Eduard Bernstein

My Years of Exile

Visits to, and exile in, London

WHEN in the spring of 1888 I was compelled, by reason of my banishment from Switzerland, to settle in London with my colleagues on the staff of the Sozialdemokrat, that city, as I have remarked in a previous chapter, was not wholly unknown to me. I had already paid three visits to the giant city on the Thames. However, my sojourn on each occasion had been only a short one, and was employed for quite other purposes than studying the place or its inhabitants. I had gained only a superficial impression of both; so that the impressions which I received of the prominent figures with whom these earlier journeys had brought me into contact were all the stronger.

I visited London for the first time at the end of November 1880, accompanied by my party comrade and friend, August Bebel. This was the visit to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels of which Bebel has written in the third volume of his Autobiography [1] under the title of The Canossa Pilgrimage to London. I myself have written something about it somewhere or other, so that I am in danger here and there of repeating myself.

The object of the journey was to seek an understanding with the two spiritual fathers of German Social Democracy, who had been greatly exasperated by certain events connected with the foundation, in the summer of 1879, of the Zürich Sozialdemokrat, and were deeply distrustful of the Zürich group to which I belonged, which published the Sozialdemokrat. The two elders were particularly displeased with me: but no member of the group felt such need of standing in the good books of the authors of the Communist Manifesto as I myself. My delight was, therefore, all the greater when our friend Karl Höchberg declared himself prepared to assume the financial expenses of a fresh attempt at reconciliation with the London Socialists.

Bebel and I met at Calais. He had come from Germany through Brussels, and I from Switzerland through Lyons, where at Höchberg’s request I had paid a one day’s visit to the French Socialist, Benoît Malon. Neither of us had until then made a journey by sea, and our conversation revolved principally round the question, how we should stand the Channel crossing. “I think I shall get through without being sea-sick,” said Bebel, always inclined to optimism. “I shall certainly fight against it,” I replied, for I had behind me a sleepless night in a none too comfortable railway carriage. However, it was the other way about. With the feeling of a criminal who awaits the hangman’s rope, I boarded the steamer which was to take us from Calais to Dover. Since I had heard or read that those are most likely to escape sea-sickness who remain on deck, I sought out a corner of the deck, pretty well forward, stationed myself there, and awaited my fate with a good dose of fatalism.

The weather was very rough, and the boat, which was only of moderate dimensions, was thrown hither and thither by the wind. Foaming waves continually drenched the fore part of the deck, and splashed me from head to foot. Very soon Bebel, who had remained beside me, disappeared with the words, “I am bad!” In the same manner other passengers disappeared, and finally even the sailors working on deck withdrew with the treacherous symptoms of sea-sickness. I fully expected that I should have to do the same, but I delayed the evil by passive opposition, and did not budge from my place, resolved only to give in under the extremest compulsion. On a few occasions I really thought the fateful moment had arrived, but each time it passed me by; and as the crisis seemed to have reached its highest point, the violent plunging ceased, the vessel pursued its course more quietly, and shouts of “Dover!” fell upon my ear. Now the passengers appeared, one after the other, and at last Bebel, with whom matters had gone very badly, so that it was almost an hour before he had fully recovered from his hardships. When we got ashore he was so exhausted that he brought up even the cup of coffee which I offered him to put some strength into him; and during the railway journey he was at first quite apathetic. Only when we had left Canterbury behind us did he call my attention, with a glance, to the fact that two young ladies who were our fellow-passengers – half-fledged young Englishwomen returning from a boarding-school in France – were nevertheless very pretty. “Well,” I thought, “if you have eyes for the beautiful, you’ve recovered”; and ten minutes later we were engaged in lively conversation.

In London we were taken by a friend, a member of our party, who met me at the station, to a small hotel in the Soho quarter, which harboured many Germans, and on the following day we set out for 122 Regent’s Park Road, the home of Friedrich Engels. With the help of a Baedeker and the smattering of English which I had taught myself, I thought I could manage without a cab. But the matter was not quite so simple as I thought. My first discovery was that the English did not pronounce their own language correctly. I should say that they did not pronounce it as I had learnt it. I could not understand any of the policemen to whom I addressed my inquiries as to the route. In my own excuse I may observe that the people probably pronounced their vowels after the manner of the lower classes of the citizens of London, – after the Cockney fashion, – which, of course, makes it more difficult for a novice to understand them. Fortunately, I was at least certain of the direction to be followed, and after overcoming various difficulties, I brought Bebel to Engels’ house, whence I was about to return, for since it was Bebel and not myself who had been invited to Engels’, I had thought to wait until the invitation was extended to me. But Engels came out of the house just as I was about to bid Bebel good-bye, and at once compelled me to enter.

