Frederick Engels: Reports from Bremen
Written: in September 1840
First published: in Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser Nos. 249-250, October 17/19, 1840
Signed: F. 0.
At last once again a topic which extends beyond tea-party gossip, which so excites the entire public of our Free State that everyone takes sides either for or against, and which gives food for thought even to the more serious-minded. The thunderstorm in the sky of our age has struck even in Bremen, the fight for a freer or narrower conception of Christianity has been kindled even here, in the capital of North-German fundamentalism; the voices which were recently raised in Hamburg, Kassel and Magdeburg have found an echo in Bremen. — Briefly, the course of events was as follows: Pastor F. W. Krummacher, the Pope of the Wuppertal Calvinists, the St. Michael of the doctrine of predestination, visited his parents here and gave two sermons for his father [Friedrich Adolf Krummacher] in the Church of St. Ansgarius. The first sermon dealt with his favourite spectacle, the Last judgment, the second with an anathematising passage in the Epistle to the Galatians; both were written with the burning eloquence, the poetic, if not always well-chosen, splendour of imagery for which this richly talented pulpit speaker is famous; but both, particularly the last, flash with curses against those who think differently, as one might expect from such a harsh mystic. The pulpit became the presidential chair of a court of inquisition whence the eternal curse was hurled against all theological trends which the inquisitor did and did not know. Anyone who did not accept this crass mysticism as absolute Christianity was delivered up to the devil. And with a sophistry which emerged as strangely naive, Krummacher always managed to shelter behind the apostle Paul. “It is not I who is cursing, nay! Children, reflect, it is the apostle Paul who condemns you!” — The worst of it was that the apostle wrote in Greek and scholars have not yet been able to agree on the precise meaning of certain of his expressions. Among these dubious words is the anathema used in this passage, to which Krummacher, without more ado, ascribed the most extreme meaning of a sentence of eternal damnation. Pastor Paniel, the chief representative of rationalism in this pulpit,  had the misfortune to interpret this word in its milder sense, and in general to oppose Krummacher’s way of thinking; he therefore preached controversial sermons [K. F. W. Paniel, Drei Sonntagspredicten, mit Bezug auf eine besondere Veranlassung, am 12., 19. und 26. juli 1846 gehalten]. Whatever you may think of his views, his behaviour is irreproachable. Krummacher cannot deny that in composing his sermons he had in mind not only the rationalistic majority of the congregation, but Paniel in particular; he cannot deny that it is wrong for a guest preacher to try to prejudice a congregation against its appointed pastors; he must admit that a coarse wood needs a coarse wedge. What was the point of all the invective against Voltaire and Rousseau, whom even the worst rationalist in Bremen fears like the devil, or of all the curses against speculative theology, which, with two or three exceptions, his entire audience was as incapable of judging as he himself, what was the point of this except to disguise the very definite, even personal, tendentiousness of the sermons? — Paniel’s controversial sermons were certainly preached in the spirit of Paulus’ rationalism and, in spite of the lauded care in their arrangement and their rhetorical pathos, they suffer from all its weaknesses. It is all vague and verbose; where the poetic impulse is set in motion, it is like the working of a spinning-machine, and the treatment of the text like a homoeopathic brew; Krummacher has more originality in three sentences than his opponent in three sermons. — An hour from Bremen lives a pietistic country pastor [Johann Nikolaus Tiele] who is so superior to his peasants that he has begun to think himself a great theologian and linguist. He issued a tract against Paniel in which he brought into play the entire apparatus of a philological theologian of the last century. The scientific pretensions of the worthy country pastor were punctured most painfully in an anonymous paper. With as much spirit as learning the anonymous author [Wilhelm Ernst Weber], believed to be a deserving learned inhabitant of our town who has several times been mentioned in my previous report,’ has demonstrated to the clever “God’s word from the country” all the absurdities which he had extracted with great trouble from long antiquated handbooks. Krummacher issued a Theologische Replik to Paniel’s controversial sermons, in which he made an unconcealed attack on