Works of Frederick Engels, 1840

Joel Jacoby

Written: in January-March 1840
First published: in the Telegraph für Deutschland No. 55, April 1840
Signed: Friedrich Oswald

Görres’ troupe of tight-rope dancers has acquired a valuable recruit in Joel Jacoby. The role of clown was previously performed by Herr Guido Görres, whose jokes, however, were not appreciated by the public; but in his Kampf und Sieg the new member has recently again demonstrated his vocation for this role in surprising fashion. Such a versatile man, who can wear with equal grace the red cap and purple of David, the frock-coat of a candidate eager for a post, or the penitential shirt of a catechumen, who finds pleasure in acting as a walking advertisement, carrying in front of him an issue of the Berliner politisches Wochenblatt and behind him the publications list of Manz in Regensburg — such a man is quite at his ease in all roles. Now he makes his first appearance without being in the least embarrassed, and while “Prosperity and peace, struggle and victory, sound their strains for you”, he has one eye on the Order of the Red Eagle and the other on the bishop’s mitre.

“What should I give you for your refreshment?” he asks the public. “Do you want something from the year 1832 or 1834, 1836 or 1839? What should I declaim, Marat or Jarcke, David or Görres or Hegel?” But he is generous and gives us a ragout of all the reminiscences that spring up in the desert of his mind, and it is true that he gives us something refreshing.

One is perplexed how to deal with this nonsense. I shall readily be permitted not to analyse the perfidy of disposition and chaotic confusion of ideas which distinguish also this work of the author; we are indeed faced with a semi-lunatic in whose mind his own shapeless thought embryos have other people’s ideas grafted on them to produce an unbridled orgy! How much, for example, can our poet know of his own past if he calls himself “a quiet man"! He, who for the past eight years has continually shouted, raged and stormed for the revolution, against the revolution, for Prussia, for the Pope. He, a quiet man? He, whose plaints were always equivalent to complaints [A pun on the German words Klagen and Verklagen] the born informer who always cast suspicion on a massive scale — does he belong to the country’s quiet men?

Franz Karl Joel Jacoby’s confusion of language is in keeping with his confusion of ideas. I would never have believed that the German language could be so closely linked with the most confused conceptions. Words which have never been seen in company with one another are here thrown together; ideas which are mutually antagonistic are here coupled together by an all-powerful verb; the most lawful and innocent expressions occur suddenly among reminiscences from Joel’s revolutionary years, among suspicious-looking phrases of Menzel’s, Leo’s and Görres’, among incorrectly understood thoughts of Hegel’s, and over all this the poet brandishes his riding-whip so that the whole wild pack rushes along, knocking one another over, turning somersaults, and reeling, until it finally comes to rest in the bosom of the church as the sole source of salvation.

The actual content of this masterpiece, which is composed in accordance with a pseudo-parallelism, in the old “grand manner of saying everything twice” (and even three or six times!), consists of the lyrical laments of a Jew and a catechumen, and then the laments of a Catholic, where the author abandons one-sided lyrical subjectivity and develops a genuine modern drama, in the centre of which the vigorous personality of the author acts a tragic role (he is at least mournful enough to look at), and over whose disconsolate confusion rises the medieval dawn of the Catholic Church. The new prophet Joel rises up in gigantic form out of the modern chaos and predicts the downfall of all revolutionary, liberal, Hegeling, [49] and Protestant efforts, which will give way to a new age of absence of thought. A curse is pronounced on everything that does not bow down before the crosier. Only the “Prussian Fatherland” receives pia desideria [Pious wishes]; on the other hand, the Carlist Basques and the “Belgian nightingale” [50] perish to the joy of their master Loyola. One sees that the terrorism of the Jacobin era remains firmly in Herr Jacoby’s memory. A bloody judgment is held on all enemies of Jesuitism and the monarchist principle, above all on the new philosophers, who carry a dagger in a sheath of mind-confusing ideas, and among their many-coloured rags the well-known shroud (at least Herr Jacoby knows it very well from former days) in which the priests and princes together sleep their sleep of death. But the new prophet knows them, “I have always understood you,” he says himself. On the other hand, he acquits the master [Hegel] because a few of the latter’s ideas have entered Herr Jacoby’s heated brain like snowflakes, and there, of course, have turned to water. In face of the chorus of vultures and owls that now follows, as also in face of the infernal rejoicing, criticism is justly silent.

In Joel Jacoby we see the horrifying extreme to which all knights of unreason are driven in the end. That is the final outcome of all hostility to free thought, of all opposition to the absolute power of the mind, whether it appears in the form of wild, unruly sansculottism or the unthinking servile mind; whether it is represented by the parted hair of the pietist or the tonsure of the priest. Joel Jacoby is a living trophy, a sign of the victory which the thinking mind has achieved. Anyone who has ever entered the lists on behalf of the nineteenth century can gaze in triumph on this unfortunate poet of our time, for sooner, or later all its other adversaries will suffer the same fate.