Upstairs we soon began a political conversation, which often assumed a very lively character. Engels’ stormy temperament, which concealed such a truly noble character, and many good qualities, revealed itself to us as unreservedly as the joyous conception of life peculiar to the native of the Rhineland. “Drink, young man!” And with these words, in the midst of a violent dispute, he kept on refilling my glass with Bordeaux, which he always had in the house. In those days Engels had just passed his sixtieth year, and amazed us by his great bodily and mental vigour. This tall, slender man hastened through the long London streets at a quicker pace than even the youngest of us. To keep step with him upon our walks was no easy matter. However, I found it easier than to keep pace with him in drinking glass upon glass of wine.

The subject of our dispute was the question of the political attitude of German Social Democracy in respect of the “exceptional laws” promulgated two years previously by Bismarck, and the theoretical and political attitude of the Zürich Sozialdemokrat. Bebel had no difficulty in persuading Engels that this journal, then edited by Georg von Vollmar, was at all events maintaining a much more resolute and highly principled attitude than many of the leaders of the party in Germany; and that the internal organisation of the party was far from being so advantageous as others had described it to the two “ancients.”

We might have been disputing for a good hour at least when Engels suddenly declared: “Now it’s time to go to Marx.” We put on our overcoats and left the house with him. I wanted to take my leave, but Engels expostulated: “No, no; you come along with us to the Moor.” “To the Moor?” I said. “But who is he?” “Why, Marx,” replied Engels, in a tone that signified that one must as a matter of course know whom he meant. The “Moor” was the nickname which Marx’s children had at one time given their father, in reference to his jet-black hair – which had meanwhile become a beautiful white – and his sallow complexion. The “Moor” lived close to Engels, namely, in Maitland Park Road, a turning out of Haverstock Hill, which runs up to beautiful Hampstead Heath.

Engels, like Marx, lived in one of those family residences which were then the normal type of dwelling-house in London, as they are to-day, though the style of architecture has altered somewhat. For middle-class families able to pay a rent of £40 a year or thereabouts there were at that time dwelling-houses, designed really as villas, which consisted of four to five storeys: there was a basement or half-basement, containing the kitchen, a sitting-room, and offices; a ground floor, with its hall and two sitting-rooms – back and front parlours, as they were called; a first floor, containing the largest room in the house, which as a rule served as a drawing-room, though Engels used it as library and workroom, together with other smaller rooms; while the upper floors contained two or three bedrooms and lumber-rooms or box-rooms.

These houses are much taller than they axe broad, and the cheaper sort are high, narrow buildings erected in groups of eight, ten, or twelve, by the same contractor, after one identical model, so that in houses belonging to such a group there is often nothing to distinguish one from another. The very short-sighted Marx was always doubtful, when returning home, whether he was standing in front of his own house or that of one of his neighbours, and often enough it was the refusal of his latch-key to open the door that first told him that he had gone astray. Of course, this erection of houses by the dozen greatly diminishes the cost of building, and is one of the reasons why in London houses with eight or ten rooms of varying sizes and a small garden can be obtained for a much lower rent than in any of the Continental capitals.

People who have hitherto lived only in flats find it at first a good deal of a nuisance to have to climb stairs in order to go from room to room, but to the English it seems the most obvious thing in the world. And this separation of the rooms by means of flights of stairs has, in addition to – its manifest inconveniences, a good many advantages. The Englishman of the lower middle classes has a great affection for his sitting-room in the basement or half-basement, usually known as the breakfast-room. Conveniently reached from the kitchen, easily warmed in winter, and not too warm in summer, it is used for all meals by many families, and in the evening is the general resort of all the members of the family. It is often very comfortably furnished, and it makes a curious impression upon one accustomed to Continental ways of life when he is received and entertained in they basement by people living in a well-appointed house.

The Marx’s house was smaller than the Engels’, and the rooms in the basement were correspondingly plainer. Nevertheless, the Marx family took their meals in the breakfast-room, while the Engels, whose basement floor was quite extensive, ate in one of the ground-floor sitting-rooms. In the basement room of Marx’s house Bebel and I were entertained, on one of the days of our visit to London, at a fairly large and well-appointed table.

