Letter from Heinrich Marx to son Karl

in Bonn

Written: Trier, beginning of 1836
Source: Marx Engels Collected Works Vol 1, pg 649-652.
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,]

Unless the description of your condition was somewhat poetical -- as I hope it was -- it is well adapted to cause us disquiet. I hope at least that the sad experience will bring home to you the need to pay rather more attention to your health. Next to a clear conscience, this is man's greatest blessing, and youthful sins in any enjoyment that is immoderate or even harmful in itself meet with frightful punishment. We have a sad example here in Herr Gunster. True, In his case there is no question of vice, but smoking and drinking have worked havoc with his already weak chest and he will hardly live until the summer. His life itself is a torture, and in him we shall have lost an excellent mind.

Even excessive study is madness in such a case. On the other hand, moderate exer[cise], such as walking, and sometimes even riding, but not madly, is very beneficial; cheerfulness and banishing all worries still better.

Your accounts, dear Karl, are it a la Carl, disconnected and inconclusive. If only they had been shorter and more precise, and the figures properly set out in columns, the operation would have been very simple. One expects order even from a scholar, and especially from a practical lawyer.

On the whole, I find nothing to object to, only at the present moment I think it is inexpedient and burdensome to buy a lot of books, especially big historical works.

Your journey was appropriate if it was good for your health, only you ought to have sent a few words about it beforehand.

In spite of your two letters (you see, they can be counted), I still do not know your study plan, which of course is of great interest to me. This much I do see, that you are not going in for any branch of natural history, and if physics and chemistry are really so badly taught, you will indeed do better to attend these courses in Berlin. Only a general introduction into cameralistics, it seems to me, would be expedient, because it is always useful to have a general idea of what one will have to do some day.

Apropos! Herr Gratz here has sent me a recommendation for Herr Walter. I sent it to him with a letter -- have you heard anything about it? I would be pleased at this, because it was precisely this professor you so particularly liked.

Your little circle appeals to me, as you may well believe, much more than ale-house gatherings. Young people who take pleasure in such meetings are necessarily educated people and are more aware of their value as future excellent citizens than those who find their outstanding value in outstanding coarseness.

You do well to wait before going into print. A poet, a writer, must nowadays have the calling to provide something sound if he wants to appear in public. Otherwise, let him, of course, pay homage to the Muses. That always remains one of the most noble acts of homage to women. But if everywhere the first appearance in the world is largely decisive, this is primarily the case for these demigods. Their superiority must show itself in the first verse, so that everyone immediately recognises their divine inspiration. I tell you frankly, I am profoundly pleased at your aptitudes and I expect much from them, hut it would grieve me to see you make your appearance as an ordinary poetaster; it should still be enough for you to give delight to those immediately around you in the family circle. Only the excellent have the right to claim the attention of a pampered world which has a Schiller -- poetic minds would probably say "gods"

I thank you, by the way, dear Karl, for your very filial remark that you would submit your first work to me for criticism before anybody else. That is all the more proof of your tender regard since you know how little nature has endowed me with poetry, so that throughout my life I was never capable of composing a merely tolerable poem, even in the sweet days of first love. However, I will bear it in mind and wait to see if it was merely a compliment.

How does it happen, dear Karl, that your journey does not figure in the expenses. You haven't eked out your existence by cadging, I hope.

I enclose a money order for 50 talers, and on this occasion can only say that your only concern should be your studies and, without using more than is necessary, you should save yourself any further anxiety. The hope that you might some day be a support for your brothers and sisters is an idea too beautiful and too attractive for a good-natured heart for me to want to deprive you of it.

For the time being, I have nothing more to add, and only repeat my advice to you to take care of your health. There is no more lamentable being than a sickly scholar, and no more unfortunate parents than those who see a son of great promise wasting away, for whose education they have made sacrifices. Take that to heart. I can only appeal to your heart, for I believe it good and noble. Embracing you affectionately,

Your father


[Postscript by Marx's mother]

Dear beloved Carl,

Your being ill has worried us very much, but I hope and wish that you will have recovered, and although I am very anxious about the health of my dear children, I am sure that if you, dear Carl, behave sensibly you can reach a ripe old age. But for that you must avoid everything that could make things worse, you must not get over-heated, not drink a lot of wine or coffee, and not eat anything pungent, a lot of pepper or other spices. You must not smoke any tobacco, not stay up too long in the evening, and rise early. Be careful also not to catch cold and, dear Carl, do not dance until you are quite well again. It will seem ridiculous to you, dear Carl, that I act the doctor in this way, but you do not know how parents take it to heart when they see that their children are not well, and how many anxious hours this has already caused us. You children see to it that you keep morally and physically healthy, and do not worry about anything else. Dear father has been well throughout the winter, thank God, and there has been no lack of work, and we are still all quite well. How do you like my native city -- it is a really beautiful place and I hope that it may have so much inspired you as to give you material for poetry. Write soon, dear Carl, even if not a lot, but don't put it off too long. Adieu, dear Carl, I kiss you in my thoughts,

Your loving mother

Henriette Marx