Thursday, March 18, 2021

Rescued from Oblivion!

I was sure that the English translation of Friedrich Engels's Preface to volume 2 of Capital had used the expression "rescued from oblivion" in referring to the 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties. But the only translations I could find didn't agree:
"In this pamphlet, the importance of which should have been recognized on account of the terms surplus produce or capital, and which Marx saved from being forgotten, we read the following statements..."
"In this pamphlet of 40 pages, the importance of which should have been noted if only on account of the one expression “surplus-produce or capital,” and which Marx saved from falling into oblivion, we read the following statements..."
Today, when checking up on an old citation I had made regarding Sydney Chapman, I dug out my photocopy of Chapman's unpublished autobiography (which I just happened to have lying around). And there was the expression. But that is not the important part. Chapman was talking about his education at Cambridge and two courses he had taken from Herbert Foxwell:
Also I remember particularly well two courses by Professor Foxwell, one on Currency and Banking, and one on early English Socialistic writers, several of whom he had rescued from oblivion. Both courses had grown and grown as Foxwell added to his information and new facts had to be incorporated. It is much to be regretted that he did not publish a book on each subject. The only survival of any size that I know of is a lengthy introduction about early English socialistic writers contributed to a volume by another writer [Anton Menger]. ...

In that book, The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour, Menger disparaged Engels's account of the pamphlet's influence on Marx, declaring in a footnote, "I doubt whether Marx drew his views on this question from the pamphlet quoted by Engels... which contains only faint hints of the theory.  The real discoverers of the theory of surplus value are Godwin, Hall, and especially W. Thompson." Subsequent publication of Theories of Surplus Value and the Grundrisse show that Menger's "doubt" was utterly unfounded but his naming of Godwin as first among the "real discoverers" of surplus value is poignant given what is now known about the 1821 pamphlet's author, Charles Wentworth Dilke, his admitted "Godwin-Methodism" and Marx's extraordinarily high regard for the pamphlet.

Although Foxwell didn't directly challenge Menger's low opinion of The Source and Remedy, in his bibliography he attributed authorship of the pamphlet to John Gray while exalting Gray's A Lecture on Human Happiness (1825) as being, "of the greatest importance in the development of scientific Socialism." In his Introduction to Menger's book, Foxwell claimed (rather impetuously) that Gray had, "left little for Marx to add, except in the way of incitement to the use of force." 

All of this is beating around the bush. What interests me is the distinct possibility that Sydney Chapman read The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties while enrolled in Foxwell's course on "early English Socialistic writers." After all, Engels's avowal and Menger's disavowal of the pamphlet, along with Foxwell's misattribution of it and his high praise for John Gray's "other" work would seem to have made The Source and Remedy  somewhat of an enigma.

Which brings me back to that phrase: "rescued from oblivion"! Whether consciously or unconsciously, might not Chapman have been alluding to the Engels's controversial remark about Marx saving the 1821 pamphlet from falling into oblivion?



Anonymous said...

Eleanor Marx:

“Marx has not suppressed anything worth quoting, neither has he ‘lyingly’ added anything. But he has restored, rescued from oblivion, a particular sentence of one of Mr. Gladstone’s speeches, a sentence which had indubitably been pronounced, but which somehow or other had found its way – out of Hansard.”

Frederick Engels
June 25. 1890

Sandwichman said...


Anonymous said...

I hope you will write about this further, since the matter is fascinating.