BRACERS Record Detail for 79640

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Collection code
Class no.
Document no.
Box no.
Rinder, Gladys
Form of letter
BR's address code (if sender)
Notes, topics or text

The letter has corrections in ink in Rinder's hand.

"Dear Miss Rinder, Your letter has not yet arrived, but I will begin with various odds and ends." This is a condensed version of a letter no longer extant. Excisions are indicated by ellipses. The carbon copy of this version is document .20299f, record 19331.

There are two other transcriptions:

Document .201183, record 116692, and its carbon, document .200299e, record 19330.

A shorter extract (the paragraph about the canary and the ourang-outang has been removed) appears in "Extracts from Letters Written by the Hon. Bertrand Russell in Brixton Prison, August 1918", sent to Gilbert Murray and located in Rec. Acq. 71e, record 52372.

There is another typed version, document .080040f, record 117621, with the remark about the canary annotated in BR's hand.


Letter 73

BRACERS 79640. TL(TC). McMaster
Previous Brixton letter, BRACERS 19346; next letter, BRACERS 47455
Edited by K. Blackwell, A. Bone, N. Griffin and S. Turcon

<Brixton Prison>1
19 August 1918.

Dear Miss Rinder

Your letter2 has not yet arrived, but I will begin with various odds and ends.… I have been reading simultaneously Voltaire and Tchehov: impossible to imagine a greater contrast. Here is a typical last sentence of Tchehov:3 “The pain in his nose was soon over, but the torture in his heart remained.” I don’t know any other author who would end a story with this remark. Like all modern Russians, he represents the art of concealing defeat by fine phrases; Dostoevsky began it, and as time goes on the phrases grow finer and the defeat grows less concealed.4 I find it very hard to feel much sympathy with the Russians in their misfortunes:5 the whole cause of them is lack of will, with consequent rottennessa through and through; Gorky’s In the World6 illustrates this. Russia rouses the Puritan in me to fury. I don’t defend this attitude: it is a lapse into morality as above defined. (In a message in the earlier part of this letter7 he gives this definition of morality — “Morality = the art of inflicting pain without incurring public hostility. Df.”b I arrived at this Df.8 inductively by looking for some common quality in the acts commonly called moral: I could find none except that used in the above Df.) All Russians have a “soul”, which is merely an inner inexpungable citadel of self esteem, after every other defence of that pleasant emotion has been surrendered to the enemy. Voltaire is extraordinarily different: healthy, bustling, objective, fruitful for the future, very conscious of the developement of mankind. I found in a book about him two very comforting sentences, — one “Il faut que des philosophes aient 2 ou 3 trous sous terre contre les chiens qui courent après eux”9 , c — the other “Les années d’apprentissage de Voltaire sont finies. Il était temps: il touchait à la soixantaine.”10 , d It was after that that he did most of his important work. So I reflected that there is hope for us all, and that even though we be 46 we need not despair of achieving something before we die. It is fearful though, how much time one has wasted before discovering what one believes or how one wanted to live. “Creative and possessive”11 was the key for me.…

The Governor tells me E.S.P. Haynes12 heard I wanted a canary; he was misinformed, it was an orang-outang, which I hoped would throw light on mind in its origine and in the Cabinet. But I am afraid the Governor would prove obdurate: he would say it would worry the warders.…

Oh dear, I do want to get on faster with my work. But if I am let alone I shall get a lot done this winter. I have a furious desire to get things done, first of all as regards analysis of mind.13 The only “consolations of philosophy” I know of are the consolations of doing philosophy, which are the same as those of doing anything else. — Love to everybody,

Yours v. sinc.
B. Russell


  • 1

    [document] The letter was edited from a typed copy in the Russell Archives. There are several typed versions of the document and no original, and thus no initials of prison approval. The typescript chosen here (document .054846) is a ribbon copy with Rinder’s ink corrections (as has the carbon, though fewer of them, at document 200299F, BRACERS 19331); in addition there are three pencil corrections, possibly in Edith Russell’s hand (she wrote “Aut” for “Autobiography” at the top, although the letter was not, in the end, published there).

