BERTRAND RUSSELL CUTS A DISC: A ROGUES' GALLERY OF GREAT NAMES
BERTRAND RUSSELL CUTS A DISC: A ROGUES' GALLERY OF GREAT NAMES
ONLY A DAY after Russia exploded its thirty-megaton bomb and British newspapers warned of a possible fallout threat to milk I went along to hear Bertrand Russell. OM, FRS, the third Earl Russell, speak in a small recording studio in London. The occasion for the small party was the launching of Bertrand Russell's first record. Speaking Personally, by Nonesuch Records. No matter what you felt about Bertrand Russell's campaign for nuclear disarmament. the methods employed, the sometimes lopsided anti-Americanism, you immediately grasped that you were in the presence of greatness. Lord Russell, recently eighty-nine, suggests a lean massively intelligent rooster. He has by his own definition the aura of a great personage. The mottled hands shake, his voice falters and he is hard of hearing, but make no mistake — he is still one of the quickest and most brilliant men in England. He is also astonishingly tolerant and gentle.
A question period followed Lord Russell's short
talk and immediately a Daily Mail reporter shot up and asked, "Why are you making this record, sir, when you're eighty-nine years old? Why didn't you make one before?”
"Nobody asked me before,” Bertrand Russell replied.
Later the reporter said to me. “1 had to ask him the question. He's no rock’n'roller, is he? Why's he making a record at eighty-nine? That’s the human interest angle you know."
The reporter also asked Russell. "What are you going to do with the proceeds? Will they go to the nuclear disarmament campaign?" Patiently Russell replied, "I'm sure 1 don't know. So much of my own money has gone into the campaign I suppose some from the record will too."
In Speaking Personally, actually four LP sides, Russell does not confine himself to a discussion of nuclear disarmament. He talks engagingly of his childhood student days, the great men he has known,
Monleccti Richter recently went to a party in London to listen to Earl Russell's first record. He heard Russell on Tennyson: “He ivas rather a
fraud. I thought him a humbug." GBS: “Shaw felt nothing but vanity. That ivas the whole of him. There ivas nothing else." Einstein: “The most satisfactory great man I have ever known." Lenin: “He seemed to me a reincarnation of Cromivell — with the same limitation."
D. H. Lawrence: “I found him perfectly intolerable. He was a fascist."
his attitude toward religion, sexual morality and other matters. Russell has often talked publicly and written of the great figures of his time but perhaps never before with the candor and vigor he shows here. The record, produced by John Chandos, is always fascinating. It will be available in Canada next year.
Russell begins by saying the relationship between his grandfather. Lord John Russell, and Queen Victoria was not very happy. His grandfather and Palmerston were both champions of Italian unity while Queen Victoria was against it. "There is a story,” Russell says, "I can't absolutely vouch for its truth, but there is a story that Queen Victoria said to my grandfather, ‘Lord John, do I understand that you think there are circumstances in which a subject may rightly resist the sovereign?' My grandfather is said to have replied, ‘Speaking to a sovereign of the House of Hanover, 1 think I may say, Yes.’ ”
Lord Russell first came to mathematics at the age of eleven when he read Euclid with intense delight but he was not sent to school. He was educated by tutors. "The essence of a public school education." he says, “was to enable you to administer a world inhabited by savages or underlings of some kind and it no doubt gave you the air of command that enabled you to put your thing through, but it didn’t enable you to have the knowledge that would have made what you were trying to put through be right." He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, a place he found "quite delightful, unbelievably delightful" and a home for eccentrics.
The PM kissed the actress on her bare shoulder. “Mr. Asquith,” she said, “is that an insult?”
Russell feels that when he was a youngster the great men had an aura of personage and on his record he speaks intimately of many of them.
"Tennyson. He always wore a soit of Italian opera cloak when he was out of doors anti he walketl along in complete absorption and took care not to sec you if you were there. He was rather a fraud. I thought him a humbug. The vice-master of T rinity, when I w'as an undergraduate, now he didn’t think well of Tennyson. The college had some port dating from 1X34 and they were very proud of this, and when Tennyson came to visit, and was to dine in hall, they produced the thirty-four’ port in honor of Tennyson and he put water in it, and after that the vice-master never read a line of his verse.
"Gladstone. Those who have never seen Gladstone's eye cannot understand his place in history. It depended entirely upon a terrifying glance that he used to give people and you wanted to sink through the earth. There’s one thing about him — the people who knew him called him Mr. Gladstone and the people who didn’t know him called him Gladstone.
"Asquith. Well. Asquith was. of course, a very clever man in the lawyer’s type of cleverness, by which I mean he was very good at making out a case for whatever he wanted to make out a case for. very good. He was a bit loose, no doubt, in his ways of going on. I remember a story.
