24 MARCH 1967, Page 15

Full and frank


This, although the fact is not indicated directly on the title page, is planned as the first of two volumes. It is, as one would expect, very frank. Not only does it in the now conventional manner outline all the author's sexual rela- tionships both within and without marriage, but it also and more remarkably confesses some other things where confession must have been harder. Thus it adds to the material already available about Russell's four marriages an account of his affair with Lady Ottoline Mor- rell, and brief mentions, too, of other sexual encounters.

A good example of a more difficult frankness is the reference to the fact that during the Morrell affair 'I was suffering from pyorrhoea although I did not know it.' Another and more serious is the story of 'the girl in Chicago,' of whom Russell says: 'I spent two nights under her parents' roof, and the second

I spent with her'; and, later, 'She stayed in England and I had relations with her from time to time, but the shock of the war killed my passion for her, and I broke her heart.'

Those whose main interest in Russell's life lies in his intellectual history will find here

rather fuller accounts of two of his formative experiences than are, I think, available in earlier autobiographical publications. Thus he says of beginning Euclid. at the age of eleven: 'This was one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love. I had not imagined that there was anything so delicious in the world.' Readers of Aubrey must recall his story of how Hobbes fell 'in love with geometry,' at the age of forty: 'Being in a gentleman's library' Euclid's Elements lay open at the theorem of Pythagoras; "By Gawd," said he (he would now and then swear an emphatical oath by way of emphasis), "this is impossible."' Again, Russell gives here more detail about the deep emotional experience which he suffered at Mrs Whitehead's bedside in 1901: 'At the end of those five minutes, I became a completely different person . . . Having been an Imperialist, I became during those five minutes a pro-Boer and a Pacifist. Having for years cared only for exactness and analysis I found myself filled with semi-mystical feel- ings about beauty, with an intense interest in children, and with a desire almost as profound as that of the Buddha to find some philosophy which should make human life endurable.' Once again one is reminded of similar moments of supposed illumination in the lives of other great philosophers: Descartes, for instance, or Aquinas. But in Russell the sceptical intelli-

gence reasserts itself even before the end of the paragraph: 'The mystic insight which I then imagined myself to possess has largely faded . . . But something of what I thought I saw in that moment has always remained with me . .

Those who have relished Russell's Portraits from Memory—and what reader has not?— will be hoping to find in this autobiography more of the same. Perhaps after such a feast this is a greedy and inordinate hope, which deserves to be disappointed. Certainly it largely is. Nevertheless, either Russell or his publisher ought to have told us that and where pre- viously published material has been simply copied in. The whole of the eighth 'Portrait from Memory'—that of Sidney and Beatrice Webb—has in fact been included verbatim, without any warning or acknowledgement, as pages 76 to 79 of the Autobiography. The fifth —that of Joseph Conrad—appears similarly, but this time with a new first sentence, as pages 207 to 210. Both of these two portraits are splendid stuff, and well worth rereading. But we must, surely, insist on being fully informed when even the very best of dishes is served up again.

Another thing which calls for annotation in any future edition is the letter from Russell's magnificent grandmother, printed now on page 119. In this letter she writes of 'the life you have been leading,' obviously referring to his relations with his future first wife. But in his account of 'My Mental Development,' pub- lished in 1944 in The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, Russell records how his grandmother `alluded to my investigation of the founda- tion of geometry as "the life you have been leading". . .' The publication of the present letter suggests, though it does not prove, that this excellent anecdote is ben trovato rather than strictly true.

Finally, and because it is salutary for a reviewer to be humbled in the presence of the great, let us end with a quotation from a letter of 1902: `What a monstrous thing that a university should teach journalism! I thought that was only done at Oxford.'