Letters of Frederick Engels
[Bremen, about April 23-May 1, 1839]
Fritz Graeber, I am very busy at present with philosophy and critical theology. When you get to be eighteen years of age and become acquainted with Strauss, the rationalists and the Kirchen-Zeitung then you must either read everything without thinking or begin to doubt your Wuppertal faith. I cannot understand how the orthodox preachers can be so orthodox since there are some quite obvious contradictions in the Bible. How can you square the two genealogies of Joseph, Mary’s husband, the different accounts of the institution of the Eucharist (“this is my blood”; this is “the new testament in my blood” [Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20]), of the men possessed by the devil (one says simply that the devil left him, the other that he entered into the swine), the statement that the mother of Jesus went out to look for her son, whom she believed to be mad, although she had conceived him miraculously, etc., with the authenticity, the literal authenticity of the Evangelists? And the discrepancy in the “Our Father”, in the sequence of the miracles, John’s peculiarly deep interpretation, through which, however, the form of the narrative is obviously obscured — what about that? Christi ipsissima verba [Christ’s very own words] of which the orthodox boast come out differently in every gospel. Not to speak of the Old Testament. But nobody tells you this in dear old Barmen; there one is taught according to quite different principles. And on what does the old orthodoxy base itself? On nothing but — the old routine. Where does the Bible demand literal belief in its teachings, in its accounts? Where does a single apostle declare that everything he says is directly inspired? This is not surrendering reason in obedience to Christ, as the orthodox people affirm; no, it is a killing of the divine in man to replace it with the dead letter. I am therefore just as good a super-naturalist as I was before, but I have cast off orthodoxy. Thus I cannot now or ever believe that a rationalist who seeks with all his heart to do as much good as possible, should be eternally damned. That is at odds with the Bible itself, for it is written that no one is damned on account of original sin but only because of his own sins. But if a person resists original sin with all his might and does what he can, then his actual sins are only a necessary consequence of original sin and therefore they cannot damn him.
April 24. Ha, ha, ha! Do you know who wrote the article in the Telegraph? The author is the writer of these lines, but I advise you not to say anything about it, I could get into a hell of a lot of trouble. I know about Kohl, Ball and Hermann almost exclusively from reviews by W. Blank and Strücker, which I copied almost word for word. But that Kohl talks nonsense and Hermann is a feeble pietist, I know from my own ears. D. is Dürholt, office boy at Wittenstein’s in Unterbarmen. For the rest I am pleased with myself for not having said anything in the article that I cannot prove. There is only one thing which annoys me: I haven’t presented Stier in as important a light as I ought to have done. He is not to be disregarded as a theologian. Aren’t you astonished at my knowledge of the characters, especially of Krummacher and Döring (what I said about his sermon I heard from P. Jonghaus), and of literature? The remarks about Freiligrath must have been really good, otherwise Gutzkow would have cut them out. But the style is atrocious. — By the way, the article seems to have caused a sensation. I put all five of you under obligation on your word of honour not to tell anyone that I am the author. Understood? As far as abuse is concerned, I heaped most of it on you and Wilhelm because I had the letters to you right in front of me when the urge to abuse somebody overcame me. F. Plümacher especially must not get to know that I wrote the article. What a lad that Ball is though! He is to preach on Good Friday, does not feel like studying and so learns by heart a sermon he finds in the Menschenfreund and gives that. Krummacher is in church, the sermon seems familiar to him, and it finally occurs to him that he had preached that sermon himself on Good Friday 1832. Other people, who have read the sermon, also recognise it. Ball is called upon to account for it and must confess. Signum est, Ballum non tantum abhorrere a Krummachero, ut Tu quidem dixisti. [This is an indication that Ball has not such an aversion for Krummacher as you indeed said] I am very much obliged to you for the detailed review of Fawt. The treatment of this piece certainly bears the stamp of that wretch Raupach.  This low cur pokes his nose into everything and ruins not only Schiller by using his images and ideas over and over again in his tragedies, but also Goethe by maltreating him. I doubt very much if my poems will have a big sale; more likely they'll have a stinking one, since they are going for waste paper and bumf. I could not read what you wrote in red ink, so shall send you neither 5 silver groschen nor cigars. This time you will get either the canzone or part of the comedy which I have begun but not finished. Now I must go to my singing lesson. Adieu.
Fragments of a Tragicomedy
The Palace of King Sieghard
So you are gathered here again,
Strong members of our wide domain,
Around our lofty royal throne,
And all are present, save our son.
He’s in the woods on the rampage;
It’s time he learned to be his age.
He comes not to this cabinet
Where morning, noon and night we sweat.
Instead of hearing wise men’s words,
He goes and listens to the birds;
Instead of studying state affairs,
He’s after wrestling bouts with bears.
