Edward Aveling (1895)

Engels at Home

First published: The Labour Prophet, Vol. IV, Nos. 45 and 45, 1895
Source: Reminscences of Marx and Engels, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, USSR
Transcription: by Graham Seaman for MIA, February 2021.


The newspapers, Socialist and otherwise, all over the world have given an account of the life and works of the great Socialist wno has just died. In this article something will be said of the inner side of his life.

The most impressive personalities I have ever met were Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Frederick Engels, and, in quite another direction of life, Henry Irving. In all four cases groat intellectual power was combined with great physical qualities. In the two cases of Marx and Darwin, although their works, written and active, have been more or less known to me, I had the great privilege of meeting them in the flesh on only one or two occasions. The only time that I saw Marx alive was when, as a young man, I gave a lecture to the children of the Orphan Working School, Haverstock Hill, on “Insects and Flowers.” It was a fete day at the school, and, besides the children, there was an audience of people interested in the school. When the lecture was over, an old gentleman with a very leonine head, together with a lady and a young girl, came up and introduced themselves to me. The gentleman was Karl Marx, the lady his wife, Jenny von Westphalen, and the young girl their daughter Eleanor. I remember to this day the kind and generous words of too generous appreciation and encouragement that Marx said to me. The next time I saw him he was dead. But I have still the impression of great bodily strength that he made upon me...

Engels was just upon six feet in height, and, until his last illness, an erect, soldierly man, bearing his burden of over seventy years lightly. This military bearing, with the quick, springy step, had some relation with the name by which he was always known to his intimate friends—the “General.” The actual origin of the name was his remarkable letters to the Pall Mall Gazette during the Franco-German war in 1870. In one of these he prophesied, some eight days before September 2, the decisive victory of the Germans over the French at Sedan. The letters altogether showed such a knowledge of the art of war that the public believed they were written by a great military authority. As indeed they were. But the great military authority was the Manchester cotton-spinner and Socialist. Of course, the name had later on also the inner significance that he was the leader in the fight of the Socialist army against capitalism, after the death of the com- mander-in-chief, Marx.


Who that was present, only once even, will ever forget those wonderful Sundays at 122, Regent’s Park Road! The friend of Marx and his wife and of Engels, Hélène Demuth, was alive and acting as his housekeeper and as his trusted counsellor and adviser, not only in the matters of daily life, but even in politics, where her shrewd common sense, transparent honesty, and judgement of men, women, and things, made her a helpmate even to the two giants Marx and Engels....

It was a little like the Tower of Babel business. For not only those of us that were really of his family were present, but the Socialists from other countries made 122, Regent’s Park Road their Mecca.

Engels could converse with all of them in their own language. Like Marx, he spoke and wrote German, French, and English perfectly; nearly as perfectly Italian, Spanish, Danish; and also read, and could get along with, Russian, Polish, and Rumanian, not to mention such trivialities as Latin and Greek.

Every day, every post, brought to his house newspapers and letters in every European language, and it was astonishing how he found time, with all his other work, to look through, keep in order, and remember the chief contents of them all. When anything of his writings, or of Marx’s writings, was to be translated into other languages, the translators always sent the translations to him for supervision and correction. And who shall say there is nothing in phrenology, when it is recorded that a phrenologist at Yarmouth, examining Engels’s head for bumps, said, to the huge delight of his companions, that the gentleman was a “good man of business” (which was true enough), “but had no talent for languages” (which was not strictly true).

Besides his language qualifications, Engels was in all other respects an admirable host. He was hospitality itself, and of very good breeding.... During the week days, unless some of us went over to see him, and lunch or dine, he lived with singular frugality. But on the Sundays, with his friends around him, his delight in seeing them enjoying themselves with the best of everything he could provide was itself a delight.

A list of those who were always welcome at 122, Regent’s Park Road, reads like a condensed epitome of the Socialist movement. In this article I only give the names of those who I personally know visited Engels in the twelve years during which I had the high honour of being regarded as one of his household.

Of the Germans, Wilhelm Liebknecht, the oldest friend in Germany of Marx and Engels, “the old soldier of the Revolution,” as the Germans call him, “Library,” as the Marx family always called him, the kindest, the most genial, and most boon companion among able men; August Bebel, the splendid tactician, fighter, and orator; the huge, hearty, frank, reliable Paul Singer.

Of those Germans that lived in London during the past few years, mention must be made of Richard Fischer, who on his return to Germany in 1890 was one of the secretaries of the Executive of the German Social-Democratic Party. And also of that most delightful fellow, whom we miss much in England, Tauscher, the snuff-taker, whose nose, probably from this habit, has grown to such portentous dimensions that he is nicknamed “Naso.”

