Marx, Mozart, and a philanthropic dean

Communist Manifesto21 February 1848 saw the publication in London of Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei or, in English, Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx. Marx, who spent the last years of his life in London, a few of them in Soho’s Dean Street.

The street is generally agreed to have been named as a compliment to Bishop Henry Compton, Dean of the Chapel Royal. The sixth and youngest son of an earl, Compton was educated at Oxford, spent several years travelling abroad – mainly in Italy, though he was a dedicated anti-papist – and did not return to his native land until the Restoration of Charles II. Compton became Bishop of Oxford in 1674 and then at the end of 1675 was translated to the See of London.

Compton’s rapid promotion within the church and his influence in Charles II’s court (he was responsible for the education of the king’s nieces, the princesses Mary and Anne and also performed their wedding ceremonies) were attributed to his hostility towards Catholics.

Above all, however, Compton was noted for his philanthropy: he spent his own money aiding those who were refugees from persecution in foreign countries, helping poor children and rebuilding hospitals and churches. The generous bishop died a poor man himself, having spent all his money on these acts of charity. Old Compton Street, which intersects Dean Street, is also named after him.

Mozart as a boy
Mozart as a boy

Dean Street has many associations with the fine arts world: in 1746, at number 21 Dean Street, the seven-year-old Mozart played the harpsichord, accompanied by his four-year-old sister. Number 33 was the site of a coffee house known as Jack’s, which was frequented by artists and writers such as Johnson, Reynolds, and Goldsmith. It later became Walker’s hotel, where it is alleged that Nelson slept the night before he sailed to the battle of Trafalgar.

Karl Marx lived at number 28 from 1850 (or 1851) to 1856, where he began to write Das Kapital. (A Greater London Plaque was erected on the site and some sources claim that the date of 1851 on the plaque is incorrect.)

Karl Marx
Karl Marx

Marx and his family – wife Jenny, children, and maidservant Helene – lived there in grinding poverty. Most of the money they did have was contributed by Marx’s friend Engels, and Marx seldom went outside because his clothes were often in the pawnshop rather than on his back. When one of his daughters died, the family had to borrow £2 for the coffin.

The question as to whether, or how, they could afford to pay a maidservant may perhaps be best addressed, if not answered, by one who said, somewhat acidly, that Marx “further complicated his struggles against capitalism by making his servant pregnant”.

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