Eleanor Marx and Sedley Taylor 1884
An exchange of letters between Sedley Taylor, a well-known fellow of Trinity, and Eleanor Marx.
First Published: “Mr Marx and Gladstone’s Budget of 1863,” To-day, Jan-June 1884, pp.228-235;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford for marxists.org 2005;
Copy Left: this work is free of copyright.
No one can regret more than I do that Miss Marx should have been refused the public hearing to which she was so manifestly entitled, I am, however, far from thinking with her that the question whether a particular sentence did, or did not, occur in Mr. Gladstone’s speech “was the only point at issue between” Dr. Marx and Professor Brentano. I regard that question as having been of very subordinate importance compared to the issue whether the quotation in dispute was made with the intention of conveying, or of perverting, Mr. Gladstone’s meaning.
It would obviously be impossible to discuss in this letter the contents of the voluminous Brentano-Marx controversy without making an inadmissible demand on your space. As, however, Miss Marx has in your columns characterised as a “calumny” and “libel” an opinion publicly expressed by me, I feel bound to ask your insertion, side by side, of the two following extracts, which will enable your readers to judge for themselves whether Dr. Marx has quoted fairly or unfairly from the Budget Speech of 1863 in his great work, “Das Kapital.” My reason for using the “Times’” report in preference to that of Hansard will be obvious to readers of Dr. Marx’ letters in his correspondence with Brentano.
|“Times,” April 17, 1863.||Das Kapital, 2nd edition 1872, page 678, note 103|
|In ten years, from 1842 to 1852 inclusive, the taxable income of the country, as nearly as we can make out, increased by 6 per cent.; but in eight years, from 1853 to 1861, the income of the country again increased from the basis taken by 20 per cent. That is a fact so strange as to be almost incredible. ... I must say for one, I should look almost with apprehension and with pain upon this intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power if it were my belief that it was confined to the classes in easy circumstances. This takes no cognisance at all of the condition of the labouring population. The augmentation I have described, and which is founded, I think, upon accurate returns, is an augmentation entirely confined to classes possessed of property. Now, the augmentation of capital is of indirect benefit to the labourer, because it cheapens the commodity which in the business of production comes into direct competition with labour. But we have this profound, and I must say, inestimable consolation, that, while the rich have been growing richer, the poor have been growing less poor. Whether the extremes of poverty are less extreme than they were I do not presume to say, but the average condition of the British labourer, we have the happiness to know, has improved during the last 20 years in a degree that we know to be extraordinary, and which we may almost pronounce to be unexampled in the history of any country and of any age.||“From 1842 to 1852 inclusive, the taxable income of the country|
increased by 6 per cent ... in eight years, from 1853 to 1861, it had increased from the basis in 1853 by 20 per cent.
That is a fact so astonishing as to be almost incredible
this intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power
entirely confined to classes of property.
must be indirect benefit to the labouring population, because it cheapens the commodities of general consumption
while the rich have been growing richer, the poor have been growing less poor! At any rate whether the extremes of poverty are less extreme I do not presume to say,
Mr Gladstone in the House of Commons, 16th April 1863
I invite especial attention to the hearing on Mr. Gladstone’s meaning, of the passages in the “Times'” report which I have thrown into italics. The sentence, “I must say . . easy circumstances,” conveys the speaker’s belief that the intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power previously described was not confined to those in easy circumstances. There is, it is true, a verbal contrariety with the later sentence, “The augmentation .... property,” but the intervening words, “This takes no cognisance . . population,” unmistakably show what Mr. Gladstone meant, viz., that the figures which he had given, being based on the income-tax returns, included only incomes above the exemption limit,* and therefore afforded no indication to what extent the total earnings of the labouring population had increased during the period under consideration. The closing passage, from “but the average” to the end, announces in the most emphatic language that, on evidence independent of that obtained from the income-tax returns, Mr. Gladstone recognised as indubitable an extraordinary and almost unexampled improvement in the average condition of the British labourer.
Now, with what object were these essential passages almost wholly struck out in the process by which the newspaper report was reduced to the remarkable form in which it appears in Dr. Marx’ work? Clearly, I think, in order that the arbitrarily-constructed mosaic, pieced together out of such of Mr. Gladstone’s words as were allowed to remain, might be understood as asserting that the earnings of the labouring population had made but insignificant progress, while the incomes of the possessing classes had increased .enormously – a view which the omitted passages explicitly repudiate in favour of a very different opinion.
