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Works of Frederick Engels, 1839

Letters from Wuppertal [4]

Written:in March 1839
First published:in the Telegraph für Deutschland Nos. 49, 50, 51 and 52 for March and Nos. 57 and 59 for April, 1839.



Telegraph für Deutschland No. 49, March 1839

As is well known, people understand by this name, held in much ill-repute among the Friends of Light, [5] the two towns of Elberfeld and Barmen, which stretch along the valley for a distance of nearly three hours’ travel. The purple waves of the narrow river flow sometimes swiftly, sometimes sluggishly between smoky factory buildings and yarn-strewn bleaching-yards. Its bright red colour, however, is due not to some bloody battle, for the fighting here is waged only by theological pens and garrulous old women, usually over trifles, nor to shame for men’s actions, although there is indeed enough cause for that, but simply and solely to the numerous dye-works using Turkey red. Coming from Düsseldorf, one enters the sacred region at Sonnborn; the muddy Wupper flows slowly by and, compared with the Rhine just left behind, its miserable appearance is very disappointing. The area is rather attractive: the not very high mountains, rising sometimes gently, sometimes steeply, and heavily wooded, march boldly into green meadows and in fine weather the blue sky reflected in the Wupper causes the red colour to disappear completely. After a bend round a cliff, one sees the quaint towers of Elberfeld straight ahead (the humble houses are concealed behind gardens), and a few minutes later one reaches the Zion of the obscurantists. Almost outside the town is the Catholic church; it stands there as if it has been expelled from the sacred walls. It is in Byzantine style, built very badly by a very inexperienced architect from a very good plan; the old Catholic church has been demolished to make room for the left wing, not yet built, of the Town Hall; only the tower remains and serves the general good after a fashion, namely, as a prison. Immediately afterwards one comes to a large building, its roof supported by columns, but these columns are of a most remarkable kind; they are Egyptian at the bottom, Doric in the middle, and Ionic at the top; moreover, for very sound reasons, they dispense with all superfluous accessories, such as a plinth and capitals. This building used to be called the museum, but the Muses kept away and there remained only a huge burden of debt so that not very long ago the building was sold by auction and became a casino, a name which adorns the bare façade, dispelling all reminders of the former poetic name. Incidentally, the building is so clumsily proportioned that at night it looks like a camel. Here begin the dull streets, devoid of all character; the fine new Town Hall, only half completed, is situated so awkwardly owing to lack of space that its front faces a narrow, ugly side street. Finally, one comes to the Wupper again, and a fine bridge shows that you are approaching Barmen, where at least more attention is paid to architectural beauty. As soon as you cross the bridge, everything assumes a more friendly character; large, massive houses tastefully built in modern style take the place of those mediocre Elberfeld buildings, which are neither old-fashioned nor modern, neither beautiful nor a caricature. New stone houses are springing up everywhere; the pavement ends and the street continues as a straight highway, built up on both sides. Between the houses one catches sight of the green bleaching-yards; the Wupper is still clear here, and the closely approaching mountains with their lightly sketched outlines, and the manifold alternation of forests, meadows and gardens from which red roofs peep out everywhere, make the area increasingly attractive the farther one goes. Halfway along the avenue one sees the façade of the Lower Barmen church, set somewhat back; it is the valley’s most beautiful building, very well constructed in the noblest Byzantine style. But soon the pavement begins again and the grey slate houses jostle one another. There is, however, far more variety here than in Elberfeld, for the monotony is broken by a fresh bleaching-yard here, a house in modern style there, a stretch of the river or a row of gardens lining the street. All this leaves one in doubt whether to regard Barmen as a town or a mere conglomeration of all kinds Of buildings; it is, indeed, just a combination of many small districts held together by the bond of municipal institutions. The most important of these districts are: Gemarke, the ancient centre of the Reformed faith; Lower Barmen in the direction of Elberfeld, not far from Wupperfeld and above Gemarke; farther on Rittershausen, which has Wichlinghausen on the left, and Hekinghausen with the remarkably picturesque Rauhental on the right. These are all inhabited by Lutherans of both churches [6]; the Catholics — at most two or three thousand — are scattered throughout the valley. After Rittershausen, the traveller at last leaves behind the Berg area and goes through the turnpike to enter the Old-Prussian Westphalian region.

This is the outward appearance of the valley which in general, apart from the gloomy streets of Elberfeld, makes a very pleasant impression; but the latter, as experience shows, is lost on the inhabitants. There is no trace here of the wholesome, vigorous life of the people that exists almost everywhere in Germany. True, at first glance it seems otherwise, for every evening you can hear merry fellows strolling through the streets singing their songs, but they are the most vulgar, obscene songs that ever came from drunken mouths; one never hears any of the folk-songs which are so familiar throughout Germany and of which we have every right to he proud. All the ale-houses are full to overflowing, especially on Saturday and Sunday, and when they close at about eleven o'clock, the drunks pour out of them and generally sleep off their intoxication in the gutter. The most degraded of these men are those known as Karrenbinder, totally demoralised people, with no fixed abode or definite employment, who crawl out of their refuges, haystacks, stables, etc., at dawn, if they have not spent the night on a dung-heap or on a staircase. By restricting the previously indefinite numbers of ale-houses, the authorities have now to some extent curbed this annoyance.