Marx’s study was on the first floor, at the back of the house. It was there that Marx received us on the first day of our visit. He greeted Bebel with extreme cordiality, treating him like a brother, as Engels had done previously. Me, too, he received in a friendly manner, and since the conversation turned at first on other questions than the one in dispute, it was very much more temperate than in Engels’ house. Although Marx was only two years older than Engels, he gave one the impression of being a much older man. He spoke in the quiet, lucid tone of a patriarch, and was quite unlike the picture which I had formed of him. From the descriptions, which for that matter were mostly furnished by his opponents, I had expected to make the acquaintance of a somewhat suppressed, highly excitable old gentleman; and now I found myself in the presence of a very white-haired man whose dark eyes held a friendly smile, and whose speech was full of charity. When a few days later I was expressing my surprise to Engels that I had found Marx so completely unlike what I had imagined him to be, he remarked: “Well, the Moor can thunder quite properly even now,” as I was soon to have occasion to observe. In order that my remarks may not give rise to any erroneous conclusions, I will add that the object of his displeasure was the book of a third person, of which we happened to speak, and which I had attempted to defend.

The mission which had brought Bebel and myself to London had been concluded in a wholly satisfactory manner. Bebel, who at that time was in the full prime of his intellectual powers, delighted both the old men with his frankness, and the exhaustive explanations which he gave them concerning the political situation in Germany, and the state of the Social Democratic Party. As for me, they seemed to have formed a mental picture of a Socialist of the arrogant, academic type; it was therefore pleasant to find that they had been sent a man who was body and soul in the practical movement, the last of whose qualities vas self-consciousness in literary matters. One day, indeed, Friedrich Engels all but fell upon my neck when I confessed, with some shame, that, although thirty years of age, I had not as yet written a book. “What, you have never yet written a book?” he cried. “That is really excellent!” And he vehemently inveighed against the sort of people who, without even having properly learned anything, are now, in Germany, writing books on every possible subject. That a man who had some ability might, at the age of twenty-four, write such an epoch-making work as The Condition of the Working Classes in England, I forbore to remind the author of that book.

Our stay in London extended at that time to a week, a space of time in which one can observe a good deal of the place and its inhabitants. But I was so completely absorbed by the Socialist movement, during our walks I hung upon Engels’ lips to such an extent, my thoughts and ideas were so much concerned with a comparatively small circle of men, that I took back with me only a very incomplete impression of the mighty city and its inhabitants. Almost all I saw struck me as strange, but I had not the time, nor was my English sufficient, to approach either men or things more closely. Since Engels at once took Bebel into his house as his guest, while I remained at the little hotel in Soho, I lost a great deal of time in covering the long distance to Regent’s Park; for to indulge in cabs would have exceeded the budget which I had decided to allow myself.

One day, of course, we paid the British Museum a visit. Engels showed us the celebrated Rosetta stone, which was of such remarkable assistance in deciphering the hieroglyphs; and he told us, as characteristic of the intense self-confidence of Lassalle, that the latter, when Marx showed him the stone in 1862, broke out with the remark: “What would you think if I were some day to study hieroglyphs in order to impress the Egyptologists?” We know now, from the Memoirs of Brugsch Pasha, that Lassalle did really seriously contemplate taking up this study.

In Marx’s circle they had little that was good to say of Lassalle. Particularly upon the women of the family he seemed, during his visit in the summer of 1862, to have made a very unfavourable impression, owing to his dandified appearance, so that Marx, who in other respects criticised him sharply enough, repeatedly defended him against the attacks of his wife and daughters.

