Requiem for the German Adelzeitung - Frederick Engels

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Requiem for the German Adelszeitung by Frederick Engels

Works of Frederick Engels, 1840

Requiem for the German Adelszeitung [51]

Written: in January-April 1840

First published: in the Telegraph für Deutschland Nos. 59 and 60, April 1840

Signed: Friedrich Oswald

Telegraph für Deutschland No. 59, April 1840

Dies irae, dies illa

Saecla solvet in favilla.

[The day of anger, the day the world is reduced to ashes. — This and other Latin quotations are taken from the sequence on the Last judgment in the Roman Catholic Requiem mass]

The day that Luther produced the original text of the New Testament and with this Greek fire burnt to dust and ashes the centuries of the Middle Ages, with their lordly splendour and feudal servitude, with their poetry and lack of thought, [52] that day and the three centuries that followed brought forth, at long last, a time

“which belongs wholly to the public, a time of which Napoleon, whose rare perspicacity cannot be denied in spite of his many qualities that are reprehensible, particularly in German eyes, said: ‘Le journalisme est une puissance'” [journalism is a power].

I quote these words here merely to show how little medieval, i.e., lacking in thought, is the prospectus of the Adelszeitung from which they are taken. [53] And the German Adelszeitung was intended to set the crown on this public and give it consciousness. For it is clear that Gutenberg did not invent printing to assist a Börne, who was certainly a demagogue, or Hegel — who is indeed servile in front, as Heine proved, and revolutionary behind, as Schubarth proved [K. Schubarth, Ueber die Unvereinbarkeit der Hegelischen Staatslehre mit dem obersten Lebens — und Entwicketungsprinzip des Preussischen Staats] — or any other burgher to spread his confused ideas throughout the world, but for the one and only purpose of enabling the Adelszeitung to be founded. — Peace be with it, it has passed away! It took only a stealthy, timid look at this nasty, unmedieval world, and its pure, maidenly soul, or rather its gracious young lady’s soul, recoiled before the abomination of desolation, before the filth of the democratic canaille, before the horrifying arrogance of those who are not admitted to court, before all those lamentable circumstances, relations and disorders of our time which, if they show themselves at the gates of nobles’ castles, are welcomed with a riding-whip. Peace be with it, it has passed away; it sees no longer the hollowness of democracy, the undermining of what exists, the tears of the high- and noble-born, it has passed into eternal sleep.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine! [Eternal rest give unto it, O Lord!]

And yet we have lost much by its death. What joy there was in all the salons to which only gentlemen with sixteen generations of ancestors are admitted, what delight in all the half-lost advance posts of orthodox aristocracy! There sat the old gracious papa in his inherited arm-chair, surrounded by his favourite hounds, in his right hand his inherited pipe, in his left hand his inherited riding-whip, and reverently studied the antediluvian genealogical tree in the first book of Moses, when the door opened and the prospectus of the Adelszeitung was brought in to him. The nobleman, seeing the word Adel [Nobility] printed in large letters, hastily adjusts his spectacles and blissfully reads through the sheet; he sees that the new newspaper also gives space to family news, and he rejoices at the thought of his obituary — how he would like to read it himself! — when one day he is gathered to his ancestors. — Then the young squires gallop into the castle yard; the old man hurriedly sends for them. Herr Theoderich “von der Neige”, [Neige means “decline"] with a lash from his whip, drives the horses into the stable, Herr Siegwart rides down a few flunkeys, treads on the cat’s tail and in knightly fashion pushes aside an old peasant who has come with a request and has been refused; Herr Giselher orders the servants on pain of corporal punishment to make impeccable arrangements for the hunt; and so at last the young barons noisily enter the hall. Barking, the dogs rush to meet them, but are driven under the table with lashes from riding-whips, and Herr Siegwart von der Neige, who had quietened his favourite hound with a kick of his gracious boot, does not receive from the delighted father even the usual angry glance because of it. Herr Theoderich, who besides the Bible and the family tree has read a few things in the encyclopaedia and therefore knows how to pronounce foreign words more correctly than the others, has to read the prospectus aloud, and the old man amid his tears of joy forgets about the redemption ordinance and the burdens of the nobility.

