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Texas, U. of, HRC

Morrell, Ottoline
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Notes, topics or text 

"I have just seen the Dr." Mouth cancer proved unreal.


Previous letter to Morrell, 17108; next letter, 17109


I have just seen the Dr. who says there is nothing much the matter, and has suggested a few simple remedies. There is, he says, nothing whatever of the slightest importance. This is a relief from what should have been a grave anxiety, though I can’t say it was, because I forgot about it except at moments. You will feel at first that I ought to have told you sooner, but if you think it over you will, I am sure, agree that it would have quite unnecessarily ruined our three days. What happened was this: The day before Easter I went to a dentist who happened to be also a qualified Dr. He became interested in a patch on my skin, and said he thought it was cancer. I felt sure he was a faddist and unreliable, but he recommended a specialist whom I have just seen, and who entirely scouts the idea. I knew if I said nothing about it I could forget about it, till it was decided, and I was determined not to spoil our days. The letter addressed “Prof. Russell” which reached me was from the specialist making the appointment. At first I thought I was bearing the anxiety well, and then I discovered I was enjoying it — it gave a heightened sense of life. This surprised me. I had often thought of being told one had cancer, and supposed it would be horrible — perhaps the certainty would have been, but the chance, which I never believed really, was not. Don’t be angry with me for having kept it back. If it had been true, it would have destroyed our one chance of real complete happiness to have told you. Being false, it would have been a sheer waste. I should not hereafter keep silence on such a matter, but you will see that I couldn’t be expected to give up the last chance of really complete happiness, which it would have been if true. However, now it is all right, unless you are angry. I must stop.

Goodbye Darling Goodbye. Please don’t be angry.


  • Ottoline Morrell Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873–1938), Bloomsbury hostess, patron of the arts and artists, and object of literary caricature by D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley. Born a Cavendish-Bentinck, she was the half-sister of the sixth Duke of Portland.
  • [address] Russell wrote from London, not Cambridge as the letterhead would indicate.
  • [document] A closing parenthesis in pencil is found at the end of the last paragraph, after “I must stop.” See the [document] note to letter 17108 for the opening parenthesis.
  • I have just seen the Dr. The specialist is not known. In letter 17107 Bertie had told Ottoline that he was to go next day (26 April) “to see a Dr. about a small affection of the skin inside my mouth, which my dentist tells me I ought to have cured.” See his later account of the episode (Auto. 1: 204) for the worry that the spot was cancerous; also SLBR 1: 347 and Monk 1: 215–16. Ottoline suspected something, asking what the doctor said about his mouth in her letter 113386 crossing his.
  • a few simple remedies It is unclear exactly what the remedies were for, though Russell later had a gum disease. He may have already been “suffering from pyorrhoea, although I did not know it” (Auto. 1: 206). SLBR 2: 45 dates the disease and cure to 1914–15.
  • our three days At Studland, 18–20 April 1911. Ronald W. Clark is good on the background to Studland (The Life of Bertrand Russell [London: Cape/Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1975], pp. 137–40).
  • day before Easter Easter Sunday was 16 April in 1911.
  • a dentist Dr. Willey Ditcham (as  noted by Russell on letter 78619, dated 1 April), and otherwise identified as Dr. Wm. Vooght Ditcham, MD, DDS. He seems to have been from Cape Colony and in practice as a dental surgeon since before 1885. He published Our Teeth; Care and Preservation in 1895.
  • letter addressed “Prof. Russell” The specialist’s letter does not survive in RA.
  • angry Ottoline responded to his expression of guilt, “how could I be angry Bertie. That is out of the question” (27 April 1911, letter 113387).

Edited by K. Blackwell 2017/04/27
Verified twice with colour scan of original: K. Blackwell 2017/04/18 2017/04/19
Transcribed AD 2014/04/08
Proofed AW 2014/05/22
Exp AD 2014/07/30
TS Checked AW 2014/11/06


Re B&R C10.07

Re B&R C04.12

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Record created 2017/04/21
Record last modified 2017/09/19
Created/last modified by blackwk