Buried in Marx's grave: Marx's housekeeper, mistress, and mother of his only happy child

Engels, Friedrich, political theorist (1820-1895). Autograph letter signed ("F. Engels").

London, 12 Nov. 1890.

Small 8vo (112 x 179 mm). 4 pp. on bifolium (torn through the fold, thus in two separate leaves). Watermark: St. Margarets' Superfine.

(Includes:) Cabinet photograph of Helene Demuth (albumen print, vintage), 100 x 141 mm on cardboard (100 x 160 mm) of the studio Charles J. Gearing, London (after 1880).

(And:) Extract from the birth registers of St. Wendel, illustrating the kinship between Adolf Riefer and Helene Demuth. 2 pp. in-folio.

Inquire

To Adolf Riefer in Sarrebourg, Lorraine, announcing the death of Riefer's aunt Helene Demuth, who had long served as housekeeper to Marx and Engels: "Ich habe Ihnen heute die traurige Mittheilung zu machen, daß meine langjährige Freundin & seit sieben Jahren Hausgenossin, Ihre Tante Fräulein Helene Demuth am 4. des Mts. nach kurzer Krankheit sanft & schmerzlos gestorben ist. Wir waren seit 1845 befreundet, & als sie nach dem Tode meines Freundes Marx mir die Ehre & Freude erwies, die Leitung meines Hauswesens zu übernehmen, fingen für mich Jahre der Zufriedenheit, Ruhe & ich kann wohl sagen des häuslichen Glücks an, wie sie mir seit dem Tod meiner Frau 1878 nicht mehr gegönnt gewesen. Das ist nun alles dahin und für immer. Wir haben sie am Freitag, 7. Novbr. in demselben Grabe, wo auch Marx & Frau Marx beerdigt sind, zur Ruhe gelegt. Mit mir & den Töchtern von Marx betrauern Tausende von Freunden aller Nationen, in den Ebenen Amerikas wie in den politischen Gefängnissen Sibiriens & in allen Ländern Europas ihren Verlust. Die Verstorbene hat ein Testament gemacht, worin sie den Sohn einer verstorbenen Freundin, den sie von klein auf sozusagen an Kindesstatt angenommen, und der sich allmählig zu einem braven & tüchtigen Mechaniker herausgebildet, Frederick Lewis, zu ihrem alleinigen Erben eingesetzt hat. Derselbe hat seit längerer Zeit aus Dankbarkeit und mit ihrer Einwilligung den Namen Demuth angenommen [...]". Engels states the value of the inheritance ("etwa vierzig Pfund Sterling") and inserts the original English text of Demuth's will, with a German translation. Her last will is dated 4 Nov. 1890 and is declared in the presence of the three witnesses Engels, Eleanor Marx-Aveling (Marx's youngest daughter), and her husband Eduard Aveling.

After the death of her father in 1826, Helene Demuth (1820-90) had to work as a maid servant early in her life. In 1837 she entered the service of the respected Westphalen family of Trier; their daughter Jenny married Karl Marx in 1843. In 1845 Demuth was sent to Brussels to support the couple as housekeeper; she would remain with the Marx family also in Paris, Cologne, and during their exile in London. Jenny Marx passed away in 1881, Karl Marx in 1883; subsequently, she was responsible for Engels' household.

Scholarship accepts that her sole heir, Frederick Lewis Demuth (1851-1929), was almost certainly the illegitimate son of Karl Marx and Helene Demuth. All her life the mother concealed the identity of the boy's father, lest the affair provide Marx's political enemies with ammunition; even in this letter Engels obscures the young man's ancestry. Named Frederick (after Engels), the child was given into the care of the Lewis family, whose surname he took; his relations to his half-siblings are said to have remained easy all his life. Undoubtedly he ended up happier than they did: "Four of Marx's children predeceased him, and the two survivors both killed themselves. The only member of the family to escape the curse was Freddy Demuth, who lived and worked quietly in east London. He died of cardiac failure on 28 January 1929, aged seventy-seven. To the end, neither he nor anyone else suspected that Freddy might be a son of the man whose face and name were, by then, known throughout the world" (Wheen, Marx, p. 386).

Includes an original cabinet photograph of Helene Demuth, showing the housekeeper nearly in full figure at an advanced age (identified on the verso by a later hand in pencil and dated "1890").

Further includes extracts from the birth registers of St Wendel, which show how Adolf Riefer was related to Helene Demuth: she was the sister of his mother, Katharina Riefer, née Demuth.

Further includes a typed letter from the Institute for Marxism-Leninism at the SED Central Committee, to be issued by Tenner to the successful bidder, requesting a "high-quality photocopy" and "precise description of the photographs" (10 Oct. 1984, 1½ pp., 4to), signed by the Institute's deputy director, Professor Dr. Heinrich Gemkow (1928-2017).

Provenance

1) Tenner, Heidelberg, sale 149 (1984), lot 16 & 17 (catalogue entries included in photocopy).

2) German private collection.

3) Hermann Historica, Grasbrunn, 17 Oct. 2023, lot 3343.

Condition

Spuren alter waag- und senkrechter Mittenfaltung; Durchrisse in der Querfaltung fachmännisch restauriert (geringfügige Beeinträchtigung einer Zeile in der deutschen Übersetzung des Testaments).