The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell
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The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1967–1969) is a three-volume work by Bertrand Russell.
- Note: Page numbers refer to the Routledge edition of 2000, ISBN 978-0415228626.
- Through the long years
I sought peace,
I found ecstasy, I found anguish,
I found madness,
I found loneliness,
I found the solitary pain
that gnaws the heart,
But peace I did not find.
Now, old & near my end,
I have known you,
And, knowing you,
I have found both ecstasy & peace,
I know rest,
After so many lonely years.
I know what life & love may be.
Now, if I sleep,
I shall sleep fulfilled.
- Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness – that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what – at last – I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.
- Prologue: "What I Have Lived For" (written on 25 July 1956)
- At the age of eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as my tutor. This was one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love. I had not imagined that there was anything so delicious in the world. After I had learned the fifth proposition, my brother told me that it was generally considered difficult, but I had found no difficulty whatever. This was the first time it had dawned upon me that I might have some intelligence. From that moment until Whitehead and I finished Principia Mathematica, when I was thirty-eight, mathematics was my chief interest, and my chief source of happiness. Like all happiness, however, it was not unalloyed. I had been told that Euclid proved things, and was much disappointed that he started with axioms. At first I refused to accept them unless my brother could offer me some reason for doing so, but he said: 'If you don't accept them we cannot go on', and as I wished to go on, I reluctantly admitted them pro tem. The doubt as to the premisses of mathematics which I felt at that moment remained with me, and determined the course of my subsequent work.
- Ch. 1: Childhood, pp. 30–31
- At the age of eighteen ... I read Mill's Autobiography, where I found a sentence to the effect that his father taught him that the question "Who made me?" cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question "Who made God?". This led me to abandon the "First Cause" argument, and to become an atheist. Throughout the long period of religious doubt, I had been rendered very unhappy by the gradual loss of belief, but when the process was completed, I found to my surprise that I was quite glad to be done with the whole subject.
- Ch. 2: Adolescence, p. 36
- I remember the precise moment, one day in 1894, as I was walking along Trinity Lane, when I saw in a flash (or thought I saw) that the ontological argument is valid. I had gone out to buy a tin of tobacco; on my way back, I suddenly threw it up in the air, and exclaimed as I caught it: "Great Scott, the ontological argument is sound!"
- Ch. 3: Cambridge, p. 60
- I once devised a test question which I put to many people to discover whether they were pessimists. The question was: "If you had the power to destroy the world, would you do so?"
- Ch. 3: Cambridge, p. 62
- Keynes's intellect was the sharpest and clearest that I have ever known. When I argued with him, I felt that I took my life in my hands, and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool. I was sometimes inclined to feel that so much cleverness must be incompatible with depth, but I do not think that this feeling was justified.
- Ch. 3: Cambridge, p. 69
- I remember a cold, bright day in early spring  when I walked by myself in the Tiergarten, and made projects of future work. I thought that I would write one series of books on the philosophy of the sciences from pure mathematics to physiology, and another series of books on social questions: I hoped that the two series might ultimately meet in a synthesis at once scientific and practical. My scheme was largely inspired by Hegelian ideas. Nevertheless, I have to some extent followed it in later years, as much at any rate as could have been expected.
- Ch. 4: p. 125
- Against my will, in the course of my travels, the belief that everything worth knowing was known at Cambridge gradually wore off. In this respect my travels were very useful to me.
- Ch. 5: First Marriage, p. 135
- Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through some such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort 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.
- Ch. 6: 'Principia Mathematica', p. 149
- At the end of those five minutes, I had become a completely different person. For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me. I felt that I knew the inmost thoughts of everybody that I met in the street, and though this was, no doubt, a delusion, I did in actual fact find myself in far closer touch than previously with all my friends, and many of my acquaintances. Having been an Imperialist, I became during those five minutes [...] a Pacifist. Having for years cared only for exactness and analysis, I found myself filled with semi-mystical feelings about beauty, and with an intense interest in children and with a desire almost as profound as that of the Buddha to find some philosophy which should make human life endurable. A strange excitement possessed me, containing intense pain but also some element of wisdom. The mystic insight which I then imagined myself to possess has largely faded, and the habit of analysis has reasserted itself. But in something of what I thought I saw in that moment has remained always with me, causing my attitude during the first war, my interest in children, my indifference to minor misfortunes and a certain emotional tone in all my human relations.
