Bertrand Russell the Passionate Skeptic: A Biography

By Alan Wood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
Reviews and Politics

IN the later stages of writing Principia Mathematica, Russell broke his rule that he would 'Never indulge in any excess, including any excess of work'. He abandoned his regular and restricted time-table, and overworked to such an extent that afterwards he told Professor Littlewood, the Cambridge mathematician, that Principia Mathematica had taken so much out of him that he sometimes doubted whether he would ever be the same man again.

The intellectual labours which went into it were so monumental that one tends to assume that Russell could have done very little else between 1900 and 1910. But the fact is that, throughout this period, he continued his usual scatteration of philosophical articles and book reviews, to be found in Mind and similar technical publications. It seems that whenever a philosophical work arrived in German or French or Italian which nobody else understood, the editor of Mind would send it along to Russell as a matter of course, and Russell always obliged promptly with a swift but thorough appraisal.

It must be said that Russell was often an unkind and merciless critic, particularly in his earliest reviews. His manner was something like a surgeon at an operating table, and his precise and dispassionate dissection could be devastating for various authors who would be forgotten for ever but for the fact that he wrote about them.

For instance the unfortunate Edmond Goblot, author of an Essai sur la Classification des Sciences, would probably have endured columns of abuse and criticism rather than face Russell's cruel and matter-of-fact summing up that 'The work appears to

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