Marx and Engels in Jersey

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Marx and Engels in Jersey


This article by Philip Stevens was first published in the 1987 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

During the Victorian period Jersey gradually acquired a reputation as a spa and health resort. It was here that England sent her "delicate chests", as Victor Hugo put it. Two visitors who regularly fled the effects of the English climate were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Though dedicated to the Revolution, which they thought was historically inevitable, they lived a bourgeois life: some comforts, servants, money, holidays. They also shared bourgeois views on the 'lesser breeds without the law' and, as will be seen, sneered at the people of Jersey, at least in private correspondence, whether they were conservative or radical.

Engels' illness

In 1857 Engels was looking for a resort to ease his ill-health. He went first to Waterloo, near Liverpool, to be by the sea; but he still felt like death. Marx, having consulted 'all the books' in English, French and German, concluded that Engels should take iron, whatever his doctor, Heckscher, might say. He advised Engels not to go back to his office, to avoid a relapse.

Engels obediently took iron iodide (and cod liver oil) but only felt worse, though he did find that taking baths reduced the inflammation. He thought of going to a 'vigorous' bathing station like the Isle of Man and then moving on to the Isle of Wight. Marx replied that the Isle of Man was distinguished only by its smell and that Engels should go to the best place in England for his complaint, Hastings.

The Isle of Wight almost cured Engels, but he wrote to Marx from Ryde to invite him to join him in Brighton to cross to Jersey. Why did Engels choose Jersey? No doubt because an ailing acquaintance, Conrad Schramm, who had gone there on 20 September, recommended the climate. Marx said he might come to Brighton, and Engels replied that he would go to Brighton on 28 September at the latest and to Jersey on the 29th. In fact, as the passenger lists show, "Engels and friend" arrived in Jersey on 1 October on the Brighton from Kingston. The friend must surely have been Marx.

Karl Marx

Engels and, presumably, Marx found lodgings in Saint Helier at 3 Edward Place in The Parade. Marx saw Schramm but must have left Jersey by about 5 October when Engels went alone to Schramm's and renewed acquaintance with George Julian Harney. Marx and Engels had known Harney as a revolutionary in London, "one of the best of the English popular speakers". as Marx put it. After the failure of Chartism and his newspapers, Harney had come to Jersey and, in July 1856, had accepted editorship of the Jersey Independent.

Though in Jersey terms Harney was a radical, Engels thought he had sold out:

"He has acquired a strange appearance with a large, pitch-black beard, somewhat like the greasy Jews who travelled in the small boat which landed us from the steamer - certainly an improvement. He regards his Jersey politics from the humorous point of view, saying he's having a great deal of fun from it, etc. His more serious view, and he surely has one, will only make itself known hereafter. I went drinking with him afterwards and had him tell me about the local constitution, etc; there was no talk of previous days. For the time being he seems to be damn'd glad to have retired from high politics to his little royaume des aveugles. Being borgne [one-eyed], he is king of the opposition here, with the first grocer on his right and on his left the first tallow-chandler in the town. The battles are fought in the Royal Square, where the grocer cut down the redacteur en chef of the Jersey Impartial, a Bonapartist spy called Lemoine, as a result of which a trial has been going on for a year and which will be decided next Monday. Since and during the financial crisis in Paris the Impartial is suspended. For Harney the whole history of Jersey is divided into two periods: before and after the Hejira, the expulsion of the Toads. Both periods are notable for the fact that nothing happened in them."

Asplet brothers

The 'first grocer' is Charles Asplet, the 'first tallow-chandler' probably his brother, Philippe Asplet. As a firm friend and champion of Victor Hugo and the Republican proscrits, Philippe Asplet had knocked down Lemoine and broken his spectacles. Lemoine had kept up a continuous diatribe against the proscrits in L'Impartial and had helped to engineer their expulsion. Engels refers to the proscrits as Toads, though this is of course a pejorative name for Jerseymen as well.

Harney had settled down to a pleasant life with his wife, Marie Metivier, nee Le Sueur. He expected to be written to as an 'esquire', and wrote to Engels in the same way. "I should never forget that the best that Harney had to say about me was confined to the Esq Grosse Bete", wrote Engels to Marx.