Marx’s wife was already a great sufferer at the time of our visit. Nevertheless, on the day when we were invited to the midday meal, she left her sick-bed, in order to honour us by her presence at the table. She conversed with us in a friendly manner, touching upon our activities, duly honouring Bebel’s deserts, and proposing our health: but she was soon obliged to leave the table and return to her sick-room. In her manner she betrayed the well-bred woman: her conversation, however ardent, was free from extravagance or exuberance. Of Marx’s daughters, although all three were present at the midday meal, Eleanor, the youngest was the only one with whom I became some what better acquainted at that time, and later my wife and I entered upon terms of close and affectionate friendship with her. Her interesting personality and her tragic end should justify my saying something of them here. In 1880 Eleanor Marx was a blooming young maiden of twenty-four summers, with the black hair and black eyes of her father, and an exceptionally musical voice. She was unusually vivacious, and took part, in her sensitive and emotional manner, in our discussions of party matters. With much greater devotion than her two elder sisters, Tussy, as Eleanor was called by her friends and her family, had dedicated herself to the Socialist movement. But there was yet another influence which had taken hold upon her soul one that was fateful enough in her later life: that of the theatre. Eleanor Marx was an inspired worshipper at the shrine of the dramatic Muse, and would dearly have liked to tread the boards herself. Certain letters exchanged between Marx and Engels allow us to read between the lines what an inward struggle this passion must have cost her. At the period of which I am writing we had naturally no suspicion of this, although we had an opportunity of hearing Eleanor Marx recite at an evening entertainment.

This entertainment was given for the benefit of the widow of a Communard, in a fairly large and only moderately well-lit hall, which might as well have been the class-room of one of the many denominational schools which were distributed all over London, as the hall of a working-man’s club. Bebel and I were led by Engels, one very dark night, through a perfect maze of streets to the hall, which according to my calculations must have been in the St. Pancras district. The room was only two-thirds full, but the public was interesting enough. Besides Marx, with his daughters, Friedrich Engels and August Bebel, there were all sorts of political refugees of more or less considerable importance in the Socialist Revolutionary movement of their own country; among them the Russian Socialist, Leo Hartmann, who had taken part in an attempt upon the life of Alexander II. But – and this was typical of English conditions – on the back of the very unassuming programme was a list of subscriptions towards the object of the entertainment, and at the top of it were the words: “Her Majesty the Queen has headed the List with £10.”

The recitation given by Eleanor Marx was the poem of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. As my English was still very weak, I could not follow the words at all adequately: I only noted that Eleanor’s recitation was full of life, and that she spoke with a great wealth of modulation and earned a great deal of applause. Later on she became a true orator and artist in elocution. I have heard her at working-men’s clubs, in speeches of a political nature, express herself in truly poetical flights of imagination, and periods that delighted the ear: and her English accent was perfect. Once, in the nineties, when she was speaking at the Playgoers’ Club, on naturalism in the modern drama, and her ideas were in direct contradiction to those of a portion of her hearers, one of her opponents, at the conclusion of his own remarks, could not refrain from exclaiming: “But there is one thing that I must say. Never, until to-night, as I listened to Mrs. Aveling, did I realise of what noble beauty the English language is capable.”

About a year after her father’s death, Eleanor Marx contracted a “free marriage” with Dr. Edward B. Aveling, who was to be her evil destiny. His similar conception of the world, his position in the party, and his love for the drama, sped the wooing of this indubitably gifted but highly undisciplined man.

This was the time when Socialism, which, since the breakdown of Chartism and the Internationale, had fallen into discredit in England, was making its appearance in new forms, and was at first preached more particularly by the Intellectuals, a party of whom, among them Aveling, had entered the new movement from the ranks of the freethinkers. The son of an Irish Protestant clergyman, Aveling had been educated at University College, London, which was conducted on agnostic lines. There he studied natural science and obtained his doctorate, but then, following his theatrical propensities, he became the manager of a company of strolling players, which, however, suffered shipwreck, so from this he turned to the profession of agnostic lecturer, his speciality being lectures on the teaching of Darwin, whom he had, I think, known personally. These lectures made him extremely popular in the Radical circles of the day, and when he joined the Socialist movement his accession appeared to many to be a notable acquisition. Fundamentally of an enthusiastic nature, Eleanor Marx was enraptured by the new “comrade,” so that he found the conquest of her heart an easy matter. Since he was already married, and was living separated from his wife, but could not obtain a divorce, his connection with Eleanor had either to be kept secret, or announced before all the world as a “free marriage.” Eleanor chose the latter course. Every young movement has sectarian features, and loves to accentuate the breach with the old conditions, in every possible sphere, and in a demonstrative manner. Eleanor, when she formed this connection with Aveling, held a well-paid post in one of the better class of boarding-schools. Since she was greatly valued there, her relations with Aveling, had she kept her own counsel, might have been willingly overlooked. But she notified her principal formally by letter of her connection, and it became necessary to give her notice “out of regard for the majority.” In the same way she closed other doors against her; but not so many as one would have expected after this confession. “My London is a little Paris,” Friedrich Engels wrote to me, when he informed me of Eleanor’s connection with Edward Aveling and the attitude thereto of their circle of acquaintances. A somewhat free conception of life had perhaps permeated certain circles of London society.

