In England a Life of Penury

AS he set foot on English soil on August 26, 1849,  Marx had no idea that he would be an emigre in England for the rest of his life, that he would spend there thirty three out of the forty years of his political activity and never be able to return to the continent.
Being short of money, Marx went to England alone, leaving his wife and little Jenny, Edgar and Laura in Paris for the time being. On September 5, 1849, Marx wrote to Freiligrath: “I am really in a difficult position now. My wife is about to give birth, and on the 15th she has to leave Paris, but I don’t know how I am to get the necessary money for her fare and setting up house here.” It was only in mid-October 1849 that Jenny Marx, sick and worn-out, arrived in London with the Children.
With great difficulty Marx found lodgings at 4 Anderson Street in London. There Marx’s fourth child was born and was named Heinrich Guido, after Marx’s father. Jenny wrote in a letter to Joseph-Weydemeyer: “Since wet-nurses here are exorbitant in price, I decided to feed my child myself, despite constant terrible pains in the back and breast. The poor little angel, however, drank in so much of my own troubles and unspoken anxiety that he became chronically ill, lying day and night in sharp pain. He has not slept a single night since he came into the world—two to three hours at the utmost.”
The little Heinrich, just turned one year old, died on November 19, 1850 from pneumonia. This was a completely unexpected and stunning blow for the parents. “My pain was so great,” Jenny wrote. “It was the first child that I lost, Ach, I didn’t know then what other suffering lay before, compared to which everything, everything else would be trivial.”


The “really unbelievable wretchedness”, the term Marx used in one of his letters, actually engulfed the Marx family from August 1849 on, without pause. Marx wrote to Engels : “Your letter arrived today in a very tense atmosphere. My wife is sick, Jennychen is stick, Lenchen has a sort of ‘nerve-fever’. I could not, and cannot now, call the doctor, since I have no money for medicine. For eight or ten days, I have been feeding the family bread and potatoes, but it is doubtful that I can manage to get some today. This diet was naturally not helpful…In this manner, I put off till the beginning of September all the creditors who, as you know, receive only bits and pieces of payment. Now the storm is general.
“The best and most desirable thing that could happen would be for the landlady to throw us out of the house, I would then at least be relieved of paying the sum of 22 pounds… In addition, the baker, the milk man, the tea-boy, the green grocer and the old butcher bills. How shall I get out of this devilish mess.”
Three months later, when he sent his booklet about the Cologne trials to America, when even his coat and shoes had to be taken to the pawnshop, he wrote with bitter humour in the accompanying letter that “the author through the absence of sufficient covering for his rear and his feet, is as good as interned, and in addition; sees a really unbelievable wretchedness threatening to break over his family.”


Marx held in contempt those craven bourgeois emigrants who went about the country with a collection-cup, to beg a comfortable existence for themselves. In complete  understanding with his wife, Marx rejected the idea of taking on a bourgeois career with a fixed post which would offer him material security, but which, under the then existing conditions, would  separate him permanently, or at least for a long time, from his scientific and political work for the working class. This decision cost him and his family uncounted sacrifices. But in all the bitter years there was never a moment in which this decision caused Karl and Jenny regret. “I must follow my goal through thick and thin,” he once wrote, “and not permit bourgeois society to turn me into a money-making machine.”
Not all of his earlier colleagues understood this decision.  Some had made peace with the old society, some even deserted to the enemy. It was precisely these weaklings and renegades who were loudest in reviling the “Marx Party” and its leader with slanders and denunciations. But Marx continued on his course without wavering, even when poverty sometimes became unbearable.
He had to endure all the horrors of the émigré life. One valuable after another had to be pawned, even clothing and bedsheets. Time and again, he had to interrupt his work to ask his many creditors for more credit and patience. The earnings from his literary activity were slim, for who would dare publish Marx in the period of reaction that had now settled over Europe ? Bourgeois society, took revenge in this manner on the leaders of the proletariat. It now sought to achieve through court trials and provocations. In the Marx household, there was often no money for writing paper and stamps, let alone for the newspapers that were essential for his literary activity. And the family was permanently threatened with homelessness.


