Letters of Frederick Engels

To Friedrich Graeber

[Bremen] April 8 (nisi erro [if I am not mistaken]), 1839

My dearest Fritz,

This letter — yes, you think you are going to be greatly amused by it, but no, not so much. You, who not only by making me wait so long, but by desecrating the holiest mysteries which ever remained hidden from the human genius, have clouded my visions, angered and enraged me, must suffer a special punishment. You shall be bored, and how? With an essay. And about what? About that much-talked-about sheep — contemporary literature.

What did we have before 1830? Theodor Hell and his associates, Willibald Alexis, an aged Goethe and an aged Tieck, c'est tout. Then, like a thunderclap, came the July revolution, the most splendid expression of the people’s will since the war of liberation. Goethe dies, Tieck goes to seed more and more, Hell goes to sleep, Wolfgang Menzel goes on writing stodgy criticism, but a new spirit arises in literature — with Grün and Lenau above all among the poets. Rückert acquires a new verve, Immermann acquires importance, Platen the same, but that is not enough. Heine and Börne were already fully formed characters before the July revolution, but only now are they acquiring importance and upon them is arising a new generation, which turns to its account the lives and literatures of all peoples, Gutzkow leading. In 1830, Gutzkow was still a student and worked first of all for Menzel on the Literatur-Blatt, but not for long; they did not agree in their views. Menzel turned churlish; Gutzkow wrote the notorious Wally (die Zweiflerin), and Menzel made a terrible uproar about it, accusing Gutzkow of himself holding the views expressed by Wally in the novel, and actually succeeded in getting the harmless book banned. [199] Gutzkow was joined by the admittedly unimportant Mundt, who in order to make money started all kinds of undertakings, publishing other people’s articles cum suibus [Along with his own] Beurmann, a shrewd chap and fine observer, soon joined them, and then Ludolf Wienbarg and F. Gustav Kühne, and for these five writers (nisi erro, anno 1835) Wienbarg invented the name Junges Deutschland. [200] Opposing them was Menzel, who would have done better to stay at home, since it was for that very reason that Gutzkow demolished him, and then the Evangelische Kirchen-Zeitung, which sees idolatry in every allegory and original sin in every expression of sensuousness (perhaps Hengstenberg was so named on the principle of lucus a non lucendo, [Grove from not being light; ancient Roman etymologists derived words often by contrast and not by resemblance] i.e., perhaps he is gelded, castrated, a eunuch? [A play on the name Hengstenberg, Hengst meaning “stallion"]). These noble people accused Young Germany of wanting the emancipation of women and the restoration of the flesh and wanting as a side-line to overthrow a couple of kingdoms and become Pope and Emperor in one person. Of all these charges, only the one concerning the emancipation of women (in the Goethean sense) had any grounds, and it could only be brought against Gutzkow, who later disavowed the idea (as high-spirited, youthful over-haste). Through their standing by one another, their aims became more and more sharply defined; it was the “ideas of the time” which came to consciousness in them. These ideas of the century (so Kühne and Mundt said) are not anything demagogic or anti-Christian as they are made out to be, but are based on the natural right of every man and extend to everything in the present conditions which conflicts with it. Thus these ideas include: above all, participation by the people in the administration of the state, that is, constitutional matters; further, emancipation of the Jews, abolition of all religious compulsion, of all hereditary aristocracy, etc. Who can have anything against that? The Evangelische Kirchen-Zeitung and Menzel have it on their consciences that they have so cried down the honour of Young Germany. As early as 1836-37, among these writers, who were bound together by unity of purpose, but not by any special association, the idea was clear and definite; by the high quality of their writing they won for themselves the recognition of the other, mostly wretched, writers and attracted all the young talents to themselves. Their poets are Anastasius Grün and Karl Beck; their critics are, first and foremost, Gutzkow, Kühne, Laube and, among the younger ones, Ludwig Wihl, Levin Schücking and others; they also try their hand at the novel, drama, etc. Recently, however, differences have arisen between Gutzkow and Mundt along with Kühne and Laube. Both have supporters — Gutzkow the younger people like Wihl, Schücking and others, Mundt only a few of the younger ones. Beurmann is keeping fairly neutral, so is the young, very talented Dingelstedt, but they incline very much towards Gutzkow. As a result of the quarrel Mundt has lost all his credit, and that of Kühne has fallen considerably because he is so contemptible that he denigrates everything Gutzkow writes. Gutzkow, on the other hand, behaves very nobly and dwells only on the great love between Mundt and Kühne, who engage in mutual praise. Gutzkow’s latest article in the Jahrbuch der Literatur shows that he is a quite extraordinarily honourable fellow. [201]

We have very few active writers apart from Young Germany. The Swabian school [202] has been passive ever since 1820. The Austrians Zedlitz and Grffiparzer are of little interest because they write in such a strange fashion (Zedlitz Spanish style, Grillparzer antique); among the lyric poets Lenau inclines towards Young Germany despite his ecclesiastical material, Frankl is an agreeable Uhland in miniature, K. E. Ebert is quite Bohemianised. The Saxons — Hell, Heller, Herlosssohn, Morvell, Wachsmann, Tromlitz — oh my God, they lack wit; the Marteau lot [203] and the Berliners (to whom you do not belong) are vile, the Rhinelanders — Lewald is by far the best writer of entertainment literature; his Europa is readable, but the reviews in it are terrible — Hub, Schnezler and Co. are not worth much, Freiligrath will yet turn to Young Germany one day, you'll see, Duller too, if he does not go to the dogs before then, and Rückert stands there like an old father and stretches out his hands in benediction over everyone.

April 9. So there is the moving essay. What shall 1, poor devil, do now? Go on swotting on my own? Don’t feel like it. Turn loyal? The devil if I wills Stick to Saxon mediocrity — ugittugitt (oh God, oh God — local expression of disgust). So I must become a Young German, or rather, I am one already, body and soul, I cannot sleep at night, all because of the ideas of the century. When I am at the post-office and look at the Prussian coat of arms, I am seized with the spirit of freedom. Every time I look at a newspaper I hunt for advances of freedom. They get into my poems and mock at the obscurantists in monk’s cowls and in ermine. But with their fine phrases — world-weariness, world-historic, the anguish of the Jews, etc. — I will have no truck, for they are already outdated. And I'm telling you, Fritz, when you become a pastor you can be as orthodox as you like, but if ever you become a pietist who rails against Young Germany and regards the Evangelische Kirchen-Zeitung as his oracle, then, truly, I'm telling you you'll have me to deal with. You must become a pastor in Gemarke a and drive out the damned, consumptive, sit-by-the-fire pietism which Krummacher has brought to such a bloom. Of course they will call you a heretic, but let one of them come and prove by the Bible or by reason that you are wrong. Meanwhile, Blank is a wicked rationalist and throws the whole of Christianity overboard, what will it lead to? Well, I have never been a pietist. I have been a mystic for a while, but those are tempi passati. I am now an honest, and in comparison with others very liberal, super-naturalist. How long I shall remain such I don’t know, but I hope to remain one, even though inclining now more, now less towards rationalism. All this will have to be settled. Adios, Friderice, Write more quickly and write a lot. Tuus.

Do hêst de mî dubbelt. [There you have me doubled]

Friedrich Engels Friedrich Engels