A great deal of the opposition which Eleanor encountered was based not so much on the fact that she had contracted a free marriage, as on the fact that the masculine partner in this marriage was Edward Aveling. His reputation in the Radical and Democratic world of London was already very bad, and it became worse year by year. Whoever has read or seen Bernard Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma – which we Germans know under the title of The Physician at the Cross Roads will have made the acquaintance of a somewhat retouched Aveling in the painter, Dubedat. Shaw, who knew both the Avelings very well, gave Dubedat nearly all the characteristic attributes of Edward Aveling: his passion for having everything of the best; the assured and shameless manner in which he borrowed, in order to pay for his pleasures, the scanty cash of even the poorest of his acquaintances; his gift of fascinating the ingenuous, and in particular, women, by his lyrical and esthetic affectations and flirtations, in order to exploit them in the same unceremonious fashion as that in which a spoilt child makes a convenience of its nurse: these are characteristic features of the man for whom Eleanor Marx sacrificed herself as completely in real life as Mrs. Dubedat sacrificed herself for her husband in the play. And the deliberate blindness and deafness of Mrs. Dubedat in respect of all that was said to the detriment of her husband is precisely the counterpart of the obstinacy with which Eleanor Aveling, despite all her painful experience of her chosen comrade, continued to believe in him until he involved her in the infamy which led to the catastrophe. For the reality was in this case tragic, where in Shaw’s play it is tragi-comic. Edward Aveling did indeed “die beautifully,” like Dubedat – a death which any one might envy him: while reading a book, in an easy-chair, in the sunshine, he fell asleep for ever. But he left behind him, not a wife who had self-sacrificingly tended him for long years, who was “soon to marry again,” but a newly married wife, with whom he had contracted a legal marriage behind Eleanor’s back, his first lawful wife having died some little time before. This treatment of her drove Karl Marx’s daughter to suicide.

“How sad has life been all these years,” ran the note which Eleanor, before she took poison, left behind her in a sealed envelope for Aveling, who would calmly have torn it up when it was handed to him, had not the coroner’s officer prevented him. A sad life – of whose disillusions the valiant daughter of a valiant father had allowed the outer world to learn nothing.

It is characteristic of Shaw as a writer that he should have taken a marriage which ended so tragically as the Avelings’ for the basis of a comedy. I once called him a laughing Ibsen – how far the phrase expresses the truth I will leave others to decide. However, Shaw was to some extent justified for his treatment of his material by Eleanor himself. In her letter to Frederick Demuth, the son of that Lenchen Demuth who was so greatly valued by the Marx family – a letter dated the 5th of February 1898 – which referred to Edward Aveling, who a few months earlier had plunged her into the greatest bewilderment and anxiety by his sudden disappearance, and the sale of her possessions over her head, but was now a sick man, who needed her, she said

DEAR FREDDY, – I know what friendship you feel for me, and how sincerely anxious you are about me. But I don’t think you quite understand – I myself am only just beginning to understand. I realise, however, more and more, that wrong behaviour is simply a moral sickness, and that the morally healthy (like yourself) are not qualified to judge the condition of the morally sick, just as the physically healthy can scarcely realise the condition of the physically sick.

There are people who lack a certain moral sense just as others are deaf or short-sighted or are in other ways afflicted. And I begin to realise the fact that one is as little justified in blaming them for the one sort of disorder as for the other. We must strive to cure them, and if no cure is possible, we must do our best. I have learnt to perceive this through long suffering – suffering whose details I could not tell even to you – but I have learned it, and so I am endeavouring to bear all these trials as well as I can.

And two days later, on the 7th of February 1898:

MY DEAR, DEAR FREDDY, – I must confess that I am really vexed not to have expressed myself quite clearly. But you haven’t understood me at all. And I am too restless, too troubled, to explain myself. Edward is going into a hospital to-morrow, and the operation will take place in the middle of the week. There is a French proverb: ‘To understand is to forgive.’ Much suffering has taught me much understanding – and so I do not need to forgive. I can only love.

