Marx Biography

Small Traits of Marx’s Great Character

by Franzisca Kugelmann


Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Progress Publishers, 1976;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

Marx’s taste was most refined in poetry as well as in science and the imitative arts. He was extraordinarily well-read and had a remarkable memory. He shared my father’s enthusiasm for the great poets of classical Greece, Shakespeare and Goethe; Chamisso and Ruckert were also among his favourites. He would quote Chamisso’s touching poetry The Beggar and His Dog. He admired Ruckert’s art in writing and especially his masterly translation of Hariri’s Maqamas, which are incomparable in their originality. Years later Marx presented it to my mother in remembrance of that time.

Marx was remarkably gifted for languages. Besides English, he knew French so well that he himself translated Capital into French, [Marx did not translate Book I of Capital into French, but carefully edited J. Roy’s translation, with which he was not satisfied] and his knowledge of Greek, Latin, Spanish and Russian was so good that he could translate from them at sight. He learned Russian by himself “as a diversion” when he was suffering from carbuncles.

He was of the opinion that Turgenev wonderfully renders the peculiarities of the Russian soul in its veiled Slavonic sensitivity. Lemontov’s descriptions, he thought, were hardly to be excelled and seldom equalled.

His favourite among the Spaniards was Calderón. He had several of his works with him and often read us parts of them. ...

In our flat there was a large room with five windows which we called the hall and where we used to play music. Friends of the house called it Olympus because of the busts of Greek gods around the walls. Throned above them all was Zeus Otricolus.

My father thought Marx greatly resembled the last mentioned and many people agreed with him. Both had a powerful head with abundant hair, a magnificent thoughtful brow, an authoritative and yet kind expression. Marx’s calm yet warm and lively nature, knowing no absent-mindedness or excitement, my father thought, also made him resemble his Olympian favourites. He liked to quote Marx’s pertinent answer to the reproach that “the gods of the classics are eternal rest without any passions.” On the contrary, Marx said, they were eternal passion without any unrest. My father could get very irritated when expressing his opinion of those who tried to drag Marx into the agitation of their political party undertakings. He wanted Marx, like the Olympian father of the gods and of men, only to flash his lightning into the world and occasionally hurl his thunder against it but not to waste his precious time in everyday agitation.