Letter to Friedrich Engels, July 15, 1858

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 15 July 1858


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 40, p. 328;
First published: slightly 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,] 15 July 1858 9 Grafton Terrace, Maitland Park[edit source]

Dear Engels,

D'abord. I would beg you not to take fright at the contents of this letter since it is not in any way intended as an appeal to your already unduly overloaded exchequer. On the other hand it behoves us to put our heads together to see if some way cannot be found out of the present situation, for it has become absolutely untenable. It has already resulted in my being completely disabled from doing any work, partly because I have to waste most of my time running round in fruitless attempts to raise money, and partly because my abstract thinking — due rather, perhaps, to my being physically run down — is no longer a match for domestic miseries. The general unpleasantness has made a nervous wreck of my wife, and Dr Allen who, of course, suspects where the shoe pinches but doesn’t know the real state of affairs, has now told me repeatedly and positively that he cannot rule out brain fever or something of the sort unless she is sent to a seaside resort for a longish stay. I for my part know that circumstances being what they are, this course, even if feasible, would do her no good so long as she continues to be the victim of daily pressures and haunted by the spectre of final and unavoidable catastrophe. This last, however, cannot be long postponed and, even if it be staved off for a few weeks, there still remains the unbearable day-to-day struggle for mere necessities and a general situation such as will inevitably bring everything to wrack and ruin.

There are in London so-called loan societies which advertise loans of £5-200, without securities and on the strength of references alone. I therefore attempted an operation of this kind, Freiligrath and an épicier having offered to act as referees. The result was that some £2 went on fees. The final, negative, answer arrived the day before yesterday. I don’t know whether I should make a further attempt of this kind.

To give you an idea of the real state of affairs, I have asked my wife to draw up a statement in respect of the £20 advanced by you and the £24 I drew on the Tribune (of which £2 were overdrawn) on 16 June. From it you will see that, as soon as a fairly substantial sum such as this arrives, not a penny is left over even for the most urgent day-to-day expenses, let alone enjoyment of any kind; that exactly the same sickening struggle recommences the following day, and within a very short time the creditors, having received only the most meagre payments on account, once more begin to exert exactly the same pressure in respect of other bills which have accumulated in the meantime. At the same time you will see that my wife hasn’t spent a farthing on clothes, etc., for herself, while the situation as regards the children’s summer dresses is subproletarian. I think it is essential that you should go through these particulars since it would not otherwise be possible to arrive at a correct opinion of the case.

Statement in respect of £20 received 19 May. Paid out:
Rates (water, gas)£7 —
Pawnshop, interest3 —
Redeemed from pawnshop, for1 10
Wages2 —
tallyman (who had to be paid weekly for a coat and trousers)— 18
Shoes and hats for the children1 10
Baker1 —
Butcher1 10
Epicier1 —
Cheesemonger— 10
Coal— 10
Statement in respect of £24 received 16 June from the ‘Tribune’
School for quarter February, March, April£8
Loaned by Schapper for daily expenses over 4 weeks, repaid3 —
Linen redeemed from pawnshop2 —
Wages1 —
Tallyman1 4
Butcher2 —
Epicier2 —
Greengrocer1 —
Chemises, drones, etc., for the children2 —
Baker2 —

Thus, after 17 June there was again not a single penny in the house and, to cover for four weeks day-to-day expenses which had to be paid in cash, we borrowed £4 from Schapper, about £2 of which, however, went on the abortive loan operation in fees.

The full state of indebtedness, as it now stands in London, is as follows. (It will show you that a large part of the same consists in debts to small épiciers who have stretched their credit as far as it will go.)

Rates, due 25 June£9 —
School, due 2 August6 —
Newspaper man (for a year)6 —
Tallyman3 9
Butcher7 14
Baker6 —
Épicier4 —
Greengrocer and coal2 —
Milkman6 17
Owing to previous milkman and baker in Soho9 —
Dr Allen (£7 paid out of last but one Tribune money)10 —
Lina Schöller9 —
Schapper4 —
Pawnshop30 —

Of these debts, the only ones I don’t consider urgent are those owing to Dr Allen, Lina Schöler, the old creditors in Soho and part of what is due to the pawnshop.

Thus the whole business turns on the fact that what little comes in is never earmarked for the coming month, nor is it ever more than just sufficient — after deducting regular outgoings on house, school, rates and pawnshop — to reduce debts to a level that will preclude one’s actually being thrown out into the street. In some 4-5 weeks’ time I shall have about £24 to draw on the Tribune. Of this £15 will immediately go on rates and rent alone. If only a minimum is paid out in respect of other debts — and it is very questionable whether the butcher, etc., will be prepared to wait so long — the predicament will, on the other hand, again be compounded by the 4 weeks which have to be got through d'une manière ou d'une autre. The landlord is himself being harried by creditors and is dunning me for all he’s worth. I fail to see what I am to do, unless it is possible to obtain a loan from a loan-society or life insurance society. Even were I to seek to reduce expenditure to the utmost — e.g. take the children away from school, move into a wholly working-class lodging, get rid of the maids, live on potatoes — not even the auction of my household goods would suffice to satisfy the creditors in the vicinity and ensure an unhampered removal to some hidey-hole. The show of respectability which has so far been kept up has been the only means of avoiding a collapse. I for my part wouldn’t care a damn about living in Whitechapel, provided I could again at last secure an hour’s peace in which to attend to my work. But in view of my wife’s condition just now such a metamorphosis might entail dangerous consequences, and it could hardly be suitable for growing girls.

I have now made a clean breast of it and I assure you that it has cost me no small effort to do so. But enfin, I must speak my mind to somebody. I know that you yourself can do nothing to help. All I ask is your opinion on what to do. I would not wish my worst enemy to have to wade through the quagmire in which I've been trapped for the past two months, fuming the while over the innumerable vexations that are ruining my intellect and destroying my capacity for work.

Salut.

Your
K. M.

I shall send you the things you ask for.