I must not pass over unnoticed the fact that the German translation of this docked citation in the text of “Das Kapital” is immediately followed there by the expression of Dr. Marx’ contemptuous astonishment at the “lame anti-climax” presented by the sentence made to figure as the conclusion of Mr. Gladstone’s paragraph, when compared with his previous description of the growth of wealth among the possessing classes. – I am, Gentlemen, yours truly,
Trinity College, Cambridge
February 8th, 1884.
* This stood at £150 from 1842 to 1853, and was then lowered to £100.
Mr. Sedley Taylor disputes my statement that, when the anonymous slanderer fell foul of Dr. Marx, the only point at issue was whether Mr. Gladstone had used certain words or not. According to him, the real question was, “whether the quotation in dispute was made with the intention of conveying or of perverting Mr. Gladstone’s meaning.”
I have before me the Concordia article (No.10, 7th March, 1872,) “How Karl Marx quotes.” Here the anonymous author first quotes the “Inaugural Address” of the International; then the passage of Mr. Gladstone’s speech, in full, from Hansard; then he condenses the passage in his own way, and to his own satisfaction; and lastly, he concludes, “Marx takes advantage of this to make Gladstone say, ‘This intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power is entirely confined to classes possessed of property.’ This sentence, however, is nowhere to be found in Gladstone’s speech. The very contrary is said in it. Marx has lyingly added this sentence, both as to form and contents.
That is the charge, and the only charge, made against Dr. Marx. He is indeed accused of perverting Mr. Gladstone’s meaning by “lying1y adding” a whole sentence. Not a word about misleading,” or “craftily isolated” quotations. The question simply is, “whether a particular sentence did, or did not, occur in Mr. Gladstone’s speech.
Of two things, one. Either Mr. Taylor has read Brentano’s attacks and my father’s replies, and then hits assertion is in direct contradiction of what he cannot help knowing to be the truth. Or else he has not. And then? Here is a man who dates his letters from Trinity College, Cambridge, who goes out of his way to assail my dead father’s literary honesty in a way which must needs turn out to be a “calumny” unless he proves his case; who makes this charge upon the strength of a literary controversy dating as far back as 1872 between an anonymous writer (whom Mr. Taylor now asserts to be Professor Brentano) and my father; who describes in glowing terms the “masterly conduct” in which Saint George Brentano led his attack, and the “deadly shifts” to which he speedily reduced the dragon Marx: who can give us all particulars of the crushing results obtained by the said St. George “by a detailed comparison of texts;” and who after all, puts me into this delicate position that I am in charity bound to assume that he has never read a line of what he is speaking about.
Had Mr. Taylor seen the “masterly” articles of his anonymous friend, he would have found therein the following: “Now we ask; does anyone tell a lie only then when he himself invents an untruth, or does he not tell a lie unite as much when he repeats it contrary to what he knows, or is bound to know better?” Thus saith the “masterly” Brentano, as virtuous as he is anonymous, in his rejoinder to my father’s first reply (Concordia, No.27, 4th July, 1872, p.210). And on the same page he still maintains against all comers: “According to the Times report, too, Mr. Gladstone said he believed this intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power not to be confined to classes of property.”
If Brentano thus appears utterly ignorant of what was the real point at issue, is Mr. Sedley Taylor better off? In his letter to the Times it was a quotation made in the ‘Inaugural Address’ of the International. In his letter to To-Day it is a quotation in “Das Kapital.” The ground is shifted again, but I need not object. Mr. Taylor now gives us the Gladstonian passage as quoted on pages 678 and 679 of “Das Kapital,'’ side by side with the same passage as reported – not by Hansard but by the Times. “My reason for using the Times report instead of that of Hansard, will be obvious to readers of Dr. Marx’ letters and his correspondence with Brentano.” Mr. Taylor, its we have seen, is not of these “readers.” His reason for his proceeding may therefore he obvious to others, but upon his own showing at least, it can hardly be so to himself.