Of those Germans still living in London, the veteran Internationalist, Frederick Lessner, the dependable, incorruptible man, with Liebknecht and the gentle, modest, and yet energetic Lochner (one of the oldest friends of Marx and Engels), the only survivor of the old Communist “Bund”; Julius Motteler, the businessman of the German Socfal-Democratic Party, absolutely trusted by them, and his honest, outspoken wife; Eduard Bernstein, editor of Sozialdemokrat in the years of the Anti-Socialist Law, the representative of the German party in England at present, and one in whom Engels had so much confidence that he made Bernstein one of his executors, and his wife, two of the truest and best friends Engels or anyone else ever had.

Of the French, there were always there when in England the children of Jenny, the eldest daughter of Marx, who died two months before her father in 1883; Charles Bernard,(1) when he was in London, who was not by any means the last in the affections of Engels; Delcluze, of Calais, and Roussel, of Paris, both active members of the Parti Ouvrier, when they came over to the May demonstrations. And this was the case also with Emile Vandervelde and An- seele, of Belgium.

Of the Austrians, there were, in addition to Mrs. Freyberger, who looked after his house after Hélène Demuth’s death, and Dr. Freyberger, who attended him in his last illness, Victor Adler, editor of Arbeiter Zeitung, the witty orator and profound thinker of the Austrian party, and Karl Kautsky, who, with Bernstein, is the only man who can in any way carry on the economic and literary work of Marx and Engels. Stanislas Mendelson and Marie Mendelson, both of whom can be charming and brilliant, and also thoughtful and faithful in at least four languages, represented the Poles.

Stepnyak came occasionally, and Vera Zasulich, since she came to England, was one of the constant visitors that needed no invitation. Georgy Plekhanov, her faithful friend and fellow-worker, one of the most able thinkers and wittiest men in the Party, whom the anarchists dread more than perhaps any other living writer, was, of course, during his short stay in England, always at Engels’s.

From America came, when international congresses were taking place, yet another Russian, Abraham Cahan, clear-headed, energetic organizer of the Jews in every land.

There was another foreign American whom the Atlantic kept away from Engels’s house, but who was one of his most welcome and constant correspondents, one who was, perhaps, of all men the closest intimate in the later years of both Marx and Engels. His name is Friedrich Adolf Sorge of Hoboken, near New York. Our meeting and association with him is amongst the most beautiful memories of the journey that my wife and I made with Engels and that prince of chemists, Socialists, and good fellows, the late Professor Schorlemmer, in 1888.

Of the English, William Thorne was the most welcome visitor of those outside the family circle. For him Engels had the very greatest admiration, respect, and affection; of his character, and his value to the movement, the very highest opinion. John Burns also, who was unable to come so often, he thought very highly of indeed. He liked him very much. He believed that Burns had that true proletarian instinct, which, in spite of the blunders to which all of us in politics are liable, would bring him out right end uppermost at last.

My young friend and Burns’s young friend, William Sanders, will, I am sure, remember as long as he lives the privilege of being an admitted guest at Engels’s house. Belfort Bax, also, when in England, was an occasional visitor, and had many a friendly passage-of-arms with Engels over Bax’s monomania, the woman question. Hunter Watts came once or twice, and recently I had what was to me the great pleasure of taking up and introducing to the “General” H. Quelch, the editor of Justice, who impressed Engels very favourably. William Morris, as far as I remember, came once. His mediaevalism Engels regarded with good-humoured toleration. For Cuninghame Graham he had a very great liking. Don Quixote he called him; and no one was more hearty in regret that Graham was not returned to the last Parliament, to balance the somewhat conflicting elements, Hardie and Burns.... Henry Champion and Keir Hardie, as far as I know, only saw him once.

Among the English must not be forgotten the old Chartist, George Julian Harney, who, in spite of his inveterate punning, was one of the oldest and closest friends of Engels....

Naturally, here, there is no need to mention in detail those, like the daughters of Marx, their husbands, Paul Lafargue and the present writer, Sam Moore, a very old, tried, and trusty friend of both the authors of the Communist Manifesto, and Karl Schorlemmer.

Time and space would fail me to speak of all the casual Socialists, if I may call them so, who, on flying visits to England, went to see Engels. And it must be borne in mind that he received not only the more prominent men and women; every soldier in the army was welcome at the “General’s.”

At the same time we must not think that his hospitality or friendship was, in any sense at all, general. He would not receive, and did not receive any whom he mistrusted. On one occasion at least, I remember when someone had come in with a deputation of foreigners, Engels made no bones whatever about instantly having him shown off the premises....


I think there is scarcely one of those I have mentioned who would not say with me that Engels was one of the most helpful men in the world. His very presence was an inspiration. So was his indomitable courage and hopefulness. When some of the younger were for despairing and giving way, this unconquerable fighter never lost heart, although he gave it again and again to the weaker ones. For those of us who saw him every Sunday of our lives of late years, and very often several times in the week, I may say that the loss of him is quite irreparable.

In all difficulties of every kind he was the man to be consulted—his was the advice to be followed. His encyclopaedic knowledge was always at the service of his friends. Everyone who had some special subject of his own found that Engels knew it better than himself. Thus, as to natural science, no matter what branch of it or what part of that branch he was asked about, he was always able to give some new idea, some further help.

