Eduard Bernstein

My Years of Exile

Engels’ house and his “evenings”

ENGELS was not only democratic in his opinions; he was thoroughly democratic in feeling as well. His manner of living showed in many characteristic ways that he came from a good middle-class home, but he had chosen a girl of the lower middle classes as his life’s companion; and in the choice of his associates he recognised no class distinctions. At the same time he did draw distinctions. Those who wished to be invited to his social evenings must either have done good service in the Socialist cause, or must be of some consequence intellectually. On the other hand, if Socialists they need not necessarily be Marxists. In this respect there was little of the pedant about the co-founder of the Marxist school. Even Socialists who were not Social Democrats were tolerated. Dr. Rudolph Meyer, the friend of Karl Robertus, a Socialist-Conservative, and formerly the publisher of the Berliner Revue, was often among the guests at Engels’ house, during the time of his stay in London. His passports were his expert knowledge in the sphere of political economy, and the circumstance that he was living in exile, having been persecuted by Bismarck. As a good East-Elber he was no enemy to alcohol, and one evening at Engels’ he drank a regular skinful. It was extremely droll, quite conscious of his condition, he kept on shouting, in a slightly thickened voice: “Well, well, if any one had ever told me that I, a Prussian Conservative, should one day, here in London, be made squiffy by the Revolutionary Communists!” This was on Christmas Eve, and then, to be sure, such things might well befall one in Engels’ house.

Christmas was kept by Engels after the English fashion as Charles Dickens has so delightfully described it in The Pickwick Papers. The room is decorated with green boughs of every kind, between which, in suitable places, the perfidious mistletoe peeps forth, which gives every man the right to kiss any person of the opposite sex who is standing beneath it or whom he can catch in passing. At table the principal dish is a mighty turkey, and if the exchequer will run to it this is supplemented by a great cooked ham. A few additional attractions – one of which, a sweet known as tipsy-cake, is, as the name denotes, prepared with brandy or sherry – make way for the dish of honour, the plum-pudding, which is served up, the room having been darkened, with burning rum. Each guest must receive his helping of pudding, liberally christened with good spirits, before the flame dies out. This lays a foundation which may well prove hazardous to those who do not measure their consumption of the accompanying wines.

In this connection I cannot help thinking of an evening at Engels’ which preceded the Christmas celebrations. It was on the day when the dough, or rather paste, for the Christmas puddings was prepared. An enormous quantity was made, for there was not a single friend of the house who did not receive a Christmas pudding from 122 Regent’s Park Road. Professor Karl Schorlemmer, Engels’ medical adviser, Dr. Gumpert of Manchester, friend Sam Moore in Yorkshire, the old Chartist, Julian Harney in Jersey, Peter Layoff, the honoured leader of the Russian Socialists, as well as Marx’s sons-in-law, Paul Lafargue and Charles Longuet in Paris, various intimate friends in London, and, if I am not mistaken, some friends in Germany as well, were always remembered. Hence, on a given day, about a fortnight before Christmas, the lady friends of the house turned up early in the morning, and worked on until the evening, chopping great heaps of apples, nuts, almonds, candied peel, etc., into little bits, and stoning and chopping pounds upon pounds of raisins; and as may be supposed it was a thoroughly cheerful party: As the ingredients were prepared they were put into a huge tub. Later in the evening the male friends of the house arrived, and each of them was required to lay hold of a ladle that stood upright in the tub, and stir the paste three times round; a by no means easy task, which needed a good deal of muscular strength. But it had rather a symbolical meaning, and those whose strength was inadequate were mercifully exempted. The concluding touch was given by Engels himself, who descended into the wine-cellar and brought up champagne, in which we drank to a merry Christmas and many other things as well. All this, of course, took place downstairs in the great kitchen, which enhanced the charm of the whole proceeding, for to linger in a spacious kitchen always puts one somehow in mind of one’s home. At one time even well-to-do people used to eat in the kitchen: and this would have answered capitally in Engels’ house, for the kitchen was a roomy one, with the range built into the fireplace after the English fashion, so that it did not take up any room to speak of. Like so many things in England, it combined the old with the new. The construction of the range was at that time regarded as modern, but the old-fashioned turn-spit or meat-jack was not lacking, on which a hanging joint of beef could be roasted, while underneath was a dish to catch the dripping fat. In Germany, in a small house or tenement, the kitchen has often enough to serve as a sitting-room; but hardly so often as in England, where in the advertisements of dwelling-houses the kitchen, in the smaller houses, is briefly described as a “living-room,” to distinguish it from the best room, or sitting-room, as it is called. Of course, in such houses the scullery is always shut off from the kitchen.

