Articles by Frederick Engels in The Rheinische Zeitung

Marginalia to Texts of our Time
Four Public Lectures Given in Königsberg by Ludwig Walesrode. Königsberg, H. L. Voigt, 1842

Written: in late April and early May 1842
First published: in the Rheinische Zeitung No. 145, May 25, 1842;
Signed: F. O.;
Source: MECW, Volume 2;
Transcribed: in 2000 for by Andy Blunden.

It is now several years since Königsberg in Prussia acquired an importance which must be gratifying to all Germany. Formally excluded from Germany by the Federal Act, [138] the German element there has rallied its strength and claims to be recognised as German and respected as Germany’s representative vis-à-vis the barbarism of the Slavonic East. And, indeed, the East Prussians could not represent Germany’s culture and nationhood vis-d-vis the Slavs better than they have done. Intellectual life, political awareness have there reached a height of animated activity, a loftiness and freedom of standpoint as in no other city. Rosenkranz with his versatile and lively intelligence represents German philosophy there in a most gratifying manner, and even if he has not the courage of ruthless consistency, his knowledge and talent combined with a fine sense of tact and an unprejudiced approach rank him very high. Jachmann and others discuss the questions of the day in a liberal spirit and now we are presented in the above publication with new proof of the high degree of culture which the public there possesses.

It consists of four humorous lectures given to a large audience on subjects taken from the immediate living present, which the talented author has brought together here. Truly, they reveal such a gift for genre-painting, such ease, elegance and clarity of presentation, such sparkling wit that one cannot deny the author’s considerable talent as a humourist. He has an eye which seizes on that aspect of current events through which they can be shown most effectively, and he introduces his innumerable references and allusions so cleverly that even the person who is their butt has to smile; moreover, allusions follow in quick succession and in the end no one can take offence at the mockery because everybody has had his share of it. The first lecture, Die Masken des Leben, introduces us to Munich, Berlin, the German Michel, the hollowness of the hereditary aristocracy, the disunion, and a party of German celebrities from the description of which I have taken the following passage:

“Sitting at a table not far from us is a young man drinking his wine from a heavy silver goblet. once, with a single song, he dismantled twenty French batteries aimed against the free nymphs of the green, free Rhine, and with his four-foot iambics drove back in headlong flight to Thionville several cavalry regiments of the French advance guard who had already got as far as Andernach. For this bold deed he was rewarded with a silver goblet and a participial construction even bolder than his song, so marvellously gigantic that all the gram mar schoolteachers and in Germany blenched and the third-formers jumped up from their seats shouted jubilantly: ‘Now we can have hot weather holidays!”

A little further on it says:

“Then a censor’s mask approaches us. Should it discover an uncensored ink-stain on our fingers, we should be lost. A censor looks like any other human, but his post is more than human. He judges the spirit and the thoughts and carries the scales which only eternal justice should hold. In literature he is employed to execute the pharaonic law that all male-born literary infants must be killed or at least abelarded [castrated] The censorship in ancient Rome consisted in strict moral judgment on the citizens of the Republic; it came to an end when, as Cicero says, it could do no more than make a man blush. Our censorship can only come to an end when the entire nation can blush for it as one man!”

The second lecture, Unser goldenes Zeitalter, discourses in the same light vein on the moneyed aristocracy; the third, Literarisches Don-Quixote-Tournier, tilts with lance in rest at all kinds of absurdities of our time, first and foremost German political style.

