Letter to Karl Marx, February 5, 1851

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 5 February 1851

First published in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Bd. 1, Stuttgart, 1913

An extract from this letter was published in English for the first time in: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Correspondence. 1846-1895. A Selection with Commentary and Notes, Martin Lawrence Ltd., London, 1934, and International Publishers, New York, 1935. Republished in Marx Engels on Britain, Progress Publishers 1953.

Published in English in full for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 38
Collection(s): Marx Engels on Britain

To Marx in London

Manchester, February 5, 1851[edit source]

Dear Marx,

Herewith the remaining £1 for the atlas,[1] which I was unfortunately not able to send you sooner. Tell Harney when you see him that by the end of this week he will receive at the very least the 1st half of a series of articles on Continent Democracy, the articles so arranged that each one of them will not fill more than 2-2½ columns in his Friend of the People. I shall use the above as a pretext for crying down the whole democratic establishment and rendering it suspect to the English proletariat by putting it—Mazzini, Ledru-Rollin, etc. included— on the same footing as the FINANCIAL REFORMERS.[2] The European Committee WILL CATCH IT NICELY. These gentry will be dealt with one by one, Mazzini’s writings, Ledru-Rollin’s splendid acts of heroism in February-June 1848—not, of course, forgetting Mr Ruge. I shall make it quite plain to the Italians, Poles and Hungarians that they are to keep their traps shut on all current issues. This business of the hoax Harney is perpetrating with Mazzini & Co.’s begging letters is really going too far and, since there’s no other way of reforming him, I shall be obliged to expose in his own journal the fatuity and baseness of these fellows and to unveil the mysteries of continental democracy for the benefit of the English Chartists. A detailed polemical article is always more salutary in Harney’s case than any amount of debate. Unfortunately I have damned little material here.

What I have at the moment is Sarrans jeune[3], Lafayette et la révolution de Juillet. If I could find a few more sources, I could do an article for our Revue on the July Revolution and subsequent events up till the February Revolution, at the same time subjecting the Histoire de dix ans[4] to a friendly criticism. These TO ans’ have remained largely unchallenged by advanced opinion and, in

Germany as in France, constitute a very important formative element in the revolutionary party as a whole. It would do no harm, I think, to reduce the influence of this book to the appropriate limits; hitherto it has been an uncontested authority. Mr Russell, the craven cur, has made a splendid fool of himself yet again. First he breathes fire and brimstone against PAPAL AGGRESSION,[5] then, realising that the MANCHESTER MEN have absolutely no intention of getting embroiled in the mummery, he is brought to bed of an heroic measure, namely wanting to ban the use of English titles by Catholic bishops. And then the nice hint, dropped at his behest by Mr Peto, that it would indeed have been desirable to extend the franchise during the present session, but since LAW-REFORM came next on the agenda, the franchise would have to be postponed till next year! A prime example of Whig logic. The MPs, by the way, are very captious and unsure of themselves, with elections in the offing; they have to make liberal or protectionist FLOURISHES and, but for the fact that the EXHIBITION[6] happens to coincide with the most lively period of the session’s grande politique,[7] things might go ill with the little manikin[8] And even so, qui sait.[9]

In general the daily political bread is growing ever drier. The happy situation in which la belle France now delights is, indeed, edifying. For there is no denying that Messieurs the Burgraves[10] are becoming less and less representative of the bourgeois fraction or rather, that the bourgeoisie is moving further and further away from its erstwhile Legitimist and Orleanist leaders. First, the important minority in favour of Baroche at the session in which he was unseated by the coalition, a minority which also consisted of a great many non-Bonapartists, former Orleanists, etc., etc.; next the unmistakable’ mood of the conservative bourgeoisie en masse, which is far more favourable to Napoleon than hitherto. The mass of these fellows are now resolutely opposed to Orleanist no less than to Legitimist plots for a restoration; les solutions les embêtent,[11] and what they want is the daily round of the presidential present. The fellows are neither royalist, nor republican, nor imperialist, but presidential; but the best thing about it is that such delicious indecision is possible only in the mass, and that anyone who wished to make his mark as official representative of this tendency would, within six months, find himself compelled to abandon his neutrality in favour of a definite royalist or imperialist fraction. By the way, the only French papers I have here are the Débats and the Charivari which, sad to say, grâce à l’esprit exquis du peuple dans ces parages,[12] is coming to seem almost witty again.

