Works of Frederick Engels, 1840


Written: at the end of June and in July 1840
First published: in Telegraph für Deutschland Nos. 122-123, July/August 1840
Signed: Friedrich Oswald

Telegraph für Deutschland No. 122, July 1840

Hellas had the good fortune of seeing the nature of her landscape brought to consciousness in the religion of her inhabitants. Hellas is a land of pantheism; all her landscapes are — or, at least, were — embraced in a harmonious framework. And yet every tree, every fountain, every mountain thrusts itself too much in the foreground, and her sky is far too blue, her sun far too radiant, her sea far too magnificent, for them to be content with the laconic spiritualisation of Shelley’s spirit of nature, [The words “spirit of nature” are in English in the original. In Shelley’s works, in particular in Queen Mab, the pantheistic figurative symbol of Pan appears. down with burning anger on the bare barren sand — there you have a representation of the Jewish world outlook] of an all-embracing Pan. Each beautifully shaped individual feature lays claim to a particular god, each river will have its nymphs, each grove its dryads — and so arose the religion of the Hellenes. Other regions were not so fortunate; they did not serve any people as: the basis of its faith and had to await a poetic mind to conjure into existence the religious genius that slumbered in them. — If you stand on the Drachenfels or on the Rochusberg at Bingen, and gaze over the vine-fragrant valley of the Rhine, the distant blue mountains merging with the horizon, the green fields and vineyards flooded with golden sunlight, the blue sky reflected in the river — heaven with its brightness descends on to the earth and is mirrored in it, the spirit descends into matter, the word becomes flesh and dwells among us — that is the embodiment of Christianity. The direct opposite of this is the North-German heath; — here there is nothing but dry stalks and modest heather, which, conscious of its weakness, dare not raise itself above the ground; here and there is a once defiant tree now shattered by lightning; and the brighter the sky, the more sharply does its self-sufficient magnificence demarcate it from the poor, cursed earth lying below it in sackcloth and ashes, and the more does its eye, the sun, look down with burning anger on the bare barren sand — there you have a representation of the Jewish world outlook.

The heathland has been much reviled, all literature [In the third volume of Blasedow the old man is concerned for the heath. — Note by Engels.] has heaped curses on it and, as in Platen’s Oedipus, it has been used only as a background for satire, but people have scorned to seek out its rare charms, its hidden poetic connections. One must really have grown up in a beautiful region, on mountain heights or forest[crowned crags, to feel properly the frightening, depressing character of the North-German Sahara, but also to be able to detect with pleasure the beautiful features of this region, which, like the mirage in Libya, are not always visible to the eye. The really found only in the potato fields on the t the homeland of the Saxons, the most S, is poetic even in its desolation. On a stormy night, when clouds stream ghost-like past the moon, when dogs bay to one another at a distance, gallop on snorting horses over the endless heath and leap with loose reins over the weathered granite blocks and the burial mounds of the Huns; in the distance the water of the moor glitters in the reflected moonlight, will-o'-the-wisps flit over it, and the howling of the storm sounds eerily over the wide expanse; the ground beneath you is unsafe, and you feel that you have entered the realm of German folk-lore. Only after I became acquainted with the North-German heathland did I properly understand the Grimm brothers’ Kinder- und Haus-Mirchen. It is evident from almost all these tales that they had their origin here, where at nightfall the human element vanishes and the terrifying, shapeless creations of popular fantasy glide over a desolate land which is eerie even in the brightness of midday. They are a tangible embodiment of the feelings aroused in the solitary heath dweller when he wends his way in his native land on such a wild night, or when he looks out over the desolate expanse from some high tower. Then the impressions which he has retained from childhood of stormy nights on the heath come back to his mind and take shape in those fairy-tales. You will not overhear the secret of the origin of the popular fairy-tales on the Rhine or in Swabia, whereas here every lightning night — bright lightning night, says Laube — speaks of it with tongues of thunder.

