Letters of Jenny Marx

From Jenny Marx to Joseph Weydemeyer
In Frankfurt Am Main

Source: Marx Engels Collected Works Vol 38, pg 555;
Publisher: International Publishers (1975);
First Published: Die Neue Zeit, Bd. 2, No 27, 1906-07;
Translated: Peter and Betty Ross;
Transcribed: S. Ryan;
HTML Markup: S. Ryan.

May 20, 1850, London

Dear Mr Weydemeyer,

Almost a year has gone by since I was accorded such a kind and cordial reception by you and your dear wife, since I felt so happy and at home in your house, and throughout that long time I have sent you no word; I remained silent when your wife wrote to me so kindly, I even remained mute when news reached us of the birth of your child. I have myself often felt oppressed by this silence, but for much of the time I have been incapable of writing, and even today find it difficult, very difficult.

Circumstances, however, compel me to take up my pen—I beg you to send us as soon as possible any money that has come in or comes in from the Revue. We are in dire need of it. No one, I am sure, could reproach us with having made much ado about what we have been obliged to renounce and put up with for years; the public has never, or hardly ever, been importuned with our private affairs, for my husband is very sensitive about such matters and would sooner sacrifice all he has left rather than demean himself by passing round the democratic begging-bowl, as is done by the official great men. But what he was entitled to expect of his friends, especially in Cologne, was active and energetic concern for his Revue. He was above all entitled to expect such concern from those who were aware of the sacrifices he had made for the Rh. Ztg. Instead, the business has been utterly ruined by the negligent, slovenly way in which it was run, nor can one really say which did most harm—the bookseller's procrastination, or that of acquaintances and those managing the business in Cologne, or again the whole attitude of the democrats generally.

Over here my husband has been all but crushed by the most trivial worries of bourgeois existence, and so exasperating a form have these taken that it required all the energy, all the calm, lucid, quiet self-confidence he was able to muster to keep him going during these daily, hourly struggles. You, dear Mr Weydemeyer, are aware of the sacrifices made by my husband for the sake of the paper; he put thousands in cash into it, he took over the paper's property, talked into doing so by democratic worthies who otherwise must themselves have assumed responsibility for the debts, at a time when there was already small prospect of being able to carry on. To save the paper's political honour and the bourgeois honour of his Cologne acquaintances, he shouldered every burden, he gave up his machinery, he gave up the entire proceeds and, on his departure, even borrowed 300 Reichstalers so as to pay the rent for newly hired premises, the editors' arrears of salary, etc.—and he was forcibly expelled.

As you know, we saved nothing out of all this for ourselves, for I came to Frankfurt to pawn my silver—all that we had left, I sold my furniture in Cologne because I was in danger of seeing my linen and everything else placed under distraint. As the unhappy era of counter-revolution dawned, my husband went to Paris where I followed him with my three children. Hardly had we settled down in Paris than he was expelled, I and my children being refused permission to stay for any length of time. Again I followed him across the sea. A month later our 4th child was born. You would have to know London and what conditions are like here to realise what that means—3 children and the birth of a 4th. We had to pay 42 talers a month in rent alone. All this we were in a position to defray with our own realised assets. But our slender resources ran out with the appearance of the Revue. Agreements or no agreements, the money failed to come in, or only by dribs and drabs, so that we found ourselves faced with the most frightful situations here.

Let me describe for you, as it really was, just one day in our lives, and you will realise that few refugees are likely to have gone through a similar experience. Since wet-nurses here are exorbitantly expensive, I was determined to feed my child myself, however frightful the pain in my breast and back. But the poor little angel absorbed with my milk so many anxieties and unspoken sorrows that he was always ailing and in severe pain by day and by night. Since coming into the world, he has never slept a whole night through—at most two or three hours. Latterly, too, there have been violent convulsions, so that the child has been hovering constantly between death and a miserable life. In his pain he sucked so hard that I got a sore on my breast—an open sore; often blood would spurt into his little, trembling mouth. I was sitting thus one day when suddenly in came our landlady, to whom we had paid over 250 Reichstalers in the course of the winter, and with whom we had contractually agreed that we should subsequently pay, not her, but her landlord by whom she had formerly been placed under distraint; she now denied the existence of, the contract, demanded the £5 we still owed her and, since this was not ready to hand (Naut's letter arrived too late), two bailiffs entered the house and placed under distraint what little I possessed—beds, linen, clothes, everything, even my poor infant's cradle, and the best of the toys belonging to the girls, who burst into tears. They threatened to take everything away within 2 hours—leaving me lying on the bare boards with my shivering children and my sore breast. Our friend Schramm left hurriedly for town in search of help. He climbed into a cab, the horses took fright, he jumped out of the vehicle and was brought bleeding back to the house where I was lamenting in company with my poor, trembling children.

