The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell
by Bertrand Russell
Atlantic-Little Brown, 356 pp., $7.95
For many decades Lord Russell has been disclosing his more intimate feelings, and his views on private and public morality, to an enormous public. During his long life his emotions, his changing opinions, and many of his experiences in love and in friendship, no less than his face and the sound of his voice, have become a familiar part of the public scene. Alongside the history of his development as the original master of the modern movement in philosophy, there is another history of the popular moralist. In a steady flow of books, articles, and famous BBC broadcasts, he has shown himself to be extremely gifted in addressing a very large public in a style that is at once elevated, direct, and easy.
When he gave the first set of Reith Lectures to be broadcast by the BBC not long after the war, a vast audience listened; and many people, who would not count themselves as belonging to an educated minority, stated that they would feel his death, when it came, as a personal loss. For he was felt to be the exemplary intellectual of his time, at least in England, and his existence was felt to be an encouragement just because his intellect did not seem to have isolated him from common concerns. Like Bernard Shaw, whom he despised, he had been an unsubdued guerrilla force operating on the margins of organized opinion, and outside all institutions, living in the open; but, unlike Shaw, he had never asked for a license as a comedian of the intellect; he remained a philosopher.
Yet one has always had the impression that his facility in self-revelation, and his willingness to live on the public stage and to advertise his public purposes, still left much of his own inner nature untouched and separate. Partly because the self-exploration was so unnaturally fluent, lucid, and continuous, it seemed that it could not be complete, and that it must be, at least in part, defensive. The truth about his own motives and impulses could hardly be as tidy as he was suggesting in those unfailingly pointed, gay, and resilient sentences.
THIS BEGINNING of an autobiography gives substance to this doubt. Alongside the familiar, always articulate, exemplary, endlessly self-explained, masterful Russell, another Russell appears, scarcely less original and no less interesting, but less accessible, implied rather than declared. This other Russell is a pessimist, always in flight from “the bane of solitude,” and, like other pessimists, he takes refuge in prophecy, and is inarticulate in the description, or in the expression, of emotion and of emotional relationships. He has made a legend of his childhood, and the sources of memory and therefore of imagination have become dry and too much used. A mood of melancholy runs through this history of magnificent achievement.
This first volume can be read as a sequel to the Amberley Papers, which was the first description of Russell’s origins and childhood. One has a long sweep of intellectual and social history, unsurpassed …