The summer thread of my apologia for the heath, carried by the wind, would probably continue to be spun out, if it had not become entangled with an unfortunate signpost painted in the colours of the land of Hanover [Yellow and white] I have long pondered over the significance of these colours. It is true that the royal Prussian colours do not show what Thiersch tries to find in them in his bad song about Prussia [80]; nevertheless, by their prosiness they remind one of cold, heartless bureaucracy and of all that the Rhinelander still cannot find quite plausible about Prussianism. The sharp contrast between black and white can provide an analogy for the relation between king and subject in an absolute monarchy; and since, according to Newton, they are not colours at all, they can be an indication that the loyal frame of mind in an absolute monarchy is that which does not hold a brief for any colour. The gay red and white flags of the people of the Hanse towns were at least fitting in olden days; the French esprit displays its iridescence in the tricolour, the colours of which have been appropriated by phlegmatic Holland too, probably in derision of itself; the most beautiful and significant, of course, is still the unhappy German tricolour. But the Hanoverian colours! Imagine a dandy in white trousers who has been chased for an hour at full speed through road-side ditches and newly ploughed fields, imagine Lot’s pillar of salt [81] — an example of the Hanoverian Nunquam retrorsum [Never turning back (inscription under the rampant steed of the Hanoverian coat of arms)] of former times as a warning for many-imagine this honourable memorial splashed with mud by ill-bred Bedouin youths, and you have a Hanoverian frontier post with its coat of arms. Or does the white signify the innocent basic law of the state and the yellow the filth with which it is being bespattered by certain mercenary pens?

To continue with the religious character of various regions, the Dutch landscapes are essentially Calvinist. The absolute prose of a distant view in Holland, the impossibility of its spiritualisation, the grey sky that is indeed the only one suited to it, all this produces the same impression on us as the infallible decisions of the Dordrecht Synod. [82] The windmills, the sole moving things in the landscape, remind one of the predestined elect, who allow themselves to be moved only by the breath of divine dispensation; everything else lies in “spiritual death”. And in this barren orthodoxy, the Rhine, like the flowing, living spirit of Christianity, loses its fructifying power and becomes completely choked up with sand. Such, seen from the Rhine, is the appearance of its Dutch banks; other parts of the country may be more beautiful, I do not know them. — Rotterdam, with its shady quays, its canals and ships, is an oasis for people from small towns in the interior of Germany; one can understand here how the imagination of a Freiligrath could ply with the departing frigates to distant, more luxuriant shores. Then there are the cursed Zeeland islands, nothing but reeds and dykes, windmills and the tops of chiming church steeples, between which the steamboat winds its way for hours!

But then, with what a blissful feeling we leave behind the philistine dykes and tight-laced Calvinist orthodoxy and enter the realm of the free-ranging spirit! Helvoetsluys vanishes, on the right and the left the banks of the Waal sink into the rising, jubilant waves, the sandy yellow of the water changes to green, and now what is behind is forgotten, and we go forward into the dark-green transparent sea!

And now have done with grieving,
And shed that bitter load.
And you'd go travelling onwards
Time to be up and leaving
To take the great highroad.
The sky leans gently downwards
To mingle with the sea —
In tired despondency?

The sky bends downwards, holding
The world with all its charms,
Happy to be enfolding
Such beauty in his arms.
As if to kiss her lover
The wave leaps up to the sky,
And you'd wish life was over,
In dark despondency?

The God of Love, descending,
Makes all this world his own;
To dwell here without ending,
He gives himself through Man.
And does that God not really
Abide within your breast?
Then let him reign more freely
And shine his worthiest.

Then climb on to the rigging of the bowsprit and gaze on the waves, how, cleft by the ship’s keel, they throw the white spray high over your head, and look out, too, over the distant green surface of the sea, where the foaming crests of the waves spring up in eternal unrest, where the sun’s rays are reflected into your eyes from thousands of dancing mirrors, where the green of the sea merges with the blue of the sky and the gold of the sun to produce a wonderful colour, and all your trivial cares, all remembrance of the enemies of light and their treacherous attacks disappear, and you stand upright, proudly conscious of the free, infinite mind! I have had only one impression that could compare with this; when for the first time the divine idea of the last of the philosophers [probably Hegel] this most colossal creation of the thought of the nineteenth century, dawned upon me,: I experienced the same blissful thrill, it was like a breath of fresh sea air blowing down upon me from the purest sky; the depths of speculation lay before me like the unfathomable sea from which one cannot turn one’s eyes straining to see the ground below; in God we live, move and have our being! We become conscious of that when we are on the sea; we feel that God breathes through all around us and through us ourselves; we feel such kinship with the whole of nature, the waves beckon to us so intimately, the sky stretches so lovingly over the earth, and the sun shines with such indescribable radiance that one feels one could grasp it with the hand.

The sun sinks in the north-west; on its left a shining streak rises from the sea — the Kentish coast and the southern bank of the Thames estuary. Already the twilight mist lies on the sea, only in the west is the purple of evening spread over the sky and over the water; the sky in the east is resplendent in deep blue, from which Venus already shines out brightly; in the south-west a long golden streak in the magical light along the horizon is Margate, from the windows of which the evening redness is reflected. So now wave your caps and greet free England with a joyful shout and a full glass. Good night, and a happy awakening in London!

