Letters of Frederick Engels

To Friedrich Graeber

[Bremen, January 20, 1839]

To Fritz Graeber

The Spirit of Earth speaks:

    Three hundred years have rolled by since the hour
When the proud white folk came from far away
Across the seas, where their great cities tower.
    The islands soon became the strong men’s prey;
I lifted up my clenched fist from the ocean
To see how far their arrogant feet might stray.
    Woods clothed the land and flowers grew in profusion;
Through the deep valleys wandered by the score
My faithful tribesmen of the brown-skinned nation.
    The Eternal Father mild saw fit to pour
Abundant blessings down. The White Men came;
Their ship, its course erratic, neared the shore.
    The land seemed fair to them. They made their claim,
And seized it, like the islands, in their greed,
Sowing among my people serfdom’s shame.
    The borders marked by furrows they denied,
And with their quadrants measured out my Hand,
Drawing strange lines across from side to side.
    Ere long had passed, they swarmed across the land;
Only one finger did they fear to try.
Who ventured there was doomed to meet his end.
    Upon this one remaining finger, I
Have placed a ring my brown-skinned folk compose.
They stand with spears poised, ready to let fly.
    And if their shields in compact, serried rows
Fail me, if White Man’s arrogance breaks the ring,
This Hand, with White and Brown, I then propose
To plunge into the waters weltering.

The Seminole speaks:

    Peace to my brethren I shall not proclaim;
War be my first word, battle be my last.
    And when your eyes blaze up in sudden flame,
    As forest fire is fanned by hurricane’s blast,
Then shall I say that you were truly right
To call me Word’s Sun, that Night flees fast.
    E'en as your hunter’s lust flamed at the plight
Of innocent creatures that you forced to flee
From arrow following arrow in swift flight,
    So would the White Men hunt you ruthlessly.
But let your speeding arrows make it clear
That they're the quarry, and the hunters-we.
    They envy us our red skins; and in fear
That their revolting white may be discerned,
They swathe themselves in many-coloured gear.
    Our country they have named the floral strand,
For flowers here in great profusion grow.
But blue, or white, or yellow, through the land
    Into red raiment soon they all must go,
Bespattered with the White Man’s own red blood.
Flamingo bird shall not more crimson glow.
    As slaves, we proved to be of little good.
They brought the cowardly Blacks across the sea:
They'll learn the strength and courage of our brood!
    Come then, White Man, if your desire it be,
And you shall get the homage that’s your due.
From every bed of reeds, from every tree,
Seminole arrows wait to ambush you!

The White Man speaks:

    Well, then! And so for the last time I will
Offer my brow to cruel Destiny
And freely turn to face the murderous steel!
    O vengeful Fate, you are well known to me!
Always you've turned my joy in life to gall.
You think I ever knew Love’s ecstasy?
    Mocking, she broke my heart, whom I did fall
In love with. Thenceforth, seeking consolation,
I fought for Freedom. Kings themselves have all
    Trembled before our League. In trepidation,
Princes have seen how German youth can stand
As one. In seven years of expiation
    I've fully paid my debt in iron bonds.
In a swift ship they bring me o'er the sea
To Liberty — but on an alien strand.
    The coastline beckons! But at a cliff’s foot, see! —
The ship is wrecked. The folk on board all spring
Into the foaming waves. A plank bears me
    Safely to shore, though bruised and shivering.
For the first time, my luck goes favourably.
In sand-choked seas the rest lie weltering.
    But can I not escape my destiny?
The savages surround me, bind my limbs.
They seek to gain revenge by killing me.
    For me, new Freedom, so I hoped, begins.
But Freedom fighters seek my murder here.
So must I expiate my brothers’ sins.
    But what comes floating to the beach down there?
A crucifix In my Redeemer’s eye
Such tenderness! I miss His Word so dear.
    As I lie here upon the hot sands dying,
He comes to me with bounteous clemency.
While I complain, God, with Hell’s fury vying,
Has now Himself become a corpse for me!

Here is my contribution to the next little party. I saw that there had been one at our place again and I was very sorry that I didn’t send anything in for it. Now in reply to your letter. — Aha! Why don’t you read the newspaper? If you did you would have seen what was and what was not printed about the business. It’s not my fault if you make a fool of yourself. The paper only contained official reports issued by the Senate and they were really what was to be expected. Plümacher’s comedy must be very good. I have written asking for it twice, but he has not uttered a word about it. As far as Jonghaus and his love are concerned, I have something to settle with him about that. You fellows always let yourselves be put off writing by “this and that”. Tell me, can’t you write to me for half an hour each day after you get a letter from me? Then you'd be finished in three days. I have all these letters to write — five of them — and I write much closer than you do and still I have them finished in four or five days. Yes, it’s terrible. You can have eight days, but on the ninth day after you receive my letter you must post your reply. There’s no other way. If I have made other arrangements with Wurm I herewith change them. You have eight days, otherwise the penalties that Wurm is threatened with come into force — no verses and you'll be kept waiting just as long as I am.

Postman: Herr Consul, a letter for you! Consul: Aha! Good. Engels: Nothing for me? Postman: No

Here is a woodcut, à la Volksbücher, which shows you plainly how I'm on the look-out for you, that is, for your letters. I thought I would have got my letters off today (Sunday, Jan. 20) but it’s striking half past four and the post goes at five today. So my plans have gone awry again. Well, it has its good side anyway for now I can shit in peace and then write to you in peace. I have not yet been able to start a letter to Peter Jonghaus. Damn, there’s somebody sitting in the lavatory and I am bursting.