Telegraph für Deutschland No. 50, March 1839

The reasons for this state of affairs are perfectly clear. First and foremost, factory work is largely responsible. Work in low rooms where people breathe more coal fumes and dust than oxygen — and in the majority of cases beginning already at the age of six — is bound to deprive them of all strength and joy in life. The weavers, who have individual looms in their homes, sit bent over them from morning till night, and desiccate their spinal marrow in front of a hot stove. Those who do not fall prey to mysticism are ruined by drunkenness. This mysticism, in the crude and repellent form in which it prevails there, inevitably produces the opposite extreme, with the result that in the main the people there consist only of the “decent” ones (which is what the mystics are called) and the dissolute riff-raff. This division into two hostile groups, irrespective of their nature, is capable by itself of destroying the development of any popular spirit, and indeed what hope is there in a place where even the disappearance of one of the groups would be of no avail, since the members of both are equally consumptive? The few healthy people to be found there are almost exclusively joiners or other craftsmen, all of whom have come from other regions. Robust people can also be found among the local-born leather-workers, but three years of such a life suffice to ruin them physically and mentally: three out of five die from consumption, and it is all due to drinking spirits. But this would not have assumed such horrifying proportions if the factories were not operated in such a reckless way by the proprietors and if mysticism did not take the form it does and did not threaten to gain an increasing hold. Terrible poverty prevails among the lower classes, particularly the factory workers in Wuppertal; syphilis and lung diseases are so widespread as to be barely credible; in Elberfeld alone, out of 2,500 children of school age 1,200 are deprived of education and grow up in the factories — merely so that the manufacturer need not pay the adults, whose place they take, twice the wage he pays a child. But the wealthy manufacturers have a flexible conscience, and causing the death of one child more or one less does not doom a pietist’s soul to hell, especially if he goes to church twice every Sunday. For it is a fact that the pietists among the factory owners treat their workers worst of all; they use every possible means to reduce the workers’ wages on the pretext of depriving them of the opportunity to get drunk, yet at the election of preachers they are always the first to bribe their people.

In the lower social strata mysticism is most prevalent among the craftsmen (I do not include manufacturers here). It is a pitiful sight to see one of them in the street, a bent figure in a very long frock-coat, with his hair parted in the pietist fashion. But anyone who really wants to get to know this breed should visit the workshop of a pious blacksmith or boot-maker. There sits the master craftsman, on his right the Bible, on his left — very often at any rate — a bottle of schnapps. Not much is done in the way of work; the master almost always reads the Bible, occasionally knocks back a glass and sometimes joins the choir of journeymen singing a hymn; but the chief occupation is always damning one’s neighbour. One sees that the tendency here is the same as everywhere else. [7] Their proselytising zeal is not without fruit. In particular, many godless drunkards, etc., are converted, mostly in a miraculous way. But this is not surprising; these proselytes are all enervated, spiritless people, and persuading them is a mere bagatelle; they become converted, allow themselves to be moved to tears several times a week, and secretly continue their old way of life. Some years ago all this business suddenly came to light, to the . horror of all the hypocrites. An American speculator turned up calling himself Pastor Jürgens; he preached several times attracting large crowds, for most people imagined that being an American he must be dark-skinned or even black. How amazed they were that he was not merely white but preached in such a way that he had the whole church in tears; incidentally, the reason for this was that he himself began to whimper when all other means of moving his audience had failed. The believers were unanimous in their wonder; true, there was some opposition from a few sensible people, but they were simply decried as godless. Soon Jürgens began to organise secret gatherings; he received rich gifts from his prominent friends and lived in clover. His sermons attracted larger crowds than any others, his secret gatherings were filled to overflowing, his every utterance made both men and women weep. All were now convinced that he was at the very least a demi-prophet and would build a new Jerusalem, until one day the fun came to an end. What was going on at his secret gatherings suddenly came to light; Herr Jürgens was arrested and spent a few years doing penance for his piety, while under investigation in Hamm. Later he was released, after promising to make amends, and sent back to America. It also became known that he had already practised his tricks in America, for which he had been deported, and in order not to get out of practice had given a rehearsal in Westphalia, where, owing to the leniency, or rather the weakness, of the authorities, he had been freed without further inquiries and had finally crowned his dissolute life by another repetition in Elberfeld. When it was revealed what had actually taken place at the gatherings of this noble creature, everyone rose up against him, and no one wanted to have anything to do with him; everyone turned away from him, from Lebanon to the Dead Sea, that is to say, from Mount Rittershaus to the weir at Sonnborn on the Wupper.


