Marx-Engels Correspondence 1851
Source: MECW Volume 38, p. 370;
First published: slightly abridged in Die Neue Zeit, 1906-07 and in full in: MEW, Moscow, 1934.
Marx has just communicated to me a letter of yours from which I at last find a definite address for you, which I have been seeking for some time past. For I wish to consult you about the following matter:
Since arriving in Manchester [in Nov 1850], I have been swotting up military affairs, on which — at least to start off with — I found fairly adequate material here. I was prompted to do this by the immense importance which must attach to the partie militaire in the next movement, combined with a long-standing inclination on my part, my articles on the Hungarian campaign in the days of the newspapers and finally my glorious exploits in Baden, and I would like to take it at least far enough to be able to join in theoretical discussion without making too much of a fool of myself. Now the material available to me here — on the Napoleonic and, to some extent, revolutionary campaigns — presupposes a mass of detail, my knowledge of which is non-existent or very superficial, and about which only superficial, if any, information can be obtained by dint of laborious research. Autodidacticism, however, is sheer foolishness and, unless one devotes oneself systematically to the thing, one achieves nothing worthwhile. What I now actually need, you will better understand if I remind you that — disregarding, of course, my promotion in Baden — I never rose higher than a Royal Prussian Bombardier in the Landwehr and consequently my comprehension of the details of the campaigns — and indeed as regards the various arms of the service — is hampered by the absence of the middle link which, in Prussia, is provided by the subalterns’ examination. I am not concerned, of course, with the tedious, minutiae of military drill, etc., which would be of little use to me since my eye trouble, as I have now found out once and for all, renders me completely unfit for active service of any sort; rather, I am concerned with an overall survey of the elementary knowledge needed in the various branches, going into detail only in so far as is necessary to enable me to understand and correctly evaluate historical facts of a military nature. Hence, e.g. elementary tactics, the theory of fortification, from a more or less historical point of view, comprising the various systems from Vauban up to the modern forts détachés, along with an investigation into field works and other matters associated with the engineering branch, e.g. the various types of bridge, etc.; further, a general history of military science and the changes brought about by the development and perfection both of weapons and of the ways in which they are employed. Then something really sound on artillery, since I have forgotten a great deal and there is much I simply don’t know; also other requirements which I can’t think of just now, but which will certainly occur to you.
I would ask you to indicate sources on all these elementary matters and this in such a way that I can immediately get hold of the things. Indeed, what I would like best of all would be things from which I could see, on the one hand, the present general average state of individual. branches and, on the other, the differences existing between the various modern armies. For instance, the different construction of field-piece carriages, etc., the different methods of sub-dividing and organising divisions, army corps, etc. Again I should be particularly interested in learning about the organisation of armies, commissariat, hospitals, about every aspect of the matériel necessary to any given army.
From this you will be able to gauge approximately what I need and which books you should recommend to me. I would suppose that as regards such manuals German military literature contains more useful matter than does the French or the English. I need hardly say that I am concerned with the knowledge of what is practical and really exists rather than with the systems or quirks of some unrecognised genius. As regards artillery Bem’s manual would no doubt be the best.
Anything I am able to find here on more recent military history — earlier periods are of relatively little interest to me and I've got old Montecucculi for those — is naturally in French and English. Among the latter more especially Lieutenant-General William Napier’s history of the Peninsular War — by far the best work of military history I have seen up till now. If you don’t know it and are able to get hold of it there, it would be worth your while reading it (History of the War in the Peninsula and the South of France, 6 volumes). I have no German stuff and must certainly obtain some; Willisen and Clausewitz immediately spring to mind. What do you think of these two, and what is and what is not worth reading? Theoretical as well as historical. As soon as I have made some progress, I shall mug up properly on the campaigns of 1848/49, especially the Italian and Hungarian. Do you happen to know of a more or less official or otherwise reasonably sober account of the Baden affair from the Prussian side?
In addition can you recommend some good, specialised maps of Germany, not too expensive but adequate for the study of the campaigns since 1792 (in particular maps of Württemberg, Bavaria, Austria for 1801-1809, Saxony, Thuringia, Prussia for 1806/7 and 1813, North-East France for 1814, Lombardy, Hungary, Schleswig-Holstein, Belgium). I have the large Stieler here, which, however, is far from adequate. Though I have here battle-plans for the period 1792-1814 in the atlas to Alison’s History of Europe since the French Revolution, I have discovered that several of them are inaccurate. Are there similar collections in Germany which, without being too dear, are nevertheless reliable?
Do you know Monsieur Jomini, of whom the French make such a fuss? I know of him only through Mr Thiers who, as everyone is aware, plagiarised him outrageously. This little Thiers is one of the most bare-faced liars in existence; there is not one battle in which the relative strengths are correctly given. Since, however, Mr Jomini later made off to Russia, it may be supposed that he must have had motives for cutting down the exploits de la bravoure française to something less than the super-human dimensions vouchsafed them by Mr Thiers, according to whom 1 Frenchman always whacks 2 foes.
Voilà a whole heap of questions. I hope, by the way, that the present persecution of Jews in Germany will spread no further. However, I find Daniels’ arrest disquieting. It would seem that they want to make searches here in order to implicate us; that would be no easy matter, however, and would fail dismally since they would find nothing.
Marx will no doubt be writing to you about the scheme for organising from London a lithographic bureau for America. But if this sort of thing is done properly, it rapidly runs into great expense here, and most of the American papers are by no means sound financially. Lupus is in London and Freiligrath likewise; at the beginning of this month I, too, was there for a fortnight.
Since, by all accounts, you will also be arriving here soon, it would be best for you to come to some arrangement with one or more papers or periodicals to act as correspondent, etc. That sort of thing is very profitable in London, though admittedly most of the best-paying newspapers are already provided for. Another question is what the press is like in Germany just now.
Capitano Willich continues to live in, on, and with his barracks. What do you say to our erecting a magnificent counterpart to it?
Write soon to your
Ermen & Engels,