The Marx family was evicted from its first home for being behind with rent. This time, Jenny who had always stoically endured hardships, could not suppress a cry of anguish and despair in a letter to Marx’s friend Joseph Weydemeyer :
“As we did not have the money at the time… two bailiffs came and sequestered all my few possessions—linen, beds, clothes—everything, even my poor child’s cradle and the best toys of my daughters, who stood there weeping bitterly. They threatened to take everything away in two hours. I would then have had to lie on the bare floor with my freezing children and my bad breast…
“We had to leave the house the next day. It was cold, rainy and dull. My husband looked for accommodation for us. When we mentioned the four children nobody would take us in. Finally a friend helped us, we paid our rent, and I hastily sold my beds to pay the chemist, the baker, the butcher and the milkman who, alarmed at the sequestration, suddenly besieged me with their bills…
“When we had sold all our possessions we were in a position to pay what we owed to the last farthing. I went with my little darlings to two small rooms we are now occupying in the German hotel, 1, Leicester St., Leicester Square. There for five pounds week we were given a human reception… Do not think these paltry worries have bowed me down:  I know only too well that our struggle is not an isolated one and that I, in particular, am one of the chosen, happy favoured ones, for my dear husband, the prop of my life,  is still at my side. What really tortures my very soul and makes my heart bleed is that he had to suffer so much from paltry things, that so little could be done to help him, and that he who willingly helped so many others was so helpless himself. But do not think, dear Herr Weydemeyer, that we make demands on anybody…Never, not even in the most frightful moment, did not he lose his confidence in the future or even his cheery humour, and he was satisfied when he saw me cheerful and our loving children cuddling close to their dear mother.”


In August 1851, Marx himself wrote to Weydemeyer: “You can imagine that my situation us gloomy. My wife will go under if it lasts much longer. The continul  trouble and the petty day-to-day struggle to make ends meet are wearing her out. And on top of all this is the infamy of my opponents, who do not even attempt to attack me objectively, but revenge themselves for their impotence by casting suspicion on me and spreading the most indescribable infamies about me… As far I am concerned, I should laugh at the whole business and I am not letting it interfere with my work in the least, but you can imagine that it is no relief to my wife, who is ill, whose nervous system is run down and who is forced to struggle with miserable poverty from morning to night…”
The Marx family had to change their place of residence several times in that year, until they finally settled in a squalid flat in Dean Street, Soho. At that time it was a narrow by-street in a dirty and noisy district inhabited by low paid workers, émigrés, paupers and other people at the lowest rung of the social scale. Marx and his family spent almost six years in that flat which consisted of a small room and a closet. Only a small legacy from Jenny’s mother enabled them to move to north-west London in 1856.


In March 1851, Jenny Marx had given birth to a daughter, Franziska and despite an easy confinement she had been very ill, “more for psychological than for physical reasons.” Barely one and a half years after Heinrich’s death, Franziska followed him to the grave. “For three days the poor child struggled with death,” wrote the mother, bowed with grief. “Her poor dead body rested in the tiny rear room; we all gathered in the front room, and when night came we bedded our selves on the floor…The death of the dear child came at the time of our bitterest poverty. Our German friends were precisely then not in a position to help us… So, I ran, out of anxiety in my heart, to a  French refugee who lived in the neighbourhood and had visited us. I asked him for help in our terrible need.
With the friendliest sympathy, he at once gave me two pounds and with that I, paid for the little coffin in which my poor child now sleeps, she had no cradle when she was born, and even her last little ‘shelter’ was long denied her.”
The heaviest blow to strike Karl and Jenny Marx was the death of their son Edgar, their “Musch” as the family called him. He fell ill years after Franziska’s death, apparently with tuberculosis. But all the care of the parents was futile. “The poor Mush has passed away” Marx wrote to Engels still stricken, on April 6, 1855. “He went to sleep (literally) in my arms today between 5 and 6 o’ clock. You understand my sorrow for the child.” A few days later, he wrote again: “The house is naturally desolated and orphaned since the death of the dear child, who was its animating spirit. It is indescribable how we all miss the child. I have already lived through all kind of misfortune, but only now do I know what real tragedy is.”
Both Marx and Jenny were close to despair. In the hope of lightening the first few days following Edgar’s burial, they traveled to Manchester to spend a short time with the ever-faithful friend of the family, Frederick Engels.


It was thanks to Engels that Marx did not ultimately break down in the grinding poverty and insecurity of his existence. When Engels, in the summer of 1850, together with Marx, came to the conclusion that the revolutionary crisis in Germany was over, and that as a consequence a return to the homeland was, for the time being, out of question, he had decided to earn his living by going into business again. He had gone to Manchester in November in 1850 to re-enter the firm of Ermen and Engels. It had been a difficult sacrifice for Engels to devote the main portion of his time and energy once more to “wolfish commerce” instead of to his scientific studies. But he had recognized that it was the only way to make it possible, or at least easier, for Marx to continue his political and scientific work in the interests of the proletariat, and at the same time to shield his friend and the latter’s family from hunger. Without complaint and without posturing Engels took this sacrifice upon himself. And just as naturally, though with the greatest gratitude and pride for such a friend Marx accepted this evidence of boundless self-sacrifice, after having himself given all his worldly possessions and talents to the working class before and during the revolution.

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