused of deliberate distortion, and this tends to be done wherever an account does not conform to the preconceived notions of the reader. Why do you not give a single example as evidence? As for ignorance of the conditions, I should have expected this reproach least of all did I not know what a meaningless expression this phrase has become, used everywhere for lack of anything better. I have possibly spent twice as much time as you in Wuppertal, have lived in Elberfeld and Barmen and have had the most favourable opportunity to observe closely the life of all social estates.

Herr Runkel, I do not, as you accuse me of doing, make any claim to genius, but it would indeed require an extraordinarily dull intelligence not to acquire a knowledge of the conditions in such circumstances, especially if one makes the effort to do so. As for personal abuse — a preacher or a teacher is just as much a public figure as a writer, and you would surely not call a description of his public actions personal abuse. Where have I spoken of private matters, or even of such as would require a mention of my name, where have I ridiculed such things? As for the alleged untruths, much as I would like to avoid coming to blows or even causing a sensation, I find myself compelled, in order not to compromise the Telegraph or my anonymous honour, to challenge you to point out a single one of the “multitude of untruths”. To be honest, there are in fact two. Stier’s adaptation is not printed word for word, and Herr Egen’s travels are not that bad. But please, now be so kind as to complete the clover leaf! You say further that I have not shown a single bright side of the district. That is so; I have throughout acknowledged competence in individual cases (though I have not shown Herr Stier in his theological importance, which I truly regret), but in general I was unable to find any purely bright sides; and I await a description of the latter from you. Furthermore, it never occurred to me to say that the red Wupper becomes clear again in Barmen. That would be nonsense, or does the Wupper flow uphill? In conclusion I would ask you not to pass judgment before you have read the whole, and in future to quote Dante accurately or not at all; he does not say: qui si entra nell’ etemo dolore [Here is the gateway to eternal pain], but per me si va nell’ eterno dolore [Through me you pass into eternal pain; Dante, La Divina Commedia] (Inferno, III, 2).

The author of the Letters from Wuppertal