- Ch. 6: 'Principia Mathematica', p. 149
- I went out bicycling one afternoon, and suddenly, as I was riding along a country road, I realised that I no longer loved Alys. I had had no idea until this moment that my love for her was even lessening. The problem presented by this discovery was very grave. We had lived ever since our marriage in the closest possible intimacy. We always shared a bed, and neither of us ever had a separate dressing-room. We talked over together everything that ever happened to either of us. She was five years older than I was, and I had been accustomed to regarding her as far more practical and far more full of worldly wisdom than myself, so that in many matters of daily life I left the initiative to her. I knew that she was still devoted to me. I had no wish to be unkind, but I believed in those days (what experience has taught me to think possibly open to doubt) that in intimate relations one should speak the truth. I did not see in any case how I could for any length of time successfully pretend to love her when I did not. I had no longer any instinctive impulse towards sex relations with her, and this alone would have been an insuperable barrier to concealment of my feelings. At this crisis my father's priggery came out in me, and I began to justify myself with moral criticisms of Alys. I did not at once tell her that I no longer loved her, but of course she perceived that something was amiss. She retired to a rest-cure for some months, and when she emerged from it I told her that I no longer wished to share a room, and in the end I confessed that my love was dead. I justified this attitude to her, as well as to myself, by criticisms of her character.
- Ch. 6: 'Principia Mathematica', pp. 150–151
- I had supposed until that time that it was quite common for parents to love their children, but the war persuaded me that it is a rare exception. I had supposed that most people liked money better than almost anything else, but I discovered that they liked destruction even better. I had supposed that intellectuals frequently loved truth, but I found here again that not ten per cent of them prefer truth to popularity.
- Ch. 8: The First War, p. 240
- As a lover of truth, the national propaganda of all the belligerent nations sickened me. As a lover of civilization, the return to barbarism appalled me.
- Ch. 8: The First War, p. 241
- The first time that I was ever in bed with her (we did not go to bed the first time we were lovers, as there was too much to say), we heard suddenly a shout of bestial triumph in the street. I leapt out of bed and saw a Zeppelin falling in flames. The thought of brave men dying in agony was what caused the triumph in the street. Colette's love was in that moment a refuge to me, not from cruelty itself, which was unescapable, but from the agonising pain of realising that that is what men are.
- Ch. 8: The First War, p. 249
- Patriotic newspapers distributed leaflets in all the neighbouring public houses (the district is a very poor one) saying that we were in communication with the Germans and signalled to their aeroplanes as to where to drop bombs. This made us somewhat unpopular in the neighbourhood, and a mob presently besieged the church... The mob burst in led by a few officers; all except the officers were more or less drunk. The fiercest were viragos who used wooden boards full of rusty nails. An attempt was made by the officers to induce the women among us to retire first so that they might deal as they thought fit with the pacifist men, whom they supposed to be cowards... Two of the drunken viragos began to attack me with their boards full of nails. While I was wondering how one defended oneself against this type of attack, one of the ladies among us went up to the police and suggested that they should defend me. The police, however, merely shrugged their shoulders. "But he is an eminent philosopher," said the lady, and the police still shrugged. "But he is famous all over the world as a man of learning," she continued. The police remained unmoved. "But he is the brother of an earl," she finally cried. At this the police rushed to my assistance. They were, however, too late to be of any service, and I owe my life to a young woman whom I did not know, who interposed herself between me and the viragos long enough for me to make my escape.
