Letter from Heinrich Marx to son Karl

in Berlin

Written: Trier, September 16, 1837
Source: Marx Engels Collected Works Vol 1, pg 679-683.
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, which we received about eight days ago, leads me to expect a larger sequel, and that indeed soon, and I should have liked to wait until I have a general view of the whole. But it might have worried you to have to wait too long, especially as it concerns a plan which will perhaps determine the next steps.

You know me, dear Karl, I am neither obstinate nor prejudiced. Whether you make your career in one department of learning or in another [is] essentially all one to me. But it is dear to my heart, of course for your sake, that you choose the one that is most in accord with your natural talents. At the outset it was the ordinary thing that one had in mind. Such a career, however, seemed not to your liking and I confess that, infected by your precocious views, I applauded you when you took academic teaching as your goal, whether in law or philosophy, and in the final count I believed the latter to be more likely. I was sufficiently aware of the difficulty of this career, and I particularly learned about it recently in Ems, where I had the opportunity to see a good deal of a professor of Bonn University. On the other hand, one thing is undeniable, namely [that] someone who is sure of himself could play an important role as a professor of law in Bonn, and it is easier to be sent from Berlin to Bonn, provided of course one has some patronage. Poetry would have to procure this patronage for you. But whatever your good fortune in this respect, it will take several years and your special situation puts you under pressure(...].

Let us take a look at the other aspect (and an important point is that with good classical studies a professorship can always remain a final goal). Does a practical career advance one so rapidly? As a rule it does not, and experience proves this only too well. Here also patronage does a great deal. Without it you would not be able to complain at all if, a few years after having completed your studies, you became an unpaid assessor, and then [remained] an assessor for years after. However, even with the strictest moral standards and the most meticulous scruples, it may be permissible to procure for oneself through one's own merits a patron who, convinced of the protege's efficiency, conscientiously advances and promotes him. And in any case you have been endowed by nature with talents that are very suitable for this purpose. How to make the best use of them is a matter for you to decide, and can hardly be judged by a third person, the more so since here the individual character must be very much taken into consideration. And whatever you undertake you must necessarily look at the matter and make your estimate from this point of view, for you are in a hurry; you feel that and so do I.

In some respects, that is of course to be regretted, but the most beautiful picture has its shades, and here resignation has to come into play. This resignation, moreover, is based on parts so brilliantly lit, and owes its origin so entirely to one's own will, which is guided by the heart and mind, that it is to be considered a pleasure rather than a sacrifice.

But I return to the question: What should I advise? And, in the first place, as regards your plan for theatrical criticism, I must confess above all that, as far as the subject itself is concerned, I am not particularly competent. Dramatic criticism requires much time and great circumspection. As far as art is concerned, such work in our time may perhaps be most meritorious. As far as fame is concerned, it can lead to an academic diploma.

How will it be received? I think with more hostility than favour, and the good, learned Lessing pursued, as far as I know, no rose-strewn path, but lived and died a poor librarian.

Will it yield particular financial profit? The question merges with the preceding one, and I am not in a position to give a categorical reply. I still think that some outstanding single works, a really good poem, a sterling tragedy or comedy, are far more suitable for your purpose. -- But you are carving out your own career and you want to go on doing so. I can only address one wish to heaven, that in one way or another you may as quickly as possible achieve your real aim.

I will say only one thing more. If, owing to the fact that after three years of study you ask nothing more from home, you expose yourself too much to the necessity of doing what could be harmful to you, then let fate have its way and at all events even if it involves sacrifice on my part, I will much rather make such sacrifice than harm your career. If you manage it sensibly and without holding up your career, you will certainly afford me great relief, because, in point of fact, since the separation of the law court and the hawking activities of the young men, my income has diminished in proportion as my expenses have become heavier. But, as I have said, this consideration must not stand in the way.

In coming back to the question of a practical career, however, why do you say nothing of cameralistics? I do not know whether I am mistaken, but it seems to me that poetry and literature are more likely to find patrons in the administration than in the judiciary, and a singing government adviser seems to me more natural than a singing judge. And after all what more is there in cameralistics than you already need as a true lawyer, apart from natural science? This last you must by no means neglect, that would be irresponsible.

