Letter to Johann Philipp Becker (excerpt) (1)

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January 29 1866[1][edit source]

With respect to religion, a significant movement is currently developing in stuffy old England. The top men in science, Huxley (Darwin’s school) at the head, with Charles Lyell, Bowring, Carpenter, etc., give very enlightened, truly bold, free-thinking lectures for the people in St. Martin’s Hall, and, what is more, on Sunday evenings, exactly at the time when the lambs are usually making a pilgrimage to the Lord’s pastures; the hall has been full to bursting and the people’s enthusiasm so great that, on the first Sunday evening, when I went there with my family, more than 2,000 people could not get into the room, which was crammed full. The clerics let this dreadful thing happen three times. — Yesterday evening, however, the assembly was informed that no more lectures could be held until the court case brought by the spiritual fathers against the Sunday Evenings for the People was heard. The gathering emphatically expressed its indignation and more than a hundred pounds were then collected for fighting the case. How stupid of the clerics to interfere. To the annoyance of this pious band, the evenings even closed with music. Choruses from Händel, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Gounod were sung and received enthusiastically by the English, who had, until now, only been allowed to bawl out “Jesus, Jesus, meek and mild” or take themselves off to the gin palace on Sundays.'

[The next two paragraphs are from Der Vorbote editors]

These events may well provide the incentive for the numerous societies of free-thinkers in England,[2] which so far have taken a more reserved stand, to come before the people In order that their research might be put to practical use.

It is also a sign of the times that the Fenian cause[3] arouses deep sympathy among the English working class, both because it opposes the clerics and because it is republican.

  1. Jenny Marx’s letter of January 29, 1866 to Joseph Philipp Becker, leader of the German sections of the International in Switzerland, contained information for the journal Der Vorbote, organ of the International Association in Switzerland of which he was the editor. In this case, as in the next, it was, presumably, Marx who, being ill at the time, asked his wife to send this kind of information. Trying to support this periodical, Marx also asked Liebknecht, Kugelmann and his other friends and associates to supply it with material. The item published in Der Vorbote and the corresponding passage in the letter coincide. The introductory words and the last two paragraphs were added by the editors.
  2. A reference to atheist societies active in England in the 1860s. A considerable influence on this movement was exerted by Charles Bradlaugh and other bourgeois radicals who were grouped around The National Reformer and were disseminating reformist ideas among the workers.
  3. Fenians — Irish revolutionaries who called themselves after the warriors of ancient Ireland. Their first organisations appeared in the 1850s in the USA among the Irish immigrants and later in Ireland itself. The secret Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, as the organisation was known in the 1860s, aimed at establishing an independent Irish republic by means of an armed uprising. The Fenians, who represented the interests of the Irish peasantry, came mainly from the urban petty bourgeoisie and intelligentsia. They adhered to conspiracy tactics. The British government sought to suppress the Fenian movement by severe police reprisals. In September 1865 it arrested several leaders of the movement, including the editors of the banned newspaper The Irish People, Thomas Clarke Luby, John O'Leary, and Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, and sentenced them to long terms of imprisonment (O'Donovan Rossa for life). The Central Council of the International came out in defence of the arrested Fenians. In particular, on January 2, 1866 the Council adopted a decision, on Fox’s motion, to reprint in the International’s newspaper, The Workman’s Advocate, the appeal of Mrs. O'Donovan Rossa and Mrs. Clarke Luby, published in Irish newspapers, to raise funds for the Irish political prisoners. The appeal is mentioned below in these Minutes.