The conflict between Harney and Marx and Engels was the perennial one between Fabian and revolutionary. "What really distinguished Engels and Marx from Harney", writes Schoyen, "was their impenetrable sense of dedication and awareness of their historical importance. They were imbued with the fervour of the apostles of early Christianity; Harney was like a tired Roman reformer." After some days Engels told Marx:

"Friend Harney ... is terribly stupid and feels most comfortable here in his philistine role, although he is obviously under the censorship of the owner of the paper. He expects, of course, that sooner or later the English workers will get down to doing something, but that something won't be anything Chartist at all; and in any case, all this is only theoretical phraseology with him, and it would certainly be unpleasant for him to be uprooted from his petty bourgeois agitation here. He is very busy, but busy doing nothing. His friend the grocer, who beat up the French spy, has been fined £5."

Yet it was Harney who had a better feel for the mood of the British worker. Schoyen wrote:

"The trend in English working-class radicalism was away from an independent and class-conscious movement to the collaboration with the middle classes which issued in the Gladstonian Liberal party. It was this drift which constituted 'high politics' in the late 'fifties so far as the Radical working class was concerned; not, as Marx and Engels wished it to be, working-class preparation for revolutionary changes in the economic crisis they believed was imminent."

Harney applied his energies to attacking the last vestiges of Feudalism in Jersy, in particular the prerogatives of the advocate, Francois Godfray, who owned a number of fiefs. Engels wrote:

"Harney gets more and more stupid. Feudal affairs here are really such that he could make a deal of political capital out of them, but he doesn't understand them at all, ruining the best points for the little advocate who provides him with material and ready drafted articles. There is a lot of amusement to be got out of this posthumous feudal setup, by the way, and the whole mess is endlessly ridiculous. A modern advocate as Seigneur and the shopkeepers of St Helier as vassals - the whole masquerade is quite a joke. The fellows are now holding feudal courts: the prevot du seigneur is a carver and gilder who can't speak a word of French and, although he is second in command, doesn't understand a thing that is going on. The Seigneur threatens his disobedient vassals, who are 60-70% of the whole number, with confiscation of their houses. And the vassals - drapers and tallow-chandlers - threaten to counter force with force. Viola the present state of affairs."

Engels did not think much of one Hermann Buck either. An uncultured, 'old Prussian swine'. Buck had come to spend the winter in Jersey, sent by Schramm's brother Rudolf. Buck took rooms with Mrs Phillips in the same house as Schramm and gave him English lessons. Here in Jersey Buck told filthy, humourless jokes 'about all the rabble at the Berlin Court, que le Diable l'emporte', But Engels found himself in better health. On 5 October:

"I marched off to the North Coast, five or six miles from here, very good roads, occasional pretty avenues, masses of splendid blackberries, and some very fine little bays along the coast. The island is a plateau. As soon as one is up on top of it, it climbs very gradually until right up close to the north coast, and the valleys of the streams are cut very shallow. On the north side you can see a very large stretch of France (West Coast of the Departement de la Manche and the island of Sercq; Guernesey I could not see.)"

On 18 October, he was well enough to ride for seven hours and to bid 'farewell to virtue also'.

During his stay in Jersey, trade in Manchester, where Engels had a mill, took a turn for the worse; and he felt he could not remain in Jersey. There had been a Great Crash in New York, but this 'general downbreak' made him feel relieved. There is something perverse and cynical about a man who lived off the capitalist system longing for its failure.

Marx to Engels

Marx also depended on capitalism through Engels for, that winter, swallowing his pride, he was to write to Engels:

Dear Frederick,
The bitter cold, which has broken out here, and the very real lack of coals in our house, force me to press you once again - even though I find it the most painful of all things. I decided to do it only as a result of pressure from without. My wife has demonstrated to me that, in consequence of the money from Jersey arriving earlier than usual, you have made an error in your accounts and would therefore not send us anything this month unless I specially write to you. She has already pawned her shawl, etc. etc. and does not know what to do next. In other words, I must write and therefore I am writing ..."