The following day we had to leave the house, it was cold, wet and overcast, my husband went to look for lodgings, on his mentioning 4 children no one wanted to take us in. At last a friend came to our aid, we paid and I hurriedly sold all my beds so as to settle with the apothecaries, bakers, butchers, and milkman who, their fears aroused by the scandal of the bailiffs, had suddenly besieged me with their bills. The beds I had sold were brought out on to the pavement and loaded on to a barrow—and then what happens? It was long after sunset, English law prohibits this, the landlord bears down on us with constables in attendance, declares we might have included some of his stuff with our own, that we are doing a flit and going abroad. In less than five minutes a crowd of two or three hundred people stands gaping outside our door, all the riff-raff of Chelsea. In go the beds again; they cannot be handed over to the purchaser until tomorrow morning after sunrise; having thus been enabled, by the sale of everything we possessed, to pay every farthing, I removed with my little darlings into the two little rooms we now occupy in the German Hotel, 1 Leicester Street, Leicester Square, where we were given a humane reception in return for £5/10 a week.

You will forgive me, dear friend, for describing to you so exhaustively and at such length just one day in our lives over here. It is, I know, immodest, but this evening my heart has flowed over into my trembling hands and for once I must pour out that heart to one of our oldest, best and most faithful friends. Do not suppose that I am bowed down by these petty sufferings, for I know only too well that our struggle is not an isolated one and that, furthermore, I am among the happiest and most favoured few in that my beloved husband, the mainstay of my life, is still at my side. But what really shatters me to the very core of my being, and makes my heart bleed is that my husband has to endure so much pettiness, that so little would have been needed to help him and that he, who gladly and joyously helped so many, has been so bereft of help over here. But as I have said, do not suppose, dear Mr Weydemeyer, that we are making demands on anyone; if money is advanced to us by anyone, my husband is still in a position to repay it out of his assets. The only thing, perhaps, my husband was entitled to ask of those who owe him many an idea, many a preferment, and much support was that they should evince more commercial zeal, greater concern for his Revue. That modicum, I am proud and bold enough to maintain, that modicum was his due. Nor do I even know whether my husband ever earned by his labours 10 silver groschen to which he was not fully entitled. And I don't believe that anyone was the worse off for it. That grieves me. But my husband is of a different mind. Never, even in the most frightful moments, has he lost his confidence in the future, nor yet a mite of his good humour, being perfectly content to see me cheerful, and our dear children affectionately caressing their dear mama. He is unaware, dear Mr Weydemeyer, that I have written to you at such length about our situation, so do not make any use of this letter. All he knows is that I have asked you on his behalf to expedite as best you can the collection and remittance of the money. I know that the use you make of this letter will be wholly dictated by the tact and discretion of your friendship for us.

Farewell, dear friend. Convey my most sincere affection to your wife and give your little angel a kiss from a mother who has shed many a tear upon the infant at her breast. Should your wife be suckling her child herself, do not tell her anything of this letter. I know what ravages are made by any kind of upset and how bad it is for the little mites. Our three eldest children are doing wonderfully well, for all that and for all that. The girls are pretty, blooming, cheerful and in good spirits, and our fat boy is a paragon of comical humour and full of the drollest ideas. All day the little imp sings funny songs with tremendous feeling and at the top of his voice, and when he sings the verse from Freiligrath's Marseillaise.

Come, O June, and bring us deeds,
Fresh deeds for which our hearts do yearn

in a deafening voice, the whole house reverberates. Like its two unfortunate precursors, that month may be destined by world history to see the opening of the gigantic struggle during which we shall all clasp one another's hands again.

Fare well.