Letter from Heinrich Marx to son Karl

in Bonn

Written: Trier, November 18-29, 1835
Source: Marx Engels Collected Works Vol 1, pg 645-648.
Publisher: International Publishers (1975)
First Published: Marx/Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 1, Hb. 2, 1929
Translated: Clemens Dutt
Transcribed: S. Ryan
HTML Markup: S. Ryan

Dear Karl,

First of all, a word about my letter, which may possibly have annoyed you. You know I don't pedantically insist on my authority and also admit to my child if I am wrong. I did actually tell you to write only after you had had a somewhat closer look around you. However, since it took so long, you ought to have taken my words less literally, especially as you know how anxious and worried your good mother is. Well, that is enough on that subject.

Your letter, which was barely legible, gave me great joy. Of course, I have no doubt of your good intentions, your diligence, or of your firm resolve to achieve something worth while. However, I am glad that the beginning is pleasant and easy for you and that you are getting a liking for your professional studies.

Nine lecture courses seem to me rather a lot and I would not like you to do more than your body and mind can bear. If, however, you find no difficulty about it, it may be all right. The field of knowledge is immeasurable, and time is short. In your next letter you will surely give me a somewhat larger and more detailed report. You know how greatly I am interested in everything which concerns you closely.

In connection with the lectures on law, you must not demand [...] should be touching and poetic. The subject-matter does not allow [...] poetic composition, you will have to put up with it and [...] find worthy of deep thought. Excuse [...] subjects.

What more ought I to say to you? Give you a sermon? In order [...] to tell [...] what you do not know? Although enough of [...] nature has so endowed you that if you truly ... the [...] your clear mind, your pure feeling, your unspoilt [...] instruct, in order not to stray from the right path [...] and what I wish, you know very well. I want now [...] you make up for what I in less favourable circumstances [...] could not achieve. I should like to see in you what perhaps I could have become, if I had come into the world with equally favourable prospects. You can fulfil or destroy my best hopes. It is perhaps both unfair and unwise to build one's best hopes on someone and so perhaps undermine one's own tranquillity. But who else than nature is to blame if men who are otherwise not so weak are nevertheless weak fathers?

You have been granted a good fortune, dear Karl, that is given to few youths of your age. At the important initial stage of your career you have found a friend, and a very worthy friend, who is older and more experienced than you. Know how to value this good fortune. Friendship in the true classical sense is life's most beautiful jewel, and at this age for your whole life. It will he the best touchstone of your character, your mind and heart, indeed of your morality, if you are able to retain your friend and be worthy of him.

That you will continue to be good morally, I really do not doubt. But a great support for morality is pure faith in God. You know that I am anything but a fanatic. But this faith is a real [require]ment of man sooner or later, and there are moments in life when even the atheist is [involun]tarily drawn to worship the Almighty. And it is common [...], for what Newton, Locke and Leibniz believed, everyone can [...] submit to.

[Herr] Loers has taken it ill that you did not pay him a farewell [visit]. You and Clemens were the only ones, he [...] Herr Schlick. I had to have recourse to a white lie and tell him [...] we were there while he was away. The society [...] association with Clemens was little to my liking.

Herr Loers has been appointed second director and Herr [Brugge]mann as Commissioner was here yesterday for the installation. It was a big [... ce]remony, since both Herr Bruggemann and Herr Loers spoke. Herr Loers gave a great luncheon, which I also attended. There I spoke with several persons who asked after you, and from many quarters I was congratulated on Herr Wienenbrugge being your friend. I am truly desirous of making his acquaintance, and I should be very glad if you would both visit us at Easter and, of course, stay with us together. I should regard that especially as a proof of his friendship for you.

And so, dear Karl, fare you very well, and in providing really vigorous and healthy nourishment for your mind, do not forget that in this miserable world it is always accompanied by the body, which determines the well-being of the whole machine. A sickly scholar is the most unfortunate being on earth. Therefore, do not study more than your health can bear. With that, daily exercise and abstemiousness, and I hope to find you stronger in mind and body every time I embrace you.

Trier, November 18, 1835

Your faithful father,


Apropos! I have read your poem word by word. I quite frankly confess, dear Karl, that I do not understand it, neither its true meaning nor its tendency. In ordinary life it is an undisputed proposition that with the fulfilment of one's most ardent wishes the value of what one wished is very much diminished and often disappears altogether. That is surely not what you wanted to say. That would be worth consideration at most as a moral principle, because guided by this idea one avoids immoral enjoyments and even puts off what is permissible, in order by the postponement to retain the desire or even secure a heightened enjoyment. Kant felicitously says something of this sort in his anthropology.

Do you want to find happiness only in abstract idealising (somewhat analogous to fanciful reverie)? In short, give me the key, I admit that this is beyond me.

[In the left margin of the first page]

On the occasion of the celebration for Herr Loers I found the position of good Herr Wyttenbach extremely painful. I could have wept at the offence to this man, whose only failing is to be much too kind-hearted. I did my best to show the high regard I have for him and, among other things, I told him how devoted you are to him and that you would have liked to compose a poem in his honour but had no time. That made him very happy. Will you do me the favour of sending me a few verses for him?

[Postscript at the top of the first page on the right-hand side]

P.S. Your dear mother has been prevented from writing and so it has taken until today, November 29. It is remarkable that we do not even know your exact address.

[Postscript by Marx's mother on November 29 to the letter of November 18]

Much beloved, dear Carl,

With great pleasure I take up my pen to write to you; your dear father's letter has been ready a long time, but I have always been prevented. I should like to have another letter from you, which would prove that you are well, for you can well believe that I long for you very much. We are still all quite well, heaven be thanked, everybody is busy and industrious, and even Eduard is working very hard so that we hope to make an able man of him yet. Now, you must not regard it as a weakness of our sex if I am curious to know how you arrange your little household, whether economy really plays the main role, which is an absolute necessity for both big and small households. Here allow me to note, dear Carl, that you must never regard cleanliness and order as something secondary, for health and cheerfulness depend on them. Insist strictly that your rooms are scrubbed frequently and fix a definite time for it -- and you, my dear Carl, have a weekly scrub with sponge and soap. How do you get on about coffee, do you make it, or how is it? Please let me know everything about your household. Your amiable Muse will surely not feel insulted by your mother's prose, tell her that the higher and better is achieved through the lower. So good-bye now. If you have any wish to express for Christmas that I can satisfy, I am ready to do so with pleasure. Farewell, my dear beloved Carl, be upright and good and always keep God and your parents before your eyes. Adieu, your loving mother Henriette Marx.

All the children send you greetings and kisses, and as usual you are the kindest and best.