Marx-Engels Correspondence 1866

Marx To Engels
In Manchester

Source: MECW Volume 42, p 231;.
First published: in Marx and Engels, Works, Moscow, 1963.

[London,] 20 February 1866

Dear Fred,

You can imagine how opportunely the £10 came. I had been served with two threats of distraint, for £6 “0” 9d. for the bloody municipal taxes, and for 1sh. 16d. for the Queen’s taxes. And I had until Friday to pay.

As regards the carbuncles, the position is:

Concerning the upper one, from my long practical experience I was able to tell you that it really needed lancing. Today (Tuesday), after receiving your letter, I took a sharp razor, a relict of Dear Lupus, and lanced the cur myself. (I cannot abide doctors meddling with my private parts or in their vicinity. Furthermore, I have Allen’s testimony that I am one of the best subjects to be operated upon. I always recognise what has to be done.) The sang brûlé, as Mrs Lormier says, Spurted, or rather leapt, right up into the air, and I now consider this carbuncle buried, although it still wants some nursing.

As far as the lower cur is concerned, it is becoming malignant and is beyond my control and kept me from sleeping the whole night through. If this diabolical business advances, I shall have to send for Allen, of course, as, owing to the locus of the cur, I am unable to watch and cure it myself. And in general it is clear that on the whole I know more about carbuncular complaints than most doctors.

And by the by, I still hold to the view that I suggested to Gumpert during my last stay in Manchester: that is, that the itching and scratching between my testis and posterior over the past 2 1/2 years and the consequent peeling of the skin have been more aggravating to my constitution than anything else. The business started 6 months before the first monster carbuncle which I had on my back, and it has persisted ever since.

My dear boy, in all these circumstances one appreciates more than ever the good fortune of a friendship such as exists between ourselves. You should know for your part that there is no relationship I value so highly.

I will send you ‘Zaches’ and ‘Factory Reports’ tomorrow. You will understand, my Dear Fellow, that in a work such as mine, there are bound to be many shortcomings in the detail. But the composition, the structure, is a triumph of German scholarship, which an individual German may confess to, since it is in no way his merit but rather belongs to the nation. Which is all the more gratifying, as it is otherwise the silliest nation under the sun!

The fact, which Liebig had ‘denounced’ and which prompted Schönbein’s investigations, was this:

The upper layers of the soil always contain more ammonia than the deeper ones, instead of containing less of it as they would have to do if they had lost it through cultivation. The fact was recognised by every chemist. Only the cause was unknown.

Hitherto, decay was considered to be the sole source of ammonia. All chemists (including Liebig) denied that the nitrogen in the air could serve as a nutrient for plants.

Schönbein proved (by experiment) that any flame burning in the air converts a certain quantity of the nitrogen in the air into ammonium nitrate, that every process of decomposition gives rise to both nitric acid and ammonia, that the mere evaporation of water is the means causing the formation of both plant nutrients.

Finally, Liebig’s ‘jubilation’ at this discovery:

‘The combustion of a pound of coal or wood restores to the air not merely the elements needed to reproduce this pound of wood or, under certain conditions, coal, but the process of combustion in itself’ (note the Hegelian category) ‘transforms a certain quantity of nitrogen in the air into a nutrient indispensable for the production of bread and meat.

Feel proud of the Germans. It is our duty to emancipate this ‘deep’ people.

K. M.