Marx-Engels Correspondence 1859

Engels to Jenny Marx


Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Progress Publishers, 1976;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

December 22, 1859

I am downright annoyed by this whole Freiligrath business. It is always the same old story with this belletrist rabble: they for ever want to be lauded to the skies by the newspapers and have their names in the public eye. The most wretched verse they turn out is more important to them than the greatest event in history. As this cannot be brought about without a coterie organisation, it is natural that this becomes the principal requirement and, unfortunately, we unlucky Communists are quite unsuited to this. Even worse, we know this whole fraud, scorn this organisation du succès and have an almost criminal aversion to becoming popular figures. If such a poet for this reason feels uneasy in such a party, it is indeed a sign of extreme narrow-mindedness, for he has absolutely none of the competition which he is sure to meet everywhere else; and he shows even greater narrowmindedness, if he throws himself into the arms of a group where, right from the beginning, he has to face the competition of Kinkel. Mais que voules-vous? [but what can you do?] For his very existence the poet needs incense, a great deal of incense....

It must be added that over the years the noble Ferdinand’s flow of poetry has dried up and the little that he still manages to squeeze out of his cranium is ignominiously bad. Hence one has to resort to various dodges, with complete works, etc., which cannot be done every day. So, if one is not to be forgotten, advertising becomes more necessary with every passing day. Who in fact spoke of Freiligrath from 1849 to I 858? No one. Only Bettziech has rediscovered this classic, who had been forgotten to such an extent that he was only used as a Christmas or birthday present, and who already figured in the history of literature, rather than in literature itself. The only one to blame for this was naturally Karl Marx with his “breathing.” But once Freiligrath is warmed through again by the incense of Gartenläube, you will see what sort of poetry he will spout forth!

What a petty, wretched, miserable business with these poets! This is why I praise Siebel. He is a really bad poet, of course, but he knows that he is a humbug through and through and desires only that he be given access to the advertising trade as a necessary procédé [occupation] of the times, for without this he would be nothing.