- Ch. 8: The First War, pp. 254–255
- For four and a half months in 1918 I was in prison for pacifist propaganda; but, by the intervention of Arthur Balfour, I was placed in the first division, so that while in prison I was able to read and write as much as I liked, provided I did no pacifist propaganda. I found prison in many ways quite agreeable. I had no engagements, no difficult decisions to make, no fear of callers, no interruptions to my work. I read enormously; I wrote a book, "Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy"... and began the work for "Analysis of Mind". I was rather interested in my fellow prisoners, who seemed to me in no way morally inferior to the rest of the population, though they were on the whole slightly below the usual level of intelligence, as was shown by their having been caught. For anybody not in the first division, especially for a person accustomed to reading and writing, prison is a severe and terrible punishment; but for me, thanks to Arthur Balfour, this was not so.
- Ch. 8: The First War, p. 256
- I was much cheered, on my arrival, by the warder at the gate, who had to take particulars about me. He asked my religion and I replied 'agnostic'. He asked how to spell it, and remarked with a sigh: 'Well, there are many religions, but I suppose they all worship the same God.' This remark kept me cheerful for about a week. One time, when I was reading Strachey's Eminent Victorians, I laughed so loud that the warder came round to stop me, saying I must remember that prison was a place of punishment.
- Ch. 8: The First War, p. 257
- Throughout my life I have longed to feel that oneness with large bodies of human beings that is experienced by the members of enthusiastic crowds. The longing has often been strong enough to lead me into self-deception. I have imagined myself in turn a Liberal, a Socialist, or a Pacifist, but I have never been any of these things, in any profound sense. Always the sceptical intellect, when I have most wished it silent, has whispered doubts to me, has cut me off from the facile enthusiasms of others, and has transported me into a desolate solitude. ... Underlying all occupations and all pleasures I have felt since early youth the pain of solitude. I have escaped it most nearly in moments of love, yet even there, on reflection, I have found that the escape depended partly upon illusion. I have known no woman to whom the claims of intellect were as absolute as they are to me, and wherever intellect intervened, I have found that the sympathy I sought in love was apt to fail. What Spinoza calls 'the intellectual love of God' has seemed to me the best thing to live by, but I have not had even the somewhat abstract God that Spinoza allowed himself to whom to attach my intellectual love. I have loved a ghost, and in loving a ghost my inmost self has itself become spectral. I have therefore buried it deeper and deeper beneath layers of cheerfulness, affection, and joy of life. But my most profound feelings have remained always solitary and have found in human things no companionship. The sea, the stars, the night wind in waste places, mean more to me than even the human beings I love best, and I am conscious that human affection is to me at bottom an attempt to escape from the vain search for God.
- Ch. 8: The First War, pp. 260–261
- And all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country’s pride.
- Ch. 8: The First War, p. 265
- The military age was raised in 1918, and for the first time I became liable to military service, which I should of course have had to refuse. They called me up for medical examination, but the Government with its utmost efforts was unable to find out where I was, having forgotten that it had put me in prison. If the War had continued I should very soon have found myself in prison again as a conscientious objector.
- Ch. 9: Russia, p. 326
- I had always imagined until [my serious illness in China] that I was fundamentally pessimistic and did not greatly value being alive. I discovered that in this I had been completely mistaken, and that life was infinitely sweet to me.
- Ch. 10: China, p. 364
- I was told that the Chinese said they would bury me by the Western Lake and build a shrine to my memory. I have some slight regret that this did not happen, as I might have become a god, which would have been very chic for an atheist.
- Ch. 10: China, p. 365
- It provided me with the pleasure of reading my obituary notices, which I had always desired without expecting my wishes to be fulfilled... As the Japanese papers had refused to contradict the news of my death, Dora gave each of them a type-written slip saying that as I was dead I could not be interviewed.
- Ch. 10: China, pp. 365–366
- From adolescence until the completion of Principia Mathematica, my fundamental preoccupation had been intellectual. I wanted to understand and to make others understand; also I wished to raise a monument by which I might be remembered, and on account of which I might feel that I had not lived in vain. From the outbreak of the First World War until my return from China, social questions occupied the centre of my emotions: the War and Soviet Russia alike gave me a sense of tragedy, and I had hopes that mankind might learn to live in some less painful way. I tried to discover some secret of wisdom, and to proclaim it with such persuasiveness that the world should listen and agree. But, gradually, the ardour cooled and the hope grew less; I did not change my views as to how men should live, but I held them with less of prophetic ardour and with less expectation of success in my campaigns.
