THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

158 posts categorized "Politics"

20 June 2018

Seeking Wartime Employment: Bertram Thomas and Frank Smythe

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On 27 August 1939, the explorer Bertram Thomas sent a telegram to John Charles Walton of the India Office, offering his services to the Government of India in the event of war, in the Persian Gulf ‘or wherever my Arab experience may be of use’.

  IOR L PS 12 300 f.72Telegram from Bertram Thomas to John Charles Walton at the India Office, 27 August 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/300, f 72) Noc

In 1931, Thomas had become the first European to cross the ‘empty quarter’ (the Rub' al Khali desert) of Arabia.  He had also served in Mesopotamia (Iraq) during the First World War, and had held offices in the Middle East including that of Financial Adviser to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman.

 
IOR L PS 12 2137 f.308'ARABIA. Route Traverse across the RUB' AL KHALI from DHUFAR TO DOHA by BERTRAM THOMAS 1930-31' map (IOR/L/PS/12/2137, f 308) Noc

After the declaration of war on Germany on 3 September 1939, Thomas wrote to the Foreign Office enquiring whether he could be of use to them in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, in case the Government of India could not find a suitable role for him.  He stated ‘I want to serve the country’ and ‘I should feel wretched to be idling when I ought to be helping somewhere’.  He suggested that ‘I might be the sort of man the new Department of Propaganda has a use for, collecting information on the spot, or disseminating it there’.  Herbert Lacy Baggallay of the Foreign Office passed on Thomas’s letter to the Ministry of Information, remarking that Thomas’s ‘knowledge of Arabic and of Arab countries is, of course, very considerable’.

On 30 July 1941 the Ministry of Information offered Thomas the role of Publicity Officer in the Persian Gulf, responsible for the preparation and co-ordination of pro-British and Allied propaganda in the Gulf.  Thomas served in this role until he became first Director of the new Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies, a centre for training British personnel in the Middle East.  He held this post from 1944 to 1948.

Other individuals offered their services to the India Office and the Foreign Office during the Second World War including the mountaineer and author Frank Symthe (Francis Sydney Smythe).  Smythe had led the 1931 expedition which conquered the Himalayan mountain Kamet, the first summit over 25,000 feet (7,620 metres) to be climbed.  He had also taken part in Everest expeditions, including the 1933 expedition which equalled the height record (c 28,000 feet or 8,534 metres) established by Edward Felix Norton in 1924.

Symthe wrote to Walton at the India Office on 23 September 1939 that he was ‘anxious to undertake some work in which any special qualifications I may possess would be of the most use’.  In a further letter of 11 August 1941, he stated that ‘since the German attack on Russia the Indian frontier again becomes important’, and he suggested that he could train a corps of mountain scouts drawn from Gurkhas and Sherpas.
 

IOR L PS 12 300 f.66Letter from Frank Smythe to John Charles Walton of the India Office Political Department, 23 September 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/300, f 66) Noc

It appears that Smythe never served on the Indian frontier, but he did spend part of the Second World War training troops in mountain warfare and spent time in the Rockies with the Lovat Scouts.

Susannah Gillard
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
India Office Records files which can be viewed on the Qatar Digital Library:
British Library, PZ 5277/1939 'War - Offers of service in the event of -' IOR/L/PS/12/300
British Library, ‘File 28/7 I War: Propaganda: local opinion’ IOR/R/15/2/687
British Library, ‘File 28/7 II War: Propaganda – Local Opinion’ IOR/R/15/2/688
British Library, 'File 1/44 Publicity Officer, Bahrain' IOR/R/15/2/1040
British Library, 'File 4/12 (1.a/52) Publicity Officer, Persian Gulf' IOR/R/15/2/933
British Library, Ext 5050/43 ‘Formation of an Arab Centre in the Middle East for providing selected British officers with knowledge of Arabic, Arab countries and Middle East problems’ IOR/L/PS/12/857

Francis Owtram (2015) Preparation Pays Off: Bertram Thomas and the Crossing of the Empty Quarter
Francis Owtram (2016) Dhofar, Doha and a ‘Road Trip’ to Riyadh: Bertram Thomas’ sojourns in Arabia
John Ure (2008) ‘Thomas, Bertram Sidney (1892–1950)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Harry Calvert, Symthe’s Mountains: The Climbs of F. S. Smythe (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1985).
Arnold Lunn, revised by A. M. Snodgrass (2011) ‘Smythe, Francis Sydney (1900–1949)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

