BRACERS Record Detail for 46911

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Russell, Frank
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Notes and topics

Brixton Letters (1918, 1961)

This is Russell's first official letter from prison. It contains his prison number, 2917, as do all his official letters. "I hope soon to have writing materials: then I shall write first a book called Introduction to Modern Logic, and when that is finished I shall start an ambitious work to be called Analysis of Mind."

The letter contains messages for: Dorothy Wrinch, P.E.B. Jourdain, A.N. Whitehead, Evelyn Whitehead, Miss Kyle, Ottoline Morrell—documents .079957a-.079957f, record 119531, record 119532, record 119533, record 119534, record 119535, record 119536—mostly about things they need to do for him. Russell asks that this letter be sent to the Mallesons as they know where Miss Rinder is. She will attend to all the requests that Frank might find a bother. Russell also asks Frank to let Gilbert Murray and Wildon Carr know how grateful he is to them.

List of typed transcriptions of this letter: three typings: ribbon copy, document .079958, record 116552; carbon, document .079958a, same record number; another carbon, Rec. Acq. 1410c, record 119042.
Ribbon copy, document .079959, record 116553; carbon, document .079959, same record number.
Typescript photocopy copy, Rec. Acq. 399, record 55835. This is yet another typing.


Letter 2
BRACERS 46911. ALS. McMaster. SLBR 2: #312
Previous Brixton letter, BRACERS 57173; next letter, BRACERS 57176
Edited by K. Blackwell, A. Bone, N. Griffin and S. Turcon

Number 2917 Name Russell B
Brixton Prison
6th May 1918.

Dear Frank

All goes well with me — everybody treats me kindly, from the Governor2 downwards. I hope soon to have writing materials: then I shall write first a book called Introduction to Modern Logic,3 and when that is finished I shall start an ambitious work to be called Analysis of Mind.4 Conditions here are good for philosophy. I am quite happy, though soon I shall be very bored — but as yet I am not even that. I am proving the truth of what Goethe says as to the soul which alone is happy.5 — Practical matters: (1) you said there was an arrangement about washing6 but didn’t tell me what. (2). There are still very few books for me. Please see that more come. Philosophy books: ask Miss Wrinch; write P. Jourdain Esq, Basingbourne Road, Fleet, saying I want everything published by his firm7 on principles of mathematics; tell Whitehead I want to write a text-book to the Principia8 and will read anything he thinks relevant; Mrs Whitehead (97 Coleherne Court, S.W.5; on telephone) will recommend books (especially memoirs) on French Revolution. Tell her I am reading Aulard,9 but want something less official. Books for me (except on philosophy) need not be bought but can be got for me from London Library by Miss Kyle (Putney 2062; 1 Arundel Mansions, Fulham Road S.W.)a who has to go there anyhow on my behalf. (3).b I should like my Nation10 and Common Sense11 forwarded here, but I don’t know whether I shall get them if they are sent by post? I now get the Times regularly.

My existence here is regular and wholesome; I shall cultivate my mind enormously. Please tell Lady O. Morrell that it is impossible she should send me too many books — she is very good at selecting books — but they had better be supplied through Miss Rinder to avoid duplication. But I want a few as soon as possible from somewhere. — Life here is just like life on an Ocean liner; one is cooped up with a number of average human beings, unable to escape except into one’s own state-room. I see no sign that they are worse than the average, except that they probably have less will-power, if one can judge by their faces, which is all I have to go by. That applies to debtors chiefly.

The only real hardship of life here is not seeing one’s friends. It was a great delight seeing you the other day. Next time you come, I hope you will bring two others — I think you and Elizabeth both have the list.12 I am anxious to see as much of my friends as possible. You seemed to think I should grow indifferent on that point but I am certain you were wrong. Seeing the people I am fond of is not a thing I should grow indifferent to, though thinking of them is a great satisfaction. I find it comforting to go over in my mind all sorts of occasions when things have been to my liking. Impatience and lack of tobacco13 do not as yet trouble me as much as I expected, but no doubt they will later. The holiday from responsibility is really delightful, so delightful that it almost outweighs everything else. Here I have not a care in the world: the rest to nerves and will is heavenly. One is free from the torturing question: What more might I be doing?14 Is there any effective action that I haven’t thought of? Have I a right to let the whole thing go and return to philosophy?15 Here, I have to let the whole thing go, which is far more restful than choosing to let it go and doubting if one’s choice is justified. Prison has some of the advantages of the Catholic Church.

Miss Rinder is away: the Mallesons,16 6 Mecklenburgh Square, know her address. Send this letter, just as it is, to them, and they will attend to all the matters, which would be a bother to you — or rather she (Miss R.)c will: I don’t know her address at the moment.