[My desire for children had] grown continually stronger, until it had become almost insupportable. When my first child was born, in November 1921, I felt an immense release of pent-up emotion, and during the next ten years my main purposes were parental. Parental feeling, as I have experienced it, is very complex. There is, first and foremost, sheer animal affection, and delight in watching what is charming in the ways of the young. Next, there is the sense of inescapable responsibility, providing a purpose for daily activities which skepticism does not easily question. Then there is an egoistic element, which is very dangerous: the hope that one's children may succeed where one has failed, that they may carry on one's work when death or senility puts an end to one's own efforts, and, in any case, that they will supply a biological escape from death, making one's own life part of the whole stream, and not a mere stagnant puddle without any overflow into the future. All this I experienced, and for some years it filled my life with happiness and peace.
- Ch. 11: Second Marriage, p. 385
- In retrospect, I feel that several things were mistaken in the principles upon which the school was conducted. Young children in a group cannot be happy without a certain amount of order and routine. Left to amuse themselves, they are bored, and turn to bullying or destruction. In their free time, there should always be an adult to suggest some agreeable game or amusement, and to supply an initiative which is hardly to be expected of young children.
Another thing that was wrong was that there was a pretence of more freedom than in fact existed. There was very little freedom where health and cleanliness were concerned. The children had to wash, to clean their teeth, and to go to bed at the right time. True, we had never professed that there should be freedom in such matters, but foolish people, and especially journalists in search of a sensation, had said or believed that we advocated a complete absence of all restraints and compulsions. The older children, when told to brush their teeth, would sometimes say sarcastically: ‘Call this a free school!’ Those who had heard their parents talking about the freedom to be expected in the school would test it by seeing how far they could go in naughtiness without being stopped. As we only forbade things that were obviously harmful, such experiments were apt to be very inconvenient.
- Referring to the experimental Beacon Hill School, founded by Russell himself and his wife Dora in 1927. Ch. 11: Second Marriage, p. 390.
- The revolutions of nebulae, the birth and death of stars, are no more than convenient fictions in the trivial work of linking together my own sensations, and perhaps those of other men not much better than myself. No dungeon was ever constructed so dark and narrow as that in which the shadow physics of our time imprisons us, for every prisoner has believed that outside his walls a free world existed; but now the prison has become the whole universe. There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness, anywhere; only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.
- "Modern Physics", a pessimistic meditation written by Russell at Telegraph House. Ch. 11: Second Marriage, p. 393
- When I survey my life, it seems to me to be a useless one, devoted to impossible ideals.
My activities continue from force of habit, and in the company of others I forget the despair which underlies my daily pursuits and pleasure. But when I am alone and idle, I cannot conceal for myself that my life had no purpose, and that I know of no new purpose to which to devote my remaining years. I find myself involved in a vast mist of solitude both emotional and metaphysical, from which I can find no issue.
- Ch. 11: Second Marriage, p. 395. Originally an Epilogue to a short autobiography written by Russell in May and June, 1931.
- I found the Nazis utterly revolting – cruel, bigoted, and stupid. Morally and intellectually they were alike odious to me. Although I clung to my pacifist convictions, I did so with increasing difficulty. When, in 1940, England was threatened with invasion, I realised that, throughout the First War, I had never seriously envisaged the possibility of utter defeat. I found this possibility unbearable, and at last consciously and definitely decided that I must support what was necessary for victory in the Second War, however difficult victory might be to achieve, and however painful in its consequences.
