Paul Lafargue 1905

Frederick Engels

Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. 9. no. 8, 15 August 1905, pp. 483-488;
Translated: by Jacques Bonhomme;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Frederick Engels, the friend and co-worker of Karl Marx, died in London on August 5, 1895. Eulogistic articles have appeared in the Socialist papers in Germany and Austria, and the following is a translation of an article by Marx’s son-in-law, which was published in “Die Neue Zeit,” for July 29 of this year: –

Personal Recollections of Engels

I made the acquaintance of Engels in 1867 – the year in which the first volume of “Capital” was published. “I must introduce you to Engels,” said Marx to me, “as you are engaged to my daughter”; and we went together to Manchester. Engels lived with his wife and her niece, who was then six or seven years old, in a little house in the suburbs of the town, only a little way from the open country. He was then partner in a firm which his father had established. Like Marx, he had fled to London from the Continent, after the failure of the revolution,[1] and he still took a part in political agitation, and still studied. Marx had lost his property and that of his wife in the revolutionary storm; and Engels had no money, and he had to agree to go to Manchester, and become a clerk in his father’s business, which he had left in 1845, while Marx became a weekly correspondent of the “New York Tribune,” and thus obtained money for the needs of his family.

Engels, till 1870, led a kind of double life. On six days of the week, from ten till four, he was a merchant, who superintended the correspondence, in many languages, of his firm, and went to the Exchange. He had an office in the centre of the town, where he received his commercial friends. But he received his political and scientific friends in his small house; among these were the chemist Schorlemmer and Samuel Moore, who afterwards translated the first volume of the “Capital” into English. His wife, who was of Irish origin, and a warm patriot, was in close relation with the Irish, who were numerous in Manchester, and knew of their plans. Many Fenians sought refuge in her house, and among them the man who planned the rescue of the Irish prisoners from the prison van. Engels, who was interested in the Fenian question, had collected documents for a history of the English rule in Ireland. (These must still be with his papers, for they were carefully copied and preserved.)

In the evening, free from business slavery, he returned to his little home, where he was once more a free man. He not only took part in the industrial life of Manchester, but also partook of its pleasures, attended meetings, banquets and sports. He had a hunter, and rode to hounds, and he was a very bold rider, jumping walls, ditches, & c., as he liked to be in at the death. “I am always afraid,” said Marx to me, “that one day I shall hear that he has met with an accident.”

I do not know whether his middle-class acquaintances were aware of his previous life. Englishmen are uncommonly discreet, and do not care to meddle with things which do not concern them,[2] and at all events they could not have known anything of the value of the man whom they saw every day, for Engels did not talk about his ideas. The man whom Marx considered the most learned man of Europe was only looked upon as a jolly companion who enjoyed his glass. Once Madame Marx heard a lady say in 1848, “Engels is a frivolous man,” and that was the opinion of the Manchester merchants. No learned man was ever less pedantic than he.

Till the end of his days he remained a hasty traveller and a pleasant comrade; he loved the society of the young, and he was a model host. Many London Socialists, passing travellers, exiles from all countries, have gathered at his friendly table on Sundays, and they all left his house delighted with the evening they had spent, enlivened by his cheerful hospitality, his wit, and his great vivacity.

* * *

It is impossible to speak about Engels without referring at the same time to Marx. The web of their lives was so closely interwoven that it was as if it were only one life; and yet they were quite different personalities, not only owing to outward circumstances, but to different character and temperament. They knew each other in November, 1842, after a visit which Engels paid to the office of the “Rheinische Zeitung.” When Marx, owing to the suppression of that paper, took the opportunity of getting married and going to France, Engels paid him a visit of a few days in Paris in September. 1844. “We both,” writes Engels in his biography of Marx, “were engaged on the Deutsch-franzosischen Jahrbuchern,” and corresponded, and from that date began our joint labours, which lasted till the death of Marx.” In 1845, at the request of the Prussian Government, Guizot expelled Marx from France, and he went to Brussels. When the Revolution of 1848 was the cause of the reappearance of the “Rheinische Zeitung,” Engels again came to help Marx, and edited the paper in his absence. Yet Engels never acquired the same influence as Marx over the writers of that paper, who were full of talent, revolutionary ardour, and love of fighting.