Then, in her last letter to Demuth, on the 1st of March:

Don’t count my failure to write as negligence. The trouble is that I am depressed, and often I have not the heart to write. I cannot tell you how glad I am that you do not blame me too greatly, for I regard you as one of the greatest and best of men with whom I have ever been acquainted.

It is a bad time for me. I fear there is little to hope for, and the pain and suffering are great. Why we all go on like this I do not understand. I am ready to go and would do so with joy, but so long as he needs help I am bound to remain.

A month after Demuth had received this letter – on the 31st of March 1898 – Eleanor Marx put an end to her life. A letter which she had received that morning, and which Edward Aveling destroyed before a third person had read it, must have furnished the motive of her action. For Aveling’s state of health had improved, and the arrangements which she had made on the previous evening were of such a nature that she cannot have meditated an immediate suicide. The letter must have told her that Aveling, at the time when he suddenly disappeared, had legally married a very young actress, and that he indeed “no longer needed” her.

She had believed in him and his talent, and had conceived great hopes of him. He had even written a few curtain-raisers which had been successful. But his talent was not equal to a greater dramatic work; it was purely receptive.

In one of Aveling’s one-act plays, By the Sea, I saw both him and Eleanor act. In company with the then youthful William Sanders – now Alderman of the London County Council and Secretary of the Fabian Society – they often played this piece, which was founded on Tennyson’s Enoch Arden, at working-men’s clubs. Eleanor played the young wife, who, wavering between love and loyalty, chooses the latter, with great warmth of emotion; but the play was too much attuned to a single key to give her creative powers much opportunity. What far different possibilities would Bernard Shaw’s Candida, who has to make a similar decision, have offered a dramatic artist! But Shaw brings real people upon the stage; not mere romantic figures.

Eleanor Marx had made her first attempt as an actress while her father was yet alive. In a letter to Marx, dated the 7th of July 1881, Friedrich Engels writes of this appearance

Tussy was very good in the emotional scenes, only one noted perhaps that she had taken Ellen Terry as her model, as Radford had taken Irving, but she will soon get over that; if she wants to produce an effect upon the public she must strike out a line of her own absolutely, and that she will surely do.

From these remarks it will be guessed that Marx was not absolutely opposed to Eleanor’s choice of the actress’s career. Six months later, on the 12th of January 1882 Marx, who was already seriously unwell, wrote to Engels from Ventnor in the Isle of Wight, whither he had gone for the sake of his health with Eleanor, to the effect that as far as his further travelling arrangements were concerned, Eleanor must be regarded as quite out of the question as his companion.

The child is suffering from a mental discord which is quite undermining her health. Neither change of climate, nor travel, nor physicians, can do anything in this case; the only thing one can do for her is to give her her own way, and let her go through her course of dramatic lessons [English in the original text – (Trans.)] with Madame Jung. She is burning with eagerness to make for herself, as she believes she will in this way, an independent career as an artist, and once she is allowed to take this course, she is at all events right to lose no more time at her age. I would not for the world that the child should regard herself as an old man’s nurse, to be sacrificed on the family altar. Indeed I am convinced that pro nunc Madame Jung alone can be her physician. She is not frank; what I say is founded on observation, not on her own confession.

These few lines give one a considerable insight into Marx’s relations with his daughters. He had the greatest affection for them, and had more than a father’s regard for them. In his letters to Engels he employs only the tenderest expressions in speaking of them. Eleanor was already in her twenty-sixth year, but in these letters she is always “the child,” and even when mentioning Jenny, who was thirteen years older, Marx always speaks of “the child,” or uses the diminutive “Jennychen.” Jenny, his eldest daughter, was especially dear to him. She had lived through the worst period of Marx’s life, at an age when children already understand the needs of their elders, and was her father’s especial confidante. But the relation between Marx and Eleanor was nevertheless a very intimate one. From her father, who in many ways was her teacher, she had among other things derived her great veneration for Shakespeare, who to her was almost an idol. She certainly acquired her enthusiasm for the dramatic muse in her parents’ house. Mother and father were great lovers of the theatre, and often the whole family would make the long pilgrimage afoot from Haverstock Hill to Sadler’s Wells Theatre, to watch the great Shakespearean actor, Phelps, from the standing-places – they could not afford anything better.

I learned nothing of all this on my first visit; on the other hand, I noted, from Eleanor’s behaviour in the family circle, that this girl of four-and-twenty was still treated to some extent as the youngest, the pet of the family.