- Ch. 12: Later Years of Telegraph House, p. 430
- [Non-violent resistance] certainly has an important sphere; as against the British in India, Gandhi led it to triumph. But it depends upon the existence of certain virtues in those against whom it is employed. When Indians lay down on railways, and challenged the authorities to crush them under trains, the British found such cruelty intolerable. But the Nazis had no scruples in analogous situations. The doctrine which Tolstoy preached with great persuasive force, that the holders of power could be morally regenerated if met by non-resistance, was obviously untrue in Germany after 1933. Clearly Tolstoy was right only when the holders of power were not ruthless beyond a point, and clearly the Nazis went beyond this point.
- Ch. 12: Later Years of Telegraph House, p. 431
- I found... that my capacity for forgiveness and what may be called Christian love was not equal to the demands that I was making on it, and that persistence in a hopeless endeavour would do much harm to me, while not achieving the intended good to others. Anybody else could have told me this in advance, but I was blinded by theory... I had allowed myself more of a creed than scientific intelligence can justify. To follow scientific intelligence wherever it may lead me had always seemed to me the most imperative of moral precepts for me, and I have followed this precept even when it has involved a loss of what I myself had taken for deep spiritual insight.
- Ch. 12: Later Years of Telegraph House, p. 431
- A typical American witch-hunt was instituted against me, and I became taboo throughout the whole of the United States. I was to have been engaged in a lecture tour, but I had only one engagement, made before the witch-hunt had developed. The Rabbi who had made this engagement broke his contract, but I cannot blame him. Owners of halls refused to let them if I was to lecture, and if I had appeared anywhere in public, I should probably have been lynched by a Catholic mob, with the full approval of the police. No newspaper or magazine would publish anything that I wrote, and I was suddenly deprived of all means of earning a living. As it was legally impossible to get money out of England, this produced a very difficult situation, especially as I had my three children dependent upon me.
- Referring to the protests that followed his 1940 appointment to a teaching position at the City College of New York. Ch. 13: America, 1938–1944, p. 466
- I used to go to [Einstein's] house, once a week to discuss with him and Gödel and Pauli. These discussions were in some ways disappointing, for, although all three of them were Jews and exiles and, in intention, cosmopolitans, I found that they all had German bias toward metaphysics... Gödel turned out to be an unadulterated Platonist, and apparently believed that an eternal 'not' was laid up in heaven, where virtuous logicians might hope to meet it hereafter.
- Ch. 13: America, 1938–1944, p. 466.
- As a response to this, Gödel wrote: "As far as the passage about me [in Russell's autobiography] is concerned, I have to say first (for the sake of truth) that I am not a Jew (even though I don't think this question is of any importance), 2.) that the passage gives the wrong impression that I had many discussions with Russell, which was by no means the case (I remember only one). 3.) Concerning my 'unadulterated' Platonism, it is no more 'unadulterated' than Russell's own in 1921 when in the Introduction [to Mathematical Philosophy] he said '[Logic is concerned with the real world just as truly as zoology, though with its more abstract and general features].' At that time evidently Russell had met the 'not' even in this world, but later on under the influence of Wittgenstein he chose to overlook it".
- I was taking with me the manuscript of my History of Western Philosophy, and the unfortunate censors had to read every word of it lest it should contain information useful to the enemy. They were, however, at last satisfied that a knowledge of philosophy could be of no use to the Germans, and very politely assured me that they had enjoyed reading my book, which I confess I found hard to believe.
- Ch. 14: Return to England, p. 506
- I was doing a great deal of broadcasting for the various services of the BBC and they asked me to do one at the time of Stalin's death. As I rejoiced mightily in that event, since I felt Stalin to be as wicked as one man could be and to be the root evil of most of the misery and terror in, and threatened by, Russia, I condemned him in my broadcast and rejoiced for the world in his departure from the scene. I forgot the BBC susceptibilities and respectabilities. My broadcast never went on the air.