I am infinitely grateful for the bed and furniture, and for all the endless trouble you and Elizabeth have both taken on my behalf. Otherwise I should have had a much worse time. — I feel this letter ought to be full of sublime thoughts, but alas they won’t come! My only really strong desire is to be able to do some philosophical work while I am here; in that case the time won’t seem very long, and will not be wasted from the point of view of public usefulness.

The Times’s of last week have just come — you were right in saying there was nothing in them.17 Also some handkerchiefs, for which many thanks.

Tell Murray and Carr and others how very grateful I am to them: clearly it was their exertions18 that got me put in the first division. Murray has been very magnanimous. I am grateful for so many kindnesses from so many people that I can’t thank all by name — please convey thanks somehow, where you can. I am remarkably happy; more so than I had been for years until quite lately. Love to you and Elizabeth and whoever else it is appropriate to.

Yours aff.d
B. Russell.


  • 1

    [document] Included in Frank Russell’s files in the Russell Archives, the letter was edited from the signed original in BR’s handwriting. On the blue correspondence form of the prison system, it consists of a single sheet folded once vertically; all four sides are filled. Particulars, such as BR’s name and number, were entered in an unknown hand. Prisoners’ correspondence was subject to the approval of the governor or his deputy. This letter has “CH” (for “Carleton Haynes”) handwritten at the top, making it an official letter. Among the several markings on the letter is a cumulative number (“947”) added in the late 1940s as BR was going through his papers (see K. Blackwell, “Doing Archival History with BRACERS”, Bertrand Russell Research Centre Newsletter, no. 2 [autumn 2003]: 3–4). Other Brixton letters are numbered similarly, as they were encountered in the same envelope or folder. The letter was published as #312 in Vol. 2 of BR’s Selected Letters.

  • 2

    Governor Captain Carleton Haynes.

  • 3

    writing materials … Introduction to Modern Logic It was not until 16 May 1918 (Letter 5) that BR was able to note “Ink, fountain pen, etc. just come”. Their arrival may be a clue to when he started writing the book, whose title soon became Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. If so, he reported astonishing progress, reaching 20,000 words by 21 May (Letter 7) and nearly 70,000 by 27 May (Letter 9). But it may only indicate a change of writing materials. The first two chapters of the manuscript (RA Rec. Acq. 412, fos. 1–25) are in a greyish black ink. From Chapter 3 on (202 fos.), the ink is dark blue and the pen nib thinner. All, or almost all, of the last sixteen of the eighteen chapters, therefore, seem to have been written between 16 and 27 May. It was a remarkable achievement: approaching 65,000 words in eleven (or twelve) days. Allen & Unwin published the book in March 1919. It was based on a course of public lectures, “The Philosophy of Mathematics” (see BRACERS 47442) that BR gave in autumn 1917. BR embedded in the chapter on Descriptions an eloquent defiance of his situation: “It may be thought excessive to devote two chapters to one word, but to the philosophical mathematician it is a word of very great importance: like Browning’s Grammarian with the enclitic δε, I would give the doctrine of this word if I were ‘dead from the waist down’ and not merely in a prison” (p. 167). A corrected edition with variants is at

  • 4

    an ambitious work … Analysis of Mind Quite how ambitious is shown by the two-page outline printed in Papers 8: App. II — and that was only of “the section dealing with cognition in a large projected work, Analysis of Mind” (Papers 8: 313). The Analysis of Mind, as it was published in June 1921, is a shadow of this massive work, preparing which was BR’s main philosophical task while in prison. The Analysis of Mind marks a major change in direction for BR’s philosophy, not only in the topics dealt with, but in his more naturalist, empiricist approach to them. Prison was a time of philosophical change for BR.

  • 5

    happy. “Glücklich allein ist die Seele die liebt.” (BR’s note.) (His note is on the document at BRACERS 116553.) This is Klärchen’s lyric “Freudvoll und Leidvoll” in Act III of Goethe’s play Egmont (1788), which translates as “Happy alone is the soul that loves”.

  • 6

    arrangement about washing Frank wrote the next day: “The Governor told me that your washing could be done near the prison, and the Warder or the caterer would make the arrangements for you” (BRACERS 46912).

  • 7

    firm In 1912, Jourdain was English editor of The Monist, a journal owned by Open Court, an American publisher which published mainly philosophy.

  • 8

    text-book to the Principia Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy might well be thought to be a “text-book to the Principia”, but it cannot have been that book which BR had in mind here: for one thing, the Introduction was already well in hand, for BR had given the public lecture series titled “The Philosophy of Mathematics” on which the book was based in autumn 1917; for another, he did not need Whitehead’s advice on reading in order to complete it. The “text-book” mentioned here referred to a different project. BR had had it in mind for some time to write a book on logic to expound and presumably defend the logic which forms the basis of Principia Mathematica and which is, as many critics have complained, too casually and informally stated in the Introduction there. Alas, it was never written.

  • 9

    Aulard Presumably Alphonse Aulard’s Histoire politique de la révolution française (1901).

