Letter from Heinrich Marx to son Karl

in Berlin

Written: Trier, November 17, 1837
Source: Marx Engels Collected Works Vol 1, pg 683-685.
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,

Have you still your headquarters in Stralow? At this time of year and in the land where no lemon trees are in bloom, can this be thinkable? But where are you then? That is the question, and for a practical man the first requirement for correspondence is to know an address. Therefore, I have to take advantage of the kindness of others.

An address, however, is form, and precisely that seems to be your weak side. Things may well be different as regards material? At least, one should suppose so, if one bears in mind: 1) that you have no lack of subject-matter, 2) that your situation is serious enough to arouse great interest, 3) that your father is perhaps somewhat partial in his attachment to you, etc., etc., etc., and yet after an interval of two months, the second of which caused me some unpleasant hours full of anxiety, I received a letter without form or content, a torn fragment saying nothing, which stood in no relation to what went before it and had no connection with the future!

If a correspondence is to be of interest and value, it must have consistency, and the writer must necessarily have his last letter before his eyes, as also the last reply. Your last letter but one contained much that excited my expectation. I had written a number of letters which asked for information on my points. And instead of all that, I received a letter of bits and fragments, and, what is much worse, an embittered letter.

Frankly speaking, my dear Karl, I do not like this modern word, which all weaklings use to cloak their feelings when they quarrel with the world because they do not possess, without labour or trouble, well-furnished palaces with vast sums of money and elegant carriages. This embitterment disgusts me and you are the last person from whom I would expect it. What grounds can you have for it? Has not everything smiled on you ever since your cradle? Has not nature endowed you with magnificent talents? Have not your parents lavished affection on you? Have you ever up to now been unable to satisfy your reasonable wishes? And have you not carried away in the most incomprehensible fashion the heart of a girl whom thousands envy you? Yet the first untoward event, the first disappointed wish, evokes embitterment! Is that strength? Is that a manly character?

You yourself had declared, in dry words, that you would be satisfied with assurances for the future, and because of them renounce all outward signs for the present. Did you not make that renunciation word for word in writing? And only children complain about the word they have given when they begin to feel pressure.

Yet here too your luck holds. Your good mother, who has a softer heart than I have and to whom it still very often occurs that we too were once the plaything of the little blind rogue, sounded the alarm, and the all too good parents of your Jenny could hardly wait for the moment when the poor, wounded heart would be consoled, and the recipe is undoubtedly already in your hands, if a defective address has not caused the epistle to go astray.

Time is limited, for Sophie is to take the letter before the post to the von Westphalens, who now live far away, and this good opportunity also was announced to me only today, so that I must conclude. As a matter of fact, at present I would not know what to say, at most I could only put questions to you, and I do not like to be importunate. Only one thing more my Herr Son will still allow me, namely, to express my surprise that I have still not received any request for money! Or do you perhaps want already now to make up for it from the too great amount taken? It's a little too early for that.

Your dear mother refused to reconcile herself entirely to the fact that you did not come home in the autumn as the others did. If it is too long for you and dear mother until next autumn, you could come for the Easter vacation.

Your faithful father


[Postscript by Marx's sister Sophie]

Good-bye, dear Karl, let us have news soon that you are now satisfied and that your mind is at rest. Until Easter, Karl, the hours until then will seem to me an eternity!