WHILE on a journey in Holland in March, 1843, the twentyfive-year-old Dr. Karl Marx wrote to his friend Rugge a letter in which he described the follies of Frederick William IV of Prussia. He added: 'The State is too serious a concern to be turned into a harlequinade. It is possible that a ship manned by idiots might run before the storm for a time. Its fate would nevertheless overtake it if for no other reason than that the idiots would not realize it. In our case this doom is the Revolution that is at our doors.'
This trumpet-blast was answered by Rugge in a mood of deep pessimism.
'Although it is a hard saying,' he wrote, 'I must write it because it is the truth. I cannot imagine any nation that is so disunited as the German nation. You see workmen -- and not men; thinkers -- and not men; masters and servants, young people and those who are already settled in life, but not men. Is that not a battle-field where arms and legs and mutilated bodies lie heaped on one another while the life-blood runs out upon the ground? Hölderlin in Hyperion. That describes my mood; and unfortunately it is not a new one. The same cleavage works at different ages in the same manner in all humanity. Your letter is filled with illusory ideas. Your courage only serves to intensify my lack of spirit. You say that we -- the contemporaries of these Germans -- are going to experience a political revolution? Your wish is father to your thought, my friend. Oh, I have lived through it all! Hope is sweet and disappointment bitter, very bitter. It takes more courage to despair than to hope. Nevertheless, it is the courage of commonsense, and we have reached the point at which we dare not let ourselves be disappointed any longer.'
Rugge went on to add: 'In so far as one can speak of a German spirit, it is contemptible, and it gives me no qualms of conscience to declare that it is owing to its contemptible nature that it appears as it does.' He concluded his letter with the words, 'Our nation has no future. What does our reputation matter?'