I went, at the prompting of Guy, an old friend and colleague, to a meeting of the Sohemians, at which Tristram Hunt spoke on Engels. Introduced by Tim Pendry, Dr Hunt, who has just published a major life of Marx's comrade and collaborator, in keeping with the Sohemians' taste for the combination of the louche and the political, gave a talk based around Engels and the good life.
Engels rode to hounds, as did many in the labour movement in the 19th century, hunting with the Cheshire Hunt. He joked that his horsemanship would be useful if he were to be called on to lead a cavalry charge in the revolution. But in the Dialectics of Nature, he also makes the point that hunting can be a way to a better understanding of the natural world. He enjoyed relationships with women, not only the Irish mill-girls Mary and Lizzie Burns, marrying the latter on her deathbed, and in his youth paid for sex. A lover of champagne and claret, he kept open house at 122 Regents Park Road on Sundays, and many witnesses, such as Bebel, describe the lavish hospitality he offered his guests.
In a phrase which Dr Hunt attributed to Nye Bevan, but which I believe has earlier roots, Engels believed that, 'nothing was too good for the working class'.
In discussion, I wondered about the reception of Engels work. Im his day, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific was his most well-read text; in the 1920s and 1930s the Dialectics of Nature; I think the first work I read must have been the Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, not least because it is cited so much by Lenin in his State and Revolution. The Anti-Dühring, as with many polemical works, has ensure that its target's name, which otherwise would have vanished into obscurity, is remembered. To my surprise some members of the intelligent and widely -read audience confessed to not having read any Engels at all.
The Frock-coated Communist: the revolutionary life of Friedrich Engels
Allen Lane, 2009