Marx-Engels Correspondence 1883

Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge
In Hoboken


Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence;
Publisher: International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Translated: Donna Torr;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 1999;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

London, March 15, 1883

It was not possible to keep you regularly informed about Marx's state of health because it was constantly changing. Here, briefly, are the main facts.

Shortly before his wife's death, in October of ’81, he had an attack of pleurisy. He recovered from this but when, in February '82, he was sent to Algiers, he came in for cold, wet weather on the journey and arrived with another attack of pleurisy. The atrocious weather continued, and then when he got better, he was sent to Monte Carlo (Monaco) to avoid the heat of the approaching summer. He arrived there with another, though this time a milder, attack of pleurisy. Again abominable weather. When he was at last better, he went to Argenteuil near Paris to stay with his daughter, Madame Longuet. He went to the sulphur springs near by at Enghien, in order to relieve the bronchitis from which he had suffered for so long. Here again the weather was awful, but the cure did some good. Then he went to Vevey for six weeks and came back in September, having apparently almost completely recovered his health. He was allowed to spend the winter on the south coast of England, and he himself was so tired of wandering about with nothing to do, that another period of exile to the south of Europe would probably have harmed him in spirit as much as it would have benefited him in health. When the foggy season commenced in London, he was sent to the Isle of Wight. There it did nothing but rain and he caught another cold. Schorlemmer and I were intending to pay him a visit at the New Year when news came which made it necessary for Tussy to join him at once. Then followed Jenny's death and he had another attack of bronchitis. After all that had gone before, and at his age, this was dangerous. A number of complications set in, the most serious being an abscess on the lung and a terribly rapid loss of strength. Despite this, however, the general course of the illness was proceeding favourably, and last Friday the chief doctor who was attending him, one of the foremost young doctors in London, specially recommended to him by Ray Lankester, gave us the most brilliant hope for his recovery. But anyone who has but once examined the lung tissue under the microscope, realises how great is the danger of a blood vessel being broken if the lung is purulent. And so every morning for the last six weeks I had a terrible feeling of dread that I might find the curtains down when I turned the corner of the street. Yesterday afternoon at 2.30 – which is the best time for visiting him – I arrived to find the house in tears. It seemed that the end was near. I asked what had happened, tried to get to the bottom of the matter, to offer comfort. There had been only a slight haemorrhage but suddenly he had begun to sink rapidly. Our good old Lenchen, who had looked after him better than a mother cares for her child, went upstairs to him and then came down. He was half asleep, she said, I might come in. When we entered the room he lay there asleep, but never to wake again. His pulse and breathing had stopped. In those two minutes he had passed away, peacefully and without pain.

All events which take place by natural necessity bring their own consolation with them, however dreadful they may be. So in this case. Medical skill might have been able to give him a few more years of vegetative existence, the life of a helpless being, dying – to the triumph of the doctors' art – not suddenly, but inch by inch. But our Marx could never have borne that. To have lived on with all his uncompleted works before him, tantalised by the desire to finish them and yet unable to do so, would have been a thousand times more bitter than the gentle death which overtook him. 𔄬Death is not a misfortune for him who dies, but for him who survives,” he used to say, quoting Epicurus. And to see that mighty genius lingering on as a physical wreck to the greater glory of medicine and to the scorn of the philistines whom in the prime of his strength he had so often put to rout – no, it is better, a thousand times better, as it is – a thousand times better that we shall in two days' time carry him to the grave where his wife lies at rest.

And after all that had gone before, about which the doctors do not know as much as I do, there was in my opinion no other alternative.

Be that as it may, mankind is shorter by a head, and the greatest head of our time at that. The proletarian movement goes on, but gone is its central figure to which Frenchmen, Russians, Americans and Germans spontaneously turned at critical moments, to receive always that clear incontestable counsel which only genius and a perfect understanding of the situation could give. Local lights and lesser minds, if not the humbugs, will now have a free hand. The final victory is certain, but circuitious paths, temporary and local errors – things which even now are so unavoidable – will become more common than ever. Well, we must see it through. What else are we here for?

And we are not near losing courage yet.