The only thing he wants us for
Is to demand we start a war.
We would have yielded to his plea
Had God, in His sagacity,
Not given us to realise
Such rashness would be most unwise.
Why let the country go to pot
By humouring the silly clot?
All that Your Majesty has said
Hits it, as usual, on the head.
But grant your simple servant leave
To speak and say what I believe.
The ways of men are manifold;
The boy is but eighteen years old.
He has the urge to hunt and fight;
Wisdom will come with time all right.
Young courage ever seeks to roam,
But Wisdom quietly stays at home.
Young courage all too soon is tamed,
Its pride and strength are quickly lamed.
‘hen it returns to Wisdom’s door
And there finds happiness once more.
So let him, with your royal compliance,
Go fight with dragons and with giants.
The years will catch him up and get
The better of him anyway;
And so will life: they'll teach him yet.
He will heed Wisdom’s words one day,
And must I bid farewell, O Forest, to your trees?
No king’s fare can excel
Your sylvan luxuries.
Where but in wooded valleys
Can wild game run so free?
This very golden palace
Envies your greenery.
You'd scold me, Sire, as I can see
For roaming far afield once more.
Must I endure such misery
Each time I chase the fleeting boar?
Since sports and hunting both are banned,
Give me a charger and a sword
That I may fare to some far land,
As I so often have implored.
Do you persist in this obsession?
When will you ever show some sense?
Clearly, you'll never learn discretion
Until you curb your insolence.
But since ‘tis best to be compliant
And let you have your will, it seems —
Go: let the cudgel of some giant
Awake you from your foolish dreams.
Take sword and steed, and get you hence.
Don’t come back till you've learnt some sense.
What do I hear? A sword and steed!
Why ask for helm and coat of mail?
Why ask for pages? All I need
Is bold intent that cannot fail.
Swift through the forest’s wild ravine
The boisterous mountain torrent roars;
And, laying low the helpless pine,
He cuts himself his lonely course.
Like to that mountain stream I'll be,
Taking my course alone and free.
Sire, be not heavy in your heart
That our young hero must depart.
The torrent comes to level ground,
And trees no longer crash all round.
Across the plain it finds its way
To fecundate the thirsty land.
The torrent’s fury turns to play
And ends by sinking in the sand.
Must I needs tarry longer
These castle walls about?
A trusty blade hangs yonder,
A charger neighs without.
Come, you stone pillar, yield
That shining blade so true.
I hasten far afield.
Father, farewell to you!
A Forge in the Forest
Enter Siegfried. Enter the Master Smith
This is the mighty forge that makes
That lovely thing, the Long Short Story.
With poems, it fills the Almanacks
In all its celebrated glory.
And here we hammer magazines
Where verse and criticism unite.
The fire-glow of our smithy shines
Unceasing, morning, noon and night.
But first, take food, and wine, and rest.
Apprentice, pray escort our guest.
(Exit Siegfried with Apprentice.)
Now, journeymen, I'm right behind you.
To work, and raise a goodly din!
Strike on the anvil true, and mind you
Beat those novellas long and thin!
Heat up those lyrics in the forge;
On living fire let them gorge,
Then turn them out in one big mess
The public’s maw is bottomless.
And if there isn’t iron enough,
A tip from one who knows his stuff;
Three heroes of Scott’s, three women of Goethe’s,
A knight from Fouqué with his steely-hard strength,
Are more than sufficient for twelve story writers
To spin out novellas of suitable length.
For lyrics, Uhland’s verse affords
A treasure-store of flowery words.
So hammer with a right good zest:
Who turns the most out is the best!
Master, my thanks! The wine was good.
I quaffed twelve measures from the wood.
(Damned scoundrel!) Kind of you to say
How much you liked my good Rhine wine.
Please be so kind to step this way
And meet this gallant team of mine.
Now here we have the very best;
He churns out tales, at my behest,
Both lewd and moral; his praises sang
None other than the great Wolfgang
Menzel, who in Stuttgart sits;
His name, it is Herr von Tromlitz.
And here is one almost as good;
He also is of noble blood:
The “C” of Wachsmann — a big one, mind —
His equal would be hard to find.
There’s not a single almanack
In which he hasn’t left his tracks.
Composing tales at breathless pace
He flings them in the public’s face.
A man of sweated toil is he, -
He hasn’t done a thing for verse,
But thanks to him, as most agree,
The public’s taste was never worse.
Taste I regard with trepidation,
For taste could mean our ruination.
Third, Robert Heller: famous due to
A shine as on I plate of pewter.
The public think it’s silver plate;
We don’t mind if they learn too late.
He sets himself a slower pace
And strives for characterisation.
He’s dealt a right smack in the face
To mystics — his abomination.
You know, the 4 Evangelists
Were only silly pietists.
