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‘Amusing insight’ revealed in Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’ gift to Darwin

By Jack Guy, CNN

(CNN) — Karl Marx once gifted a signed copy of “Das Kapital” to scientist Charles Darwin, but the book remained largely unread, providing an “amusing insight” into the dynamics between these two intellectuals, according to experts.

In “Das Kapital,” economist and philosopher Marx explored how the capitalist system works and, he argued, its tendencies toward self-destruction.

Now more than 150 years after sending the book to Darwin, it is set to go on display at the famed biologist’s house after the “unsolicited gift” was restored by experts.

Marx sent the book to Darwin in June 1873, with the inscription “on the part of his sincere admirer, Karl Marx.” However, the gift “appears not to have been very well received,” said English Heritage, the charity responsible for maintaining Darwin’s residence, Down House, in a statement Thursday.

“With most of its pages remaining uncut, it seems Darwin gave up any attempt to read it,” reads the statement, which adds that Darwin took almost three months to send a dry note of thanks to Marx.

“I thank you for the honour which you have done me by sending me your great work on Capital; & I heartily wish that I was more worthy to receive it, by understanding more of the deep and important subject of political Economy,” wrote Darwin.

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

The author of numerous works, Darwin is perhaps best known for his 1859 book, “On the Origin of Species,” which introduced the fundamental scientific concept of evolution to the world.

Tessa Kilgarriff, curator of collections and interiors at English Heritage, said that the two men were two of the greatest minds of the late 19th century.

“It is evident from his personal gift and subsequent work that Marx was a follower of Darwin’s theories; however, the uncut pages (and lack of customary pencil marks) suggest Darwin was less enamoured with Marx’s writing – or quite possibly that his German simply wasn’t up to scratch,” she said in the statement.

Kilgarriff added: “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.”

Although Darwin was known to read in German, English Heritage highlight that his son, Francis Darwin, said the scientist struggled with the language.

“In reading a book after him, I was often struck at seeing, from the pencil-marks made each day where he left off, how little he could read at a time,” recalled Francis, according to the statement.

English Heritage suggests that these linguistic struggles, as well as the fact that political economy was not Darwin’s area of interest, may explain the fact that the book was left largely unread.

Visitors to Down House will now be able to see the tome on display for the first time in five years after conservation work carried out by Cambridge University Library, which owns the book.

February 12 marked the 215th anniversary of Darwin’s birthday, and a research team virtually reassembled his impressive library in his honor.

The Darwin Online project released a 300-page catalog that compiles the original 7,400 titles and 13,000 volumes originally owned by Darwin. The catalog includes 9,300 links to copies of the library contents that are available for free online, inviting the public to peruse what Darwin read.

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