But whereas Engels’ kitchen was never used for meals, there were occasions on which it seems to have served for drinking, owing to its nearness to the cellar. Engels himself told me of at least one such occasion. With a certain good friend of his he once sat the livelong night in the kitchen, arguing and drinking wine, until his wife came down early in the morning and made coffee for them.

This friend was Dr. Eugen Oswald, a German, who in his youth, after spending some time in France, came to London as a fugitive, made himself at home there, and obtained a position as teacher in the Greenwich School of Navigation. Although he was not a Socialist of the Marxian type, but contented himself with a democratic republicanism, he was on friendly terms with both Marx and Engels, and in my days he was a constant visitor on Engels’ social evenings. His was an honourable character; he was a diligent worker, President of the Carlyle Society, and Secretary to the English Goethe Society, if I am not mistaken. For a long time too he was a lecturer in the Working Men’s College in Great Ormond Street, founded by F. Denison Maurice, the friend of the preacher and poet Charles Kingsley, and the father of Christian Socialism in England. This Institute is a good illustration, in its general character, of a phase of English social life and social endeavour which we have left behind us by almost three generations. Something of its constructive idealism had adhered to Oswald himself. He had not made a fortune in England. Since he had not held an absolutely regular appointment at Greenwich, where he was obliged to take up lecturing in his seventies, he did not even draw a pension. He was already nearly eighty years of age when through the mediation of friends he was chosen to teach the German language and literature to the sons of the then Prince of Wales, the present King. A short time before the outbreak of the present war he closed his eyes for ever. The catastrophe would have been a heavy spiritual blow to him, for he felt himself to be in all respects a mediator between the German and the English spirit.

Oswald was almost the only German living in England who was not a Social Democrat, yet visited Engels’ house. At the same time, in my days, apart from Edward Aveling and Eleanor Marx, only one prominent English Socialist used to frequent Engels’ house. This was the author and man of letters, Ernest Belfort Bax, a man of many-sided culture, who had a good knowledge of German philosophy and spoke the German language fluently. Until the Great War he had in most things a very high opinion of the German character, but on the outbreak of the war he was, of course, to be found in the ranks of those English Socialists who turned absolutely against Germany. An extremely outspoken atheist and republican, he is, in the matter of politics, a good deal in sympathy with the French Radicals; the inexorable Marat is his hero, and the subject of one of his books. As an author he is highly esteemed, and he has undoubtedly done great service in the propagation of Socialistic opinions in England. He is one of those English intellectuals who, early in the eighties, first restored to Socialism, which was then regarded as defunct, its civil rights in the world of letters. He has also done his part in creating the English Socialistic lyric, as poet and composer. He is, it must be added, a cultivated musician, and about 1890 he was joint musical critic with George Bernard Shaw, on the Radical evening paper, the Star.

Casting my mind back to those days, I remember a very amusing friendly smack which Bax received from Shaw. “My colleague,” wrote Shaw in one of his criticisms, “had fallen asleep beside me. As on the way home I was telling him what I thought of the performance, he suddenly interrupted me with the words ‘How can you pretend to give an opinion when you were asleep the whole time?’” The humour of this remark resides in the fact that Bax, as all his acquaintances were aware, was prone to become completely lost in speculation, and was capable of the maddest paradoxes, which he, unlike Shaw, always took very seriously.

His paradoxes made him a lively contributor to the conversation round Engels’ table. He upheld them in spite of all our contradictions, and defended them with the greatest obstinacy. As an anti-Feminist he was absolutely fanatical. With his pen he asserted and defended the opinion that in England the men constitute the downtrodden sex, while the women are privileged to excess. It may indeed be admitted that the protection which English law extends to the woman, in mitigation of her general condition of statutory tutelage, does in individual cases result in the unjust treatment of the man. Such anomalies are possible in all legislation intended to protect the socially or personally weaker party. But to conclude therefrom that in England the man is legally the “bondsman” of the woman betrays a very one-sided consideration of the matter. There are various instances of such one-sidedness to be observed in Bax. Since he is well read and perspicacious he can plead his case cleverly enough, so that a colleague on the Socialist weekly To-Day, once exclaimed in the middle of a criticism with comical effect, “Why is Bax so unanswerably in the right and so hopelessly in the wrong?” One can understand how such a man will keep the conversational ball rolling.