Marx reckoned the 'abominable' weather in England would do Engels no good, so he consulted Doctor Heckscher who thought Jersey could not do much more for him and advised him to return to Manchester. Engels waited for money to arrive in Jersey and returned to England on 8 November 1857. (It is far from clear why Engels made Marx an allowance through Jersey; it could hardly have been part of a scheme of tax evasion.)

During all this time Schramm had been in poor health, his condition varying from day to day. Marx had found Schramm collapsed under incurable consumption, his beautiful head transfigured by it. To the end he retained his sense of humour, deriving amusement (like Mark Twain) from reading his own premature obituary. Though he had taken medical advice and gone to Jersey, he lived on the side of Town most exposed to north-west winds, and was unable to walk. Engels reported that the daughter of his fat landlady in Jersey had died of consumption, and that he did not even want to talk to Schramm about moving further south as it had become, not surprisingly, a touchy subject.

On 15 January 1858, Schramm died. Engels (with some slight justification) reckoned that Harney was making a "great melodramatic spectacle" out of Schramm's death in which he, Harney, "of course plays the leading role", requesting Engels to return to Jersey to "figure among those crapauds and waschlapskis too." All the same, Engels sent £5 for the funeral expenses.

Engels' second visit

Engels paid a second visit to Jersey in 1874, probably with his wife Mary Burns. Marx had obviously enquired whether Jersey had changed since 1857. Engels replied:

"Jersey has changed significantly since we were there. A lot of building, elegant villas, big hotels, with expensive, almost English prices, and everything much more expensive in the market as well; the London market has the effect of increasing prices. The French language is disappearing fast; even the children in the country speak to each other almost exclusively in English, and almost all the people under 30 speak English without any French accent. Only the old notables hold fast to French. There are two small railways here now, on which you never hear a word of French. During the season there are excursions around the island organised by five different entrepreneurs; we went on one with over 150 people in eight or nine coaches; petty bourgeoisie, clerks and volunteers, and snobs, causing some amusement and occasionally annoyance. The true Briton casts off his tormenting domestication on such trips in Jersey, but takes it up again all the more conscientiously at the table d'hote. The increase of money among certain jumped up individuals - one can hardly call them classes - of the English lower middle-class and the spread of luxury/affected respectability which go with it were very amusing to observe in Jersey, for the very reason that Jersey is regarded as a cheap but unfashionable little island. The respectability-standard of tourists in Jersey seems to get lower every year - we noticed the same, by the way, in Ramsgate, where no one was complaining louder than the unfortunate barber who cut our hair so short last April.

This was hardly a strong recommendation, but Marx made his second visit in 1879.

Marx's second visit

On 7 August 'Dr Marcks and lady' arrived in Jersey from Southampton on the Diana. The 'lady' was Marx's daughter Eleanor (Tussy).

"Our trip to Jersey from Southhampton was too much dampened by a violent rainstorm; we arrived dripping at St Helier, where it also "poured" violently. Since then, the weather, after some hither-and-yon changes, has been very good. In Jersey, the peasants believed that the world was coming to an end; they claimed never to have experienced such a bad spring and summer. Tomorrow we move to the Hotel de l'Europe, in St Helier. We are giving up St Aubin's because Tussy and I have a horror of a monotonous daily lamb and mutton diet, as a result of which I have become a reluctant vegetarian in the last few days. Other rooms here - and we looked around a great deal - were not to be found. When we arrived in Jersey, it was still relatively empty, but in time came masses of immigrants, including Frenchies. When we inquired for rooms this morning at the Hotel de l'Europe, we were fortunate in that 50 Frenchmen were preparing to leave, while the steamers heavily loaded with new passengers had not arrived yet.
"At our departure from London, at Waterloo Station, we met Harney who came to see his wife off to Jersey. Fortunately they already had the ticket for first class, while we took second class. We met again on the boat. Mrs Harney, like ourselves, does not suffer from seasickness but is otherwise unwell. Upon landing we separated, but received from her the address of her brother, with whom she is staying. We have paid her there a short "condolence" visit. The woman is altogether impracticable. Although a Jersey native, she could give us no information, other than what is printed in the Guide. A good woman, but not just the person for people who travel for fun. For some time now I have again been sleeping regularly, but have not yet got rid entirely of my cold, which I caught as a result of the abominable weather. But this should quickly go away in this mild air. Tussy is all right.
"Two tenant farmers from Derbyshire, father and son, have been our table mates here in Trafalgar Hotel. The day before yesterday they made an excursion to St Malo by sailboat, and "having been in France" for the first time in their lives, they returned with an unequally greater respect for themselves. The father was now of half a mind to make a Mediterranean trip with son, but he thought it was "too hot" there. "By no means", the son, who is the book-learned man corrected him; "by no means, there it is now - winter". The older man (in any case, in his prime, and a sharp fellow, with the true business-eye) also informed me that St Malo lies on the southwest coast of France. But they are the more conversant with agriculture and other farmers questions.

