Karl Marx

The Polemical Tactics of the Augsburg Newspaper

Source: MECW Volume 1, p 288.
Written: on November 29, 1842
First published: in the Rheinische Zeitung No. 334, November 30, 1842;
Transcribed: in 2000 for marxists.org by Andy Blunden.

“It is merely a lust of the blood
and a permission of the will"
[Shakespeare, Othello, Act I, Scene 3.].

Cologne, November 29. In its occasional polemic against the Rheinische Zeitung, the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung employs tactics which are as characteristic as they are laudable and which, if consistently pursued, cannot fail to impress the superficial section of the public. To every rebuff merited by its attacks on the principles and trend of the Rheinische Zeitung, to every essential subject of dispute, to every principled attack on the part of the Rheinische Zeitung, the response of the Augsburg newspaper has been to wrap itself in the ambiguous cloak of silence, so that it always remains impossible to decide whether this silence owes its inconspicuous existence to a consciousness of weakness which makes it unable to reply, or to a consciousness of superiority which makes it unwilling to reply. We have no special reproaches to make’ to the Augsburg newspaper on this account, since it merely treats us as it treats Germany, for which it believes it can most beneficially show its sympathy by a thoughtful silence, only rarely interrupted by travel notes, health bulletins and paraphrased nuptial poems. It may well be that the Augsburg newspaper is right to regard its silence as a contribution to the public welfare.

Besides tactics of silence, however, the lady of Augsburg employs another method of controversy, which by its verbose, complacent and arrogant loquacity is, as it were, the active complement to the previous passive and melancholy quietude. The lady of Augsburg is silent when it is a question of a fight over principles, over the essence of a matter, but she lies in wait, observes from afar, and seizes the opportunity when her opponent neglects her dress, makes a faux pas in the dance, or drops her handkerchief — and then she “minces virtue and does shake the head”. [Shakespeare, King Lear, Act IV, Scene 6] She blares into the air her long-suppressed, well-meant anger with imperturbable aplomb, with all the indignation of prudery in dress, and calls out to Germany: “There you see, that is the character, that is the frame of mind, that is the consistency of the Rheinische Zeitung!"

“There’s hell, there’s darkness, there is the sulphurous pit, burning, scalding stench, consumption; fie, fie, fie! pah; pah! Give me an ounce of civet; good apothecary!"[ibid.]

By means of such noisy impromptus, the lady of Augsburg is able not only to remind the forgetful public of her vanished virtue, her honourable character and mature age, not only to adorn her sunken temples with outdated and faded recollections, but even to gain surreptitiously some other practical successes besides these petty, harmless successes of coquetry. She confronts the Rheinische Zeitung as a sturdy fighter, quasi re bene gesta [As if everything had been done well], blustering, upbraiding, provoking, and her petulant provocations make the world forget her senile silence and quite recent retreat. In addition, the appearance is created and diligently cultivated, that the fight between the Augsburg A. Z. and the Rheinische Zeitung turns on this kind of paltriness, scandal-mongering and sartorial solecisms. The host of unintelligent and irresponsible people who fail to understand the essential fight in which we speak and the lady of Augsburg is silent, but who, on the other hand, recognise their own beautiful soul in the captious fault-finding and petty criticisms of the Augsburg A. Z., applaud and pay homage to the honourable lady who castigates her unruly opponent with such skill and moderation, more to educate than to hurt her. In No. 329 of the Augsburg A. Z.. there is another sample of this over-subtle, repellent, small-town polemic.

A correspondent reports from the Main that the Augsburg Allg. Ztg. praised Julius Mosen’s political novel The Congress of Verona because it was put out by Cotta’s publishing house. We confess that, owing to its worthlessness, we only occasionally glance at the literary criticism section of the Augsburg A. Z., and are not acquainted with its criticism of Mosen. In this matter we put our trust ti discrition in the conscience of the correspondent. Assuming the fact to be correct, the report is not in itself improbable for, according to recent explanations which have been met with a refutation based on trickery and not solid reasons, the independence of the critical conscience of the Augsburg A. Z. in respect of the place of printing in Stuttgart is at least open to doubt. Hence all that remains is that we did not know where the political novel was printed, and enfin not to know that is not a mortal political sin.

