But He’s the Brother of an Earl!

This is just a bit of light relief. I’ve been collecting Bertrand Russell anecdotes (for a possible future web project). Here are two.

The first is famous, and as far as I can tell – courtesy of Twitter – it was first cited in Robert Skidelsky’s book, English Progressive Schools. It concerns Beacon Hill School, a progressive school that Russell founded with his second wife, Nora, in 1927.

“Rumors were rife of godless orgies. When a pastor visited Beacon Hill, a naked teenage girl was supposed to have answered the door. “Good God”, gasped the astonished cleric. “There is no God,” she replied, slamming the door in his face.”

The second is less well known, and appears in Russell’s autobiography (pp. 240-41, pub. Routledge). The context is a meeting that Russell attended towards the end of the First World War that was stormed by an angry mob convinced it was full of enemy collaborators.

The mob burst in led by a few officers; all except the officers were more or less drunk. The fiercest were viragos who used wooden boards full of rusty nails. An attempt was made by the officers to induce the women among us to retire first so that they might deal as they thought fit with the pacifist men, whom they supposed to be all cowards. Mrs Snowden behaved on this occasion in a very admirable manner. She refused point-blank to leave the hall unless the men were allowed to leave at the same time. The other women present agreed with her. This rather upset the officers in charge of the roughs, as they did not particularly wish to assault women. But by this time the mob had its blood up, and pandemonium broke loose. Everybody had to escape as best they could while the police looked on calmly. Two of the drunken viragos began to attack me with their boards full of nails. While I was wondering how one defended oneself against this type of attack, one of the ladies among us went up to the police and suggested that they should defend me. The police, however, merely shrugged their shoulders. ‘But he is an eminent philosopher’, said the lady, and the police still shrugged. But he is famous all over the world as a man of learning’, she continued. The police remained unmoved. ‘But he is the brother of an earl’, she finally cried. At this, the police rushed to my assistance.

If you know any other Russell anecdotes, or indeed, similar anecdotes involving other philosophers, feel free to tell us about them in the comments.

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