Trinity in Disgrace.--America's Opportunity., October 14, 1916


Trinity in Disgrace. -- America's Opportunity.

In our last issues of last term we recorded the fact that the Hon. Bertrand Russell had been fined £100 under the [Defense] of the Realm Act as the writer of a leaflet on the case of a certain conscientious objector. Shortly after the end of term the Council of Trinity College refused, in view of this verdict, to allow Mr. Russell to reside in the College, or to deliver his lectures this year on mathematical logic. Mr. Russell's Cambridge belongings were therefore exposed for sale, and the wherewithal to pay the fine of £100 being thus provided, their owner was thus in popular parlance unceremoniously hoofed out!

With the further aspects of the persecution, the refusal by the Foreign Office of a passport to Mr. Russell to Harvard, where he had been appointed to a lectureship, and the War Office Order forbidding him to enter any prohibited area without special permission, we are not here concerned. Mr. Russell has issued a personal statement which may be obtained from the National Council for Civil Liberties, 22, Bride Lane, E.C., who are taking an interest in the public side of his case. What concerns us in Cambridge is the purely academic side of the matter, as seen in the extraordinary action of the Trinity Council, which, as will be clear from what follows, threatens permanently to deprive the University of the services of one who is very widely regarded as the greatest philosopher of modern times. There are no doubt some who can contemplate such a possibility with equanimity, when they consider the nature of the struggle in which the nation is engaged. But to others, and to the younger generation in Cambridge in particular, the ideals for which we have declared ourselves to be fighting have not yet been completely lost sight of, even in the hour of victory. And that Trinity of all places should have wantonly proved false to the traditions of tolerance and freedom for which Cambridge had hitherto stood in the eyes of the world, is beyond all things disheartening.


What do the younger members of Trinity on active service think of the action of the elderly gentleman who represent them before the world on the Council of their College? Their views are only too little known; but, even so, the following expressions of opinion are available: --

In a letter dated from H.M.S. "Centaur," Mr. Hilton Young asks "What brings me here? -- the desire that England should remain, and that Europe should become, a place in which the Russells which Fate grants us from time to time should be free to stimulate and annoy us unpersecuted. ... That Trinity should gratuitously number itself amongst the persecutors, this is more discouraging than a German victory."

And again: --

Mr. D. S. Robertson writing from France as "a Fellow and Lecturer of Trinity absent on Military Service," says: -- "The Court found that Mr. Russell's action was illegal; but the Council of Trinity College were free to judge whether or not it was [dishonorable]. Their refusal to draw such a distinction seems to me an inexpressible disaster to tolerance and liberty."


Such examples could be multiplied without end from private sources, but let us pass to an Oxford verdict. In a letter to the Nation of September 23, Professor Gilbert Murray, who has by no means concealed his patriotism under a bushel since August, 1914, says: "My first impression on hearing of the course the Council had taken was to treat the story as incredible." The italics are ours -- for the times are indeed out of joint when Oxford can give Cambridge a dig in the ribs as the home of intolerance and irrationalism.


It may be of interest to future generations if we print here the names of the gentlemen who constitute the Trinity Council. They are as follows: --

The Master (Rev. H. Montagu Butler, D.D.).

The Vice-Master (Prof. Henry Jackson, Litt.D., O.M.).

Rev. Professor V. H. Stanton, D.D.

H. M. Taylor, F.R.S.

J. McT. E. McTaggart, Litt.D., F.B.A.

Rev. R. St. J. Parry, D.D.

J. D. Duff.

R. V. Laurence.

F. J. Dykes.

H. McLeod Innes.

W. W. R. Ball.

G. T. Lapsley.

It would seem probable that Mr. Lapsley was absent on the occasion of the decision, though whether he would have been in agreement with his colleagues we are unable to say. Nor is it certain as to whether the decision was completely unanimous. At any rate none of the gentlemen named have expressed any public disagreement with the policy.


Meanwhile the affair has been noised abroad throughout the [civilized] world. The following is a verbatim translation of an article by M. Jean Nicod, which appeared in Le Journal du Peuple of September 13th. (The asterisks are the work of the French censor).

"The name and work of Mr. Bertrand Russell are well known to philosophers and men of learning in all lands. Like Leibniz, Russell is both a mathematician and a logician; and frequently, in his book on the philosophy of Leibniz 'the interpreter' -- to quote the philosopher M. Lévy-Bruhl -- vies with his author in subtlety, and, I venture to say, is of sufficient stature to warrant the rivalry." Louis Couturat, speaking of Russell's contributions to mathematics, in a transport of admiration, called it -- in the words of Thucydides -- 'an acquisition for ever.' Then, last year, Columbia University awarded Russell the gold medal in recognition of his work as a whole. And this is the philosopher who, in the tumult of the passions of the hour, has just been deprived of the chair which he held at the University of Cambridge.

