German Travel Writers’ Narratives on Ireland from Before the 1798 Rising to After the Great Famine- Texts Edited, Translated and Annotated by Eoin Bourke
27 Friedrich Engels (1856)
Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) worked from 1842 till 1869 in his father’s Manchester textile firm Ermen & Engels. Of all Germans of the 19th century, he and Karl Marx studied what was known as the “Irish Question” most intensely and eruditely (see Marx & Engels 1971). However, in Engels’ earlier writings he disapproved of the Irish in England as a sub-proletariat that had not achieved the advanced state of consciousness of the English proletariat and who undercut the wages of the latter. Engels’ depictions of Irish slums in Britain in his Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) by dint of their scornful tone could hardly stand in starker contrast to Fanny Lewald’s empathetic account quoted above. Engels initially succumbed to English stereotyping in declaring Irish conditions to be owing to the character of the people themselves and their “sensuous, excitable nature [that] prevents reflection and quiet, persevering activity from reaching development”, adding categorically that “the cause of Irish misery, which now seems to come from abroad, is really to be found at home” (Marx & Engels, 1971, 42f.). One of the factors in causing a complete reversal of that view will certainly have been Engels’ common-law partnership with the second-generation Irish worker Mary Burns. Mary was born into an Irish family in Manchester with both Fenian and Chartist connections. The daughter of an Irish immigrant, the dyer Michael Burns, she also worked in the Manchester textiles industry as a millhand. She acquainted Engels with the Irish slums in Manchester and accompanied him...
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