  • 10

    Nation The Nation was a political and literary weekly, 1907–21, edited for its entirety by H.W. Massingham until it merged with The Athenaeum and then The New Statesman. BR regularly contributed book reviews, starting in 1907. During his time at Brixton, he published in the Nation a book review (14 in Papers 8; see mentions in Letters 4 and 102) and a letter to the editor (Letter 39).

  • 11

    Common Sense A radical weekly edited by F.W. Hirst, who had lately organized the raising of a £425 subscription to finance BR’s unsuccessful appeal (see Papers 14: 394). In a message sent via Gladys Rinder, H.W. Massingham hoped that BR would contact Hirst, who was “so fond of him, and so immensely admiring of him” (25 May 1918, BRACERS 79611). Surprisingly, BR never contributed to Common Sense, at any rate under his own name.

  • 12

    list No such primary list by BR of potential visitors is extant, and we cannot know who was on it. But certain names are missing from a secondary list of names in Letter 5 (to Frank), which lists “Extra people for Visits, in order of preference”. Conspicuously absent from the secondary list are: Frank and Elizabeth Russell, Constance Malleson, Ottoline Morrell, A.N. Whitehead, Wildon Carr, John Withers, Gladys Rinder, Clifford Allen and Dorothy Wrinch. For a list compiled from the correspondence of the period of those who did visit him in prison, or who were mentioned as possible visitors, see appendix 4 of S. Turcon’s “Like a Shattered Vase: Russell’s 1918 Prison Letters”, Russell 30 (2010): 101–25. Rinder’s letter of 9 August 1918 (BRACERS 79625) adds three names to those in appendix 4 of the article: those of Robert C. Trevelyan, and (as possibles) Ralph G. Hawtrey and T.J. Cobden-Sanderson.

  • 13

    tobacco BR was a lifelong pipe-smoker since the age of nineteen (BR to Max Roseblume, 22 March 1940, BRACERS 46486; BRACERS 10395 and 14343; see also L.P. Smith to BR, 3 Dec. 1891, BRACERS 80826, Auto. 1: 90; and, for his pipe tobacco, Letter 99, note 17).

  • 14

    What more might I be doing? Prior to his imprisonment BR had been active in advocating for the C.O.s, opposing the war, and publicizing his model for post-war social reconstruction.

  • 15

    right to … return to philosophy The question was hardly moot, for BR had returned to philosophy in 1917 — teaching students in mathematical Logic (Jean Nicod, Dorothy Wrinch, Victor Lenzen, Raphael Demos and possibly others), preparing the new edition of Philosophical Essays (retitled Mysticism and Logic [see note 6 in Letter 30]), offering the lecture course “The Philosophy of Mathematics” in the autumn, planning a revised or rewritten edition of The Principles of Mathematics, and preparing 1918’s course “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism”. As he wrote Jourdain on 4 September, “My interest in philosophy is reviving, and I expect before long I shall come back to it altogether” (BRACERS 77871; I. Grattan-Guinness, Dear Russell — Dear Jourdain [London: Duckworth, 1977], p. 142). N. Griffin puts the revival at (at least) the beginning of August (SLBR 2: 117).

  • 16

    Mallesons Constance (“Colette”) Malleson and her husband, Miles.

  • 17

    nothing in them This is not a comment on the quality of the journalism. Colette had arranged to send messages to him via the Personals column. Hence BR’s concern that he got his copy of The Times on time. Colette’s first message, using the code name “G.J.”, appeared on 7 May. For her text see BRACERS 96064.

  • 18

    their exertions Carr, Murray and Samuel Alexander, a former president of the Aristotelian Society, had signed and circulated to academic philosophers an appeal to the Home Secretary for BR’s sentence to be served in the first division — lest his extraordinary intellectual gifts be impaired by the extremely harsh conditions of confinement in the second. In his Autobiography (2: 34) BR later acknowledged the efforts made on his behalf by the Foreign Secretary (and philosopher), Arthur Balfour, who may have discreetly influenced the magistrate’s concession of first-division status at BR’s appeal hearing (see also R. Gathorne-Hardy, ed., Ottoline at Garsington: Memoirs of Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1915–1918 [London: Faber and Faber, 1974], p. 251).

Textual Notes
  • a

    Fulham Road S.W. BR wrote the final letter of her postal code with a macron over the W (“W̅”), as he sometimes did to specify a capital W in logic and on envelopes. There are more examples in the originals of Letters 4 and 6. The “character” resurfaced in BR’s “Reply to Criticisms” in The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, ed. P.A. Schilpp (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern U., 1944), pp. 715–16), and was reprinted as such in Papers 11: 44.

  • b

    (3). BR here deleted “I never got the Times for Thursday or Friday”.

  • c

    (Miss R.) Inserted.

  • d

    Yours aff. Short for “Yours affectionately”. An informal way of closing a letter.

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