From a stupid Hungarian refugee whom I recently happened upon, I heard that this noble breed are once again jabbering about murder plots and riots on the occasion of the GREAT EXHIBITION. Amidst the din I seemed almost to detect the heroic voices of those London hotspurs, Willich and Barthélémy. There’s really no getting away from the creatures; recently a fellow accosted me in the street and lo, it was a Great Windmill Street refugee[13] now employed in Liverpool. ‘If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea’,[14] I shall not escape that band.

The FREE TRADERS here are exploiting the prosperity or semiprosperity to buy the proletariat, with John Watts for broker. You will be familiar with Cobden’s new plan: a NATIONAL FREE SCHOOL ASSOCIATION for the purpose of putting through a BILL by which the TOWNSHIPS would be authorised to impose local taxes for the building of schools. The thing is being splendidly promoted. In addition, Salford already has a FREE LIBRARY and museum—lending library and reading room gratis. In Manchester the Hall of Science was purchased—and here, as the Lord Mayor of Manchester most graciously acknowledged, Watts really was the broker—by a committee out of the proceeds of public collections (some £7,000 in all) and is to be turned into a FREE LIBRARY. The thing is to be opened at the end of July—with 14,000 volumes TO BEGIN WITH. All the meetings and assemblies held for this purpose resound with praise for the workers, and in particular for the good, modest, helpful Watts who is now on the best of terms with the Bishop of Manchester. I am already looking forward to the indignant uproar over the workers’ ingratitude which will break out on all sides when the first SHOCK makes itself felt.

Not long ago my worthy pater wrote me a pleasant letter expressing the wish that I remain here indefinitely, that is, for as long as the trouble with the Ermens lasts (and that might mean until 1854). Very agreeable to me, of course, s’il me paie bien mon ennui.[15] Of this, naturally, I give no hint, but ‘sacrifice’ myself for the ‘firm’ and express my readiness ‘to remain here for the time being and see how circumstances develop’. He’s coming over next summer, and I shall then try to make myself so indispensable to him that he will have to agree to anything.

Kind regards to your wife and children.


F. E.


  1. Historischer und geographischer Atlas von Europa
  2. At the meeting on 13 August 1849 in the London Drury Lane Theatre of the National Association for Parliamentary and Financial Reform (founded by the bourgeois radicals in 1849 with the aim of achieving a democratic electoral system and changes in the tax system) O'Connor advocated a union of the middle and working classes. His speech was supported by the Free Trader Thomas Thompson.
  3. the Younger
  4. L. Blanc, Histoire de dix ans. 1830-1840.
  5. Papal aggression here means Pope Pius IX’s interference in Anglican Church matters. On 30 September 1850 the Pope issued a bull establishing several Catholic bishoprics in England and appointing Nicholas Wiseman Archbishop of Westminster and Cardinal. In reply to this, the Whig Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, carried a bill through Parliament in 1851 forbidding any clergyman not belonging to the Anglican Church to assume the title of bishop. The bill in fact remained a dead letter.
  6. The Great Exhibition held in London in May-October 1851
  7. high politics
  8. John Russell
  9. who knows
  10. The reference is to the commission of 17 Orleanist and Legitimist deputies to the Legislative Assembly appointed by the Minister of the Interior on 1 May 1850 to draft a new electoral law. Its members were nicknamed burgraves, a name borrowed from the title of Victor Hugo’s historical drama as an allusion to their unwarranted claims to power and their reactionary aspirations. The drama is set in medieval Germany where a Burggraf was governor of a Burg (city) or a district, appointed by the Emperor.
  11. the solutions annoy them
  12. thanks to the exquisite wit of the people hereabouts
  13. The London German Workers' Educational Society had its premises in Great Windmill Street.
    It was founded in February 1840 by Kari Schapper, Joseph Moll and other members of the League of the Just, its aim being political education of workers and dissemination of socialist ideas among them. After the Communist League had been founded the leading role in the Society belonged to the League’s local communities. In 1847 and 1849-50 Marx and Engels took an active part in the Society’s work.
  14. Psalms 139:9
  15. provided he pays me well for my boredom