Reports from Bremen: Theatre. Publishing Festival - Frederick Engels

Submitted by pogo on May 1, 2015

Reports from Bremen by Frederick Engels

Works of Frederick Engels, 1840

Reports from Bremen

Written: in July 1840

First published: in Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser Nos. 181-182, July 30-31, 1840

Signed: F. 0.

Theatre. Publishing Festival

Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser No. 181, July 30, 1840

Bremen, July

As far as I know, no periodical of any note has a permanent correspondent in Bremen, and it could easily be concluded from this consensus gentium [universal opinion] that there is nothing to write about from here. But that is not the case; for have we not a theatre, which only recently had in succession Agnese Schebest, Caroline Bauer, Tichatscheck, and Mme Schröder-Devrient performing as visiting stars, and whose repertory could compete in quality with many other more famous theatres. Have not Gutzkow’s Richard Savage and Blum’s Schwärmerei nach der Mode already been shown here? The first of these two plays has by now been discussed to excess; I consider that a very recent review of it in the Hallische Jahrbücher, [85] if one leaves out the frequent hostile remarks, contains very much that is true and, in particular, hits on its basic mistake, namely, that the relationship between mother and child, as an unfree relationship, can never provide the basis for a drama. Perhaps Gutzkow was aware of this mistake beforehand, but he was right in not allowing that to prevent him from carrying out his plan; for if he wanted to break into the theatrical world with a single play he had to make some concessions to established theatrical routine, which he could always withdraw later if his plan was successful. He had to give his play an original foundation, even if this could not stand up to poetic criticism, and even if his scenes became melodramatic and effect-seeking. One can find fault with Richard Savage, one can condemn it, but one must also admit that by it Gutzkow proved his dramatic talent. — I would not say anything at all about Blum’s Schwärmerei nach der Mode had this play not been loudly hailed as “timely” in many journals. But there is absolutely nothing timely about it, neither in the characters, nor in the action, nor in the dialogue. It is true that Blum performed one service by having the courage to bring pietism on to the stage, but one cannot so easily dispose of this sprained foot of Christianity. One must at last stop looking for deception, greed or refined sensuality concealed behind pietism; real pietism decisively turns away from such exaggerations and extremes as were displayed in Königsberg, or such abuses as Stephan from Dresden indulged in. When Stephan with his unfortunate company came here to take ship for New Orleans, and no one had as yet the slightest moral suspicion of him, I myself saw how distrustfully the pietists here behaved towards him. Anyone who wants to write about this trend should try going to the “Quakers”, as they are called here, and see the love these people show towards one another, how quickly friendship is established between two complete strangers who know nothing more of each other than that they are both “believers”, with what assurance, consistency and determination they follow their path, and with what subtle psychological tact they are able to discover all their little faults, and I am convinced he would not write another Schwärmerei nach der Mode. Pietism is just as right in condemning this play as it is wrong in respect of the free thinking of our century. — Hence, too, the only notice of the play taken by the pietists here was to ask whether it contained “blasphemous speeches”.

The Gutenberg festival [86] has’ also been celebrated here, in the ultima Thule [An island lying at the extreme north of the habitable world, mentioned in ardent legends and in Virgil’s Georgics] of German culture, and indeed in a more gladdening way than in the other two Hanse towns. For several years past the printers had been putting by something from their wages each week to ensure a worthy celebration of the festival. Already at an early stage, a committee was set up, but here too difficulties were encountered from the state in holding the festival. Small cabals, mostly connected with particular personalities, developed, as is inevitable in such small states. For a while, nothing was heard of the whole affair, and it seemed that at most a “craftsmen’s gala” was being organised. Only on the eve of the festival did the interest become more general, the programme was issued, Professor Wilhelm Ernst Weber, well known for his excellent translations of the ancient classics and his commentaries on German poets, drew attention to the next day’s event by his speech in the big hall, and the merchants were undecided whether they ought not to grant their office workers a half-holiday next day. The festival day came; all ships on the Weser flew their flags, and at the lower end of the town were two ships, the mast-tops of which were connected by a long line of innumerable flags to form a huge arch of honour. On one of these ships was mounted the only available gun, which thundered throughout the day. The committee, together with all the assembled printers, marched in a solemn procession to the church and from there to the newly-built steamship Gutenberg which, with its snow-white, gilt-ornamented hull, is the finest steamer that ever sailed the Weser. For this, its inaugural journey, it was festively decorated with garlands and flags; the procession went on board, cruised with music and singing up the Weser as far as the bridge; there a halt was made, a choral was sung and one of the printers delivered a speech. While all the participants in the festival took part in a luncheon on board arranged by the ship’s owner, Herr Lange von Vegesack, the Gutenberg proceeded with a speed that did honour to its builder through the arch of flags to Lankenau, a pleasure resort below the town, thousands of people hailing it with shouts of “hurrah” from the bridge and the quayside. It was the festive procession and the Weser excursion that gave the celebration the character of a people’s festival, but even more so the distribution, at first restricted but later liberal, of tickets for an evening in a public garden which had been taken over and illuminated for the occasion. There the committee repaired after a banquet, and the festival concluded under the bright illuminations with music and the drinking of Haut-Sauternes, St. Julien an champagne.


Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser No. 182, July 31, 1840

Bremen, July

For the rest, life here is rather monotonous and small-townish; the haute volée, i.e., the families of patricians and monied aristocrats, are spending the summer on their landed estates; the middle-class ladies even in this fine period of the year cannot tear themselves away from their tea-parties, where cards are played and tongues wag; and the merchants day after day visit the museum, the stock exchange, or their club, to talk about coffee and tobacco prices and the state of the negotiations with the Customs Union [87]; few go to the theatre. — Interest in the current literature of the Fatherland as a whole is not to be found here; it is pretty generally held that Goethe and Schiller set the coping-stones of the arch of German literature, and that in any case the romantic writers served only as later ornamentations. People subscribe to a reading-club, partly because it is the fashion, partly because a siesta can be more comfortable with a periodical; but they are interested only in scandal and anything that the papers may say about Bremen. With many educated people this apathy may of course be due to lack of leisure, for here the merchant especially is always compelled to keep his business in mind, and any time he may have left over is taken up by the duties of etiquette towards his usually numerous relatives, visits, etc. On the other hand, there is a seclusive kind of literature here which has an ample circulation, partly through pamphlets, most of which are concerned with theological controversies, and partly through periodicals. The Bremer Zeitung, tactfully edited and with informative reports, used to en . a considerable reputation over a wide area, which however has decreased since its involuntary involvement in the political affairs of the neighbouring state. Its West-European articles are intelligently written, even if they are not definitely liberal-minded. A supplement to the newspaper, the Bremisches Conversationsblatt, tried to represent Bremen in current German literature and carried clever articles by Professor Weber and Dr. Stahr in Oldenburg; poems were supplied by Nicolaus Delius, a talented young philologist who could gradually achieve an honourable position also as a poet. But it proved difficult to recruit important outside contributors, and so the newspaper had to close down for lack of material. Another periodical, the Patriot, which endeavoured to serve as a worthier organ for the discussion of matters of local interest and at the same time to be more valuable from the aesthetic point of view than the small local newspapers, died because of the ambiguity of its position as neither a local newspaper nor an organ of belles lettres. The smaller local newspapers, — Which feed on scandals, feuds between actors, town gossip, and such like, can boast of a more tenacious existence. In particular, the [Bremisches] Unterhaltungsblatt, owing to its numerous contributors (almost every clerk in an office can boast of having written a few lines for the Unterhaltungsblatt), has achieved a singular degree of omniscience. If there is a nail sticking out of a seat in the theatre, if a pamphlet has not been ordered in the club, if a drunken cigar-maker has spent a night of merriment in the street, if a gutter has not been properly cleaned — the first to pay attention to it is the Unterhaltungsblatt. If a militia officer believes that his rank gives him the right to ride on the foot-path, he can be sure that the next issue of this newspaper will raise the question whether militia officers ought to be allowed to ride on the foot-paths. This excellent sheet could be called the providence of Bremen. Its chief contributor, however, is Crischan Tripsteert, the pseudonymous author of poems in Low German. It would be better for this dialect if it were abolished in accordance with Wienbarg’s demand rather than that it should have to let itself be misused by Crischan Tripsteert for his poems. The other local newspapers are of too low a level for even their names to be merely mentioned before the general public. Quite apart is the Bremer Kirchenbote, a pietistic-ascetic newspaper edited by three priests [Georg Gottfried Treviranus, Friedrich Ludwig Mallet, and F. A. Toel] to which Krummacher, the well-known writer of parables [Friedrich Adolf Krummacher], sometimes contributes. This newspaper is so zealous that the censorship is often compelled to intervene, although to be sure this only happens in extreme cases, since its tendency meets with approval in higher circles. It carries on a continual polemic against Hegel, the “father of modern pantheism”, and “his disciple, the ice-cold Strauss”, as well as against any rationalist who comes within ten miles. Next time I shall say something about Bremerhaven and social conditions in Bremen.