Telegraph für Deutschland No. 51, March 1839

But the real centre of all pietism and mysticism is the Reformed community in Elberfeld. From the early days it was marked by a strict Calvinist spirit, which in recent years owing to the appointment of extremely bigoted preachers — at present four of them officiate there — has developed into the most savage intolerance and falls little short of the papist spirit. Regular trials of heretics take place at the meetings; the behaviour of anyone who fails to attend the meetings is reviewed; they say: so and so reads novels, it is true the title-page states that it is a Christian novel, but Pastor Krummacher has said that novels are godless books; or so and so seems to be a God-fearing man, but the day before yesterday he was seen at a concert — and they wring their hands in horror at the abominable sin. And if a preacher is reputed to be a rationalist (by this they mean anyone whose opinion differs in the slightest from theirs), he is taken to task and carefully watched to see whether his frock-coat is perfectly black and his trousers of the orthodox colour; woe to him if he allows himself to be seen in a frock-coat with a bluish tinge or wearing a rationalist waistcoat! If someone turns out not to believe in predestination, they say at once: he is almost as bad as a Lutheran, a Lutheran is little better than a Catholic, and Catholics and idolaters are damned by their very nature. But what sort of people are they who talk in this way? Ignorant folk who hardly know whether the Bible was written in Chinese, Hebrew or Greek, and who judge everything, whether relevant or not, from the words of a preacher who has been recognised for all time as orthodox.

This spirit had existed ever since the Reformation gained the upper hand here, but it remained unnoticed until the preacher G. D. Krummacher, who died a few years ago, began to foster it in precisely this community. Soon mysticism was in full bloom, but Krummacher died before the fruit ripened; this occurred only after his nephew, Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Krummacher, had developed and formulated the doctrine in such a strict form that one is at a loss whether to regard the whole thing as nonsense or blasphemy. Now the fruit has ripened, but no one knows how to pluck it and so in time it will inevitably fall off miserably rotten.

Gottfried Daniel Krummacher, brother of the Dr. F. A. Krummacher who was well known for his parables in Bremen, died about three years ago in Elberfeld after a long period of office. When over twenty years ago a preacher in Barmen taught predestination from his pulpit in a less strict form than Krummacher, the congregation began smoking in the church, created a disturbance and prevented him from preaching on the pretext that such a heretical sermon was no sermon at all, so that the authorities were compelled to intervene. Krummacher then wrote a dreadfully rude letter to the Barmen magistracy, such as Gregory VII might have written to Henry IV, [8] demanding that the bigots should not be touched, since they were only defending their beloved Gospel. He also preached a sermon on the same lines, but he was only ridiculed. All this is characteristic of his frame of mind, which he preserved to his dying day. Moreover, he was a person of such peculiar habits that thousands of anecdotes were told of him, judging by which he should be regarded either as a strange eccentric or an exceptionally rude individual.

Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Krummacher is a man of about forty, tall, strong, with an impressive figure, but since he settled in Elberfeld his circumference has noticeably increased. He has a very peculiar way of dressing his hair, which is imitated by all his supporters. Who knows, some day it may become the fashion to wear one’s hair à la Krummacher, but such a fashion would surpass all preceding ones, even powdered wigs, in lack of taste.

As a student he was involved in the demagogy of the gymnastic associations, composed freedom songs, carried a banner at the Wartburg festival [9], and delivered a speech which is said to have made a great impression. He still frequently recalls those dashing times from the pulpit, saying: when I was still among the Hittites and Canaanites. Later the Reformed community in Barmen chose him for their pastor and his real reputation dates from this period. He had hardly been appointed before he caused a split by his doctrine of strict predestination, not only between Lutherans and Reformists, but also among the latter, between the strict and moderate supporters of predestination. On one occasion an old orthodox Lutheran coming back a little tipsy from seeing friends had to cross a broken-down bridge. That seemed to him somewhat dangerous in his condition and he began to reflect: if you get over safely it will be all right, but if not you will fall into the Wupper and then the Reformists will say that this was as it should be; but that is not as it should be. So he turned back, looked for a shallow place and then waded across waist-deep, with the blissful feeling that he had robbed the Reformists of a triumph.

When a vacancy occurred in Elberfeld, Krummacher was chosen for it, and immediately all dissension ceased in Barmen, whereas in Elberfeld it became still fiercer. Already Krummacher’s inaugural sermon made some people angry and delighted others; the dissension continued to increase, particularly because soon every preacher, although they all held the same views, formed his own party consisting of his congregation alone. Later people got bored with the business and the eternal shouting of I am for Krummacher, I am for Kohl, etc., ceased, not through love of peace, but because the parties became more and more distinct from one another.