Telegraph für Deutschland No. 123, August 1840

You who complain of the prosaic dullness of railways without ever having seen one should try travelling on the one from London to Liverpool. If ever a land was made to be traversed by railways it is England. No dazzlingly beautiful scenery, no colossal mountain masses, but a land of ‘soft rolling hills which has a wonderful charm in the English sunlight, which is never quite clear. It is surprising how various are the groupings of the simple figures; out of a few low hills, a field, some trees and grazing cattle, nature composes a thousand pleasant landscapes. The trees, which occur singly or in groups in all the fields, have a singular beauty that makes the whole neighbourhood resemble a park. Then comes a tunnel, and for a few minutes the train is in darkness, emerging into a deep cutting from which one is suddenly transported again into the midst of smiling, sunny fields. At another time the railway track is laid on a viaduct crossing a long valley; far below it lie towns and villages, woods and meadows, between which a river takes its meandering course; to the right and left are mountains which fade into the background, and the valley is bathed in a magical light, half-mist and half-sunshine. But you have hardly had time to survey the wonderful scene before you are carried away into a bare cutting and have time to recreate the magical picture in your imagination. And so it goes on until night falls and your wearied eyes close in slumber. Oh, there is rich poetry in the counties of Britain! It often seems as if one were still in the golden days of merry England and might see Shakespeare with his fowling-piece moving stealthily behind a hedge on a deer-poaching expedition, or you might wonder why not one of his divine comedies actually takes place on this green meadow. For wherever the scenes are supposed to occur, in Italy, France or Navarra, his baroque, uncouth rustics, his too-clever schoolmasters, and his deliciously bizarre women, all belong basically to merry England b and it is remarkable that only an English sky is suited to everything that takes place. Only some of the comedies, such as the Midsummer Night’s Dream, are as completely adapted to a southern climate as Romeo and Juliet, even in the characters of the play.

And now back to our Fatherland! Picturesque and romantic Westphalia has become quite indignant at its son Freiligrath, who has entirely forgotten it on account of the admittedly far more picturesque and romantic Rhine. Let us console it with a few flattering words so that its patience does not give out before the second issue appears. [83] Westphalia is surrounded by mountain ranges separating it from the rest of Germany, and it lies open only to Holland, as if it had been cast out from Germany. And yet its children are true Saxons, good loyal Germans. And these mountains offer magnificent points of view; in the south the Ruhr and Lenne valleys, in the east the Weser valley, in the north a range of mountains from Minden to Osnabrück — everywhere there is a wealth of beautiful scenery, and only in the centre of the province is there a boring expanse of sand which always shows up through the grass and corn. And then there are the beautiful old towns, above all Münster with its Gothic churches, with its market arcades, and with Annette Elisabeth von Droste-Hillshoff and Levin Schücking. The last-named, whose acquaintance I had the pleasure of making there, was kind enough to draw my attention to the poems of that lady, [84] and I could not let this opportunity slip without bearing part of the blame which the German public has incurred in regard to these poems. In connection with them it has once again been proved that the much-vaunted German thoroughness treats the appreciation of poetry much too light-heartedly; people leaf through it, examine whether the rhymes are pure and the verses fluent, and whether the content is easy to understand and rich in striking, or at least dazzling, images, and the verdict is complete. But poems like these, which are marked by a sincerity of feeling, a tenderness and originality in the depiction of nature such as only Shelley can achieve, and a bold Byronic imagination-clothed, it is true, in a somewhat stiff form and in a language not altogether free from provincialism — such poems pass away without leaving a trace. Anyone,, however, who is prepared to read them rather more slowly than usual — and, after all, one only takes up a book of poems in the hours of a siesta — could very well find that their beauty prevents him from going to sleep! Furthermore, the poetess is a fervent Catholic, and how can a Protestant take any interest in such? But whereas pietism makes the man, the schoolmaster, the chief curate Albert Knapp, ridiculous, the childish faith of Fräulein von Droste becomes her very well. Religious independence of mind is an awkward matter for women. Persons like George Sand, Mistress Shelley [Mary Wollstonecraft-Shelley, née Godwin], are rare; it is only too easy for doubt to corrode the feminine mind and raise the intellect to a power which it ought not to have in any woman. If, however, the ideas by which we children of the new stand or fall are truth, then the time is not far off when the feminine heart will beat as warmly for the flowers of thought of the modern mind as it does now for the pious faith of its fathers — and the victory of the new will only be at hand when the young generation takes it in with its mother’s milk.