Works of Frederick Engels, 1839

From Elberfeld

Written: in the autumn of 1839
First published: in the Telegraph für Deutschland No. 178, November 1839
Signed: S. Oswald

For some time there have been loud and bitter complaints about the deplorable power of scepticism; here and there one looked gloomily at the toppled edifice of the old faith, anxiously waiting for the clouds covering the sky of the future to break. With a similar feeling of melancholy I laid down the Lieder eines heimgegangenen Freundes; they are the songs of a dead man, a genuine Wuppertal Christian, recalling the happy time when one could still cherish a childlike belief in a doctrine whose contradictions can now be counted on the fingers, when one burned with pious zeal against religious liberalism, a zeal at which people now smile or blush. — The very place of printing shows that these verses must not be judged by ordinary standards, that no brilliant thoughts, no unfettered soaring of a free spirit are to be found here; indeed, it would be unfair to expect anything but a product of pietism. The only proper standard that can be applied to these poems is provided by earlier Wuppertal literature, about which I have already vented my irritation at length to allow one of its products for once to be judged from a different standpoint. And here it is undeniable that this book reveals progress. The poems, which appear to come from a layman, although not an uneducated one, are in their thought at least on the level of those of the preachers Döring and Pol; at times even a faint hint of romanticism, as far as that can go together with the Calvinistic doctrine, is unmistakable. As regards form, they are undeniably the best that Wuppertal has produced so far; new or unusual rhymes are often used not without skill; the author even rises to the distich or the free ode, forms which are actually too elevated for him. [Friedrich Wilhelm] Krummacher’s influence is unmistakable; his phrases and metaphors are used everywhere. But when the poet sings:

Pilgrim: Though lamb of Jesus’ flock you be,
No ornament of His I see
On Thee, O lamb so still.

Little Lamb: Oppressed, but only to arise,
The lamb shall go to Paradise.
Be silent, Pilgrim, be a lamb;
Meek and low through gate may go,
Be silent, pray, and be a lamb,

this is no imitation, but Krummacher himself! Nevertheless one can find passages in these poems which are truly moving by their genuineness of feeling; but, alas, one can never forget that this feeling is for the most part morbid! And yet, even here one can see how fortifying and comforting a religion which has truly become a matter of the heart is, even in its saddest extremes.

Dear reader, forgive me for presenting you with a book which can be of infinitely little interest to you; you were not born in Wuppertal, perchance you have never stood on its hills and seen the two towns [Barmen and Elberfeld] at your feet. But you too have a homeland and perhaps return to it with the same love as 1, however ordinary it looks, once you have vented your anger at its perversities.