  • 2

    Your letter Rinder wrote BR on 17 August 1918 (BRACERS 79619).

  • 3

    typical last sentence of Tchehov This spelling of “Chekhov” is unusual but was employed by Constance Garnett in her translation of the collection in which the title-story concludes with the passage quoted by BR: The Witch and Other Stories (London: Chatto & Windus, 1918), p. 21.

  • 4

    Dostoevsky … less concealed These critical notes notwithstanding, BR, when young, had been intrigued and impressed by the genre he labelled “modern psychological fiction” in 1895 (Papers 1: 261), of which Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–1881) was a prime exponent.

  • 5

    Russians in their misfortunes BR was not expressing contempt for the Bolshevik experiment, towards which he remained largely sympathetic until witnessing its methods at first hand as part of a visiting British Labour Delegation in May 1920. Although he lamented here a defective national character, he tended to blame Russian misfortunes on the failure of the Allies to respond to Petrograd’s peace diplomacy after the overthrow of the Tsar but before the Bolshevik seizure of power, and on the policies of armed intervention and economic blockade directed at the revolutionary regime since then.

  • 6

    Gorky’s In the World Translated by Gertrude M. Foakes (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1918). This was the second volume of autobiography by Russian revolutionary and writer Maxim Gorky (1868–1936), chronicling the grim and drab reality of the Russian lives he encountered as a runaway orphan wandering and working across the Tsarist Empire. While visiting Russia with a British Labour Delegation in May 1920, BR had a short audience with an ailing Gorky in Petrograd. He found him “the most lovable, and to me the most sympathetic, of all the Russians I saw” (The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism [London: Allen & Unwin, 1920], p. 43).

  • 7

    (In a message in the earlier part of this letter The typist or early editor (probably Rinder) speaks here, quoting from a part of the original that is not extant. The interpolation is retained because BR corrected another typing of the letter (BRACERS 117621) with this text. He made several corrections to it, most likely without the original to hand.

  • 8

    Df. The abbreviation in mathematical logic for “Definition”.

  • 9

    “Il faut que … après eux” [Translation:] “It is necessary that philosophers have 2 or 3 subterranean holes against the dogs who run after them” (Gustave Lanson, Voltaire, 7th ed. [Paris: Hachette, 1929? (1st ed., 1906)], p. 133).

  • 10

    “Les années … soixantaine.” [Translation:] “The years of Voltaire’s apprenticeship are finished. It’s about time: he reached sixty” (Lanson, Voltaire, p. 82).

  • 11

    “Creative and possessive” BR was referring to his theory of impulse: “Impulses may be divided into those that make for life <creative> and those that make for death <possessive>” (Principles of Social Reconstruction [London: Allen & Unwin, 1916], p. 22). The former impulses were to objects that might be shared, the latter to those the possession of which by one person would preclude their possession by others. BR explained the distinction at greater length in Political Ideals (1917), Ch. 1.

  • 12

    E.S.P. Haynes “Who was a cousin of the Governor. The idea of the canary was due to a joke of Desmond MacCarthy’s.” (BR’s note on RA 210.080040F.) Haynes (1877–1949), a radical lawyer and rationalist author, was an acquaintance of both BR and his brother, Frank (with whom he had worked on divorce law reform). He gave informal legal advice to BR during his defence (see Papers 14: 391).

  • 13

    analysis of mind The research that eventually resulted in The Analysis of Mind (1921).

Textual Notes
  • a

    rottenness Misspelt as “rotteness”.

  • b

    public hostility. Df.” The closing quotation marks were editorially supplied.

  • c

    “Il faut que … après eux” Errors in the text were probably the transcriber’s: “des philosophes” was “les philosophes”, and “trous sous terre” was “trois sousterre” (“trois” was omitted from subsequent typings).

  • d

    “Les années … soixantaine.” The dash prior to the quotation was editorially supplied.

  • e

    origin Misspelt as “origen”.

Russell letter no.
1015 LET AUT
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Jun 12, 2014
Record last modified
Jul 24, 2021
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