BRACERS Record Detail
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[From Brixton Prison:] "I am enjoying Madame de Staël immensely, having at last got round to reading her. At odd moments I argue theology with the chaplain and medicine with the doctor, and so the time passes easily."
BR TO EDITH RUSSELL, 15 SEPT. 1961
BRACERS 20274. ALS. McMaster
Previous Brixton letter, BRACERS 19362; next letter, none
Edited by Kenneth Blackwell, Andrew G. Bone, Nicholas Griffin and Sheila Turcon
The lawyer’s nice young man4 brought me cheering news of you and told me I could write to you, which I had not known. Every one here treats me kindly and the only thing I mind is being away from you. At all odd minutes I have the illusion that you are there, and forget that if I sneeze it won’t disturb you. I am enjoying Madame de Staël immensely, having at last got round to reading her.5 At odd moments I argue theology with the chaplain6 and medicine with the Doctor,7 and so the time passes easily. But separation from you is quite horrid, Dearest Love, it will be heavenly when we are together again.8 Take care of yourself, Beloved.
[document] The letter was edited from a photocopy in the Russell Archives of the initialled, single-sheet original in BR’s hand. The whereabouts of the original is unknown. There are apparent prison markings, possibly of approval, at the head of the letter: “O/L 14/9 G.”
H.M. PRISON In September 1961 BR served a second, much shorter sentence in Brixton. As in 1918, his confinement was a direct result of his peace advocacy, which intensified after he became founding president in October 1960 of the Committee of 100, a small anti-nuclear group that favoured civil disobedience. Capping months of protest in which BR was heavily involved (see Auto. 3: 111–18), the Committee of 100 was pushing for a meeting in Trafalgar Square on 17 September, to be followed by a sit-down action in nearby Parliament Square. These demonstrations were to take place at a perilous juncture of the Cold War, with the Berlin Wall having been raised in August 1961 and both superpowers poised to resume nuclear testing. Although permission to gather had been withheld from the organizers (see “Trafalgar Square Meeting”, BR’s letter to The Times, 22 Aug. 1961, p. 9), planning for the events continued apace. As a result, 50 members of the Committee of 100 were summonsed under the medieval Justices of the Peace Act (1361), for inciting breaches of the peace. When 37 defendants, including BR and Edith, appeared before Judge Bertram Reece at Bow St. magistrates’ court on 12 September, all but five refused to be bound over with sureties of good behaviour. The presiding magistrate then handed down 27 prison sentences of one month and four of two months (The Times, 13 Sept. 1961, p. 5). BR received one of the longer sentences, but after medical evidence was presented to the court his term was reduced to one week, which he served in Brixton from 12 to 18 September. The same sentence was passed on Edith Russell, who was imprisoned in Holloway. In debating legal strategy three days before these proceedings, the Committee of 100 had considered appealing their anticipated convictions, for publicity purposes, but decided against this because they were “a body calling for civil disobedience and … an appeal through the courts against conviction for so doing would be confusing” (mimeograph minutes, RA2 760.101631). (As it turned out, BR’s initial sentencing alone garnered worldwide attention.) The London demonstration that the authorities wanted to forestall occurred anyway, attracted “unprecedented numbers” (Auto. 3: 117), and resulted in over 1,300 arrests. Since the crowd was prevented from marching down Whitehall to Parliament Square, the sit-down was staged in Trafalgar Square instead (see The Times, 18 Sept. 1961, p. 10).
lawyer’s … young man He was likely the Mr. Holland mentioned in Edith’s prison letter (BRACERS 120273) and in BR’s letter of 26 September 1961 to H.S. Pigott of Coward, Chance & Co. (BRACERS 116495). BR thanked Pigott and Holland for the trouble taken “to diminish the discomforts of prison”.
de Staël Russell’s library has J. Christopher Herold’s Mistress to an Age: a Life of Madame de Staël (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1959). BR told this publisher on 23 September 1961, a few days after his release, that he had “read the life of Mme de Staël in prison where it proved very consoling” (BRACERS 127424). Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein (1766–1817) was a vocal critic of Napoleon’s authoritarianism and was forced into exile during his rule. Continuing his interest in the French Revolution and its aftermath, BR had already referred favourably to her in “The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed” (1937; 35 in Papers 21).
Doctor Possibly Francis H. Brisby, who was principal medical officer at Brixton in 1958 (three years before BR’s second imprisonment there) and a vice-president of the Medico-Legal Society until 1966.
together again BR and Edith were reunited on 18 September after serving their sentences of one week (Monk 2: 420; SLBR 2: 547; Clark, Life, p. 591). There is a same-day photo of them in in their London garden. Another appeared in the London Evening News that day.
Record last modified 2019/02/08
Created/last modified by duncana