‘Our Sunday Walks to Hampstead Heath’ by Wilhelm Liebknecht from Karl Marx: Biographical Memoirs. Charles H. Kerr Publishers, Chicago. 1901.

‘Our Sunday Walks to Hampstead Heath ’ by Wilhelm Liebknecht from Karl Marx: Biographical Memoirs, Translated by Ernest Untermann. Charles H. Kerr Publishers, Chicago. 1901.

Our trips to Hampstead Heath! If I grew to be a thousand years old, I should not forget them. The “Heath” of Hampstead, beyond Primrose Hill, and like the latter known to the world outside of London through the Pickwick Papers of Dickens, is this day for the greater part a heath, that is: an undulating, uncultivated place covered with heather and clumps of trees, with miniature mountains and valleys, where everybody may move about and gambol at will without fear of being arrested and fined for trespassing by a guardian of holy private property. Today Hampstead Heath is still a favourite excursion place for Londoners, and on fine Sundays everything is black with male and multicoloured with female beings of the human tribe, the latter testing with special preference the patience of the admittedly very patient riding donkeys and horses. Forty years ago Hampstead Heath was much larger and much more natural and primeval than today. And a Sunday on Hampstead Heath was the highest pleasure to us. The children spoke of it the whole week, and we grown people, too, old and young, anticipated it with joy. The trip itself was a feast. The girls were good pedestrians, alert and tireless like cats. From Dean Street, where Marx lived, a short way from Church Street where I had gone to anchor, it was at least one hour and a quarter, and as a rule the start was made as early as 11am. Often, it must be admitted, we started later, for it is not customary in London to rise early, and some time was always consumed in getting everything in readiness, the children cared for and the basket properly packed.

That basket! It stands, or rather hangs, before my mental vision as vivid, as real, as enticing, as appetising, as if it were only yesterday that I had seen it last on Lenchen’s arm.

Helene Demuth ‘Lenchen’.

It was our commissary department, and when a man has a healthy, strong stomach and very often not the necessary small change (large change did not come our way at all), then the question of provisions plays a very important role. And good Lenchen knew this and had for us often half-starved and, therefore always hungry, guests a sympathising heart. A mighty roast veal was the centrepiece hallowed by tradition for the Sunday on Hampstead Heath. A basket of a volume unknown in London, which Lenchen had saved from their sojourn in Treves, served as a receptacle to the Holiest of Holies, as a tabernacle so to speak. After this, tea with sugar, and occasionally some fruit. Bread and cheese was purchased on the heath, where one could, and still can, obtain dishes and hot water with milk, similarly to the coffee gardens of Berlin, and bread, butter, cheese, besides the local shrimps, water-cress and periwinkles, according to one’s needs and purchasing power. Also beer, except during the short time when the society of aristocratic hypocrites, who have piled up at home and in their clubs all the alcoholic drinks imaginable and to whom every day is a Sunday or holiday, tried to impress virtue and morals on the common people by prohibiting the sale of beer on Sundays. But the people of London don’t understand a joke when an attack is made on their stomachs; by the hundred thousand they wandered out to Hyde Park on the Sunday after the passage of that bill and thundered into the ears of the pious aristocratic males and females, who were enjoying their rides in carriages and on horseback, a sneering “Go to church!” so loud that the pious males and females were terror struck. On the next Sunday, the quarter of a million had increased to half a million, and the “Go to church!” had become stronger and more serious. And by the third Sunday, the measure was already revoked.

We fugitives had helped to the best of our powers in this “Go to church!” revolution, and Marx, who could grow very excited on such occasions, came near being collared by a policeman and dragged before a magistrate, but a warm appeal to the thirst of the brave guardian of the law was finally successful.

Daughters Jenny and Laura.

But, as I said, the triumph of hypocrisy did not last long and, except during this short interregnum, we could console ourselves on the almost shadeless march to Hampstead Heath by the well-deserved and well-founded prospect of a cool drink.