My second visit to England took place in 1884. I had taken part, as delegate of the Swiss Labour movement, in a convention held at Lyons, at the request of the Executive Committee of the Swiss branch of the Social Democratic Party; then, on the invitation of the German Socialist Reading Club in Paris, I gave a lecture there, and was invited by Friedrich Engels, who had learned that I was in Paris, to go over to London in a few days’ time, and stay with him as his guest. Interesting as this journey was from other points of view, it contributed but little to a more extensive acquaintance with England and the English. Marx had died in the March of 1883, and the whole of his literary remains had come into Engels’ hands; and he, with the greatest devotion, was sifting and arranging it, in order to make as much as possible of his friend’s work available for publication. When I had arrived in London he read to me, night after night, until the small hours of the morning, passages from Marx’s manuscripts, and the synopsis of a book with which he connected Marx’s extracts from the American writer Lewis Morgan’s Ancient Society. This meant getting up all the later. After breakfast, we would read the newspaper, attend to our correspondence, and work; then came lunch, and after lunch a walk together over Primrose Hill through Regent’s Park; then, at home again, a little more work was done; at seven o’clock was dinner, after which Engels first of all dozed a little; and finally, by the fireside, he would tell me of Marx’s work, or read aloud from his manuscripts. This was the whole day, according to our manner of living; and only twice did I break away from the latter, during Engels’ working-hours, in order to visit German party comrades who were living in London in exile. On a few occasions, too, Eleanor Marx looked in for half an hour, as did Ellen Rosher, a niece of Engels’ dead wife, who had grown up in his house like a child of his own; but I came even less into contact with English people’ on this occasion than during my first visit. On the other hand, I now learned to know the faithful Lenchen Demuth. Friedrich Engels had engaged this excellent person, who had served the Marx family from the earliest days, when Marx and his wife set up house-keeping, until Marx’s death, as his housekeeper, and treated her like a member of the family, with pathetic affection and attention. Nimmy, as the Marx children loved to call her, or Nimmchen, as Engels liked to address Helene Demuth, was initiated in all the affairs of the household, and had her own opinion of Marx’s visitors, to which she would sometimes treat one, in exceedingly downright language.

Although I had not learned to know the English, I had, on my two journeys, made the acquaintance of the Frenchman at home. In Lyons, where I had to speak, an artisan belonging to the Marxist party, a cabinet-maker by trade, had met me at the station, taken me to a modest inn, and after we had eaten, had spent the evening with me walking along the banks of the Rhône and Saône. He was a Frenchman of the South; but how well I remember his mannerisms, and his way of describing and passing judgment upon our German workers! Behind the sympathies of the Socialist, the national differences receded completely into the background. Late in the evening Jules Guesde arrived from Paris. He was to be the special speaker at the appointed meeting. Another day the Socialists of Lyons, after they had once more taken us for a walk, gave us a lunch high up in the Croix Rouge quarter. It was then that a national peculiarity came into view. It was incredible what heaps of bread were consumed at this meal, although there was no lack of meat of different kinds. Into the gravy soup, which already had squares of bread in it, the Frenchmen broke more bread, which stood stacked up in great platefuls on the table, until the soup became a sort of mush. It was, of course, white bread, beautifully light and spongy.

The meeting was held in a circus, but since it was Sunday afternoon, and enchantingly beautiful spring weather, it was not over-well attended. The wide hall could have held half as many people again as put in an appearance. Although a meeting at which defects are exposed is usually a critical meeting, Guesde -the s in whose name was sounded by my Lyonnais artisan – won a perfect storm of applause. He was very sarcastic in his dealings with the mischievous concessions which the State had granted certain railway companies. Once, as he cried to the meeting after a volley of applause, “Don’t clap; I’m not making a speech; I’m only talking to you,” a working man standing in front called out: “Mais nos coeurs vous applaudissent!”

Truly, that would hardly have occurred to a German working man.

Guesde made no further speeches in Lyons, but we both of us delivered speeches at Roanne, a manufacturing town engaged in the textile industry of the south of France. There the workers, as well as the character and tone of the unusually well-attended meeting, gave me quite the impression to which I, hailing from Germany, was accustomed. And as I saw, on the platform, sitting at a table close at hand, two policemen, one of whom was busily taking notes, my eyes almost grew dim, so greatly did the sight remind me of home. Five years of life and activity in Switzerland had made such a spectacle seem quite unaccustomed.