Shaw himself I never met at Engels’, nor any other of the then better-known Fabians. For a long time Edward Aveling stood between him and Engels, and also between him and myself. On account of Aveling, indeed, many people kept away from Engels’ house; as did, even before my time, Frau Gertrud Guillaume Schack, who had done so much for the German working-women’s movement. This lady, who was descended from the noble family of Schack, was a warm-hearted, convinced Socialist, and was, on account of her good-humour and her unassuming character, an extremely pleasant companion, whom Engels was always delighted to see. One day he received a letter from her in which she begged him not to suppose, if she refrained from coming to his “evenings,” that it was due to any lack of esteem for him. So long as Dr. Aveling visited his house she could not enter it. He received a similar letter when I was just settled in London from a highly cultivated lady, the English Socialist who, under the pseudonym of “John Law,” wrote of the conditions of the seamstresses of Manchester, and the work and character of the Salvation Army in the East End of London, and described similar social conditions and phenomena in the form of fiction. Both Miss H— and Frau Schack flatly refused to give Engels any further reason for their desire to avoid Aveling.

One is forced to suppose that Aveling had been guilty of some insult of a kind that a refined woman would not willingly speak of. Even in Englishmen I have encountered a strong disinclination to allow accusations of a serious nature to go beyond a very narrow circle. In 1895 Aveling was excluded from the London branch of the affiliated league of the Independent Labour Party. The reason given for his exclusion was non-committal, so that at the time it was supposed that it was put forward in place of the real one. Three years later, when I had occasion to get at the truth concerning Aveling, I one day asked the Secretary of the League, in a friendly conversation, what the real cause of his exclusion had been. He could safely confide in me. However, I could get nothing out of the fellow. He replied, on the other hand, almost protestingly, that he had “the greatest respect for Dr. Aveling’s talents and knowledge,” and when I pressed him further his remarks became almost evasive. I could get nothing more out of him, except that he finally decided to make a confession. “Well, I will tell you. The reason given was not the real reason. The matter is simply this, that we don’t want to have anything more to do with the fellow.” These last words were spoken with peculiar emphasis, and I saw that it would go against the grain with him to say anything further. Yet he knew things of the excluded member which would have sufficed to land him in prison.

The predilection for the expedient of indulging in partial praise of a person, in order to avoid telling the unpleasant truth about him, was a thing that astonished me soon after my settling down in London. About the end of the first year my wife and I received a social, invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Hubert Bland, who belonged to the inner circle of the Fabians. They and their guests were interesting people, and the conversation was very natural and spontaneous. But when in some connection or other I spoke of the Avelings, there was suddenly a suspiciously unanimous chorus of praise of them. “Oh, the Avelings are very clever people.” “Oh, everybody must admit that they have been of great service to the movement,” and so forth, in the same key, so that it was at once clear to me that there was something in the air. I diverted the conversation to politics. But a judge of human nature might have blurted out the question: “What’s the truth about them, really? Have they murdered their children, or what?” I am, however, not certain that I should be entitled to speak of hypocrisy in connection with this manner of evading a definite accusation: we are dealing with a deeply rooted custom, which is practised from youth upwards, so that in any case no one is conscious of deception, and as it is a national custom no one is deceived by it.

That it prevails in literature as well was made very plain to me on one occasion, when I was running through a book of mine with a cultured and open-minded English lady who was advising me on points of grammatical correctness and style. I no longer remember precisely what it was about; but in various polemical passages my adviser would inform me, categorically: “That is much too crudely put; you mustn’t say that; you couldn’t possibly say this in the better class of literature.” And yet I don’t think I am regarded as a peculiarly contentious writer.

In particular, an urbaner tone prevails in English literature than in ours. This occurred to me with painful significance one day when I was reading a discussion between August Weissmann and Herbert Spencer in one of the great English reviews (I think it was the Fortnightly Review) concerning the theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, to which Weissmann, as is well known, was opposed, while Spencer defended it. Weissmann’s article was pedagogical and overbearing; he treated his opponent, who, although no zoologist by profession, was a sagacious thinker and a man of very comprehensive knowledge, as an ignorant fellow. Spencer was courteous throughout, merely allowing those facts to speak for him on which he had based his opinion. At that time I quickly put the article aside. I was annoyed. However cosmopolitan our opinions may be, in matters like this we feel our solidarity with our countrymen sufficiently to be ashamed of them.

