Letter to Karl Marx, July 14, 1858
|Written||14 July 1858|
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 Marx in London
Manchester, 14 July 1858[edit source]
Up here we are now in the middle of the balance-sheet and hence I haven’t had the leisure to write to you at greater length. I hope that your little Tussy [Eleanor] is better. Gumpert tells me that in the English climate whooping-cough is seldom dangerous and, though usually chronic, is benign. All the cases they've had in the hospital so far have ended well. He gave me both the reports (Marei’s) this hospital has so far produced. They are highly scientific and I wish I had had material of this kind when I was writing my book. I also have copies of it for you which I shall be sending; individual bits may come in useful for your chapter on wage labour. No doubt you will derive some amusement from Marei’s grandiose conception and sanguine expectations.
Have neither seen nor heard of the statements by Mr Türr, etc. The Star is not much read up here. So I'd be glad if you would just send The Free Press and also, if possible, a copy for Lupus, who is still in Buxton, whither he was sent by Borchardt, and where, out of boredom, he may well do more walking than is good for his leg.
The two letters from New York which you mention in your last were not enclosed.
Apropos. Kindly let me have Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature as promised. I am presently doing a little physiology which I shall combine with comparative anatomy. Here one comes upon highly speculative things, all of which, however, have only recently been discovered; I am exceedingly curious to see whether the old man may not already have had some inkling of them. This much is certain: were he today to write a Philosophy of Nature, subjects would come flocking in on him from all directions. One has no idea, by the way, of the progress made in the natural sciences during the past 30 years. Two things have been crucial where physiology is concerned: 1. the tremendous development of organic chemistry, 2. the microscope, which has been properly used only during the past 20 years. This last has produced even more important results than chemistry; what has been chiefly responsible for revolutionising the whole of physiology and has alone made comparative physiology possible is the discovery of the cell — in plants by Schleiden and in animals by Schwann (about 1836). Everything consists of cells. The cell is Hegelian ‘being in itself’ and its development follows the Hegelian process step by step right up to the final emergence of the ‘idea’ — i.e. each completed organism.
Another result that would have delighted old Hegel is the correlation of forces in physics, or the law whereby mechanical motion, i.e. mechanical force (e.g. through friction), is, in given conditions, converted into heat, heat into light, light into chemical affinity, chemical affinity (e.g. in the voltaic pile) into electricity, the latter into magnetism. These transitions may also take place differently, backwards or forwards. An Englishman [Joule] whose name I can’t recall has now shown that these forces pass from one to the other in quite specific quantitative proportions so that e.g. a certain quantity of one, e.g. electricity, corresponds to a certain quantity of each of the others, e.g. magnetism, light, heat, chemical affinity (positive or negative — combining or separating) and motion. The idiotic theory of latent heat is thus disposed of. But isn’t this splendid material proof of how the reflex categories dissolve one into the other?
This much is certain — comparative physiology gives one a healthy contempt for man’s idealistic arrogance in regard to other animals. At every step it is forcibly brought home to one how completely his structure corresponds to that of other mammals; he has basic features in common with all vertebrates and even — if less distinctly — with insects, crustaceans, tapeworms, etc. Here too Hegel’s stuff about the qualitative leap in the quantitative sequence fits in very nicely. Finally, with the most primitive infusoria, one reaches the original form, the single cell existing independently, which again is not perceptibly distinguishable from the lowest vegetable life (single-celled fungi such as those causing disease in potatoes, the vine, etc., etc.) or, at a higher stage of development, from the germ right up to and including the human ovum and spermatozoan, and is identical in appearance to the separate cells in the living body (blood corpuscles, the cells of the epidermis and mucous membrane, secreting cells in the glands, kidneys, etc., etc.).
Some time, you might also let me know what sort of a disease dyspepsia crapulosa is. This isn’t, as it happens, a bad joke but a scientifically recognised term.
If The Times has any particulars about India tomorrow, we shall see what can be done for the Tribune, otherwise it will be no go. So you'll see from tomorrow’s Times more or less what can be expected.
Warm regards to the family.