Letter from Heinrich Marx to son Karl

in Berlin

Written: Trier, February 3, 1837
Source: Marx Engels Collected Works Vol 1, pg 667-670.
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,

Your last letter made me particularly glad, for it proves that you have got rid of the little weaknesses which, by the way, disquieted me; you recognise your position and are endeavouring with energy and dignity to assure your future. But, dear Karl, do not fall into the opposite extreme.

Apart from the fact that to be sociable offers very great advantages for diversion, rest and development, especially to a young man, wisdom demands -- and this is something you must not neglect, since you are no longer alone -- that one should acquire some support, in an honourable and worthy way, of course. Neglect, especially as one is not always inclined to seek the most honourable reason for it, is not easily forgiven by distinguished persons, or those who think themselves such, and particularly if they have shown a certain degree of condescension. -- Herr Jaehnigen and Herr Esser are not only excellent men, but are probably important for you, and it would be most unwise and really improper to neglect them, since they received you in a very decent way. At your age and in your position you cannot demand any reciprocity.

Nor must the body be neglected. Good health is the greatest boon for everyone, for scholars most of all.

Do not overdo things. With your natural gifts and your present diligence, you will reach your goal, and a single term does not matter.

However much experience I may have, I cannot draw up a complete plan for you with a clear survey of all nuances.

In any case, it seems to me beyond doubt that your intention of advancing yourself by academic studies is quite good and suitable for you, if, besides, you do not overlook the trifle of paying some attention to physical development.

But, of course, this may take rather a long time and given the state of things it would of course be desirable that something be done about it. In this respect, therefore, the only thing left is authorship. But how to make a start? This is a difficult question, but there is another that precedes it: will you succeed at once in winning the confidence of a good publisher? For that could well be the most difficult thing. If you succeed in that -- and on the whole you are a favourite of fortune -- then the second question arises. Something philosophical or legal, or both together, seems excellent for laying a basis. Good poetry might well take second place, and it never harms one's reputation, except perhaps in the eyes of a few pedants. Light polemical articles are the most useful, and with a few good titles, if they are original and have a new style, you can decently and safely await a professorship, etc., etc., etc. But you must come to a firm decision, if not at the present moment, at any rate this year, and when you have taken it, keep it firmly in view and pursue your course unswervingly. It is by no means so difficult for you as it was for your papa to become a lawyer.

You know, dear Karl, because of my love for you I have let myself in for something which is not quite in accord with my character, and indeed sometimes worries me. But no sacrifice is too great for me if the welfare of my children requires it. Moreover, I have won the full confidence of your Jenny. But the good, lovable girl torments herself incessantly -- she is afraid of doing you harm, of making you over-exert yourself, etc., etc., etc. It weighs on her mind that her parents do not know or, as I believe, do not want to know. She cannot explain to herself how it is that she, who considers herself quite unsentimental, has let herself be so carried away. A certain shyness may have something to do with it.

A letter from you, which you may enclose sealed, but which should not be dictated by the fanciful poet, could comfort her. It must, of course, be full of delicate, devoted feeling and pure love, as I have no doubt it will be, but it must give a clear view of your relationship and elucidate and discuss the prospects. The hopes expressed must be set out without reserve, clearly and with firm conviction, so that they in their turn are convincing.

You must give a firm assurance that this relationship, far from doing you any harm, has the happiest effect on you, and in certain respects I believe that myself. On the other hand, resolutely demand, with the manly audacity in the face of which the poor child was so defenceless, that now she must not waver, not look back, but calmly and confidently look to the future.

What have you to say to your father? Are you not astonished to find me in the role of intermediary? How wrongly I might be judged by many persons if my influence were to become known! What ignoble motives might perhaps be imputed to me! But I do not reproach myself -- if only heaven bestows its blessing, I shall feel extremely happy.

It would be proper to pay a visit to Herr Eichhorn, but I leave that to you. I repeat, however, that I should like to see you going more often to Herr Jaehnigen and Herr Esser.

It would be just as well, too, if you were to make somewhat closer contact with at least one of the most influential professors.

Have you not seen any more of young Herr Schriever? Since we are on very good terms and Mlle. Schriever will probably marry your friend Karl von Westphalen, and since anyway he should be coming here soon, I should like you to visit him now and again.

Have you not heard any further news of Dr. Kleinerz? I should like to learn something about him.

I enclose herewith a letter of credit. It is for a higher amount than you yourself asked, but I did not want to have it altered, because now I trust you not to use more than is necessary.

Well, good-bye, dear Karl, write soon if you have not yet sent a letter such as I have requested. Write also what your landlord is doing, he interests me very much.

Herr von Notz told me that you would come here during the autumn vacation. I am not at all in favour of this, and if you bear in mind your circumstances and those of persons who are dear to you, you will have to agree with me. But it is possible that I may go to Berlin. What do you say to that?

Your faithful father


I send my best regards to my dear friend Meurin and his amiable wife. Tell him that he would do well to spare a moment for me.

P.S. It would not he a bad thing, dear Karl, if you would write more legibly.

I seldom see Jenny, she cannot do as she likes. You can be easy in your mind, her love is true. -- When you have written in the way I would like, I will ask for a reply.