Marx-Engels Correspondence 1856

Engels To Marx
In London

Source: MECW Volume 40, p. 49;
First published: abridged in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Stuttgart, 1913.

Manchester, 23 May 1856

Dear Marx,

During our trip to Ireland we travelled from Dublin to Galway on the West Coast, then 20 miles north and inland, on to Limerick, down the Shannon to Tarbert, Traice and Killarney, and back to Dublin. In all approx. 450-500 English miles within the country itself, so we have seen approx. 2/3 of the entire country. With the exception of Dublin, which is to London what Düsseldorf is to Berlin, bears altogether the stamp of having been a small royal seat and is, moreover, built entirely in the English style, the whole country and particularly the towns give one the .impression of being in France or Northern Italy. Gendarmes, priests, lawyers, bureaucrats, lords of the manor in cheerful profusion and a total absence of any and every industry, so that one could barely conceive what all these parasitic plants live on, were there no counterpart in the wretchedness of the peasants. The ‘iron hand’ is visible in every nook and cranny; the government meddles in everything, not a trace of so-called self-government. Ireland may he regarded as the earliest English colony and one which, by reason of her proximity, is still governed in exactly the same old way; here one cannot fail to notice that the English citizen’s so-called freedom is based on the oppression of the colonies. In no other country have I seen so many gendarmes, and it is in the constabulary, which is armed with carbine, bayonet and handcuffs, that the bibulous expression of your Prussian gendarme reaches its ultimate state of perfection.

Peculiar to the country are its ruins, the oldest 5th and 6th century, the most recent 19th, and every stage in between. The earliest, all churches; from 1100, churches and castles; from 1800, farmhouses. Throughout the west, but particularly the Galway region, the countryside is strewn with these derelict farmhouses, most of which have only been abandoned since 1846. I had never imagined that famine could be so tangibly real. Whole villages are deserted; in between the splendid parks of the smaller landlords, virtually the only people still living there, lawyers mostly.

Famine, emigration and clearances between them have brought this about. The fields are empty even of cattle; the countryside is a complete wilderness unwanted by anybody. In County Clare, south of Galway, things improve a bit, for there’s some cattle at least and, towards Limerick, the hills are excellently cultivated, mostly by Scottish farmers, the ruins have been cleared away, and the country has a domesticated air. In the south-west, numerous mountains and bogs but also marvellously luxuriant woodland; further on, fine pastures again, especially in Tipperary and, approaching Dublin, increasing signs that the land is occupied by big farmers.

The English wars of conquest from 1100 to 1850 (au fond they lasted as long as this, as did also martial law) utterly ruined the country. With regard to most of the ruins, it has been established that the destruction took place during these wars. Thus the very people have acquired their unusual character and, for all their fanatical Irish nationalism, the fellows no longer feel at home in their own country. Ireland for the Saxon! That is now becoming a reality. The Irishman knows that he cannot compete with the Englishman, who comes armed with resources in every respect superior to his own; emigration will continue until the predominantly, indeed almost exclusively, Celtic nature of the population has gone to pot. How often have the Irish set out to achieve something and each time been crushed, politically and industrially! In this artificial manner, through systematic oppression, they have come to be a completely wretched nation and now, as everyone knows, they have the job of providing England, America, Australia, etc., with whores, day labourers, maquereaux, pickpockets, swindlers, beggars and other wretches. Even the aristocracy are infected by this wretchedness. The landowners, wholly bourgeoisified everywhere else, are here completely down-at-heel. Their country seats are surrounded by huge and lovely parks but all around there is desolation and where the money is supposed to come from heaven only knows. These fellows are too funny for words: of mixed blood, for the most part tall, strong, handsome types, all with enormous moustaches under a vast Roman nose, they give themselves the bogus martial airs of a colonel en retraite, travel the country in search of every imaginable diversion and, on inquiry, prove to be as poor as church mice, up to their eyes in debt, and living in constant fear of the Encumbered Estates Court.

About England’s method of governing this country — repression and corruption (long before Bonaparte tried them) — more very shortly if you don’t come up soon. What are the prospects?

F. E.