Of course, there are plenty of people, even in England, who are capable of holding their own, in the matter of a contentious and quarrelsome tone, with the pugnacious Teuton. Among them is, or was, H.M. Hyndman, the leader of that wing of the English Socialists which derived its political doctrine from Marx. Hyndman, who had made Marx’s acquaintance during the last years of his life, and had steeped himself in his writings, has written a very readable book on the Economics of Socialism, which is, indeed, not without its defects, but is still able to hold its own with the average German work devoted to the popularisation of Marx’s teaching. But the practical application which he gave this doctrine was violently sectarian, and his manner of stating it was often arrogantly disputatious. In this connection the irony of the facts so ordered matters that he, who was regarded as the appointed apostle of Marxism in England, was to find the house of Marx’s collaborator and his formally appointed apostle closed to him. Hyndman, when he had published his first Socialistic work, sent it to Engels, asking if he might call on him; but he received the cool reply, which amounted to a refusal, that Engels would receive him when he had publicly made it known to whom he owed the ideas contained in his writings. As a matter of fact, of course, he had availed himself extensively of Marx’s writings, but, as Hyndman himself explained at a later date, he had not mentioned Marx for reasons of expediency. However, although there was no question of malicious plagiarism, Friedrich Engels was always in deadly earnest where Marx was concerned, and when Hyndman had repaired his mistake certain squabbles which had in the meantime occurred in the English Socialist movement had the result that the interdict was never raised.

William Morris, the distinguished poet and artist, and the leader of the Socialist League, which in 1884 seceded from the Socialist Federation, was, up to the time of this schism, an occasional visitor in Engels’ house, and Engels always spoke of him with respect, but they never became intimate. The principal reason was this, that Morris was the central star of a circle of his own. Moreover, he could only with difficulty get away on Sunday evenings. Beside his beautiful house, which was in the western part of London, namely, in Hammersmith, facing the swiftly-flowing Thames – beside Kelmscott House was a long, narrow lecture hall, where Socialist propagandist meetings were held on Sunday evenings for the greater part of the year, and at these meetings Morris was often in the chair. I have twice delivered a lecture there with Morris as chairman, but I never heard him speak himself. But I do not believe that he had any great rhetorical gift. Certainly he could express his ideas in a very arresting manner, but this was when speaking to a comparatively small circle in an unconstrained gossiping tone. Rhetoric, properly speaking, was not natural to him; his whole nature was, if I may say so, anti-rhetorical. This strongly-built man of middle height, with his fine, impressive head, was an artist through and through; but not an artist of the spoken word. The principal scene of his activity was his workroom or his studio, whether that of the literary or the plastic artist. As a painter and designer he is one of the founders of the style which, variously distorted, is known in Germany as the Jugendstil; as a poet he is, in his longer works, a teller of tales, richly embellished by his imagination. A follower of Ruskin in the first place, he is essentially a romantic; no one but a romantic could have written that interesting picture of the future, which has been translated into every language, News from Nowhere: in the German version, Kunde von Nirgendwo. But although he regarded Socialism essentially from the standpoint of the artist, William Morris was by no means the type of aesthete who merely writes of Socialism now and again. No; he was in the heart of the movement; he was among the first to assist in its organisation, and to do propaganda work; and at that time one might often see the admired poet, the well-to-do manufacturer, the designer of tapestries for the selectest houses of the West end, at some street-corner in a working-class district of London, preaching the message of Socialism to a handful of working men.

When Socialist propaganda was resumed in England it encountered, in the working-class population, an uncommonly stubborn material. The members of the trade unions and other organisations were as often as not supporters or allies of the Liberal Party, which included a powerful Radical contingent, especially of the left-wing of the party, and the uneducated working- men stood as yet on a very low intellectual level, and were therefore all the more difficult to organise. The difference between the artisan and the uneducated working man in the matter of wages and cultivation was, for the most part, until lately, very much greater in England than with us; which explains, among other things, why the German, on coming to England, having read that the English worker is better paid, and works shorter hours than the German worker, at first receives the contrary impression. Since the uneducated workers constitute the great majority, it is they who give the tone to certain working-class districts, though not to all.

One of the first artisans to join the Socialist movement the engineer or machinist, John Burns, who later became a Cabinet Minister. He now and then visited Engels, who was very well aware of the superior capacities and the weaknesses of this undoubtedly gifted proletarian. In conversation with me he once compared him to Cromwell, of whose capacities he had a great opinion. He placed him, in the military rank, as high as Napoleon I., and as a statesman above him. Of Burns he used to, say, if any one criticised him unfavourably: “He is more sinned against than sinning.” A sinner he was, to be sure; his conceit, which verged upon the childish, in itself very comprehensible in a man who is astonished by his own capacity, caused him to behave with a want of consideration which is only with difficulty forgiven in the Labour movement. But he was absolutely honest in his devotion to the cause, and for many years had performed a vast and unselfish amount of work for the movement while he was still earning his living as an artisan. Strong as a bear, endowed with a tremendous voice, with a mastery of striking images and comparisons which it would be difficult to beat, he combined, with the outward attributes of the popular speaker, the virtues of the worker who takes a delight in acquiring knowledge, and is an eager and omnivorous reader. His pride and treasure is his library, which was already considerable before he became a Minister.