 

04 June 2018

Senator J. William Fulbright: International Scholar and Statesman

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The British Library has acquired the archive of the US-UK Fulbright Commission set up in 1948 under the Fulbright Program for grants for international educational exchange. Eleanor Casson introduces the instigator behind the program, Senator Fulbright, and the Famous Alumni of the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

James William Fulbright (Bill) was born in Sumner, Missouri in 1905 to James and Roberta Fulbright. In 1906 the family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Both his parents were successful local entrepreneurs. His father built up a small empire which included the local newspaper, lumberyards, a bottling company and a bank. In 1923 James Fulbright died suddenly and it was left to Roberta to continue the family business, which she did, becoming one of Arkansas’s most famous and successful business women.

The Fulbrights were known by some in the local area as ‘The First Family of Fayetteville’, they were a family of high achievers. Bill embodied this by winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University in 1924. The Rhodes scholarship and Fulbright’s time in Oxford had a profound effect on him. He immersed himself in his studies, but also embraced the cultural differences of England: from the frivolous such as tea drinking and joining the rugby team, to the more enduring like his admiration of British institutions, systems and politics.

Fulbright’s career, outside of the family business, began in 1939 when he was named President of the University of Arkansas. He was 34, the youngest college head in the United States at that time, he was also unqualified for the job, but passionate about education in Arkansas. This lasted until 1941 when he was ousted from his position by the new Governor Homer Adkins.  

In 1942 Fulbright began his thirty-two year career in Congress running for election in Northwest Arkansas. His experiences in Europe had inspired a deep interest in international affairs and his experience at the University of Arkansas had cemented his belief that education could be used as a tool in international affairs. He spent his political career campaigning for tolerance and appreciation of other cultures. His first act as a Congressman was to co-sponsor the Fulbright-Connally Resolution, the forbear of the United Nations. By 1944 he had won a US Senate seat and pushed through legislation creating the International Exchange Program in 1946.

The Fulbright Program was one of Senator Fulbright’s greatest accomplishments. To this date approximately 370,000 ‘Fulbrighters’ have participated in the Program since its inception in 1946 and the Program currently operates in over 160 countries worldwide. The US-UK Commission was established in 1948, since that time there have been over 27,000 Fulbright exchanges between the two countries. The awards span a number of disciplines benefitting everyone from artists to scientists, historians to mathematicians.

Fulbright Scholarship Signing with UK  Fulbright Papers  Series 86  Box 9

22 September 1948, Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin (left) and Chargé d'Affaires Don Bliss (right) sign for the United Kingdom and United States respectively, establishing the Fulbright Agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. Fulbright Papers (MS/F956/144-B), Series 86, Box 9, Folder 2. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. By permission of the University of Arkansas Libraries.

The aim of the program was to nurture the belief that experience and understanding of another culture will contribute to ‘joint ventures for mutually constructive and beneficial purposes’. This belief was reflected throughout his career which led him to become known as the ‘dissenter’. He participated in the censuring of Senator McCarthy, argued against the Vietnam War, and was an advocate for liberal internationalism. Fulbright assumed the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1959 which he held until he lost his seat 1974, the longest serving chairman in the committee’s history. He was presented with the Medal of Freedom by his protégé President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Senator Fulbright
Senator Fulbright at the 40th Anniversary Reception of the Fulbright Program, 1986.  ©The American. By permission of The American.

Eleanor Casson
Cataloguer, Fulbright Archive


Further reading:

Coffin, Tristram, Senator Fulbright, London: Rupert Hart-Davis, (1967)

‘The Fulbright Program, 1946-1996: An Online Exhibit- Expansion in Europe’, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. Accessed: 14/05/2018 https://libraries.uark.edu/specialcollections/exhibits/fulbrightexhibit/bi2pic.html

Woods, Randall Bennett, Fulbright: A Biography, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1995)

Woods, Randall Bennett, ‘Fulbright, J. William’, (American National Biography: 2000). Accessed: 14/05/2018 https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0700698

21 May 2018

‘A Trustworthy Indian in Stockholm’: A. Yusuf Ali’s Mission to Scandinavia, 1918

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A hundred years ago, Stockholm was the centre of Indian anti-colonialism and, at the same time, British counter-intelligence operations. In late April and early May 1918, the Indian lawyer and administrator A. Yusuf Ali gave a series of lectures on Indian culture in Scandinavia, including Copenhagen, Stockholm, Uppsala and Oslo.

