russell, part 1

Mon, 2008-09-22 19:12

I finally finished reading part 1 (1872-1914) of Bertrand Russell's autobiography. He cheats a lot: at least half of this book is letters, mostly to him, so he didn't even write this stuff.

Bertrand Russell is one of my favorite people. I find his clear thinking and writing always a joy and an encouragement.

Two passages from part 1 struck me particularly:

One day, Gilbert Murray came to Newham to read part of his translation of The Hippolytus, then unpublished. Alys and I went to hear him, and I was profoundly stirred by the beauty of the poetry. When we came home, we found Mrs. Whitehead undergoing an unusually severe bout of pain. She seemed cut off from everyone and everything by walls of agony, and the sense of solitude of each human soul suddenly overwhelmed me. Ever since my marriage, my emotional life had been calm and superficial. I had forgotten all the deeper issues, and had been content with flippant cleverness. Suddenly the ground seems to five way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, that a public school education is abominable, that the use of force is to be deprecated, and that in human relations one should penetrate to the core of loneliness in each person, and speak to that. The Whiteheads' youngest boy, aged three, was in the room. I had previously taken no notice of him, nor he of me. He had to be prevented from troubling his mother in the middle of her paroxysms of pain. I took his hand and led him away. He came willingly, and felt at home with me. From that day to his death in the war in 1918, we were close friends.

In a letter from George Trevelyan:

I think I also agree with you as to the duty of living and working in the City of Destruction, rather than fleeing from it. But a duty that is also a pleasure, though it is none the less still a duty, brings dangers in the course of its performance. It is very difficult, in retaining the bulk of one's property and leisure at the disposal of one's own will, to live in the spirit of this maxim: "One has only a right to that amount of property which will conduce most to the welfare of others in the long run."

I do not know what this maxim is from. Anybody know? I know "City of Destruction" is from John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Promise..., but the word "property" does not appear in that work, so the maxim must be from elsewhere, if not a creation of Trevelyan.