Reports from Bremen (4)

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written January 1841

First published: in Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser Nos. 13-16, January 15-19, 1841
Published in English in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 2
Keywords : Rationalism, Religion

Ecclesiastical Controversy[edit source]

Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser No. 13, January 15, 1841[edit source]

With the old year the records of our ecclesiastical controversy may be more or less closed. At least, any future polemical treatises can now no longer count on the public interest which the earlier ones enjoyed; it will not happen again that several editions are sold out in a week. And yet this kind of controversy depends mainly on such participation by the people; a purely scientific interest cannot be claimed by a question which is only valid in terms of trends long since disposed of by science. — Pastor Paniel justified the delayed appearance of his treatise against Krummacher’s Theologische Replik by its size [K. F. W. Paniel, Unverholene Beurtheilung]. He attacks his adversary with ten sheets of print. In the preface he explains that he wishes to reply to possible future attacks with a history of pietism and to prove in it that this movement has its source in paganism. That would indeed have to be a source like Arethusa, which ran under the earth for a long time before it came to the surface on Christian soil. [1] For the rest he practises the right of retaliation on his attacker, for not only does he repeat the charges usually made against pietism, but conscientiously flings back at him almost every hostile word. In this fashion the whole controversy is finally reduced to quibbling; half-true claims fly back and forth like play-balls, and in the last resort it becomes merely a matter of defining terms which, of course, ought to have been done before the controversy began. But face to face with orthodoxy rationalism will always find itself in this predicament. It owes this to its vacillating position, wanting to rank now as a new development of the Christian spirit, now as its original form, and in both cases it appropriates the biblical catchwords of orthodoxy, only with a different meaning. It is not honest either with itself or with the Bible; the concepts of revelation, redemption and inspiration have a highly uncertain and twisted meaning on its lips. — The dry reasoning of rationalism has reached a rare height in Paniel. With a forbidding logic, more like that of Wolf than of Kant, he takes the greatest pride in making the whole structure of his work glaringly apparent. His arguments are not the living flesh in which the logical skeleton is clothed, but rags soaked in a mush of sentimentality which he hangs out to dry on the jutting corners of the church building. Then Paniel also has a great liking for those watery digressions in which one recognises the rationalist everywhere, despite the most orthodox catchwords; yet he does not know how to blend them with the dryness of his reasoning and often finds himself compelled to interrupt the most beautiful stream of phrases by a firstly, secondly, and thirdly. But nothing is more repugnant than this tasteless flabbiness when there is method in it. The most interesting part of the whole book are the excerpts from Krummacher’s writings, where his crass manner of thinking shines out in all its sharpness. — The decisiveness with which rationalism acted here moved the preachers of the opposing party to draw up a joint declaration which was put in pamphlet form and signed by twenty-two preachers [Behenntniss bremischer Pastoren in Sachen der Wahrheit] It contains the principles of orthodoxy coherently presented and with a half-concealed reference to the facts of the unresolved controversy. An intended declaration by the seven rationalist preachers failed to appear. It would be a very great mistake, however, to judge the proportionate strength of the parties among the public by the relative numbers of the preachers.

Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser No. 14, January 16, 1841[edit source]

The great majority of the pietistic preachers in the area is made up of pastors who owe their positions partly to the temporary preponderance of their party, partly to a mild nepotism. Among the public, on the contrary, the rationalists at least balance the pietists in numbers, and all they lacked was an energetic representative to make them conscious of their position. In this respect Paniel is of incalculable value to his supporters; he has courage, determination and in many respects also sufficient learning, and lacks only the talent of rhetoric and writing to achieve something of significance. Latterly several little pamphlets have appeared, mostly anonymous, all of which remained without any influence on the public, however. A few days ago, a sheet of Unpietistische Reime came out which does not do its author any particular credit and is mentioned only for its curiosity value. The chief spokesman of the Bremen pietists, the talented preacher F. L. Mallet, has promised a treatise entitled Dr. Paniel und die Bibel; but since it will hardly be able to count on the attention of the opposing party, one may assume the controversy to be over and summarise the complete facts from a general point of view. — It must be admitted that this time pietism has conducted itself with more skill than its opponent. It also had certain advantages over rationalism, a prestige of two thousand years’ standing and a scientific, if one-sided, training through the latest orthodox and semi-orthodox theologians, while rationalism in its finest development, was caught between two fires and attacked simultaneously by Tholuck and Hegel. Rationalism has never been clear about its attitude to the Bible; the unhappy half-way stance which at first appeared definitely to imply belief in revelation but in further argumentation so restricted the divinity of the Bible that almost nothing remained of it, this vacillation puts rationalism at a disadvantage whenever it is a question of giving its tenets a biblical foundation. Why praise reason without proclaiming its autonomy? For where the Bible is acknowledged by both sides as the common basis, pietism is always right. However, this time talent, too, was on the side of pietism. A Krummacher may show bad taste in many a single passage, but he will never go round and round for whole pages in such empty phrases as does Paniel. The best that was written from the rationalist side was Die Verfluchungen, of which W E. Weber acknowledged himself to be the author. G. Schwab once said of Strauss that he stood out from the great throng of opponents of the positive by a receptive awareness of the beautiful in every form. By the same token I should distinguish Weber from the ordinary run of rationalist. He has broadened his horizon by a rare knowledge of the Greek and German classics, and even if one cannot always agree with his assertions, particularly when they relate to dogma, his free mind and noble, vigorous diction must always find recognition. A recently published opposition pamphlet lacks all these qualities. A treatise just received here, Paulus in Bremen, [The author of the anonymous pamphlet was Eduard Beurmann] is written not without wit and contains piquant digs at political and social conditions in Bremen, but it is as inconclusive as those already mentioned. — This controversy was of great importance for Bremen especially. The parties opposed each other without thought, and things did not go any further than petty heckling. Pietism pursued its own purposes, while rationalism did not care about it and for that very reason had many mistaken notions about it. In the Ministerium, that is, the official assembly of all the Reformed and United preachers of the town, rationalism had hitherto been represented by only two members, and very timid ones at that; as soon as Paniel arrived, he acted more resolutely and presently we began to hear of dissension in the Ministerium. Now, since Krummacher fanned the controversy, each party knows where it stands. Pietism had long known that its principle of authority could not be reconciled with reason, the basis of rationalism, and correctly saw in that trend, even when it was only germinating, a falling away from old orthodox Christianity. Now even the rationalist has realised that his belief is not distinguished from pietism by a different interpretation of the Bible, but stands in direct opposition to it. Only now that the parties are getting to know each other, is a unification on a higher plane possible, and in that regard the future can be awaited with tranquillity.

