Some excerpts from the life of Marx and Engels (courtesy of F. Wheen: Life of Marx 2001)
I find this adorable and hilarious. Some quotations from Francis Wheen’s biography of Marx:
They had no secrets from each other, no taboos: if Marx found a huge boil on his penis he didn’t hesitate to supply a full description. Their voluminous correspondence is a gamey stew of history and gossip, political economy and schoolboy smut, high ideals and low intimacies. In a letter to Engels on 23 March 1853, to take a more or less random example, Marx discusses the rapid increase in British exports to the Turkish dominions, Disraeli’s position in the Conservative Party, the passage of the Canadian Clergy Reserves Bill through the House of Commons, the harassment of refugees by the British police, the activities of German communists in New York, an attempt by Marx’s publisher to swindle him, the condition of Hungary – and the alleged flatulence of the Empress Eugénie: ‘That angel suffers, it seems, from a most indelicate complaint. She is passionately addicted to farting and is incapable, even in company, of suppressing it. At one time she resorted to horse-riding as a remedy. But this having now been forbidden her by Bonaparte, she “vents” herself. It’s only a noise, a little murmur, a nothing, but then you know that the French are sensitive to the slightest puff of wind.’
Engels served Marx as a kind of substitute mother – sending him pocket money, fussing over his health and continually reminding him not to neglect his studies.
His living conditions might have been expressly designed to keep him from lapsing into contentment. The furniture and fittings in the two-room apartment were all broken, tattered or torn, with a half-inch of dust over everything. In the middle of the front living-room, overlooking Dean Street, was a big table covered with an oilcloth on which lay Marx’s manuscripts, books and newspapers, as well as the children’s toys, rags and scraps from his wife’s sewing basket, several cups with broken rims, knives, forks, lamps, an inkpot, tumblers, Dutch clay pipes and a thick veneer of tobacco ash. Even finding somewhere to sit was fraught with peril. ‘Here is a chair with only three legs, on another chair the children have been playing at cooking – this chair happens to have four legs,’ a guest reported. ‘This is the one which is offered to the visitor, but the children’s cooking has not been wiped away; and if you sit down, you risk a pair of trousers.’
One of the few Prussian police spies who gained admission to this smoke-filled cavern was shocked by Marx’s chaotic habits:
He leads the existence of a real bohemian intellectual. Washing, grooming and changing his linen are things he does rarely, and he likes to get drunk. Though he is often idle for days on end, he will work day and night with tireless endurance when he has a great deal of work to do. He has no fixed times for going to sleep and waking up. He often stays up all night, and then lies down fully clothed on the sofa at midday and sleeps till evening, untroubled by the comings and goings of the whole world.
Marx’s reluctance to go to bed seems eminently reasonable, since his whole ménage – including the housekeeper, Helene ‘Lenchen’ Demuth – had to sleep in one small room at the back of the building. How Karl and Jenny ever found the time or privacy for procreation remains a mystery; one assumes that they seized their chances while Lenchen was out taking the children for a walk