You are, however, at the fountain-head, from which you can derive instruction, and precisely that aspect of the whole structure which under normal conditions you would probably still be far from appreciating, viz., the vital question in the proper sense, is forced on your attention and hence you will reflect, check and act with due care. I feel no anxiety that these considerations, even though forced on you, will ever lead you to base, grovelling actions. Despite my grey hairs, somewhat depressed state of mind and all too many cares, I would still be defiant and despise what is base. To you with your unimpaired powers, on whom nature has showered blessings, anything of the sort must seem impossible. But proud youth with its abundance of vital energy may regard as humiliating much that wisdom and duty peremptorily dictate in regard to oneself and especially to those whose welfare one has made it one's duty to ensure. True, worldly wisdom is a good deal to ask of a 19-year-old, but one who at 19--

I have not shown your last letter to Westphalen. These very good people are of such a peculiar stamp; they discuss everything from so many aspects and at such length that it is as well to give them as little material as possible. Since your studies this year remain the same, I do not see why I should give them material for new fantasies.

Jenny is not yet here, but is to come soon; that she does not write to you is -- I cannot call it anything else -- childish, headstrong. For there can be no doubt at all that her attitude to you is one of the most self-sacrificing love, and she was not far from proving it by her death.

She has somehow got the idea that it is unnecessary to write, or some other obscure idea about it that she may hold, she has also a touch of genius, and what bearing does that too have on the matter? You can be certain, as I am (and you know that I am not credulous by nature), that no prince would be able to turn her away from you. She is devoted to you body and soul, and you must never forget it, at her age she is making a sacrifice for you that ordinary girls would certainly not be capable of. So if she has the idea of not being willing or able to write, in God's name let it pass. For after all it is only a token, and one can dispense with that at least, if one is assured of the essential. I [shall] speak to her about it if the occasion offers, however unwilling I am to do so.

Throughout the year I was gladdened by the expectation of seeing you, and so one lives under an eternal illusion. The only thing that does not deceive is a good heart, the love that flows from the heart; and in this respect I can only count myself among the rich, for I enjoy the love of an incomparable wife and the love of good children.

Do not make us wait so long for letters. Your good mother needs to be cheered up and your letters have a wonderful effect on her spirits. She has suffered so much this summer that only one so entirely forgetful of self could keep going, and things are still the same. May God rescue us soon from this long struggle! Write now and again a few lines for Eduard but act as if he were quite well again.

If, without too much inconvenience to yourself, you can make closer contact with Herr Jaehnigen, you will be doing me a favour, I very much desire it. For you especially, it would be very advantageous to associate with Herr Esser and, as I hear, he is on friendly terms with Meurin.

Further, I beg you to go to Herr Geh. Justizrat Reinhard and in my name ask him to take steps to get a move made at last in my affair. Win or lose, I have cares enough and should like to have this worry off my mind at least.

Well, my dear good Karl, I think I have written enough. I seldom divide things into portions and think that warmed-up portions are not as good as fresh ones. Good-bye, and in connection with your old father do not forget that your blood is young; and if you are lucky enough to safeguard it from tempestuous and ravaging passions, refresh it at least by youthful cheerfulness and a joyful spirit, and by youthful pleasures in which heart and mind agree. I embrace you with all my heart and soul.

Your faithful father

[Postscript by Marx's mother]

Dear beloved Carl,

That heaven may keep you in good health is indeed my most ardent wish, apart from that you be moderate in your way of life and as much as possible also in your wishes and hopes now that you have achieved what is most essential, you can act with more calm and discretion. Frau von Westphalen spoke to the children today. [Jenny is to] come today or tomorrow. She writes that she wants so very much to return to Trier and is longing to hear from you. I think Jenny's silence towards you is due to maidenly modesty, which I have already often noted in her, and which is certainly not to her disadvantage, but only still more enhances her charms and good qualities. -- Edgar will probably go to Heidelberg to continue his studies from [...] for the feared -- that your welfare and your success in whatever you undertake is dear to our hearts, you can rest assured. May the Almighty and the All-good only show you the right path that is most beneficial for you, that is what we wish to ask for. Only be of good courage and [...] persists will be crowned. I kiss you with all my heart in my thoughts. [...] make you for the autumn woollen jackets which will protect you from catching cold. Write very soon, dear Carl.

Your ever loving mother

Henriette Marx

Write also a few lines sometime to Hermann, and enclose them in a letter to us. He is doing very well and people are very satisfied with him.