Letter to Karl Marx, January 29, 1851

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 29 January 1851

Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 38, p. 260;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, 1913.
Keywords : Letter, Chartism, Finance, Reform

To Marx in London

[Manchester,] Wednesday evening, 29 January [1851][edit source]

Dear Marx,

Your silence and your astonishment at my silence became suddenly explicable to me when today my old witch of a landlady, after some sharp cross-examination hunted out your letter of 7 inst. from among a pile of books in my room where it had been peacefully slumbering since 8 January. I happened to be out that evening, and this person had simply placed the letter on top of the books; later, when tidying up, she had in her haste put another book on top of it, and as that pile of books has remained untouched all this while, the letter might, without your reminder, have gone on slumbering there till Doomsday. Had I been studying Russian this month instead of physiology, this wouldn’t have happened.

Anyhow, your new thing about land rent is absolutely right. The increasing infertility of the land concomitant with an ever-increasing population in Ricardo has always seemed to me implausible, nor have I ever been able to discover any evidence in support of his ever-rising price of corn, but with my notorious sloth en fait de théorie, I have silenced the inward grumbling of my better self and have never gone to the root of the matter. There can be no doubt that you have hit on the right solution, thereby entitling yourself afresh to the title of economist of land rent. If there were still right and justice on this earth, all land rents for at least a year would now be yours, and that would be the least which you could claim.

I have never really been able to accept Ricardo’s simple proposition in which he represents land rent as the difference in the productivity of various types of land and, seeking to prove this proposition, 1) acknowledges no other factor than the bringing under cultivation of ever poorer types of soil, 2) completely ignores advances in agriculture and 3) finally abandons almost entirely the bringing under cultivation of poorer types of soil, and instead continually proceeds from the assumption that capital, employed successively on a particular field, contributes less and less to the increase in the yield. Convincing as was the proposition to be proved, the factors adduced in proof of that same proposition were wholly alien to it. You will remember that, in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, I already invoked the progress made by scientific agriculture as against the theory of increasing infertility of course very crude and not at all closely argued. You have now cleared up the matter, which is yet another reason why you must make haste to finish the Economy and get it published. If we could somehow get an article of yours on land rent into an English periodical, it would create a tremendous stir. Think it over. Je me charge de la traduction. [I will attend to the translation]

Enclosed I return Mr Great-Gross. In my next I shall include a line or two for the delectable Dronke, but tonight I'm too sleepy to do any more work. A fine band of scallywags, Gross, Wilhelmi, and the progressive pamphleteer from Cincinnati [L A Hine]! The fellows must really imagine that we're on our physical, moral and intellectual beam ends to ask such things of us. C'est amusant, cependant [it’s amusing however], and I laughed heartily at these backwoods saviours of society and their proposals, including fee for Dronke. Dr Siegfried Weiss’ ‘sharp and spicy’ is outdone by the ‘red, piquant, sarcastic and versatile’ of the ‘Adonis of a long-forgotten Beauty’. Que Dieu le bénisse [may God bless him]!

Tomorrow the statements will go off to Bremen together with the necessary instructions. Mr Schramm might really have rewritten his; it’s so wretchedly scrawled that it will probably give rise to misunderstanding.

The O'Connor conference here has turned out to be sheer humbug. Ostensibly representing the whole of English Chartism, it consists of 8 men who represent 4 towns: Manchester, Bradford, Warrington and Sowerby. Of these, Warrington and Bradford belong to the opposition and see eye to eye with the Executive. Mantle, the Warrington representative, who doesn’t give a fig for the majority, opened the proceedings with the motion that the conference, seeing their utter insignificance and contemptibility, should resolve to go home forthwith, and tomorrow he will extort from them a vote of confidence for the Executive, i.e. for Harney and Jones, from which O'Connor will be unable to abstain. On the question of union with the financial reformers 3 voted for and 2 against, 3 abstaining, among them O'Connor, whom Mantle had unfortunately intimidated by his insolent conduct; otherwise the fellow would have voted in favour, thereby making a colossal and irretrievable fool of himself. At the conference O'Connor, Leach, McGrath, Clark and a certain Hurst formed the majority. At a dinner given for O'Connor on Monday, Mr Thomas Clark proposed the following toast: The Queen: Her Rights and no more; the People: Their rights and no less. Here again Mantle, a fiery, undiplomatic hothead, stopped O'Connor from getting up and drinking the toast.

The letter to Weerth has gone off and should be in his hands within a few days, provided he isn’t buried in the heart of Morocco.

No more for today.

F. E.