Edward Aveling

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Edward Aveling
Edward Bibbins Aveling

(1849-11-29)29 November 1849
London, England
Died2 August 1898(1898-08-02) (aged 48)
Battersea, London, England
Other namesAlec Nelson
EducationUniversity College London
OccupationBiologist, writer, politician, translator, zoologist
Spouse(s)Isabel Campbell Frank (1872 – 1892)
Eva Frye (8 June 1897 – his death)
Partner(s)Eleanor Marx

Edward Bibbins Aveling (29 November 1849 – 2 August 1898) was a prominent English biology instructor and popular spokesman for Darwinian evolution, atheism, and socialism.

Aveling was the author of numerous books and pamphlets and was a founding member of the Socialist League and the Independent Labour Party. For many years he was the partner of Eleanor Marx, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx.


Early years[edit]

Aveling was born on 29 November 1849 in Stoke Newington, the fifth of eight children of Rev. Thomas William Baxter Aveling (1815–1884), a Congregationalist minister, and his wife, Mary Ann (d. 1877), daughter of Thomas Goodall, farmer and innkeeper, of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

Aveling attended Taunton School, and in 1867 began to study medicine at University College London. He graduated with a BSc degree in zoology in 1870.[1] Aveling began teaching biology and lecturing in science at King's College London but was unable to advance due to his atheism and avowed leftist views. He subsequently lectured on anatomy and biology at the London Hospital until 1882.[2]

On 30 July 1872, Aveling married the heiress Isabel Campbell Frank (22 November 1849 – 12 September 1892), but the marriage lasted only two years before they separated amicably. According to Aveling, the cause of the split was that Isabel could not abide his atheist views, although there were rumours that he had married her for her money. They did not divorce and the marriage ended with her death.

From 1872 to 1876 Aveling was a teacher of elementary physics and botany at the North London Collegiate School for Girls.

In 1880, Aveling delivered over a hundred freethought lectures and was made a vice-president of the National Secular Society. He edited the secular humanist magazine, The Freethinker when its founding editor George William Foote was imprisoned for blasphemy in 1883.

Political career[edit]

In November 1882 he was elected to represent Westminster on the London School Board.

In 1884, Aveling became the partner of Eleanor "Tussy" Marx, the daughter of Karl Marx, and thus was thrust into the inner circle of British socialism. Later in 1884, Aveling and Eleanor were both elected to the executive council of the Social Democratic Federation. This position proved temporary, because the couple separated from the SDF at the end of the year along with William Morris and Belfort Bax in the acrimonious split which formed the Socialist League.

In 1884, Frederick Engels enlisted Aveling to help in translating the first volume of Karl Marx's book Das Kapital.[2] Aveling also achieved some success as a playwright under the pen-name Alec Nelson.[2]

In the autumn of 1886, Aveling and Eleanor Marx toured the United States, lecturing on behalf of the Socialist Labor Party. After their return, they wrote a book for British readers detailing the situation of the left-wing political movement and trade unions in the US, which they said was populated by "unconscious socialists," people who shared socialist values but disclaimed socialist ideas. Aveling and Marx wrote:

The mass of American Workers had scarcely any more conception of the meaning of Socialism than had 'their betters.' They also had been grievously misled by capitalist papers and capitalist economists and preachers. Hence it came to pass that after most of our meetings we were met by Knights of Labour, Central Labour Union men, and members of other working-class organisations, who told us that they, entering the place antagonists to Socialism as they fancied, had discovered that for a long time past they had been holding its ideas.[3]

During his time in the Socialist League Aveling wrote and translated various socialist texts but nonetheless remained personally unpopular in the movement, the object of a steady steam of gossip and accusations.