Marx told me that once when he came back from a journey to Vienna he found everybody at loggerheads, which Engels could not quell, and differences were so great that it was thought they would have to be settled by duels, and it required all Marx’s diplomatic gifts to restore peace. Marx was a born leader of men, he exercised his influence over all those with whom he came in contact. Engels was the first to recognise this; often has he said to me that Marx from his earliest youth had asserted the clearness and precision of his nature, he was a real leader in whom everybody had complete confidence and even solved problems by his tact which seemed at first sight beyond his skill. For instance, Wolff, to whom the first volume of “Capital” is dedicated, was very ill at Manchester, where he lived. The doctors gave him up, but Engels and his friends would not believe it and all said that Marx must be summoned by telegraph in order that his opinion might be ascertained.

Engels, who had lived in England and had studied there the theories of political economy, the condition of the workers, the rise of industry, and the Chartist movement, exercised an undoubted influence on the mind of Marx, who, up till then, had been mainly interested with philosophy, history, law and mathematics. It was Engels who first advised him to turn his attention to political economy, of which his family and the professors at the university had only a very poor opinion. Soon it became clear to Marx that in the study of economics was to be found the key to the history of society and of ideas. Engels told me that Marx in 1848, in Paris, at the Café de la Regence, one of the first centres of the Revolution of 1789, had first sketched out to him the outlines of his theory of the materialist conception of history.

Engels and Marx had acquired the habit of working together. Engels in this way often acted as a stimulus on Marx, who did not like to begin his work till he had got everything well in hand and was at times too diffident to begin.

After the downfall of the Revolution the two friends had to separate. Engels went to Manchester, Marx went to London, but though separated they lived together in thought. Nearly every day during 17 years they corresponded and thus kept each other informed of the progress of their studies and communicated their thoughts on political affairs. This correspondence still exists. Engels left Manchester as soon as he could become free from his business yoke, and went to London where he settled in Regent’s Park Road, ten minutes’ distance from Maitland Park where Marx lived. Every day about one o’clock he went to see Marx, and if the weather were fine and Marx felt in good form, they used to go for a walk on Hampstead Heath. If they did not go out they would stay together for one or two hours to talk walking up and down in Marx’s study, each walking diagonally across the room. I remember a discussion on the Albigenses which lasted for several days. Marx had studied the part played in the Middle Ages by the Jewish and Christian financiers. When they were not together they used to study the same subjects in order to communicate to each other the results of their researches. They had the highest opinion of each other and did not think so highly of criticisms from other sources. Marx was never weary of expressing astonishment at the universality of the knowledge of Engels, as well as the wonderful keenness of his mind, which enabled him to see things with lightning rapidity; and Engels was always ready to recognise the powers of Marx’s analysis and synthesis. “Certainly,” he said to me one day, “people had always seen that there was a great deal of importance to be attached to capitalist production, and that it was necessary to ascertain and explain the laws of its development, but this had demanded too much time and the work had only been done in parts and in fragments. Marx alone was prepared to show as a whole the effects of economic causes, to exhibit the dependence of their relations with each other, and thus, so to speak, to reconstruct the whole of the theoretic monument of economics and to show the importance of it in the evolution of society.”

Not only did they work together, but they were united by the warmest friendship: each one was always thinking how he could serve the other, and each was proud of the other. One day Marx received a letter from his Hamburg publisher telling him that Engels had been to see him and that he had been pleased to see so agreeable a man. “I should like to see anyone,” exclaimed Marx on reading the letter, “who did not find Fred as amiable as he is learned.”

They had everything in common, both their purse and their knowledge. When Marx was appointed correspondent for the “New York Tribune,” he was learning English. Engels translated his articles, and even wrote them if that were necessary. And when Engels was working at his “Anti-Duhring,” Marx put his work on one side in order to write an introduction on economics, of which Engels made use in parts, as he has publicly stated.

Engels was friendly with the whole family; the daughters of Marx looked upon Engels as their second father, and his friendship lasted beyond the grave. After Marx’s death it was his duty to look through his manuscripts and to prepare for the press his unpublished works. Engels put on one side all that he had prepared relating to his universal philosophy of knowledge, at which he had been working for more than ten years, and for which he had made a survey of all sciences and their latest progress in order to devote himself to the preparation of the two last volumes of “Capital.”

