Letter from Engels to Sorge

Hinrich Kuhls kls at SPAMmail.online-club.de
Tue Jan 2 15:47:02 MST 2001

Letter from Engels to Sorge, March 15, 1883:

        It was not possible to keep you regularly informed about Marx's state of
health because it was constantly changing. Here, briefly, are the main facts.

           Shortly before his wife's death, in October of '81, he had an
attack of pleurisy. He recovered from this but when, in February '82, he
was sent to Algiers, he came in for cold, wet weather on the journey and
arrived with another attack of pleurisy. The atrocious weather continued,
and then when he got better, he was sent to Monte Carlo (Monaco) to avoid
the heat of the approaching summer. He arrived there with another, though
this time a milder, attack of pleurisy. Again abominable weather. When he
was at last better, he went to Argenteuil near Paris to stay with his
daughter, Madame Longuet. He went to the sulphur springs near by at
Enghien, in order to relieve the bronchitis from which he had suffered for
so long. Here again the weather was awful, but the cure did some good. Then
he went to Vevey for six weeks and came back in September, having
apparently almost completely recovered his health. He was allowed to spend
the winter on the south coast of England, and he himself was so tired of
wandering about with nothing to do, that another period of exile to the
south of Europe would probably have harmed him in spirit as much as it
would have benefited him in health. When the foggy season commenced in
London, he was sent to the Isle of Wight. There it did nothing but rain and
he caught another cold. Schorlemmer and I were intending to pay him a visit
at the New Year when news came which made it necessary for Tussy to join
him at once. Then followed Jenny's death and he had another attack of
bronchitis. After all that had gone before, and at his age, this was

        A number of complications set in, the most serious being an abscess on the
lung and a terribly rapid loss of strength. Despite this, however, the
general course of the illness was proceeding favourably, and last Friday
the chief doctor who was attending him, one of the foremost young doctors
in London, specially recommended to him by Ray Lankester, gave us the most
brilliant hope for his recovery. But anyone who has but once examined the
lung tissue under the microscope, realises how great is the danger of a
blood vessel being broken if the lung is purulent. And so every morning for
the last six weeks I had a terrible feeling of dread that I might find the
curtains down when I turned the corner of the street.

        Yesterday afternoon at 2.30--which is the best time for visiting him--I
arrived to find the house in tears. It seemed that the end was near. I
asked what had happened, tried to get to the bottom of the matter, to offer
comfort. There had been only a slight haemorrhage but suddenly he had begun
to sink rapidly. Our good old Lenchen, who had looked after him better than
a mother cares for her child, went upstairs to him and then came down. He
was half asleep, she said, I might come in. When we entered the room he lay
there asleep, but never to wake again. His pulse and breathing had stopped.
In those two minutes he had passed away, peacefully and without pain.

           All events which take place by natural necessity bring their own
consolation with them, however dreadful they may be. So in this case.

         Medical skill might have been able to give him a few more years of
vegetative existence, the life of a helpless being, dying--to the triumph
of the doctors' art--not suddenly, but inch by inch. But our Marx could
never have borne that. To have lived on with all his uncompleted works
before him, tantalised by the desire to finish them and yet unable to do
so, would have been a thousand times more bitter than the gentle death
which overtook him. "Death is not a misfortune for him who dies, but for
him who survives," he used to say, quoting Epicurus. And to see that mighty
genius lingering on as a physical wreck to the greater glory of medicine
and to the scorn of the philistines whom in the prime of his strength he
had so often put to rout--no, it is better, a thousand times better, as it
is--a thousand times better that we shall in two days' time carry him to
the grave where his wife lies at rest.

           And after all that had gone before, about which the doctors do
not know as much as I do, there was in my opinion no other alternative.

           Be that as it may, mankind is shorter by a head, and the
greatest head of our time at that. The proletarian movement goes on, but
gone is its central figure to which Frenchmen, Russians, Americans and
Germans spontaneously turned at critical moments, to receive always that
clear incontestable counsel which only genius and a perfect understanding
of the situation could give. Local lights and lesser minds, if not the
humbugs, will now have a free hand. The final victory is certain, but
circuitious paths, temporary and local errors--things which even now are so
unavoidable--will become more common than ever. Well, we must see it
through. What else are we here for?

           And we are not near losing courage yet.


Marx' and Engels' letters to Sorge:

More information about the Marxism mailing list