I got to know him when I had, one day, some transaction or other with a very capable English Socialist, the ex-naval lieutenant, H.H. Champion. We met at a restaurant in the City, and Champion introduced me to Burns, who already had a reputation in the movement, but who impressed me, at first, merely as a man of great energy. He ordered nothing to eat or drink. I learned later that he ordered no food because he had not the money to pay for it, and was too proud to eat at our expense, and no drink because he was a strict abstainer. Until then I had never met an abstainer face to face; had only just heard of the Temperance Party. But that so sturdy a worker should on principle abstain from the least drop of beer was to me quite an unexpected phenomenon. I thought it a curious and interesting fact that Champion and I, both “intellectuals,” should drink beer, while Burns, the manual worker, was an abstainer on principle – a contrast which I was often to note later on. A large percentage of English working-class Socialists are total abstainers, while the majority of middle-class Socialists do not despise the delights of beer, wine, or whisky. That Friedrich Engels was no abstainer in practice every one knows who has read his letters. Neither was he one in theory, although he was very well acquainted with the theory of the matter.

How English workers sometimes conceive of total abstinence is shown by an incident which occurred in Zürich in 1893, on the occasion of the International Socialist Congress, which was held there. Eleanor Marx encountered, in one of the finest beer-gardens in Zürich; a number of English labour-leaders, whom she knew as total abstainers, cheerfully sitting with glasses of beer in front of them. She scornfully reproached them, remarking that their principles apparently had not survived the change of air; but the gigantic leader of the Gasworkers’ Union, Will Thorne, coolly replied that she was quite mistaken, for lager beer was a “temperance drink.”

Will Thorne, who to-day is playing an influential part in the public life of England as a Member of Parliament and a member of the Trade Union Parliamentary Committee, was at that time the representative of one of the so-called New Unions, that is, of a struggling union of uneducated workers, and was himself quite the proletarian. Eleanor Marx and Friedrich Engels thought very highly indeed of him. Engels gave him a copy of, the English edition of Marx’s Capital, with a long personal dedication, and only the great distance of his place of residence – the extreme East End of London – prevented him from becoming one of Engels’ regular guests. Between him and Eleanor Marx there was a real friendship, and when, in 1898, we gathered round the poor girl’s coffin, in order to accompany her body to the crematorium, the strong man was so overcome that his valedictory speech was uttered in a tremulous voice, while the tears rolled incessantly down his cheeks. During the Great War he was one of those English Socialists who held German militarism to be responsible, and he regarded its defeat as the imperative war-aim of democracy.

In my time France was but sparsely represented at Engels’ table. Charles Longuet, the husband of Marx’s eldest daughter, Jenny, Paul Lafargue, the husband of his second daughter, Laura, and Laura herself came over occasionally as visitors from Paris, and if Laura Lafargue’s interests were literary, rather than political, both Marx’s French sons-in-law were none the less strong party politicians. But they stood indifferent camps. Charles Longuet, of Norman origin, and a pupil of Proudhon’s, had attached himself to the extreme left of the Radical party, while Paul Lafargue, together with Jules Guesde, had founded the party whose official title was the Parti Ouvrier, and which derived its political doctrines from Marx. The method of derivation was indeed, even in Marx’s lifetime, not always to his liking, so that he once addressed to Lafargue the words which have since become famous: “One thing is certain, and that is that I am not a Marxist.” And in Lafargue’s writings, in which he makes use of Marx’s historical materialism, the history of myths and ideas, and the historical significance of the same, these are mingled with demonstrations to whose audacity Marx would hardly have subscribed. But he was, for all that, an extraordinarily well-read man, fertile in ideas, with whom it was a pleasure to converse. He has written satires which are equal to the masterpieces of this department of French literature. Half satire, half earnest admonition is his little brochure Le Droit de la Paresse, which in Germany has appeared under the title of Das Recht auf Faulheit. Keen and caustic in argument, in personal intercourse he has many agreeable traits. The materialist in theory is in practice an idealist of the purest water, and far more of an ideologist than Charles Longuet, whose attitude towards the Marxian theory is a critical one.

