29 NOVEMBER 1940, Page 12


[In view of the paper shortage it is essential that letters on these pages should be brief. We are anxious not to reduce the number of letters, but unless they are shorter they must be fewer. Writers are urged to study the art of compression.—Ed., " The Spectator "I


Sm,—On October trill last the death was announcea from Rome at the age of 8o of Vito Volterra, one of the greatest of applied mathemati- cians, since 1910 a Foreign Member of the Royal Society, since 19o0 an Honorary Doctor of Science of Cambridge University. Volterra had always been one of the warmest friends and admirers of this country, and as a Senator in 1914-15 he actively supported Italy's entry into the war on the side of the Allies. At the age of 55 he joined the Italian army, became a lieutenant in the aeronautical corps and subse- quently Chairman of the Italian Bureau of Research and Invention. In this capacity he actively collaborated with the French and our- selves, undertaking several journeys to Great Britain.

He had been one of the strongest enemies of Fascism in Italy from its inception. In 1931, having refused the oath of allegiance imposed by the Fascist Government, he had to leave the University of Rome where he had taught for 30• years; and in 1932 he was forced to resign from Italian scientific academies Most of his last years were spent abroad, and in 1937 for the last time he visited London. In 1939, suffering from a severe illness. he returned to Italy, his last days saddened by the exile of his sons abroad, by the collapse of France and by Italy's entry into the war at the side of Germany. His spirit, however, remained true; when the Royal Society gave an evening party in London to the academic victims of oppression, unlike some English Fascists who threatened to break the party up, he wrote us expressing his warmest satisfaction.

" With him disappears a great scientist, 5. man of noble heart, a great and sincere friend of Great Britain and of those ideals for which the British Empire is now fighting." The writer of these words, his son Enrico Volterra, was formerly Professor of Engineering in Rome and had acted as consulting civil engineer to the Italian Air Ministry and to important Italian firms. Holding the same political opinions as his father, he was forced to leave Italy and went in February, 5939, to Cambridge. There he became a member of King's College and was given a place in the Engineering Laboratory. With special equipment, which he designed himself, he worked an the plastic defor- mation of steel beams. He showed, as Professor Inglis writes, con- spicuous ability and enthusiasm.

Before he left Italy Enrico Volterra was offered the Chair of Applied Elasticity and the Directorship of an Institute for the Testing of Materials in the University of Rosaria, Argentina. He did not accept it, preferring to come to England.

Lavoisier was condemned at the time of the Revolution with the phrase " La Republique n'a pas besoin des Savants." On the same principle, in June last Enrico Volterra was interned. In August the

President's Committee of the Royal Society, appointed for the purpose of advising the Home Office on the release of aliens with scientific

qualifications, recommended his release. On October 9th the Home

Secretary wrote to the President that efforts would be made to quicken up as far as possible the release of scientific aliens known to be well-

affected to this country. On October 23rd I wrote to the Home Sec- retary, referring to his letter and calling his attention particularly to the case of Volterra still interned. On October 26th his private secre- tary replied, " Mr. Mornsor is looking into the particular case of Enrico Volterra and will write you as soon as possible." On October 3oth Volterra in the Isle of Man received anew by cable from Rosario the offer he had refused two years before in order to come to England. He wrote me urgently asking my advice. His letter took 20 days to reach me in London.

It contains the following words, at which I, at least, can only feel ashamed. " My sentiments of affection toward Great Britain are very deep, and I feel that I have a great debt of gratitude towards this noble country, which has accepted me as a refugee, has helped me so much and has allowed me to continue my researches. It would therefore be extremely hard for me to leave at this particular moment when the British Empire is fighting to defend the destinies of justice and civilisation. I believe I could be of some use as a civil engineer specialised in reinforced concrete, but if I am still to be considered as an individual dangerous to this country and as such to be kept in internment, I would try to be allowed to go to Argentina."

How was I to reply? To advise him to shake the dust of Britain off his feet, to accept the offer and go (if the Home Office would allow him) or to tell him to stick it out? Moved by his loyalty I wired him " Your letter of October 3oth just received Hold on. Will get you out or bust."

It seemed a pity to waste his engineering skill, his tolerance and his loyalty when all those qualitites are so badly needed here. In a week or two I suppose my telegram will be delivered in the Isle of Man. By then his decision will probably have been made. I shall be astonished if his faith in Britain has not enabled him to hold on. Then I shall have to fulfil my promises—one way or the other.—Yours,