Marx-Engels Internet Archive

A Private Letter to British Crown Princess Victoria
About Meeting Karl Marx

Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff

Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, the eldest daughter of the British monarch and wife of the Prussian Crown Prince (and future German emperor, Frederick III), expressed to British politician Duff an interest in this Dr. Marx she was hearing so much about.

Duff managed to meet with Marx at the Devonshire Club on January 31 1879. He immediately wrote to the princess the next day. Duff included parts of this letter in his memoires (Notes from a Diary, 1873-1881), but removed all reference to the recipient.

The letter was published in full for the first time in The Times Literary Supplement, July 15 1949 -- "A Meeting with Karl Marx", by A. Rothstein. Transcribed for the Internet on Jan 18 1996 by Zodiac. Html markup in 1999 by Brian Baggins

February 1, 1879


Your Imperial Highness, when I last had the honour of seeing you, chanced to express some curiosity about Carl Marx and to ask me if I knew him. I resolved accordingly to take the first opportunity of making his acquaintance; but that opportunity did not arise till yesterday when I met him at luncheon and spent three hours in his company.

He is a short, rather small man with grey hair and beard which contrast strangely with a still dark moustache. The face is somewhat round, the forehead well shaped and filled up -- the eye rather hard but the whole expression rather pleasant than not, by no means that of a gentleman who is in the habit of eating babies in their cradles -- which is I daresay the view which the Police takes of him.

His talk was that of a well-informed, nay; learned man -- much interested in Comparative Grammar which had led him into the Old Slavonic and other out of the way studies and was varied by many quaint turns and little bits of dry humour, as when speaking of Hesekiel's life of Prince Bismarck he always referred to it, by way of contrast to Dr. Busch's book, as the Old Testament. [Referring to G. Hesekiel's, Das Buch vom Grafen Bismarck, Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1869]

It was all very positif slightly cynical -- without any appearance of enthusiasm -- interesting and often, as I thought, showing very correct ideas when he was conversing of the past or the present; but vague and unsatisfactory when he turned to the future.

He looks, not unreasonably, for a great and not distant crash in Russia; thinks it will begin by reforms from above which the old bad edifice will not be able to bear and which will lead to its tumbling down altogether. As to what would take its place he had evidently no clear idea, except that for a long time Russia would be unable to exercise any influence in Europe.

Next he thinks that the movement will spread to Germany taking there the form of a revolt against the existing military system.

To my question "But how can you expect the army to rise against its commanders?" he replied -- you forget that in Germany now the army and the Nation are nearly identical. These Socialists you hear about are trained soldiers like anybody else. You must not think of the standing army only. You must think of the Landwehr -- and even in the standing army there is much discontent. Never was an army in which the severity of the discipline led to so many suicides. The step from shooting oneself to shooting one's officer is not long, and an example of the kind, once set, is soon followed.

But supposing I said the rulers of Europe came to an understanding amongst themselves for a reduction of armaments which might greatly relieve the burden on the people what would become of the Revolution which you expect it one day to bring about?

Ah, was his answer they can't do that. All sorts of fears and jealousies will make that impossible. The burden will grow worse and worse as science advances for the improvements in the Art of Destruction will keep pace with its advance and every year more and more will have to be devoted to costly engines of war. It is a vicious circle -- there is no escape from it. But I said you have never yet had a serious popular rising unless there was really great misery. You have no idea, he rejoined, how terrible has been the crisis through which Germany has been passing in these last five years.

Well I said supposing that your Revolution has taken place and that you have your Republican form of Government -- it is still a long long way to the realization of the special ideas of yourself and your friends. Doubtless he answered but all great movements are slow. It would merely be a step to better things as your Revolution of 1688 was -- a mere stage on the road .

The above will give Your Imperial Highness a fair idea of the kind of ideas about the near future of Europe which are working in his mind.

They are too dreamy to be dangerous except just in so far as the situation with its mad expenditure on armaments is obviously and undoubtedly dangerous.

If however within the next decade the rulers of Europe have not found means of dealing with this evil without any warning from attempted revolution I for one shall despair of the future of humanity at least on this continent.

In the course of conversation Carl Marx spoke several times both of Your Imperial Highness and of the Crown Prince and invariably with due respect and propriety. Even in the case of eminent individuals of whom he by no means spoke with respect there was no trace of bitterness or savagery -- plenty acrid and dissolvent criticism but nothing of the Marat tone.

Of the horrible things that have been connected with the International he spoke as any respectable man would have done.

One thing which he mentioned showed the dangers to which exiles who have got a revolutionary name are exposed. The wretched man Nobiling, he had learned, had when in England intended to come to see him. If he had done so he said I should certainly have admitted him for he would have sent in his card as an employe of the Dresden Bureau of Statistics and as I occupy myself with Statistics it would have interested me to talk with him -- What a pleasant position I should have been in he added if he had come to see me!

Altogether my impression of Marx, allowing for his being at the opposite pole of opinion from oneself, was not at all unfavourable and I would gladly meet him again. It will not be he who whether he wishes it or not will turn the world upside down.