A Yusuf Ali 1A. Yusuf Ali from Træk af Indiens Kultur

Delivered in English, the lectures dealt with modern Indian poetry, Indian religion and the role of women in Indian, and they were translated into Danish and published as Træk af Indiens Kultur (Features of Indian Culture) in 1918. In the Foreword, Ali conceded that the lectures were not intended to be published in book form, but ‘valuable friends’ persuaded him to do so. What Ali did not admit was that these ‘valuable friends’ were the British Foreign Office (FO).

A Yusuf Ali 2Træk af Indiens Kultur 

In fact, as reports from the FO show, the British were so worried about the anti-colonial activities of the Indian National Committee (INC) among the socialist delegates assembled in Stockholm for the proposed peace conference that they considered ‘the possibility of sending a trustworthy Indian to Stockholm who could put the case from a loyalist point of view’.

As it happened, the two Indian revolutionaries Virendranath ‘Chatto’ Chattopadhyaya and M.P.T. Acharya from the Berlin-based Indian Independence Committee had arrived in Stockholm in May 1917 and set up the INC. They met the organising Dutch-Scandinavian Committee in July 1917, putting their demands for independence to the socialists, but they were met with little sympathy. The Dutch socialist Pieter Jelles Troelstra noted that ‘the Indian question is important, but it is a distraction’ from the peace negotiations.

However, Chatto and Acharya remained in Stockholm and carried out extensive propaganda in the Swedish newspapers in the next couple of years. For instance, when Finland achieved independence in January 1918, the INC sent congratulatory wishes through the Swedish newspapers Svenska Dagbladet and Aftonbladet, hoping for Finland’s support for Indian independence.

It was such articles that prompted the FO to send Ali on his mission to Scandinavia. In response to the propaganda of the INC, Ali wrote in Stockholms-Tidningen in April 1918 that the Indian revolutionaries were wrong, there was no desire for independence in India, and that the ties between India and Britain had been strengthened during the war. Furthermore, he claimed that the Indian revolutionaries had no support in India, and he referred to them as ‘anarchists’. Chatto denied these accusations, in an article in Stockholms-Tidningen in May 1918, and asserted that they enjoyed widespread support in India, particularly from Bengal.

In his reminiscences of the time in Stockholm, Acharya later wrote that they used to attend Ali’s lectures and hand out their own material to the audience. This meant that many thought that Ali belonged to the INC and subsequently approached him for more information. Ali’s mission had failed, claimed Acharya, and the British called Ali back in the summer of 1918.

The British felt differently, however, as is clear from a review of Ali’s book from The Times Literary Supplement: ‘If it was the object of our Foreign Office to give the Scandinavian public an opportunity of knowing better and valuing more highly the genius of India it would appear that this aim has been excellently fulfilled’ (5 September 1918).

Ole Birk Laursen
Lecturer at NYU London and a Research Associate at The Open University

Further reading:
M. Yusuf Ali, Træk Af Indiens Kultur (Copenhagen: V. Pios Boghandel/H Branner, 1918)
M. A. Sherif, Searching for Solace: A Biography of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Interpreter of the Qur’an (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 1994)
British Library, India Office Records/L/PS/11/126, P 3449/1917 The War: Stockholm Peace Congress; attitude of Oriental delegates

 

16 May 2018

The Anti-German Union and the India Office

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A file among the records of the India Office Public & Judicial Department shows how the anti-German hysteria that developed in Britain after the outbreak of the First World War came to spread as far as central India.

Anti German Union Museum of Fine Arts Boston CON651696Poster for Anti-German Union 1915 courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

George Makrill was Honorary Secretary of the Anti-German Union  - motto: ‘No German Labour, No German Goods, No German Influence, Britain for the British'.  On 9 August 1915 he wrote to the India Office from the Union's headquarters on The Strand concerning ‘... certain information, which I have received from a source which I know to be trustworthy, and which appears to me to require immediate action’.

This potentially grave matter was then left hanging, as Makrill had forgotten to include in this initial communication a short list of persons with German connections who had worked or were working in the Central Provinces administration.  This was dispatched, with apologies, on 26 August.
 
