Letter to Louise Weydemeyer, March 11, 1861
|Author(s)||Jenny von Westphalen|
|Written||11 March 1861|
First published: abridged in Die Neue Zeit, Stuttgart, 1907.
Hampstead, 11 March 1861[edit source]
My dear Mrs Weydemeyer,
Your kind letter arrived this morning and, so you can see how delighted I was to get it, I am sitting down straight away to write to you at some length since, from your friendly lines, I conclude that you like to hear from us, and that your recollection of us is as cordial as is ours of you. Indeed, how could such old party comrades and friends, on whom fate has imposed much the same joys and sorrows, the same sunny and gloomy days, ever become strangers, even though time and oceans have separated us? And thus from afar I hold out my hand to you as to one who is a plucky and loyal fellow fighter and fellow sufferer. Yes, my dear Mrs Weydemeyer, our hearts have often been heavy and troubled and I can imagine only too well what you have latterly had to endure, what struggles and worries and deprivations, having often been through the same thing myself. But suffering tempers us and love keeps us going.
During our early years here, we did indeed suffer bitterly, though today I will not dwell upon the many dark memories, the many losses we had to endure, nor upon the dear, sweet loved ones who have gone to their rest and whose images we always bear silently and with profound sorrow in our hearts [following the death of her children Heinrich Guido, Franziska, and Edgar]. Let me tell you today about a new period in our lives which, along with much that is sad, has, nevertheless, brought many a bright moment. In 1856, I and our three remaining girls [Jenny, Laura, and Eleanor] made a trip to Trier. My dear mother’s delight on my arrival with her little grandchildren was indescribable but, alas, of short duration. The truest and best of mothers fell sick and, at the end of eleven days’ suffering, her dear, weary eyes, having rested once more in benison on myself and the children, closed for ever. Your dear husband, who knew my affectionate mother, will best be able to gauge my sorrow. After our dearly loved one had been laid to rest, I left Trier, having arranged for the division between my brother Edgar and myself of what little my dear mother had bequeathed to us. Up till then, we had been living in 3 wretched furnished rooms in London. With the few hundred talers that my mother left, after all the sacrifices she had already made on our behalf, we settled into the small house we still occupy, not far from lovely Hampstead Heath (a name that you, as the translator of The Woman in White, will no doubt recall). It is indeed a princely dwelling compared with the holes we lived in before and, although it was furnished from top to bottom for little more than £40 (in which secondhand rubbish played a leading role), I felt quite grand at first in our snug parlour. All the linen and what little else remained of earlier finery were redeemed from ‘Uncle’s’, and I again had the pleasure of counting the damask table napkins which are, besides, all of old Scottish descent. Although the glory did not last for long — for soon one thing after another had to make its way back to the ‘pop-house’ (as the children call the mysterious shop with its three golden balls) — we did, nevertheless, revel in our domestic comfortableness. Then came the first American crisis and halved our income. This meant a return to a more frugal way of life and debts. These last were necessary if our daughters’ education, but recently begun, was to continue along the same lines as before.
And this brings me to the highlight of our existence — the brighter aspect of our lives — our dear children. I am convinced that, if your dear husband was fond of the girls even as small children, he would be truly delighted with them, now that they are well-grown, blooming young damsels. Even at the risk of your regarding me as a very complacent and indulgent mother, I cannot resist singing the dear girls’ praises. They are both endowed with exceptionally warm hearts, are gifted and have becoming modesty and maidenly good manners. Little Jenny will be seventeen years old on the 1st of May. She is a girl of great charm and very attractive appearance, with her thick, shiny dark hair and equally dark, shining, gentle eyes and dark, Creole-like complexion, which has, however, acquired a genuine English bloom. Her childlike face, round as an apple, wears a sweet and good-natured expression and, when the smiling lips part to reveal her nice teeth, one forgets her not very beautiful little snub nose. Little Laura, who was fifteen years old last September, is perhaps prettier and has more regular features than her elder sister, whose very opposite she is. As tall, slender and finely built as little Jenny, she is in all other respects lighter, more radiant and transparent. The upper part of her face might be described as beautiful, so lovely is her curly, wavy chestnut hair, so sweet the dear, greenish sparkling eyes, which flicker like eternal feux de joie, so noble and finely shaped is her forehead; however, the lower part of her face is somewhat less regular, nor is it as yet fully developed. A truly blooming complexion distinguishes both sisters, and both are so little given to vanity that I sometimes cannot help feeling secretly surprised, the more so since the same could not be said of their mother in her earlier days, whilst still in pinafore dresses. At school they have always carried off the first prize. They are completely at home in English and know quite a lot of French. They can read Dante in the Italian and also know a bit of Spanish; only German is their weak point and, although I do everything in my power to impose an occasional German lesson upon them, they never really bow to my wishes and neither my authority nor their respect is very much in evidence. Little Jenny has a special talent for drawing and her pastels are the finest adornment of our rooms. Little Laura so neglected drawing that, to punish her, we stopped her taking lessons. On the other hand, she practises the piano with great zeal and sings German and English duets with her sister most delightfully. Unfortunately, it was only very belatedly, some eighteen months ago, that the girls were able to begin their musical education. To obtain the money for it was quite beyond us, nor did we possess a piano; indeed, the one we have got now and which I have hired is a veritable rattle trap. The girls make us very happy with their sweet, modest behaviour. But their little sister is the idol and spoilt darling of the entire household.
