Letter to Karl Marx, November 17, 1856

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 17 November 1856


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 40, p. 82;
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, 17 November 1856[edit source]

Dear Marx,

Day after day this accursed commerce has prevented me from writing. I now have three lads to keep in control and am forever checking, correcting, telling off and giving orders. Add to this the running battle with manufacturers over bad yarn or late delivery, and my own work. I wish it might occur to Mr Bonaparte to rid France of his own person and me of all this turmoil.

Come to that, the said Bonaparte is in damned hot water. The spate of stories about placards and the unrest among the workers sent in by the Times correspondent, after the Moniteur article had led to his being ordered de parler plus haut [to talk louder] have made an enormous impression on the English philistines here. Everyone believes in his speedy downfall. The explanation for the sudden discovery that, au fond the fellow is after all an ass and indeed of a very ordinary kind, is as follows: he used to be a genius but has now so ruined himself by his profligate way of life that it has affected his brain. While there may, of course, be something in this, the fellow’s behaviour has on the whole been quite consistent, and only the English philistines can see any qualitative difference between the man he used to be and the man he is now.

Today’s Guardian contains some interesting statistics about bankruptcies in France; I am sending it to you.

It looks as though the financial crisis will linger on through the winter, becoming gradually more acute though with occasional ups and downs. This means that in the spring it will be considerably worse than if it had broken out in acute form now. The greater the capital paid in to companies hitherto existing largely on paper and the greater the extent to which floating capital becomes fixed, the better. So long as the discount rate doesn’t fall below 7 per cent — and the recent rise shows that it will have to be raised yet further — there is no prospect that even half the speculative companies will be able to obtain payment for their third or fourth calls. The Austrian Crédit mobilier can’t even collect the money for its second call, and yet the government enters into agreements in Austria, by which the Bank is compelled to resume cash payments! — I'd like to have the money Bonaparte has probably spent over the past 6 weeks to keep government stocks above 66 per cent; precisely because of the great efforts made towards that end, I shall account the day a turning-point when government stocks first drop below 66.

The longer this chronic pressure goes on, the more numerous will be the revelations concerning the dirty work of the Bonapartist clique and the greater the rage of the working-men who could not previously have been aware of the details. This chap Morny is really a prime example of a suitier [wastrel], nor would he seem to have any wish to return to Paris; for him certainly, there could be no more appropriate way to invest his money than in Russian railways and government paper.

Never again, perhaps, will the revolution find such a fine tabula rasa as now. All socialist dodges exhausted, the compulsory employment of labour anticipated and exploded 6 years since, no opportunity for new experiments or slogans. On the other hand, however, the difficulties will be starkly in evidence; the bull will have to be taken literally by the horns, and I'd dearly like to see how the next French provisional government will set about cutting its teeth. Nothing, luckily, can be done this time except by dint of the most reckless courage, for we no longer have any reason to fear as swift an ebb as in 1848.

Strohn has been here recently; had heard sundry things about the little man [Ernst Dronke]; entre nous, the fellow is thinking seriously about setting up in business on his own! He imagines his patter will serve to entice customers away from his present principal.

I have in front of me at this moment James’ Naval History of England, 1792-1820, mainly for the sake of ships against walls. It shows that the English had to fight very hard to gain naval superiority over the French and, more especially, the Spanish. Given parity of strength, the French and Spanish, during the early years of the war, were a match for the English on almost every occasion, and a mass of vessels was captured from the latter. Though I haven’t yet got beyond 1796, I can already see that under Napoleon the French fleet reached an absolute nadir, for which he was probably partly to blame. — The superiority of the English at sea lies chiefly in their better gunnery; the French always fired too high, though the Spanish were much better. The story about the Vengeur, said to have gone down on 1 June 1794 au cri de vive la république is, by the way, a myth. The Vengeur surrendered to the English but, before she was actually seized, several French vessels again began to close; she rehoisted the French flag, the rescuers were beaten off and the English approached, but the ship went down, most of her crew being saved. She sank 4-6 hours after the end of the battle.

Kindest regards to your wife and children.

Your
F. E.