My third journey to London was again made in Bebel’s company. It took place in November 1887, and was undertaken in order to negotiate with the English Socialists in respect of a Socialist and Labour Congress to be held the following year. As a result, I was of course brought into contact with English people. We made the acquaintance of Edward Aveling,. and we also had a conference with H.M. Hyndman, the leader of the Social Democratic Federation, and William Morris, the intellectual head of the Socialist League, which had seceded from the Federation, in which several satellites of these central suns took part. On the other hand, we did not on that occasion find the secretary of the Parliamentary Trade Union Committee, Henry Broadhurst, who was even then a very influential member, in London; nor his private secretary, a well-nourished, red-cheeked young man, one of the few Englishmen whom I have come across who corresponded with the type of John Bull as one pictures him in Germany. That there was a Labour movement on the Continent also seemed absolutely news to him, but it did not appear to afford him much food for thought. Very different were Hyndman and the magnificent William Morris. But I had better speak of them when I describe my twelve years’ residence in London, which began with my fourth journey to England in May 1888.

At the time of our visit in November 1887, Bebel and I witnessed one of the demonstrations of the unemployed, which since the beginning of 1886 had been taking place almost continually at the foot of the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square, and at which unusually revolutionary speeches were made by Socialist agitators. The years 1886 and 1887 were in England times of great industrial depression; the unemployment was so great that even the best situated Trade Unions had to reckon with the possibility of no longer being able to pay their members their unemployment pay. It may be imagined on what fruitful soil fell the bitter speeches of accusation against the capitalist system which were delivered from the plinth of the Nelson Column, at these meetings, to workers who mostly came from the East End, often having the marks of hunger stamped upon their faces. So long as matters went no further than mere speech the police did not interfere, however seditious it sounded. But at the end of October 1887 there were incidents, as there had been the previous year, which led to arrests being made, for the unemployed attempted to plunder the shops in the neighbourhood of Trafalgar Square. The Metropolitan Police authorities intervened and issued an order which prohibited further meetings in the historic square. The Socialists now turned to the Radical and Democratic elements, and in particular to the extreme Liberal working-men’s clubs in London, and called upon them to stand by them in the fight for the palladium of English liberty, the right of free assembly. The Liberals were just then in opposition, and were at the same time anxious to call the Government to account for prohibiting the Irish Nationalist O’Brien from speaking. Accordingly, they were all the readier to answer the summons.

In spite of the prohibition, on Sunday the 13th of November a great meeting of protest was convened in Trafalgar Square; which was attended not only by the Socialist clubs, but also by the more radical of the Liberal working-men’s clubs of London. From all sides processions converged at the appointed hour, followed by the mass of the public, who filled the streets leading to the great square. Even the police, thoroughly prepared and posted in squads, could only hold back the crowd in certain avenues of approach. At other points they broke through, and soon the square was tolerably closely packed. When reinforcements arrived for the police whole troops pressed forward, beating with their truncheons those who had reached the square.

As always, organised force was victorious over the unorganised, and, for the most part, unarmed crowd, and put them to flight. In the confusion there was a general sauve qui peut. A few only offered a stubborn defence. Among them was a thick-set, robust artisan of some thirty years of age, with black hair and bushy eyebrows, as well as a slender, well-dressed, dark-skinned man in whom no one would have suspected the revolutionist. Both defended themselves like lions, until the police overpowered them and placed them under arrest. They were charged with opposing the authority of the State, and condemned to six weeks’ imprisonment. The fashionably dressed man was Cunninghame-Graham, at that time Member of Parliament for the Camlachie division of Glasgow; a member too of the upper ten thousand, who had been elected as a Radical, but had gone over to the Socialist Party, to which he still belongs to-day. As a writer he is greatly admired, his style being peculiarly individual. The artisan was the engineer and Socialist agitator John Burns, a man of great oratorical powers, noted for his comprehensive grasp of administrative problems. Eighteen years later he was Cabinet Minister in a Liberal Government. And the man who defended the two revolutionaries was a young barrister who had just entered parliamentary life, but for whom many persons, impressed by his varied talents, foretold a great political career. In this they were not mistaken, for the barrister’s name was Herbert Henry Asquith.



1. An abridged translation of which has been published by Mr. T. Fisher Unwin under the title, My Life.


Last updated on 29.1.2003