When Karl Marx Worked For Horace Greeley

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Just what young Dana of the Tribune and Marx of the Communist Manifesto said to each other that mid-summer day in Cologne is not of record. In later years, when he had graduated to become editor of the New York Sun in his own right and thereby a pillar of American society, Dana seems to have expunged all memory of that meeting from his mind. But it was there that the contact was made which led to Marx’s ten-year connection with the Tribune. And if Dana remained reticent, another caller on Marx that same summer has left a vivid impression of what the Cologne radical was then like. This other visitor was Carl Schurz, then himself a fledgling fellow-revolutionist of the Rhineland, and destined—like Dana himself—to a distinguished public career in the United States. Marx that summer, Carl Schurz recalled, “was a somewhat thickset man, with his broad forehead, his very black hair and beard and his dark sparkling eyes. I have never seen a man whose bearing was so provoking and intolerable. To no opinion which differed from his, he accorded the honor of even a condescending consideration. Everyone who contradicted him he treated with abject contempt…. I remember most distinctly the cutting disdain with which he pronounced the word ‘bourgeois.’”

Dana returned to the home office, aroused and enlarged by all he had seen abroad. Greeley, who had never been abroad himself, encouraged his bright young acquisition and made him managing editor. In this role, in 1851, he extended the Tribune’s invitation to Marx, then living in penury and exile at 28 Dean Street, Soho. Would he begin with a series on the late revolution in Germany? Marx jumped at it as a lifesaver. No English newspaper had wanted him as a contributor. For one thing, although he spoke a thickly accented English, he could not write the language. Yet this could be overcome by his getting in his friend and fellow exile, Friedrich Engels, to translate for him. Engels, the highly cultivated scion of a prosperous German textile family, was busy managing his father’s branch factory in Manchester and was always eager to assist.

Then Marx had a further thought. Why not have Engels write the whole series for him and thus leave him free to go on undisturbed with his studies for Das Kapital? So he wrote Engels imperiously, “You must, at this moment when I am entirely absorbed in political economy, come to my aid. Write a series of articles on Germany since 1848. Spirited and outspoken. These gentlemen [the Tribune editors] are very free and easy when it comes to foreign affairs." Soon acolyte Engels obliged, sending in his draft for Marx’s signature. “Mes remerciements pour ton article,” Marx acknowledged it, in that mixture of tongues he resorted to as a kind of exiled lingua franca; “Er … ist unverändert nach New York gesegelt. Du hast ganz den Ton für die Tribune getroffen.” ∗ [∗ "My thanks for your article. It … sailed off unchanged to New York. You have hit the tone for the Tribune precisely.”]

So, while Marx from his garret gave Engels the political line for his articles, saying he was too busy to do more than that, his faithful partner sat down after work at the factory to write what was required and then hurried downtown through Manchester’s midnight fogs to put his copy on the late express to London, where Marx would see it and pass it on across the sea. It was a demanding life for Engels, as he sometimes pointed out. Once he minuted to Marx, “Busy the whole day at the office; supper from seven to eight; then right to work, and sending all I could get done off now at 11:30.” Or “In spite of my greatest efforts, since I got your letter only this morning and it’s now eleven P.M., I haven’t yet finished the piece for Dana.” Marx, for his part, cashed the monthly payment drafts coming in from the Tribune.

Still Marx’s own life at that time was not one of ease. It resembled a nightmare. He was living and trying to do his thinking in a squalid two-room flat which he shared with his wife and as many as six children. Three died there while he went out begging from friends for food and medicine, and, in the case of one little girl whom the Marxes lost, the price of a coffin in which to bury her. When he finally did commence writing himself for Greeley in German in order to reduce the pressure on his friend, he sometimes found it impossible to go on. “My wife is sick,” he complained to Engels one day, “little Jenny is sick, Lenchen [the family’s factotum, also quartered in the same two rooms] has a sort of nerve fever. I couldn’t and can’t call the doctor, because I have no money for medicine. For eight to ten days I’ve fed the family on bread and potatoes, and it’s doubtful whether I’ll be able to chase up any today…. I haven’t written anything for Dana because I didn’t have a penny to go out and get newspapers to read.”