Charles Longuet, the father of the present Socialist deputy, Jean Longuet, was a man worth knowing. While Lafargue, born in Havana, might in all respects have been taken for a Frenchman of the South, with that touch of the bizarre which Daudet has treated with such sly irony in Tartarin of Tarascon, Charles Longuet was an unusually lively debater, whom the most fiery of southerners could not excel in quickness of intuition; but in the last resort his political arguments were those of the prudent and sagacious northerner, able to form an accurate estimate of the real virtues of a policy. Marx once wrote to Engels in a letter dated the 11th of November 1882 – as though vexed with his Parisian sons-in-law: “Longuet as the last of the Proudhonists and Lafargue as the last of the Bakunists – may the devil fly away with them!” But the basic idea of the philosophy which Marx attacked as Bakunism retained its vitality in France, up to the outbreak of the war, as revolutionary syndicalism, and Proudhon, with all his defects as a theorist, was nevertheless that one of the French Socialists who understood and reflected the spirit of French democracy better than the majority of the Socialists of his time. Longuet, moreover shaped his policy independently of the theoretical crotchets of Proudhon, and had absorbed enough of Marx’s doctrine to enable him skilfully to adapt his theories to his own policy. He had neither the diligence nor the originality of Lafargue: he himself did not dig for gold, but he had the eye of the expert, who can distinguish gold from the less valuable metals, and the talent of the practical coiner.

Both of Marx’s sons-in-law wrote memoirs of Marx, which constituted a valuable supplement to his portrait as it then existed. In the Neue Zeit for 1890-91 Lafargue published various articles on Marx’s methods of work, his literary judgment, and his private life, which brought Marx the thinker very much closer, in a human sense, to the reader; and Longuet, in 1900, in the preface to the addresses to the General Council of the Internationale concerning the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and the Paris Commune of 1871, which were written by Marx, described the more noteworthy characteristics of the emotional side of Marx the politician. Longuet argued, in this preface, that the invectives which Marx, in his writings concerning the Commune, hurled against the murderous besiegers of the same, had this property in common with the invectives of the great pamphleteers of the world’s literature, that they were the expression of the anger aroused by deeply-felt injustice. And he continued:

In this temple of the materialistic conception of history one lived always the noblest idealistic life, the only life that repays the effort of living it. Those exiled for all revolts in the name of the people’s cause were here received with open arms. Without conditions, without reservations as to doctrine, without the least spirit of sectarianism, they were overwhelmed with proofs of the most cordial hospitality ... Neutrality was abhorred. With his favourite poet, the implacable Ghibelline, Marx banished the neutrals to the gates of hell, to the common horde of those angels who are fallen angels, because they were neither rebels against God, nor yet faithful to Him, but sought only their own good – fallen not because of opposition, but because of their cowardice ... His philosophy knew nothing of casuistry. It never dishonoured the frank, lucid theory of the class conflict by chameleonic subtleties.

Yet another French Socialist, who for some time was one of Engels’ regular guests, deserves some mention in these pages: the linguist and litterateur, Charles Bonnier. A Socialist of the Marxist school, a friend and admirer of Jules Guesde, he was a man of great artistic culture, and was also a passionate admirer of Richard Wagner, making regular pilgrimages to Bayreuth, at the time of the Wagner festivals. He was a dear friend of ours, and if an Engels’ Sunday evenings he consented to sing us French or German songs, he always received the heartiest thanks; for he had a fine, sonorous baritone voice, and sang with great artistic knowledge. Wagner was the occasion of many a dispute between him and Engels; the friend whom Engels mentioned in connection with Wagner in a note to his essay on the origin of the family, was Bonnier. Bonnier’s worship of Wagner found an echo, however, in me, for I too was an ardent admirer of the poet and composer of Lohengrin, Tristan, and Die Meistersinger. From London Bonnier went to Oxford, where he settled down as tutor, and is perhaps a tutor to this day. Even after Engels’ death he visited London from time to time, and was always a welcome guest in my house. But when I became a heretic in respect of the strict doctrine of Marxism there came a rift in our friendship. Yet even at this juncture Bonnier did not forget his amiable nature in the parting letter he wrote to me. He concluded with the cry with which Wolfram von Eschenbach in Tannhauser summoned Tannhauser, in the first act, to return to the Wartburg.