Anyhow, from Hansard the Infallible we are brought down to that very report, for using which the anonymous Brentano (Concordia, same page, 210), assails my father as quoting “necessarily bungling (stümperhafte) newspaper reports.” At any rate, Mr. Taylor’s “reason” must be very “obvious” to his friend Brentano.
To me that reason is obvious indeed. The words which my father was accused of having lyingly added (“an augmentation,” etc.,) these words are contained in the Times as well as in the other dailies’ reports, while in Hansard they are not only “manipulated,” but entirely “obliterated.” Marx established this fact. Mr. Taylor, in his letter to the Times, still awfully shocked at such unpardonable “hardihood,” is now himself compelled to drop the impeachable Hansard, and to take refuge under what Brentano calls the “necessarily bungling” report of the Times.
Now for the quotation itself. Mr. Taylor invites especial attention to two passages thrown by him into italics. In the first he owns: “There is, it is true, a verbal contrariety with the latter sentence; the augmentation ... property; but the intervening words: this takes ... population, unmistakeably show what Mr. Gladstone meant,” etc., etc. Here we are plainly on theological ground. It is the well-known style of orthodox interpretation of the Bible. The passage, it is true, is in itself contradictory, but if interpreted according to the true faith of a believer, you will find that it will bear out a meaning not in contradiction with that true faith. If Mr. Taylor interprets Mr. Gladstone as Mr. Gladstone interprets the Bible, he must not expect any but the orthodox to follow him.
Now Mr. Gladstone on that particular occasion, either did speak English or he did not. If he did not, no manner of quotation or interpretation will avail. If he did, he said that he should be very sorry if that intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power was confined to classes in easy circumstances, but that it was confined entirely to classes of property. And that is what Marx quoted. The second passage is one of those stock phrases which are repeated, with slight variations, in every British budget speech, seasons of bad trade alone excepted. What Marx thought of it, and of the whole speech is shown in the following extract from his second reply to his anonymous slanderer; “Gladstone, having poured forth his panegyric on the increase of capitalist wealth, turns towards the working class. He takes good care not to say that they had shared in the intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power. On the contrary, he continues (according to the Times): “Now, the augmentation of capital is of indirect benefit to the labourers,” etc. He consoles himself with the fact that while the rich have been growing richer, the poor have been growing less poor. He asserts, finally, he and his enriched parliamentary friends “have the happiness to know” the contrary of what official enquiries and statistical dates prove to be the fact, viz., “that the average condition of the British labourer has improved during the last 20 years in a degree which we know to be extraordinary, and which we may almost pronounce to be unexampled in the history of any country and of any age.” Before Mr. Gladstone, all his predecessors “had the happiness” to complete in their budget speeches the picture of the augmentation of capitalist wealth by self-complacent phrases about the improvement in the condition of the working class. Yet he gives the lie to them all; for the millennium dates only from the passing of the Free Trade legislation. But the correctness or incorrectness of Gladstone’s reasons for consolation and congratulation is a matter of indifference here. What alone concerns us is this, that from his stand-point the pretended “extraordinary” improvement in the condition of the working-class is not at all in contradiction with the augmentation of wealth and power which is entirely confined to classes possessed of property. It is the orthodox doctrine of the mouth-pieces of capital – one of the best paid of whom is Gladstone – that the most infallible means for working men to benefit themselves is – to enrich their exploiters.” (Volkstaat, No.63, Aug. 7, 1872).
Moreover, to please Mr. Taylor, the said passage of Mr. Gladstone’s speech is quoted in full in the Inaugural Address, page 5, immediately before the quotation in dispute. And what else but this address did Mr. Taylor originally impute? Is it as impossible to get a reference to original sources out of him, as it was to get reasons out of Dogberry?
“The continuous crying contradictions in Gladstone’s budget speeches” form the subject of Note 105 on the same page (679) of “Das Kapital” to which Mr. Taylor refers us. Very likely indeed, that Marx should have taken the trouble to suppress “in had faith” one of the contradictions! Quite the contrary. He has not suppressed anything worth quoting, neither has he “lyingly” added anything. But he has restored, rescued from oblivion, a particular sentence of one of Mr. Gladstone’s speeches, a sentence which had indubitably been pronounced, but which some how or other had found its way – out of Hansard.