BRACERS Record Detail for 2076

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Murray, Gilbert
Russell, Frank
BR via
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A transcription of the original; also a carbon copy.

Frank Russell conveys several points from his meeting with BR yesterday.


Letter 6
BRACERS 2076. TL(TC). Bodleian
Previous Brixton letter, BRACERS 46913; next letter, BRACERS 19307
Edited by K. Blackwell, A. Bone, N. Griffin and S. Turcon

57 Gordon Square,
London, W.C.1.
16th May 1918.

Professor Gilbert Murray,
82, Woodstock Street,

Dear Murray,

I saw Bertie for the second time at Brixton Prison yesterday, and he desired me to communicate with you on several points as to which he would like me to give him information at my next visit.

1. He desired to convey his special thanks to you for the efforts which you made on his behalf, and in this connection he would rather like to know whether Lawrie, the Deputy Chairman of Quarter Sessions,2 was inspired in any way in the complimentary references3 he made. The thanks I had already desired Dr Carr to convey to you.

2. Although he is now comfortable, he still desires to get out, and wanted to know if anything was being done about the philosophers’ petition.4

3. He is anxious to ascertain his position under the last Military Service Bill.5 Could you be of any use in introducing me to Sir Eric Geddes,6 or coming with me to see him? — much as I dislike appealing to anyone serving under that creature Lloyd George: nothing would induce me to do it for myself, and even doing it for Bertie leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It would hardly seem wise to get him out of prison until this question is settled.

Yours sincerely,


  • 1

    [document] The letter was edited from an apparently signed, typed copy in the Russell Archives of the original letter in the Murray papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford. The original was probably typed, too, since Frank Russell generally had his letters typed. The copy was made for BR in the late 1950s along with other letters from and concerning BR in the Murray papers.

  • 2

    Quarter Sessions The County of London Quarter Sessions were held every month (not four times a year) for the trial by jury of criminal misdemeanours (but not felonies) and to hear appeals of convictions for non-indictable offences (such as BR’s) made by magistrates in the lower courts of summary jurisdiction. The Local Government Act (1888) stipulated that the salaried chairman and deputy chairmen appointed to the court in which Lawrie presided must have ten years’ legal experience at the Bar. The “recorders” of the borough sessions were also qualified professionals, but the equivalent officers in the quarter sessions of other counties were chosen from the pool of ordinary magistrates (or justices of the peace as they were also called), which was populated by prominent local figures who were neither compensated nor formally trained in law.

  • 3

    inspired … complimentary references In rejecting BR’s appeal of his conviction to the County of London Quarter Sessions, the presiding magistrate, Allan J. Lawrie, nevertheless intimated that he regarded the sentence as excessive and instructed it to be served in the British penal system’s first division, for “it would be a great loss to the country if … a man of great distinction, were confined in such a form that his abilities would not had <sic> full scope” (“Our Prosecution”, The Tribunal, no. 107 [9 May 1918]: 2). The Home Office was not impressed and reproached Lawrie for a generous ruling which, the Permanent Under-Secretary feared, “is likely to be quoted as a reason for putting other offenders of the same sort in that class” (Sir Edward Troup, minute, 3 May 1918; copy in RA Rec. Acq. 903i). Lawrie’s praise of BR may have been “inspired” by the Foreign Secretary (and philosopher), Arthur Balfour (see note 18 in Letter 2). But this suspicion cannot be confirmed; Lawrie was an experienced and generally liberal justice who probably considered the original sentence unduly harsh without any prompting from the politically powerful. He reiterated that opinion when early in September he was consulted by the Home Office (as was customary) about the desirability of granting extra remission to BR — to which concession he raised no objections (see Papers 14: 447).

  • 4

    philosophers’ petition Along with Wildon Carr and Samuel Alexander, Murray had signed and circulated to academic philosophers a memorial calling for BR’s sentence to be served in the first division, lest his extraordinary intellectual gifts be impaired by the rigours of confinement in the second. It is unlikely, however, that this appeal to the Home Secretary was the “philosophers’ petition” to which Frank Russell was drawing Murray’s attention. The sole objective of the memorial had already been achieved, and the first numerated point of Letter 6 expresses BR’s gratitude to Murray for organizing it. It is more likely that BR was referring to earlier correspondence in which he had broached with Murray the possibility of avoiding military service by seeking accreditation for his philosophical research “as work of national importance” (30 March 1918, BRACERS 52366). Although BR was far from sanguine about the likelihood of success, he emphasized to Murray that “testimonials from eminent men, philosophers and others, to the effect that I ought to be allowed to do philosophy, would be necessary” (2 April, BRACERS 52367; SLBR 2: 142). A list of sixteen philosophers and scientists (written by Murray on the envelope of BR’s letter and dated 12 April) was possibly the starting point for this “philosophers’ petition”. Although the initiative was stalled for more than a month, BR was evidently still thinking about it, and his inquiry to Murray in Letter 6 suggests that he was already formulating the fellowship plan that features prominently in his prison correspondence.

  • 5

    last Military Service Bill A mounting crisis of British military manpower, exacerbated by Germany’s March 1918 offensive, had led (in April) to the extension of conscription to Ireland and an increase in the upper-age limit of conscripts from 40 to 50. The Military Service (No. 2) Act had been conceived to avoid confrontation with trade unions bitterly opposed to a “comb-out” of workers from reserved industrial occupations — as envisioned by a slightly earlier amendment to Britain’s conscription legislation, the Military Service (No. 1) Act. It had itself become law only in February but “remained in a kind of unenforced limbo” (R.J.Q. Adams and Philip Poirier, The Conscription Controversy in Great Britain, 1900­–1918 [London: Macmillan, 1987], p. 228). On account of determined Nationalist opposition, the “Irish” provisions of the April 1918 Act were also kept in abeyance, but the unnerving prospect of a military call-up hung over the 46-year-old BR throughout his imprisonment. Success of the emerging fellowship plan, however, would have insured BR against being called up after his release, for (notwithstanding the recent amendments to the legislation) teachers over 45 were exempt from the provisions of the latest Military Service Act.

  • 6

    Sir Eric Geddes BR or Frank seems to have confused Sir Eric Geddes (1875–1937), First Lord of the Admiralty, with his brother, Sir Auckland Geddes (1879–1954; 1st Baron Geddes, 1942), another Conservative politician and businessman. In August 1917, the latter Geddes (who is repeatedly mentioned in BR’s prison correspondence) had been appointed Minister of National Service, with broad powers over military recruitment and civilian labour. As a post-war Minister of Transport, Sir Auckland’s older brother was the infamous wielder of the “Geddes axe” in the Lloyd George Coalition’s drive to curb government spending.

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