In August 1888, the branch to which Aveling and Marx belonged separated from the anarchist-dominated Socialist League in favour of an independent existence as the Bloomsbury Socialist Society.[2]

After leaving the Socialist League, Aveling became active in the Gasworkers' Union, for whom he served as an auditor.[4]

Aveling was a founding member and was elected to the National Administrative Council of the Independent Labour Party by the 1893 Conference which established the organisation. He left that group to rejoin the Marxist Social Democratic Federation in 1896, despite his long-standing personal and political quarrel with SDF leader Henry Hyndman.[4]


Under the pen name Alec Nelson, Aveling wrote several successful plays,[5] including an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter that premiered in London in May 1888. By August, he was supervising the mounting of three different plays in New York, Chicago, and, in the words of Engels, "God knows where besides."[6]

Writings on science[edit]

From his standpoint as a comparative anatomist Aveling easily accepted Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. As an atheist he eagerly promoted the division between some evolutionists and some Christians. His colourful writings on Darwinism were widely read by the general public. However, some of the arguments that he constructed himself were not widely accepted amongst the scientific community; he says, for example, that "the special creation of a species of animal or plant is not thinkable" because it would contravene the principle that both matter and energy are conserved.[7]

Later life, death, and legacy[edit]

In 1897, Aveling left Marx and on 8 June that year secretly married an actress, Eva Frye, using his pen-name Alec Nelson. He returned to Marx in September when he was suffering from kidney disease. After nursing him for some time, Eleanor Marx committed suicide mainly due to his infidelity. A coroner's inquest delivered a verdict of "suicide while in a state of temporary insanity," clearing Aveling of criminal wrongdoing, but he was widely reviled throughout the socialist community as having caused Eleanor to take her life.[8] It has even been suggested that Aveling might have murdered her.[9] Aveling died four months later, on 2 August 1898, in Battersea of kidney disease.[4] He was 48. His body was cremated at Woking Crematorium, Surrey, three days later.

Despite his prominence as a member of the fledgling British Marxist movement, no representatives of the Socialist or labour movements were present at the funeral due to the widely held belief that he was responsible for Eleanor Marx's death.

Aveling was also disliked by many of his contemporaries for his tendency to borrow money from everyone. A biographer of Eleanor wrote in 1976:

The truth is that in moral terms Aveling presented something akin to an optical illusion: looked at in one light, he could be seen as feckless, happy-go-lucky but fundamentally sound; in another, as an unmitigated scoundrel. What, however, could not escape notice from any angle was his infinite propensity to borrow money, which age could not wither nor — more surprisingly — custom stale. He might be cheated...so that resigning from the Secular Society he was loaded with debt. Yet this hardly accounts for his habit of borrowing from the rich, the poor and the positively indigent for trifling amounts — though sometimes cleaning them out — since he never at any time — and this in an age of ostentatious spenders... — lived in a style above that of any other middle-class socialist who had neither business interests nor inherited wealth. * * *

It is not uncommon to come across individuals from whose company and a small sum of money one simultaneously parts. This compulsion to borrow is not easy to explain in those who are neither on their beam ends nor aspire to high living."[10]

Although he had numerous relationships with women, as far as is known, Aveling had no children.


  1. ^ Paul Henderson, "Edward Bibbens Aveling" in A. Thomas Lane (ed.), Biographical Dictionary of European Labor Leaders. In Two Volumes. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995; pg. 36.
  2. ^ a b c d Henderson, "Edward Aveling," pg. 36.
  3. ^ Edward Aveling and Eleanor Marx Aveling, The Working-Class Movement in America. Enlarged Second Edition. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1891; pp. 21–22.
  4. ^ a b c Henderson, "Edward Aveling," pg. 37.
  5. ^ A History of English Drama 1660–1900: Late 19th Century Drama 1850–1900 by Allardyce Nicoll, p.246
  6. ^ Friedrich Engels, Paul Lafargue, Laura Lafargue. Correspondence vol. 2: 1886–1890, translated by Yvonne Kapp. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1960. p. 121, 140.
  7. ^ Aveling, Edward B, The Darwinian Theory, London: Progressive Publishing 1884: 26
  8. ^ Matthew Gwyther: Inside story: 7 Jew's Walk. In: The Daily Telegraph. 23 September 2000
  9. ^ Wilson, A N, God's Funeral, London: John Murray 1999: 293–4.
  10. ^ Yvonne Kapp, Eleanor Marx: Volume Two. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976; pp. 205–206.