The two sister Romance nations of France – Italy and Spain – were not represented in my time among Engels’ guests; nor were the Balkans or Switzerland. Visitors from Scandinavia were also quite the exception. Russia, on the contrary, was for a long time represented by the revolutionary, Sergius Kravtschinsky, who in Western Europe was known by his pseudonym of Stepniak, as the author of Underground Russia. A powerfully built man with a tremendous head, he quite corresponded with the picture which we Germans have formed of the Slav. He, who in Russia was a man of action, and had played a prominent part in the escape of Peter Kropotkin from prison, and in the successful attempt upon the life of the Petersburg police dictator, Mesenzov, was distinctly a man of a dreamy, sensitive, affectionate nature. He was the soul of the “Free Russia” Association, which set itself the task of collecting money for the support of the Russian fight for freedom. For this Association Stepniak repeatedly gave lectures in the English provinces, and also undertook a lecturing tour through the United States, when he received a particularly friendly welcome from the American humorist, Mark Twain. In certain English literary circles Stepniak, who had some success as a novelist, held an honoured position. At Engels’ table, as in society in general, he was usually a silent guest, who seldom spoke unless one directly addressed him. But one saw that he liked coming to Engels’ house, and that he valued greatly his friendship. Between him and myself, too, very friendly relations developed. But a quarrel between the “Free Russia” people and the Polish Socialists, in which Engels and I took the part of the latter, led, m the last year of Engels’ life, to a heated scene in his house, as a result of which Stepniak ceased to visit him. He and I met after that only at gatherings where we did indeed acknowledge one another, but avoided any intimate conversation. This state of affairs underwent a change only the night before his early death. That evening I had accepted an invitation to the house of the English historian, Professor Yorke Powell, who lived in a fairly remote quarter of the western part of London. To Powell’s question whether I had any objection to meeting Stepniak at his house, and to smoke the pipe of peace with him, I replied that I should welcome the opportunity, since our quarrel was not of a personal nature. We spent a very cheerful evening together. Stepniak told me repeatedly how glad he was that we should be on the same footing as in earlier years; we parted on the best of terms; and two mornings later, to my horror, I read in the newspaper that the author of Underground Russia had stepped on to a railway-track just as an express train was about to pass, and had been killed. This had happened the day before, the morning after our meeting. Of course, the rumour sprang up at once that he had committed suicide, and had intentionally allowed himself to be run over. But the disposition of all his affairs, as well as the tone and character of our conversation on the previous evening, went to prove that his death was purely accidental. Apart from this he was a man who readily became completely absorbed by his thoughts, and he had a habit of reading as he walked, so that there is no doubt whatever that he was surprised by the express.

His body was reduced to ashes at the Woking crematorium, which lies at about an hour’s distance by rail from London. It was decided that the funeral procession should accompany the body only as far as the Waterloo terminus. It was a gloomy day on which the burial took place, and only about a thousand mourners, the great majority of whom were Russo-Jewish workers, took part in the procession. From the approach to the departure platform of the railway station, addresses were delivered in honour of the deceased. Which of the English Socialists spoke I no longer remember. I spoke on behalf of the German, and Peter Kropotkin on behalf of the Russian Socialists. He was obviously deeply affected, and his speech was especially impressive. It sounded like a dirge and a lamentation when the famous savant, himself approaching old age, spoke of the departed as of a son who had been so cruelly snatched away from us in the prime of his life, in the fullness of his strength. I cannot think of the patriarch of Russian Anarchism, but the picture of him as I saw him then rises before my eyes. And in other respects the scene was such as to engrave itself deeply in the memory. Here stands a man of European fame, an eminent scholar, beside the bier of one whose works were read in all countries: a valiant and faithful soldier in the fight for the freedom of his people, and the liberation of all the oppressed; and about them throng a thousand of the poorest of the proletariat, who looked upon the dead man as one of their champions and only a few yards distant from these mourners the life of the capital surges along the Waterloo Road, indifferent, unconcerned, as though here on the approach to the departure platform men were hawking any sort of everyday wares. It was a contrast with which the mind can easily reconcile itself; but at the time it could but have a depressing effect upon one’s mood. Involuntarily, I remembered Freiligrath’s verses upon the burial of Johanna Kinkels:

Zur Winterszeit in Engelland
Versprengte Männer haben
Wir schweigend in den fremden Sand
Die Deutsche Frau begraben”

[“In winter-time in England we exiled men silently buried the German woman in alien soil” – (Trans.)]

Stepniak had occupied a similar position, in connection with Russian emigration, to Freiligrath’s in the second phase of his exile in London. He had held himself aloof from the followers of the factions; the dispute which led to a breach between him and Engels had nothing to do with theoretical or tactical party questions; it was concerned merely with a matter which touched upon the disagreeable province of assurance against political espionage.

Among the Polish Socialists with whom the “Free Russia” people had quarrelled were two most interesting personalities, M. and Mme Mendelssohn-Jankovska, now no longer among the living. They were at that time among the guests on Engels’ Sunday evenings. On the occasion of a successful attempt upon the life of the leader of the Russian political police, General Seliverstov, on the part of W. Padlewski, a member of this party, in the summer of 1890, M. and Mme Mendelssohn-Jankovska were notified that they must leave Paris. They at once settled in London, and from that time forwards were almost regular guests of Engels, and very welcome ones.