The baby had only just been born when my poor, dear Edgar departed this life, and all the love we felt for the dear little boy, all our tenderness towards him, was transferred to his little sister, whom our elder daughters tended and nursed with almost maternal solicitude. Indeed, a more delightful child can hardly be imagined — pretty as a picture, guileless and with a whimsical sense of humour. A particular characteristic is her charming way of talking and story-telling. The latter has been learned from the Grimm Brothers, who are her companions by day and by night. We all of us read her the fairy tales until we can read no more, but woe betide us if so much as a syllable is left out in Rumpelstiltskin or in King Thrushbeard, or in Snow-White. The child, who has already absorbed English with the air she breathes, has also learnt German from these fairy tales and speaks it exceptionally grammatically and precisely. She is a real pet of Karl’s and dispels many a care with her laughter and chatter. In the domestic sphere ‘Lenchen’ still remains my staunch, conscientious companion. Ask your dear husband about her, and he will tell you what a treasure she has been to me. For sixteen years now she has weathered storm and tempest with us.
Last year we suffered intense provocation in the shape of an infamous attack by the ‘well-rounded character’ and the vile behaviour of the entire German, American, etc., press. You would not believe how many sleepless nights and worries the whole business has caused us. The case against the Nationalzeitung cost a great deal of money and, when Karl had finished his book [Herr Vogt], he was unable to find a publisher. He had to have it printed at his own expense (£25) and, now that it has come out, it is being hushed up by the base, cowardly, venal press. I am exceedingly glad that you liked the book. Your opinion of it agrees almost word for word with that of all our friends. Needless to say, the silence quite deliberately maintained by the press has meant far fewer sales than we might rightfully have expected. In the meantime, we shall have to be content with the great encomiums of everyone who matters. Even opponents and enemies have acknowledged it as highly important. Bucher called it a compendium of contemporary history, and Lassalle writes to say that, as a work of art, it has given him and his friends indescribable pleasure, its fund of wit having occasioned them endless glee and delight. Engels considers it to be Karl’s best book, as does Lupus. Congratulations are flooding in from all sides, and even that old cur Ruge has called it a ‘good piece of nonsense’. I wonder whether a similar silence is being maintained in America. It really would be too infuriating, the more so since all the newspapers there have opened their columns to stupid lies and calumnies. Perhaps your dear husband can do something about making the book known.
Hardly had I finished copying the manuscript, while it was still being printed, when I suddenly became very unwell. A most frightful fever took hold of me, and the doctor had to be called in. On 20 November he arrived, examined me carefully and at length and, after a long silence, came out with the following words: *My dear Mrs Marx, I am sorry to say, you have got the smallpox — the children must leave the house immediately.* You can imagine the horror and distress of the household on hearing this pronouncement. What was to be done? Undismayed, the Liebknechts offered to take the children in, and by midday the girls, laden with their small belongings, had already betaken themselves into exile. As for me, I became hourly more ill, the smallpox assuming horrifying proportions. My sufferings were great, very great. Severe, burning pains in the face, complete inability to sleep, and mortal anxiety in regard to Karl, who was nursing me with the utmost tenderness, finally the loss of all my outer faculties while my inner faculty — consciousness — remained unclouded throughout. All the time, I lay by an open window so that the cold November air must blow upon me. And all the while hell’s fire in the hearth and ice on my burning lips, between which a few drops of claret were poured now and then. I was barely able to swallow, my hearing grew ever fainter and, finally, my eyes closed up and I did not know whether I might not remain shrouded in perpetual night!
