Das Kapital sent to Darwin by ‘admirer’ Marx returns home

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 6:19 PM

By Sachin Ravikumar

LONDON (Reuters) – A rare book gifted to Charles Darwin by Karl Marx in 1873, which may not have been read by its recipient, is returning to the English naturalist’s home for public display after undergoing conservation work.

The founder of communism had sent the father of evolutionary theory a copy of “Das Kapital”, his critical analysis of capitalism, personally inscribing on the opening page: “on the part of his sincere admirer, Karl Marx”.

But the bromance appears to have been one-sided.

English Heritage, the charity that cares for Darwin’s home in Kent in southeastern England, said most of the book’s pages remain uncut, where pages remain connected at the top from the binding process.

That suggests Darwin gave up any attempt to read it, the charity said, either because he was unimpressed, or his German was less than perfect. He also took nearly three months to write a reply, and even then, it lacked his usual colour and warmth, English Heritage added.

The book will now return to Down House, from where Darwin worked on his revolutionary theory of evolution by natural selection, after five years away during which the tome underwent specialist conservation work by Cambridge University Library to prevent further deterioration of the delicate copy.

“As well as giving us an amusing insight into the dynamics between these two prominent intellectuals, Down House’s copy of Das Kapital is a fantastic piece of social history, highlighting how Darwin’s theories filtered through Victorian society and transformed popular ideas of biology and nature,” said Tessa Kilgarriff, curator of collections and interiors at English Heritage.

In his reply to Marx, Darwin wrote that he wished he was more worthy of the “honour” of receiving “Das Kapital”, by understanding the subject better.

“Though our studies have been so different, I believe that we both earnestly desire the extension of knowledge, and that this is in the long run sure to add to the happiness of Mankind,” Darwin wrote.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar; editing by Jonathan Oatis)