- Ch. 14: Return to England, p. 511
- In the same year that I went to Germany, the Government sent me to Norway in the hope of inducing Norwegians to join an alliance against Russia. The place they sent me to was Trondheim. The weather was stormy and cold. We had to go by sea-plane from Oslo to Trondheim. When our plane touched down on the water it became obvious that something was amiss, but none of us in the plane knew what it was. We sat in the plane while it slowly sank. Small boats assembled round it and presently we were told to jump into the sea and swim to a boat – which all the people in my part of the plane did. We later learned that all the nineteen passengers in the non-smoking compartment had been killed. When the plane had hit the water a hole had been made in the plane and the water had rushed in. I had told a friend at Oslo who was finding me a place that he must find me a place where I could smoke, remarking jocularly, 'If I cannot smoke, I shall die'. Unexpectedly, this turned out to be true. All those in the smoking compartment got out by the emergency exit window beside which I was sitting. We all swam to the boats which dared not approach too near for fear of being sucked under as the plane sank. We were rowed to shore to a place some miles from Trondheim and thence I was taken in a car to my hotel.
- Ch. 14: Return to England, pp. 511–512
- Everybody showed me the utmost kindness and put me to bed while my clothes dried. A group of students even dried my matches one by one... Some amusement was caused when a clergyman supplied me with clerical clothing to wear till my clothes had dried. Everybody plied me with questions. A question even came by telephone from Copenhagen: a voice said, 'When you were in the water, did you not think of mysticism and logic?' 'No', I said. 'What did you think of?' the voice persisted. 'I thought the water was cold', I said and put down the receiver.
- Ch. 14: Return to England, p. 512
- Some ideals are subversive and cannot well be realised except by war or revolution. The most important of these is at present economic justice. Political justice had its day in industrialised parts of the world and is still to be sought in the unindustrialised parts, but economic justice is still a painfully sought. It requires a world-wide economic revolution if it is to be brought about. I do not see how it is to be achieved without bloodshed or how the world can continue patiently without it. It is true that steps are being taken in some countries, particularly by limiting the power of inheritance, but these are as yet very partial and very limited. Consider the vast areas of the world where the young have little or no education and where adults have not the capacity to realise elementary conditions of comfort. These inequalities rouse envy and are potential causes of great disorder. Whether the world will be able by peaceful means to raise the conditions of the poorer nations is, to my mind, very doubtful, and is likely to prove the most difficult governmental problem of coming centuries.
- Ch. 14: Return to England, p. 515
- [B]y the early part of 1949, I had become so respectable in the eyes of the Establishment that it was felt that I, too, should be given the OM. This made me very happy for, though I dare say it would surprise many Englishmen and most of the English Establishment to hear it, I am passionately English, and I treasure an honour bestowed on me by the Head of my country. I had to go to Buckingham Palace for the official bestowal of it. The King was affable, but somewhat embarrassed at having to behave graciously to so queer a fellow, a convict to boot. He remarked, 'You have sometimes behaved in a way which would not do if generally adopted'. I have been glad ever since that I did not make the reply that sprang to my mind: 'Like your brother.'
- Ch. 14: Return to England, p. 516
- I had come to agree with Santayana that there is no such thing as ethical knowledge... I adopted as my guiding thought the principle that ethics is derived from passions and that there is no valid method of travelling from passion to what ought to be done. I adopted David Hume's maxim that 'Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions'. I am not satisfied with this, but it is the best that I can do... All that I can find to say on this subject is that an ethical opinion can only be defended by an ethical axiom, but, if the axiom is not accepted, there is no way of reaching a rational conclusion.
- Ch. 14: Return to England, pp. 543–548
- I had never before been in Greece and I found what I saw exceedingly interesting. In one respect, however, I was surprised. After being impressed by the great solid achievements which everybody admires, I found myself in a little church belonging to the days when Greece was part of the Byzantine Empire. To my astonishment, I felt more at home in this little church than I did in the Parthenon or in any of the other Greek buildings of Pagan times. I realised then that the Christian outlook had a firmer hold upon me than I had imagined. The hold was not upon my beliefs, but upon my feelings. It seemed to me that where the Greeks differed from the modern world it was chiefy through the absence of a sense of sin, and I realised with some astonishment that I, myself, am powerfully affected by this sense in my feelings though not in my beliefs.
