Tuesday, May 13, 2008

From Writer's Almanac

This was for the 5th of May, but I thought it was interesting about Mr. Karl Marx. He's an intriguing literary and political figure:

It's the birthday of Karl Marx, (books by this author) born in Trier, Germany (1818), the son of a lawyer. Marx went to university to study law but was not a very dedicated student and became president of the Trier Tavern Drinking Society. When he transferred to a school in another city, he became a more serious student. He married Jenny von Westphalen, his childhood sweetheart and the daughter of a Prussian Baron, in 1843. They would have seven children together, only three of whom would survive to become adults. Nonetheless they had a tender and generally happy marriage, and Marx once wrote to his wife, "There are actually many females in the world, and some among them are beautiful. But where could I find again a face whose every feature, even every wrinkle, is a reminder of the greatest and sweetest memories of my life?"

In 1848, he published The Communist Manifesto, which begins, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." The next year, he and other journalists for a radical newspaper were banished from Germany. He fled to Paris, but he was forced from there also and a month later, when he was 31 years old, fled to England, where the prime minister was a proponent of free speech.

Marx spent the rest of his life in London, and in poverty. He spent his days in the British Museum's Reading Room, where he read old issues of the Economist. Friedrich Engels supported Marx's family, working in Germany and mailing money to Marx. The two exchanged several letters a week for 20 years.

The family was constantly poor and was evicted from one flat for not paying rent, and forced to find a cheaper place to live. His wife and daughter helped him with his work. In 1855, his son Edgar died from tuberculosis. It was their third child to have died, and it was particularly devastating to Marx. The eight-year-old son who often cheered up his parents by singing silly songs had died in his father's arms.

His wife's health declined. In her 40s, she gave birth to a stillborn child and also got smallpox, from which she became deaf. Marx suffered from terrible boils that were so bad that he sometimes had to write standing up at his desk because it was too painful to sit on his afflicted rump. He told Engels that "such a lousy life is not worth living" — though Marx also wrote that he derived some consolation in that "it was a truly proletarian disease." Marx's writing reflected the consciousness of his disease at some points; he once wrote, "At all events, I hope the bourgeoisie will remember the carbuncles until their dying day. What swine they are!"

He said, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. "

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