From the correspondence of four of academe's most brilliant minds

July 29, 2005

'Dear Arline, you, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive'

Bertrand Russell
To Lady Ottoline Morrell, March 18, 1912

My Darling Love,

...Wittgenstein came and stayed till after 12. We had a close equal passionate discussion of the most difficult point in mathematical philosophy. I think he has genius . In discussion with him I put out all my force and only just equal his. With all my other pupils I should squash them flat if I did so. He has suggested several new ideas which I think valuable. He is the ideal pupil - he gives passionate admiration with vehement and very intelligent dissent. He spoke with intense feeling about the beauty of the big book(1), said he found it like music. That is how I feel it, but few others seem to. Our parting was very affectionate on both sides. He said the happiest hours of his life had been passed in my room.

He is not a flatterer, but a man of transparent and absolute sincerity. I have the most perfect intellectual sympathy with him - the same passion and vehemence, the same feeling that one must understand or die, the same sudden jokes breaking down the frightful tension of thought.

...When he left me I was strangely excited by him. I love him and feel he will solve the problems that I am too old to solve - all kinds of vital problems that are raised by my work, but want a fresh mind and the vigour of youth. He is the young man one hopes for. But as is usual with such men, he is unstable, and may go to pieces. His vigour and life is such a comfort after the washed-out Cambridge type. His attitude justified all I have hoped about my work. He will be up again next term.

Your B.

From The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Private Years, 1884-1914 , edited by Nicholas Griffin, published by Routledge, £12.99

(1) Russell's Principia Mathematica

Isaiah Berlin
To Cressida Bonham Carter, mid-March 1939

Dear Cressida,

...An absurd episode, which I can hardly describe occurred the next night, when Branch(1) suddenly arrived and asked for a bed. The Warden of Wadham(2) said would we call at 10 that evening as he wd then be back from a Domus Dinner in his college. At 9.45pm D. Cecil(3) & Mr Coldstream(4) came in & we thought we would go together. On the way David C., attempting to describe the Warden's house to Branch, said (you must supply dynamics etc.) "it's rather like, rather like, actually rather like a Trust-House(5), I mean the drawing room is exactly like one". I elaborated on this considerably. We entered the house. Darkness everywhere. We ascended to the drawing room. Still darkness. Somebody switched on the light. David lunged forward & said to Branch "You see exactly what I mean now, don't you?" Branch giggled and agreed it was wonderfully like a Trusthouse (to me a new term). I pointed to a particularly awful object & said "look look at this". At this point a dull tapping at an unnoticed door in the corner occurred. Nobody officially took notice but conversation died. Branch started a new sentence but the ghostly sound occurred again.

He marched forward & no sooner did he touch the door than it sprang open & revealed the Warden in dinner jacket & a frightful rage. The next hour was a nightmare. David who behaved as if nothing (had happened) started lightly on topics & was crushed again & again. Mr Coldstream looked dazed & uncomfortable, Branch fidgeted, I suffered. Everything anybody said was snubbed out of existence, at 11pm David got up & said he must be going: The Warden made no effort to retain him, but said to me & Branch "You needn't go". For a moment I was prey to terrible hesitations, whether se solidariser with D. or not. Then I decided that I was more afraid of the W. of W. than of anybody, & stayed... I am obscurely speculating on the cause of his rage. Because he overheard? because the joke of hiding behind doors, which wd have done with Branch & me was awkward with his own late colleague & Duchesse de Guermantes(6), & quite intolerable before Mr Coldstream, a stranger to whom he is the (Warden of) Wadham & full of dignity? because of the unfortunate phrase Trusthouse? because "exactly what I mean" suggested unknowable depths of malice? is this really rather a trivial local story demanding a strict context? or do I convey the almost Dostoyevskian atmosphere of homicidal anger in which we stayed for an hour chatting about I believe, croquet?



From Flourishing: Letters 1928-1946 , by Isaiah Berlin, edited by Henry Hardy, published by Pimlico, £17.99. Copyright (c) the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust, 2004

(1) Guy Branch, a friend at Oxford.

(2) Maurice Bowra, a friend, a classicist and warden of Wadham College, Oxford, 1938-1970.

(3) Lord David Cecil, fellow, Wadham College 1924-30. Professor of English literature from 1948.

(4) William Menzies Coldstream, a painter.

(5) Trust House hotels aimed to restore "traditional standards of the old coaching inns", hinting at a pseudo-historic, somewhat naff style of furnishing (6) A reference to a character from Proust hinting at Cecil's tendency to flatter the warden.

Max Born
To Albert Einstein, March 4, 1948

Dear Einstein,

A few days ago I saw a film here about atomic energy, and there you were, as large as life, talking with that familiar and well-loved voice, and smiling your amiable, half-serious, half-cynical grin. I was quite moved - it will soon be twenty years since we last saw you. And when I wrote about this experience to Hedi in Edinburgh, she replied at once that she wanted to see the film as well. I am going to try and persuade the atomic physicists here to send the film there. It also contained some fine shots of J. J. Thomson and Rutherford but, though I have always greatly admired them, they are nowhere near as close to my heart as you are. As to the rest of the film, it is quite good, but it will not alter the course of world history very much. We've really put our foot in it this time, poor fools that we are, and I am truly sad for our beautiful physics! There we have been trying to puzzle things out, only to help the human race to expedite its departure from this beautiful earth! I no longer understand anything about politics: I understand neither the Americans, nor the Russians, nor any of the numerous little stinkers who are now, of all times, becoming nationalistic. Even our good Jews in Palestine have discredited their cause in this way. It is better to think about something else.


Max Born

From The Born-Einstein Letters 1916-1955: Friendship, Politics and Physics in Uncertain Times , edited by Max Born, published by Macmillan, £19.99, available from

To Arline Feynman, October 17, 1946


I adore you, sweetheart. I know how much you like to hear that - but I don't only write it because you like it - I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you. It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you - almost two years but I know you'll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.

But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and what I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you - I always will love you. I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead - but I still want to comfort and take care of you - and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you - I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that together. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together - or learn Chinese - or getting a movie projector. Can't I do something now. No. I am alone without you and you were the "idea-woman" and general instigator of all our wild adventures.

When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn't have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true - you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else - but I want to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive... I'll bet that you are surprised that I don't even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can't help it, darling, nor can I - I don't understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don't want to remain alone - but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

My darling wife, I do adore you. I love my wife. My wife is dead, Rich.

PS Please excuse my not mailing this - but I don't know your new address.

From Don't You Have Time to Think? by Richard P. Feynman, published by Penguin Press, £20. Copyright (c) Richard P. Feynman, 2005. Arline died on June 16, 1945. The paper was worn, suggesting Richard read the letter many times.

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