his whole personality, and, moreover, in a manner which nullified the charge of slander brought against his adversary. Though the reply takes skilful advantage of the weaknesses of rationalism, particularly those of his adversary, Krummacher acts clumsily in trying to demolish Paniel’s interpretation. The most capable work written from the pietistic standpoint in this controversy was the pamphlet by Pastor Schlichthorst, who lives nearby, in which rationalism, and that of Pastor Paniel in particular, was quietly and dispassionately traced back to its basis, Kantian philosophy, and the question was posed: Why are you not honest enough to admit that the foundation of your faith is not the Bible but its interpretation according to Kantian philosophy as expounded by Paulus? — A new paper by Paniel [K. F. W. Paniel, Unverholene Beurtheitung.] is expected to come from the press some time soon. Whatever it may prove to contain, he has stirred the old leaven, he has brought the Bremen people, who believed in everything but themselves, to their senses, and pietism, which till now has considered the fact that its adversaries were split among themselves into so many parties to be a gift from God, will now have to learn for once that we all stand united when it is a question of fighting obscurantism.
A plan is under consideration here which, if implemented, would be of the greatest consequence, and not only for Bremen. A respected young local merchant has recently returned from London where he informed himself exactly about the equipment of the steamer Archimedes which, as you know, has a newly invented method of propulsion by an Archimedean screw. He went on the ship’s trial run round the whole of Great Britain and Ireland, in which it greatly exceeded the speed of steamboats equipped in the usual way, and he is now planning to apply the new invention to a newly designed steamship which is to provide a fast and regular service between New York and Bremen. The empty ship, the so-called hull, will be built by our master shipbuilder at his own expense, while the cost of the machinery, etc., is to be raised by shares. Everybody senses the importance of such an enterprise; although some of our sailing vessels make the crossing from Baltimore to here in the inconceivably short time of twenty-five days, their speed always depends on the wind which can treble the duration of such a voyage, and a steamboat, which in case of a favourable wind is also equipped for sailing, would undoubtedly need only eleven to eighteen days from a port in the United States to Bremen. Once a beginning is made with a steam packet-boat service between Germany and the American continent, the new equipment is bound to be developed quickly and have the greatest consequences for the linking of the two countries. We will not have to wait long before we can reach New York from any part of Germany in a fortnight, see the sights of the United States in a fortnight, and be back home again in a fortnight. A couple of railways, a couple of steamships, and that’s that; since Kant eliminated the categories of space and time from the sensory impressions of the thinking mind, mankind has been striving with might and main to emancipate itself from these limitations materially too.
An unprecedented animation prevailed in our theatre recently. Usually our stage is quite outside society; the subscribers pay their contributions and go there now and again when they have nothing better to do. Then Seydelmann came, and actors and public were filled with a fervour to which we are not accustomed in Bremen. One may complain as much as one likes about the decay of the spoken drama through the domination of opera, even Schiller and Goethe may find empty houses, while everybody rushes to hear the tootling of a Donizetti and Mercadante; but as long as the spoken drama can still achieve such triumphs through its most capable representative, our stage can still be cured of its languor. Besides some plays by Kotzebue and Raupach, we have seen Seydelmann as Shylock, Mephistopheles and Philipp (Don Carlos). It would be like pouring water into the sea if I were to enlarge upon his well-known interpretation of these roles.
The recent manoeuvres of the Oldenburg-Hanseatic brigade conducted in the adjoining part of the Oldenburg region give us a picture in miniature of the camp at Heilbronn. During the sham fight for the capture of a village our troops are said to have behaved so courageously that the force of the cannon fire shattered all the window-panes. The people of Bremen are glad that they have a new amusement spot and go out in droves to watch the fun, while their sons and brothers move to the guard posts and spend the merriest nights of their lives there with wine and song.