He’s brought them down a peg or two,
And stripped a halo off or two,
And made them tea-time fare for us.
Just read The Sisters of Lazarus.
He also writes with grace and charm,
His prickly Roses will confirm.
Now here is one whose chief attainment
Is in scholastic entertainment.
Friedrich Nork, hairsplitter, poet.
The greatest — thinks the world should know it.
He tells his lies in lovely songs
And proves, from Oriental tongues,
That you're an Ass, Elijah the sun,
And East was where all speech began.
But don’t look for, ;anything sensibly logical,
Thoroughly reasoned or etymological.
Next is honest Heriosssohn,
Truly deserving of a throne:
A novelist and lyric-writer,
His Comet Star, is something rare,
And read by nitwits everywhere.
Next, under Winkler’s guiding hand,
The Abend-Zeitung’s noble band.
Von Grosscreutz, Faber, and Thuringus —
What magic thrills those names can bring us!
But what more need have I to praise?
The public, with its curious ways,
Has long since raised them heaven-high
To join the stars up in the sky.
There are some others, absentees;
They're gathering deadwood from the trees.
No need to name the apprentice swarm:
They're all still rather weak of arm.
I hope they will, in time, make good,
Given one drop of novelist’s blood.
Good Master Smith, who may you be?
Saxon literature’s spirit you see
Incarnate in my nothingness.
If you would know what I can do,
Observe this arm’s sinewiness
And how I hammer hard and true.
You look a likely lad, ‘ no shirker.
Why don’t you join us for a spell?
Done, Master! It would suit me well
To join you as a common worker.
You can be one of Theodor Hell’s.
Go, try your hand at 2 nouvelles.
Ha! With bare fists I brought
The oak-trees to the ground;
Before my fierce onslaught,
The savage bear went down;
Wrestling the bull in rut,
I brought him to his knees;
Why, then, should I not
Swing at this art with ease?
No learner’s tasks for me —
No, not at any price!
Apprentice I won’t be.
Here is my masterpiece.
Hand me those bars, there. Neatly
I've snapped them, every one.
They're pulverised completely,
My blacksmith’s work is done!
Here, steady! What’s the big idea?
I'll hit you like that iron, d'you hear!
Why make that babbling sound?
Why take it all so ill?
Stop rolling on the ground.
Stand up, man, if you will!
Oh, help, oh, help!
You strike your fellow hands, I see.
Quick march! Get moving — understand?
Unless you want your hide well tanned.
You're clearly just the man for me!
(Throws him down.)
Ah, woe, woe! etc.
(Siegfried is sent into the forest, slays the dragon and, on returning, the Master;
scatters the journeymen in all directions, and goes away.)
In the Forest
O'er yonder, where that coppice grows,
I hear two men exchanging blows.
They're drawing near — such foolish pother;
They'll never silence one another!
I thought them giants in all their strength
With lances of a pine-tree’s length,
Not two Professors, all skin and bones,
Pelting each other with learned tomes.
(Enter Leo and Michelet.)
Stand up and fight, Hegelian whelp!
Not with you, Bigot — you're past all help!
Here, take the Bible — smack on the head!
Take Hegel, miserable drip, instead!
Blasphemer, I throw your Hegel back!
This Bible will give you a pain in the neck!
What more do you want, you old corpse in the attic!
You mean yourself, unbridled fanatic!
Pray tell me how this quarrel began.
Why, that foul-mouthed Hegelian
Would get the Bible in disgrace.
He really must be taught his place.
Unpolished boor, and liar too,
He won’t let Hegel have his duel
And so you throw at one another
The very books that cause the bother?
It’s all the same. No Christian he.
As good and better, believe you me.
It’s arrant nonsense, what he says.
Why don’t you go your separate ways?
Who started off this quarrel here?
I did. I say so without fear.
I fought for God and in God’s name.
Well, then, the horse you rode was lame.
He will never kill Christianity,
You won’t rescue it from calamity.
Let him pursue his chosen bent:
You may teach something different.
No more the Almighty’s name misuse
In your blind rage and wild abuse.
Now you go this way, you go that,
And stop exchanging tit for tat!
(Exeunt Leo and Michelet in different directions.)
Although they're peaceful, learned men,
I've never seen such fierce defiance;
They fight with all their might and main,
Though schooled in many a noble science.
But hunger plagues me now, and so
Down to the valley I shall go
To look for house or castle there,
Or failing them, my trusty bow
Will furnish me with ample fare.
That is as far as I've got. I have left out the bits of narration and only copied out the introduction and the satires. This is the last piece. Now it is the turn of the King of Bavaria a to be dealt with — but here it comes to a standstill. The thing lacks complexity and rounding off. Please ask Wurm to see about the poems for the Musenalmanach I must finish now, the post is going.
Friedrich Engels May 1, 39