second fiddle


Poor Engels. He spent his best years ‘playing second fiddle’, as he himself described it, to his friend Karl Marx. He was for most of his adult life the only source of income for Marx and his family. There must have been many years when Engels spent less on himself and his mistress Mary Burns than he did on Marx’s family. He sacrificed both his intellectual and political career to that of Marx. It is hard to imagine anything less congenial to Engels than working in the family firm of Ermen and Engels of Barmen and Manchester; yet he did it for one reason only – to allow Marx to devote himself to that cumbersome masterpiece Das Kapital. It took twenty years to write, and when Marx died, only the first – and most interesting – volume had been published. Engels duly edited and published the other two. Yet Engels had published his own masterpiece when he was in his mid-twenties. The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) is a work that shows what historical materialism is; while Marx was still weaving philosophical spells, Engels had walked the streets of Manchester, read everything there was to read on the ‘Condition of England Question’, and turned it all into coruscating prose.

more from Literary Review here.