- Ch. 15: At Home and Abroad, p. 561
- My heart aches with compassion for the lost generation – lost by the folly and greed of the generation to which I belong.
- Ch. 15: At Home and Abroad, p. 582
- [W]hen we assembled in Trafalgar Square there was a great crowd. Precisely how great it was, it is impossible to say. The median number as reckoned by the press and the police and the Committee made it about 20,000. The speeches went well and quickly. Then began the march up Whitehall preceded by a large banner and managed with great skill by the Committee's marshals. It comprised a surging but calm and serious crowd of somewhat over 5,000 of those who had been in the Square. At one point we were held up by the police who tried to stop the march on the ground that it was obstructing traffic. The objection, however, manifestly did not hold, and the march proceeded. Finally, over 5,000 people were sitting or lying on the pavements surrounding the Ministry. And there we sat for about two hours till darkness had fallen, a very solid and quiet, if not entirely mute, protest against governmental nuclear policies. A good many people joined us during this time, and more came to have a look at us, and, of course, the press and TV people flocked about asking their questions. As soon as word came that the marchers had all become seated, Michael Scott and Schoenman and I took a notice that we had prepared and stuck it on the Ministry door. We learned that the Government had asked the Fire Department to use their hoses upon us. Luckily, the Fire Department refused. When six o'clock arrived, we called an end to the sit-down. A wave of exultation swept through the crowd. As we marched back towards Whitehall in the dusk and lamplight, past the cheering supporters, I felt very happy – we had accomplished what we set out to do that afternoon, and our serious purpose had been made manifest. I was moved, too, by the cheers that greeted me and by the burst of 'for he's a jolly good fellow' as I passed.
- Ch. 16: Trafalgar Square, p. 607
- I had no wish to become a martyr to the cause, but I felt that I should make the most of any chance to publicise our views. We were not so innocent as to fail to see that our imprisonment would cause a certain stir. We hoped that it might create enough sympathy for some, at least, of our reasons for doing as we had done to break through to minds hitherto untouched by them. We had obtained from our doctors statements of our recent serious illnesses which they thought would make long imprisonment disastrous. These we handed over to the barrister who was to watch our cases at Bow Street. No one we met seemed to believe that we should be condemned to gaol. They thought the Government would think that it would not pay them. But we, ourselves, did not see how they could fail to sentence us to gaol. For some time it had been evident that our doings irked the Government, and the police had been raiding the Committee office and doing a clumsy bit of spying upon various members who frequented it. The barrister thought that he could prevent my wife's and my incarceration entirely. But we did not wish either extreme. We instructed him to try to prevent our being let off scot-free, but, equally, to try to have us sentenced to not longer than a fortnight in prison. In the event, we were each sentenced to two months in gaol, a sentence which, because of the doctor's statements, was commuted to a week each.
- Ch. 16: Trafalgar Square, p. 609
- Bow Street seemed like a stage set as we walked down it with our colleagues amid a mass of onlookers towards the Court at a little before 10.30 in the morning. People were crowded into most of the windows, some of which were bright with boxes of flowers. By contrast the scene in the courtroom looked like a Daumier etching. When the sentence of two months was pronounced upon me cries of 'Shame, shame, an old man of eighty-eight!' arose from the onlookers. It angered me. I knew that it was well meant, but I had deliberately incurred the punishment and, in any case, I could not see that age had anything to do with guilt. If anything, it made me the more guilty. The magistrate seemed to me nearer the mark in observing that, from his point of view, I was old enough to know better. But on the whole both the Court and the police behaved more gently to us all than I could have hoped. A policeman, before proceedings began, searched the building for a cushion for me to sit upon to mitigate the rigours of the narrow wooden bench upon which we perched. None could be found – for which I was thankful – but I took his effort kindly... I was pleased to be permitted to say most of what I had planned to say.
