Letter to Friedrich Engels, February 1, 1858

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 1 February 1858

Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 40, p. 258;
First published: abridged in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Stuttgart, 1913, and in full in: Marx and Engels, Works, Moscow, 1929.

To Engels in Manchester

[London,] 1 February 1858 9 Grafton Terrace, Maitland Park, Haverstock Hill[edit source]

Dear Frederick,

£5 arrived. The simultaneous arrival of two letters, of which I sent off one on Thursday, the other on Friday, would seem to indicate that refugees’ letters are being held back, examined, etc., by the Post Office.

New B’s are: ‘Bidassoa’ (Battle of), ‘Blenheim’ (ditto), ‘Burmah’ (War in), ‘Bomarsund’ (Siege), ‘Borodino’ (Battle), ‘Brescia’ (Assault), ‘Bridge-head’, ‘Bülow, ‘Buda’ (Siege of), ‘Beresford’,Berme’. When Dana says, ‘Most of them I asked you before’, he is mistaken, and is confusing your list of B’s with his own. All he himself ordered was: ‘Barbette’, ‘Bastion’, ‘Bayonet’, ‘Barclay de Tolly’, ‘Battery’, ‘Battle’, ‘Bem’, ‘Bennigsen’, ‘Berthier’, ‘Bernadotte’, ‘Bessières’, ‘Bivouac’, ‘Blindage’, ‘Bliicher’, ‘Bium’, ‘Bolivar’, ‘Bomb’, ‘Bombardier’, ‘Bombardment’, ‘Bomb (Ketch, Proof, Vessel)’, ‘Bonnet’, ‘Bosquet’, ‘Bourrienne’, ‘Bridge’ (pontoon), Brown (Sir George), ‘Brune’, ‘Bugeaud’.’ (The ass has received the lot.)

I have done ‘Catapult’ for you (not very much). Likewise the better part of ‘Castrum’ (but I still have to look up Greek camps in Wachsmuth, Hellenische Alterthumskunde, and Jewish in de Wette). It’s a lengthy business where Percussion Caps are concerned because there are so many different types of gun-locks, etc., to be listed. I'd have already finished the job if it hadn’t been for the new order from Dana. I'll send you all the rubbish at the same time. Besides, whenever I'm at the Museum, there’s such a lot of stuff to look up that it’s closing-time (now 4 o'clock) before I've so much as looked round. Then there’s the journey there. So much time lost.

Heraclitus, the Dark Philosopher by Lassalle the Luminous One is, au fond a very silly concoction. Every time Heraclitus uses an image to demonstrate the unity of affirmation and negation — and this is often — in steps Lassalle and makes the most of the occasion by treating us to some passage from Hegel’s Logic which is hardly improved in the process; always at great length too, like a schoolboy who must show in his essay that he has thoroughly understood his ‘essence’ and ‘appearance’ as well as the ‘dialectical process’. Once he has got this into his speculative noodle, one may be sure that the schoolboy will nevertheless be able to carry out the process of ratiocination only in strict accord with the prescribed formula and the formes sacramentales [sacred forms]. Just so our Lassalle. The fellow seems to have tried to puzzle out Hegelian logic via Heraclitus, nor ever to have tired of beginning the process all over again. As for learning, there is a tremendous display of it. But, as any well-informed person will know, provided one has the time and the money and, like Mr Lassalle, can have Bonn University Library delivered ad libitum to one’s home, it is easy enough to assemble such an array of quotations. One can see what an amazing swell the fellow himself thinks he is in this philological finery, and how he moves with all the grace of a man wearing fashionable dress for the first time in his life. Since most philologists are not possessed of the speculative thinking dominant in Heraclitus, every Hegelian has the incontestable advantage of understanding what the philologist does not. (It would, by the by, be strange indeed if, by learning Greek, a fellow were to become a philosopher in Greek without being one in German.) Instead of simply taking this for granted, Mr Lassalle proceeds to lecture us in a quasi-Lessingian manner. In longwinded, lawyer’s style he vindicates the Hegelian interpretation as opposed to the erroneous exegeses of the philologists — erroneous for want of specialised knowledge. Thus we are accorded the twofold gratification, first, of having dialectical matters which we had all but forgotten expounded to us at considerable length and, secondly, of seeing this ‘speculative heritage’ vindicated (qua special province of Mr Lassalle’s philological-jurisprudential astuteness and erudition) vis-à-vis the unspeculative philologists. Despite the fellow’s claim, by the way, that hitherto Heraclitus has been a book with 7 seals, he has to all intents and purposes added nothing whatever that is new to what Hegel says in the History of Philosophy. All he does is to enlarge on points of detail which could, of course, have been accomplished quite adequately in two sheets of print. Still less does it occur to the laddie to come out with any critical reflections on dialectics as such. If all the fragments by Heraclitus were put together in print, they would hardly fill half a sheet. Only a chap who brings out his books at the expense of the frightful ‘specimen of humankind’ can presume to launch upon the world 2 volumes of 60 sheets on such a pretext.

Heraclitus, the Dark Philosopher, is quoted as saying in an attempt to elucidate the transformation of all things into their opposite: ‘Thus gold changeth into all things, and all things change into gold.’ Here, Lassalle says, gold means money (c'est juste) and money is value. Thus the Ideal, Universality, the One (value), and things, the Real, Particularity, the Many. He makes use of this surprising insight to give, in a lengthy note, an earnest of this discoveries in the science of political economy. Every other word a howler, but set forth with remarkable pretentiousness. It is plain to me from this one note that, in his second grand opus, the fellow intends to expound political economy in the manner of Hegel. He will discover to his cost that it is one thing for a critique to take a science to the point at which it admits of a dialectical presentation, and quite another to apply an abstract, ready-made system of logic to vague presentiments of just such a system.

But, as I remarked immediately after receipt of his first self-complacent letter, the Old Hegelians and philologists must indeed have been pleased to discover such old-fashioned virtues in a young man who passes for a great revolutionary. On top of that, he bows and scrapes to all and sundry in the hope of assuring himself a favourable reception. As soon as I've skimmed through the stuff, I'll send it too.


K. M.