Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels 1852

Heroes of the Exile


With his capture a new epoch opened in Kinkel's life and at the same time there began a new era in the history of German Philistinism. The Maybug Club had scarcely heard the news of his capture than they wrote to all the German papers that Kinkel, the great poet, was in danger of being summarily shot and exhorting the German people, especially the educated among them, and above all the women and girls to give their all to save the life of the imprisoned poet. Kinkel himself composed a poem at about this time, as we are told, in which he compared himself to "Christ, his friend and teacher", adding: "My blood is shed for you." From this point on his emblem is the lyre. In this way Germany suddenly learned that Kinkel was a poet, a great poet moreover, and from this moment on the mass of German Philistines and aestheticising drivellers joined in the Farce of the Blue Flower put on by our Heinrich von Ofterdingen.

In the meantime the Prussians brought him before a military tribunal. For the first time after a long interval he saw his opportunity to try out one of those moving appeals to the tear ducts of his audience which — according to Mockel — had brought him such applause earlier on as an assistant preacher in Cologne. Cologne too was destined soon to witness his most glorious performance in this sphere. He made a speech in his own defence before the tribunal which thanks to the indiscretion of a friend was unfortunately made available to the public through the medium of the Berlin Abendpost. In this speech Kinkel "repudiates any connection between his activities and the filth and the dirt that, as I well know, has latterly attached itself to this revolution".

After this rabid revolutionary speech Kinkel was sentenced to twenty years detention in a fortress. As an act of grace this was reduced to prison with hard labour and he was removed to Naugard where he was employed in spinning wool and so just as formerly he had appeared with the emblem first of the rucksack, then the musket and then the lyre, he now appears in association with the spinning wheel. We shall see him later wandering over the ocean accompanied by the emblem of the purse.

In the meantime a curious event took place in Germany. It is well known that the German Philistine is endowed by Nature with a beautiful soul. Now he found his most cherished illusions cruelly shattered by the hard blows of the year 1849. Not a single hope had become reality and even the fast-beating hearts of young men began to despair about the fate of the fatherland. Every heart yielded to a lachrymose torpor and the need began to be felt for a democratic Christ, for a real or imagined Sufferer who in his torments would bear the sins of the Philistine world with the patience of a lamb and whose Passion would epitomise in extreme form the unrestrained but chronic self-pity of the whole of Philistinism. The Maybug Club, with Mockel at its head, set out to satisfy this universal need. And indeed, who better fitted for the task of enacting this great Passion Farce than our captive passion dower, Kinkel at the Spinning Wheel, this sponge able to absorb endless floods of sentimental tears, who was in addition preacher, professor of fine arts, deputy, political colporteur, musketeer, newly discovered poet and old impresario all rolled into one? Kinkel was the man of the moment and as such he was immediately accepted by the German Philistines. Every paper abounded in anecdotes, vignettes, poems, reminiscences of the captive poet, his sufferings in prison were magnified a thousandfold and took on mythical stature; at least once a month his hair was reported to have gone grey; in every bourgeois meeting-place and at every tea party he was remembered with grief; the daughters of the educated classes sighed over his poems and old maids who knew what unrequited passion is wept freely in various cities at the thought of his shattered manhood. All other profane victims of the revolutionary movement, all who had been shot, who had fallen in battle or who had been imprisoned disappeared into naught beside this one sacrificial lamb, beside this one hero after the hearts of the Philistines male and female. For him alone did the rivers of tears flow, and indeed, he alone was able to respond to them in kind. In short, we have the perfect image, complete in every detail of the democratic Siegwart epoch which yielded in nothing to the literary Siegwart epoch of the preceding century and Siegwart-Kinkel never felt more at home in any role than in this one where he could seem great not because of what he did but because of what he did not do. He could seem great not by dint of his strength and his powers of resistance but through his weakness and spineless behaviour in a situation where his only task was to survive with decorum and sentiment. Mockel, however, was able and experienced enough to take practical advantage of the public's soft heart and she immediately organised a highly efficient industry. She caused all of Gottfried's published and unpublished works to be printed for they all suddenly became fashionable and were much in demand; she also found a market for her own life-experiences from the insect world, e.g., her Story of a Firefly; she employed the Maybug Strodtmann to assemble Gottfried's most secret diary-feelings and prostitute them to the public for a considerable sum of money; she organised collections of every kind and in general she displayed undeniable talent and great perseverance in converting the feelings of the educated public into hard cash. In addition she had the great satisfaction "of seeing the greatest men of Germany, such as Adolf Stahr, meeting daily in her own little room". The climax of this whole Siegwart mania was to be reached at the Assizes in Cologne where Gottfried made a guest appearance early in 1850. This was the trial resulting from the attempted uprising in Siegburg and Kinkel was brought to Cologne for the occasion. As Gottfried's diaries play such a prominent part in this sketch it will be appropriate if we insert here an excerpt from the diary of an eyewitness.

"Kinkel's wife visited him in gaol. She welcomed him from behind the grill with verses; he replied, I understand, in hexameters; whereupon they both sank to their knees before each other and the prison inspector, an old sergeant-major, who was standing by wondered whether he was dealing with madmen or clowns. When asked later by the chief prosecutor about the content of their conversation he declared that the couple had indeed spoken German but that he could not make head nor tail of it. Whereupon Mrs. Kinkel is supposed to have retorted that a man who was so wholly innocent of art and literature should not be made an inspector."

Faced with the jury Kinkel wriggled his way out by acting the pure tearjerker, the poetaster of the Siegwart period of the vintage of Werther's Sufferings. [27]

"Members of the Court, Gentlemen of the Jury — the blue eyes of my children — the green waters of the Rhine — it is no dishonour to shake the hand of the proletarian — the pallid lips of the prisoner — the peaceful air of one's home" — and similar crap: that was what the whole famous speech amounted to and the public, the jury, the prosecution and even the police shed their bitterest tears and the trial closed with a unanimous acquittal and a no less unanimous weeping and wailing. Kinkel is doubtless a dear, good man but he is also a repulsive mixture of religious, political and literary reminiscences."

It's enough to make you sick.

Fortunately this period of misery was soon terminated by the romantic liberation of Kinkel from Spandua gaol. His escape was a re-enactment of the story of Richard Lionheart and Blondel with the difference that this time it was Blondel who was in prison while Lionheart played on the barrel-organ outside and that Blondel was an ordinary music-hall minstrel and the lion was basically more like a rabbit. Lionheart was in fact the student Schurz from the Maybug Club, a little intriguer with great ambitions and limited achievements who was however intelligent enough to have seen through the "German Lamartine"! Not long after the escape student Schurz declared in Paris that he knew very well that Kinkel was no lumen mundi, whereas he, Schurz, and none other was destined to be the future president of the German Republic. This mannikin, one of those students "in brown jackets and pale-blue overcoats" whom Gottfried had once followed with his gloomily flashing eyes succeeded in freeing Kinkel at the cost of sacrificing some poor devil of a warder who is now doing time elevated by the feeling of being a martyr for freedom — the freedom of Gottfried Kinkel.