Relation to Literature. Music[edit source]

Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser No. 15, January 18, 1841[edit source]

It seems that the Hanseatic towns are now to be drawn forcibly into the stream of literature. Since Beurmann’s Shizzen, there have been frequent discussions of this undeniably interesting topic. Beurmann himself, in Deutschland und die Deutschen, has given considerable space to the three free maritime cities. The Freihafen carried Soltwedel’s Hanseatische Briefe. Hamburg has had some relation to German literature for a long time; Lübeck occupies a slightly too peripheral position and its age of material prosperity is also long past; yet A. Soltwedel is to found a journal there too. Bremen eyes literature suspiciously since it has not got a very clear conscience with respect to it and is not usually treated very gently by it. And yet with its position and political conditions Bremen is undeniably better suited to be a centre for the culture of North-West Germany than any other city. If only two or three capable men of letters could be attracted here, it would be possible to found a journal which would have a most important influence on the cultural development of North Germany. The book-dealers of Bremen are enterprising enough, and I have heard it said already by several of them that they would be glad to provide the necessary funds and willing to bear the probable losses of the first few years of publication.

The best thing about Bremen is its music. There are few towns in Germany with so much and such good music as here. A relatively very large number of choral societies have been formed and the frequent concerts are always well attended. Musical taste, moreover, has remained almost quite pure; the German classics, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, of the more modern composers Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and the best song composers, are decidedly preponderant. The new French and new Italian schools have an audience almost only among the young office employees. One might only wish that Sebastian Bach, Gluck and Haydn were less pushed into the background. Nor are more recent compositions rejected ; on the contrary, there are perhaps few places where the works of young German composers are performed as readily as here. There have also always been names here which enjoyed a high reputation in the musical world. The talented song composer Stegmayer conducted the orchestra of our theatre for several years; his place has now been taken by Kossmaly, who will have made many friends partly with his compositions, partly with the articles which he publishes mostly in Schumann’s Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. Riem, who conducts the choir and most of the concerts, is also a recognised composer. Riem is a lovable old man with a youthful, infectious enthusiasm in his heart; nobody knows as well as he does how to inspire both singers and instrumentalists to lively performance.

Low German[edit source]

Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser No. 16, January 19, 1841[edit source]

What first strikes the stranger here is the use of the Low German language, even in the most respected families. As soon as the people of Bremen become cordial and familiar they speak Low German; indeed they are so attached to this dialect that they carry it over the ocean. On the Lonja in Havana as much Bremen Low German is spoken as Spanish. I know people who have learnt the Bremen dialect perfectly in New York and Veracruz from the a Stock exchange. Bremen people living there in large numbers. It is, of course, not yet three hundred years since High German was declared the official language; the basic laws of the city, the Tafel and the Neue Eintracht, [2] are written in the Low German language, and the first sounds which an infant here learns to imitate are Low German. It is rare for a child to begin to speak High German before the age of four or five. The peasants in this region never learn it and thus very often compel the courts to conduct proceedings in Low German and record in High German. Incidentally, Low Saxon is still spoken here in a very pure form and has remained completely free from mixing with High German forms, which disfigures the Hessian and Rhenish dialects. The North-Hanoverian dialect has certain archaisms which are not found in the Bremen dialect but suffers all the more from various local colourings; the Westphalian has lost greatly through a most ugly broadening of the diphthongs, while west of the Weser the transition to Frisian begins. One may safely regard the dialect of Bremen as the purest further development of the old Low Saxon written language; even now the popular language is so conscious of itself that it constantly changes High German words in accordance with the phonetic laws of Low German and assimilates them, a capacity which only a few Low Saxon popular dialects still enjoy. Almost the only thing which distinguishes the language of Reineke Vos [3] from the present dialect is its fuller, now contracted, forms, while the roots of the words, with few exceptions, still survive. The linguists were therefore quite right to regard the Bremisches Wörterbuch as giving the lexical median of present-day Low Saxon popular idioms, and a grammar of the Bremen dialect taking into consideration the dialects between the Weser and the Elbe would be a most meritorious work. Several scholars here have displayed interest in Low German, and it is greatly to be desired that one of them should undertake this task.

  1. In Greek mythology, the nymph Arethusa, daughter of Nereus and Doris, pursued by the river-god Alpheus fled, by swimming over the sea or crossing the sea bed, to Sicily where she turned into a spring. Several other springs in ancient Greece bore the name of Arethusa
  2. Bremen’s basic laws dated back to the Middle Ages: the Tafel (Table) was drawn up in 1433 and the Neue Eintracht (New Concord) in 1534
  3. This folk epic was published in Lübeck in 1498 in the Low German — dialect (Reyneke Vos).