The India Office thus found itself tasked with investigating four of its own civil servants:
• the late Sir Arthur Blumerhassett, former Chief Secretary - what damage might he have done the Allied cause before his death?
• Mr Marten, his successor - had he been ‘turned’ by Sir Arthur?
• Mr Grille, Assistant Commissioner - was he part of the conspiracy?
• Mr Hullah, Third Secretary  - what was his nefarious role?

Mr Makrill might himself have done some elementary checking prior to alerting the India Office, given that he must have meant Sir Arthur Blennerhassett who had died in late January.  It was soon established that the four individuals were all Oxbridge graduates, which before the Cambridge spy ring scandal erupted decades later must presumably have worked in their favour.  Departmental Secretary Malcolm Seton (Repton and Oriel College, Oxford) took it upon himself to deal with the matter, putting the laconic note in the file on 2 September : ‘Mr. J. T. Marten has a German mother, but the Martens are an old Gloucestershire family.  I have known him intimately for over 20 years.  He has always been rather anti-German in feeling’.  He was plainly not impressed by the error over the Blennerhassett surname: ‘Burke or Debrett could have been consulted’.

In retrospect it is clear that the whole episode stemmed from the Anti-German Union having somehow discovered that a handful of overseas civil servants had some German ancestry and/or had married German wives, and were keen for the India Office to investigate their backgrounds.  Seton’s sense of exasperation is plain in another written comment: ‘If the Anti-German Union hopes to proscribe every official who has German blood, its labours will be protracted’.  No further action seems to have taken place, and Messrs Marten (Clifton and New College, Oxford), Grille (Harrow and Jesus, Cambridge) and Hullah (Oundle and Caius College, Cambridge) were sensibly allowed to continue their careers unmolested.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
IOR/L/PJ/6/1395, file 3304
Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E267

 

03 May 2018

‘Who on Earth is Anthony Meyer?’

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Unless you are a political anorak, or one of his constituents, Sir Anthony Meyer’s long, but low key, parliamentary career probably passed under your radar.  However, in November 1989 he was briefly one of the best known men in the country.  His challenge to Margaret Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and by extension the prime ministership, captured the public’s imagination: the backbencher versus the ‘Iron Lady’, albeit a backbencher who was ex-Eton, ex-Oxford, ex-Guards, and a baronet to boot.  Meyer was portrayed as David to Thatcher’s Goliath.

MeyerNewcastle Evening Chronicle 22 November 1989 British Newspaper Archive

The British Library recently acquired the thousands of letters Meyer received at the time of the challenge. They are overwhelmingly supportive.  Constituents, non-constituents, Conservative supporters, supporters of other parties, and the apolitical alike lauded his courage and criticised both Thatcher’s leadership style which they saw as increasingly arrogant and autocratic, and her policies, especially the poll tax and water privatisation.  However, Meyer also received a large number of letters opposing his challenge, and it these letters that make most interesting, and let’s face it, most fun, reading.

The opposition to Meyer’s challenge broke down into distinct categories.  The more considered correspondents picked apart his views on Europe and the economy and insisted that Meyer would divide the party, handing encouragement, and possibly the next election, to Labour.  Others preferred to focus on Thatcher herself, both in a political sense - 'the best Prime Minister we have ever had' - and a personal one - 'the greatest woman who has ever lived on the Planet Earth'; 'neat, wears right clothes and is attractive'.  One cannot help feeling that the latter were hardly prerequisites for leading the country.

Some correspondents attacked Meyer the man rather than his message.  He was a nonentity, the unpopular boy at school trying to get noticed.  He was ordered to 'Stop showing off!' and put a stop to his 'childish antics'.  Much was made of Meyer’s low-key career: 'WHO ON EARTH IS anthony meyer?'; 'Dear Sir Anthony Who!!!'   His opponents dispensed with such niceties as getting his name right.  One card was addressed to Sir Thomas Meyers but he was also Myers, Myer, Myner, Mayer.  To be fair, even some of his supporters wrote to Sir Peter, Sir Ian, Sir Robert, Sir Charles, Sir William, and Sir Alfred.

Another category of opponent comprised those who saw Meyer’s challenge as treachery.  He was likened to Julius Caesar’s assassins, Judas, and memorably one letter writer reckoned Meyer 'and Quisling would have been ‘good pals'.  Finally, there were those who simply resorted to personal abuse, but even this had a genteel feel to it.  'Silly old twit', 'a DRIP of the first water', and 'your [sic] nuts' was about as bad as it got.  Even the correspondent who told him to 'get lost' prefaced it, very politely, with 'kindly'.

