Marx breaking street lamps for fun

Jørn Andersen jorn.andersen at
Mon Dec 27 12:12:38 MST 1999

At 10:10 27-12-99 -0500, Tim Delaney wrote:
>On 12/26/99, michael perelman wrote:
>>I have not read that bio., but I recall that he threw the rocks once
>>when Bauer visited him.

>I recall this account from Robert Payne's biography of Marx, which
>has been out of print for quite some time.  I seem to recall that the
>tale involved Bakunin and drunkenness too.

No, it was Liebknecht (Wilhelm) and Edgar Bauer. Wilhelm Liebknecht tells
the story in his "Karl Marx. Biographical Memoirs" (Journeymen Press,
London 1975 - reprint from the 1901 edition - pp. 145-151):


During the worst times of the exile we, nevertheless, had often a very
merry time-of course only those who were fortunate enough not to die of
starvation. We did not suffer from the blues. And if the world before us
seemed shut off by a wooden wall, we adopted the device of the Sheffield
workingmen: A short life and a merry one. But Who thought of dying? Never
say die! And often we reveled madly-the worse off the more reckless. There
was only one remedy against the grinning misery: Laughter! Whoever indulged
in gloomy thoughts was infected by the disease and swallowed. But before a
ringing, merry peal of laughter, misery flies like the devil before the
crowing of a rooster.

And this is the remedy which I recommend to all, for it is good and remains
so as long as the globe lasts. Never did we laugh more than when we were in
the worst circumstances.

And what did we not do in our reckless humor! Sometimes it even happened
that we relapsed into our old student's pranks. One evening Edgar Bauer,
acquainted with Marx from their Berlin time and then not yet his personal
enemy in spite of the "Holy Family," had come to town from his hermitage in
Highgate for the purpose of "making a beer trip." The problem was to "take
something" in every saloon between Oxford street and Hampstead Road-making
the "something" a very difficult task, even by confining yourself to a
minimum, considering the enormous number of saloons in that part of the
city. But we went to work undaunted and managed to reach the end of
Tottenham Court Road without accident. There loud singing issued from a
public house; we entered and learned that a club of Odd Fellows were
celebrating a festival. We met some of the men belonging to the "party,"
and they at once invited us "foreigners" with truly English hospitality to
go with them into one of the rooms. We followed them in the best of
spirits, and the conversation naturally turned to politics-we had been
easily recognized as German fugitives; and the Englishmen, good
old-fashioned people, who wanted to amuse us a little, considered it their
duty to revile thoroughly the German princes and the Russian nobles. By
`Russian" they meant Prussian nobles. Russia and Prussia are frequently
confounded in England, and not alone on account of their similiarity of
name. For a while, everything went along smoothly. We had to drink many
healths and to bring out and listen to many a toast.

Then the unexpected suddenly happened.

"Patriotism" is a disease by which a sensible man is attacked only in
foreign countries; for at home there is so much miserable inadequacy that
everybody who is not suffering from paralysis of the brain or spinal
meningitis is charmed against the bacillus of this political vertigo, also
called chauvinism or jingoism, and most dangerous when those attacked by it
sanctimoniously turn their eyes upward and carry God's name on their lips.

"In Saxony I praise Prussia, in Prussia I praise Saxony," said Lessing. And
this is a sensible patriotism that tries to cure the defects of the home
country by the example of the real or imagined good in foreign countries. I
had taken advantage of this word of Lessing at an early period, and the
only drubbing I received since the days of my youth was due to an attack of
patriotism while I was abroad. It was in Switzerland. On a certain
occasion, when in the "Haefelei" in Zurich, Germany was abused too
violently, I jumped up and said to the gentlemen: "Instead of abusing
Germany, you should be glad of the German misery, for to it alone
Switzerland owes its existence. Once the table is cleared in Germany and
over there in Italy and France also, Switzerland will cease to exist:
German Switzerland will of itself revert to Germany, French Switzerland to
France and Italian Switzerland to Italy." It was really a silly political
forecast that I kept on tap there, but it was in the "mad" year and my
patriotism had been aroused. My speech did not meet with a pronounced
approval-as I could gather from the frowning miens of my hearers. I found
violent opposition, but the conversation gradually slackened and-it had
become rather late-I turned homeward. On the landing place, near my
lodging, several forms suddenly appeared before me, and before I became
aware of it, I was tripped-I fell down and before I could raise myself, I
received several very hard blows, whereupon my opponents took to their
heels. I have never found out who they were, but I did not doubt for a
moment that my patriotic speech in the "Haefelei" had procured this
anonymous drubbing for me.

And now in London, in the company of the kind old Odd Fellows, I together
with my two companions "without a country" came into a quite similar
position. Edgar Bauer, hurt by some chance remark, turned the tables and
ridiculed the English snobs. Marx launched an enthusiastic eulogy on German
science and music-no other country, he said, would have been capable of
producing such masters of music as Beethoven, Mozart, Haendel and Haydn,
and the Englishmen who had no music were in reality far below the Germans
who had been prevented hitherto only by the miserable political and
economical conditions from accomplishing any great practical work, but who
would yet outclass all other nations. So fluently I have never heard him
speaking English. For my part, I demonstrated in drastic words that the
political conditions in England were not a bit better than in Germany (here
Urquhart's pet phrases came in very handy), the only difference being that
we Germans knew our public affairs were miserable, while the Englishmen did
not know it, whence it were apparent that we surpassed the Englishmen in
political intelligence.

The brows of our hosts began to cloud, similarly as formerly in the
"Haefelei"; and when Edgar Bauer brought up still heavier guns and began to
allude to the English cant, then a low "damned foreigners!" issued from the
company, soon followed by louder repetitions. Threatening words were
spoken, the brains began to be heated, fists were brandished in the air
and-we were sensible enough to choose the better part of valor and managed
to effect, not wholly without difficulty, a passably dignified retreat.

Now we had enough of our "beer trip" for the time being, and in order to
cool our heated blood, we started on a double quick march, until Edgar
Bauer stumbled over a heap of paving stones. "Hurrah, an idea!" And in
memory of mad student's pranks he picked up a stone, and Clash! Clatter! a
gas lantern went flying into splinters. Nonsense is contagious-Marx and I
did not stay behind, and we broke four or five street lamps-it was,
perhaps, 2 o'clock in the morning and the streets were deserted in
consequence. But the noise nevertheless attracted the attention of a
policeman who with quick resolution gave the signal to his colleagues on
the same beat. And immediately countersignals were given. The position
became critical. Happily we took in the situation at a glance; and happily
we knew the locality. We raced ahead, three or four policemen some distance
behind us. Marx showed an activity that I should not have attributed to
him. And after the wild chase had lasted some minutes, we succeeded in
turning into a side street and there running through an alley-a back yard
between two streets-whence we came behind the policemen who lost the trail.
Now we were safe. They did not have our description and we arrived at our
homes without further adventures. In Marburg, a similar adventure had not
taken the same smooth course for my comrades, and had also had some
disadvantage for myself who had not been caught right away. Here in London,
where they have no sympathy for German students' pranks, the matter would
have been much more serious than in Marburg, Berlin or Bonn; and I must
confess that on the next morning-no, at noon of the same day-I was very
glad to be in my room, instead of being locked up in a London prison cell
together with the member of the "Holy Family," Edgar Bauer, and the future
creator of "Capital," Karl Marx. But we laughed whenever we thought of this
night's adventure.

All the best,

Jorn Andersen

Internationale Socialister
Copenhagen, Denmark

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