Krummacher is undeniably a man of excellent rhetorical, and also poetic, talent; his sermons are never boring, the train of thought is confident and natural; his strength lies primarily in painting gloomy pictures — his description of hell is always new and bold no matter how often it occurs — and in antitheses. On the other hand, he very often resorts to biblical phraseology and the images found in the latter, which, although his use of them is ,always ingenious, are bound in the end to be repetitive; interspersed with them one finds an extremely prosaic picture from daily life or a story based on his own life-history and his most insignificant experiences. He drags all this into the pulpit, whether appropriate or not; not long ago he regaled his reverent audience with two sermons about a journey to Württemberg and Switzerland, in which he spoke of his four victorious disputes with Paulus in Heidelberg and Strauss in Tübingen, naturally quite differently from Strauss’ account of the matter in a letter. — In some passages his declamation is very good, and his powerful, explicit gesticulations are often entirely appropriate, but at times incredibly affected and lacking in taste. Then he thrashes about in the pulpit, bends over all sides, bangs his fist on the edge, stamps like a cavalry horse, and shouts so that the windows resound and people in the street tremble. Then the congregation begins to sob; first the young girls weep, then the old women join in with a heart-rending soprano and the cacophony is completed by the wailing of the enfeebled drunken pietists, who would be thrilled to the marrow by his words if they still had any marrow in their bones; and through all this uproar Krummacher’s powerful voice rings out pronouncing before the whole congregation innumerable sentences of damnation, or describing diabolical scenes.


Telegraph für Deutschland No. 52, March 1839

And what a doctrine this is! It is impossible to understand how anyone can believe in such things, which are in most direct contradiction to reason and the Bible. Nevertheless, Krummacher has formulated the doctrine so sharply, following and firmly adhering to all its consequences, that nothing can be refuted once the basis is accepted, namely, the inability of man on his own to

desire what is good, let alone do it. Hence follows the need for this ability to come from outside, and since man ‘cannot even desire what is good, God has to press this ability on him. Owing to God’s free will, it follows that this ability is allotted arbitrarily, and this also, at least apparently, is supported by the Scriptures. — The entire doctrine is based on such pretence of logic; the few who are chosen will, nolentes, volentes, be saved, the rest damned for ever. “For ever? — Yes, for ever!!” (Krummacher.) Further, the Scriptures say: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me [John 14:6.]. But the heathen cannot come to the Father by Christ, because they do not know Christ, so they all exist merely to fill up hell. — Among Christians, many are called but few are chosen; but the many who are called are called only for the sake of appearance, and God took care not to call them so loudly that they obeyed him; all this to the glory of God and in order that they should not be forgiven. It is also written: for the wise men of this world the wisdom of God is foolishness [Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:18]; the mystics regard this as an order to make their creed quite meaningless so that this statement may be fulfilled. How all this fits in with the teaching of the apostles who speak of rational worship of God and the rational milk of the Gospel is a secret beyond human understanding.

Such doctrines spoil all Krummacher’s sermons; the only ones in which they are not so prominent are the passages where he speaks of the contradiction between earthly riches and the humility of Christ, or between the arrogance of earthly rulers and the pride of God. A note of his former demagogy very often breaks through here as well, and if he did not speak in such general terms the government would not pass over his sermons in silence.

The aesthetic value of his sermons is appreciated only by very few in Elberfeld; for, compared with his three colleagues, nearly all of whom have an equally large congregation, he appears as figure one, and the others as mere noughts who serve only to enhance his value. The oldest of these noughts is called Kohl ["Kohl” is a surname but also a German word meaning rubbish], which at the same time characterises his sermons. The second is Hermann, no descendant of the Hermann, [10] to whom a monument is now being erected which should survive history and Tacitus. The third is Ball, namely, a ball for Krummacher to play with. All three are highly orthodox and imitate the worst aspects of Krummacher in their sermons. The Lutheran pastors in Elberfeld are Sander and Hülsmann, who used to be deadly enemies, when the former was still in Wichlinghausen and became involved in the famous quarrel with Hülsmann in Dahle, now in Lennep, the brother of his present colleague. In their present position, they behave with courtesy to each other, but the pietists try to revive the dissension between them by constantly accusing Hülsmann of all kinds of misdemeanours against Sander. The third in this company is Döring, whose absent-mindedness is most odd; he is incapable of uttering three sentences with a connected train of thought, but he can make three parts of a sermon into four by repeating one of them word for word without being at all aware of it. Probatum est. His poems will be dealt with later.