- Ch. 16: Trafalgar Square, pp. 609–610
- We emerged from the Court into cheering crowds, and to my confusion one lady rushed up and embraced me. But from the morning's remarks of the magistrate and his general aspect, we were not hopeful of getting off lightly when we returned to receive our sentences in the afternoon. As each person in alphabetical order was sentenced, he or she was taken out to the cells where we behaved like boys on holiday, singing and telling stories, the tension of incertitude relaxed, nothing more to try to do till we were carted away in our Black Marias.
It was my first trip in a Black Maria as the last time I had been gaoled I had been taken to Brixton in a taxi, but I was too tired to enjoy the novelty. I was popped into the hospital wing of the prison and spent most of my week in bed, visited daily by the doctor who saw that I got the kind of liquid food that I could consume. No one can pretend to a liking for being imprisoned, unless, possibly, for protective custody. It is a frightening experience. The dread of particular, severe or ill treatment and of physical discomfort is perhaps the least of it. The worst is the general atmosphere, the sense of being always under observation, the dead cold and gloom and the always noted, unmistakable, prison smell – and the eyes of some of the other prisoners. We had all this for only a week. We were very conscious of the continuing fact that many of our friends were undergoing it for many weeks and that we were spared only through special circumstances, not through less 'guilt', in so far as there was any guilt.
- Ch. 16: Trafalgar Square, p. 610
- Neither misery nor folly seems to me any part of the inevitable lot of man. And I am convinced that intelligence, patience, and eloquence can, sooner or later, lead the human race out of its self-imposed tortures provided it does not exterminate itself meanwhile.
- I cannot pretend that what I have done in regard to social and political problems has had any great importance. It is comparatively easy to have an immense effect by means of a dogmatic and precise gospel, such as that of Communism. But for my part I cannot believe that what mankind needs is anything either precise or dogmatic. Nor can I believe with any wholeheartedness in any partial doctrine which deals only with some part or aspect of human life. There are those who hold that everything depends upon institutions, and that good institutions will inevitably bring the millennium. And, on the other hand, there are those who believe that what is needed is a change of heart, and that, in comparison, institutions are of little account. I cannot accept either view. Institutions mould character, and character transforms institutions. Reforms in both must march hand in hand. And if individuals are to retain that measure of initiative and flexibility which they ought to have, they must not be all forced into one rigid mould; or, to change the metaphor, all drilled into one army. Diversity is essential in spite of the fact that it precludes universal acceptance of a single gospel. But to preach such a doctrine is difficult especially in arduous times. And perhaps it cannot be effective until some bitter lessons have been learned by tragic experience.
- My work is near its end, and the time has come when I can survey it as a whole. How far have I succeeded, and how far have I failed? From an early age I thought of myself as dedicated to great and arduous tasks. Nearly three-quarters of a century ago, walking alone in the Tiergarten through melting snow under the coldly glittering March sun, I determined to write two series of books: one abstract, growing gradually more concrete; the other concrete, growing gradually more abstract. They were to be crowned by a synthesis, combining pure theory with a practical social philosophy. Except for the final synthesis, which still eludes me, I have written these books. They have been acclaimed and praised, and the thoughts of many men and women have been affected by them. To this extent I have succeeded...
- I set out with a more or less religious belief in a Platonic eternal world, in which mathematics shone with a beauty like that of the last Cantos of the Paradiso. I came to the conclusion that the eternal world is trivial, and that mathematics is only the art of saying the same thing in different words. I set out with a belief that love, free and courageous, could conquer the world without fighting. I came to support a bitter and terrible war. In these respects there was failure.
- I may have conceived theoretical truth wrongly, but I was not wrong in thinking that there is such a thing, and that it deserves our allegiance. I may have thought the road to a world of free and happy human beings shorter than it is proving to be, but I was not wrong in thinking that such a world is possible, and that it is worth while to live with a view to bringing it nearer.
- I have lived in the pursuit of a vision, both personal and social. Personal: to care for what is noble, for what is beautiful, for what is gentle; to allow moments of insight to give wisdom at more mundane times. Social: to see in imagination the society that is to be created, where individuals grow freely, and where hate and greed and envy die because there is nothing to nourish them. These things I believe, and the world, for all its horrors, has left me unshaken.