Telegraph für Deutschland No. 60, April 1840

How morally — modestly — condescendingly the gracious lady rode into the modern world on her white paper palfrey, how boldly her two knights looked out into the world — each of them every inch a baron, each drop of their blood the fruit of sixty-four nuptials between partners of equal rank, each glance a challenge! First of all, Herr von Alvensleben, who has pranced his knightly charger over the and waste of French novels and memoirs so that now he can venture also on a tilt against bourgeois louts. His shield bears the device: “A properly inherited right can never be a wrong”, and he cries out to the world in a loud voice: “It has been vouchsafed to the nobles in the past to earn distinction, now they are resting on their laurels or, in plain language, they have grown idle; the nobles have given powerful protection to the princes and thereby to the peoples also, and I shall take care that these great deeds are not forgotten, and my beloved, the Adelszeitung — requiescat in pace [May it rest in peace] — is the most beautiful lady in the world, and whoever denies it, he — “

But here the noble hero falls off his horse, and in his place Herr Friedrich, baron de la Motte Fouqué, jogs into the lists. The old “light-brown” Rosinante, whose horseshoes had fallen off from prolonged sojourn in the stable, this hippogriff, which had never been well fed even in its best days and long ago ceased to make romantic leaps among the warriors of the North, suddenly began to stamp on the ground. Herr von Fouqué forgot the annual poetic commentary for the Berliner politisches Wochenblatt, ordered his armour to be polished and the old blind horse brought out, and with the grandeur of a lone hero set out on a crusade against the ideas of the times. But so that the honour-loving burgher estate would not think that the bent lance of the old warrior was directed against it, Fouqué throws it a foreword. [54] Such condescending kindness deserves discussion.

The foreword teaches us that world history does not exist in order to realise the idea of freedom, as Hegel most erroneously supposes, but solely to prove that there must exist three estates: the nobility, which has to fight, the burghers — to think, and the peasants — to plough. But there should be no caste distinctions; the estates should replenish and renovate one another, not by misalliances, but by elevation to a higher estate. It is, of course, difficult to understand how the nobility, “a lake clear as spring water” which pure springs combined to produce, which gushed forth from the heights of robber castles, could be in any need of renovation. But the noble baron allows that people who have not been only burghers, but also “ostlers”, and perhaps even tailors’ journeymen, should renovate the nobility. But how other estates should be renovated by the nobility, Herr Fouqué does not say. Probably by persons who have been degraded from the ranks of the nobility, or perhaps — since Herr Fouqué is kind enough to confess that the nobility in itself is no better at bottom than the canaille — it will be as much an honour for a nobleman to be raised to the burgher estate, or even to the peasant estate, as it is for the burgher to obtain a nobleman’s patent? Furthermore, in the Herr Fouqué state, care is taken to ensure that philosophy does not get the upper hand too much., Kant with his ideas of eternal peace [55] would have gone to the stake there, for where eternal peace prevails the nobility could not fight, at best only apprentices would.

It is clear that on account of his thorough studies of history and statecraft Herr Fouqué deserves to be raised to the thinking, i.e., the burgher estate; he has managed excellently to detect among the Huns and Avars, among the Bashkirs and Mohicans, indeed even among ante-diluvians, not only an honourable public, but also a high nobility. Moreover, he has made a totally new discovery — that in the Middle Ages, when the peasant was a feudal serf, the peasant estate was the giver and recipient of love and kindness in respect of the other two estates. His language is incomparable, he lays about him with “dimensions penetrating to the very roots.” and “knows how to extract gold from phenomena that are in themselves (Hegel — Saul among the prophets) most obscure”.

Et lux perpetua luceat eis [And may perpetual light shine upon them ]

they are truly in need of it.

The defunct Adelszeitung has indeed had some splendid ideas, for example, the one about the landownership of the nobility, and a hundred more which it would be impossible to praise, but its happiest idea, however, was that in its very first issue, among the announcements, it immediately advertised a misalliance. Whether it was prepared with equal humanity to include Herr von Rothschild in the German nobility, it did not say. May God comfort the unfortunate parents and raise the deceased to heavenly baronial rank.

And let them sleep in peace

Until the judgment Day.

We, however, shall sing a requiem for it and pronounce a funeral oration, as is the duty of an honest burgher.

Tuba mirum spargens sonum

Per sepulcra regionum

Coget omnes ante thronum.

[The trumpet spreading wonderful sound over the graves of all regions summons all before the throne]

Do you not hear the trumpet, whose sound overturns the tombstones and makes the earth shake with joy so that the graves burst open? The Day of judgment has come, the day that will never be followed by another night'; the spirit, the eternal king, has ascended his throne and at his feet are gathered all the peoples of the earth to render account of their thoughts and deeds; new life pervades the whole world, so that the old family trees of the peoples joyfully wave their leafy branches in the morning air, shedding all their old foliage to be at the mercy of the wind, which blows them together into a large funeral pyre which God himself ignites with his lightning. judgment has been pronounced on the races of the earth, a judgment which ‘ the children of the past would like to defend as much as in a lawsuit over inheritance, but the eternal judge inexorably threatens them with his piercing glance; the talent which they did not put to use is taken from them and they are cast out into the darkness where no ray of the spirit refreshes. them.