Engels loved knowledge for its own sake, everything interested him. After the failure of the Revolution in 1849, he went on board a sailing vessel to come to England from Genoa because the

journey from Switzerland through France was unsafe. He used this opportunity to acquire a knowledge of navigation, he kept a journal on the ship in which he entered every day the position of the sun, the direction of the wind, the state of the sea, etc. This journal must still be in existence, for Engels was very methodical, he looked after everything and made notes with most praiseworthy care.

Philology and strategy were his first loves; he was ever true to them and followed their progress very fully. He was extremely careful even to the most minute detail. I remember how he read aloud with his friend Mesa, who was a Spaniard, “The Romancers,” without ever having to look out a word in the dictionary. His knowledge of European languages and of their dialects was extraordinarily great. When after the fall of the Commune I was travelling with members of the National Council of the International in Spain, they told me that a certain Angels was General Secretary for Spain, and that he corresponded in the finest Castilian (this Angels was the Spanish way of writing Engels). When I went to Lisbon, Francia, the Secretary of the National Council for Portugal, told me that he had received from Engels letters written in faultless Portuguese, which is extraordinary when we think of the resemblances and small differences between the two languages; and I have been told that he was equally familiar with Italian. He was rather particular to write in their own language to persons with whom he corresponded. He wrote in Russian to Lavarof, in French to Frenchmen, in Polish to Poles, and so on. He was also proficient in local dialects. He was eager to study the local writings of Bignami, which are written in the local dialect of Milan. On the sands at Ramsgate there was a performing dwarf – a clown – who was surrounded by a crowd of small boys; he was dressed as a Brazilian general. Engels spoke to him in Portuguese, then in Spanish, but got no answer. At last the “general” spoke a word. “Ah"! called out Engels, “this Brazilian is an Irishman “And he addressed him in his own language. The poor wretch wept with joy when he heard him talk. “Engels stutters in twenty languages,” said an exile from the Commune, when he was being amused at hearing him stutter.

No subject was alien to him. In his last years he began to read works on obstetrics, because a friend of his (Madame F.) was reading for a medical examination. Marx told him that he was wasting time in working at so many subjects, and that he would do better not to think about them, but to work for the good of the world. Engels replied that “he would willingly give him the papers relating to the rise of property in Russia, as they had prevented him for many years from finishing ‘Capital.’” Marx had learned Russian because one of his friends (D., from St. Petersburg) had sent him many thick reports relating to an inquiry on landed property in Russia, and of which the Russian Government had forbidden the publication, on account of the “ frightful evidence contained therein.”

One must be astonished by the amount of work done by Engels, when one considers the small amount of time at his disposal, and it is wonderful that he was able to accumulate so much knowledge. He showed an extraordinary zeal for work, and great ability in acquiring the mastery of any subject. He learned quickly, and was indefatigable. In his two big, light studies – of which the walls were covered with book shelves – there was not a scrap of paper on the floor; and the books, with the exception of about a dozen on the study table, were all in order. The rooms seemed more like drawing-rooms than the library of a student.

His own person was also very neat, and his clothes were always well brushed as if he was going to be passed in review by a general, like when he served in the Prussian army as a one year’s volunteer. I know nobody who wore the same clothes so long without their being creased. While he was so saving for himself, yet he was very generous so far as the party was concerned.

* * *

Engels lived in Manchester when the International was founded. Though he was somewhat sceptical on the prospects of a revival of the Communistic school, which he thought had received a great blow at the Revolution of 1848, yet he supported the movement for the sake of Marx. He also contributed to the International and worked for its paper “The Commonwealth,” which was founded by the General Council. After the Franco-German war of 1870, and his going to London, he still went on working with the zeal which distinguished him in all things.

This war of 1870 showed his military talents as a tactician. From day-to-day he followed the armies, and more than once he anticipated the results of the German general staff by articles in the “Pall Mall Gazette.” Two days before Sedan he predicted the downfall of the French army. This was much noticed in the English press, and Marx’s eldest daughter, Jenny, used to call him the “General.” After the fall of the French Empire he had only one wish and one hope, the triumph of the French Republic. Engels and Marx had no fatherland; they were, as Marx said, “Citizens of the World.”


1. 1848. – J, B.

2. What about the “Nonconformist conscience"? – J.B.