Letter to Ferdinand Lassalle, May 31, 1858

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To Ferdinand Lassalle in Berlin

London, 31 May 1858 9 Grafton Terrace, Maitland Park, Haverstock Hill[edit source]

Dear Lassalle,

Post tot discrimina rerum [after so many setbacks] at long last a sign of life. As for me, what’s been happening since my wife wrote to you is simply this:

Having been totally incapable of writing — not only in a literary, but in the literal sense of the word — for several weeks, and striven in vain to rebel against my illness; having, moreover, been pumped full of medicine and all to no use, I was positively assured by my doctor that I must have a change of air, secondly that I must drop all intellectual labour for some time and, finally, engage in riding as the main form of treatment. In itself the illness wasn’t dangerous — enlargement of the liver — but on this occasion the accompanying symptoms were particularly revolting; moreover, in my family it has nasty implications in that it was the starting-point of the illness which led to my father’s death. Well. With the utmost reluctance I eventually gave way to the insistence of doctor and family, joined Engels in Manchester, went in for riding and other physical exercises and, after spending a month up there, finally returned to London fully restored. The illness — altogether a very expensive luxury in my circumstances — was all the more inopportune in that I had already begun to prepare the first instalment [Critique of Political Economy] for publication. I shall now settle down to this with a will. I trust you will be so kind as to tell the publisher all about these adventures. You will readily be able to imagine the state of mind I was in during my illness when I tell you that liver complaints as such tend to make one hypochondriacal and that, in addition, my life was bedevilled by all manner of domestic circumstances, not to speak of the hitch over publication. Now I have recovered my accustomed good humour.

During this time of tribulation I carefully perused your Heraclitus. Your reconstruction of the system from the scattered fragments I regard as brilliant, nor was I any less impressed by the perspicacity of your polemic. In so far as I have any fault to find, it is largely formal. I believe your exposé could have been rather more condensed without in any way jeopardising the import. I should, moreover, have liked to find in the text proper some critical indications as to your attitude to Hegelian dialectic. This dialectic is, to be sure, the ultimate word in philosophy and hence there is all the more need to divest it of the mystical aura given it by Hegel. Finally, there are some details upon which I do not agree with you; e.g. your interpretation of Democritus’ natural philosophy. These, however, are all minor points. I am all the more aware of the difficulties you had to surmount in this work in that about 18 years ago I myself attempted a similar work on a far easier philosopher, Epicurus — namely the portrayal of a complete system from fragments, a system which I am convinced, by the by, was — as with Heraclitus — only implicitly present in his work, not consciously as a system. Even in the case of philosophers who give systematic form to their work, Spinoza for instance, the true inner structure of the system is quite unlike the form in which it was consciously presented by him. It is incomprehensible to me, by the by, how you found the time in the midst of all your other work to acquire so much Greek philology.

On the whole the present moment of time is a pleasing one. History is clearly about to take again a new start, and the signs of dissolution everywhere are delightful for every mind not bent upon the conservation of things as they are.


K. M.