As a ‘stalking horse’ candidate (predictably changed to 'stalking donkey' and 'stalking sheep' by his opponents) Meyer was never expected to win, and he did not.  He was resoundingly defeated by 314 votes to 33 but, as was the plan, he laid the groundwork for a party ‘big gun’ to mount another challenge at a later date.  Less than 12 months later Margaret Thatcher resigned as Conservative party leader and Prime Minister.

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager

Further reading:
The Papers of Sir Anthony Meyer, Add MS 89310.
Anthony Meyer, Stand Up and Be Counted (London: Heinemann, 1990).

 

09 April 2018

Bahrain is not in Ruritania: Colonel Prior and the ‘Royal’ Sheikh

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When the Ruler of Bahrain began to adopt a distinctly regal style in 1940, Britain’s senior official in the Gulf moved quickly to nip the development in the bud.

On 7 February 1940 Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah announced in an official decree, or alan, that he had decided to institute a new honour, the Order of the Khalifah.  The order was to have three classes: Star, Decoration, and Medal, and the Sheikh stated that the decree was issued ‘By our royal pleasure’.

Bahrain 1Alan issued by the Sheikh of Bahrain concerning the Order of the Khalifah, 7 February 1940. IOR/R/15/2/644, f 5


Three days later, the Political Agent in Bahrain, Hugh Weightman, reported ‘this rather silly idea’ to his boss, Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Prior, the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf.  Prior was incensed.  He had complained to Weightman the previous November, following his last visit to the Sheikh, that he had been placed between two sofas, with the result that he found himself about a foot lower than the Sheikh.  He insisted then to Weightman that two seats of equal size should be arranged in future ‘as conversation between different planes is difficult’. 

He had also seen a picture in Weightman’s office of the Sheikh sitting ‘on a sort of Woolworth throne’, while the Political Officer, Cole, ‘sat somewhere down by his coat tails in an ordinary chair’. He hoped that no Political Officer would ever put himself in such a ridiculous position again.

Bahrain 2Colonel Prior writes to the Political Agent in Bahrain about the Sheikh of Bahrain’s ‘Woolworth throne’. IOR/L/PS/12/3927, f 25 (detail)

Prior suspected that the Sheikh’s regal pretensions came from Charles Belgrave, his British-born Adviser, and he told Weightman that the Sheikh needed to be reminded that ‘Bahrain is not in Ruritania’.

 The India Office in London was also concerned to ensure that there should only be one ‘fount of honour’ in the British Empire, and as such an Indian ruler had recently been refused permission to institute an order of his own.  However, they recognised that the Sheikh of Bahrain enjoyed a rather more independent position.

Nevertheless, Prior was in no doubt that the Sheikh’s regal tendencies should be suppressed, and he went to Bahrain in March 1940 to interview both Belgrave and the Sheikh.

Bahrain 3Colonel Prior administers a stern lecture to Charles Belgrave, the Sheikh of Bahrain’s Adviser. IOR/L/PS/12/3927, f 22 (detail)

He first carpeted Belgrave, informing him that the British ‘did not retain him in his position for his administrative experience or executive ability, but on account of his political gumption, and that he had failed us lamentably on this occasion’.  He then sent for the Sheikh, raised the issue of the ‘odd alan’, and, reading it out, asked who the king referred to was.  Prior continues: ‘The Shaikh giggled rather feebly at this and said that people wrote these titles on the letters sent him and that as for the order, people liked these things’.

Prior then told the Sheikh that orders of chivalry were for great states and that people would laugh at Bahrain for instituting one.  When the Sheikh mentioned that Egypt and Iraq had them, Prior pointed out that Egypt was fourteen times bigger than Bahrain.  The Sheikh then ‘relapsed into a sepia cloud of patriotic protestations’

Bahrain 4Colonel Prior administers a stern lecture to the Sheikh. IOR/L/PS/12/3927, f 23 (detail)

Prior’s recommendation to the India Office was that only the third class, or Medal, should be allowed to remain, and that the Sheikh’s decree should be allowed to die a natural death.


Bahrain achieved independence from Britain in 1971.  In 2002, the country’s Emir, also named Hamad bin Isa, and now at a safe distance from any risk of being ticked off by the British, declared himself King of Bahrain.