But my constitution, aided by the most tender and constant care, got the better of it and now here I sit, once more in perfect health, but with a face disfigured by scars and a dark red tinge — quite à la hauteur de la mode couleur de ‘Magenta’. It was not till Christmas Eve that the poor children were allowed to return to the paternal fold for which they had been yearning. Our first reunion was indescribably touching. The girls were profoundly moved and could scarcely refrain from weeping over my appearance. Five weeks before, I didn’t look too bad alongside my blooming daughters. Since I was by some miracle still without a grey hair in my head and had still kept my teeth and figure, I was habitually considered to be well-preserved — but how changed was all this now! To myself I looked like a rhinoceros, a hippopotamus, which belonged in a zoological garden rather than in the ranks of the Caucasian race. But do not be unduly alarmed! Things are no longer quite so bad today, and the scars are beginning to heal. Scarcely had I been able to leave my bed than my dear, beloved Karl fell ill, laid low by excessive anxiety, worry and troubles of all kinds. For the first time, his chronic liver complaint became acute. However, God be praised, he recovered after four weeks’ suffering. In the meantime, we had again been temporarily reduced to half pay by the Tribune; instead of earning something from the book, a bill of exchange had to be paid. On top of that, there was the huge expense occasioned by this most frightful of all maladies. In short, you can imagine how things have been with us all this winter. As a result of all this business, Karl decided to make a foray into Holland, the land of his fathers, and of tobacco and cheese. He wants to see if he can wheedle some specie out of his uncle. At the moment, therefore, I am a grass widow, waiting to see whether the great Dutch expedition will be successful. On Saturday, I got the first letter expressing some hopes and containing ‘sixty gulden’. Such an affair is not, of course, quickly concluded and calls for careful manoeuvres, diplomacy, and proper management. Still, I hope that Karl will get something out of that country and leave it the poorer.
As soon as he meets with some success in Holland, he intends to make a little clandestine trip to Berlin in order to spy out the terrain and, perhaps, arrange for a monthly or weekly publication. Recent experience has shown us only too plainly that we cannot possibly manage without an organ of our own. Should Karl succeed in setting up a new party organ, he will assuredly write to your husband, asking him to send reports from America.. Hardly had Karl left when our faithful Lenchen also fell ill and is still laid up. However she is on the mend. My hands are completely full therefore, and this letter has been written in the greatest hurry. But I neither could nor would remain silent, and it has done me good to pour out my heart for once to our oldest and most loyal friends. So, I will not apologise for having written to you in such great detail and about anything and everything. My pen ran away with me, and I can only hope and wish that these scribbled lines may give you a little of the pleasure that I got when I read yours.
I immediately attended to the matter of the bill of exchange and arranged everything just as though my lord and master were here.
My girls send their love and kisses to your dear children — one Laura to the other — and in my thoughts I embrace each of them. To you yourself, my dear friend, I send my most affectionate greetings. In these hard times, you must be plucky and keep your head unbowed. The world belongs to the brave. Keep on being your dear husband’s loyal, unwavering support, while remaining yourself pliable in mind and in body, the loyal, ‘unrespectable’ comrade of your dear children, and let us have word of you from time to time.
Your very affectionate
How often have I thought of the lovely potato soup you used to give me in Frankfurt. Unfortunately, it cannot be made here. There is no cream, and an egg beaten up in a drop of milk is not half as good. Which reminds me of Dronke, and so I shall have to start another sheet in order to give you some news of old friends. Engels is in Manchester, as before. His father is dead, he has inherited, but is engaged in a law-suit with his partner, is in the clutches of the lawyers and by no means out of the wood financially.
Lupus makes a livelihood by giving lessons in Manchester. He is just the same as ever — a decent, hardworking chap of simple habits. He is held in very high regard up there, and his main battles are fought with his landlady who, he being a bachelor of long standing, now cuts down his tea, now depletes his sugar, now interferes with his coal supply. Dronke has had a real stroke of luck, having obtained a commission agency through Garnier-Pagès which earns him nearly £1,000 a year. He has become an out-and-out philistine, boastful and repulsive; he has not behaved nearly as well towards Karl or any of his oldest friends as might have been expected. He has a penchant for that fat philistine Freiligrath, who is still living comfortably off his post as manager of a rotten bankrupt firm. He has changed considerably for the worse and has not treated us in a friendly manner! For political and diplomatic reasons an open breach with him is to be avoided. We maintain a factitious relationship. I have broken completely with the distaff side of the family. I am not fond of half measures. So, I don’t see anybody just now. Pieper has gone away and is living as a teacher in Bremen — he has come down badly in the world and become a slovenly flibbertigibbet. Yesterday, Dr Eichhoff arrived here from Berlin. He is the first refugee from the régime of ‘handsome William’ as the Berliners call their present sovereign. Imandt is a married man in Scotland. — Red Wolf a teacher in some God-forsaken spot — turned philistine — aussi married, 3 children. And that is all I can remember in haste about our old acquaintances.
Well, then, that’s what I call gossip! But now, and for the last time, farewell.