As to politics, the one subject that all his friends had in common, all of them went to him for guidance. He knew not only the general principles, but the most minute details, of the economic, historical, political movement in every country.

His knowledge of the English movement, e.g., was extraordinarily profound and acute. It is something for the English to remember that he was upon the international platform of the Legal Eight Hours Demonstration Committee at every demonstration from the first in 1890 until in 1895 his failing health prevented him from coming.

To the last he kept up his interests in and study of contemporary politics. His acute criticisms upon the war between China and Japan(2) were as far-seeing as all of the many we have heard him make upon the events of the past few years. These were criticisms that simply astounded one by their profundity and astonishing grasp of everything and the bearing of everything, and that when they cautiously took the shape of prophecy upon political events were singularly accurate.

The very last political talk that he had was with the wife of the present writer, when she came back from Nottingham upon July 28th (he died on August 5th), and told him of the Independent Labour Party movement there. He was then far past speaking, but he kept up an energetic and most interested conversation upon the matter, asking pertinent and searching questions by the aid of his slate and pencil.

Engels was a good hater, as, indeed, everyone must be who is a good lover. He had at times, when he felt something wrong had been done, outbursts of anger; but he generally “did well to be angry.”

Oddly as it may sound, in some things he was conservative. He was a man of habit. He liked certain things done at the same time and in the same way each day.

But there are no words to speak of his reliability, his integrity, the strict business habits, and accuracy, which he seemed, in the best sense, to carry into his political and social relations. As Vera Zasulich said the other day, many a time he kept some of us from doing and saying the wrong thing by our thought—what would the General think of this?

It is difficult to conceive a more clear and luminous intellect. Whatever subject he touched he threw a flood of light upon. You saw what you had not seen before, and you saw more accurately that which you had seen. Nihil tetigit quod non ornavit, wrote Johnson of Oliver Goldsmith. His friends may write of Engels, “he touched nothing that he did not throw light upon.” And his style as a writer, both in German and English, was, what is especially rare in a German, lucid, bright, and trenchant.


With all these remarkable qualities, he had the rare and saving grace of humour. He enjoyed a joke in every language. He was the most jovial of companions. Upon those immortal Sundays necessarily most of the talk ran upon political and Party matters. We had all come to learn something. But much of the talk was of the lightest nature, and the fun was sometimes fast and furious.

When there were only a few of us there, he loved a game of cards for counters at the high price of a halfpenny a dozen, and was as keen about making “matrimony” or “nap” as if the fate of nations depended upon it...

Our field nights were those of the German elections. Then Engels laid in a huge cask of special German beer, laid on a special supper, invited his very intimates. Then, as the telegrams came pouring in from all parts of Germany far on into the night, every telegram was torn open, its contents read aloud by the General, and if it was victory we drank, and if it was defeat we drank.

In 1888, as I have said, we had a journey with him and Schorlemmer to America and Canada. Engels was the youngest of the party. He preferred, on board ship, leaping over a seat to walking round it. He never once, like the ordinary traveller, got out of temper, except when he counted sixtyeight mosquito bites before breakfast (his breakfast), and when our luggage was at New York and we were at Boston....

During his last illness at Eastbourne, in spite of all the pain and weakness, there were flashes of the old geniality and joviality, and never, to the very end, did his kindness to and thoughtfulness for everyone for a moment cease. Of that kindness and generosity this is not the place to speak. Every one of his friends can think of that unparalleled generosity and kindness silently, and will have much food for thought.

I know that the readers of the Labour Prophet will understand and forbear when it is necessary, in the interests of historic truth, to say that Engels was an atheist. That is, he was absolutely without God, and therefore with hope in the world. He had no sympathy whatever with the Labour Church, and recognized it as a distinct clog upon the movement—a clog, of course, only possible in this country. Socialism as a science was to him quite outside speculative beliefs. Whether a man was Christian or atheist had nothing to do with his socialism. He held, of course, that Christian socialism was a contradiction in terms, and felt very strongly that Christians have no more right to label socialism with the limiting adjective of their shibboleth, than we should dream of speaking of atheistic socialism.

His life was a beautiful one, and he loved it.... With his knowledge, his good work well done, his certainty of the future of the movement, his troops of friends-—among whom of course Marx was the first, the last, the be-all and the end-all—his intense joy of living, he, more than most men, rightly enough loved and clung to life. Not, of course, that he had for a moment the slightest fear of death. No one who knew him but would give all they possessed in the world to be at the end of such a life as his.

It is something for English people to remember that the work of Marx and Engels was mainly done for the world in this little country, and that both of them died here. That is a higher honour than can be conferred by the tombs and mausoleums of all the kings and conquerors in the world. The places for the dead that will be most visited hereafter will be the grave at Highgate, and the simple little building among the pines of Woking.

1. Pseudonym of the French Socialist Charles Bonnier. —EdBACK

2. In 1894-5. —EdBACK