I illah McCarthy, the actress, was dining at Downing Street. He got a bit drunk and he had to get up for something and as he passed behind her, she being of course in evening dress, he kissed her on her bare skin and she said. 'Mr. Asquith, is that an insult or is it homage to a great actress?' He said, Tsh homash," so then she was reconciled. Of course he was a much more tolerant man than l.loyd George. I couldn't do with l.loyd George.
"D. II. Lawrence. I found him perfectly intolerable. He was a fascist. 1 here was to be an elite that was to have sole political power and was to compel this and compel that and there wuis to be no sort of freedom anywhere. I asked him how he was going to do it? Was he going to make a speech in Trafalgar Square? 'Oh. no. I would only be talking to the vulgar.' I didn’t like the man at all and still less did I care for his wife.
"Shaw. Shaw felt nothing but vanity. That was the whole of him. There was nothing more. I know a lady who was secretary of the Labour Party in the University of London. She gradually became a Communist and married a Russian and went to live out there. In the Stalin purge her husband was taken aw'ay and she didn't hear from him. She came to England to see if anybody could do anything to influence Stalin and she came to me. among other people, and I said. 'Shaw is persona grata in Russia. Perhaps he will do something about it.’ And so we approached Shaw about it and he wrote her a letter, which 1 saw, saying, ‘My dear lady: You have no idea how comfortable Russian penal settlements are. I am quite sure your husband will be happier there instead of being nagged by you.’ 1 never spoke to the man again.
“Lenin. I met him in 1920. He spoke English much better than one would have expected. I was less impressed by Lenin than I expected to be. He was. of course, a great man. He seemed to me a reincarnation of Cromwell, with exactly the same limitation that Cromwell had — absolute orthodoxy. He thought a proposition could be proved by quoting a text in Marx and he was quite incapable of supposing that there could be anything in Marx that wasn’t right, and that struck me as rather limited. I disliked another thing and that was his great readiness to stir up hatred. 1 put certain statements to him and one of them was: ‘You profess to be establishing socialism but as far as the countryside is concerned you seem to be establishing peasant proprietorship which is a very different thing from agricultural socialism.’ He said. ‘Oh dear me. no. we are not establishing peasant proprietorship. You see, there are poor peasants and rich peasants and we stirred up the poor peasants against the rich peasants and they soon hanged them to the nearest tree.' 1 didn’t very much like that.
“Einstein. A quite unbelievably lovable man he was, extremely simple, devoid of the slightest pretension. 1 thought him altogether quite delightful. He was the most satisfactory great man I have ever known. I couldn't have wished him different in any way.”
Today Bertrand Russell is. of course, very much concerned about the possibilities of nuclear extinction but he has always been involved in the issues of war and peace and he has never felt too lofty to take a resolute stand.
“I was against the 1914 war.” he says, “but I was in favor of the Second War. I thought that the Kaiser was not much worse than other people but I did think Hitler was a monster and he had to be fought. The First World War was a sheer power competition and rather less disguised than it is now. The Germans wanted a navy that could be as good as the British Navy. The British government made a
very great mistake: it invited the Kaiser to a naval review at Spithead and it was hoped the Kaiser would think ‘These people are very powerful,’ but what the Kaiser did think was, ‘I must have a navy twelve times as good as Grandmama’s (Queen Victoria’s).’ and he set to work to get it and that was the main cause of the First World War. I don’t think it need have taken place at all and 1 find that is now the general view among historians.”
Lord Russell would like to see Britain become neutral. “If I could talk to Macmillan for a week,” he says, "he would come round because I could then present the arguments which 1 don’t suppose he has ever heard, but, as I can’t get hold of Macmillan, I go around the country speaking and writing and distributing leaflets and that sort of thing and hope in time to create a great mass movement of self-preservation which will become politically irresistible. I think it's a very doubtful thing indeed whether it can be done but I don’t see anything else 1 can do. It’s a question whether at the end of the present century there should be one single Briton alive in the world and it’s very doubtful whether there will be. very doubtful.
"If I were prime minister tomorrow I should get England out of NATO. I should make the Americans abandon their bases in Britain. I should form a League of Neutrals, not I think all neutrals, perhaps. but those who are more or less politically mature. There are several of them —Sweden. India and Switzerland and so on. and I should get them, perhaps not formally, but together, to draw up what they could consider a fair and impartial scheme for general disarmament and put this out. I think Khrushchov would support it ami America would wish to oppose it. but if Khrushchov and all the neutrals supported it. it would be very very difficult for America to hold out. England can't play a useful part except as a neutral. There is no newspaper that agrees with me as far as I know. I think it is all a respect for British prestige. They can't bear admitting how unimportant England is nowadays from a purely military point of view.
“I find it difficult not to get a little fanatical because the issue is so large. It is the largest there has been since Noah and we have no ark.” -A-
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