“The German language,” it says in this lecture, “was born free and republican; it scales the highest Alpine peaks and glaciers of poetry and thought, to soar with the eagle to the sun. But like the d Swiss, it also enrols in the bodyguard of despotism. What the King of Hanover told his people in the worst German could not have been expressed in the best English. In short, our language, like Morison’s pills, is good and usable for everything: but it lacks something which it needs very badly: political styles Of course, in times of greatest peril, when Cologne Cathedral mirrors itself in the Rhine, which usually it does only in very serious circumstances, it takes on a sort of political verve, with high official approval; every potato patch is then called a Gau, and respectable small townsfolk are promoted to Mannen, and every seamstress is suddenly transformed overnight into a German Maid. But that is only the style of political defensive and is usually mobilised at the same time as the people’s militia; taking offensive action is something our language has yet to learn. When a German wants to assert his simplest political right, which is pledged to him by a stamped paper as legally as his wife is by the marriage contract, he wraps his demand in so many clauses, legal flourishes, incidental expressions of high esteem, exclamation marks of respect, and assurances of undying love and loyalty that one might take the whole thing for a ceremonious love letter from a tailor’s apprentice rather than a just demand. For the German has not enough courage -to have the right, and therefore he begs pardon a thousand times for having dared believe, think, suppose or even merely suspect that he had a political demand outstanding with a high customer. Do not most of the petitions for freedom of the press, for example, recall exactly the Marquis Posa, completely rigged out from the theatrical wardrobe, throwing himself at the feet of King Philipp with the words: ‘Sire, give us freedom of thought!” [Schiller] Is it any wonder, then, that such b supplications are likewise dismissed with King Philipp’s words: ‘Curious dreamer!’ and laid aside ad acta? The few Germans who had the courage as their Fatherland’s advocates to put forward its political rights in the clear and terse language becoming to real men, have only the cowardice of our political style to thank for the fact that they fell victim to the state inquisition. For where cowardice is the norm, courage is a crime! It could very easily happen that for mere stylistic sins, for having let his words and thoughts be seen in naked truth, not clothed in the costume prescribed by the master of ceremonies, a political writer of our time would be gently broken on the wheel from top to toe, and that in the name of the law. just as German style is as cowardly as a eunuch when it has to assert political rights, so it is no less clumsy when it swings the censer round the ears of the high and mighty. If somewhere a prince says: ‘I shall do right and justice’ whole swarms of newspaper phrases at once descend on the speck of honey like wild bees and buzz with delight at the precious find on the desolate political wasteland. But is there anything more insulting for a prince than when the mere expression of the intention to execute a ruler’s prime duty, without which his name would have to be equated with Nero and Busiris, is trumpeted through all the newspapers as an extraordinary, unheard-of princely virtue? And this happens in official gazettes, under the eyes of the censors, under the auspices of the Federal Diet! Should not paragraph 92 of the Criminal Law be applied to such clumsy eulogists in all its severity?”

The fourth lecture gives Variationen über beliebte Zeit- und Nationalmelodien which include Ein Ordenskapitel, beginning as follows:

“Princes are the peoples’ shepherds, as Homer has already said, and therefore the peoples are, of course, the princes’ sheep. And the shepherds love their sheep very much and lead them on gay, silken leading-strings, so as not to lose them, and the sheep in turn are pleased with the pretty iridescent ribbon and don’t notice that d this decoration is at the same time their fetter, because they are mere sheep”, etc.

With these four lectures Walesrode has demonstrated his ability as a humourist. But that is not enough. So long as they fulfil their purpose as lectures, such things have the right to be loosely constructed, disjointed, without unity; the genuine humourist, however, would have given even more stress than Walesrode has done to the background of a great, positive vision of the world in which all mockery and all negation are completely and satisfyingly dissolved. In this respect, Walesrode has taken a duty upon himself by publishing the above small work; he must as soon as possible justify the expectations which he has aroused here and prove that he can equally well concentrate and work his views into a whole as he has here allowed them separate expression. And that is all the more necessary as his derivation from Börne, his vision of the world and his style are evidence of close kinship with the authors of the Young Germany of yore; almost all the authors who belonged to that category, however, have failed to justify the expectations they aroused and have sunk into lethargy, the inevitable consequence of a fruitless striving for inner unity. The inability to produce something whole was the rock on which they were wrecked, since they themselves were not whole people. Walesrode, on the other hand, gives us a glimpse here and there of a higher, more perfect standpoint and so justifies the demand that he bring his individual judgments into balance with each other and with the height of the philosophy of his time.

For the rest, we must congratulate him on the audience, which was able to appreciate such lectures, and on the censor, who did not prevent them from being published. We cherish the hope that such handling of censorship as evidenced by this book will overcome all other, vacillating principles in its application, at least for Prussia, and win general approval; that censorship may everywhere be exercised by such people as in Königsberg, where, our author says, the censors are men

“who have taken on the most hateful of all offices in painful self-sacrifice so that it should not fall into the hands of those who would take it on with pleasure”