The march itself was generally accomplished in the following order. I led the van with the two girls, now telling stories, now executing callisthenics, now on the hunt after field flowers that were not so scarce then as they are now. Behind us some friends. Then the main body of the army: Marx with his wife and some Sunday guest requiring special attention. And behind these Lenchen with the hungriest of the guests who helped her carry the basket. If more visitors were there, they took different places between the several divisions of the army. That the order of battle or of march was changed according to humour and need, I will not emphasise.

Once arrived on the Heath, we would first choose a place where we could spread our tents, at the same time having due regard to the possibility of obtaining tea and beer.

But after drinking and eating their fill, as Homer has it, the male and female comrades looked for the most comfortable place of repose or seat; and when this had been found, he or she, provided they did not prefer a little nap, produced the Sunday papers they had bought on the road, and now began the reading and discussing of politics while the children, who rapidly found comrades, played hide and seek behind the heather bushes.

Jenny von Westphalen Marx.

But this easy life had to be seasoned by a little diversion, and so we ran races, sometimes we also had wrestling matches, or putting the shot (stones) or some other sport. One Sunday we discovered a nearby chestnut tree with ripe nuts: “Let us see who can knock down the greatest number!” somebody cried, and with, a great uproar we went to work. Mohr behaved like mad, and the knocking of chestnuts was surely not his strong side. But he was untiring, like all of us. And only when the last chestnut had been captured amid wild shouts of triumph, the bombardment ceased. Marx could not move the right arm for eight days. And I was not better off.

The greatest treat was a general donkey riding. That was a mad laughing and whooping! And those ludicrous scenes! And how Marx amused himself and us. Us he amused twofold: by his more than primitive art of riding and by the fanatic zeal with which he affirmed his skill in this art. The skill consisted in having once taken riding lessons while a student. Engels contended that he had not gotten beyond the third lesson, and in taking a ride once in a score of years during his visits to Manchester in company with Engels on the back of a demure Rosinante, probably the great-grandcolt of the lamblike mare that the “old Fritz” had once upon a time given to the good Gellert.

The walk home from Hampstead Heath was always very merry, although a pleasure we have enjoyed does not, as a rule, awaken as agreeable feelings as one we are expecting. Against melancholy, although there were only too many good reasons for it, we were armed by our irrepressible humour. The misery of exile did not exist for us. Whoever began to complain was at once reminded in the most impressive manner of his social duties.

Eleanor at 17.

The marching order on the way home was different from that on the march out. The children had tired themselves out running and formed the rear, together with Lenchen who, after the basket had been emptied, could take care of them with a light foot and light weight. Generally, somebody started a song. Political songs seldom, mostly popular songs, especially sentimental songs and – this is no fish story – “patriotic” songs from the “fatherland,” for instance “Oh Strassburg, Oh Strassburg, Du wunderschoene Stadt” (Oh Strassburg, Oh Strassburg, you wonderful town”). That was an extraordinary favourite. Or the children sang nigger songs for us and danced an accompaniment if their legs had sufficiently recovered. Politics were tabooed on the march, as well as the misery of exile. Literature and art, however, were much discussed, and there Marx had an opportunity to show his gigantic memory. He recited long passages from the Divina Commedia that he knew almost entirely by heart; and scenes from Shakespeare at which his wife, also an excellent student of Shakespeare, frequently relieved him. When in the highest of high spirits, he represented Seidelmann as Mephisto. He adored Seidelmann, who he had seen and heard in Berlin as a student, and Faust was his favourite German poem. I cannot say that Marx recited well – he exaggerated considerably – but he never missed the point and he always expressed the sense correctly. In short, he was effective, and the ludicrous impression caused by the first violent outburst of words soon passed when it became apparent that he had deeply penetrated into the spirit of the character, had fully grasped it and thoroughly mastered the role.