The Barmen preachers differ little from one another; all are strictly orthodox, with a greater or lesser admixture of pietism. Only Stier in Wichlinghausen is worthy of some attention. It is said that Jean Paul knew him as a boy and discovered excellent talents in him. Stier held office of pastor in Frankleben near Halle, and during this period he published several writings in prose and verse, an improved version of the Lutheran catechism, a substitute for it, and a small book as an aid to its study for dull-witted teachers, and also a booklet on the lack of hymn books in the province of Saxony, which was particularly praised by the Evangelische Kirch-Zeitung [11] and did at least contain more rational views on church songs than those which can be heard in blessed Wuppertal, although it also has many unfounded judgments. His poems are extremely boring; he also distinguished himself by making some of Schiller’s pagan poems acceptable to the orthodox. For example, lines from Die Götter Griechenlands he revised as follows:

When vain Earth you held in domination
With Sin’s treacherous and deceitful bond,
Leading many a mortal generation,
Hollow Idols of a mythic land!
When your sinful cult still scintillated,
Things were different, different then by far,
When with flowers your shrines were decorated,
Venus Amathusia!

Really very ingenious, truly mystical indeed! For six months now Stier has been in Wichlinghausen in place of Sander, but so far he has not enriched Barmen literature.

Langenberg, a little place near Elberfeld, by its whole character still belongs to Wuppertal. The same industry as there, the same spirit of pietism. Emil Krummacher, brother of Friedrich Wilhelm, has his post there; he is not such a strict believer in predestination as his brother, but imitates him very much, as the following passage from his last Christmas sermon shows:

“With our earthly bodies we are still sitting here on wooden benches, but our spirits together with minions of believers are borne aloft to the sacred heights and, after observing the rejoicing of the heavenly hosts, they go down to lowly Bethlehem. And what do they see there? First of all, a poor stable, and in the poor, poor stable a poor manger, and in the poor manger poor, poor hay and straw, and on the poor, poor hay and straw lies like the poor child of a beggar, in poor swaddling clothes, the rich Lord of the world.”

Something should now he said about the mission-house, but the book Harfenklänge, by an ex-missionary [J. Ch. F. Winkler], which has already been mentioned on the pages of this journal [Telegraph für Deutschland] is sufficient testimony to the spirit that prevails there. [12] Incidentally, the inspector of this mission-house, Dr. Richter, is a learned man, an eminent orientalist and naturalist, and has also published an Erklärte Hausbibel.

Such are the activities of the pietists in Wuppertal; it is difficult to imagine that such things can still take place in our day; however, it looks as though even this rock of old obscurantism will not be able to withstand the surging flood of time any longer; the sand will be washed away and the rock will collapse with a great fall.



Telegraph für Deutschland No. 57, April 1839

It goes without saying that in an area so full of pietist activities this spirit, spreading in all directions, pervades and corrupts every single aspect of life. It exerts its chief influence on the education system, above all on the elementary schools. Part of them are wholly controlled by the pietists; these are the church schools, of which each community has one. The other elementary schools, over which the civil administration has greater influence, enjoy more freedom, although they, too, are under the supervision of the clerical school inspectors. Here too the retarding effect of mysticism is very obvious; for whereas the church schools still drum nothing but the catechism into their pupils, apart from reading, writing and arithmetic, as of old under the Elector Karl Theodor of blessed memory, in the other schools the rudiments of some sciences are taught, and also a little French, with the result that after leaving school many of the pupils try to continue their education. These schools are rapidly developing and since the Prussian Government came to office, [13] they have advanced far ahead of the church schools, behind which they used to lag considerably. The church schools, however, have a much greater attendance because they are far cheaper, and many parents still send their children to them partly out of an attachment to religion, partly because they consider that intellectual progress of the children gives worldliness the upper hand.

Wuppertal maintains three high schools: the municipal school in Barmen, the modern secondary school in Elberfeld, and the grammar school in the same city.

The Barmen municipal school, which is very poorly financed and therefore very badly staffed, nevertheless does everything in its power. It is wholly in the hands of a limited, niggardly governing body which in most cases also selects only pietists as teachers. The headmaster is also not averse to this trend, but is guided by firm principles in discharging his duties and manages very skilfully to keep every teacher in his place. Next to him comes Herr Johann Jakob Ewich, who can teach well from a good textbook and in history teaching is a zealous supporter of the Nösselt system of anecdotes. He is the author of many pedagogical works of which the greatest, i.e., in size, is entitled Human, published in Wesel by Bagel, two volumes, 40 printed sheets, price 1 Reichstaler. They are all full of lofty ideas, pious wishes and impracticable proposals. It is said that in practice his teaching lags far behind his beautiful theory.

Dr. Philipp Schifflin, the second senior teacher, is the most efficient teacher in the school. Probably no one in Germany has delved so deeply into the grammatical structure of modern French as he has. He took as his starting point, not the old Romance language, but the classical language of the last century, particularly that of Voltaire, and went on from there to the style of the most modern authors. The results of his research are contained in his Anleitung zur Erlernung der französischen Sprache, in drei Cursen, of which the first and second courses have already appeared in several editions, and the third will be out by Easter. Without doubt, next to Knebel’s, this is the best textbook on the French language which we possess; it met with universal approval as soon as the first course appeared and already enjoys an almost unprecedented circulation throughout Germany and even as far as Hungary and the Baltic provinces of Russia.

