Letter from Heinrich Marx to son Karl,
in Berlin

Written: Trier, December 28, 1836
Source: Marx Engels Collected Works Vol 1, pg 663-66.
Publisher: International Publishers (1975)
First Published: First published in Marx/Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 1, Hb. 2, 1929
Translated into English by Clemens Dutt for the Collected Works
Transcribed: S. Ryan
HTML Markup: S. Ryan

Dear Karl,

If I were less indulgent, if in general I could harbour resentment for a long time, and particularly against my dear ones, I would certainly be justified in not answering you at all. It is not in itself praiseworthy to he exaggeratedly touchy, least of all towards a father whose failing is certainly not that of severity.

If you had reflected that at the time I sent you the last letter I had had no word from you apart from your first letter; that the interval was somewhat large, even counting from my second letter from here; that having once got mixed up in a matter -- which in itself was not precisely pleasing to me -- from a feeling of duty towards a really most worthy person, I was bound to be extremely sensitive to a silence that was inexplicable to me, and that, if I then used some expressions which might sound harsh, in the first place I did not think of weighing my words, but also was sensitive not entirely without cause; besides, I assure you I did not have any animus calumniandi.

If I did not have a high opinion of your kind heart, I would not in general be so attached to you and would suffer less at aberrations, for you know that high as I esteem your intellectual gifts, in the absence of a good heart they would be of no interest to me at all. But you yourself confess that you have previously given me some cause to harbour some doubts about your self-abnegation. And in view of all this, you could very well be somewhat less touchy towards your father.

It is now high time that you did away with the tension that ruins mind and body, and I can rightly demand that in this connection you should show some consideration for the well-being of your good mother and myself, for we certainly do not soar to Elysian fields, and consider it of some importance that you should remain healthy.

But I repeat, you have undertaken great duties and, dear Karl, at the risk of irritating your sensitivity, I express my opinion somewhat prosaically after my fashion: with all the exaggerations and exaltations of love in a poetic mind you cannot restore the tranquillity of a being to whom you have wholly devoted yourself; on the contrary, you run the risk of destroying it. Only by the most exemplary behaviour, by manly, firm efforts which, however, win people's goodwill and favour, can you ensure that the situation is straightened out and that she is exalted in her own eyes and the eyes of the world, and comforted.

I have spoken with Jenny and I should have liked to be able to set her mind at rest completely. I did all I could but it is not possible to argue everything away. She still does not know how her parents will take the relationship. Nor is the judgment of relatives and the world a trifling matter. I am afraid of your not always just sensitivity and therefore leave it to you to appreciate this situation. If I were powerful enough to protect and soothe this noble being in some respect by vigorous intervention, no sacrifice would be too great for me. Unfortunately, however, I am weak in every respect.

She is making a priceless sacrifice for you. She is showing a self-denial which can only be fully appreciated in the light of cold reason. Woe to you, if ever in your life you could forget this! At present, however, only you yourself can effectively intervene. From you must come the certainty that, despite your youth, you are a man who deserves the respect of the world, and wins it in mighty strides, who gives assurance of his constancy and his serious efforts in the future, and compels evil tongues to be silent about past mistakes.

How you can best set about this, only you can be fully aware.

In this connection I must ask you whether you know how old one must be to hold an academic post. It is very important to know this, for your plan, I think, should aim at attaining such a position as soon as possible, even if in a lower grade, and you should try by writing to create prospects for a good situation and eventually to realise them.

Poetry must surely be the first lever; the poet, of course, should be competent here. However, the kind of poetry to bring about the magic effect might preferably be a matter for one who is wise and a man of the world.-- In ordinary life that might well be too much to demand of a young man; but he who undertakes higher duties must be consistent, and here wisdom and policy will be sanctified in the eyes of the poet himself by high and creditable fulfilment of duty.

I beg and beseech you -- since basically you have talent, only the form is not yet smooth -- henceforth be calm, moderate these storms, do not arouse them either in the bosom of one who deserves and needs tranquillity. Your mother, I myself, Sophie, the good child, who exercises self-denial in the highest degree, watch over you, as far as the situation allows, and in return for your efforts the future holds out for you a happiness to deserve which all hardships are easy to bear.

Your views on law are not without truth, but are very likely to arouse storms if made into a system, and are you not aware how violent storms are among the learned! If what gives offence in this matter itself cannot be entirely eliminated, at least the form must be conciliatory and agreeable.

You do not say anything about Meurin, nor whether you paid a visit to Herr Eichhorn.

I do not want to write to Herr Jaehnigen just now, and since the matter is not at all urgent, you can wait for an opportunity.

If you send bulky letters by ordinary post, they are very expensive. The last but one cost a taler. Parcels sent by express post are dear too, the last one also cost a taler.

If you want to write a great deal in future, then write on all possible sorts of subjects, so that what we hear is much and varied. Let it mount up to form a parcel and send this by the luggage van. Do not be offended at this little remark about economy.

I hope that you will have received the wine by now. Drink it and be cheerful, and give up all irrelevant ventures, all despair, and abandon poetry if it does not embellish your life and make it happy.

[Postscript by Marx's mother]

Dear Carl,

Your dear father is in such a hurry to send off this letter that all I can do is to send you heartiest greetings and kisses. Your loving mother

      Henriette Marx

[Continuation from Marx's father]

Enclosed a money order for 50 talers. If you prefer me to look for a firm there to make an arrangement with you, you must tell me approximately the monthly sum I should fix for you. By now you must be able to say what it amounts to with one thing and another.


[Postscript by Marx's sister, Sophie]

Your last letter, dear Karl, made me weep bitter tears; how could you think that I would neglect to give you news of your Jenny!? I dream and think only of you two. Jenny loves you; if the difference in age worries her, that is because of her parents. She will now try gradually to prepare them; after that write to them yourself; they do indeed think highly of you. Jenny visits us frequently. She was with us yesterday and wept tears of delight and pain on receiving your poems. Our parents and your brothers and sisters love her very much, the latter beyond all measure. She is never allowed to leave us before ten o'clock, how do you like that? Adieu, dear, good Karl, my most ardent wishes for the success of your heart's desire.