Later, apprised of the misstatement about the place of printing, the editorial board stated in’ a note:

“We have just learnt that The Congress of Verona by the poet Julius Mosen, was not published by Cotta and we therefore request our readers to make this correction to the report from the Main in No. 317 of this year.

Since the chief reproach levelled by the Main correspondent against the Augsburg Allgemine Zeitung was based solely on the premise that The Congress of Verona had been published by Cotta, since we have explained that this was not the case, and since every argument is invalidated if its premise is abolished, we were entitled at any rate to make the extravagant demand on our readers’ intelligence that they should correct the report from the Main in the light of this statement, and we could believe that we had atoned for our injustice to the Augsburg A. Z. But look at the Augsburg’s logic! The Augsburg’s logic interprets out correction as follows:

“If Mosen’s Congress of Verona had been published by Cotta, it would have to be regarded by all friends of right and freedom as a nasty and unsaleable book; since, however, we have subsequently learnt that it was published in Berlin, we request our respected readers to welcome it, in the poet’s own words, as one of the spirits of eternal youth. which stride on along their radiant path and mercilessly trample on the old gang”.

“That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper: draw me a clothier’s yard. — I’ the clout, i’ the clout, hewgh!"

“That,” exclaims the lady of Augsburg triumphantly, “that is what the Rheinische Zeitung calls its frame of mind, its consistency!"

Has the Rheinische Zeitung ever declared the consistencies of the Augsburg’s logic to be its consistency or the frame of mind on which this logic is based to be its frame of mind? The lady of Augsburg was entitled only to conclude: “That is the way in which consistency and frame of mind are misunderstood in Augsburg!” Or does the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung seriously believe that by means of Mosen’s toast we would have liked to provide a corrective commentary to assess The Congress of Verona? We discussed the Schiller festival at rather great length in a feature article. We pointed to Schiller “as the prophet of the new movement of minds” (No. 326,” correspondence from Leipzig) and noted the resulting significance of the Schiller festival. Why had we to repudiate Mosen’s toast, which emphasised this significance? Could it be because it contains a sany against the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, which the latter had already deserved because of its condemnation of Herwegh? All that, however, had nothing to do with the report from the Main, for then we should have had to write, as the lady of Augsburg imputes to us, “The reader must judge the report from the Main in No. 317 in the light of Mosen’s poem in No. 320. The Augsburg’s logic deliberately invents this nonsense in order to be able to throw it at us. The verdict of the Rheinische Zeitung in the feature article of No. 317 on Mosen’s “Bernhard von Weimar” proves, although it needs no proof, that in regard to Mosen it has not departed by a hair’s breadth from its customary factual criticism.

For the rest, we admit to the lady of Augsburg that even the Rheinische Zeitung is scarcely able to ward off the literary condottieri, that importunate and disgusting rabble which has sprung up all over Germany in the newspaper era of which the Augsburg A. Z. is the embodiment.

Finally, the Augsburg newspaper reminds us of the ballista which

“throws out big words and phm” that leave reality untouched”.

The Augsburg A. Z.., of course, touches on every possible reality, Mexican reality, Brazilian reality, but not German reality, not even Bavarian reality, and if for once it does touch on something of the kind, it invariably takes appearance for reality and the reality for appearance. When it is a matter of spiritual and true reality, the Rheinische Zeitung could exclaim to the lady of Augsburg in the words of Lear: “Do thy worst, blind Cupid.... Read thou this challenge”, and the lady of Augsburg would reply with Gloucester: “Were all thy letters suns, I could not see” [Shakespeare, King Lear., Act IV, Scene 6].