1 JUNE 1934, Page 19


[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.]

Sin,—After an evidently cursory reading of my biography of Karl Marx, Mr. Alec Brown, in a letter printed in your last

issue, accuses your reviewer of inventing references " and myself of " systematic distortion."

The former charge can be quickly disposed of. The reference which Mr. Brown accuses Mr. Ensor of " inventing " occurs on page 97 of my book. In reply to a letter from Engels announcing the death of his mistress, Mary Burns, Marx wrote :

" If only, instead of Mary, my mother, who anyhow is full of

physical infirmities and has lived a fair span of life You see what curious ideas can come into the heads of 'civilized' people under the pressure of certain conditions."

The charge of distortion against myself is less precise and cannot therefore be so simply refuted. Mr. Brown particu- larizes on one point only. " If the dog dies now," writes Marx of his wife's ailing and wealthy uncle, " I am out of the mess." By using in my translation the word " hound " instead of " dog," I have, according to Mr. Brown, distorted the " typical ironical and jocular tone " of Marx's utterance I Perhaps Mr. Brown thinks that Marx's reference to his mother just quoted was also jocular. These expressions were wrung from Marx by the bitterness of his grinding poverty ; and by emphasizing the latter in my book I have implicitly provided the only possible excuse for them. To pretend that they do not exist or that they are " jocular " is merely silly.

The trouble is that books about Marx in English have hitherto been written almost exclusively by Marxists or near- Marxists, who, through ignorance or design, have suppressed these less amiable ebullitions of Marx's temperament. The publication of such passages in my biography has been received by Marxists in this country not only with indignation but with incredulity. Mr. Brown is a good example. Though a student of Marx, he had apparently no idea how bitter and vindictive Marx's letters habitually are. If before next writing on the subject he will read in the original German the four volumes of Marx-Engels' correspondence and the Marx- Lassalle volume, he will discover that, far from having dis- torted the picture " to darken Marx's character," I have omitted far more of his unpleasant and uncharitable pro- nouncements on his fellow-men than of his pleasant and charitable ones. The latter have a scarcity value which has enabled me to quote nearly all of them in my book.—I am,

Oxford and Cambridge Club, Pall Mall, S. TV.