Bertrand Russell the Passionate Skeptic: A Biography

By Alan Wood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVI
The Young Octogenarian

ANY biographical study written during the lifetime of the subject must necessarily be incomplete; it can only be rounded off by prophecy, notoriously a risky business. I propose to take the risk.

Russell was nearly eighty when I first started work on this book; but even then it could easily be foreseen that he had many more years of active life still in front of him. England after the Second World War was a land of Grand Old Men; in which, if you wanted an interesting and stimulating discussion on some subject, you often had to go to one of the octogenarians to get it. They included Russell himself, G. E. Moore, Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Gilbert Murray, H. N. Brailsford; and they formed a group which, I think, may always remain somewhat unique. Their early lives had been spent in the serene golden age before the First World War, and their later years were prolonged by advances in medical science. The generation before them had died younger; the generation after them had grown up in a world of nervous strain and tension, a world full of wars and the fear of wars and recurrent economic anxiety. No one of more modern times, one felt, however long they lived, would carry forward into old age that atmosphere of serene and gentle scholarship of which one was always conscious, for instance, in the presence of Gilbert Murray.

The octogenarians were all, of course, exceptional men. I am not suggesting that sulpha drugs and penicillin had anything to do with the greatness of Winston Churchill; though without them he might well have died in 1943. These men owed their vigour in old age not only to the accident of the time they were born, but to some innate vitality inside them. Both Churchill

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