The remaining teachers are young graduates, some of whom have been excellently trained, while others are full of all sorts of jumbled knowledge. The best of these young teachers was Herr Köster, a friend of Freiligrath; an annual report contains his outline of poetics, from which he has totally excluded didactic poetry, and put the classes usually allotted to it under the epic or lyric ; this article testified to his insight and clarity. [14] He was invited to Düsseldorf, and since the members of the governing body knew him as being opposed to every kind of pietism, they very willingly released him. The very opposite of him is another teacher [Rudolf Riepe] who, when asked by a fourth-form pupil who Goethe was, replied: “an atheist”.

The Elberfeld modern secondary school is very well financed and can therefore select better teachers and arrange a fuller curriculum. On the other hand, it is addicted to that horrible system of filling up exercise books which can make a pupil dull-witted in six months. Incidentally, the administration is little in evidence: the headmaster [P. K. N. Egen] is away half the year and proves his presence only by excessive severity. Linked with the modern secondary school is a trade school where the pupils spend half their lives scribbling away. Of the teachers one must mention Dr. Kruse who spent six weeks in England and wrote a little work on English pronunciation which is remarkable for being completely unusable; the pupils have a very bad reputation and were the cause of Diesterweg’s complaints about the Elberfeld youth.

The Elberfeld grammar school is in very straitened circumstances, but is recognised as one of the best in the Prussian state. It is the property of the Reformed community, but suffers little from the latter’s mysticism, since the preachers are not interested in it and the school inspectors have no understanding of grammar school affairs; but it has to suffer all the more because of their stinginess. These gentlemen have not the slightest idea of the advantages of the Prussian grammar school education; they try to provide the modern secondary school with everything — money and pupils — and at the same time reproach the grammar school for being unable to meet its expenditure out of school fees. Negotiations are now taking place for the government, which is very concerned in the matter, to take over the grammar school. If this does not happen, it will have to close down in a few years’ time for lack of funds. The selection of teachers is now also in the hands of the school inspectors, people capable, it is true, of making very accurate entries in a ledger, but with no conception at all of Greek, Latin or mathematics. Their guiding principle in selection is as follows: it is better to choose a mediocre Reformist than an efficient Lutheran or, worse still, a Catholic. But as there are far more Lutherans than Reformists among the Prussian philologists, they have hardly ever been able to apply this principle.

Dr. Hantschke, a royal professor and temporary headmaster, comes from Luckau in Lausitz, writes poetry and prose in Ciceronian Latin and is also the author of a number of sermons, works on education and a textbook for the study of Hebrew. He would have been made permanent headmaster long ago if he were not a Lutheran and if the school inspectorate were less miserly.

Dr. Eichhoff, the second senior teacher, in conjunction with his junior colleague, Dr. Beltz, wrote a Latin grammar which, however, was not very well reviewed by F. Haase in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. [15] His best subject is Greek.

Dr. Clausen, — the third senior teacher, is, undoubtedly, the most capable man in the entire school, with an expert knowledge in all spheres of learning, and outstanding in history and literature. His lectures have a rare charm; he is the only one who can arouse a feeling for poetry among the pupils, a feeling which would otherwise be bound to perish miserably among the philistines of Wuppertal. As far as I know, his only written work is a thesis in an annual report, “Pindaros der Lyriker”, which won him a high reputation among grammar school teachers in Prussia and beyond her borders. [16] It did not, of course, reach the book market.

