Marx-Engels Correspondence 1866

Marx To Engels
In Manchester

Source: MECW Volume 42, p. 303;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Stuttgart, 1913.

[London,] 7 August 1866

Dear Fred,

You inferred correctly from my last letter that my state of health has improved, although it fluctuates from one day to the next. Meanwhile, the feeling of being fit to work again does much for a man. Unfortunately, I am constantly interrupted by social troubles and lose a lot of time. Thus, for example, the butcher has suspended meat supplies today, and by Saturday even my stock of paper will be used up.

Since yesterday Laura is half promised to Monsieur Lafargue, my medical Creole. She treats him like the others, but the outbursts of feeling these Creoles are subject to, a slight fear that the jeune homme (he is 25) might do away with himself, etc., some fondness for him, undemonstrative as always with Laura (he is a good-looking, intelligent, energetic lad of athletic build), have more or less led to a semi-compromise. The boy attached himself to me first of all, but soon transferred the attraction from the old man to his daughter. His economic circumstances are middling, as he is the only child of a former planter-family. He is rayé de l’université de Paris Pour deux ans, on account of the congrès à Liège, but intends to sit his examination at Strasbourg. In my judgment, he has an outstanding gift for medicine, in which he is, however, infinitely more sceptical than our friend Gumpert. Scepticism in medical matters appears to be the order of the day with both professors and students in Paris. E. g., Magendie, who declares all therapeutics, in their present state, to be fraudulent. As always, this scepticism not only does not exclude crotchets, but embraces them. E. g., Lafargue believes in alcohol and electricity as the chief cures. Fortunately, he is having a good adviser in Professor Carrère, a refugee (hautes mathématiques; physics and chemistry), and will be able to acquire much practical experience in the London hospitals. I have managed to get him admitted there through the good offices of a third party.

A very important work which I shall send on to you (but on condition that you send it back, as it is not my property) as soon as I have made the necessary notes, is: ‘P. Trémaux, Origine et Transformations de l’Homme et des autres Êtres, Paris 1865. In spite of all the shortcomings that I have noted, it represents a very significant advance over Darwin. The two chief theses are: croisements [crossings] do not produce, as is commonly thought, variety, but, on the contrary, a unity typical of the espèces. The physical features of the earth, on the other hand, differentiate (they are the chief, though not the only basis). Progress, which Darwin regards as purely accidental, is essential here on the basis of the stages of the earth’s development, dégénérescence, which Darwin cannot explain, is straightforward here; ditto the rapid extinction of merely transitional forms, compared with the slow development of the type of the espece, so that the gaps in palaeontology, which Darwin finds disturbing, are necessary here. Ditto the fixity of the espece, once established, which is explained as a necessary law (apart from individual, etc., variations). Here hybridisation, which raises problems for Darwin, on the contrary supports the system, as it is shown that an espece is in fact first established as soon as croisement with others ceases to produce offspring or to be possible, etc.

In its historical and political applications far more significant and pregnant than Darwin. For certain questions, such as nationality, etc., only here has a basis in nature been found. E.g., he corrects the Pole Duchinski, whose version of the geological differences between Russia and the Western Slav lands he does incidentally confirm, by saying not that the Russians are Tartars rather than Slavs, etc., as the latter believes, but that on the surface-formation predominant in Russia the Slav has been tartarised and mongolised; likewise (he spent a long time in Africa) he shows that the common negro type is only a degeneration of a far higher one.

‘If not comprehended by the great laws of nature, man’s undertakings are but calamities, witness the efforts of the Czars to make Muscovites of the Polish people. [...] The same soil will give rise to the same character and the same qualities. A work of destruction cannot last forever, but a work of reconstitution is everlasting. The true frontier of the Slav and Lithuanian races with the Muscovites is represented by the great geological line which lies to the north of the basins of the Niemen and the Dnieper... To the south of that great line, the talents and the types fitted to that region are and will always remain different from those of Russia.’ [P. Trémaux, Origine et transformations de l’homme... pp. 402, 420, 421.]


K. M.