Tussy took sea-baths in Saint Aubin's, Saint Clement's and Saint Brelade's bays; Marx did not, and the dreadful weather in Jersey worsened his health and gave him a sudden toothache.

"Here the rainy time - otherwise so unknown to this delicious island - has again set in, so that we had already commenced discussing our departure, the whole aspect of our sojourn here having changed with the climatic and meteorologic changes. The Hotel de l'Europe is excellent and one day we must go here together, toute la famille.

Although Tussy wanted to stay, the weather, and the arrival to her sister Jenny Longuet of a 'little world citizen' as Marx put it, led to their departure on 20 August. Marx did not have much longer to live, for in 1883 he finally succumbed to illness.

Engels' third visit

Two years later, in 1885, Engels made a third visit to Jersey, this time with 'Nirn' (Helene Demuth, a faithful servant of the Marxes and Engels) and 'Pumps' (Mary Ellen Rosher, niece of Engels' wife, Lizzy Burns). Engels must have written from Jersey to Harney to ask for some introductions, for Harney replied:

"I was glad to receive yours of 25th, and am glad that - on the whole - you like Jersey. It is a very interesting place to visit, to stay some weeks, or even months: but after a time one feels cooped up and longing for at least a wider prison. I take the liberty to send your letter to America as it will much interest Mrs Harney.
"What thrice double asses are those Jerseymen to destroy their orchards and turn their beautiful island into one monstrous potato-patch. Some year the "disease," or blight, will turn the surface of the land into one mass of black stinking corruption; and then the greedy profit hunters will yell and howl in vain. But with all its beauties, Jersey, it seems, has nearly as many stinks as the famous 40,000 of Cologne. I hope you, and Nim, and Pumps, and the little pumps will escape any serious trouble.
"I must be pretty well forgotten by this time; but, if living, the following will remember me:
  • Francis Le Sueur (Mrs Harney's brother) at "the Impot" or "Customs", Quayside
  • John Binet, vinegar manufacturer, Sand Street
  • Philip Binet, hardware - near the British Hotel
  • Geo Picot (and brothers), hardware - near Beresford Street
  • John Durell, baker, - going from the centre of the town toward the Colomberie
  • Ouless, photographer, New Street
  • Carrel, publisher of the Jersey Express, Broad Street
I am glad you retain some of your political enthusiasm, and can yet feel some confidence in and hope of the English working classes. I daresay I too might have retained my "youthful illusions", not much impaired, if I had remained in England. But the long banishment of 30 years - including the Jersey sojourn - has made a difference.

When Engels returned, Harney enquired:

"Were you satisfied with your sojourn in Jersey? - Did you see any old friends of mine? Did you all come back quite well, in spite of Jersey's eau de Cologne?

And when Engels reported that they had all got back safety, and that the British tourist was "as numerous and vulgar as ever", Harney responded that they were not likely to become less numerous or less vulgar. Jersey, he said, was "a nice place; but considering the usually abominable sea-passage, I doubt if the game is worth the candle".

There is something pathetic about Harney, who had spent many happy and satisfying years in Jersey, seeking to please the cynical Engels. He would no doubt have been mortified to know that Marx and Engels both thought of him as a "lousy little fellow" who, as Engels added, is "just in the right place in Jersey."

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