These three schools were not founded until 1820; previously Elberfeld and Barmen had one Rektoratsschule [17] each and numerous private institutions which could not provide an adequate education. Their influence can still be felt in the Barmen merchants of the older generation. Not a trace of education; anyone who plays whist and billiards, who can talk a little about politics and pay a pretty compliment is regarded as an educated man in Barmen and Elberfeld. The life these people lead is terrible, yet they are so satisfied with it; in the daytime they immerse themselves in their accounts with a passion and interest that is hard to believe; in the evening at an appointed hour they turn up at social gatherings where they play cards, talk politics and smoke, and then leave for home at the stroke of nine. So they live day in, day out, with never a change, and woe to him who interferes with their routine; he can be sure of most ungracious treatment in all the best houses. — Fathers zealously bring up their sons along these lines, sons who show every promise of following in their fathers’ footsteps. The topics of conversation are pretty monotonous: Barmen people talk more about horses, Elberfeld people about dogs; and when things are at their height there may also be appraisals of fair ladies or chat about business matters, and that is all. Once every half a century they also talk about literature, by which they mean Paul de Kock, Marryat, Tromlitz, Nestroy and their like. In politics they are all good Prussians, because they are under Prussian rule and a priori very much against liberalism, but all this is only for as long as it suits His Majesty to preserve the Napoleonic Code, for all patriotism would disappear with its abolition. No one knows anything about the literary significance of Young Germany; it is regarded as a secret alliance, something like demagogues, under the chairmanship of Messrs. Heine, Gutzkow, and Mundt. [18] Some of the upper-class youth have probably read a little Heine, perhaps the Reisebilder, omitting the poems in it, or the Denunziant [H. Heine, Salon, Preface to Vol. 3], but they have only a hazy notion of the rest from the mouths of pastors or officials. Freiligrath is known personally to most of them and has the reputation of being a good fellow. When he came to Barmen he was deluged with visits from these green noblemen (as he calls the young merchants); however, he very soon realised what they were like and kept away from them; but they pursued him, praised his poems and his wine, and did their utmost to get on close terms with a man who had something in print, because for these people a poet is nothing, but an author whose works have been printed is everything. Gradually Freiligrath ceased to associate with these people and now meets only a few, since Köster left Barmen. Freiligrath’s employers [19] in their precarious situation have always behaved in a decent and friendly manner towards him; surprisingly he is an extremely accurate and diligent office worker. It would be quite superfluous to speak of his poetic achievements after Dingelstedt — in the Jahrbuch der Literatur and Carrière in the Berlin Jahrbücher have given such an accurate assessment of him. [20] It seems to me, however, that neither of them has paid sufficient attention to the fact that however far afield his thoughts may roam, he is still extremely attached to his homeland. This can be seen from his frequent allusions to German folk-tales, e.g., the Unkenkönigin (p. 54), Snewittchen [21] (p. 87), and others to which (p. 157) an entire poem (Im Walde) is devoted, from his imitation of Uhland (the Edelfalk, p. 82, Die Schreinergesellen, p. 85; the first of the Zwei Feldherrngräber also reminds one of Uhland, but only to his advantage), then Die Auswanderer and, above all, his incomparable Prinz Eugen. One must pay more attention to these few points in his poetry the farther Freiligrath strays in the opposite direction. A deep insight into the state of his feelings is afforded by Der ausgewanderte Dichter, particularly the excerpts published in the Morgenblatt [22]; here he already realises that he cannot feel at home in distant parts unless he has his roots in true German poetry.


Telegraph für Deutschland No. 59, April 1839

Journalism occupies the most important place in Wuppertal literature proper. At the top is the Elberfelder Zeitung edited by Dr. Martin Runkel, which under his perspicacious guidance won for itself a considerable and well-deserved reputation. He took over the editorship when two newspapers, the Allgemeine and the Provinzialzeitung, were merged; the newspaper came into being under somewhat unfavourable auspices; the Barmer Zeitung competed with it, but thanks to his efforts to get his own correspondents and to his leading articles Runkel gradually made the Elberfelder Zeitung one of the main newspapers in the Prussian state. True, in Elberfeld, where only a few people read the leading articles, the newspaper met with little recognition, but it received a much greater welcome elsewhere, which the decline of the Preussische Staats-Zeitung may have helped to bring about. The literary supplement, the Intelligenzblatt, does not rise above the usual level. The Barmer Zeitung, the publisher, editors and censors of which have frequently changed, is at present under the guidance of H. Püttmann, who from time to time writes reviews in the Abend-Zeitung. He would very much like to improve the newspaper, but his hands are tied by the well-justified parsimony of the publisher. Nor does the feature page with some of his poems, reviews or extracts from larger writings provide a remedy. The newspaper’s companion, the Wuppertaler Lesekreis, derives its material almost exclusively from Lewald’s Europa. In addition, there is also the Elberfeld Täglicher Anzeiger along with the Fremdenblatt — a product of the Dorfzeitung, which is unrivalled for its heart-rending poems and bad jokes — and the Barmer Wochenblatt, an old nightcap, with pietist asses’ ears sticking out constantly from its literary lion’s skin.

Of the other types of literature, the prose is of no value at all; if one takes away the theological or, rather, pietist works and a few booklets on the history of Barmen and Elberfeld, written very superficially, there is nothing left. But poetry is much cultivated in the “blessed valley” and a fair number of poets have taken up residence there.

Wilhelm Langewiesche, a bookseller in Barmen and Iserlohn, writes under the name of W. Jemand [Jemand means “someone"]; his main work is a didactic tragedy Der ewige Jude which is, of course, inferior to Mosen’s treatment of the same subject. As a publisher, he is more important than his Wuppertal rivals, which is very easy, incidentally, since the two of them, Hassel in Elberfeld and Steinhaus in Barmen, publish only genuinely pietist works. Freiligrath lives in his house.