It’s remarkable that if you consider our greatest writers, they always seem to go in pairs, one complementing the other as, for example, Klopstock and Lessing, Goethe and Schiller, Tieck and Uhland. But ‘now Rückert is quite on his own and I'm curious whether he is going to be joined by anybody or whether he'll die off first; it almost looks like it. As a love poet, he could be paired with Heine, but unfortunately the two of them are otherwise so heterogeneous that you can’t possibly unite them. Klopstock and Wieland are at least contrasts, but Rückert and Heine have not the slightest other similarity and each stands absolutely on his own. The Berlin party of Young Germany [191] are a fine lot indeed! They want to transform our tune into one of “conditions and subtle relations”, which is as much as to say: we write something for the whole world, and to fill up the pages we describe things that don’t exist, and we call them “conditions”, or we dish up a hotchpotch and that goes under the name of “subtle relations”. This Theodor Mundt scribbles up something for the whole world about Demoiselle Taglioni, who “dances Goethe”, embellishes it with fine phrases from Goethe, Heine, Rahela and Stieglitz and talks the most priceless nonsense about Bettina b but all in so ultra-modern a fashion that it must he a delight for any empty-headed dandy or a young, vain, lascivious lady to read the like. This Kühne, Mundt’s agent in Leipzig, is editor of the Zeitung für die elegante Welt and it now looks like a lady whose figure was built for a crinoline and who is now stuck into a modern dress so that at every step you can see her charming bandy legs through the clinging dress. It is exquisite! And this chap Heinrich Laube! He daubs without stopping about characters that don’t exist, writes travel stories which are nothing of the sort, nonsense upon nonsense; it’s terrible. I don’t know what is going to happen to German literature. We have three men of talent: Karl Beck, Ferd. Freiligrath and Julius Mosen. The last is certainly a Jew and in his Ahasver, he makes the Wandering Jew defy Christianity on all accounts. Gutzkow, who is amongst the most reasonable of all, reproaches him because, he says, Ahasuerus is a mean character, a real haggling Jew [192]; Theodor Creizenach, likewise a juif, has now laid hold of Gutzkow in the Zeitung für die elegante Weit [193] in the most violent way, but Gutzkow stands too high above him. This Creizenach, a run-of-the-mill hack writer, praises Ahasuerus to high heavens as a crushed worm and abuses Christ as a self-wined, proud God Almighty; he also says that in the Volksbuch, it is true, Ahasuerus is nothing but a vulgar fellow, but that in the blotting-paper books of the fair pedlars Faust also is not much more than a common sorcerer, whereas Goethe has endowed him with the psychology of several “centuries”. This last is clear to be nonsense (if I'm not mistaken, that is quite a Latin construction), but I am concerned with it only because of the Volksbücher. Of course, if Theodor Creizenach damns them they must be very, very bad indeed, nevertheless I make bold to say that there is more depth and poetry in the Volksbuch Ahasuerus than in the whole of Th. Creizenach plus all his worthy companions.

I am now at work on a number of epigrams and I'm sending you those I have finished.

The periodicals

1. Telegraph [Telegraph für Deutschland]

You call yourself a quick writer, so who can doubt quick-written stuff is what your pages are filled with?

2. Morgenblatt [Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser]

If you read me through in the morning, by evening you'll have forgotten whether it was blank or printed pages you saw.

3. Abend-zeitung

If you cannot sleep at night, just take in your hand this paper and lovely slumber will come to you soon.

4. Literatur-Blatt

These leaves are the most critical in the whole literary forest. But how dry they are. The wind blows them down.

I can’t think of any more at the moment and so must stop now. As I have just noticed, I really must hurry up if I am to get the letters off tomorrow, malefactor that I am. We shall be having company any moment now, and tomorrow there will be an awful lot of running about and copying,, so that it will not be out of place to write very fast.

I am now reading Kaiser und Papst by Duller, a novel in four volumes. Duller has an undeserved reputation. His Wittelsbach romances. many of which are included in Hüllstett’s book, are .terribly bad. [194] He wanted to imitate a popular style but became familiar. His Loyola is an abominable mix-up of all the good and bad elements of a historical novel warmed up in the sauce of a bad style. His Leben Grabbes is horribly distorted and one-sided. [195] The novel I am reading is better; some of the characters are well described, others at least not too badly, isolated situations are pretty well handled, and the people he has invented are interesting. But to judge by the first volume, he is quite lacking in any sense of proportion in the importance given to the secondary characters, and in any new, original views on history. It is nothing to him to kill off his best-drawn character at the end of the first volume, and besides he has a great preference for peculiar kinds of death. Thus, one of the characters dies of rage at the very moment when he is about to plunge his dagger into his enemy’s breast, and this same enemy is standing on the edge of the crater of Etna, where he wants to poison himself, when a crevasse opens in the mountain and he is buried in a stream of lava. The volume ends after a description of the following scene: The waves of the ocean close over the sun’s head, parting and all a very piquant, but thoroughly trite and silly ending. That must also be the end of my letter.

Addio, adieu, adiós, adeus


Friedrich Engels