Martin Woodward
Content Specialist, Archives
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
London, British Library 'File 26/2 Bahrain Government Honours ("Order of the Al Khalifah")' IOR/R/15/2/644
London, British Library Coll 30/190 'Bahrein: Qn. of the institution of a Bahrein "Order".' IOR/L/PS/12/3927. (A digitised version of this file will appear in the Qatar Digital Library in the course of 2018).

 

29 March 2018

Love and tragedy in the British Library: The story of Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling Part 2

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Edward Aveling was a well-known public thinker, noted for his secularist views and socialist politics. In 1882 he registered to the Reading Room at the British Museum, which set the stage for his romantic pursuits as much as intellectual ones.

Aveling-EdwardEdward Bibbins Aveling - Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, Moscow via Marxists Internet Archive CC BY-SA 3.0 logo


In his essay ‘Some humours of the reading room at the British Museum’, Edward suggested that ‘a special district should be set aside for ugly readers’ with a police force to ‘prevent those who were plucked and dissatisfied from forcibly asserting their right to a place amongst the well-favoured’. Aveling’s piece, written for Progress journal, displays his savage wit and weakness for ‘dainty-figured, sweet-faced women’. 

Humours of the reading room 1Edward Aveling, ‘Some humours of the reading room at the British Museum’, Progress (1883). P.P.5857.e.

Unscrupulous, spendthrift, and reptilian in appearance, Aveling was roundly disliked by many of his peers. However, he possessed a charm that exceeded the sum of his parts, and proved an unaccountably seductive figure. In 1883, Aveling first encountered Eleanor Marx in the Reading Room, and commissioned her to write a short biography of her father for Progress. The two quickly fell in love. By June of 1884, they were presenting as married; but only unofficially, since Eleanor was under the impression that Aveling had another wife from whom he was long separated but could not divorce. As she told her friend, writer Dollie Radford:
‘Well then this it is – I am going to live with Edward Aveling as his wife. You know he is married, and that I cannot be his wife legally, but it will be a true marriage to me – just as much as if a dozen registrars had officiated…’

Photo 27.09.17  14 58 14 Photo 27.09.17  14 58 25 Photo 27.09.17  14 58 29 (2)Letter from Eleanor Marx to Dollie Radford, 30 June 1884. Add MS 89029-1-25.


Eleanor and Edward collaborated in their political work, which included the pamphlet The Woman Question: From a Socialist Point of View. But Aveling's egalitarian mores did not extend to his home life. His hot temper, unexplained absences and frequent infidelities made a mockery of Eleanor’s devotion to him, and the values they publically espoused.

Aveling, much like Eleanor’s father Karl, was known for borrowing money. The British Library holds various records of his debts, including one of £50 to the artist William Morris. ‘I regret to say,’ he writes in a letter dated December 1896, ‘that I am not in a position to repay now. Long arrears of difficulties are still slowly being cleared off’. Eleanor shouldered the burden of Aveling’s spending, settling his scores from her own income.

Photo 03.10.17  11 14 08 Photo 03.10.17  11 14 15Letter from Edward Aveling to William Morris’s agent, 1 December 1896. Add MS 45346, f. 96.

Sometime between 27 and 31 March 1898, Eleanor discovered that Aveling – under an assumed name – had secretly married his mistress, a young actress named Eva Frye. We know not how the revelation came about, but for Eleanor, it proved a fatal blow. On the morning of 31 March, she was found dead in her room, having swallowed a phial of prussic acid. Though the exact circumstances of her demise remain unclear, the socialist community generally blamed Aveling for Eleanor’s death. ‘I have little doubt in my mind,’ wrote Olive Schreiner, ‘that she discovered a fresh infidelity of Aveling’s, and that ended all. I don’t know if you know the life she had with him: she has come to me nearly mad having found him in her own bedroom with two prostitutes... I am so glad Eleanor is dead. It is such a mercy she has escaped from him’.


 Schreiner 1
Schreiner 2
Schreiner 3Letter from Olive Schreiner to Dollie Radford, June 1898. Add MS 89029-1-26.

