Works of Frederick Engels 1883

“Song of the Apprentices”
by Georg Weerth (1846)

Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Progress Publishers, 1976;
Written: late May, 1883;
First Published: in Der Sozialdemokrat, 7 June, 1883;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

At the time when the cherries blossomed,
In Frankfurt we did stay.
At the time when the cherries blossomed,
In that city we did stay.

Up spake mine host, the landlord:
“Your coats are frayed and worn.”
“Look here, you lousy landlord,
That’s none of your concern.

“Now give us of your wine,
And give us of your beer,
And with the beer and wine,
Bring us a roast in here.”

The cock crows in the cock-stop,
Out comes a goodly flow,
And in our mouths it tastes
Like urinatio.

And then he brought a hare
In parsley leaves bedight,
And at this poor dead hare
We all of us took fright.

And when we were in bed,
Our nightly prayers reciting,
Early and late in bed
The bed-bugs kept on biting.

It happened once in Frankfurt,
That town so fine and fair,
That knows who did once dwell
And who did suffer there.

I rediscovered this poem by our friend Weerth in Marx’s effects. Weerth, the German proletariat’s first and most important poet, the son of Rhineland parents, was born in Detmold, where his father was church superintendent. In 1843, when I was in Manchester, Weerth came to Bradford as an agent for his German firm, and we spent many a pleasant Sunday together. In 1845, when Marx and I lived in Brussels, Weerth took over the continental agency for his firm and arranged things so that he, too, could make Brussels his headquarters. After the revolution of March 1848, we all met up in Cologne to found the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Weerth took on the feuilleton, and I don’t think any other paper ever had one as hard-hitting and funny. “Leben und Thaten des berühmten Ritters Schnapphahnski,” describing the adventures of Prince Lichnowski, whom Heine had given that name in “Atta Troll,” was one of his most important contributions. The facts were all true; as to how we got hold of them, well about that another time, perhaps. The collected Schnapphahnski feuilletons were published in book form by Hoffmann and Campe in 1849, and they are still very amusing today. However, on September 18, 1848 Schnapphahnski-Lichnowski rode out with the Prussian General von Auerswald (also a member of parliament) to spy on peasant detachments on their way to join the fighters on the Frankfurt barricades. Both he and Auerswald were, deservedly, put to death by the peasants as spies, and so the German Imperial Administration charged Weerth with insulting the dead Lichnowski. Weerth, who had left for England long ago, was sentenced to three months imprisonment, long after reaction had put an end to the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. He later actually served those three months, because his business required him to visit Germany from time to time.

In 1850-51, he travelled to Spain for another Bradford firm, then to the West Indies, and across almost the whole of South America. After a short visit to Europe, he returned to his beloved West Indies, where he did not want to deny himself the pleasure of taking a look at the real original of Louis-Napoleon III, the negro king Soulouque in Haiti. However, as W. Wolff wrote to Marx on August 28, 1856, he had

“difficulties with the quarantine authorities and had to give up the project. He had picked up (yellow) fever on the tour, which he carried with him to Havana. He lay down, a brain fever took hold too, and, on the 30th of July, our Weerth died in Havana.”

I called him the German proletariat’s first and most important poet. Indeed his socialist and political poems are far superior to Freiligrath’s in originality and wit, and especially in fervent emotion. He often used the Heine forms, but only to invest them with an entirely original, independent content. Moreover, he differed from most other poets in that he was quite unconcerned about his poems once written. Having sent a copy to Marx or me, he let his verses lie and it was often hard to persuade him to get them printed. Only during the publication of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was it different. The following extract from a letter of Weerth to Marx from Hamburg, April 28, 1851, shows why:

“Incidentally I hope to see you again in London at the beginning of July, because I can’t stand these grasshoppers in Hamburg any longer. Here, I am threatened by a truly splendid existence, and I am terrified of it. Everyone else would grab at it with both hands. However, I am too old to become a philistine, and across the sea lies the distant West. ...

“I have written all sorts of things lately, but have finished nothing, because I see no purpose, no goal in all this writing. When you write something on political economy, that has sense and reason. But I? Weak jokes and feeble sallies to coax an idiotic smile onto these ugly fatherland faces — honestly, I know of nothing more contemptible. My activities as a writer definitely ended with the Neue Rheinische Zeitung.

“I must admit that, just as I regret that I have lost the last three years for nothing, surely for nothing, it delights me when I remember our life in Cologne. We did not compromise ourselves! That is the most important thing. Not since Frederick the Great has anybody treated the German people so completely en canaille [ungraciously] as did the Neue Rheinische Zeitung.

“And though I do not say that this was my achievement I was there ....

“O Portugal, O Spain!'’ (Weerth had just come from there.) “Had we but your lovely skies, your wine, your oranges and myrtles! But no, not even that. Nothing but rain, long noses and smoked meat.

“With rain and a long nose, yours,

G. Weerth.”

Where Weerth was master,. where he surpassed Heine (because he was healthier and more genuine) and where he is second only to Goethe in German, is in his expression of natural robust sensuousness and physical lust. Many a reader of the Sozial-demokrat would be appalled, were I to reprint some of the feuilletons from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. I would not dream of doing this, but I cannot hold back the comment that the moment must also come for the German Socialists openly to cast aside this last German philistine prejudice. This hypocritical petty-bourgeois prudery is, in any case, no more than a cover for furtive whoring. Reading Freiligrath’s poems, for instance, one might well believe that people simply have no sex organs. Yet no one got more pleasure from a dirty joke on the quiet than this same Freiligrath, who was so ultra-proper in his poetry. It is really time for the German workers, at least, to get used to speaking of things that they do daily or nightly, of natural, indispensable and exceptionally enjoyable things, as frankly as the Romance people do, as Homer did, and Plato, Horace and Juvenal, the Old Testament and the Neue Rheinische Zeitung.

Incidentally, Weerth also wrote less shocking pieces, and I shall take the liberty of sending some of these to the Sozial-demokrat’s feuilleton from time to time.