Publications by Edward Aveling[edit]


  • Why I Dare Not Be a Christian. London: Freethought Publishing Co., n.d. [1881].
  • Irreligion of Science. London: Freethought Publishing Co., n.d. [1881].
  • The Wickedness of God. London: Freethought Publishing Co., n.d. [1881].
  • The Creed of an Atheist. London: Freethought Publishing Co., n.d. [1881].
  • The Student's Darwin. London: Freethought Publishing Co., 1881.
  • The Plays of Shakspere... : The Substance of Four Lectures Delivered at the Hall of Science, London. London: Freethought Publishing Co., n.d. [1881].
  • Biological Discoveries and Problems. London: Freethought Publishing Co., n.d. [c. 1881].
  • God Dies, Nature Remains. London: Freethought Publishing Co., n.d. [c. 1881].
  • Science and Secularism. London: Freethought Publishing Co., 1882.
  • Botanical Tables: For the Use of Students. London: Freethought Publishing Co., n.d. [1882].
  • A Godless Life: The Happiest and Most Useful. London, A. Besant and C. Bradlaugh, 1882.
  • Science and Religion. London, A. Besant and C. Bradlaugh, n.d. [1882].
  • On Superstition. London, A. Besant and C. Bradlaugh, n.d. [c. 1882].
  • The Borderland Between Living and Non-Living Things: A Lecture Delivered Before the Sunday Lecture Society, on Sunday Afternoon, 5 November 1882..." London: Sunday Lecture Society, 1882.
  • General Biology: Theoretical and Practical. London: n.p., 1882.
  • The Religious Views of Charles Darwin. London: Freethought Publishing Company, 1883.
  • The Darwinian Theory. London: Progressive Publishing Company, n.d. [c. 1883].
  • Christianity and Capitalism. With Charles L Marson and Stewart D Headlam. London: Modern Press, 1884.
  • The Curse of Capital. London: Freethought Publishing Co., 1884.
  • The Darwinian Theory: Its Meaning, Difficulties, Evidence, History. London: Progressive Publishing Co., 1884.
  • The Origin of Man. London: Progressive Publishing Co., 1884.
  • The Factory Hell. with Eleanor Marx Aveling. London: Socialist League Office, 1885.
  • Monkeys, Apes and Men. London: Progressive Publishing Co., 1885.
  • The Woman Question. With Eleanor Marx Aveling. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1886.
  • Chemistry of the Non-Metallics. London : J. Hughes, 1886.
  • Natural Philosophy for London University Matriculation. London: n.p., 1886.
  • Darwin Made Easy. London: Progressive Publishing Co., 1887.
  • Mechanics and Experimental Science as Required for the Matriculation Examination of the University of London.." London: n.p., 1887.
  • The Working Class Movement in America. With Eleanor Marx Aveling. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1887. Second Edition, 1891.
  • Shelley's Socialism: Two Lectures. With Eleanor Marx Aveling. London: privately published, 1888.
  • Key to Mechanics. London: Chapman and Hall, 1888.
  • Key to Chemistry. London: Chapman and Hall, 1888.
  • Mechanics, and Light and Heat: For London University Matriculation. London : W. Stewart & Co., n.d. [1888].
  • Mechanics and Experimental Science as Required for the Matriculation Examination of the University of London: Magnetism and Electricity. London: Chapman and Hall, 1889.
  • An Introduction to the Study of Botany. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1891.
  • The Students' Marx: An Introduction to the Study of Karl Marx' Capital. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1892.
  • An Introduction to the Study of Geology, Specially Adapted for the Use of Candidates for the London B.Sc. and the Science and Art Department Examinations. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1893.
  • Wilhelm Liebknecht and the Social-Democratic Movement in Germany. London: Twentieth Century Press, n.d. [1896].
  • Charles Darwin and Karl Marx: A Comparison. London: Twentieth Century Press, n.d. [c. 1897].


  • L.A. Tikhomirov, Russia: Political and Social. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1888.

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