Little Jenny, the elder of the two girls (Tussy, alias Mrs Eleanor Marx-Aveling, was then still in the lap of the future), the image of the father: the same black eyes, the same forehead, had sometimes prophetic Pythian raptures – “the spirit came over her,” as it did over Pythia; her eyes began to shine and to flame, and she commenced to declaim, often the most singular fancies. On the way home from Hampstead Heath she once had such an attack, she spoke of the life on the stars, and what she said took the form of a poem. Mrs Marx, with the anxiety of a mother who has lost several children, became alarmed and remarked: “No child of her age should talk like that, this premature development is not a sign of health.” But Mohr scolded her, and I pointed out to her how Pythia, awakened from her trance, gambolled about, laughing merrily, the picture of health. True, little Jenny did die young, but the pain of surviving her was at least spared to the mother.

The Marx Dean St. home.

With the increasing growth of the two girls the character of these Sunday walks changed, but a new generation being provided for, the youthful element was never missing…

Later on Tussy came, the little merry thing, round as a ball and like milk and blood – first in a perambulator, in America called baby carriage, then either carried around, or tripping along beside you, she was six years old when I returned to Germany, half as old as my oldest daughter who during the last two years also joined our Sunday trips to Hampstead Heath…

When, from the beginning of the 1850s, we lived in the north of London, in Kentish Town and Haverstock Hill, then our favourite walks were on the meadows and hills between and beyond Hampstead and Highgate. Here flowers were sought, plants analysed, which was a twofold treat for the city children, in whom the cold, surging, bellowing stone sea of the metropolis created a veritable hunger for green nature. What a joy for us, when we discovered in our wanderings a little lake shaded by trees, and I could show to the children the first live “wild” forget-me-nots; and still greater was the joy when we found hyacinths among other spring flowers in a sheltered comer of a luxurious meadows of dark velvety-green, which we had entered in spite of the warnings against trespassing after a careful scrutiny of the territory. I could hardly believe my eyes. The hyacinths, so I had learned, grow wild only in southern countries, in Switzerland on Lake Leman, in Italy, Greece, but not farther north. But here I had the manifest proof of the contrary, and an unexpected testimony in favour of the English contention that England has an Italian climate for the vegetable kingdom. No doubt they were hyacinths, simple blue-grey blossoms, not so many and not so large blossoms to a stalk as there are on garden hyacinths, but with a similar only slightly less intense odour.

I had learned in studying Homer that the asphodel meadow on which the dead heroes took their walk, was a meadow of narcissi and hyacinths. And now our meadow between Highgate and Hampstead transformed itself into an asphodel meadow, and we wandered among the hyacinths as happy as the blessed heroes and deemed ourselves more fortunate than Achilles, for we were alive, and with grim earnest the dead slayer of Hector had exclaimed in the healing of the well-versed and much-wandered sufferer Odysseus:

Better to be a farmer on earth and to labour for others,

Than to be king of the dead in the reign of the shadows.

We were alive, and we did not have to look up longingly to the upper world. We looked proudly down on the world from our sweet-scented asphodel meadow on the mighty, endless metropolis that is the world and extended before us immeasurable, wrapped in a nasty, mysterious cloak of fog.

Karl Marx: Biographical Memoirs by Wilhelm Liebknecht. Translated by Ernest Untermann. Charles H Kerr Publishers, Chicago. 1901.

Wilhelm Liebknecht’s indispensable, wonderfully told memories of Karl Marx and the Marx family written in 1896 and first published in English in this edition. Full online text here.

Contents: Translator’s Note, Author’s Preface, Karl Marx May 5 1818 to March 14 1883, Memoirs, Popularity, Masks Men and Photographs, “Genius is Diligence”, Friend and Teacher – Urquhart, Marx and the Children, A Stormy Chess Match, In Field and Health, A Bad Quarter of an Hour, Patriotism and its Consequences, Tobacco, Disease and Death, A Voyage of Discovery. 181 pages.

The Charles H Kerr publishing house was responsible for some of the earliest translations and editions of Marx, Engels, and other leaders of the socialist movement in the United States. Publisher of the Socialist Party aligned International Socialist Review, the Charles H Kerr Co. was an exponent of the Party’s left wing and the most important left publisher of the pre-Communist US workers movement. It remains a left wing publisher today.

PDF of full book: https://archive.org/download/karlmarxbiograp00liebgoog/karlmarxbiograp00liebgoog.pdf

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