A member of a wealthy Warsaw banking family, Stanislas Mendelssohn had joined the Socialist movement when still a gymnasium student, and was soon subjected to prosecution. Leaving the country, he was imprisoned in Austria; he them spent many years in Geneva, and later in Paris, working as a writer and organiser for the constitution of a Polish Socialist party, to which end he published the periodical, Pyzedsvit (The Dawn) and the monthly review, Valka Klass (The Class Conflict), and by the sacrifice of considerable means he had provided for the erection and maintenance of a printing-press on which these periodicals, as well as all kinds of pamphlets, could be produced. An attempt to obtain assistance from the Socialists of Posen in 1882 resulted in the imprisonment of himself and his then colleague, K. Janiszevski, for the terms of two and a half and three years respectively, while their party comrade, Mme Maria de Jankovska, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. Maria de Jankovska was a child of the aristocracy, the daughter of a member of the old Polish nobility, who had married a wealthy Polish landowner; but she was so devoted to the Socialist cause, that without leaving her husband, and with his consent, she gave up the greater part of the year to Socialistic activities. She had received a good education, having had German and French teachers in her parents’ house, and her appearance was extremely winning. Of even greater importance to the cause was the man she married, after the death of her first husband. Extraordinarily well read, and a highly critical thinker, Stanislas Mendelssohn seemed to have been created to take part in intellectual symposia. Unhappily all sorts of unfortunate experiences had gradually allowed his critical faculties to degenerate into an acrid scepticism. Giving way to this, he finally turned his back upon the Socialist movement. But he always remained a thoroughly good fellow, ever ready to give help, and with a warm sympathy for all sufferers, his personal opponents not excepted. In Engels’ time his scepticism revealed itself only in the uncommonly witty manner in which he dealt with the events of the day; and the fact that he, compromised as he was, had the courage to undertake a secret journey of organisation, in 1893-94, through Russian Poland, with excursions into Old Russia, led Engels to make a particular friend of him, and induced him, in Mendelssohn’s quarrel with the “Free Russia” people, to take the part of the former in the most vehement manner. Mendelssohn wrote little in German; nevertheless, we may point to an epilogue from his pen to the new edition of Lissagaray’s History of the Paris Commune, as a proof of his great talent for the critical treatment of historical events.

Whether the famous mathematician, Sonia Kovalevska, ever visited Marx or Engels I do not know. They, too, occupied themselves largely with mathematical problems. Engels once told me that the only questions over which he and Marx had ever seriously quarrelled were mathematical questions. But Sonia’s cousin, the sociologist, Maxine Kovalevski, who died last year, as a member of the Russian Duma, was a frequent visitor. He was among their correspondents; and in my time he was numbered now and then among Engels’ guests. Less frequently Engels was visited by the two valiant founders of the Marxist Social Democracy of Russia, Paul Axelrod and George Plechanov. To them the journey to London, where they met the honoured master of the Marxist doctrine, was a kind of pilgrimage. But the third person in their alliance, Vera Sassulitch, who became known to Western Europe on account of an attempted assassination, remained for some time in London, and during this time was, of course, one of Engels’ guests. Although she came of a wealthy middle-class family she was in appearance and bearing the very antithesis of Maria Mendelssohn. In the presence of these two women, who for that matter were on very friendly terms, one was apt to reflect on the difference between their respective civilisations. One of them, Maria Mendelssohn was completely the highly cultivated woman of the world of Western Europe; Vera Sassulitch, on the contrary, was wholly the representative of a rural semi-civilisation. She was an extraordinarily diligent worker, and pathetically modest; but in respect of even the most elementary claims of aesthetics she was far less exacting than Rousseau himself. In her indifference to everything that embellished life, she, who professed the Western European conception of the theory of Socialism, behaved, in practical matters, as regards her standard of life, as a Populist of the deepest dye could but behave. It speaks well, indeed, for her sincerity that all who came to know her more intimately willingly overlooked this peculiarity. Maria Mendelssohn and Engels himself were quite peculiarly tactful in this respect. However free and easy Engels might be, and however democratic in his relations with his political friends, he was nevertheless respected as the master of the house, and he never forgot the excellent manners which he had learned in his parents’ house; and as master of the house he was skilful in contriving that even in moments of the greatest extravagance of his circle guests always preserved a tone which was true, let us say, to the demands of a cultivated taste.


Last updated on 29.1.2003