Karl August Döring, the preacher in Elberfeld, is the author of numerous prose and poetry works; to him Platen’s words are applicable: “You are a river in full spate which no one can swim to the end. [A. Platen, Der romantische Oedipus, Act III, Scene 4]

He divides his poems into religious songs, odes and lyrics. Sometimes, by the middle of a poem he has forgotten the beginning and is carried away into most peculiar regions; from the Pacific islands with their missionaries to hell, and from the sighs of a contrite soul to the ice of the North Pole.

Lieth, the headmaster of a girls’ school in Elberfeld, is the author of poems for children; most of them are written in a now outmoded fashion and cannot bear comparison with the poems of Rückert, Güll and Hey, yet there are a few nice things to be found among them.

Friedrich Ludwig Willfing, indisputably the greatest Wuppertal poet, born in Barmen, is a man of unmistakable genius. Should you see a lanky individual, about forty-five years of age, wrapped in a long reddish-brown frock-coat half as old as its owner, above his shoulders a countenance that defies description, on his nose gold-rimmed spectacles through the lenses of which every glance from his lustrous eyes is refracted, his head crowned by a green cap, in his mouth a flower, in his hand a button which he has just twisted off his frock-coat — this is the Horace of Barmen. Day in, day out he walks on the Hardtberg hoping to come across a new rhyme or a new beloved. Until his thirtieth year this indefatigable man worshipped Pallas Athena, then fell into the hands of Aphrodite, who presented him with nine Dulcineas, one after the other; these are his Muses. Speak not of Goethe, who found a poetic aspect in everything, or of Petrarch, who embodied every glance, every word of his beloved in a sonnet — Willfing leaves them far behind. Who counts the grains of sand beneath his beloved’s feet? The great Wülfing. Who sings of Minchen (the Clio of the nine Muses), her stockings bespattered in a swampy meadow? No one but Willfing. — His epigrams are masterpieces of the most eccentric, popular crudity. When his first wife died he wrote an announcement of her death which reduced all maidservants to tears and an even finer elegy: “Wilhelmine — the most beautiful of all names!” Six weeks later he became betrothed again; and now he has a third wife. This ingenious man has new plans every day. When still in the full flowering of his poetic talent, he thought of becoming a button-maker, then a farmer, then a paper-merchant; finally he ended up in the haven of candle-making, so as to make his lamp shine in some way or other. His writings are like the sand on the sea-shore.

Montanus Eremita, an anonymous Solingen writer, [23] should be included here as a neighbour and friend. He is the most poetical historiographer of the Berg area; his verses are less absurd than tedious and prosaic.

Here, too, belongs Johann Pol, a pastor in Heedfeld near Iserlohn, who has written a slim volume of poems.

Kings come from God and missionaries too,
But Goethe the poet comes from mankind alone.

This reflects the spirit of the entire book. But Pol is also a wit, for he says: “Poets are lamps, philosophers are the servants of truth.” And what imagination is shown by the two opening lines of his ballad Attila an der Marne.

Like the monstrous avalanche, like sword and flint hard cutting all,
Through the blazing towns and ruins whirls the Scourge of God on Gaul.

He has also composed psalms, or rather combined fragments from the psalms of David. His greatest work is a song in praise of the quarrel between Hillsmann and Sander, written in a most riginal way, in epigrams. The whole thing centres round the idea that the rationalists dared

To slander and blaspheme against Lord God.

Neither Voss nor Schlegel have ever ended a hexameter with such a perfect spondee. Pol is even better than Döring at grouping his poems: he divides them into “religious chants and songs and miscellaneous poems”. [24]

F. W. Krug, candidate of theology, author of Poetische Erstlinge und prosaische Reliquien, and translator of a number of Dutch and French sermons, has also written a touching short novel [F. W. Krug, Kämpfe und Siege des jungen Wahlheim oder Lebersbilder aus dem Reiche des Wahren, Guten und Schönen] the manner of Stilling in which, among other things, he presents new evidence supporting the Mosaic account of the creation. A delightful book.

In conclusion, I must also mention a clever young man who has the idea that since Freiligrath can be a business clerk and a poet simultaneously, he should be able to as well. It is to be hoped that German literature will soon be enriched by some of his short novels, which will not be inferior to the best; the only shortcomings of which he can be accused are hackneyed treatment, ill-conceived design and careless style. I would willingly quote extracts from one of them, if decency did not forbid it, but soon perhaps a publisher will take pity on the great D. [Dürholt, a clerk in Barmen] dare not give his full name lest his wounded modesty leads him to sue me for libel) and publish his short novels. He also wants to be a close friend of Freiligrath.

This just about covers the literary manifestations of the world-famous valley to which, perhaps, should be added a few wine-inspired geniuses who from time to time try their hand at rhyming’, and whom I can warmly recommend to Dr. Duller as characters for a new novel. This whole region is submerged in a sea of pietism and philistinism, from which rise no beautiful, flower-covered islands, but only dry, bare cliffs or long sandbanks, among which Freiligrath wanders like a seaman off course.