How were the letters chosen?
Initially, I simply wanted to highlight letters in the archives from famous people, such as Albert Einstein, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Zhou Enlai. However, I soon realized that it was important to include letters from some of the individuals who were significant in Russell’s life but are not household names, such as philosophers G.E. Moore and Alfred North Whitehead, and friends and collaborators like Beatrice Webb and Joseph Rotblat. I also wanted to cover the broad sweep of Russell’s long life, and so the first letter dates from 1894 and the last from 1967. Another condition was that the letter had to be an original, not a copy, and had to be signed, even if that signature amounted only to initials (exceptions were made for two telegrams). Finally, I decided not to include letters from Russell’s four wives—that’s a project for another time—but I did include a letter each from the other two great loves of his life, Ottoline Morrell and Constance Malleson.
What you will see
If you click on the ‘Letters’ tab above, you will see a list of all 40 letters, arranged in order by the date they were written. For each letter, you will see a scan of the original, an annotated transcription, and an introduction. While the introductions are intended to provide context for the letters, they often do more than that. In the cases where Russell had a long relationship with the letter writer, an overview of that relationship is provided. In other cases, the letter opens a window to something significant in Russell’s life. For example, the 1939 letter from President Roosevelt provided the opportunity to write about Russell’s change of mind about the Second World War.
At the footer of each page you will see a citation for the original letter in the Russell Archives. The citation is linked to the entry in BRACERS for that letter (BRACERS is the database that describes all of the letters in the Russell Archives).
My hope is that these letters may not only provide you with a sense of who Bertrand Russell was and what’s in his archive, but also leave you curious and wanting to learn and see more. All are welcome to visit the Bertrand Russell Archives to delve into the vast collection of letters, manuscripts, and other documents.
The sources I most frequently consulted were: (1) Bertrand Russell. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 3 volumes. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1967-1969. (2) Ronald W. Clark. The Life of Bertrand Russell. Jonathan Cape and Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1975. (3) Nicholas Griffin, ed. The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, 2 volumes. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. (4) The chronologies of Russell’s life found in the opening pages of each volume of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, produced by the Bertrand Russell Research Centre and published by Routledge.
The photographs of Bertrand Russell, Countess Frances Russell, Ottoline Morrell, Colette O’Niel, Vera Brittain, Farley Mowat, and Pierre Berton are from McMaster University Library. All other photographs are from Wikimedia Commons.
A very big thank you to my Research Collections colleagues Beverly Bayzat and our student assistants, Natalie Martin and Melissa Skudra, for scanning the original letters, to Bridget Whittle for the production of the website which was designed originally by McMaster’s Media Production Services, and to the Library's Debbie Lawlor, for her revisoins to the website. Last but not least, my thanks to my partner, Amanda Etches, my first reader, for reading and commenting on all of my introductions.
Head, Archives & Research Collections
McMaster University Library
2018, updated 2019