(p. 419) One of the few figures who actively sympathized with the plight of the poor was also one of the most interestingly improbable. Friedrich Engels came to England at the age of just twenty-one in 1842 to help run his father’s textile factory in Manchester. The firm, Ermen & Engels, manufac-(p. 420)tured sewing thread. Although young Engels was a faithful son and a reasonably conscientious businessman – eventually
he became a partner – he also spent a good deal of his time modestly but persistently embezzling funds to support his friend and collaborator Karl Marx in London.
It would be hard to imagine two more improbable founders for a movement as ascetic as Communism. While earnestly desiring the downfall of capitalism, Engels made himself rich and comfortable from all its benefits. He kept a stable of fine horses, rode to hounds at weekends, enjoyed the best wines, maintained a mistress, hobnobbed with the elite of Manchester at the fashionable Albert Club – in short, did everything one would expect of a successful member of the gentry. Marx, meanwhile, constantly denounced the bourgeoisie but lived as bourgeois a life as he could manage, sending his daughters to private schools and boasting at every opportunity of his wife’s aristocratic background.
Engels’s patient support for Marx was little short of wondrous. In that milestone year of 1851, Marx accepted a job as a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune, but with no intention of actually writing any articles. His English wasn’t good enough, for one thing. His idea was that Engels would write them for him and he would collect the fee, and that is precisely what happened. Even then, the income wasn’t enough to support his carelessly extravagant lifestyle, so he had Engels embezzle money for him from his father’s firm. Engels did so for years, at considerable risk to himself.
Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.