Letters of Frederick Engels
[Bremen, about April 28-30, 1839]
Guglielmo carissimo! My very dear Wilhelm, I found your letter amongst those of the others and its words were sweet to me. But I cannot accept as either authentic or competent the judgment and the sentence passed by the five students. — For it is an act of kindness on my part when I enclose poems in my letters to you [in Greek].
Since you don’t wish to criticise St. Hanor, Florida and Sturm, you don’t deserve to get any more verses. Your assertion of intellectual weakness is in contradiction to your customary veracity. It will do no harm to liberty if my mind inclines towards Young Germany, for this is not a group of writers, like the romantic, demagogic and other schools, not a closed society; what they want and work for, is that the ideas of our century — the emancipation of the Jews and of the slaves, general constitutionalism and other good ideas — shall become part of the flesh and blood of the German people. Since these ideas are not far from the trend of my own mind, why should I hold aloof? For it is not as you say. [in Latin]: surrendering oneself to a tendency, sed: joining it; sequitur a continuation in my room, and, in writing a polyglottic letter, I will take now the English language, But no, my beautiful Italian, lovely and pure as the zephyr, with words like flowers from the loveliest of gardens, and Spanish, a language like the wind in the trees, and Portuguese, like the rustling of the sea on a shore of flowers and meadows, and French, like the quick murmur of a fountain, very amusing, and Dutch, like the smoke from a pipe of tobacco, very cosy [in mixture of French, Dutch, Spanish]: but our beloved German — that is all at once.
Like to the long, long waves of the sea is the language of Homer;
Aeschylus into the valley hurls one rock after another.
Tongue of the Romans — thus mighty Caesar addresses the legions,
Grasping the words that lie in profusion like angular boulders
Scattered around; from them there soars a Cyclopean building;
Whereas the new Italian tongue is graceful and charming,
Setting the poet in the middle of Earth’s most beautiful garden;
Petrarch filled cornucopias; Ariosto wove his bay-wreath.
Language of Spain: oh, hear how aloft in the leaves of the tree-top
Reigns the tremendous wind, and tremendous songs of the ancients
Swell and resound in its roar, and the grapes that hang from the vine-branch
Climbing the trunk of the tree, all swing to and fro in the leafage.
Portugal’s language — the murmur of waves on the flower — studded coastline,
Where in the reeds may be heard how Syrinx sighs with the Zephyr.
Hark to the tongue of the Franks. it runs, an exuberant streamlet,
Merrily taking its course and smoothing the obstinate sandstone
Under the rippling flow of its chattering, garrulous wavelets.
Language of England, all this time weather-beaten and grass-grown
Monument of great giants, that the brambles covered for all that,
Round it screams and howls the storm that would topple it over.
Ah, but the German tongue, it booms like the surf of the breakers
Washing the jagged-edged coral that carries the fairest of islands;
Towards it thunder the long, long waves of the music of Homer;
There, too, crash the gigantic rocks that Aeschylus tumbled;
There you will see the Commander-in-Chief’s Cyclopean building;
There you will see the fragrant garden of beautiful flowers;
Mighty the sounds that swell from the midst of the leaves in the tree-top;
Syrinx is heard in the reeds, and the rivulets polish the sandstone;
Many a giant building stands with the wind screaming round it:
Such is the German language, eternal and woven with wonders.
I wrote down these hexameters ex tempore, and I hope they'll make the nonsense on the previous page, out of which they came, more bearable to you. But discuss them as something extemporary.
April 29. To proceed with your letter in consistent continuation, the weather is marvellous today so that you, posito caso aequalitatis temporalis, are probably and rightly cutting all your lectures today. I wish I were with you. — I have probably already written to you that I have been venting my wit on the Bremer Stadtboteb under the name of Theodor Hildebrand; I have given it up now with the following letter.
Dear Bremen Courier,
Please don’t be offended If I've made you the laughing-stock of town. Remember, friend, that folk have always tended To ridicule what’s patently unsound.
Your sunshine days have very nearly ended
In the three months that you've been trotting round.
Have you been saying things you didn’t ought,
To give yourself such food for afterthought?
My poems cost little effort when I did them;
The donkey work was almost wholly done.
I took your articles and parodied them;
The subject-matter came from you alone.
Simply subtract the rhyme-schemes and the rhythm —
The image that remains is all your own.
Rage, if you like, at your respectful and
You, too, should begin to write a little, either in verse or in prose, and then send things to the Berliner Conversationsblatt, if it still exists, or to the Gesellschafter. Later, you take it up more seriously, write short stories, which you get printed in magazines, then by themselves, you get a reputation, are acclaimed as a gifted, witty narrator. I see you all again, Heuser a great composer, Wurm writing profound studies on Goethe and the developments of the time, Fritz becoming a famous preacher, Jonghaus composing religious poems, you writing witty short stories and critical essays, and me — becoming the town poet of Barmen to replace Lieutenant Simons of shabbily treated memory (in Cleve). — As a further piece of poetry for you, there is also the song on the sheet for the Musenalmanach, which I don’t feel like copying out again. Perhaps I'll write another one besides. Today (April 30), because of the magnificent weather, I sat in the garden from 7 in the morning to half past 8, smoked and read the Lusiade until I had to go to the office. There’s no better way of reading than in a garden on a clear spring morning, with a pipe in your mouth, and the rays of the sun on your back. This afternoon I'll continue this pursuit with the Old German Tristan, and his sweet reflections on love. Tonight I'm going to the Ratsheller where our Herr Pastore is treating us to the Rhine wine which he has been given — in duty bound — by the new Burgomaster. In such stupendous weather I always get an immense longing for the Rhine and its vineyards, but what can I do about it? Write a couple of verses at most. I am willing to bet that W. Blank has written telling you that [I,] wrote the articles in the Telegraph and
that’s why you were all so angry about it. The scene is in Barmen and you can imagine what it is. — I have just had a letter from W. Blank in which he says that the article is causing a frantic uproar in Elberfeld. Dr. Runkel attacks it in the Elberfelder Zeitung, accusing me of falsehoods. I want to let him be given a hint that he should point out to me just one single falsehood, which he cannot, because everything I wrote was based on proven data which I have from eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses. Blank sent me the paper, which I at once dispatched to Gutzkow with the request to go on keeping my name secret. Krummacher declared recently in a sermon that the earth stands still and the sun rotates around it, and the fellow dares to trumpet this to the world on this April 21, 1839, and then he says that pietism does not lead the world back to the Middle Ages. It is scandalous. He should be expelled, or one day he will yet become Pope before you know, and then may a saffron-yellow thunderstorm strike him dead. Dios lo sabe, God knows what will become of Wuppertal. Adios. Yours, expecting a speedy reply or not sending any more poems,