Letter out of custody at fortress Magdeburg, 1847 - Edgar Bauer

Editor's Note: Edgar Bauer, born in 1820, the younger brother of Bruno and one of the most radical member of the Free wrote a radical program for the process of critical critique, Der Streit der Kritik mit Kirche und Staat (Berlin, 1843), printed and published by Egbert Bauer, another brother of Bruno. It was confiscated immediately by the Prussian authorities. Edgar Bauer was arrested and found guilty of high treason. He was imprisoned at Fortress Magdeburg for six years. The confiscated book, however, together with legal proceedings of that case Pressprozess Edgar Bauers über das von ihm verfasste Buch: Der Streit der Kritik mit Kirche und Staat. Aktenstucke, was published the following year in Berne, Switzerland. In this work, Edgar developed a theory of revolt, not by disciplined proletarian classes as Marx did at the same time, but by simple undisciplined vandalism. But, like Marx, he applied the concept of an alliance between intellectuals and the dispossessed in the process of liberation. This was contrary to his brother Bruno's strategy that critical critique must be pure and without alliance in order not to be corrupted by any alliance.

No vandals, no barbaric crowd, like that which destroyed the Old World, will be neccessary to destroy the Contemporary World . . . We have our naked savages among ourselves; they had been passed by carelessly by our aristocratic education. In the interior of the states throats will open in order to spit out the presently despised flame; a shock will make the aristocratic edifices shake and collapse; the throat will release the suppressed crowds against that egoism now protected by law and order. They are the unproprietors who have the vocation to make an end with the supercilious privileges. Do you think there is any class of human beings which will always and for ever bear such a despicable and repressive yoke? One in which the conscience of being a human never awakes and brings itself to respect? If you think so you are all mistaken.

These words were unacceptable to the Prussian state authorities. The following letter of March 23, 1847, written to the publisher Campe from Fortress Magdeburg answers the question as whether Edgar would like to write the story of the famous adventurer Friedrich Freiherr von der Trenck (1726-1794). He had been a rumored lover of Amalie, the sister of Friedrich the Great, and an Austrian spy. He had been cruelly imprisoned at Fortress Magdeburg by order of Friedrich but then released by Austria's Maria Theresia. He was later involved in the French-revolution, and finally put to death by Robespierre.

Edgar Bauer never did write the story. When released, he edited the short-lived periodical Die Parteien: Politische Revue.

This letter is published here for the first time. It was found in the archives on the Heinrich Heine Institut at Düsseldorf, and it gives some impression of Prussian fortress prison at that time and the feelings and behaviour of the intellectuals within them.


Dear Herr Campe:

I am most grateful for the good services that you have performed on my behalf. In this regard, today I recieved your kind letter of March 19, and Herr Baensch, on your instructions, immediately paid the 95 Reichsthaler and 69 Groschen. You ask when my imprisonment will end. At the end of July, 1849. This means that I would really have enough time to write the life of Trenck, and the feeling that I would have in so doing might even be pleasant. Because, as a bad situation can be consoled by a worse one, so my imprisonment in comparison with that of Trenck -- particularly his later imprisonment -- would appear bearable.

One of the rooms, in which Trenck had been for a long time incarcerated is visited by me almost daily. It is occupied by a poor, good, one-time building superintendent who made a small joke. At the door and before teh window one can yet see that strong iron hooks to which they had naturally fastened necessarily thick iron bars for the enterprising Trenck. The present generation of prisoners have become more tractable for the warders. Moderately thin iron rods now perform the same function, and the good prisoners often cast glances at them, sighing: what reason for them? Indeed I have a wife and children and I certainly would not try to pass through.

Here, the prevailing system is less oppressive through striking brutalities than tormenting through petty naggings. The worrisome measuring out of the free hours, four of which are given to us daily, the eternal clanking of keys, during three times the doors are checked each day, when the free hours take place, and when the lackeys are let in and let out; an ongoing meticulous supervision of not only normal comings and goings, but of the things which are expected here, a surveillance, which forces one to live constantly with small lies. The watch of the authorities through spies for every movement which ones makes, for every word that one speaks or sings -- all of this might well leave one to drift away from himself for a long time.

It cannot be fended off, and at odd moments it rests heavy on the soul. Nevertheless, until now I have protected my serenity, and diligent study is the best helper. Moreover, when I began my term, the treatment of the prisoners was not as severe as it now is. The Commandment had basically the best of intentions; but the presence of literature in this prison has called it to the attention of the government. They readily observed that prison conditions might be a bit too uncomfortable to restrict us and to render us harmless. Since government officials are rather nervous, it became easy with the help of a complaisant Commandment to turn Magdeburg into a prison into which to stick every writer who was condemned for violating press laws. It would be unfitting, if I would here drop a word of complaint or even of wonder. As I entered into a collision with the government with a full consciousness of the consequences, I must have known the police system, and the police treatment of men and literary questions which I would have had to deal with.

Magdeburg o a. Maerz
der Ihrige
Edgar Bauer
Translated by Lawrence S. Stepelevich
Villanova University

Posted By

Ross Arctor
Sep 17 2014 20:44


Attached files


Sep 18 2014 22:01

Hi, thanks for posting. Do you mean it is posted here to libcom for the first time? Or is that editors' note from somewhere else?

Ross Arctor
Sep 19 2014 04:38

I transcribed this and Bauer's letter about Stirner and Szeliga from an old issue of "the philosophical forum" specifically focused on the young hegelians. Sorry I didn't make that clear. The editor's note was written by Hans-Martin Sass.

Sep 20 2014 20:14

Great, cheers!