"I can picture him now, as I saw him for the first time three years ago, ensconced in that ancient college whence the war has driven him. Towards the close of a December afternoon I entered his book-lined study, which was lit up by a large fire. Some of his Cambridge friends, a young American mathematician (his pupil) and myself were present. Russell had just finished [page 2] making tea. His finely cut, aristocratic profile was almost lost to view in the depths of an immense armchair; he was talking animatedly of the new branch of learning, to whose foundation his researches have so largely contributed. The lamp and the glow of the fire lit up his remarkable face -- a face whose every line suggested subtleties and great discoveries. His conversation gave food for amusement and reflection. It had that indefinable acridity which always arrests our attention when reason is the dominant note. A small portrait of Leibniz stood between two silver candlesticks on the [mantelpiece]. As if by some sudden spell, the mind was borne back to the time of the Republic of Letters. We were citizens of Europe -- no less. This aristocratic mathematician -- he is the brother of Lord Russell, and the name he bears is one ancient and [honored] in England -- is famed throughout the world of learning. Russell, together with the German Frege and the Italian Peano, has created a new conception of mathematics. He is the youngest of the three, and his work is the most constructive and the most fully developed. Far along the path which Leibniz had dimly perceived, despite our imperfect perspective, their achievement stands out as one of the great triumphs of reason -- a triumph scarce hoped for.

"While he was lecturing on the principles of mathematics at Cambridge, Russell had turned his clear brain to philosophy, and he had just published his first researches in this new field. He had already expounded these results in a course of lectures at the great American University of Harvard. We have seen him a mathematician like Leibniz, a logician like his great forerunner, but it has been left to the war to complete the parallel by revealing yet a third aspect common to both. Bertrand Russell, like Leibniz, is a great European.

"The war stirs this famous thinker to the depths of his soul uncovering that moral foundation which years of scientific [labor] have slowly built up within him.

* * * * *

"This specialist in the purest branch of pure reason is careful to avoid assigning too important a role to thought. His writings reveal a precise and adequate doctrine of the practical application of reason. Already in his work in logic, reason is allotted the task of disentangling, illuminating, and widening, but not that of making decisions. And this conception is embodied in Russell's reflections on the war. 'The fundamental facts in the question of war, as in all ethical problems, are feelings. All that thought can do is to clarify and [harmonize] the expression of those feelings.' And it is with doing this that Bertrand Russell is concerned in all his studies of the war, for in them we find a delicate and accurate psychological analysis of the forces which make for war and peace. These articles on ethics and politics are, by their simplicity and earnestness, not unworthy of their author's renown. Russell detests the spirit of which the German Emperor is, as it were, sign or symbol. 'As for the Kaiser, ever since I first began to know Germany, twenty years ago, I have abominated him. I have consistently regarded him, and now I regard him as one of the sources of evil in the world.' ...

* * * * *"

Next let us turn to the United States.


Under this title appears an article, which reaches us as we go to press, in the Springfield Republican, one of the most influential dailies in America -- dated September 21. The article alludes to an announcement in the Boston Herald, which it describes as "somewhat premature," to the effect that Mr. Russell will be chosen to succeed Josiah Royce as Alford professor of natural religion, moral philosophy and civil polity at Harvard.

The Republican then refers to Mr. Russell's "accomplishments in the realm of mathematical theory and metaphysics," and to the fact that in any case he should have been lecturing in Harvard this winter; and continues: --

"As is widely known, Mr. Russell is at present detained in England by the authorities, having caused himself to be fined by writing a pamphlet urging {sic} resistance to military service. In other ways, highly discreditable to England, he is being made a victim of official stupidity or malice. In fact, he will not be able to fill his engagement at Harvard unless the authorities receive a sudden and unexpected endowment of common sense. But the connection between Mr. Russell's appointment as a lecturer at Harvard and his being selected to fill the Alford professorship must be left for the Boston Herald to explain. Professor Royce died on Thursday. On Friday the Herald was informed that Prof. Royce's successor had already been chosen. When President Lowell was communicated with at his summer home in Cotuit, he said, 'I must decline to discuss it (the appointment), owing to my rule not to talk at random about official matters to the newspapers. The present moment hardly seems to me suitable for such an announcement.'"


It would indeed appear only too likely that America will seize the opportunity afforded by the action of the elders of Trinity to appropriate the New Realism and thereby finally rid European thought in the twentieth century of one of its few claim to originality and profundity. There may be limits to the patriotism even of Mr. Russell, and it is quite possible that one day he may be driven to throw up the struggle for British liberty and desert us for more hospitable climes.

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