 

Izzy Gibbin
Doctoral student, University College London - Anthropology department

Further reading:
Rachel Holmes, Eleanor Marx: A Life (London, 2014) [ELD.DS.71583]
Tara Bergin, The tragic death of Eleanor Marx (Manchester, 2017) [DRT ELD.DS.167611]
John Stokes (ed.), Eleanor Marx (1855-1898): Life, Work, Contacts (Aldershot, 2000) [YC.2000.a.13685]
Yvonne Kapp, Eleanor Marx – Volume I: Family Life 1855-1883; Volume II: The Crowded Years 1884-1898 (London, 1972-6) [X.0809/449]
Chushichi Tsuzuki, The Life of Eleanor Marx 1855-1898: A Socialist Tragedy (Oxford, 1967) [X.709/5699]

Love and tragedy in the British Library: The story of Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling Part 1

Discover the links between the British Library and Karl Marx and his daughter Eleanor, through original documents from their work in the British Museum Reading Room and their political activism in London. Free exhibition in The Sir John Ritblat: Treasures Gallery 1 May-5 August 2018. 

 

27 March 2018

Love and tragedy in the British Library: The story of Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling Part 1

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Love is seeking the anodyne of work, in vain.
   - Edward Aveling

Eleanor Marx, the youngest of Karl Marx’s daughters, was an immensely talented scholar and activist in her own right. Born in 1855 in the Marx family’s cramped and squalid Soho dwellings, ‘Tussy’ – as she was known from a young age – would go on to act as her father’s amanuensis and posthumous translator. At a time when leftist thought was dominated by educated men, her work demonstrated the relevance of socialism to working-class women. But just as Eleanor entered public life as a pioneer of socialist feminism, she became the private victim of a bully and master manipulator.

Jenny-Julia-Eleanor-Marx-later-Marx-Aveling(Jenny Julia) Eleanor Marx (later Marx-Aveling) by Grace Black (later Grace Human), 1881. NPG 6771 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC By


As a young woman, Eleanor spent long days in the Reading Room of the British Museum, aiding her father’s work and, later, drafting her own. After Marx’s death in 1883, Eleanor put out a call for his materials with the aim of transcribing, translating and publishing them. In the process she wrote literally hundreds of letters to Marx’s former correspondents; amongst them, the Chartist Collet Dobson Collet, who provided the material for her translation of the Diplomatic History of the 20th Century.

Photo 03.10.17  10 22 54

  Photo 03.10.17  10 23 29Letter from Eleanor Marx to Collet Dobson Collet, 8 October 1896. Add MS 87372.

Eleanor’s work did much to advance Marx’s ideas in Britain. She delivered energetic polemics to crowds exceeding 100,000, campaigned alongside striking dockers and gas workers, and with her journalism gave voice to the labour struggles that specifically affected women. She described the economic struggles underlying patriarchy with compelling force, but never turned away from socialist praxis and the possibility of relieving present suffering.

  Photo 28.09.17  15 39 06Eleanor Marx, ‘Sweating in type-write offices’, The People’s Press, 5 June 1890. LOU.LON 40.

 

Eleanor had a refined appreciation for literature, and was responsible for the first translation of Madame Bovary into English. She was also an Ibsen enthusiast, learning Norwegian with the express purpose of performing his plays alongside her fellow artistic luminaries. In a letter to George Bernard Shaw, she wonders over casting choices. ‘We mean to try and get May Morris, though I fear she may not have time. She was here yesterday looking as sweet and beautiful as the flower she is named after.’
  Photo 28.09.17  11 29 52
Photo 28.09.17  11 30 10Letter from Eleanor Marx to George Bernard Shaw, 2 June 1885. Add MS 50511, f. 88.

 

Despite her qualities as a beloved friend and dedicated socialist, Eleanor suffered many doubts and feared that she would never live up to her father’s legacy. In a touching obituary, sexologist Havelock Ellis describes a passage written by Eleanor in her loneliest hours: ‘I shall never be good and unselfish as he was. I am not good – never shall be, though I try, harder than ever you can think, to be so. There is too much of the devil in me.’

Photo 27.09.17  14 32 47

Photo 27.09.17  14 33 10Henry Havelock Ellis, ‘Eleanor Marx’, in Modern Monthly (September 1885). Add MS 70557, f. 185.

Sadly, Eleanor’s low estimation of herself made her easy prey for the man who would bring her useful, active life to a dreadful close.

To be continued......

Izzy Gibbin
Doctoral student, University College London - Anthropology department

Discover the links between the British Library and Karl Marx and his daughter Eleanor, through original documents from their work in the British Museum Reading Room and their political activism in London. Free exhibition in The Sir John Ritblat: Treasures Gallery 1 May-5 August 2018.